Friday the Thirteenth is supposed by some to be a day of ill-omen, but any lingering gloom or apprehension I may have felt when I woke up was instantly dispelled and reversed as soon as I read a fascinating and uplifting feature by Graeme Virtue in the Guardian, calling for the return of the television series The Crystal Maze.
For anyone who’s remotely interested in quality popular television in general, or in The Crystal Maze in particular, I urge you to read Graeme’s analysis of what made The Crystal Maze the staggering success it was and of how it could easily become so again.
I have a personal interest in this matter, which I’ll come to shortly, but Graeme isn’t alone in his admiration for The Crystal Maze and by way of partial evidence for this, you can see for yourselves how overwhelmingly positive all the material is in the extensive Wikipedia entry for The Crystal Maze, although there’s also the UK Game Shows page that in turn has links to other quality sites towards the bottom of the page, on the left hand side.
My personal interest in The Crystal Maze stems from the fact that I appeared in Series Five, which was hosted by Ed Tudor-Pole; I was Lance, the Guard of the King’s Seal, in the mediaeval section, after which I was invited to appear in the sixth and thus far final series as the Aztec High Priest in the Aztec section.
It was all a long time ago, but I seem to remember that I was put forward as Lance after I’d appeared in an episode of The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller as a satanic high priest performing a Black Mass in Latin alongside the late Christopher Reeve, which I think is on YouTube somewhere.
I’m pretty sure that the generous soul who suggested me was Nick Badham, who worked on the Penn and Teller series and who was also part of The Crystal Maze, so I remain grateful to Nick for setting me on the path that eventually led to an audition in front of David G. Croft, the director of The Crystal Maze, somewhere in London’s Oxford Street.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was incredibly excited at the time, because by then, The Crystal Maze had been running for four series with Richard O’Brien as the enigmatic host and it was a television phenomenon. I never got to meet the great Richard O’Brien, sadly, but I was very happy to work with Ed Tudor-Pole, who I thought made an excellent job as the host, especially when we consider the boots he had to fill.
I’m a writer, a performer and observer, as opposed to being a a critic, a producer or any other form of media executive, so my opinion on the return of The Crystal Maze may well count for little, if anything. Be that as it may, I believe that the success of The Crystal Maze was largely down to David G. Croft, the director who’s pictured at the top of this post alongside Richard O’Brien in the Ocean section, in series four.
I’m still in regular touch with him and it’s always been a pleasure to know him, but the reason for giving him credit for The Crystal Maze’s success isn’t down to friendship, but because of what I saw on and off the huge set at the haunted Aces High studio in North Weald, where all the episodes were filmed.
Everything about The Crystal Maze was fun. The cast were fun, the crew were fun, the contestants were fun and filming was fun, so for this quality to have permeated the whole production, it had to have come from the top. To say that the two wrap parties I attended were fun would be a colossal understatement, but I’ve left the details of those uproarious celebrations to be recorded elsewhere.
The Crystal Maze seemed to appeal to just about everyone, to the extent that a number of specials for young children were filmed over the years, in addition to the regular series. Despite the fact that, as Lance, I had a full beard and I was cloaked in a visor, armour and leather, I was often recognised in the streets in London after series five had been transmitted, while my many younger relatives at the time were ecstatic at having been able to see me on television in a programme they idolised.
With all this in mind, my personal opinion is that the best host to follow Richard O’Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole would be Russell Brand, so just as I’ve tried to do David G. Croft some semblance of justice, I’ll spell out my reasons for my choice of host, in case they weren’t already obvious.
I think it would be fair to say that Russell’s appearance and demeanour could reasonably be described as eccentric, a quality shared by the adopted personas of both Richard O’Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole when they were the hosts, while Russell also has the gift of great eloquence and a similar ability to improvise.
It surely goes without saying that he possesses a highly developed sense of humour, but the main reason I think he’d be perfect is because of his empathy with others and his stated desire to bring joy to the world, something I believe he’d achieve beyond his wildest dreams if The Crystal Maze were to be remade and if he was awarded the part. God only knows we all need something uplifting in our lives in these desolate times, so I don’t think I’d be the only person to be blissfully happy if the above came to pass in its entirety.
If it all went ahead and I was invited back as Lance, the Aztec High Priest or as any other character, for that matter, I’d say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat and drop whatever else I was doing at the time, but I’ve already strayed far too deeply into the realms of ‘wild surmise’ and I wouldn’t want to tempt Fate in any way, for myself or for anyone else.
As it is, I was only a very small, fleeting element of the legend that is The Crystal Maze, but the fact that I was once able to contribute in some small way to some ‘thing’ that made so many people in Britain and around the world so happy for so long is a real source of pride and pleasure for me.
The Crystal Maze was an incredibly rare thing, perhaps like Dr Who, that introduced us to and immersed us in a riotous fantasy world wherein we could all temporarily forget our woes, so if a rebooted Dr Who could go on to become such an enormous worldwide success, I see no good reason why The Crystal Maze shouldn’t as well.