The Complete History of Videogaming
Chapter 24 - The Age of Television
Edge #143, December 2004
Joymasters (Channel 4, 1992-1996)
Fronted by acerbic Welsh comic Rory Pulip for most of its run, Joymasters was one of the two pillars of early-to-mid-'90s gaming TV (the other being ITV's Wicked Skillz!, presented by Florid Parp and Matthew Threatless, with occasional appearances from wacky tips specialist Gnillag Tune).
Filmed in a disused S&M dungeon, the eponymous figurehead of Joymasters was a being known as The Joymaster, portrayed by the corpse of deceased science expert Magnus Pike. Dressed up to resemble a sort of cybernetic bird thing, with papier-mache beak, and tumble- dryer ventilation pipe dangling from his stomach, Pike's body was suspended high above the studio audience.
At key moments during the show, Pulip would bellow "Joymaster descendeth!", yank on a concealed lever, and Pike would be released. As his net dropped away, a klaxon sounded and The Joymaster would freefall some 15 feet, before swinging wildly across the set on a wire, his exposed lower jaw lolling lifelessly, arms swinging like limp bratwurst, and banging against pipes. This powerful moment would signify that it was time for another challenge to begin.
The Joymaster challenges boasted the nail-gnawing, adrenal thrill of ancient Rome's gladiatorial duels - only four or five times more exciting. Perhaps intentionally, the half-naked stars of ITV's lurid Gladiators show were Joymasters regulars, with appearances from the likes of Thruster, Ink and Chuffweasel. However, celebrity appearances on Joymaster weren't confined to these revolting beefcakes.
During his Super Hang On challenge, a confused Russell Grant allegedly tried to grind his Mega Drive joypad into the face of a small fox he'd inexplicably brought along (the incident has never aired), whilst Todd from Neighbours inevitably suffered an epileptic fit as he played Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Frugal producers re-edited the footage and over-dubbed it with cheap Euro house, to make it appear as if he was breakdancing. Despite being pronounced clinically dead for the duration of his challenge, the actor still managed to beat six-year-old Dipesh Wuumwuss.
The final two series of the show took the Gladiators references further, using members of the Joymasters production team as colourful 'Pad-iators' — cheaper alternatives to the celebrity guests. Nevertheless, few would deny that Clinically Obese Thomas (whose fingers were so fat he could only use a joypad if he'd had matchsticks taped to his fingers) and The Purple Twat (a member of the production team afflicted with the misguided belief that he was in some way worthy of being allowed on television) have become gaming legends, of a sort.
Commentaries on the challenges were provided by both the presenter and plucky magazine editor Derek Pumphrey. In themselves, these commentaries became a soap opera, due to the duo's feisty behind-the-scenes relationship. Over the course of several series, their initially good-natured banter descended into abject hatred, as Pulip and Pumphrey secretly embarked upon an ill-fated homosexual dalliance.
Frequently, their many spats and homophile guilt would spill on to the set in the form of bitter jibing, which climaxed during the 1994 Christmas special. In the midst of a recording, a furious Pulip beat Pumphrey into a coma using a length of heated bark strapped to a Bible, all the while screaming: "This'll teach you to borrow my tights without asking".
The cranial damage caused to Pumphrey - a five-inch-deep crater in his skull - led to him adopting his trademark bandana. On nights out, he would stuff the cloth scarf into his head hole, and cover it with a small square of lino.
Appalled with the show's new sponsorship by Ex-Lax, Pulip resigned prior to the 1995 series. That year, Joymasters was presented by one Heximuss Fleischer, a barely functioning crack addict the producers had found rooting through some bins behind the studio.
Fleischer's presenting style was unique, to say the least - much of what he said was delivered in an inaudible moan, punctuated by periods of wordless shrieking. Each episode during Fleischer's tenure climaxed with a Cockney singalong, featuring such East End favourites as I've Got A Little Whelk (In My Cup Of Jellied Eels), and The Whippet Song. Fleischer effectively died of a complimentary Ex-Lax overdose before filming on the final, 1996 series of Joymasters could begin. Pulip was lured back with the gift of a giant prism and a pledge from the producers that they would never look directly in his eyes.
During this final series Pulip pulled out all the stops, notoriously subverting what was ostensibly a children's show with his scatological wit and incisive double entendres. Who can forget the time he asked Helen Daniels out of Neighbours - there for a Sonic And Knuckles challenge - whether she liked "seamen"?
Eventually. this groundbreaking humour could not be contained, and the production team experimented with a late-night, adult version of the show. Changes included nailing a set of realistic rubber udders to Magnus Pike's chest, forcing the contestants to wear nothing but soiled merkins, and Pulip slapping an 11-year-old audience member into admitting he was "behaving like a bell-end".
By this point the viewers had grown weary of the increasingly tired format - ratings showed that the final episodes were watched by fewer than 27 people, all of whom tuned in by accident - and Channel 4 wielded the axe.
Nevertheless, Joymasters' influence has outlived its on-screen life, lending inspiration to such respected publications as the Official Joymasters Magazine and the Official Joymasters Magazine Cheats Special.
FROM: Eidos Interactive, senior management
TO: Tomb Raider production team, Crystal Dynamics
RE: SUGGESTIONS TO REVIVE THE TOMB RAIDER FRANCHISE
1. Give Lara larger breasts.
2. Give Lara slightly smaller breasts, but more of them.
3. Equip Lara with an arsenal of interchangeable breasts, each endowing her with special abilities (ie: the power to fly, the ability to swim, the power to limbo, etc).
4. We're thinking Lara needs another new side-kick, probably a sexy, wise-cracking, time-travelling cat (preferably with large breasts - but not too large, as we wouldn't want them to literally overshadow Lara's own).
5. More cut-scenes, featuring better defined personal drama (could Lara perhaps develop breast cancer, thereby adding a further element of jeopardy? If you need a scriptwriter for these scenes, there's a guy who works in our local Spar, who says he's a really good writer, and would probably do), and breasts.
6. Give Lara a special car (a breast-powered ear?).
7. Suggested title: Lara's Girl Power Adventures in the Land of the Big Breasted Breast-Worshipping Amazonia Breast Women.
8. Make Lara more of a positive role-model for girls, by giving her a more aspirational day job, such as a plastic surgeon specialising in breast enlargements.
9. Get Chris Barrie to provide a running commentary over the entire game.
10. Add a football management element, but instead of managing football teams, players in some way have to manage breasts.
Whaddayathink? We're v. excited about some of these!
The Unseen Diary of Mr. Biffo (Age 11¼)
Which Is Better: Spectrum Or Commodore 64?
- Softer + more absorbent.
- Looks like it might be made of licorice.
- Can do 3D graphics (see Haunted Hedges).
- Can games get better than Horace + The Spiders?
- Sir Clive Sinclair is an unthreatening role-model.
- Smells like burnt rubber (when burnt).
- Horace Goes Skiing was disappointing.
- Not quite as absorbent as I'd like.
- Rainbow stripe in the corner looks a bit gay.
Commodore 64 For:
- Browner graphics.
- More likely to kill someone if dropped on them.
- Logo resembles a little bird.
Commodore 64 Against:
- Not as easy to see
- Looks like a typewriter (only gays and ladies use typewriters).
Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me (email@example.com) right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.