It's Funtime - Edinburgh pub quiz that thinks it’s a 70s gameshow
All across the country this coming Saturday night families will sit down in front of the TV to watch people be mocked and derided in the name of entertainment. They’ll gawp at the outrageous outfits worn by the mentally unstable on X Factor. They’ll boo and hiss at Craig Revel Horwood’s acid dance critiques. Whatever happened, you have to ask, to The Generation Game? Yes, it poked fun at people, but it was never mean-spirited. Communal silliness and old-fashioned sportsmanship were its bread and butter, and nobody left feeling hard done by.
In Edinburgh a small group of disaffected quizzers have been asking the same question. And, it seems, they’ve produced an answer, picking up the mantle of light entertainment dropped by Bruce Forsyth and creating their very own homage to the gameshows of yore. Their once-in-a-blue moon event is a suped-up pub quiz called It’s Funtime, hosted early doors at the Bongo Club in the heart of the capital. For those in the know, it’s the most magnificently silly Saturday night’s entertainment on offer anywhere in Scotland – a riot of fancy dress, spilt drinks and hilarious games.
This is not to suggest, however, that the organisation is slap dash. Everything about It’s Funtime is unnervingly professional. It has its own theme song, which the teams of contestants gaily sing along to at the opening. It has a presenter – Wilson Keppel – whose chirpy Yorkshire accent recalls Jimmy Saville, and dusty suit, manic grin and wiry hair bring to mind David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The quiz has music and observation rounds, but also eating and drinking challenges (lest you ever wanted to know how quickly you could scoff a packet of Monster Munch), physical games of accuracy and skill, and a punishing Tower of Strength round in which players have to endure holding a pint of pennies at arms length. There are also regular appearances for a limbo pole, a kazoo orchestra and some giant robots, though surprise is always the most bankable element of a Funtime evening.
In between rounds host Keppel ad libs through the game commentary in a deadpan worthy of Bullseye’s Jim Bowen, while Betty, his glamorous assistant, keeps score. A team of green-coated lackeys ensure an array of props and gizmos flow smoothly on and off stage, while any gaps in the fun are filled with short films that boast incredibly high production values. This effort is only ever for the benefit of a few dozen contestants. Everything is done purely in the name of fun – certainly not profit – which makes It’s Funtime one of the city’s most sparkling hidden gems but also raises the question, ‘why?’ And following that, ‘where do these people get the time?’
‘We do more than you should really. We’ve all got other things to do … It’s basically a pub conversation that got out of hand,’ says Keppel, real identity illustrator Sean Lee, over a lunchtime coffee. He and two others from the Funtime crew of seven have congregated to explain themselves. ‘There’s something perversely enjoyable about spending too much time on it. I remember I spent two weeks doing the computer graphics – rendering flying saucers and things – for our sci-fi special,’ says Danny Carr, the talent behind Funtime’s visuals. ‘I think there’s a part of me that would get less pleasure from it if we were making money out of it,’ Carr says. ‘Which is fortunate, because we never do make any money out it,’ adds Bongo Club manager Andy Nation.
The group first noticed the small gap in the market for their unique event back in April 2009. After entering a dull fund-raising quiz night at a local school they saw the opportunity for the humble pub quiz to be glitzed up. ‘It was conceived with a gameshow-type quality,’ says Lee, ‘mostly It’s a Knockout and The Generation Game, with a bit of Indoor League with Fred Trueman thrown in. At first we wanted to put it on every month like a clubnight. But the people who run clubnights, they aren’t having to make all the records every time are they?’
The sheer technical challenges of the original It’s Funtime set-up were almost insurmountable, as Lee remembers. ‘One of the original rounds featured ducks suspended on a rotating glitterball motor. The contestants had to catch these ducks and put them in a paddling pool. We persisted with that for ages, before realising that a big volume of water in the middle of the room was just asking for trouble. I used to have very serious conversations with the technical guy about rigging this thing up, which I’d started to call the DSU – the Duck Suspension Unit. “No, we can’t put the DSU up here …” etc.’
The ducks have now been ditched, and replaced with a finale that involves the impressive-looking robots (with contestants inside them) rushing to build a toppling tower of It’s Funtime blocks with childlike clumsiness. Lee himself created the suits. He also buys up the motley assortment of prizes that are dished out at the end of the night, though he admits this is mostly to satisfy his fascination with collecting junk from Edinburgh’s Greenside car boot sale. The List, in a previous win at Funtime, picked up an African fertility doll, an electric muscle-toning system and 1000 flying saucer sweets – relatively normal prizes compared to Lee’s favourites: ‘An aerial photograph of a Leeds suburb. Out-of-date cheese. A three-foot wooden cavalier nutcracker wearing a velvet cloak …’
Lee has another role which he is less willing to admit to – he watches the cheesy 70s porn films that are used for the quiz’s observation round. Finding a suitable skin flick for the upcoming Festive Funtime has been proving an issue. ‘I just can’t find a film from the 70s with knockers in it and Santa. It’s impossible – a venn diagram that doesn’t exist.’
The ‘why’ of It’s Funtime is easy to answer – well, why not? The event uses retro touchstones and mock seriousness to create something that is silly and throwaway in the Great British comedy tradition. Like man’s mission to the moon, humanity should need no more reason to make a Duck Suspension Unit than to see if it can be done, and we should all be able to get off from the phone from Ofcom long enough to see that.
As for where they get the time, there are, doubtless, many late nights and early mornings go into event preparation. It’s a level of commitment usually reserved for the avid hobbyist. Ultimately, Lee insists, it’s all worth it.
‘We had a group of bullet-headed men from Wigan in on a stag do. Obviously someone had Googled “having a fun time” in Edinburgh. They looked really quite hostile, but in the Tower of Strength they started to get into it. The bloke from their team holding the pint of pennies had arms like legs, and his mates were all up out of their seats shouting, ‘come on Norman!’ Norman went for ten-and-a-half minutes, which was incredible. They won, ultimately, and carried Norman on their shoulders like Bobby Moore, him holding a £4 toaster from Argos like he’d won the world cup. We thought, we’ve given these fellas this moment.’
Order of play
It’s Funtime’s regular rounds are where champions are made. Would you have the mettle for the following tests?
Tower of Strength
One contestant from each team is nominated to hold a pint of pennies at arms length for as long as they can manage. The pints are attached to party poppers dangling from the ceiling – your arm drops, the party popper goes off and you’re out. Any time over five minutes is very respectable.
A creative round. Contestants must transform one of their team members into a character or object using only modelling balloons. Points are awarded for the most artistically impressive interpretations of themes such as ‘the nativity’.
Guess the number
How many Princes Street shoppers could be persuaded to kiss a tinsel-covered Funtime robot in one hour? Make your best guess and then watch the video to find out how much action a mistletoe-carrying mechanoid can pick up.
Simply a classic. One person from each team competes in a sudden death limbo competition (girls are officially advised against short skirts).
Watch a five-minute clip of a dubious 70s sex comedy (think Robin Askwith-era muckiness) and remember as much as you can about the costumes, sets and dodgy dialogue.
The winning team gets the opportunity to dress up as Funtime robots. Contestants must then use their clumsy metal claws to stack increasingly small blocks spelling It’s Funtime.
The prize round features the impressive Kerchinko machine – a unique Funtime invention that uses ping pong balls dropped through a grid of pegs to select which bizarre gifts the winners will be taking home. Will it be the Argos toaster, or the aerial photograph of a Leeds suburb? The excitement is almost too much …