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30.10.16

Name Something Documentary Makers Should Avoid

Posted 30th October 2016

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MAX BYGRAVES: Name something people take with them to the beach.
BOB JOHNSON: Turkey.
MAX BYGRAVES: The first thing you buy in a supermarket.
BOB JOHNSON: Turkey.
MAX BYGRAVES: A food often stuffed.
BOB JOHNSON: Turkey! [laughs]

Family Fortunes, Series 5 Episode 3. TX: 28th October 19831

You’ve all heard of the Family Fortunes turkey incident, right? The Johnson Family get to the final round, Bob Johnson takes the stand, and proceeds to answer “Turkey” for the first three questions, and runs out of time for the last two. Cue a shot of one member of his family looking particularly murderous.

Hey, describing it removes all the fun. Take a look at the entire round below:

Right, now, you’ve all had your fun. Fun isn’t what this site is about. What this site is about, in fact, is pulling apart old documentaries from 2005, because that’s what we do to stay relevant and up-to-the-minute around here.

The documentary in question was a Channel 4 effort called Our Survey Says: The Ultimate Game Show Moments, and featured an entire section on the turkey incident – including useless contributions from Bob Mills, Justin Lee Collins and Kirsten O’Brien, and rather more useful contributions from William G. Stewart and the Johnson family themselves. Let’s take a look at the Family Fortunes section:

And the problem comes at 4:11 into the above video:

BOB MILLS: Anything you ask me now, I’m going to say “Turkey”.
BOB JOHNSON: Turkey!
BOB MILLS: He just said “Turkey”, all the time.
MAX BYGRAVES: Any famous snooker player.
BOB JOHNSON: Turkey! [laughs]

HANG ON. HANG ON.

The snooker player question is the fourth question in the round. And the above is categorically not how the round went. You can verify this in the first video above. The rest of the round actually went like this:

MAX BYGRAVES: Any famous snooker player.
BOB JOHNSON: Hurricane Higgins. [beep!]
MAX BYGRAVES: Try again.
BOB JOHNSON: Er…
MAX BYGRAVES: Any famous snooker player. [end of round sound effect] Oh, your time’s up.

The documentary actually takes Bob Johnson’s answer to “A food often stuffed”, and makes it the answer to the question on famous snooker players. This isn’t just careless editing when editing in the talking heads, either: the programme actually takes audio of Max asking the snooker question and pastes it over the shot of Bob Johnson, who then answers “Turkey!” It’s a deliberate piece of editing which absolutely misrepresents what happened: Bob Johnson now appears to have answered “Turkey” to four questions, not three.

OK, I fully admit this isn’t exactly a scandal on the same level as, say, Carlton Television’s 1996 documentary The Connection. As misleading the public goes, pretending a silly man gave the same answer to a question four times in a row instead of three is relatively harmless. Still, I believe it’s something worth noting. When a documentary deliberately misrepresents something, that’s really not a very good thing at all, regardless of what that thing actually is. And hey, the programme makers clearly thought the incident was important enough to include in their documentary. If they thought it was important enough to cover, they should also have cared enough to represent it accurately. Besides, the incident is funny enough when viewed how it actually happened, without their cut-and-paste nonsense: in fact, arguably funnier, due to rule of three.2

One thought does strike me, though: I genuinely wonder whether an edit like that would make it on air today. Mistakes get through all the time, of course – I’ve lost count of the number of incorrect captions on Channel 5 documentaries I’ve screamed at – but a deliberate mislead like this? The competitions scandal and Russell Brand’s prank calls have had plenty of negative effects on the TV industry… but also some positive ones too. This kind of casual fakery I suspect is far less likely to happen now, at least with silly things like this, if only because the game isn’t worth the metaphorical candle.

Or am I being too generous?


  1. I specifically wanted to give a TX date for this episode, as it’s rarely mentioned whenever this incident is discussed, but nailing it down has been slightly tricky. The episode number and TX date I’ve stated are taken from IMDB, but it’s worth noting that IMDB can be inaccurate when it comes to things like this. A comprehensive list on Digital Spy claims the Johnson v. Dalby show is actually Episode 3, broadcast on the 28th October 1983. This seems to be some kind of confusion between two different Johnson families – next time I’m near a TV Times archive I’ll clear this up once and for all.

    UPDATE: This piece originally gave the TX date as 18th November 1983, along with the ass-covering above. Many thanks to Steve Williams, who has confirmed that it was actually 28th October 1983.  

  2. Whilst researching this article, I purchased a copy of The Game Show Handbook by David N. Mason, which promised to give further details of the turkey incident. Sadly, the book gives Max’s second question as “Name an animal that climbs trees”, which is entirely incorrect, and thus throws into doubt any insight the book has into the topic. Presumably this section was written on hearsay than an actual perusal of the episode; it’s less of a problem than the documentary because it’s probably just a mistake, while the documentary misrepresents things on purpose, but that doesn’t make it any less incorrect. As ever, watching the actual footage is often the only way to get the true story with things like this. 

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James on 30 October 2016 @ 2pm

I post this mostly as a thought dump as my comments here rarely make it through moderation, but consider the following:

1. In the current petty online sniping era and the way TV fandom is populated by point scoring basement-dwellers who just love to contact Ofcom about any perceived slight no matter if they saw or heard it themselves just to give their lives purpose, it seems likely that someone, somewhere would complain to Ofcom about such editing. No matter how trivial it actually was.

2. You wonder precisely what Ofcom would do. Would such a creative rewriting of fact fall foul of Rule 2.2 (Materially Misleading)? Or would exaggerating an already comic tale be not considered to be ‘material’ enough to bother with.

3. It would probably fall foul of Rule 7.1 (Fairness) although the complaint in this instance would have had to come from Bob Johnson himself, as the person being treated unfairly by the editing.