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Format Game Show
Created by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Starring Ted Rogers
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of series 10
No. of episodes 137 (inc. 14 specials)
Producer(s) Yorkshire Television
Running time 60mins (inc. adverts)
Original channel ITV
Picture format 4:3
Original run 29 July 1978 – 24 December 1988

3-2-1 is a popular British game show that was made by Yorkshire Television for ITV. It ran for ten years, between 29 July 1978 and 24 December 1988. Throughout its run, the show was hosted by former Butlins Redcoat Ted Rogers. It was based on a Spanish gameshow called Un, dos, tres... responda otra vez and was three shows in one, a quiz show, a variety show and a game show.

The show was a huge success consistently pulling in large ratings. The first series, though intended as a summer filler, attracted up to 16.5 million viewers and subsequent years never failed to peak below 12 million. The show occupied a Saturday early evening slot for most of its run.

3-2-1's final Christmas special (broadcast on 24 December 1988) attracted 12.5 million viewers, so it is unclear why an 11th series was not commissioned in 1989. Ted Rogers claimed in a 1996 interview that "the Oxbridge lot who had got hold of TV by now didn't want it as it was too downmarket for them, even though it was still getting 12 million viewers".


The 3-2-1 format

The overall objective of the game was to survive elimination through to part 3 of the show, and try to unravel a series of cryptic clues in order to win the star prize. One of the clues, however, referred to Dusty Bin who was the show's booby prize. If the contestants ended up with Dusty at the end of the show, all they got was a brand new dustbin.

Each show had a theme, such as 'Seacruise' or the 'Swinging Sixties'. All of the variety acts, quiz questions, stage sets and clues subsequently followed this theme. In later series Dusty would appear in a costume relating to that week's theme. The changing themes were dropped for the final series where a more generic stage set was re-used each week.

Part 1: The 1000 to 1 quiz

In part 1 of the show, three couples have the chance to win up to £1000 in the '1000 to 1 quiz'. The first round consisted of a maximum of 10 questions (in 30 seconds), each correct answer being worth £10 (or in early series £1, but with three rounds available). Passes were permitted but there was no opportunity to return to the question. Each member of the couple answered in turn with the lady answering first and, because an incorrect answer would end the round, the first answer was given to them to avoid a zero score. This was important as each correct answer in the second round of questions was worth the total amount scored in round 1 and eliminated the possibility of couples leaving the show with absolutely nothing.

The questions were usually of the same 'word association' format. Ted Rogers would say, for example, an island and the contestants would have to name the country to which it belonged (e.g. Ted: "Gozo", Contestant: "Malta"). Another example would be people and their titles (e.g. Ted: "Elizabeth II", Contestant: "Queen").

In the earlier series the winners of the quiz would return the following week to compete again, while the other two couples would progress to part two, but in later series this changed to the worst performing couple being eliminated, taking home the money they won in the quiz and a ceramic model of Dusty Bin. Dusty Bin was conceived as the booby prize by the show's producer Derek Burrel Davis and created as a cartoon character by the designer and animator John Sunderland, who also designed the opening and end titles and the themed 'costumes' for the Bin. Sunderland went on to design some of the most successful 'new-wave' populist museums in Britain, starting notably with the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, which like his Dustbin became an overnight hit with the British public.

In the final series (1987 - 1988), the 1000 to 1 quiz was replaced by a general-knowledge, fingers-on-buzzers quiz. As before, three couples participated, but in just two rounds of questions. Each couple began with £10 and could earn another £10 for each correct answer. The first round required ten correct answers (in other words, the round would not end if ten questions had been read out and not all answered correctly). As soon as Ted started to ask the question, the couple who hit the buzzer first, after Ted had said their name, had three seconds to answer the question, and if they failed to answer the question in three seconds, or answered the question wrong, Ted would say "On Offer" and the other two couples would have a chance to answer the question. Again the couple who hit the buzzer first, after Ted had said their name, had three seconds to answer, and if they failed to answer the question in three seconds, or answer the question wrong, that question would go into the bin. Following the first round Ted would give the couples a break, while he introduced a "newcomer" to 3-2-1 (another addition to the final series). This was a chance for an act to perform, much like the later rounds as normal, though the "newcomer" had never appeared on 3-2-1 before. Following the newcomer act, round two of the quiz would be played, with only fifteen questions (the "x correct answers" rule didn't apply in this round). As with previous series whatever money the couples had after the first round would be the value of the question to them, and it was the same format for answering the questions. The maximum a couple could win in this round was £1650 (as in the starting £10, ten first-round questions answered correctly plus all fifteen in the second round). At the end of the two rounds of questions, the couple with the least money would leave with the money they'd won and their ceramic Dusty Bin, then they would go to the commercial break.

Part 2: The elimination

The elimination mechanism for reducing the remaining couples down to one changed over the course of the show. In the early years it was a physical game to fit in with the show's theme. This changed to the contestants competing head to head in a computer game (such as Breakout), and was finally amended to an elimination question which the last two couples would answer after seeing the first three variety acts in part 2 of the show. The commercial break followed the question, and in later series, a viewers' question was posed to win a 14-inch (360 mm) colour television, with 3 runners up getting a ceramic Dusty Bin. The entry form for that was in that week's edition of TV Times.

Part 3: The acts and prize clues

The final version of the show's format was amended so that from the beginning of part 2 of the show, the two remaining couples from the quiz watched the first three variety acts together. At the end of each act one of the performers would come over to the table and give Ted a clue object (or MacGuffin as Ted sometimes called them) and read a corresponding rhyme to provide clues for that particular prize.

After three acts, the couples would decide on which object they would like to discard in the hope that it was Dusty Bin and then take part in the final elimination question. The losers would leave with the money they had won in Part 1 of the show, their ceramic Dusty Bin and a consolation prize (such as a twelve piece dinner service) and the winners would go through to part 3 of the show.

At the beginning of part 3 of the show, Ted would decode the clue and reveal the prize which the final couple rejected before the end of part 2 of the show. Another act would then perform and leave another clue, leaving three on the table. Ted would then re-read one of the earlier two clues, before the couple chose their second item to reject before that prize was then revealed to them.

The final variety act would perform and leave a last clue. Ted would then re-read one of the previous clues and the couple would reject their third item, and another prize was then revealed. Ted would then re-read the remaining two clues and the couple would be faced with their final decision leaving them with the prize they have chosen and ultimately won, after seeing what the other prize they had rejected was, and also with the prize they had won, they had the money they won in Part 1 of the show, and their ceramic Dusty Bin.

As well as Dusty Bin, which was always one of the five prizes, the other four prizes normally included a car and a holiday. Later series sometimes featured two cars as prizes.

The clues became notorious for being almost impossibly difficult and obscure, having only a remote connection to the prizes, which contestants sometimes didn't appear to grasp even after Ted had revealed it to them. It has often been suggested that the clues had more than one possible explanation, allowing the producers to control which prize the contestants received.

For example, a wishbone brought on by Sonny Hayes came with the clue "Take one that never changes, add a pub and a precious stone, bring them all up-to-date, and now you're on your own", which the contestants rejected hoping it referred to Dusty Bin. Rogers explanation of the clue was: "'Take one that never changes', well that could be Dusty Bin which of course is where you might throw a wishbone. 'Add a pub and a precious stone', well that doesn't point to Dusty. 'Bring them all up-to-date, and now you're on your own'. Well what about the wishbone? Sonny said 'a large wishbone', so what might a large wishbone come from? Something larger than a chicken. Turkey maybe? Now 'one that never changes' is a constant, a pub can also be an inn, there's a lot of precious stones but how many go with 'constant inn'? How about opal? Yes, Constantinople, up-to-date, the pride of Turkey, you've rejected the 3-2-1 holiday!"

Acts who appeared on 3-2-1

The early series of 3-2-1 featured a regular cast of comedy performers including Chris Emmett, Mike Newman, Felix Bowness, Debbie Arnold and Duggie Brown. This format was changed for later series when each show featured a number of variety acts of the day as well as a house dance troupe such as the Brian Rogers Connection who would perform solos for the first act. They would later often dance behind the acts who would invariably top the bill. Previous dance/hostess troupes who appeared include "Lipstick" and "The Gentle Secs".

Other hostesses who appeared on the show include: Mireille Allonville, Jenny Layland, Patsy Ann Scott, Annie St. John, Karen Palmer, Gail Playfair, Tula, Alison Temple-Savage, Libby Roberts, Fiona Curzon, Karan David, Caroline Munro and Lynda Lee Lewis.

Acts who appeared on 3-2-1 include: Gloria Gaynor, George Roper, Ken Dodd, Duncan Norvelle, Black Lace, Bernie Winters, Stutz Bear Cats, Kit and The Widow, Wall Street Crash, Kiki Dee, 'Nasty Nigel' Lythgoe, Martin "The Beast" Francis, Tom Pepper, Fay Presto, Pete Price, Manhattan Transfer, Shane Richie, The Flaming Hamsters, Stan Boardman, Fascinating Aida, Showaddywaddy, Kajagoogoo, Frankie Howerd, Sinitta, Five Star, Cheryl Baker, Phil Cornwell, Jaki Graham, Nana Mouskouri, The Chuckle Brothers, Mark Heap (The Two Marks) and Vince Hill.

As was the style of the day, the show often featured speciality acts such as a female singer who sang unconvincing renditions of popular songs whilst her male partner sketched caricatures of famous people connected with the song on a flip chart (e.g. a sketch of Marilyn Monroe was drawn whilst the Elton John song Candle in the Wind was performed).

The prize announcers were: Anthony Schaeffer (1984-5) and later John Benson (1986-7), who had provided the famous voice over for Sale of the Century.


Although the show did not rely on catchphrases in the traditional sense, Ted Rogers would regularly make a lightning fast 3-2-1 hand gesture. This became an important gimmick of the show - and a school playground favourite - mainly because it was quite difficult to do, and resulted in a rude hand gesture if performed incorrectly. The correct way of doing the gesture is to hold up three fingers (index, middle, and ring), facing inward; two (index and middle) facing outward; and then one (index) facing inward, turning your hand as you change your fingers.

Dusty Bin

Dusty Bin was both the show's "mascot" and its booby prize. Dusty would appear at the very opening of the show's titles, coming to life by the pretitles Yorkshire Television chevron logo, flying into him outside of the studios in Leeds. Dusty would also appear at the start of each show, dressed in the style of that week's theme, though this didn't occur in the 1987 series, as these programmes did not have a theme as per previous series.

The cartoon character of Dusty Bin was created by freelance designer John Sunderland, who developed the character based on the show producers' brief for a booby prize which would work on the English version of the show. The original Spanish version had a water-melon as a booby prize. Sunderland's concept for the shows' original titles, which were shown on the original series, included the birth of the bin. The character came to life as YTV's chevron logo falls to earth after shooting up into the sky like a rocket above the studios, exploding in a dustbin standing by the studios stage door. The bin contained a clown's costume, parts of which become one with the bin, it to life as the character Dusty Bin; part dustbin, part clown, part enduring iconic character.

The original robotic Dusty Bin was put together by Ian Rowley, in his converted chapel workshop in Leeds. He used 73 microprocessers, which was cutting edge 1980s remote control robotic technology in that day, at a cost around £10,000 to manufacture - which was a small fortune in those days - to control Dusty, and in 154 shows, some of Dusty's antics included juggling balls like a clown, playing the piano like Elton John, flying round the studio with a James Bond jetpack, escaping from chains like Harry Houdini, riding a bike, spraying Ted Rogers with paint and he has driven a tank into the studio, to bomb the audience with confetti.

In popular culture

In 1999, as part of their Christmas special entitled "The Phantom Millennium"; French and Saunders included Dusty Bin in a parody of Star Wars; where Dusty Bin played Droid DB-321. Dawn French makes the 3-2-1 "hand signal" whilst she commands the droid in the guise of Queen Amanana (A parody of Queen Amidala).

Also, as part of Comic Relief 2007 , the BBC showed a short sketch based around The Proclaimers' 1988 hit song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)". Directed by and starring Peter Kay it featured Dusty Bin dancing with a gaggle of forgotten celebrities from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The song was released as a CD Single and DVD.

The Class 321 trains were nicknamed 'Dusty Bins' due to the number bearing the same name as the game show.

The Burkiss Way parodied the show with sketch involving a final clue of 'It's a dustbin and not a car', which was revealed to be an anagram of 'It's a car and not a dustbin' and thus by rejecting it, the contestants had turned down winning a new car.

DVD Game

There is now a brand new DVD version of 3-2-1 hosted by Dusty Bin.

The prizes

3-2-1 was famous for its cheap and tacky prizes and for couples taking home only a brand new metal dustbin if the final clue revealed was Dusty Bin. However 3-2-1 has also become notorious for prizes that would be unacceptable today. On at least two occasions a pet dog was the prize (Show 1 featured 'a St. Bernard and a year's supply of whisky'). Other less extravagant prizes have included: a sofa that turns into a pool table, gold nuggets, a family set of folding bicycles and matching 'his and hers' sheepskin coats.

Famous contestants

The very first 1978 show featured an early TV appearance of the then unknown Radio 1 DJ Janice Long as a contestant alongside her then husband Trevor.

Recent 3-2-1 history

Shows from the later series have been regularly repeated throughout the 1990s and 2000s on UK satellite channel Challenge as part of their Gameshow Gods programming strand. In January and February 2007 the 1986 and 1987 series were shown on Challenge at 7am on Mondays to Fridays. From August 2007 to October 2007 both the 1986 and 1987 series were shown on Challenge's sister channel Ftn aring on Saturdays and Sundays at 6pm until the channel's demise. The 1986 and 1987 series were once again shown on Challenge in July 2008 airing at 3am weekdays until July 31 when the license to all series of 3-2-1 expired.



Series Start date End date Episodes
29 July 1978
20 October 1978
19 October 1979
25 January 1980
3 January 1981
4 April 1981
30 January 1982
1 May 1982
29 January 1983
23 April 1983
3 December 1983
17 March 1984
1 September 1984
15 December 1984
31 August 1985
14 December 1985
30 August 1986
15 November 1986
5 September 1987
14 November 1987


Date Entitle
25 December 1978
Christmas Special
25 December 1979
Christmas Special
5 April 1980
Easter Special
25 December 1980
Christmas Special
2 January 1982
New Year Special
25 December 1982
Christmas Special
14 May 1983
Series Finale Special
24 December 1983
Christmas Special
22 December 1984
Christmas Special
21 December 1985
Christmas Special
21 December 1986
Christmas Special
19 December 1987
Christmas Special
3 September 1988
Olympic Special
24 December 1988
Christmas Special

External links

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