Jeux sans frontières

Jeux sans frontières (pronounced [ʒø sɑ̃ fʁɔ̃tjɛʁ]; “Games Without Borders” in French) was a Europe-wide televisiongame show, based on the French programme Intervilles which was first broadcast in 1962. In its original conception, it was broadcast from 1965 to 1999 under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which owned the format.

Europe-wide television game show

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Jeux sans frontières

Title card
Genre Game show
Created by Guy Lux
Claude Savarit
Based on Intervilles
Judges See below
Theme music composer Jacques Revaux
Original language English and French
No. of episodes 30 editions
Production
Production location Held around Europe
Production companies European Broadcasting Union (1965–1999)
Banijay Group (2019)
Distributor Eurovision (1965–1999)
Release
Picture format 4:3
Original release 26 May 1965; 56 years ago (1965-05-26) 
23 September 1999; 22 years ago (1999-09-23)
Chronology
Related shows It’s a Knockout

In non French-speaking countries, the show had alternative titles.[lower-alpha 1] It is also widely known as It’s a Knockout, the title of the BBC‘s domestic version and national selection for the programme.

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The idea of the show came from French President Charles de Gaulle, whose wish was that French and German youth would meet in a series of games to reinforce the friendship between France and Germany.[1] In 1965, Guy Lux and Claude Savarit spread this idea to other European countries. Teams representing France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy took part in the first edition of the show called Inter Nations Games.

At the height of its popularity, the show was watched by 110 million viewers across Europe. The original series run ended in 1982. It was revived in 1988 with a different complexion of nations and in its latest editions was hosted by smaller broadcasters, with the notable exception of Italy’s RAI, which hosted three editions with a fixed location in 1996, 1998 and 1999.

In its original conception, teams from Belgium, France, Germany and Italy competed each week in head-to-head competition between two cities/towns from two of the four competing nations. There would be sports events, but also studio based quizzes each week. Eventually, all teams will have competed against each other and the team with the highest cumulative points for each nation from the series would meet in two semi-finals, with the two winners meeting in the final. The first series in 1965 ended in a tie between Belgian town Ciney and French town St. Amand. A similar format followed in the longer 1966 series with more towns competing from each of the four nations.

The more familiar format began in 1967, when teams from Great Britain and Switzerland joined the competition and towns only appeared once in the series heats with each heat being hosted by one of the participant nations, culminating in a grand final. The quiz element was abandoned and the games became more comical (though none-the-less technically difficult), and began to be played in outlandish costumes (often large foam latex suits) with the contestants competing to complete bizarre tasks in funny games. The teams could not choose which of their members played each game. A draw was held to determine the game participants who were then allowed to rehearse the game once ahead of the broadcast recording. Each of the teams received a score for each game, which were umpired by one or two “international” judges (supported by referees from the participant countries), with the winner of each heat being awarded a silver trophy. The two judges/referees who became synonymous with the series were Swiss nationals Gennaro Olivieri and Guido Pancaldi, who were together on the show from 1966–1982. Pancaldi returned for the revived series in 1988.

Typically, the programmes were staged outdoors during the European summer months, although occasionally (such as the Dutch heat in 1971 staged at the Ahoy Sports Arena[2]) the competition took place indoors. Historic market squares or the grounds of famous buildings were often used for the settings, although the surrounds of swimming pools or quay sides for lakes or the sea were very commonly used. The outdoor settings meant that bad weather could often have an impact on the competition, but the games took place regardless of hostile weather conditions. Infamously, a freak storm suddenly hit the 1970 Grand Final staged in the Verona Amphitheatre, leading to the unprotected audience having to flee from the torrential rain and the presenters being stranded without protection, but the show continued.[3]

The series culminated in a grand final, with the most successful team for each nation from the series participating. Each finalist would qualify by winning their heat. If a country won more than one heat, the highest scoring winning team for that nation would go to the final. Any nation that had not won a heat would be represented by the highest scoring team that placed second. Occasionally, this meant that a team with a higher score, but had finished lower than second would be displaced by a lower scoring team who’d achieved a second place. In the rare event that none of the nation’s teams had achieved a win or second place in any heat (such as GB 1967, France 1968 or Portugal 1979), then the highest scoring team regardless of place would participate in the final. Each participating country hosted one heat of the games, presented by the host broadcaster, with a rotation as to which of the nations hosted the grand final. The winner of the grand final would receive a gold trophy, with the runner up receiving silver and the third placed team bronze. It was not uncommon for nations to win the grand final with a team that had not won their heat or indeed for nations to win that had not won any heats at all. The Swiss won the grand final in both 1972 and 1974, the Germans in 1977, the Italians in 1978, the Portuguese in 1980 and the British in 1981 all with teams that had finished second in their heats and with none of their teams winning any heats at all. Portugal won the 1980 series trophy without ever having previously won any heats at all in either of their two series to date. The Swiss were twice series winners in 1972 and 1974 despite not winning a single heat in any series for four consecutive series from 1970–1974.

Only Belgium and Italy competed in the original series from start to finish (1965–1982). France participated in the 1968 series, but due to industrial action with French television, they were unable to broadcast any of the series domestically; also having to cancel hosting their designated heat. Germany hosted two heats that season in place of the French edition. With the strike action continuing, no French teams participated in the 1969 series at all. Liechtenstein participated in the series once, replacing the Swiss for the seventh and final heat in the 1977 series, designated as FL rather than CH for the episode. It had been agreed that should the team from Liechtenstein win their heat, they would be allowed to compete in the Grand Final alongside the best Swiss team. This proved immaterial when Liechtenstein finished fourth of the seven teams in the heat. A team from Derry represented Britain in the German heat of the 1978 series and were designated as NI rather than GB for that episode.

Dutch TV (who joined the competition for the 1970 series) became the first nation to permanently withdraw from the competition at the end of the 1977 series, having never won the series final. Flemish TV in Belgium carried all the series live, whereas Dutch TV recorded the episodes for later transmission (as did many others). Ratings were thus very low in the Netherlands as most viewers had already watched the show with Dutch commentary live from Flemish TV earlier. The Dutch were replaced in the series by Yugoslavia from 1978, who likewise, were never the series champions. Portugal joined in 1979, but Germany left the competition after the 1980 series due to falling ratings. It was agreed to end the contest before the commencement of the 1982 series, which ended with the first outright series win for original participant nation Belgium, but it was later revived with a different set of competing nations in 1988.

Some episodes started being produced and broadcast in colour beginning in 1968, but it wasn’t until the 1970 series that the entire series was produced in colour. However, some broadcasters, notably the French and Italians, continued to broadcast the episodes domestically in monochrome for many years, despite producing their own episode in colour. French TV began showing the entire series in colour in 1974, followed by Italy in 1976.

Each heat was presented almost exclusively in the language of the host nation/broadcaster, necessitating commentators explaining and describing the games and state of play to their domestic audiences. This format made the episodes difficult to sell outside of the participants, offering few opportunities to recoup the programme costs from international sales (although the format itself was licensed to many countries). From the late 1970s the BBC was charged with packaging the episodes for international sale including the English/British commentary. This encouraged sales in English speaking nations leading to broadcasts around the world. In some cases, the BBC would add a pre-show introduction from host Stuart Hall and would often trim the show’s length from the broadcast version. Some episodes were occasionally cut to one hour editions for international sale.

Points were given for each game based on the ranking of the teams. For example, if there were six teams playing the game, the winner would get six points, with five for the second etc. Each team had to miss one game per episode, but all teams always played the final game. A joker could be played once by each team, which doubled their score for that game. The ‘Fil Rouge’ round was played individually by each team and after the 1969 series, no joker could be played on that element, although prior to 1970 jokers could be played on the ‘Fil Rouge’ and for the 1970 and 1971 series only, jokers could be played on the final game. This meant there were more points available for that game and many countries thus saved their jokers for the final game. The rules were changed from 1972 onwards, forbidding jokers on the last game. With the increase in the number of teams to eight from the 1979 series on, the joker system was changed. Teams had to win the game to get a bonus of six points if they played their joker, with four points for finishing second and two points for finishing third. If they failed to finish in the top three for the game, there were no bonus joker points earned. The ‘Fil Rouge’ format was changed in 1981 so that all teams competed together in four repetitions of the game, with different team members in each repetition. The teams retained their best score/time from each of the four repetitions to determine the points after the fourth repetition.

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