I wrote earlier this year about the tenth anniversary of Treasure Quest, the Sunday morning show I produce on BBC Radio Norfolk, and its importance in my life and career. This weekend, the programme marks what is I suppose the second part of that anniversary – at Easter we were celebrating ten years since the pilot, whereas now it’s ten years since the start of the regular run, which began on the 25th of May 2008 and has continued ever since!
Although I had studio-produced the second pilot on the early May Bank Holiday of 2008, I hadn’t set that one up, whereas for the regular run I did do that. So this weekend not only marks the anniversary of the show’s weekly run, it also marks ten years since I became its full-blown producer.
So while I’m not entirely sure whether or not anyone might be interested in reading this, to mark the occasion I thought I’d sit down and compile a list of ten of my favourite Treasure Quests from the past ten years. I’ve ordered them chronologically so as to avoid having a ‘winner’ and thus causing any offence to anyone who’s been a part of the team down the years. It’s been very difficult to narrow it down to just these ten – but not only is that the appropriate number for the anniversary, I also thought it was probably pretty much the maximum limit of what anyone would want to wade through!
Anyway, here we go, for those of you who are interested… And to start with, we’re going way back, almost to the very start of the regular run…
1 – Sunday 8th June 2008
Clue hunter: Lucy Clark Studio presenter: Graham Barnard
Only the third show of the regular run, and with an unusual all-stand-in team – even the radio car driver, Keith Greentree on this occasion, was a substitute. Lucy was a journalist on the news desk at the time and our regular stand-in for Becky Betts in the early days, and Graham has been a deputy at the studio end of things (and latterly sometimes as radio car driver) throughout the entire run. He eventually got his just reward for being called in, sometimes at the very last minute, to stand in for others when he got the chance to helm the Easter two-parter in 2017, an excellent special which came within a gnat’s whisker of earning a place on this list.
Despite its unusual nature, however, this episode earns a place on the list because it was the first one where I really felt as if I knew what I was doing. Although I was still working very much in consultation with our then assistant editor Martyn Weston, who had brought the show to the station, it had become clear now that the onus was on me to plan the route each week, set up the locations, find the clue-holders and write the clues.
The first episode of the run had gone okay, probably because I had the most time to set it up. The second had seen a bit of a disaster when some of the clues hadn’t arrived in time, after which I put in place my rule that I always get everything set up and ready by the Thursday before the show at the very latest. (Except for when I don’t – but these days, having so much experience of putting the show together and knowing there are so many fans I can thankfully call upon to help us out, having the odd last-minute hole in the show that needs plugging on a Friday or even a Saturday isn’t the catastrophe it would have seemed to me back then!)
This one was all set-up and sorted and ready to go before the weekend, and like all the best episodes it had the odd task or challenge along the way, rather than the clue envelopes all just sitting around waiting to be found – some of them had to be earned. This led to perhaps the first really great Treasure Quest moment, with poor old Lucy expressing her displeasure at having to fish one out from a box of maggots at a bait shop! I also remember how pleased I was when she said, with meaning, “I’m not happy with you Paul Hayes!”, as I hadn’t been at the station for all that long at this stage, but being singled out by name by Lucy like that made me feel like a part of the team.
The distances between locations weren’t too long so the show didn’t start to lag, but they were also far enough apart for a decent spacing and a close finish – and Becky Betts even popped up with the treasure envelope at the event she was running in Eaton Park. I really remember thinking after this that I’d done a good job, and I think Graham was very complimentary about it too. Producing Treasure Quest is a fairly limited skillset that doesn’t really qualify you to do anything else, particularly – but this was at least the point at which I realised I might be quite good at it.
Clue hunter: Becky Betts Studio presenter: David Clayton
One from the classic David and Becky line-up which dominated the first five years of the show, and really made the programme what it is. The reason I have picked this episode in particular is because of what it meant at the time – perhaps the first point at which we realised just what an impact the programme was having, and what it meant to people.
The preceding week, a listener called Cathy Pye had emailed in to suggest that as it was Children in Need time, people could send in cheques of donations to the charity in the name of Treasure Quest, and we could make the total figure raised by the programme the treasure at the end of the next week’s show.
This us as being a good idea, although Becky expressed concern on-air about whether we would raise enough for it not to seem embarrassing. She needn’t have worried. Before the programme had even ended, a man had actually come to the station in person to hand in the first cheque, and they came flooding in through the week.
But it wasn’t just the donations. Many of them came with letters or card, saying how much they enjoyed the programme and how much they loved listening to Becky and to David. It felt quite special, and really rather moving. I did my best to make the show live up to the build-up, and it did have some nice stuff in it – most notably Becky having to go karting to earn a clue – and there’s no doubting that the big moment was when Becky opened the envelope and found out how much we’d raised at the end.
It was £3985, in just a single week, from the listeners of one programme on one local radio station. Of course, as soon as we read that out, we had calls from people wanting to pledge the extra £15 to make it up to a nice round four thousand pounds. Becky, of course, burst into tears, so moved was she by everyone’s generosity – but this would only be the beginning of our Children in Need efforts on the show down the years.
Clue hunter: Becky Betts Studio presenter: David Clayton
There is no denying the fact that Treasure Quest owes a debt to Channel 4’s Treasure Hunt TV programme of the 1980s. We may be live, on the radio and using a car rather than recorded, on the TV and using a helicopter, but it’s hard to deny that if that show hadn’t happened, neither would ours. We even used to use their theme tune, for goodness sake.
So there was always a sort of kinship that we felt between that show and ours. In September 2009, we’d even managed to get one of its co-presenters, Wincey Willis, to stand-in as the clue-hunter for us one week, to everyone’s great excitement. I can’t recall, at this distance, whether we’d already been wondering, but certainly after that we increasingly began asking ourselves and each other whether we could perhaps get the ‘Sky Runner’ herself, Anneka Rice, to make an appearance.
It was Martyn who knew that she sometimes spent time with friends on the North Norfolk coast, so it might not be entirely unrealistic to get her. But we never really did anything about it until I decided to take the bull by the horns, found out who her agents were and emailed them explaining about the show and asking whether she might like to make an appearance.
The answer came back – yes, she might.
At this point I panicked a bit and handed the negotiation over to a grown-up, Martyn. We heard nothing for a little while, but suddenly in early February, Martyn excitedly came up to me one day and said that Anneka was going to be in the county this coming weekend, and would be happy to take part.
We arranged for a taxi to take her into Norwich for the final hour of the show, although we had a bit of a panic about whether or not it had been properly booked on the morning, so sent Graham Barnard – who was weekend editor at the time – to go and fetch her, as he had been designated as our Anneka-minder.
We had her waiting with the final clue at Norwich Castle, and it was a programme where timing was everything. I couldn’t let them head to the castle too early, as I didn’t want Becky getting there before she did, so it meant I had to hold back some calls at the clue four location until I was sure everything was okay.
I can still remember turning to AJ, who was my assistant on the show at the time, and telling her to start putting the callers with the right answer though as if I were bloody Russell Crowe commanding his men to “unleash hell” in Gladiator. I remember the song David was playing before Becky got to the castle, George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby, a song I shall forever associate with the moment David faded it away, just as Becky reached he castle… and started screaming!
The “Anneka flippin’ Rice” moment instantly became one of our most famous. Anneka was good fun, seemed to enjoy herself, and even though it ended up being a failure as they didn’t get to the treasure in time, it didn’t matter. It felt like a big moment, following on from the previous week where we’d sprung a surprise and swapped David and Becky for the first time – leaving me thinking, well, what more can we do with this show now? Surely we’ve had all the big moments we can possibly have…?
Clue hunter: Becky Betts Studio presenter: David Clayton
This was not the first two-parter that we did – we’d begun that tradition at Easter 2009. Right from the start I’d known that the two-parters really had to justify their size. They couldn’t just be run-of-the-mill programmes, they had to have extra big and special moments in them – so, for example, in that first one we’d had such things as a clue being hidden in the Monday’s edition of the Eastern Daily Press, and Becky being abandoned by the radio car and having to catch a train back into Norwich.
For 2010, Martyn and I had something much more than a mere train journey in mind. The previous year, we’d been contacted by a local firm called Sterling Helicopters. They’d offered to take Becky up in a helicopter one Sunday, and we eventually managed to arrange the little jaunt for a show in October 2009. Despite Becky’s much-expressed fear of flying, she ended up rather enjoying that flight, which was just a quick trip up from Norwich Airport, a little circle around and then back down again.
Martyn and I reasoned that as Becky had enjoyed that one, how about for the special we send her on an actual journey?
Sterling wouldn’t let us have another trip for free, reasonably enough, so we actually had to pay them for this one, but Martyn felt it would be worth it. All was arranged – for the finale of the two-parter, Becky would have to fly from the airport to Dunston Hall, where Martyn would be waiting with a special cake to celebrate the fact that this two-parter was, by a pleasing coincidence, the 100th quest. Engineer Steve Parks was tasked with making sure we could broadcast from the helicopter, from which we ended up getting a better signal than we do on some radio car journeys.
There were a lot of good things in this two-parter. The overnight clue wasn’t up to much, admittedly, but we had all sorts of nice bits and pieces – including Becky being locked in a cell by the army, having to try her hand at rugby, being on the cover of a custom-made Radio Times mocked up for us by the magazine themselves, and having to get on a bus and meet a comedy Norfolk character we’d planted there.
It’s fair to say, however, that the bit everyone would remember was the end, when Becky was confronted with the helicopter flight. Looking back, I have mixed feelings about it. Although we did make it clear to her and the listeners on-air that she absolutely didn’t have to do it if she didn’t want to, I think we did put her in an incredibly unfair position, as I know she would have felt awful to have said she didn’t want to do it.
It became evident very rapidly, however, that she really wasn’t enjoying it – but on the other hand, her histrionics were making for hugely entertaining radio. We had emails afterwards from some listeners criticising us for putting her in that position, and others saying she was a professional and ought to have pulled herself together. It divided our colleagues, too – Martyn later tod me that our news editor at the time was very unhappy with him for us putting Becky in that position.
It made an impact, though. Radio Norfolk old boy Greg James even played a clip of it on his Radio 1 show, bringing it to national attention. I’d like to say I’d be more responsible about putting a presenter in that position these days, but I think having spoken to Becky about it since she’s glad she did it and holds no grudges over it. Not that she’d particularly fancy it again, I suspect!
Clue hunter: Becky Betts Studio presenter: David Clayton
I said in my piece about Treasure Quest back in March that one of the things I feel I’ve brought to the show is helping to foster that family or team feel that it has on-air. I like to think that one of the ways in which I’ve done this is by ensuring that we make a proper fuss of people when they leave.
Of course, when Becky was leaving after five years of clue-hunting, any fool producing the programme would have known that it had to be marked. I put a lot of effort into setting up interesting or sentimental locations and various challenges for Becky, only to then find myself on the Saturday night before the show arguing that she shouldn’t be doing it. She really wasn’t very well, and David Clayton and I were discussing what we could do. It ended up being one of the very few arguments we ever had about the programme. Being a slightly older and wiser producer by this stage, I argued we had a duty of care not to let her do it. He spoke to her and to her family, and I eventually agreed with him it would be all right as long as we let her opt-out of any tasks of challenges she didn’t feel up to, and let the radio car driver do them for her.
In the end, she was much better by the Sunday morning and was able to do almost everything across the whole two-parter – even having a go at driving a steam locomotive!
There were moments on the Monday which didn’t work well – David rather ruining my April Fool’s trick of trying to convince Becky she had to go up in a plane, and not having good signal at a flashmob moment I’d arranged in Cromer. But the ending was perfect. I’d intercepted most of the listener cards which had been sent in for Becky – hundreds of them – and arranged for them to be hidden as buried treasure in Overstrand. After all this time, finally having a buried treasure with an ‘X’ marking the spot!
It was a nice close finish, but Becky got there within the time limit, and there were tears as she bid goodbye. It was the end of an era for the programme, but I am glad we were able to mark it properly and give Becky the send-off that she deserved.
Clue hunter: Sophie Little Studio presenter: David Clayton
After taking a year off in 2014 and returning on the May Bank Holiday in 2015, the two-parter went back to its traditional Easter slot in 2016. By this time, Sophie Little had become the regular clue-hunter, and I was able to put her through her paces with cycling, archery, an assault course and artificial caving… but the real reason this one makes the list is because of the overnight clue, which I think remains the best one I’ve done yet.
We’d had a clue printed in the Eastern Daily Press back in 2009, and for 2016 I had the idea that we could step this up a little. During the 2017 two-parter Graham Barnard made the extremely flattering comparison that I felt about the Easter specials in the same way that Morecambe and Wise felt about their Christmas shows – worried that they might not live up to the public’s expectations, and always wanting to make them as special as possible.
It’s utterly ludicrous to even mention me in the same sentence as them, of course, but he was right in that I do always try to make them different and special and have some stand-out moments. Particularly when it comes to the overnight clues. I really want to challenge people, to make them think and most of all to try and do something clever.
I like to think that I achieved all of those things with the 2016 overnight clue. Rather than just one newspaper, I managed to get four different editors to kindly agree to print a line each, from the four corners of the county – the North Norfolk News, the Yarmouth Mecury, the Lynn News and the Diss Express. As it was very unlikely any one listener would be able to get their hands on copies of all four of these papers, solving the clue would rely more than ever on listener teamwork, and would genuinely require listeners from all across the county to work together.
It worked brilliantly – a difficult clue that the listeners were nonetheless able to work through and solve without being given any extra help. In the end they didn’t finally crack all of it until early on the Monday morning, after a huge amount of discussion, debate and analysis on the show’s Facebook page. David and Sophie seemed suitably impressed when the solution was explained to them, and this was probably the two-parter after which I received the most kind comments from the listeners. The only problem has been trying to better that in the years since!
Clue hunter: Sophie Little / David Clayton Studio presenter: David Clayton / Sophie Little
Three years on from Becky’s departure, now it was time to wave farewell to another member of the team.
When it comes to special quests such as two-parters and departure episodes, in recent years I don’t think I’ve been as good at doing them as I might have done. I think I’ve become over-confident – thinking I can squeeze more into the shows than is really possible, and not allowing enough room for error. This was why the tenth anniversary two-parter at Easter this year was such a disaster, and why I was so annoyed with myself for it. I knew, rationally, from all my years of experience doing the show that it wouldn’t all fit in, but I convinced myself we could get away with it. It was as if I’d learned nothing in all those ten years.
Or perhaps I’d just been influenced by how lucky we’d been before – particularly with this episode. Ten clues in a standard three-hour show, all at places which meant something to David’s life and career; a presenter swap-over in the middle as Sophie took over in the studio and David went out in the car, and a gathering of all the regular clue-hunters from down the years to present David with the treasure at the end.
And it worked. Not only did it work, but it ended up being timed pretty much to perfection, as David reached the classic car full of clue-hunters with seconds to spare. Indeed, the only thing which really went wrong was me forgetting to give Sophie the treasure to take outside with her when she joined the others – I had to send phone answerer Anna Morton running down with it, and thanks to her fleet-footedness it didn’t come across on-air, and you only really notice when you see the video.
I think we did David proud. I hadn’t realised how tense I was about the whole thing until I collapsed into my chair afterwards during Extra Time, which itself became a bit of a party atmosphere, a gathering of friends, family and colleagues paying tribute to David.
Clue hunter: Anna Morton Studio presenter: David Whiteley
One of the nice things we’ve always been able to do on Treasure Quest down the years is not just make the phone answerers part of the on-air team and part of the family of the show, but bring them through to hopefully help develop their careers, or just give them something fun to do, by standing in either for me or the clue-hunter or maybe even the studio presenter.
It’s always great when one of them gets the chance to go out there and hunt the clues for the first time, and in December 2016, after she’d been with us on the show for about 18 months, Anna Morton finally got the chance to go out clue-hunting.
She was a natural, and very funny, and as it was the last quest before Christmas I made sure it had a nice festive end with us all together back at the studio! I had been keen to have a show on the Christmas Day, and had started to come up with vague, distant ideas of how we could do it, but nobody else was keen so this became our final live quest of the year.
I have always tried to give the last quest before Christmas a suitably seasonal feel, but the end of this one was probably the furthest I had ever gone with that to this point, with some Christmassy tasks and presents for the team. This I suppose leads to the only sour note about this particular show, as it went so well that it encouraged me to go all-out the following year, when Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday. I fell once again into the trap of trying to stuff too much into it, and although I had set up a lot of nice things I didn’t studio produce the programme particularly well, and in the end got so angry about it collapsing around my ears that at one point when I was giving the cupboard under the printer a good kicking, Anna Perrott who was assisting me that day had to very sternly tell me to calm down and get a hold of myself.
Clue hunter: Sophie Little Studio presenter: David Whiteley
The Sunday prior to that Christmas Eve disaster in 2017 saw us mark our 500th quest, a show which went rather better, although sadly it didn’t end quite how I had hoped as they didn’t make it to the treasure in time.
This show too had almost fallen into disaster when it turned out that despite my having sent everything out early to try and avoid any complications with the Christmas post, the treasure and one of the clues hadn’t arrived in time. Mercifully the treasure was with Anna’s husband Will, who kindly came to pick up a replacement from me on the Sunday morning, but the other one which had gone awry was a complicated clue involving an audio recording hidden in a Proclaimers CD case.
I discovered these things while I was on a train back to Norwich on the Saturday morning, travelling back up from seeing my parents down in Sussex and taking them their Christmas presents. Which was why, rather than taking the Circle Line straight round from Victoria to Liverpool Street to get back up to Norwich, I found myself taking a detour to Oxford Street to head to HMV on what must surely have been one of the busiest shopping days of the year to try and find a replacement Proclaimer CD. “The things I do for this bloody programme…” was a thought I expressed to myself more than once as I squeezed my way through the crowds.
Nonetheless, I got it all done, got back up to Norwich, went to the BBC instead of home, prepared a replacement audio clue and then got a taxi to courier it up to the clue-holders. It was a pain in the pocket as much as anything else, but it was more than worth doing as that moment ended up working brilliantly the following day.
But it wasn’t just that. It was a nice show overall, with interesting places and some fans holding the clues and a few surprises along the way. Yes, a win would have made it perfect, but this probably ended up being a better anniversary special than the actual tenth anniversary special a few months later did.
Clue hunter: Anna Perrott Studio presenter: David Whiteley
There’s an old theatrical saying that you’re only as good as your last show. If that applies to radio as well, then as I write this I’d be very happy to be judged by last Sunday’s Treasure Quest.
I have to confess that I hadn’t been having a particularly enjoyable time producing the programme of late. At the heart of it all were technical troubles with the radio car, which had made many of our recent programmes incredibly difficult. Added to the disaster of the Easter special two-parter, which in addition to all the radio car problems I’d simply abandoned my instincts and tried to stuff too much into, and the whole experience of the show had become rather joyless for me. I was still doing a decent job of work, I think, and getting the programmes made, but I wasn’t having fun anymore. It was getting to the point where having previously always looked forward to 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning I was now almost dreading it, and I was going home feeling pretty miserable afterwards.
It was partly the feeling that I was spending all the same time and effort setting up locations and writing clues for shows which just weren’t coming across well, because of the aforementioned technical troubles. I had even seriously begun to wonder about whether I actually wanted to work on the programme any more – perhaps I was simply burned-out with it, and it would be better for someone fresher with new ideas to take over.
Last Sunday, however, the clouds cleared – both figuratively and literally, through the course of the morning. The radio car, for the first time in a long time, behaved perfectly. It was a bright, happy show with interesting locations, decent clues, good people to talk to at each place, and the odd task or challenge for the clue-hunter to undertake along the way. It was even a close, exciting finish, too – it would have been better had it been a win, of course, especially as they rather snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but I have often said in the past that it doesn’t matter if it’s a minute’s win or a minute’s loss, as long as it’s close, as this was.
David and Anna were great, and the whole thing zipped along happily. For the first time in ages, it was a show I was proud of. So yes, I think I’d be happy for us to be judged by the standards of this most recent programme, as I write this – I only hope I haven’t put a jinx on things for this weekend’s two-parter!