Catchphrase's Stephen Mulhern admits hiding from Roy Walker!
TV favourite Stephen Mulhern looks back on 10 years of Catchphrase and the day he hid from original host Roy Walker
Stephen Mulhern is in high spirits. Why? Because his ever popular "say what you see" quiz Catchphrase marks its 10th anniversary on ITV.
Catchphrase — in which players must guess popular phrases and sayings from a series of animated clues — started life back in 1986, when it was fronted by Northern Irish comedian Roy Walker (who he once hid from, more on that later!), who became known for his own catchphrase "It’s good, but it’s not right" and who first introduced us to the show's golden robot mascot, Mr. Chips.
Roy remained as host until 1999 when the show moved over to Challenge TV, where it was hosted by Nick Weir and Mark Curry until it was axed in 2004. Then, in 2013, Catchphrase was revived on ITV1, fronted by then Britain’s Got More Talent host Stephen.
"The past 10 years have flown by, it's quite scary really," Stephen reveals when we meet him at Maidstone Studios, Kent, where Catchphrase is filmed. "I love this show, it's the best gig in the world."
Here Stephen, 45, takes a trip down memory lane that involves shocked celebrities, family fun and hiding from Roy Walker…
Can you believe it’s been 10 years of Catchphrase?
"I remember when I got the call from my agent telling me Catchphrase was coming back and asking if I’d be interested and I immediately said yes. I grew up watching Catchphrase with my mum and dad, when it was hosted by Roy Walker, so they couldn’t believe I’d got the job. Viewers seemed to love it and the fact we’ve hit 10 years is amazing. It’s a real family show. The number of people who tell me: 'Catchphrase is the one show that we can all watch as a family, we’ll play along and whoever loses does the chores around the house.'"
Is it true that, after you landed the job, you spotted Roy Walker in London and hid from him?
"Yes! It had just been announced that I’d be hosting the revival when I spotted Roy Walker on The Strand. He was a big star on Saturday night TV back in the day, so they were big shoes to fill. I just didn’t know what to say to him, so I hid behind a parked car! I still don’t know why I did it. I guess it was just pure fear. But can you imagine if he'd seen me hiding and said: 'What are you doing?' I'd have been even more mortified! I’ve still never met him but I’m told he loves what we’ve done with the show."
And so do viewers it seems! What do you think is the secret to Catchphrase’s longevity?
"People just want to watch something that’s a bit of fun, where they don’t have to worry about their bills or life’s other problems. It offers a tiny bit of escapism."
Is it a challenge for the production team after 10 years to come up with new catchphrases?
"This show never gets boring because there are always new catchphrases. In recent years we’ve had to open it out to films, books, song titles and social media — which is like a new language — so it's all contemporary and up to date. We’ve got a new young audience and kids are now so savvy about everything, so it’s got to look cool."
Catchphrase is a family show - but do you enjoy it when players give risque answers?
"Yeah, I like being cheeky, so Catchphrase fits my style. On the Mother’s Day special in 2014, featuring David Walliams, Emma Willis and Kimberley Walsh, one of the bonus catchphrases was ‘Dicing with Death’. It featured a chef chopping vegetables vigorously but, as the first few squares were revealed on-screen, it looked like something completely different. David was covering mum Kathleen’s eyes and Emma was in a fit of giggles. You can’t script those moments. I know the celebrity versions do incredibly well but it’s a dream working with members of the public, also."
There’s been a resurgence of classic ITV game shows in recent years, including Bullseye and Play Your Cards Right. Why do you think they’re having a moment?
"Good, original shows are hard to come by and, the fact is, if they worked 10 years ago, they're still going to work now. But sometimes a show does need to be rested. Dancing on Ice came off-air for a good period of time, so did Saturday Night Takeaway. I think if it's a good format, it will always stand the test of time. Viewers have got to miss the show a bit, so when they hear it's coming back they remember how much they once loved it."
Have you ever played Catchphrase yourself?
"No, but when the show was commissioned, I got together with Ant and Dec and we played the board game. I was quizmaster and they played it to test it out. And, I’ve got to tell you, Ant is the master of Catchphrase."
Speaking of Ant and Dec, can we expect to see you hosting the Ant Vs Dec segment on the next series of Takeaway?
"Yes, I’ll be back on Takeaway. Ant Vs Dec is a really popular part of Takeaway which, like Catchphrase, is a show all the family can watch. I think kids like the fact Ant and Dec make fun of me and that I can get one over on them. Ant and Dec never see the wacky costumes I wear on the show beforehand. I remember asking our costume designer to make those gold pants I wore last year MUCH shorter. Ant and Dec’s reaction when I appeared on live TV was priceless. The longer pants were just not funny, so I knew we just had to go for it!"
Catchphrase continues on ITV1.
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With over 20 years’ experience writing about TV and film, Vicky currently writes features for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week magazines plus news and watching guides for WhatToWatch.com, a job which involves chatting to a whole host of famous faces. Our Vicky LOVES light entertainment, with Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK among her fave shows. Basically, if it’s got a shiny floor, she’s all over it! When she’s not watching TV, you might find Vicky in therapy… retail therapy that is!