Readers of this blog may recall, that a few years ago I worked my way through every episode of British Saturday morning children’s show, What’s Up Doc?. All the episodes were available on YouTube (and possibly still are) thanks to ADC TV Collection, so I rewatched the show in its entirety and talked about it on this blog.

Well, today I’m ready to talk about another classic Saturday morning kids show, which I’ve just completed watching in full. The show is Ministry of Mayhem (later retitled Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown), which aired in the UK every Saturday morning from January 2004 to July 2006.

The programme aired on ITV between 9:25am and 11:30am and was essentially a live, magazine-style kids show, composed of cartoons, games, comedy sketches, competitions, and celebrity guests. Ministry of Mayhem was originally presented by three hosts: Holly Willoughby, Stephen Mulhern, and Michael Underwood, alongside a collection of ‘comedy’ characters which included security guard Ray, twin telephonists Tina and Gina, and a mad scientist by the name of Doctor Helmut Undgoggles.

The show was aimed squarely at kids, and followed in the footsteps of many legendary Saturday morning programmes, such as Tiswas, Motormouth, and SM:tv LIVE. In keeping with these aforementioned shows, Ministry of Mayhem followed a similar format, with the presenters doing their best to keep young audiences entertained for a couple of hours in the morning, so that mum and dad could stay in bed and have a lie-in.

However, Ministry of Mayhem (which later morphed into Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown) had one very significant difference over its predecessors: The show had the distinction of being the final Saturday morning kids programme to air on ITV. After it left the airwaves, kids’ television was never the same, and some of the brightness of Saturday mornings disappeared too.

Since the show ended back in 2006, ITV has not aired another Saturday morning kids show in the same time slot, nor a show of the same calibre or distinction. There have been attempts at a sort-of revival (Scrambled), but it was not the same thing, and it was broadcast earlier in the morning.

In place of Saturday morning kids shows, ITV now airs cookery programmes, which are aimed at an adult audience. They must be popular, as the BBC does a similar thing, but I can’t say that I watch them.

Because these cookery programmes have aired non-stop for the past 16 years, there is now an entire generation of kids who know no different, and have no clue that once upon a time, Saturday mornings were reserved for purely for them. I expect they also don’t know that all this kids’ programming ended with Ministry of Mayhem/Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown, and this feels like a real shame.   

But anyway, I’ll get to all that shortly. For now, I want to talk about the show and my experiences rewatching it.  

And I say “rewatching” but I should clarify, that I’d only partially watched Ministry of Mayhem/Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown back when it originally aired, so working my way through the show just now was largely a new experience. I should also add that all the episodes are currently up on YouTube, courtesy of the ADC TV Collection (you guys ROCK!), so be sure to check them out.

Anyway, now for a little preamble, before I discuss the show…

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I’m 40 years’ old. My childhood was the 1980s and the 1990s – not the ‘00s.

When Ministry of Mayhem began airing in 2004, I was too old to be watching the show. I’d long passed the demographic for a Saturday morning kids’ programme, and I was of an age where (sadly) work and being a responsible adult had taken over.

So, how did I come to know about the show? Well, this was due to a change in circumstances.

I left school at the beginning of the ‘00s, but after a few years in full-time employment, I quit my job to go to university. This temporary step back into education, and ‘sort-of sidestep’ away from adulthood was how I became familiar with the show.

In short: On Friday nights during my university days back in 2004, I would go out clubbing with my flatmates, resulting in a recurring hungover every Saturday morning. And with nothing much to do on a Saturday, especially with all my flatmates passed out and snoozing, watching kids’ TV in the morning became a thing again.

For a short period of time, Ministry of Mayhem became my hangover TV. I would watch bits of the show here and there, as I stumbled around every Saturday morning, largely regretting the copious amounts of alcohol I’d consumed the night before.

I must say that it was rare that I would watch a full episode of Ministry of Mayhem, but I would often see significant chunks of the show. One week it might be the beginning of an episode, the next it might be the end, while the following week it could be the midsection.

For a short while, and thanks to a series of top Friday nights out on the town, Ministry of Mayhem became the default show that played in the background while I was getting myself together on a Saturday morning. It was an easy watch and clearly better than anything being broadcast on the other channels.

Did I have a strong connection to the show? No; if I slept through it, that wasn’t an issue. But if I caught it, it was a lot of fun, and it provided entertainment when I needed it most.

It also (by default) became part of my ‘00s experience, and a small part of my university years. I LOVED my uni years and still regard this period in my life as one of my most favourite times.

So, when I discovered that Ministry of Mayhem was on YouTube, I knew I had to give it a watch – if for no other reason than to return to the ‘00s! I love a bit of nostalgia and I wanted to re-watch the show, to see if it was as good as I remembered.

So, here is how I got on…

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The first episode of Ministry of Mayhem acted very much as an introduction to everything: From the presenters and the comedy characters, to the cartoons, games, and competitions. It was clear from the moment the first episode began that Ministry of Mayhem was something special, and as soon as I pressed play on the YouTube video, I found myself instantly transported back to 2004.

This initial episode crammed a great deal into such a seemingly short amount of time. Guests included S Club 8, two actresses from Coronation Street (Tina O’Brien Nikki Sanderson), and Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus (via a satellite link-up), while cartoons (edited out of the YouTube recordings) would have included Tutenstein & SpongeBob SquarePants.

Games that featured on the show included ‘Cakey Skate’, ‘Watt Hertz’, ‘the Spellminator’ & ‘Dat Door Dare’, while comedy characters The Doctor, Ray, and Tina & Gina the telephonists were all given their chance to shine. The first episode also introduced the feature ‘That’s My Fish’ – a segment in which presenters Holly Willoughby, Stephen Mulhern, and Michael Underwood, would show a picture of a child, who was holding a fish in his hands.

The image was obscured, so the viewers couldn’t see what was in the child’s hand. Viewers were then asked to guess if the child held a tiddler (a small fish) or a whopper (a big fish).

Tongue in cheek and more than a little rude, it’s fair to say this feature was designed to entertain kids, but also to give mums and dads a little giggle on a Saturday morning. Would this sort of feature air today? Nope – but it was harmless fun regardless.

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After watching this initial episode, I knew I had to keep going. The show was clearly a good laugh, so I dived back in for more episodes, where I was met with further hijinks and hilarity.

One thing that struck me about Ministry of Mayhem during the first couple of episodes, was just how well the show worked from the start. It was one of those lightning in a bottle moments, where everything just comes together right, and it is clear that the audience, the presenters, and the crew are all having a whale of a time.

For the next few episodes, the show maintained a solid format, with Holly, Stephen, and Michael guiding each episode brilliantly. But with episode six there came a slight, and clearly unexpected change.

Stephen had to miss this episode due to being rushed into hospital a couple of days earlier, to have his appendix removed. This emergency situation was addressed on air, and in true showbiz style Stephen phoned up the studio from his hospital bed, to say “hello” live on the show.

For those wondering how Stephen got on, he was fine and returned to the show the following week, in a slightly reduced capacity. He was then back to regular presenting duties the week after that, and things continued as normal.

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Throughout these early episodes of Ministry of Mayhem it was quite clear that technology was changing, and that this show was a big leap forward from the days of What’s Up Doc?, and SM:tv LIVE. The era of postal competitions was almost gone, and the show focused more heavily on texting, phoning, or emailing into the programme.

We were still a few years away from the smart phone era of technology, where everyone had access to the internet at the touch of a button, but it was clear the digital age was now in full swing. The show presumed that many kids had access to a computer, or even had their own mobile phones, and this was something that would only increase over time.

As I continued watching the show, and the week’s rolled by, regular features and games such as ‘That’s My Fish’ and ‘The Spellminator’ were phased out and new features were brought in, including one that encouraged viewers to leave answer phone messages of them farting. Meanwhile the cartoon line-up changed to include the likes of Angry Beavers, All Grown Up!, and Creature Comforts, as well as live-action show, Teen Angel.

However, the standout feature of all the early episodes was the science lab, featuring the Ministry’s resident scientist, the Doctor (aka Doctor Helmut Undgoggles). The science lab was essentially a short sketch, which took place in the Ministry’s laboratory, and saw the Doctor conduct a science experiment with Stephen Mulhern standing by as his lab assistant.

The Doctor was played by Saturday morning stalwart, Peter Cocks, who had previously appeared on Saturday morning kids shows, such as What’s Up Doc? and WOW!. Having Cocks on board as the Doc added plenty of laughs to the show, often via a double entendre which he managed to deliver with a knowing wink to the camera.

The Doc’s interactions with Mulhern were often hilarious. Both the Doc and Mulhern understood the line they couldn’t cross when it came to making rude gags, yet they still managed to have plenty of fun delivering jokes that came close to the show’s boundaries.

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Outside of the science lab, one of the most notable elements of Ministry of Mayhem, during the early days, was its big focus on gunge and chaos. The show was a celebration of mess and madness, with buckets of gunge being thrown all over the studio, and the presenters (and many of the guests) absolutely threw themselves into it.

Few people who entered the Ministry during the first six months of the show escaped the muck. The presenters were regularly gunged, usually towards the start of each episode, and this often meant they had to continue presenting with bits of gunge hanging off them.

One of the messiest features on the show was ‘Cakey Skate’, which involved two celebrities catapulting cakes up a wall. In the game, a cake was placed on one edge of a skateboard, which was then used to launch the cake at a target.

The winner of the game was the celebrity who could reach the highest height on the wall. Who won or lost the game was often immaterial, as the whole thing usually descended into cake-covered chaos anyway.

Flans were flung, desserts were dished out, and jam was jettisoned. It was mucky, it was daft, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

Almost every game of ‘Cakey Skate’ was presented by Holly and Stephen. Holly would wheel on a trolly of cakes, while Stephen would get the contestants and the studio audience excited about playing the game.

However, from week fourteen onward there was a slight adjustment to the format, with Holly being replaced by her ‘cousin’, Polly, which in reality was just Holly in a wig and a French maid’s outfit. And when Holly missed an episode (ep nineteen), so she could present the music show, CD-UK, security guard Ray stepped in as her replacement, donning his own French maid outfit in the process.

And if that didn’t set pulses racing, then Holly’s infamous wardrobe malfunction did. It is an incident that I’m sure Holly still remembers to this day, although I am pretty certain it has never been repeated on ITV.

In episode twenty-five, Holly accidentally flashed one of her breasts, during a hypnotism segment. Oddly, it wasn’t Holly who was hypnotised, which might explain the accidental flash, but instead Duncan from pop band, Blue.

In the segment, Duncan had been hypnotised on the show, and was asked to copy everything Holly did for the next couple of minutes – specifically when a certain piece of music was played (Run-D.M.C and Aerosmith’s ‘Walk this way’). During the sequence, the music played, Holly got up and danced, and Duncan followed suit.

But as Holly jumped up and down, her top slipped out of place. For the briefest of moments, she was exposed live on air, although as a true professional, Holly carried on as if nothing had happened.

For those at home, who were not paying proper attention, the incident possibly came and went without any realisation. But moments later, as Holly, Stephen, and Michael moved on to the next segment, a knowing glance between Holly and Stephen suggested that Mulhern at least was more than aware of what took place.  

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Now, due to the era in which Ministry of Mayhem existed, many of the ‘established’ guests that were booked to appear on the show came from either pop bands, soaps, or reality TV. Reality shows were just hitting their stride at this particular point in time, meaning the show regularly invited guests from the likes of I’m A Celebrity…, Pop Idol, Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen and Fame Academy, to name but a few.

As someone who grew up in an era where guests on Saturday morning shows would often include explorers, newsreaders, writers, and other more interesting pursuits, the one thing that made me feel a little sad on this rewatch of Ministry of Mayhem was seeing the endless collection of reality TV stars pop up each week. Knowing that an entire generation had grown up in an era in which two weeks of fame on a reality show seemed like the best career path, felt a little depressing.

That’s not me trying to put down all reality TV stars – I am aware some people have used reality shows to forge out a long and successful career (and good luck to them). But the constant conveyor belt of reality guests on Ministry of Mayhem was a little disappointing.

Thankfully it wasn’t all reality TV though, and the show regularly featured some great pop acts. One of the biggest bands to appear on the show was Busted, who were extremely popular at the time, while Girls Aloud, McFly, and the Sugababes (other popular ‘00s bands) also put in regular appearances.

And speaking of ‘00s pop music, each episode of Ministry of Mayhem began and ended with a song and dance routine performance of the show’s theme tune. The top-tapping tune, was composed by short-lived band, The Noise Next Door, and this theme song proved to be the perfect way to open and close the show.

The song was very catchy, very lively, and was very much a ‘00s tune. American bands, and the likes of McFly and Busted were popular at the time, and this track from The Noise Next Door slotted in nicely, to make Ministry of Mayhem feel very much in-step with what youngsters were listening to at the time.

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In another sign of the times, Ministry of Mayhem was a sponsored show – something unheard of a decade before. The sponsorship tie-in was initially with Monster Munch, but later it was Cheestrings.

On the YouTube videos I watched, these sponsorship segments were largely edited out. However, a few seconds of sponsorship footage popped up here and there.

Presumably these sponsorship deals were very beneficial to the show, as Ministry of Mayhem always seemed to have plenty of money available, especially when it came to competition prizes. The show would regularly give away DVDs, games consoles, and mobile phones (all much sought-after items), as well as holidays abroad to places like the US and Australia.

I should mention that the sponsorship deals weren’t the only source of income – Ministry of Mayhem also had a regular phone-in competition which would charge callers at a premium rate. Premium rate phone in competitions have been greatly reduced since the days of Ministry of Mayhem, due to a scandal over some unscrupulous activity by a number of TV shows, but during the time this show aired they were a big part of programmes such as this one.

Because Ministry of Mayhem remained on air week in week out, the show went through a lot of cartoons and live-action programmes during its run, including ¡Mucha Lucha!, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Drake & Josh, My Parents Are Aliens, Pet Alien, and Atomic Betty. The show also underwent a number of stylistic changes too, with the first most notable change taking place with episode twenty-nine. 

From this episode onward, the title sequence and branding were tweaked, the opening and closing theme song and dance routine were altered (which was a shame), and the set was given an overhaul. As part of the refresh, ‘Cakey Skate’ was also given a slight makeover, with a new target wall introduced.

However, the most notable difference in the show was the removal of the twins, Tina and Gina the resident telephonists. The girls had not been on screen for a couple of episodes, but it was clear they were now no longer part of the new format.

From a cost-saving point of view (which is presumably why they were dropped), it made sense to say goodbye to the twins, as their job as ‘telephonists’ was simply to pretend to dial the phones and introduce anyone that phoned up the show. It’s just a shame there was no onscreen acknowledgement that Tina and Gina were gone, as they just came and went.  

Anyway, with the refresh came the arrival of a new regular feature in the form of weekly soap, ‘Buthaven’. This segment of the show was a comedy sketch set at a holiday camp, and was envisioned as a cross between Crossroads and Hi-de-Hi!.

The inclusion of a weekly soap/sitcom seemed to be the Ministry’s way of harking back to the SM:tv LIVE days, when the sketch show, ‘Chums’ became a popular feature. Unfortunately, the difference between ‘Chums’ and ‘Buthaven’ was quite significant.

‘Buthaven’ wasn’t funny. Each week this (terribly unfunny) ‘comedy’ soap was wheeled out, and each week it created a huge black hole in the show, sucking the life out of the programme. I vaguely recalled seeing bits of ‘Buthaven’ when I watched Ministry of Mayhem the first time around, and I remember using this segment of the show to go make some food, scrub the toilet, or do anything else!

On my recent rewatch of Ministry, I had the same experience – this sketch bored me rigid, and I largely fast-forwarded my way through it. Thankfully, I didn’t have to put up with it for too long, as the feature was dropped after episode forty.

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Despite the changes to the show, the format of Ministry of Mayhem largely remained the same. However, with each new episode, there was the sense the show was moving away from the messy, rough-and-ready approach of the early days, to something a little less chaotic.

Mayhem and mess was still a part of the series as it developed, but over time there was a bit less gunge than there was before. Fewer guests were gooped as things went on, and everything seemed far more controlled.

This no doubt appealed to the guests, as they were now less likely to walk away from the show looking like they had been attacked by an endless array of custard pies, but I do feel that Ministry of Mayhem lost a little of its magic in the process. The reduction in gunge was particularly evident during episode thirty-three – easily the most lacklustre episode of the show’s run – and this was when the series hit a bit of a misstep.

In fact, this episode also fell rather flat due to both Holly and The Doctor being absent. In the case of The Doctor, actor Peter Cocks was on holiday, while for Holly she was busy standing in for Cat Deeley on CD:UK – something she did on a number of occasions.

And if that wasn’t enough, new(ish) feature, ‘Club Dad’ – a segment involving disco dancing dads – was a non-starter. The combination of all this, plus the lack of gunge, and reduction in hosts, made for a fairly bland edition of the show.

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On episode thirty-eight, Ministry of Mayhem started highlighting talented youngsters, as a sort-of tie-in to popular Saturday night entertainment show, The X Factor. The idea was to showcase the talent of under 15s, who were not being featured on the popular reality show.

The feature fizzled out very quickly, but the first youngster to appear was 11-year-old Nathan Sykes, who showcased a song he had written himself. Pop fans will know that although Sykes didn’t go on to win the feature, he would eventually go on to appear in the boy band, The Wanted.

From episode forty, the gunge tank used in the previous thirty-nine episodes was retired and replaced with the ‘Thank You Desk’ – an item recycled from classic Saturday morning show, Tiswas. The ‘Thank You Desk’ was used at the end of the show, to ensure at least one of the presenters was gunged, before the episode wrapped up.

As the weeks rolled on, other new features were introduced including ‘UFO’, ‘Race Ray’, and ‘Double Trouble’. All were fun, and showed that Ministry of Mayhem was continually bringing new ideas to the screen, rather than resting on its laurels.

And then the show reached episode fifty, and there was about to be another big change!

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With the fiftieth instalment of Ministry of Mayhem, presenter Michael Underwood finished up his time on the show. Michael had been an integral part of the show from the first episode, but as Ministry of Mayhem was about to complete a full year on the air, he bowed out.

There was no huge announcement that Michael was set to leave, his exit was simply handled in the final ten minutes of episode fifty, with a look back at his ‘best bits’, along with a few goodbyes. To this day, I’m not really sure why he left, or why there was very little fuss made about his departure.

Although Michael’s exit was dealt with rather swiftly and with no major preamble, watching the show back there are hints he is about to leave. For the first time ever, he got to take part in ‘Cakey Skate’ (a game reserved for guests only), and he joined in with the Doctor’s science experiment – again, something he never did in the previous forty-nine shows.

As there was no explanation for Michael’s departure, his exit seemed rather rushed, but maybe that’s all he wanted. It’s possible the decision was made for him, but this seems unlikely, so I presume his contract was up for renewal and he simply wanted to do something else with his time.

At a guess, his exit was a late decision, as the week following his departure he still featured on a pre-recorded sequence as part of the show’s Christmas edition (aka episode fifty-one). However, with episode fifty-two – the New Year 2005 instalment – there was no further mention of Michael.

With episode fifty-three, Ministry of Mayhem kick-started its second year. It was more or less business as usual, but this new year brought a collection of new games including ‘Ram Ray’ and ‘Name That Tone’ – both of which became very popular features.

For those who don’t recall, ‘Ram Ray’ involved security guard Ray (who was now just known as ‘Ray’) running at five doors, in the hope of smashing through one of them. Four of the doors were real, solid wood doors, and only one was a fake made out of paper that he could smash through.

Ray didn’t get to pick the doors he ran at, he was instead guided by child contestants, who called into the show hoping to win prizes. The kids would tell Ray what door to run at, and he would have to comply, even though it usually meant hurling himself at solid pieces of wood.

‘Ram Ray’ was hilariously brutal, especially during week sixty-one, when all of the doors were solid. This was a little joke, that Ray wasn’t in on, so as he ran towards the final door, convinced it must be made of paper (after smacking into the previous four), he hit the door head on, much to the laughter of presenters, Holly and Stephen.

Because there were no fake doors in this particular game, every viewer who called in to take part in ‘Ram Ray’, won a prize. It really was a fun instalment of the game.

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In contrast to the somewhat painful antics of ‘Ram Ray’, ‘Name That Tone’ was a more sedate game, and a reworking of classic game show, Name That Tune. The major difference here was that contestants had to guess the names of songs that were being played in the form of phone ringtones.

The game itself wasn’t particularly amazing, but what made it work was the introduction of a new character for the Ministry, in the shape of Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee was brought in as a throwaway comedy character who would come into the game to hand Stephen some codes for his ringtones, but he quickly became a cult figure, and remained with the show moving forward.

This second year of Ministry of Mayhem also brought a weekly food fight, a new cartoon in the shape of Captain Scarlet, and from episode sixty-one onward, two new characters joining the line-up. These two new characters were Scratch and Sniff, two hyena puppets, performed by John Eccleston and Don Austen – the same puppeteers behind Bro & Bro on What’s Up Doc? and Sage & Onion on Live & Kicking.

Another noticeable change in this second year was the show’s focus on more games, as well as the inclusion of pranks. Ministry of Mayhem was now firmly living in the era of prank shows like Punk’d, so practical jokes and embarrassing skits were now part of the format.

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For episode seventy-three, Jennifer Ellison stepped in for guest presenting duties, while Holly was on holiday, and then a few weeks later, Jack Osbourne stepped in for Stephen, followed by a guest presenter spot for Peter Andre. None of the guest presenters were particularly good, and sadly, it was around this time that Ministry of Mayhem seemed to hit a bit of a rut.

A few of the episodes around this time felt a bit lacklustre. Some of the regular features were dropped (before being picked back up again) and there was the general sense the show was struggling with its own identity.

However, things soon got back on track and another new cast member was added in the shape of a real-life puppy, who was named Snowy. Snowy would quickly grow up to be a rather large, often uncontrollable dog, but it was at this point that Ministry of Mayhem seemed to be hitting its peak popularity.

And then with episode eighty-nine, there came something very special. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of ITV, as well as the 25th anniversary of Saturday morning kids shows on the channel, Ministry of Mayhem dedicated a whole episode to kids’ shows of yesteryear!

The guest line-up for this episode included Sally James (Tiswas), Neil Buchanan (Number 73), Gareth ‘Gaz Top’ Jones (Get Fresh), Gaby Roslin (Motormouth), Pat Sharp (What’s Up Doc?), Jenny Powell (Gimme 5), Gail Porter (Scratchy & Co.), and Brian Dowling (SM:tv LIVE). The Phantom Flan Flinger from Tiswas was also drafted in to toss out some well-placed custard pies, while Chris Tarrant (Tiswas), Ant & Dec (SM:tv LIVE), and Timmy Mallett (Wide Awake Club/Wacaday) put in some special appearances too.

Episode eighty-nine was a great episode, and one I recalled watching the first time around. So, to those who are reading this (lengthy) blog post about Ministry of Mayhem, and who LOVED Saturday morning kids shows back in the day, this is the episode of the Ministry YOU MUST seek out!

Episode eighty-nine also marked the final game of ‘Cakey Skate’. There was no on-screen announcement that this was the last outing for the game, it was simply dropped from the show’s line-up from episode ninety onward.

Was it a shame? To be honest, no.

While ‘Cakey Skate’ was once one of the highlights of Ministry of Mayhem, the game had lost its spark quite a while back. For far too long it felt like the game was going through the motions, and although it was the most consistent part of the Ministry (even appearing more times than the main presenters), it was right to retire it at this point.

But by retiring ‘Cakey Skate’, it also meant a great deal of the mess and gunge was removed from Ministry of Mayhem too. There were still a few custard pies here and there, but there was now a significant difference between the messy show that the Ministry once was, and the cleaner show it had become.

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New cartoons around this time included King Arthur’s Disasters, as well as Planet Sketch, while ‘Ram Ray’ continued to be one of the best aspects of the show (the instalment in episode ninety-four was a particular highlight). A new feature was also added to the Ministry, in the form of ‘Supermarket Sneak’ – a pre-recorded segment added to the show to replace ‘Cakey Skate’.

‘Supermarket Sneak’ was a great replacement game, which saw Holly and Stephen being mischievous in a supermarket. Essentially, they were each given a trolly filled with items, and the object of the game was to empty the contents of their trolly into the trollies of unsuspecting shoppers.

Each edition of the game was filmed in a real supermarket, with real customers. It was a very simple premise, but as with all the great Ministry games, it was a lot of fun to watch.

The show continued with very few changes for the next few episodes, as it headed towards episode one-hundred-and-three. This episode was significant for two reasons: It was the second Christmas edition of the show and also the final edition of Ministry of Mayhem.

After one-hundred-and-three episodes (just one week shy of two full years on air), Ministry of Mayhem came to a close. The final edition was a festive treat, filled with fake snow, tinsel, and pantomime gags, but there were no major references to this being the end of the Ministry!

However, there was some indication that something was different about this show, because ‘Cakey Skate’ made a one-off return. Other than that, Holly and Stephen made a couple of references to changes ahead in the New Year, but the show came and went as normal.

But that’s because this wasn’t quite the end.

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Rather than end the show entirely, Ministry of Mayhem simply morphed into something new. This new show – which kick-started 2006 – was called Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown.

This ‘new’ series was essentially a more cost-effective version of Ministry of Mayhem, with the action transported out of the big studio, and into a small flat (also a studio). The set was redesigned accordingly, everything was paired down to save a bit of money, the live audience that was always in attendance on Ministry of Mayhem was ditched, and the general madness and chaos was neutered.

The concept moving forward was that Holly and Stephen now shared a flat, and each week they take part in a series of games. The show became a battle of girls versus boys, with the audience encouraged to call in and take part in the games, to win their respective teams points (and themselves some prizes).

With this new premise put into place, and the new smaller setting established, the cast was slim-lined too. Ray, Snowy the dog, and Scratch and Sniff the hyenas made the jump to the new show (although Sniff largely only appeared in pre-recorded segments), but the Doctor and Mr. Lee were nowhere to be seen.

No explanation was given for their absence, but presumably this was another cost-cutting exercise. Of course, they were both sorely missed, however, based on how awful the first episode of Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown was, they clearly had a lucky escape.

With no studio audience this new incarnation of the show lacked atmosphere and with a reduction in comedy characters, and ideas, the programme was devoid of most of its fun. To make matters worse, for the very first instalment, the show somehow made Holly and Stephen look like they were winging things and it all felt rather rocky.

To be fair to the presenters, it wasn’t their fault, and they tried their best to make Saturday Showdown seem interesting, but it was clear the golden era of Ministry of Mayhem was now over. This new, cheaper format was basically a poor copy of the BBC’s Dick and Dom in da Bungalow, and the whole thing felt incredibly hollow.

What once was a brilliant Saturday morning show, filled with mirth, merriment, and plenty of energy, was now a soulless waste of everyone’s time and something truly dreadful. The presenters no longer seemed to be having fun and I expect they were fully aware this was a poor substitute to what came before.

If you’re old enough to remember the third series of What’s Up Doc? or the final series of Live & Kicking, and remember just how bad they were, then you’ll appreciate how rubbish this revamp was. Too much tinkering had taken place, the budget had clearly been slashed significantly, and all the goodwill the show had developed over two years was quickly thrown out of the window.

While working my way through Ministry of Mayhem, I watched every episode in order, from start to finish and up until this point I was enjoying the journey. Some episodes were not as good as others, but they were never less than entertaining.

However, the debut episode of Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown changed things for me. This initial instalment marked the first time I genuinely struggled to finish an episode, and it took me three attempts to get through it all.

With every passing minute, I couldn’t believe the downgrade I was witnessing, and I had to force myself to keep going. To go from the greatness of the Ministry, to this cheap imitation, was crushing. 

But regardless of how bad episode one was, I had set out to watch every episode of Ministry of Mayhem, and that meant persevering with Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown. So, I kept going, with episodes two, three, four, etc, and the good news is, things did begin to improve.

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After a few episodes, Saturday Showdown began to settle into its own little groove. Sure, it still wasn’t really working for me, but under its new format (with regular features, ‘Dodge Dolly’s Balls’, ‘Pumping on Your Stereo’, etc), it found a new identity and this helped to paper over some of its cracks.

With episode nine (and back by popular demand) ‘Ram Ray’ was revived and this seemed like another step in the right direction. Then from episode ten, it was announced that Saturday Showdown was being broadcast simultaneously on both ITV as well as digital station, The CITV Channel (Freeview Channel 75/Telewest 734).

The newly arrived CITV Channel aired hours of kids’ programming, and Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown was to be an important part of that line-up. This at least seemed to suggest that somebody, somewhere, was trying to get Saturday Showdown back up to scratch and realign it with Ministry.

In reality, ITV were simply doubling down on their content, by broadcasting the show on both channels every Saturday morning to fill up a gap in the schedules. But there was at least a novelty element to the double-broadcast, as each channel aired different cartoons, allowing viewers to decide what they watched.

On The CITV Channel, Saturday Showdown also received a longer running time, so while the show ended at its usual time of 11:30 on ITV, it continued on to midday on the digital channel. And I can confirm that all of this additional content is available to view on the YouTube videos I watched.

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With episode eleven, the Doctor made a brief return. He only appeared on screen for around five minutes, and only during the digital-exclusive part of the show, but it was very nice to see him back.

Once again, it felt like Saturday Showdown was trying to move back closer to the Ministry days. There was also a bit more gunge creeping into the show too.

For episode twelve and thirteen, Holly was on holiday, so soap actress Nikki Sanderson stepped in to guest present for the first week, while the girls from Liberty X guest presented for week two. And then with episodes sixteen and seventeen, Stephen was on holiday.

Jack Osbourne was on guest presenting duties for episode sixteen, while pop singer Chico stood in for Stephen for episode seventeen. Oddly, Jack Osbourne was initially announced as covering both weeks, but that didn’t transpire in the end.

This was easily a blessing, as similar to his previous guest spot, Osbourne was terrible. On the flip-side, Chico was very good – and a complete natural when it came to interacting with Holly and the guests.

So, when Stephen was absent again for episode twenty, Chico was drafted in once again to be the guest presenter, and he proved more than capable of handling the job. Had Saturday Showdown continued for additional seasons, I expect he would have become a regular stand-in presenter.

But there was not going to be any additional seasons, nor were there going to be many more episodes. From episode twenty-three, Saturday Showdown was dropped from the ITV line-up and was shifted onto The CITV Channel only, where the show was billed as an ‘exclusive’ to the channel.

But in truth, the writing was on the wall and this move to ‘digital only’ was the beginning of the end. After just four more episodes of Saturday Showdown on The CITV Channel, the plug was pulled on the series.

With episode twenty-six, the series came to an end. This was the final hurrah for Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown, and the definitive end point for Saturday morning kids shows in general.

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For the final instalment, Holly, Stephen, Ray, Snowy the dog, and Scratch and Sniff, were re-joined by the Doctor and Mr. Lee. ‘Cakey Skate’ was revived for one last game, and a ‘best bits’ montage was incorporated into the show, as things started to head toward the finishing line.

While Saturday Showdown paled in comparison to Ministry of Mayhem, over its twenty-six episode run the show had demonstrated multiple points of improvement. And with the return of some old faces, which brought pretty much all the core presenting team back together, it suddenly felt like old times again.

I must say that watching this final episode, I did feel rather sad. Between Ministry and Saturday Showdown, there had been a run of 129 shows, and the vast majority of them were very, very good.

Sure, I may not have grown-up on this show, like I did Going Live, Live & Kicking or What’s Up Doc?, but there was simply no denying that Ministry of Mayhem was truly excellent, and throughout the series, Holly Willoughby and Stephen Mulhern were fab. ITV did the duo an injustice by dumping their show onto The CITV Channel at the end, and they should have been allowed to bow out on the main channel.

However, whatever way you cut it, they were stars up until the end, and as for the show, during the Ministry days it was truly superb. In fact, if you’re a kid who watched this show religiously during the ‘00s, and you’re reading these words now, know this: You had one of the best Saturday morning shows on television.

The series was incredibly enjoyable and filled with an endless supply of laughs. Holly and Stephen (and Michael Underwood) were all brilliant, and it’s not surprising they have gone on to do plenty more TV work over the years.

As UK readers will know, Stephen has fronted many shows over the past couple of decades, often on a Saturday night, and has become a firm favourite with viewers. Meanwhile, Holly side-stepped from Saturdays to weekdays, to co-host popular daytime magazine show, This Morning, and has remained there ever since.

The only real ‘loser’ out of the demise of Ministry of Mayhem/Saturday Showdown, is us, the viewers. Saturday mornings simply aren’t as much fun as they once were, and this is a real shame.

When Saturday Showdown ended, that was it for Saturday morning shows. ITV greatly reduced the money and time it was willing to devote to kids’ TV, and with digital channels changing the TV landscape, they no longer felt there was a place for this kind of programming anymore.

A legacy that dated back to 1974, and the days of Tiswas, came to an end in 2006. And thanks to ITV dumping Saturday Showdown onto The CITV Channel for its final weeks, it kind of concluded with a whimper, rather than a bang.

However, in truth it wasn’t a whimper. As I will reiterate, Ministry of Mayhem was truly excellent.  

Do I think Saturday morning TV is now poorer without live kids’ shows like Ministry and Saturday Showdown? Yes. Very much so.

I know I’m now an old fart, who has reached a time in his life where he longs for the past, but regardless of this, I do feel there was something magical back then, and it is a tragedy that this type of show no longer exists.

However, I am thankful to the YouTube gods, including the guys at the ADC TV Collection, that I can still watch old episodes online – this is at least a small consolation. And of course, I encourage YOU to check out some of these old episodes too, so you can look back at the good old days, when the likes of Razor Ruddock, the Cheeky Girls, Bradley Walsh, and Ricky Gervais, were being invited onto TV to get covered in gunge, all under the guise of children’s entertainment.

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Thank you for sticking with me through this lengthy look back at Ministry of Mayhem/Holly and Stephen’s Saturday Showdown – I hope it has brought back some fond memories. As I’ve already suggested, I urge you to go back and watch a few episodes of these shows (while you can), because this really was a special time.

Start back at the beginning and see how you go. Or if you’re really pressed for time, take a look at episode eighty-nine, to see how the Ministry celebrated all the past Saturday morning shows.

Anyway, for more nostalgia-inducing posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below. Here you will find more posts to delve into, and I’ll catch you again soon.  

Read more:

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