Takeshi's Castle has, relatively recently, been brought to the UK. You can find it on Challenge? TV (NTL channel 307, Sky Digital channel 121, Telewest channel 152) at times which it would be futile for me to attempt to keep accurate here - there's usually at least one every 24 hours.. Unlike the German version, no attempt has been made to dub the Japanese into English. Instead, commentary voice-overs are provided by Craig Charles, best known for playing Dave Lister in the cult comedy sci-fi TV series Red Dwarf. The show has been stripped down to just the games themselves - no inbetween talky bits. At each challenge, we watch eight or nine contestants try and fail, with Craig commentating. Then one will succeed. Then we watch a replay of Craig's most spectacular failure, and it's straight on to the next challenge. Appearances are deceptive, however - at a success rate of one in ten, there would be no contestants left after three rounds. In actuality at least 50% of the contestants make it through a given challenge - it's just that the failures are so much more entertaining!

And entertaining it is. Though Takeshi's Castle bears more than a passing resemblence to the Japanese gameshows where people jump through hoops of fire and swallow bugs and other unpleasant activities, Takeshi's Castle is altogether more fun to watch. The challenges are hard but rarely physically painful - everyone wears a crash helmet, and the worst that can happen to you in this show is falling ten feet into some muddy water. But more importantly, the contestants are enjoying themselves. They have come here voluntarily, signed up for a ridiculous day out of physical activity. They are enthusiastic. They are smiling!

In fact, Takeshi's Castle makes you care about the contestants. You want these guys to succeed, because they have the enthusiasm to go for it. Here's an example. The contestant is confronted with about eight large, brown cylinders, suspended horizontally so that they can rotate. Each roller is about six feet in diameter, and the gap between each one is about three feet. To get from here to the end, the contestant must leap from the top of one roller to the next, until he gets to the other side. If he slips, he falls into the gap between the rollers and into the muddy water below.

So this guy, about the sixth guy we've seen so far, comes up to take his shot. Let's call him Jack. He runs - he gets past three or four rollers, so he's already doing better than several others. He's skipping so fast he doesn't have time to fall. Good stuff.

Then he gets to the sixth roller and his foot slips. He falls backwards and does the splits onto roller 5. OUCH! But NO! He's not fallen yet! Quick as a flash, and apparently completely unhurt (or just ignoring the pain), Jack springs to his feet on roller 5 and dashes all the way back to the starting platform! This is allowed in Takeshi's Castle - as long as you don't fall, you can take as long as you like. Jack turns around and gives it another shot. What a contender! He makes it past three, four, five - OH NO! He slips again! NO! cry all the viewers. He was doing so well! Jack clings onto a roller for a few more seconds, but a cry of dismay goes up as the hero falls into the water. Bad luck, Jack. You were doing so well!

There is something curiously compelling about watching Takeshi's Castle. There's nothing quite like watching someone skilfully evade two enemies, throw open a door and triumphantly run straight into a muddy lake, Wile E. Coyote keep-running-in-mid-air style. Or watching people play Grandmother's Footsteps... uphill... while wearing giant red plum costumes with only their head and feet poking out. Or the girl who had to carry a golden egg across a narrow, wobbly bridge while people below her pelted her mercilessly with black balls fired out of cannons, got three-quarters of the way across, got hit, dropped the egg and nearly fell, clung on to the bridge by the tip of a fingernail, clawed her way back up, went back, got another egg and made it all the way across, victorious!

The final confrontation at the castle itself is rather anticlimactic, and almost nobody ever wins. But even so, Takeshi's Castle makes for compelling viewing, especially if you're with a lot of other people. Highly recommended.