Dexter presented the third series (26 shows) of GamesMaster on Channel 4 between September 1993 and March 1994. He replaced popular presenter Dominik Diamond and I'm sure even Dexter would admit that his efforts weren't exactly universally well received.
I trawled the net trying to find out exactly what happened and what went wrong and here is what I've come up with:
Exhibit 1: An article from GamesMaster Magazine Introducing Dexter as the shows new presenter
(Issue number 11, November 1993)
At the grand old age of 27, Dexter Fletcher is already a bona fide showbiz veteran with over 20 years experience behind him. But this man is definitely no 'luvvy'. As you will already know from the first few episodes of GamesMaster 3, his accent is more barra than Brannagh and his invitation to join Brucey, Tarby and Des O'Connory in a pro-celebrity silly trousers competition will be a long time coming. For those of you who have managed to miss out on Dexter's antics during the last couple of decades, here's a quick resume:
His career started when he played Diana Dors' son in the film Steptoe and Son Ride Again. His first big break came when celebrated British director Alan Parker picked him for a role in the kiddie gangster movie Bugsy Malone. In his teens he landed a part in The Bounty alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins and was the youngest permanent member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He's probably best known, however, for his role as Spike in the Channel 4 children's series Press Gang in which he adopts an accent that is the Brit's revenge for Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
So, how did he end up on GamesMaster and what happened to old whatshisname with the red jacket, gold-rimmed spectacles and Manic Street Preachers obsession?
Dexter explains the situation: "Originally I was asked whether I wanted to appear on the show as a guest and take part in a challenge and I agreed to that but then in the intervening time Dominik left the show and I was asked whether or not I would be interested in taking over. I went in and did a bit of an audition, they liked it, offered me the part, and , well, who says no to GamesMaster?" And on the contrived GamesMaster 'plot' which propels the show from location to location? "I'm the GamesMaster's new right-hand man at what is an academy of gamesplaying excellence. I'm sort of the bridge between him and the trainees. I'm on his side but he thinks I'm a pain in the arse. I suppose I'm the Artful Dodger to his Fagin." Of course you are.
Dexter says he used to watch the first two series of GamesMaster "but not religiously". Me? I always dress up in black robes and a dog collar every Thursday at 6.30, but I guess it's a matter of personal choice.
He was a fan of the old style but his GM persona is undeniably different from ol' thingummybob with the dodgy accent. The spirit of Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas has been laid to rest and series three is very much outuedno and in-yer-face. So, is that the real Dexter Fletcher up there, appearing on the screen without the protective shield of a camera for the first time? "I'd say it's a very nervous Dexter Fletcher, but yeah, it's more or less me up there."
For a man with such a wealth of experience behind him, an attack of nerves might be the last thing you'd expect, but Dexter says that overcoming his fear of stepping out there into the GamesMaster spotlight was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do in his career. "It's a very unforgiving atmosphere, quite intimidating and just getting up, taking a deep breath and going out there and doing it was the toughest part of the challenge." "Also, the kids can be pretty ruthless. They come along expecting a show to run smoothly for half an hour but, of course, in TV it doesn't work like that and they start shouting 'You're crap' and 'Where's Dominik?'."
Nevertheless, with half of the series now in the can - as us TV people are wont to say - Dexter has enjoyed his first stint as the GamesMaster of Ceremonies. The main reason, he says, is that he's a fan of the games themselves. "I used to have a Mega Drive but I've given that to my brother now because I've got a SNES. There's a bit of a gang of us that get together for games sessions, I'll be introducing them in my column over in the next few months, and I guess I do okay. I think I'm a pretty good player and now I get to see all the new releases first." He also has the trouser-bulgingly exciting prospect of meeting and greeting all sorts of top showbiz celebs. His favourites so far have been Paul Whitehouse (the other bloke on Harry Enfield's Television Programme) and Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis (the other two from The Mary Whitehouse Experience). Monie Love has also been "pretty cool" apparently whilst, alas and alack, visually impaired chart-topping songstress Gabrielle was awfully nice but "absolutely crap" at games. Dexter himself, of course, will not have to put his claim to be "pretty good" at gaming on the line, not yet anyway, but we're working on it.
He's certainly got a few years practice behind him if his mettle is ever tested. He claims his favourite games ever are Defender and Asteroids "which we used to play down at the local kebab shop". Great games both, but as technologically advanced as, well, kebabs really. Still, it shows the lad has a pedigree and it's already looking like he has the credentials to replace... oh what was his bloody name?
Exhibit 2: A look back at the whole season by co-presenter Dave Perry
GAMESMASTER Season 3: The Games Academy and Team Challenge - October 1993/April 1994 With Dominik having become so associated with GamesMaster, it was always going to be hard for anyone to come in and take his place. However, that mammoth task fell to the likable but verbose Dexter Fletcher. At this stage Dexter was best known for the kids TV drama Press Gang, which also starred his girlfriend Julia Swahala, and the film The Rachel Papers. Instantly recognisable to the audience it looked like he could be in with a chance, however no-one could have forseen the troubles that lay ahead.
Outside of Series 7, which I struggle to find anyone who followed all the way through, Series 3 of GamesMaster is regularly seen by the majority of fans as the low point of the show's run. It was certainly the most controversial. However, very few people seem to realise what actually went on with those productions and so the blame is always placed very squarely at the feet of Dexter Fletcher. The fact is, Dexter was superb, and while he was possibly not suited to presenting, it is certainly not fair that he has had to endure the amount of stick that he does as a result that series. The truth is, he did a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances.
For a start, Series 3 was the first to be filmed without the original crew, director Cameron McAliister and producer Adam Wood, who had been part of the five man team that set up the show, had gone on to do other things (check the credits at the end of Series 2 and Series 3 and you will see what I mean). To say there were problems with the new team would be understating things grossly. Added to these complications, the show began being filmed in Oxford prison (aka: 'The Games Academy'), only for the prison to be re-commissioned and the filming stopped and moved. Now this break in continuity may have been challenging enough in itself, but because of the size of the new location (The London Dungeon) the show's format had to change to a team challenge, as we couldn't fit an audience into the new 'studio. Now, if you remember, I was brought in at this point as the regular co-presenter, in an attempt to add some stability perhaps, so I saw all of the following events first hand. And, while the director and producer squabbled constantly, it was Dexter who was left out front holding things together. In what was, after all, his first presenting job. If at times he seemed a bit manic with his "Waheys!" and so on, well that is perhaps because he was always attempting to over compensate and gee the contestants up. Many of whom had been left standing in cages for long stretches of time, not really knowing what was going on.
Sadly, very few people know about any of this and as a result Dexter is given no end of grief as a result. It was certainly good to see him come back so strongly in Lock, Stock, and now perhaps I can set the record straight for him further. 'A'right geezer!'
The setting was supposed to be a Games Academy, hence Dexter's military attire, and the celebrities included the likes of Dani Behr, The Utah Saints and Vinnie Jones. There was also a pantomime Christmas special in which Frank Bruno appeared as Santa Claus, and got the real hump with the muscled 'jailer' as he tried to take his picture. When the show's format and location changed half way through the season, a team championship was introduced, very much influenced by Hewland's other videogames show - Games World. The show's usually laid back style changed into a frantic battle every week between cocky teams of gamers all heading towards a grand final where they would win jewel encrusted Golden Joysticks and a variety of prizes, including the new Atari Jaguar.
The show was fraught with obstacles. I remember Macho Man Randy Savage insisiting no-one be in the Guest Room when he was there. So we all had to drink our tea in the car park. I remember going back into the room after Jet from Gladiators had finished squeezing into a rubber catsuit to reprise her role as Games World's Games Mistress, only to choke on the cloud of talcum powder that hung in the air and there was also a sticky moment in the Grand Final when one team felt they had been cheated and so refused to return to finish filming. As I remember it I think they were right, but the schedule would not allow the action to be re-filmed. Not an uncommon occurrence on the show. Of the constant battles between director and producer, the moment that most sticks in my mind was hearing them at one point shouting "action" without even realising that Dexter was not on stage and that the cameraman had left his camera unmanned.
From a personal viewpoint though I enjoyed working every week on the show as the regular co-presenter, and as it was a National Championship decided to wear a patriotic Union Jack bandana throughout. Looking back I have to say that I don't think this series was anywhere near as bad as everybody makes out. A Channel 4 bigwig even came down for the final to present the prizes in person.
Exhibit 3: A brief overview of the situation from GamesMasterTV
Whilst the success of GamesMaster was looking to be spiralling up at a constant rate, the unfortunate news broke that Dom had left the show to peruse other projects. So in was drafted the cheeky cockney Dexter Fletcher who said at the time, "Originally I was asked whether I wanted to appear on the show as a guest and take part in a challenge and I agreed to that but then in the intervening time Dominik left the show and I was asked whether or not I would be interested in taking over. I went in and did a bit of an audition, they liked it, offered me the part, and, well, who says no to GamesMaster?" Unfortunately, Dexter didn't, as I'm sure he, as well as us, curses the day he ever decided to take on the job. Whilst Dexter is a great actor and a great bloke, he just wasn't the right choice of presenter. It really also didn't help by scripting the poor bloke to say such things like "megamongous" and "Oiii, GaymesMastah!". It wasn't just after the show that Dexter got criticism. Dexter recalls, "It was a very unforgiving atmosphere, quite intimidating and just getting up, taking a deep breath and going out there and doing it was the toughest part of the challenge."
However, it wasn't just the presenter that was having problems with the show. Half way through filming the series, Oxford Prison (where the first half had been filmed) was re-opened and obviously this caused a few problems for the crew. They frantically searched for a suitable venue and this was found in the London Dungeons where the ill-fated Team Championships took place. The frantic weekly challenge feel overtook everything else on the show and it suffered as a result. Whilst it worked well on a show like GamesWorld, it wasn't suited to GamesMaster where there was more to the show than simple challenges. The series finale saw Mike Miller (the guy who commissioned the show) award the prizes, but even the atmosphere on set was tense as one of the teams felt they had been cheated out of winning as the other team were given a second chance due to a technical fault. It was the end of Series 3 and the end of Dexter Fletcher's presenting career. However, Dexter did go on to star in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the TV drama-series, Band of Brothers.
Exhibit 4: Extract from a GamesMaster Magazine Interview with Dave Perry
(May 2003 Issue)
GM: The National Team Championships in Series 3 saw you commentate weekly on the show, presenting beside Dexter Fletcher. The fans didn't particularly like Dexter, but from your point of view, what was he really like?
DAVE: Dexter was superb. He was a star when he arrived, yet he was massively down to earth and unlike other headliners on the show was perfectly content to share advice and his dressing room with whoever needed it. He was, however, under immense pressure. It was his first presenting job, and he was often not supported effectively by the back room team. What with the Oxford Prison set being shut down due to recommisioning, and the new Director and Producer team (the original pairing of Cameron McAllister and Adam Wood had left after Series 2) rowing regularly over the headphones, Dexter became more and more manic as he tried to over-compensate for the chaos going on around him. I think it was also around this time that he was splitting up from long-term girlfriend Julie Sawalha, so all in all it was not a good time for the poor bloke. It's good to see him bounce back again though, but it sickens me to see the stick he still gets from many the show's so-called 'fans'. After all, it was Dominik who turned his back on them in the first place, not Dexter. Dexter just tried to pick up the pieces.
Exhibit 5: Email I received from Dave Perry
I worked closely with Dexter way back in 193/94 on the production of GamesMaster Series 3 for Hewland International and Channel 4. When the series changed halfway through to become a Team Challenge I joined Dexter as co-presenter for the rest of the season.
You can read all about it here
Throughout that time he was a great guy to be around and very easy to work with. He let every body freely use his dressing room (something very few 'stars' allow), and under extreme provocation and poor working conditions, I never once saw him throw a 'wobbly'. Indeed, he was a consumate professional.
Much has been said about his brief sojourn into presenting on this show, but very few people really know what went on during the filming of that season, and even fewer seem willing to stand up for a man who has become something of a scapegoat for so-called 'fans' of the cult show. Having stood at his side throughout filming in that dark, dingy dungeon, I however, will not have a bad word said about the 'Dexter' years because, after all, I know the truth.
A top chap. It'd be great to have a drink with him again some day.
Sources: GamesMasterTV & GamesAnimal both of which have loads more GamesMaster info on them.
Scans from the GamesMaster Official Book:
Other GamesMaster pictures are here