Fort Boyard: A Retrospective

Since 1990, Fort Boyard has been made for many different countries around the world, and many other ones buy up the French show and give it a commentary in their own language. Concentrating mainly on the French show, we’d like to offer you now a retrospective. How has it influenced the modern gameshow? A reasonable amount, as it happens.

1804: Napoleon starts building the fort. The foundations kept on sinking into the sand however, so they gave up.

1840: More tension between the French and the English leads to a restart of the project. By the time it was finished, the war was over. It didn’t need to be used as a fort anymore, so over the years it became a number of different things – one of the things it’s best remembered for is as an army prison, but the army gave it up by 1913.

1961: The Fort becomes the property of Charente-Maritime.

1967: The final scene of the French film Les Aventuriers is filmed in what’s left of the Fort.

Mid 1980s: La Chasse au Tresor (Treasure Hunt) uses the rundown Fort as a location for one of its clues.

Late 1980s: Jacques Antoine (creator of Chasse au Tresor) sees the fort and thinks "hmm… wouldn’t it be a really ace idea if we were to set a gameshow on there?" and so the seeds of Fort Boyard are planted. Jacques Anotine at this point is the owner of JAC Productions.

1988-1989: The Fort is restored to its former glory and wired up so that they can film a gameshow there. It’s a co-production with many TV companies around the world. Meanwhile, a Channel 4 exec gets wind of the project and wants a pilot made – but when they get over there they discover the conversion of the Fort hadn’t been finished yet. Channel 4 and Chatsworth Television decide to make their own version of the show with Jacques Antoine’s help. This became The Crystal Maze. What we want to know is: did Channel 4 attempt to make a pilot with what was there, and does the footage still exist?

1990: Les Cles de Fort Boyard begins.It is hosted by Patrice Laffont (who was one of the longest running hosts of one of France’s longest running shows La Chiffres et la Lettres – we know it as Countdown – which he produces today, as well as many other French light entertainment shows) and Sophie Davant (although Marie Heel co-hosted the first shows of the series).

The set up seems to be that Sophie brings along a team of six men and women to the fort and try to carry off its gold. The keys are guarded by the old wise man of the fort (Pere Fouras, played by Michel Scourneau), whilst Patrice is the jovial host. There is a voiceover at points during the opening explaining the set up. This "voix-off" is credited to Paul Barge.

The players have 60 minutes to win as many keys as they can. Inside each cell is a timed test of strength, skill, agility and occasionally logic and Patrice decides who will play each game. Each time they successfully win a game (epreuve, test), they win a key. If a player is still in a cell when the time runs out, they become locked in the cell – although they can come out with or without the key anytime before the blue water timer outside the room (clepsydre) has run its course. One person at the beginning of the game (the "intellectual") spends most of the game up in the watchtower with Pere Fouras. For every second game that fails to yield a key, this player is asked a riddle. If he gets it right then Pere Fouras relinquishes a key to them. If he gets it wrong, Pere Fouras throws it out of the window into the sea and one of the team, a dedicated swimmer, must go and get it – wasting time.

Before some games, each contestant is asked to pick one of two cards held up by Patrice. At the end of the show, this will determine who will get to do a bungee jump for a giant golden key which will be worth a hefty bonus.

With about five minutes to go, it’s time to preapre for the contestant’s assault on the gold reserves. First of all, Patrice gives the players a chance to buy out any locked in comrades at a cast of one key per person. Next, the players strip down to a respectful minimum – the legend says that anyone who conquers the fort can take away any gold that they can carry out, so bundling gold in clothes is a no no.

The players have to negotiate the flooded rooms underneath the fort in order to get to the holding tunnel underneath the treasure room gate. When the gong goes, to signify the end of the hour, the two minute treasure room clock begins. The first task is for Michael the tiger tamer to put away the tigers (this counts towards the clock). With the guard tigers away, the players have the rest of the time to get the gold!

In the Treasure Room are 18 numbered chests, some with more gold in than others. Each of the keys are also numbered. The idea is to open the chests (the numbered key has to match the numbered chest), grab as much gold as possible and then get through the gate. The catch is that you can’t come back and forth out of the treasure room – the gate leads to small airlock-esque holding room with a turntable – so you have to find as many ways to carry and hold the gold as possible. As the time progresses, the tigers get nearer to the end of their caget, and with 30 seconds to go the gate to the exit starts lowering. This is the time for everyone to bundle in with what they’ve got. With the gate closed and the tigers released, Patrice and Sophie rotate the airlock thing round so the contestants are free to deposit their winnings on the scales (a good team could get between 150-200,000 FFr). Then the selected person gets to do the bungee jump for the show finale which if successful adds another 35,000 FFr to the winnings. And then everyone gets the boat home, whilst all the characters (not many at this stage of the proceedings – Passe Partout and Passe Temps, L’homme Fort, The Magician, Mud Wrestling woman) of the fort wave them off from the rooftop.

This series saw the only time that a player was trapped in the treasure room after the gate closed. He was told to come back the way he came – through the underwater tunnels. He didn’t get eaten by the tigers, disappointingly.

1991: Changes afoot. The show is now called just Fort Boyard. Pere Fouras is now played by Yann le Gac. Yann will eventually design games for the show as well as become one of the show’s producers – but he’ll play the character of Pere Fouras for most of the fifteen years the show is on air. Laffont is asked to play up the mysterious side of the fort more – to this end he dresses in black and grows a beard and is less jokey, and he also takes on the role of voiceover over the title sequence to explain the new game. The format of the show, you see, has changed. Now the team have 65 minutes. To begin with, an intellectual is sent up the watchtower where he’ll remain for most of the game. On the gong, Pere Fouras asks him a riddle but not for a key, this time for a map. This map, supposedly, tells Patrice which cells have keys in and the order Pere Fouras (the Guardian of the Keys, remember) wants the team to attempt them in. The map will be swum for if the Intellectual doesn’t answer correctly in time. The team must now try and collect seven keys as quickly as possible. They have a maximum of 14 tries to collect their seven keys. Pere Fouras asks a riddle for a key after the sixth game. If they don’t have enough after 14 attempts then they will have to leave someone in the oubliette (an underground dungeon, accessed from above by lifting a loose flagstone) for every key needed to make up the shortfall. They won’t be playing any more part in the rest of the game.

After the seven keys have been collected, the prisoners are automatically let out and now the second phase of the game comes into play. The contestants have to participate in "adventures" in order to earn cluewords. These cluewords will lead to a keyword which the players will need to work out if they want the gold.

These adventures use the whole of the fort, above it, below it and occasionally around it. The first clue is the answer to one of Pere Fouras’ riddles – three mini-riddles with the same one word answer. Interestingly in some early episodes, if the player didn’t get it right, the word could still be swum for. Of the adventures, some are physically demanding (deathsliding off the roof and then swimming to a boat and then climbing its rigging whilst in choppy seas). Most play on an element of fear (spiders, snakes, scorpions, height, drowning, the dark, whatever). Possibly the show’s centrepiece was a two level obstacle course a contestant had to endure whilst carrying 90 Boyards (the gold coins). At the beginning they had to remember six words and then, without being able to use their hands, they have to get round the course (going through several rooms of the fort and up a spiral staircase) ending in the dreaded 3D cage maze. At the end of the maze was a word seller who would sell words for every 10 coins the player still had in their possesion. The player had to ask for the words she read at the beginning of the adventure. Only one of the words was the clue they were looking for, the others were fake (and were labelled as such once they were ‘bought’).

Because of this exciting fear element, the players were often chosen by picking the short straw, although on occassion this was limited to swimmers/non-swimmers, males only or females only. "We wanted to be an Indiana Jones style paperchase" – a spokesperson. Indiana Jones is almost certainly the show’s main influence (and not, for example, Endurance), but the show’s use of fear is something European’s ripped off quite quickly (some of these were excellent actually, El Gran Juego de Oca is a particular favourite) – but it didn’t really catch on in Britain until Don’t Try This at Home began, and then Fort Boyard arrived here soon afterwards.

Crucially all these adventures are against the clock and at the end of the time the cannister containing the clue would self destruct or Arianne (the sorceress who would be largely nude but painted) would put out her light at the end of the dark labyrinth, or the lights would go out in a game involving creatures and so on.

The team would normally arrive at the Treasure Room with about two minutes to go. Now was the time to work out the keyword. The keyword is te one word with a link or association with all the cluewords. If the team weren’t confident with their answer, they could sacrifice players for extra cluewords by reaching one of their arms into a statue of a tigers head and pulling out the clue which cuffed them to it (these were almost certainly based on a test from series one where a player puts their hand into a giant tigers head statue to get a key, pulls their arm out and then has to use a hammer and chisel to break the chain that now binds their wrist to the statue in order to get out). When they knew the answer, they had to ring the bell next to the gate (and seeing as everyone did this before 65 minute clock ran out, I suspect that not ringing the bell had dire consequences). A new three minute clock began and the tigers were put away. The new gate opened (so the players can now come in and out of the room) and the players now have to spell out what they think the keyword is on the lettered flagstones on the treasure room floor. Once done, Passe Partout turns the golden tiger’s head, a mechanism starts, and if the keyword is correct then gold falls through onto a large caged domed plinth at the end of the room. The players have as much time as there was left to reach through the cage and grab as many coins as they can and deposit them in the pot outside. They can go in and out as many times as they liked, but curiously, someone’s oiled the gate well because it only takes about ten seconds for it to rise and fall which seems to dramatically stop about a foot away from the ground if there are people coming under it.

Patrice has already left the team at this point. He does an off camera voiceover explaining the clues and ends the show with a quick chat with Pere Fouras in the watchtower. This is a tradition that will last until Laffont leaves the show.

A couple of episodes filmed at night are made. These are lovely, the fort is torchlit.

The American pilot, Capture Fort Boyard, was filmed this year. We think it didn’t get an airing until 1993, however.

1992: This year is a bit lighter in tone. The teams now have 70 minutes (in order to fit another exciting adventure in, I’ll be bound), and they now have a new guide in the form of Valerie Pascal, who is a little more serious than Davant. Laffont has dropped the black and the beard. The fort now has a jail for prisoners and a jailor in the form of Monsieur Sumo. For some reason, the production team add a piece of music which plays during the last seconds of a test when it looks like someone is about to be taken prisoner. When the team have their seven keys they run to the jail to try and release the prisoners. In the jail antechamber there is a maze with eight exits – four red and four blue. The Ratman appears. A prisoner chooses between the white and black rat, and then they must predict which exit they’ll leave through – red or blue. If they’re correct (and bafflingly, about 80% of the time they were) then they were free to rejoin the team. If they were incorrect, they would spend the rest of the game languishing in jail. From now on, if people don’t get Pere Fouras’ clue riddle correct then they won’t find out the answer until after the game. Again, night episodes were filmed. Interestingly, this is the only series where Passe Partout, the short guy who carries the keys, says things. This is also the only series where each team have given themselves a name. Furthermore, they seem to have fixed the Treasure Room gate which now classically takes thirty seconds to rise completely and thirty seconds to fall. Also, Michael the tiger tamer is replaced by Felindra, played by Monique Agenon.

1993: New Year, new guide for the team in the lovely face of the lovely Cendrine Dominguez. Her and Patrice will form the longest hosting partnership on the show. The game time is ramped up to 75 minutes. New graphics for everything, including an interesting Mission Impossible-esque fuse clock for the clue games. The adventures are no longer played by people who pick the short straw, Patrice decides. Also: the teams are now playing for a charity. This is because, we think, the teams are now comprised of civilians and celebrities. JAC Productions changes its name to Expand.

1994: No real rule changes, but Pere Fouras has lightened up considerably as a character and is played more for laughs by Yann Le Gac. Also, the Intellectual doesn’t spend the game up the watchtower but is sent up there when it’s time for a riddle (at the beginning, after game six, for the first clue) Monsieur Sumo is replaced by the inimitable Monsieur La Boule, a grumpy bald fat bloke. This is the first year Patrice stays with the teams after the Treasure Room. He explains the clues to the camera, says goodbye then runs off to the watchtower for his weekly chat. This is the first series the Intellectual doesn’t spend the game from the watchtower, they’re sent up there at the beginning, after game six and for the clue riddle, led up and down by Passe Temps all the way.

This year also sees a strange student special. All the contestants seem to be acrobats, they’re only given 60 minutes but are given two keys for free. I think this is because there was an important sporting event which would have eaten into Boyard’s traditional Saturday night slot so they accomodated in advance.

The production company were also making La Mondes Fantastiques, a rather neat kids version of The Crystal Maze at this point. It is hosted by Oliver Minne.

1995: The Fort’s renaissance year and an important turning point. To begin, a completely new set of titles beginning with an impressive logo rising out of the sea. Just as importantly, Paul Koulak’s complete reorchestration of the theme tune so that it sounds more naval, ‘Boyardesque’ and exciting. Completely new graphics package (whereas before the time the contestants had was overlayed on a coin, now there’s a sliding bit of wall which pops in and out of the screen with the clock (which is 80 minutes now) overlayed on that amongst other new things). No more getting a map and a different person is sent up to answer each of Pere Fouras’ riddles when the time comes. A game that involved electrocution, and another new game which involved fire escapes. Fun new characters (this was the first time le Pirate Jaba spent his time laughing in the contestant’s faces, this time round in a fencing test) and most importantly la Salle de Conseil, where the Maitres des Jeux reside. After the contestants have all seven keys and have tried releasing the prisoners, they go deep into the dark bowels of the fort (this is just a production trick incidentally, the actual room is on the second floor) and face off against these Games Masters to win time for the Treasure Room in a section called Chasseurs du Temps (Time Chasers). Patrice would give the team 90 seconds as a gift. One by one, each player would go into this darkened room and play a game of skill, endurance or strategy against a masked guardian. For each duel won, the Maitre would give the contestant a cup of ball bearings (representing time, we guess) which the contestant pours into a big central tube beneath a tiger clock and the team would get an extra 25 seconds in the treasure room – so potentially there’s four minutes to be had. If there were any prisoners, the team captain would play extra games.

This was The Crystal Maze‘s final year. Channel 4 said that "it had become outdated." The show’s planned follow up, The Magic Carnival where people attepted to play games involving circus skills, doesn’t make it past the pilot stage.

1996: Disaster strikes the fort as a massive fire starts up in the generators just before filming was due to start. It took three hours to contain but caused no lasting damage.

Production wise, interestingly this takes one step back (in terms of presentation) but also puts one step in the future. The titles are the same and the theme is slightly reworked so it sounds a little less bleak. The graphics look more like 1994s but done up a bit. The rules are the same but with one addition – La Sauvageonne. This "savage woman" nabs contestants as they run round the fort and drags them away. Occasionally this is bad (she shackles them up to the heating pipes for the next key game) but usually this is good, this is when she drags the contestant back off to her lair to play a bonus game. On the table are nine Boyards, and on the side are eight bags of coins, each one larger than the last. What transpires is a game of luck and greed. Eight of those nine Boyards have a gold reverse whilst one has a white reverse. The contestant picks coins, each one that has a gold reverse means they get a bigger of coins. They can stop at any time, but if they pick the Boyard with the white reverse then it’s all over the player leaves empty handed. The largest bag is worth 25,000FFr.

This was also the first year Pere Fouras only threw out one key. If the team had to swim for the first of his riddles and they got the second one wrong then it went back into his cupboard.

The programme was being so successful at this point they they ran a mini-series, Fort Boyard at Night, during the autumn (the show normally finishes the week the kids in France fo back to school after their summer holidays). These were filmed at night. Also interestingly, the team now had 85 minutes for these late shows, and features an episode where Laffont almost gets beaten up by a contestant after making a dig at a contestant who was shackled to the heating pipe game.

The show is now made by "Tilt", a subsidary of Expand. Francoise Argrueille vecomes the game designer.

1997: This is, I think, my favourite series. A neat mixture of comedy (including the running gag at the top of each show which would involve a sketch playing out, but just as it was getting interesting Patrice would shout out "Generique, generique, generique!" ("Titles, titles, titles!") and the ongoing Tom and Jerry-esque rift between Labouille and Jaba the Pirate), an atmosphere that came together and game. Teams were made up entirely of celebrities now. There was is a short burst of theme (the horn call bit) at the beginning and end of each key test (this is a bit annoying, actually). There was a new jail (a cage on the second floor so the contestants could talk to the prisoners no doubt) and this years new innovation was the "chariot". The Treasure Room had had new paving put down so it was all level. At the top of the show (or on occasion, after they’ve collected six keys), Patrice would throw the seventh key down in with the tigers. One of the contestants would have to go and get this.

After the sixth key was claimed (and they now had 12 attempts to get them, any oubliette matters would be taken care of first), all the prisoners were released and then everyone went down to the old prison antechamber which now had a new maze. The maze had twelve doors, two of six different colours. The contestants would line up behind different coloured tiger heads on the stairs. One door would be open for each contestant, but two would be open if that player was a prisoner – doubling their chances of getting picked. The rat was put into the maze and whichever coloured door it went through determined which of the six players would have to go and get the key. In the early episodes, they were given the chance to spend the rest of the game in prison if they wanted to bottle it but as nobody did they dropped the rule soon after. The selected contestant got into a caged pedal go-kart (which was made so whilst it could be pushed and knocked by the tigers, it could never fall over), pedalled around the treasure dome, picked up the key through a hole in the bottom of the kart and then pedalled back whilst the rest of the team cheer them on from the first floor.

La Sauvageonne had an exciting new Boyard vending machine rather than different sized bags in her bonus game.

Quite a few exciting episodes this year too. The first one features four members of British teen boyband Worlds Apart (who were never really that big here, but massive on the continent) who was joined by a Canadian swimmer and a French celebrity. Most of the show was conducted in English with the cluewords in English and French and the keyword a word that was the same in both languages.

There were three nighttime specials – one at Halloween (some of the key games had snakes and mice added in), one for Christmas and one for New Year (one of the contestants was Laffont’s sidekick on Pyramide, a popular daily word game he hosts). Two games were specially added for these night time specials, "The Block of Ice", where the contestant had to hold a block of ice up to some ceiling bound blowtorches in order to melt it and retrieve the key within, and "The Christmas Tree", where a decorated Christmas tree was in the flooded rooms and clues to the clueword were hidden amongst the decorations.

1998: New graphics package again, this time with an ice cube motif, and more changes abound. The opening sketch has gone to be replaced with Patrice in the Council Room introducing each player with cutaways to them training on the beach. Also, rather than have Patrice choose which player will "do" a test, this time round one of the team is a "coach" who will pick the player, but only during key games. Patrice tells them what the test is going to be first. The first key riddle comes up after the first game now and the team miss out if they get the first riddle wrong. The second riddle, however, can still be swum for. Whatsmore, there’s a giant clock installed in the centre of the fort, the "Horologue du tigre", which measures the amount of time the players have got to collect the keys. It’s not a straight amount of chances, it’s now about 45 minutes, and the players have got to get the seven keys before the clock gets to seven and LaBouille rings the bell. The Chariot has now been adapted to be an adventure, and so the team must collect the seven keys from the cells as before. La Sauvageonne’s left to be replaced by La Bohemienne, the gypsy, who is the "mistress of fire" (she’s a bit handy with a pair of flaming batons) and seems to own a raven. She picks players to join her in her room for her bonus game which plays exactly the same except there are now firepots, seven of them have tigers heads in, the eighth is empty – avoid that one. She points to one and BANG! It explodes.

The prison has gone to be replaced by individual cages attached to the walls. The prisoners were also given a large bunch of keys – if they could work out which one of the 200 or so would get them out then they were released.

This was the first year that they’d be a list of all the cluewords gained down the side of the screen after each word was gained. Disappointingly, at this point the clues were no longer more abstract and took the form of them all fitting at the beginning or end of the keyword to create new familiar expressions. Monique Agenon, the tiger mistress, spent the year touring so Felindra was substituted for this year by Thierry le Portier who was known as "la Major". He’s also the person responsible for wrangling the tigers, which we believe are the same ones used in Russell Crowe film Gladiator.

The production company began making a show called Mission: Pirattak. It was a kind of kids version of Fort Boyard and starred many of the actors from it. It was hosted by Oliver Minne.

Tilt have changed their name to Anabase Productions.

This was the first year Channel 5 made their own highly successful version with Leslie Grantham and Melinda Messenger.

1999: The show’s tenth series (the first show had an hour retrospective an hour and a quarter beforehand, and a special anniversary CD with most of the music of the show was commercially released) and, very sadly, Patrice Laffont’s final year as Master of the Fort. Entirely new graphics package again. The players have to gain access to the fort by lifting a heavy iron gate by pulling on ropes. Lots more character comedy between games, Pere Fouras comes down from his tower to have a chat with the host between games and yet another new feature: the underground. Now the players have to earn the right to face off against the Maitres des Jeux. One player is nominated to the beginning of a pitch black maze and a mechanical clock begins. The clock starts with six tiger’s heads above it (each tiger’s head representing a duel against a Games Master), but when the hand gets round to a certain point, one of the heads disappear. The player must follow the rope round to the exit where the clock is. On the way are two boxes, each with a button hidden inside which will open a door so that they can continue. Sadly, there are also rats and worms in the boxes. The faster they get round the course, the more golden tigers heads they can take from the mechanical clock – and if all six remain then they’re given a 25 second bonus by Patrice in the Council room.

Themes this year include Jaba and La Bohemienne fighting a lot. Oh, and one of the coaches was the comedian and actor Jean-Pierre Castaldi.

The final episode saw Laffont interview Jacques Antoine, the creator of the show, on top of the Fort, regarding the shows future. It ended with a champagne celebration.

The show’s producers invent Les Forges au Desert, a show in the Antoine stylee. He wasn’t involved though, and it majorly flopped in its native France (although has had success around the world). And now the production company is known as Adventure Line.

2000: With Patrice gone there needed to be a new Master of the Fort, and that new master was popular coach from last year Jean-Pierre Castaldi. The show was otherwise largely the same bar from the usual round of new games, the fact they don’t have to gain access to the fort anymore, the underground game has reverted back to the dark labyrinth adventure (and coincidentally, if anyone is still imprisoned by the time Chasseurs du Temps comes round then the team are penalised by not being allowed to have the captain play the prisoners’ games) and a new character arrives in the form of La Lumineuse, the magical fairy whom Castaldi fancies. At the top of the show she’d mix two primary colours (which could be the same) together to get the "colour of the day". During the show, when the team have six keys or when the clock points to six they’re given the option to play the next game for a colour, or they could play on for a key as normal. If they went for the colour and they won the token inside the cell then La Lumineuse would come along and reveal one of the colours she used to make the mystery colour. For the penultimate clue game, the team can forego the clue if it’s won and have the second colour. After the treasure room, the players have to guess what the colour of the day is – if they’ve won both colours previously then this should be very easy. If not then it’s a game of luck. If they pick the right colour, La Lumineuse magically doubles the team’s winnings.

Excellently, Patrice Laffont and Sophie Davant were contestants on the first episode of this series. Also Jaba and La Bohemmienne are in love. Awww. Castaldi doesn’t continue the end-of-show chat with Pere Fouras tradition but there’s a freater emphasis on banter and running jokes between the games.

2001: After Castaldi’s successful first year on the fort, the show was beginning to look and feel a bit stale now. More importantly, where it once led the field in terms of fear and adventure, other shows such as Fear Factor were happy to push the barrel out that little bit further – the show feels less relevant in its modern environment. No change in the graphics package, no change in the game, other than the fact that Pere Fouras’ first riddle is for this year only of a visual/practical bent (how do I get the glass off the paper without touching the glass, that sort of thing), the Maitres des Jeux are now the Maitres des Temps (Masters of Time). They’re given two minutes for free and they play four games for 30 seconds each. The coach chooses who plays three of the games and the coach plays the mystery fourth game themselves.

There’s an ongoing gag regarding Cendrine, who has taken the role of guide but also reports things and writes things fown in her notebook. At the top of the show, the contestants aren’t training on a beach anymore, they’re on some kind of holding hut in the middle of the sea.

The prisons are now a little bit different. They now need a combination to get out. There is now a box to put keys in – if they find the right key then the combination pops up, but as it’s invisible to the prisoners they have to wait for the rest of the team to run past and yell it out to them. It seems more obvious than ever that the team have it a bit easy and it "just happens" that they tend to find the right keys just as the team are running past. The game takes the back burner a bit.

There is also a text message competition, along the lines of "will they get the seven keys?"

Devastatingly, Jaba the pirate has left and it’s a good ten-fifteen minutes into the show before the actual game begins.

2002: Castaldi and Domiguez’s final year and possibly the worst series yet. There’s a pointless 3D giant tiger head graphic. The team have to gain access to the fort again (one person climbs a ladder through a window and get eels and frogs dumped on him as he tries to turn a lever). La Lumineuse has gone. In fact most of the ephmerial characters have gone. There’s a new graphic of the Horologue du Tigre which pops up after a contestant wins a key. It takes an age for the game to get going. La Bohemienne’s lair has been spruced up but no longer plays her bonus game for cash, now she plays a wheel spinning game to determine how many spare bars a player about to attempt the ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ test will get to take in with him.

The team don’t get a free swum-for key anymore if they get the second riddle wrong. Now they must race the black clad Elle, who gives them a headstart, but is very fast.

Yann le Gac takes a year off playing Pere Fouras, the role he’s played since 1991. The role will go to Didier Herve for this one year. Interestingly there is no between game banter between host and Pere Fouras this year.

Chasseurs du Temps now gifts the team two minutes and each one of the four games won is worth 25 seconds.

With about ten minutes to go the team get to take on The Infernal Machine. Three cluewords are fed into it and three adventures are set up. What happens now is essentially an adventure relay. Dyrian explains: "The contestants have 9 minutes to complete 3 adventures.
If a contestant fails to complete his adventure in under 3 minutes, the signal is sent neverthless to the other contestant.
At 8:30, the machine begins to heat up. At 8:40, one clueword will explode in the machine. At 8:50, another one will explode. And finally, at 9 minutes precisely, the last one explodes.
So they have to block the machine with the perforated card, before 8:40, in order to have all three cluewords. So they don’t REALLY have 3 minutes for each adventures. More like 2:55.
So the first two contestants can fail their adventures, but if the third one finishes it under 2:40 (or maybe a little less because they need to run back to the machine to punch in the card), they win all 3 cluewords."

It’s quite an interesting way to get round the fact that the teams normally get the keywords much quicker now that the clues weren’t abstract, and it’s an idea that gets reused.

At this point, the ratings were at an all-time low and was on the verge of getting the axe. However, France 2 had a change of heart and gave the show one last chance to turn things around. And they did.

2003: Woah. Completely new graphics. Completely new (and really excellent) title sequence. A newly structured game. A more reality feel. This was Fort Boyard for the 21st century alright.

Let’s begin with the new hosts. First of all, Oliver Minne, Adventure Line Productions stalwart, host of popular daily quiz La Cible and former contestant. Second of all, Sarah Lelouche, writer. Bit of an emphasis on youth, and tellingly Minne isn’t described as "Master of the Fort" and just declares himself as the host. Also: Yann Le Gac is back as Pere Fouras.

The new music has a much darker, more electronica and goth feel to it. The titles have taken the split screen style of 24 as an influence and have a neat computer genreated bit at the end.

They get into the game much faster and now the game is a bit different. It’s split up into three parts:

  • The Tests: The team have 45 minutes to collect the seven keys needed to open the treasure room door. Two riddles as normal, and again there’s no comeback if they get the first one wrong. The contestants no longer swim for the second missed riddle, it lands on a net and a player has climb up a cargo net and collect it (this is now a timed game in itself). There’s no more coach, Minne selects the players for each game. Some games have special red timers – these games will keep going until either the players get the key and get out or the team decide to lock them in (any time after the clock runs down) and move on. The prisons are now underground, are horribly dingy and infested with rats and other vermin. People who have to be sacrificed end up here, as well as normal prisoners.
  • The Test of the Night Before: The team have to spend the night on the fort. They have quite a large room to stay in and beds. But what of the prisoners? Well, the team is given the chance to release them. In the middle of the fort is a lantern with a magic crystal inside, placed there by the Maitres des Tenebre (Masters of Darkness). This lantern has a large pole running through it. All the players have to do, for up to three hours, is make sure somebody’s holding on to the lantern so when the pole drops away they can take the lantern and the crystal within it. This opens the crypt, where they can duel off against the Maitres. In the middle of the room is a raised dais with four lit sections on it. These are all behind perspex apart from one. On these sections are keys which will let out the prisoners. The players duel off, and for each game they win the keys (one per section) spin round one section closer to the exit. If the team has no prisoners, they play for a "no claims bonus" of an extra minute in the treasure room. For the first time ever, people sacrificed to the oubliette can be released with good play here.
  • The Adventures: The team have 20 minutes (plus any time left from getting the keys as a bonus) to earn as many cluewords as they can. If the game used to involve getting the clueword directly, now they earn a code to a combination lock on a box with the cannister in outside the game. Someone goes up to the watchtower for the penultimate clue, and this will be the first clue they have knowledge of. The others can’t be opened until they get to the special "clue unlocker" outside the treasure room. Basically, it means they’ve got to work it all out when they’re there rather than mulling over it for half an hour. They get a standard three minutes in the treasure room.

FORT FACT: Whilst LeLouche gets on the boat back to the mainland every night, Minne stayed on the fort for the entirety of the two weeks of filming. The team would get to the fort at about 4PM. They’d film until about 1AM, and then on the second day filming would be from 11AM-1PM.

Like the title sequence, the rest of the show has taken a lead from 24 and uses split screen cleverly and diligently. Most of the characters on the fort have gone now, as it was too expensive to keep them on. However, the FB 2003 was a big hit (the the ratings being more than double what they were in 2002), so who knows what’s going to happen in June? What we like about this series is that they’ve freshened the show up whilst keeping the core values of what makes it work well

2004: Series 15 and the graphical presentation is the same as last years. Musically there have been some fairly major overhauls, most noticeably the Man of the Tower music is new. The old music was the last tune not to be modified or changed completely in fifteen years, whatsmore the old music also formed the middle eight of the original theme tune. Many people dislike this, but personally we do qwuite like the new music. There are more key game tunes now, and more incidental tunes for the bit of the programme where there isn’t a game. There are now three variations of "Running From One Point To Another", one played when the team win a game, the traditional one for a no score draw and one for a loss, or becoming a prisoner. No new adventure game music (and there hasn’t been new adventure game music since The Caterpillar way back in 2001, disappointingly).

Gamewise, the red clepsydres are out and in come some quite clever games where the team on the outside of the room can affect what happens inside the room, by pulling on ropes or controlling a pivot. The prisons of animal scare torture have disappeared to be replaced by hanging cages off to the side of the Council Room which are on a rail system.

The team’s living quarters overnight have changed, hidden behind a locked door with a typewriter on the front. To access the living room, they must find a note left somewhere in the holding room which instructs them to find a certain word in a certain book. By typing this into the typewriter, the door unlocks (the lights go out briefly at this point as well for some reason). In the living quarters are beds and a table with plates covered with serving domes. Under one of them isn’t food but a nasty creature. Also in the holding rooms are some wheels and pulleys. What the contestants don’t know is that these affect the prisoners, pulling on them causes the cages to spin round, for the lights in the prison to go on and off, turn the flame throwery things on and off and so on.

The Test of the Night Before has changed also. It’s no longer an endurance test. Instead, a locked box containing the magic crystal is in the centre of the Fort. When Minne leaves the contestants to work out how to open it, eventually one of the Masters of Darkness steps out of one of the rooms clenching a map. The map tells the contestants where they can find the key. Sadly, the key is normally attached to a giant heavy object, like an anchor, a piece of fencing or a large rope. It’s up to our competitiors to work out how to get the key to the box. The team are led by a new character at this point, Passe-Muraille, who you may recognise as the little guy who replaced Jules in the British version (the person who plays the French equivilent, Passe-Temps, still plays the role in France).

With magic crystal in hand they can go and release the prisoners. The prisoners are bought in using the all new exciting rail system. The pub-trick based challenges of the past have added to by Fear Factor style challenges where a player has to do things with a box of nasty critters which reveals information to finding a combination which will open a box which contains a key which releases the prisoner. For example, a contestants might be asked to put their head in a box of rats. They stick their head in whislt bending over so that when they sit down the bottom of the box reveals a three stage sum, the correct answer to which is the combination. Once again, if the team have no prisoners, LaBouille looks mildly disappointed but the team play for time in the treasure room (two Fear Factor type challenges and two pub tricktype challenges).

There’s no difference for the final sections really.

Happily after a fairly dry year last year, very short visual comedy pieces are returning, especially with regards to what Minne and Passe-Muraille do to pass the time waiting for night to fall. We also enjoy the funny little chats between Minne and Pere Fouras before the first riddle as well, a nice nod to old traditions without going over the top like in the Castaldi years.

This year the show celebrated its 1000th episode with a kids special and a special retrospective featuring all the show’s hosts (except for, interestingly enough, Jean-Pierre Castaldi). Here’s to 1000 more. Hurrah!

2005: Not an awful lot of change from the previous year. The games where the team outside the cell could physically help the player inside the cell have disappeared, and in thier place are several team based games where several players get to compete, including one cell that requires three players – la Manolier.

The prisons have returned to the original underground, now with even more claustrophobic cells. This year, the nighttime and the prison system has had the biggest overhaul. At night, the team meet up outside the council room and aim to find the thre figure code which will give them access to the council. Unluckily, the code is hidden in three places under piles of rocks in the fort’s flooded underground. One contestant must swim through the underground communicating the found numbers to the team watching on the magic screen. There’s a catch – also waiting outside the council chamber is a lurking Master of Darkness with a thirty second sandtimer. One minute forty-five seconds after the swimmer hits the water, if the team don’t have the crystal yet, he upends his sandtimer. If the team still haven’t found the crystal by the time the sandtimer runs through, they forfeit one of their four opportunities to release a prisoner, and the sandtimer is turned again. Repeat until they run out of time or access the crystal, putting it in the tiger statues mouth.

The games of the council have returned to the old skill based duels of the original. Before they play a game, the contestant about to duel pulls one of the levers in front of them. Each lever represents a different prison door, so by pulling the lever you let a prisoner out of their cramped cell. However, the prisoner is not yet released. Whilst the rest of the team duel, the prisoners must combat the Corridors of Fear – first they must crawl through a tunnel of rats. Then a maze of snakes. And finally a dignity sapping unexpected see-saw into some foam bricks. Their prizes for making it through is to be able to wait in the prison ante-chamber with LaBouille.

After the duels, the rest of the team go to the prison antechamber where Minne reveals the results. The team can release one prisoner for each duel they won. Usually this is enough to release everybody, but on occasion the team will have to apparently send one prisoner back to their cramped cell for the night.

No rule changes to the adventures, although it should be noted that one new adventure promised in the preview information remained unused, for whatever reason.

2006: Season 17 sees no change to the titles or presentation, but Sarah Lelouch has left and the new female co-host is Anne-Gaëlle Riccio who was a contestant in the previous season. They have also shuffled the game up a bit. For the first time since the first series, the treasure room door has been modified, the height it will open to is dependent on how many keys the team manage to collect in the forty-five minutes – five keys will have the door open to about knee height so they can only crawl in and out, six keys to about waist height, not too bad but you wouldn’t be able to carry people through, whilst the full compliment of seven keys means the gate will open fully. The game now takes place in one evening rather than across two days. The oubliette has all but been forgotten about.

One of this year’s innovations idea of a recurring test, not seen since The Chariot in 1997. Each week one player will play against new character the Gymnast in a race on the rope bridge. Starting at either end, they race to the middle and attempt to drag a heavy bag back to the starting point where they can use a key on the bag to unlock a waiting box – if the contestant wins they earn a code to unlock a key trapped by a padlock, if the gymnast wins the code explodes and the team must go without. The Gymnast was meant to be used in a game based on overhanging ladders which was played in other countries this year, but mysteriously it was never played in France ("too difficult" was the apparent reason.). The rope bridge duel had been used previously in Swedish and Russian versions of the show which have two teams against each other.

There is no overnight game any more. To release the crystal needed to get into the council room, the contestants must make it to the room of the handprints. All members of the team must be there to release the crystal, so to release the prisoners the team must traverse the obstacle-laden underground corridors. To help them, one contestant is put into a diving suit and directs the team from an underwater command centre. Some puzzles require communication – two doors need to be unlocked by having the commander connect up nodes on a wall. The team have to tell him which ones. Along the way are three switches which open the doors of the prisons, the prisoners must traverse the rearranged corridors of fear and then meet up with the team at the end of the underground passage. In the Room of the Handprints, everyone puts their hand on a print, the commander has his own underwater one, magic happens and the crystal is released. The prisoner’s escape and the contestant’s travails apparently happen simultaneously and are cut between.

The Council now occurs after the adventures, and the entrance to the council room is now a revolving statue. Four players get games, each one is worth an extra 15 seconds in the treasure room on top of the three minutes standard time.

At the treasure room it is now nighttime, the team are given the opportunity to exchange unopened clue cannisters for keys. Once they have decided on their strategy Minne pulls a lever to start the clock. Then and only then can the team open the clue cannisters and work out the codeword – so in effect, the time earnt in the Council is thinking time. The gate will only go up as far as the amount of keys they’ve got but a large tiger’s head goes to the top. With thrity seconds to go, the tiger’s head starts dropping and takes the door with it reaches the door’s level – so the team always get their thirty second warning. If anyone is trapped in the treasure room Minne pulls his emergency handle blocking off the tigers but also dumping all the collected gold down into the oubliette.

2007: Season 18 has no presentation changes from the previous years, and no host changes either. Once again the height of the treasure room door is dependent on the amount of keys the team get. The gymnast has disappeared and this year the recurring test is The Chinaman – Mr Chang has his own Chinese themed room (which used to be the contestant dorm in years previous). He selects a contestant to act as the sacrifice, they lay on his table. Mr Chang slides in a large covered box hovering over the contestant’s midriff. Minne selects another contestant to do the challenge. Mr Chang removes the cover – inside the box are the traditional seven shapes of the Chinese tangram, but unfortunately there are also Boyardesque creatures such as cockroaches or rats running around as well. Mr Chang reveals a parchment with the target shape and lays it beside the box. Minne starts the clock. The contestant must try and rearrange the pieces to make the target shape, and whilst the rest of the team is on hand to give advice only the nominated player can put their hands into the box to do move the shapes. Halfway through the game, Mr Chang reveals a second parchment, the original shape with a line in it splitting it into two seperate shapes as a hint. If they win the game in the time then the contestant is released and they get a key. Unfortunately if time runs out, Mr Chang reveals the solution, does a large jump and the sacrifice falls through the table and is taken prisoner.

Interestingly many teams struggle to get the five keys minimum. It’s interesting to note that in previous years the deck would be stacked with easier games towards the end (like the Hazing), this doesn’t seem to be happening this year.

The underground caverns have gone, now the Middle Bit is the Room of the Cryptogram. The team are in an underground room and must solve a coded phrase. One member is a diver and must search for clues underwater to help solve the code – essentially the diver must find the assignment of letters for a pigpen cypher, and the team must use the information to crack the code. The diver can find two plates of glass with the letter formations on and hold them up to a porthole which the team in the room can read off and chalk in. Once done, the team must put the phrase together using the letter tiles provided. If the phrase is correct, the team can flick a switch to reveal a code which the diver can input. Doing so releases a large box in the Cryptogramme room full of Boyards. It’s locked but it might be opened later. The diver also has a switch which releases the prisoners into this year’s corridors of fear – shackled by the foot they must negotiate a twisty-turny set of pipes at the end of which is the key to release themselves. Then they must find another key in a perspex box of snakes to unlock a gate, then they must traverse a rat filled sewer to escape. Whilst it is all cut together to make it look like it’s all happening simultaneously, it’s quite clear they’re just filming different people doing the same corridor at different times and intercutting it, without much guile in honesty. There is a danger for the contestants in that there is sort of a time limit, there are three tubes slowly filling with ink. When they are full, the gradually lose communications with the diver by the window slowly filling up with the ink, making it much more difficult.

Pere Fouras doesn’t do his three definitions for his clue any more, now it’s a mathematical puzzle in the watchtower to earn a clue. We confidently predict they’ll be reverting back for next time.

The Council works in the same way, although now there’s a mini-labyrinth for the contestants to reach the council room itself.

Once again the team can exchange unopened clue cannisters for extra keys – necessary in some cases. If they find the correct codeword, not only does the treasure fall down but also six keys – one of which will open the box of Boyards rescued from the Cryptogram room. The contestants are encouraged to grab all of them, but they can only try as many of the keys in the lock as people who went into the treasure room – so every sacrifice made to get a clue is one less chance to find the correct key for the bonus. If they find the correct key, the money in the box (several thousand Euro) is added to the pot before weighing. If not, they go without.

2008: Season 19 bring no real presentational changes (although it looks like the font on the clock has changed slightly) or real rule changes, except for a new middle game once again in an attempt to rescue the box of Boyards. Here the team must work out where on a 3 x 3 grid nine differently coloured blocks should go given clues from Olivier of the sort "blue is to the left of red". Once the correct combination is found, the board lights up with nine different symbols (one above each cube) and the diver can dive underwater and try and rescue the box. The box is trapped by a padlock with a symbol attached. The diver must communicate the symbol to the team which reveals a certain coloured key. To get the key, the diver must guide it out of a maze, although the diver can’t see the maze and have to do it by feel and help from their teammates alone. And all of this against the clock.

Otherwise the snake pit had been converted into something that looked rather more submarine-esque and steampunk.

Pere Fouras has ditched the mathematical riddle, but rather than go back to the three definitions his third riddle is of the standard sort for a cannister, slightly disappointingly.

2009: Season 20 (erroneously described as being "twenty years old") bought with it a massive celebration, not only a new season, but a collection of minute-long "L’Instant Fort" clips put out daily on France 2 followed by a series of hour long clip-show based documentaries hosted by Minne and Riccio. And a tie-in book! You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was a bit of Boyard overkill, and the ratings suggest that you would be right.

In this in spite of the fact that the show’s presentation has been freshened up somewhat – lovely new 3D modelled title sequence, new graphics for the clocks (all cogs and oddness), really embracing a more 1800s industrial-esque theme. The games music has become a lot more dramatic compared to the rather whimsical affairs of previous years, and much of the adventure music has been remixed – some of it working well, some of it becoming upsettingly melody-less.

Gameswise, the team gets a team challenge before they can start playing properly – a tube full of green liquid stands in the courtyard. When the game begins, it starts draining out through the bottom. To pass the test, the team must find the combination to open the box with a tumbler in with the intention of filling it to the brim with the draining water. To find the combination the team must split into two groups each armed with a scraper and find two panels dotted around the board, scrape the panels and reveal several numbers. The combination is the four digits that are shared on both panels in sequential order. Success in this challenge gives the team a bonus test after the traditional 45 minutes has elapsed, and they are given the choice as to what sort of test they would prefer.

Progress is kept on a large chart hanging down from one end of the fort by Passe-Muraille, but this didn’t seem to serve any real sort of purpose other than spoiling how teams did in post-show promotional photographs.

Mr Chang has lost the tangrams in favour of creating patterns using white and black bars whilst the pattern to match spins both clockwise and anti-clockwise to confuse the contestants.

Prisoners are sent to the Room of Boxes where they are kept until The Middle Bit to earn their freedom, where they play games reminescent of the Council games of 2004 with the nasty creatures. As long as the prisoner attempts the game they get released. Winning a game unlocks a chest containing triangular puzzle pieces. After two games (if the team don’t have two or more prisoners, Minne selects someone to play) the team go over to a board with three different boxes of Boyards attached – one pink, one yellow, one blue. In front of the boxes is a large triangle split into three smaller triangles (of the same box colours) and each of those split into six smaller triangles, each with a differently arranged set of pegs. Within the time limit, the team must use the puzzle pieces to cover the triangles – when a colour si completely covered, that eliminates one of the boxes from the game, as only one of the boxes has accessable Boyards under the lid, the others have a pane of glass blocking access. The uneliminated boxes are taken to the Treasure Room, and now not only do you have to pick the right key to open the box, you also have to pick the right box as well.

A new Council room and plenty of new games for the Council, and a new time wagering system too. The team begin with three minutes in the treasure room, and they can place 10, 20 or 30 seconds on the player winning their game. For one game they must also defend or lose 15 seconds. Each bet has to be made once.

At the Treasure Room, keys can no longer be swapped for door height but additional keys above seven can be traded for extra clues.

After initial excitement, something suggested the show was holding back a bit – not all the games being used, advertising adventures pre-season and not using them and some of the presentational choices didn’t go down too well, and the show fell to its lowest ratings for a long time. But the greenlight for another season has been given, so fingers crossed it sort its problems out. A kids version, Operation Fort Boyard, was planned with a view to going out in the Autumn, but didn’t materialise.


This article was originally written in 2004, the following comments were left in the original comment box:

boyard:

bloody amazing programme, fort boyard

Guest:

hm, no mention of broken legs here…

Brig Bother:

Hilariously somebody did actually break their leg on the show once on the capstan push game. On series three of the Channel Five version. 

But rest assured, that’s not the answer to the quiz question, if that’s what you’re looking for!

Gareth:

In 1999 wasn’t it that the pirate and the bohémienne were in love ? I have an episode from 99 and I see that pirate giving her a rose and that sort of thing.

Gareth:

i have the episode of the tenth anniversary but it doesn’t end with a champagne celebration. in fact, the presenters arent even on it, its voiced-over (is that a word) by the father Fouras.

Brig Bother:

Really? There was a site which had pictures and everything.

Brig Bother:

Hold on, you haven’t confused the tenth anniversary special with Laffont’s last episode, have you?

Gareth:

your’re right. i’ve probably got it wrong. where it said final episode i thought it meant the special anniversary. which site was it with the pictures? 

 

by the way theres a new site up: just click my homepage.

ntnon:

I can recall watching an episode of the UK version (with Leslie Grantham) where the contestants had to find the clue by eliminating words that were tattooed on a naked woman (possibly ‘Arianne’, possibly not). 

Amusingly, the censors at Channel 5 hadn’t noticed that she was, in fact (at the very least) *topless*, and it was broadcast both un-censored, and with a brief exchange between her and the (male) contestant whose hands strayed slightly… and were swiftly slapped away! 

When it was repeated (possibly the following day), somebody had noticed, and there were black bars covering up the ‘naughty bits’… 

(Which all reminds me of when ‘Have I Got (Old) News for You’ was on at midday, and the BBC had forgotten to bleep out the swearing… and then, when they noticed, went so overboard they drowned out “Cobblers” just to be on the safe side…)

Oni-91 (Alex):

2004 must have had the 100th show, not the 1000th. 14 seasons @ 7-8 shows per season = about 100.

Brig Bother:

No, 1000th ever made ever in the world ever. Older series had at least double the run modern series get.

Oni-91 (Alex):

Ah. I see..but WAIT! 

You have la Manolier as the first three-player test. In fact, la Manolier is the arm-bike, which only requires one. The three-player test is called Perches.

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