Meet the Concentration puzzle man

Bert Harrop draws George Cross’s clues in Granada’s popular quiz game

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 15 November 1959

A WELL-KNOWN phrase or saying, the name of a city or country, statesman or TV personality, the title of a popular song, a play or a book — each is a potential picture puzzle for Concentration.

No particular formula is applied in the choice of the puzzles. The only requirement is that they should lend themselves to presentation in words and pictures and that they should not be too easy, not too difficult, for contestants and viewers to solve.

George Cross, producer of Concentration, said: “It is necessary to keep a standard which reaches a general level, but you cannot put a measure on it. Some ideas are discarded because they involve long phrases which would be too unwieldy to present in the available space on the Concentration board.

Working behind the board
Harrop does a spot of last minute retouching

“On the other hand, if the puzzles were too easy to solve, the show would be lacking in entertainment, for it depends on keen and quick competitors for its appeal.”

Cross finds that almost all his thinking is now in terms of picture puzzles. “The process is almost automatic and has become second nature to me,” he said, and added, “We aim at keeping the drawings uncomplicated so that the puzzles are not cluttered up with too much detail.”

The ideas which have been sketched out roughly as puzzles to be used in the programme are passed each week to Granada graphics artist Bert Harrop.

But the puzzles that Harrop works on are never used in the show the same week for the heavy curtain of security that shrouds the programme ensures that only one man — producer Cross — knows which will be used and when.

To ensure that this strict security is maintained, a carefully thought out routine takes effect from the moment the rough sketches arrive on Harrop’s drawing board.

He marks out the puzzle on the 30 separate pieces of cardboard bearing numbers corresponding to those on the Concentration board.

But there are never more than six pieces of the puzzle on his drawing board at any one time so that anyone looking over his shoulder would see only a small part of the complete picture.

“And that wouldn’t mean a thing to anyone,” said Harrop. “For instance, the vertical stroke of a letter T may coincide with the intersection of four parts of the puzzle and anyone seeing a mark on the corner of one section would have no clue even to the letter, let alone the word which it begins.”

When he has completed a puzzle the 30 sections go back to Cross and are locked away in his office safe … in sealed envelopes.

The steady stream of completed puzzles are stock piled so that if anyone had seen one it would still be impossible to find out when it would be used.

Two hours before the show is due to go on the air he unlocks the safe and takes out five or six puzzles.

The sections of the first puzzle to be used in the show are split into vertical columns and handed to the men who load the Concentration board, so that each has no possible chance of solving the completed puzzle.

The operation begins with only just enough time to complete it before the show is on the air.

At this stage, producer Cross is still the only man who knows the answer to the puzzle because the men work from the rear of the board and see the triangular sections — each carrying a part of the puzzle, a prize and a number — presenting to them the puzzle “face” in a series of back-to-front squares.

When the puzzle is rotated to its correct position for a last-minute check to ensure that it has been properly mounted and that no plus signs have been missed out only Cross and Harrop see it.

Cross makes the final check and Harrop does any necessary retouching.

And, as compere David Gell opens the show, Cross hands out another puzzle which is loaded into a second board. “I always have more puzzles than are needed, so there is never a chance of anyone finding out which one is being used,” he said.

Now concentrate

These four Concentration puzzles were specifically drawn for TV Times. If you can’t solve them, the answers are below.

  1. Epilogue to Capricorn
  2. Take Your Pick
  3. Armchair Theatre
  4. Concentration

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