The rise of satellite TV in the UK at the end of the 1980s brought a whole new world of entertainment to British viewers who had previously been stuck with the four channels available on terrestrial broadcast – and it wasn’t just Sky that provided it. In the pre-digital age, satellite Tv was broadcast on Europe-wide systems, the most popular of which was, of course, the Astra satellite that Sky was hosted on. People might have bought their dish to watch movies or sport or simply to expand their channel choices, but with the Sky system came a whole bunch of European channels – mostly German, and all broadcast in the clear. While the big, secret selling point of dishes at the time was the opportunity to buy an illegal descrambler for subscription Dutch channel TV1000, which showed an uncensored hardcore porn movie every Saturday night (this at a time when hardcore was still entirely illegal to sell in the UK), for viewers less committed, the German channels were still pretty eye-opening. German TV was awash with sex back then, be it erotic shows from Playboy and French TV, weekly sex magazine shows like Liebe Sunde and Peep! (which your Reprobate editor was once featured on), early evening news shows that always found room for a sexy report or the plethora of 1970s sexy movies that filled up the schedules on a Friday and Saturday night – everything from Schoolgirl Report comedies to Oswalt Kolle sex education films. This sort of thing attracted an avid British audience – possibly rivalling the size of the domestic viewership – despite a lack of subtitles. I suppose the performers were speaking the universal language of naked girls and men in lederhosen. The presence of these films on (by default) British TV was such that Peter Cook could joke about them on Room 101, safe in the knowledge that the viewers would know exactly what he was talking about.
But there was one sexy German TV show that outshone everything else, and was so popular in the UK that even mainstream satellite TV guides felt obliged to run features on it. Tutti Frutti ran on RTL Plus for just three years, totalling 140 episodes, but was the stuff of legend at the time. An incomprehensible game show that apparently made little sense even if you spoke German, it was perfect Friday night viewing – vividly colourful, bouncy, deliberately kitsch and so charming that only the most po-faced moralist could possibly find it objectionable.
Each week, host Hugo Egon Balder would introduce two contestants – one male, one female – who would win points through what felt like a sexy version of Play Your Cards Right, having to guess if a card was ‘heiss’ or ‘kalt’. The accumulation of points seemed rather random, and how this equated to the removal of clothes is anyone’s guess, but nevertheless, the contestants would more often than not be stripped to their underwear, the woman losing her bra, by the end of the show. Filling in the gaps were the Ballet Cin Cin, a collection of international glamour girls (British viewers would have recognised the odd Page 3 girl here and there) who would do little striptease dances (again, only to the point of toplessness) throughout the show – this seemed to be related to the accumulation of points by the contestants, but how exactly I couldn’t tell you.
Hugo kept things light, and was assisted by the extraordinary Monique Sluyter, a Dutch Playboy model, and Tiziana D’Arcangelo – what either of them did beyond being additional eye candy is not too clear, though neither took their clothes off.
Tutti Frutti was hugely popular, and the third season was broadcast in 3D – well, sort of. The stripteases were shot in a new 3D format that had a background image moving at a different speed to the dancers, and required special glasses – not red and blue/green as in traditional 3D, but yellow and purple. It worked after a fashion, though didn’t really add anything to the show (and arguably, the girls stripping against a background of cartoon fish made it all a lot less sexy). Nevertheless, the popularity of the show ensured that mail order suppliers popped up in the UK to supply 3D glasses to eager British viewers.
Tutti Frutti was popular enough to spawn records of the ludicrous Europe songs that littered the show, and a VHS tape, The Exotic Fruits of Tutti Frutti, which had little to do with the show other than featuring a couple of the Cin Cin girls in softcore striptease scenarios. This also had a UK release. In fact, there were rumours that UK broadcasters were looking at producing their own version of the show at some point – certainly, the early 19990s saw a liberalising of attitudes and gratuitous nudity was not unknown on UK cable and satellite – L!ve TV had Topless Darts and even mainstream broadcasters were dabbling in smut with Eurotrash and other late night shows for the post-pub crowd. However, Tutti Frutti just didn’t seem like it would translate effectively – it was too damn weird for British TV, where it would’ve been crushed with knowing irony and unpleasant smugness. In fact, Bravo did show edited episodes of Colpo Grosso as Italian Stripping Housewives with sneering, Eurotrash-style dubbing to make British audiences feel superior and less embarrassed about watching women taking their clothes off.
Tutti Frutti was a ratings winner, but by 1993, RTL Plus was looking to take a more upmarket approach to its schedule – the softcore comedies were increasingly dropped in favour of more mainstream films, and Tutti Frutti was cancelled. There was, however, a revival of the show in 2016, and re-runs are apparently popular in Germany. In the UK, the new digital satellite system saw Astra dishes replaced with new versions that only picked up British broadcasts – the pan-European satellite world suddenly became very narrow and nationalistic again. While you can buy dishes that pick up a whole world of TV, local restrictions on dish size, cost and the space needed have put these out of reach for most people. We might have a lot of channels these days, but it does feel as though we have less choice. I miss trashy German TV.
Ironically though, Tutti Frutti didn’t actually originate in Germany. It was based on the Italian show Colpo Grosso, which I’d actually seem a few episodes of back in the 1980s, thanks to an insatiable thirst for international trash TV. Colpo Grosso didn’t just follow the same formula – it had most of the same dancers and hostesses – both Monique Sluyter and Tiziana D’Arcangelo appeared on the show. In fact, the German show was shot in the Italian studios, using the same sets, much the same music and the same costumes as the Italian show.
This was truly a study in European co-operation – a German host, Dutch and Italian co-stars, models from across Europe and enjoyed in Britain. If the Remain campaign had co-opted the spirit of Tutti Frutti in their campaign (making a virtue of incomprehensible rules, celebrating gratuitous nudity, offering up Monique as an example of everything we stood to lose by leaving Europe), perhaps the Brexit result might have been different.