Weaver's Week 2019-06-16

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Later, we'll discuss the ten current TV game shows with an uninterrupted run. Mastermind doesn't quite make the ten.


Mastermind – The Final

BBC Studios for BBC2, 14 June

Before we begin, a parish notice. Hamish Cameron, who we'll see in this week's final, died last week. His funeral was earlier on 14 June. A regular contender in the famed black chair, we'll remember him with fondness.

Mastermind Our final six.

Dave Cowan, a retired information systems architect, tells us about the Films of the Marx Brothers. Every finalist has to do some research on their specialist subject, and it's become a tradition to make a short film showing off the subject. Dave has already won, he's at the Writers Guild of America, where he sees some of the Brothers' original scripts, and then meets Bill Marx, Groucho's son. "I immerse myself in the films as much as possible," says Dave. People wanted for jaywalking, a man who played the same piano piece for three days because he'd forgotten how they ended... Time well spent. A handful of passes spoil the round, 10 (3 passes) the final score.

Mastermind Dave Cowan (left) with Bill Marx.

Ian Orriss, a management accountant, takes Owain Glyndŵr and his revolt. The last native-born Prince of All Wales, he led an uprising against the dominant English monarchy. Ian has come to Corwen, where there's a large statue and a small museum dedicated to his subject. He also visits the hill where Owain stood against the attackers. There was a gap in Owain's defences, there is a chink in Ian's fortifications: he drops one point, scores 14.

Judith Lewis, a psychiatrist, takes "The Fortunes of War" by Olivia Mann. She's gone to Bucharest, the setting for the semi-autobiographical books, set in World War II. The novels came to Judith's attention through a 1987 BBC dramatisation with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. She's chosen the books in part because it's a great excuse to re-read some of her favourite fiction, and has clearly learned something from the preparation. Not entirely sure why "Cairo opera house" is repeated as "Opera house in Cairo", the host is malfunctioning again. It's the only thing going wrong in this PERFECT ROUND, 15 points!

Mastermind Judith Lewis is on a train.

Mark Grant, an accountant, has the Theatres of Frank Matcham. A designer from late-Victorian and Edwardian times, Mark is another contender who has taken an existing interest and amplified it through his research. He's appearing at the London Coliseum, where he reviews the theatre's plans with its manager. We later see him in the photo archive at the V&A Museum. Perhaps a little wobbly in his early questions, and perhaps distracted by the host repeating answers, Mark quickly gets into his stride, but those falters knock him back to 12 points.

Helen O'Connell, a gardener, takes US National Parks. Another winner from the research film lottery, Helen's gone straight to Sequoia National Park. We've one of her relatives to thank, for spawning an interest in all sorts of natural wonders. At the visitor centre, Helen sees a plaque commemorating the first road into the park, and later sees the General Sherman, the largest tree of all. "He's with me all the way", hopes Helen. He's with her all the way: one slip, 14 points.

Mastermind Helen O'Connell (left) with General Sherman.

Hamish Cameron, a retired IT manager, has the Life and Times of Mary Cassatt. A painter from Pennsylvania, she lived most of her life in Paris, where she worked at the Comedie Français. Her impressionist images were well-defined and exact, while still clearly not photographs. His approach? Sit down, learn the books, do as much as you can. Lots of correct answers, and at enough of a clip to squeeze in an extra question. The final score: 13 (1 pass)

Mastermind Hamish Cameron in Paris.

General Knowledge

It all comes down to the final sprint. Two and a half minutes of quickfire questions: passes are used to break ties, and if there's still a tie, it's a five-question playoff. We've had those in the final.

Dave said that getting to the final is a unique experience, and at five points adrift, he's unlikely to win. A slow start to this round ends his chances: the final score is 23 (4 passes).

Mastermind Mark Grant studies some old plans.

Mark came through a high-scoring semi-final, and is looking to complete his collection, a recent Radio 4 Brain. His third final, been waiting 12 years. It's important. Three points behind is not enough to put him out; long pauses while he thinks would be. There's a gap when the film Bohemian Rhapsody doesn't come to him, and there are a few other errors. It's a flustered round, none of the calm assurance we've seen from other winners in the past. 26 is the final score, and it doesn't feel enough.

Hamish would be "utterly flabbergasted" to win. With a pass already in the bank, Hamish knows he can afford as many more as he likes, it won't hurt and will save time. Sadly, when you've passed once, it's easy to pass a lot more, and his final score is 24 (5 passes).

Ian has been a fan since Mastermind was first broadcast, and says winning would be "a crowning experience". A strong start to the round, of course, and while there are some errors here and there, our contender doesn't let them put him off. Even a pass near the end doesn't break his calm assurance. 27 (2 passes) will throw the remaining contenders into the corridor of uncertainty: it's a score they know they can beat, but cannot be sure that they will beat it.

Mastermind Ian Orriss (right) with Owain Glyndŵr.

Helen feels some pressure for being in the final, and reckons it'll be an honour. Somehow, we don't think she expected to be taking the second-last set of questions. A slightly wobbly start puts her behind the pace, and she never gets back on track. The final score: 23 (1 pass).

Judith is impressed to be in the final, and says it will be "very special". Even more special to be the specialist winner, with a doable target. She puts the sitters away, as all good contenders do. The difference comes in the more tricky questions, where Judith's inspired guesses prove more right than wrong. The score ticks up, reaches 26. Then there's an error. Then there's another error. A correct answer, and a pass. Time expires; there is one question to answer.

And, with that final question in progress at the buzzer, Judith Lewis takes the title. 28 (1 pass) her final score.

Mastermind Judith Lewis with the prize bowl.

That was a fine and entertaining final. Strong rounds from all the contenders, we learned a lot from the films, and the result was in doubt for as long as it possibly could be. Well done to all, and congratulations to the winner.

The Long Runners

A few weeks ago, there was a discussion on Bother's Bar to answer this question:

What are the ten longest-running TV game shows in the UK that are still running?

Eurovision Song Contest This is number one.

The setter, Chris M Warwick, had the following rubric:

"We're talking long-running in terms of time since first episode in the current run, rather than in terms of number of series, number of episodes or anything else. You know, intuitively, what the difference is between a show taking a normal break between series and a show going away then coming back later."

In discussion, it was felt that World's Strongest Man and its spin-off are sporting events that happen to be televised, so we're discounting them. The triennial Leeds International Piano Competition is organised independently of the BBC, it's an external competition that happens to be televised, so does not count. You've Been Framed! had a prize element in some early series, but no-one ever watched it for the game show element, and it also does not appear on this list.

We've included all shows that have aired at least one episode since 1 January 2018, unless explicitly cancelled. Big Brother does not appear, the possibly-cancelled-if-we-believe-anonymous-rumours Eggheads does. And, perhaps controversially, we include shows that only take place every second year.

Here's the top ten:

Bargain Hunt This top ten is cheap as chips!

Four talent shows, a couple of celebrity quizzes, annual sheepdog trials, a pair of cheap-as-chips daytime progs, and a highbrow quiz. Well done if you got all those at home; this column would have stopped at seven answers, having given answer 11.

Here are the next five:

We're not including Junior Eurovision Song Contest (est 2003) at this point, because it's not had an unbroken run on telly over here. Similarly, no dice for Eurovision Young Musicians.

The other survivors from the last decade:

  • 2004 Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor
  • 2005 The Apprentice, Dragons' Den, Masterchef [Goes Large], Mock the Week
  • 2006 Dickinson's Real Deal, Great British Menu
  • 2007 Come Dine with Me*, Got Talent, Who Dares Wins, Would I Lie to You
  • 2008 Celebrity Juice, Only Connect
  • 2009 The Chase [June], Pointless [Aug], Fferm Ffactor [Oct]**

* Come Dine with Me was out of production for 18 months, having been replaced in daytimes by Deal or No Deal. We hold this as cancelled and recommissioned. ** We hold this as a continuous run, albeit moving from autumn 2016 to spring 2018.

Next year is the tenth anniversary of three shows, two of them hanging on by the skin of their teeth:

2010 Take Me Out [Jan], A League of Their Own [Mar], Three in a Bed [Apr]

This Week and Next

Very sorry to hear that Paul Sinha has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. It's a neurological condition that leads to shaking and slowness across the body. We wish him all strength.

Looking at the stars.

Robert Earle, the host of College Bowl, died last weekend, aged 93. College Bowl was the American forerunner of our University Challenge, quickly developing a great rapport with the students. The measure of his ingenuity came in how he got the host's job. TV Guide reported in 1964:

The following Sunday he set up the tape recorder next to his TV set and tuned in College Bowl. He recorded Ludden and the college students playing the game. Then he had his secretary transcribe the tape and took it to WHCU, the Ithaca radio station where he had once worked. There he edited the tape to delete Ludden’s voice, retaining intact the voices of the students and the show’s sound effects.
Next he went to WICB-TV, the Ithaca College studio, set up a lectern in front of a movie camera and put his tape on a playback machine controlled by a foot pedal. As the film rolled, he stood at the lectern and acted as the College Bowl host. Cutting with split-second precision back and forth to the tape, he voiced Ludden’s exact dialog from the transcribed notes. On the finished film, he was the College Bowl quizmaster.

(TV Guide, 25 January 1964, quoted in It's About TV blog)

BARB ratings in the week to 2 June:

  1. Got Talent had its final (ITV, Sun), seen by 9.75m viewers. That's actually half a million below the best heat episode, but still miles clear of the next biggest show Coronation Street (ITV, Mon, 7.4m).
  2. Have I Got News for You the BBC's top game (BBC1, Fri, 4.15m), and The Chase comes third (ITV, Wed, 3.25m). Ninja Warrior had its final (ITV, Sat, 2.95m).
  3. Bake Off The Professionals topped the games on Channel 4 (Tue, 1.7m), Mock the Week headed on BBC2 (Thu, 1.38m). Taskmaster on Dave hits 1.31m (Wed).
  4. Got More Talent finished on ITV2, with evidence that Stephen Mulhern has 711,000 fans. That few? Most Shocking Talent Show Moments led games on Channel 5 (Mon, 580,000), with 8 Out of 10 Cats (E4, Wed, 285,000) the third-biggest digital show.

High culture is about this week. Cardiff Singer of the World (BBC4 network, BBC2 Wales) finds the greatest opera-and-lieder singer. The Family Brain Games (BBC2 from Mon) tests the brains of generations. Countdown finals week begins on Thursday.

There's lower culture, too. A Question of Sport (BBC1, Fri) begins its golden anniversary series. There are new episodes of The Crystal Maze (C4, Fri), and call centre weirdness on Hey Tracey (ITV2, Mon). S4C's jaw-dropping darts quiz Oci Oci Oci! returns for a second series (Sat).

Photo credits: BBC Studios, EBU/DR, Paul Sinha.

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