Weaver's Week 2021-04-11

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"Henry Campbell-Bannerman" – It's a Pointless answer, £250 in the jackpot.

"Henry Bannerman-Campbell" – It's a wrong answer, five points away for the incorrect interruption.

Only Connect (2)


Only Connect (2)

Presentable / RDF Media for BBC2, 21 September – 29 March

Only Connect (2) An address from Victoria Coren Mitchell.

Hello and welcome, at last, to a brand-new series of Only Connect. We've been delayed this year for reasons you can probably guess, but we are delighted to be back.
We're proceeding with caution at first, we've got some Perspex screens up on the set, we've got a slightly smaller crew and, of course, we've had to completely forbid entry to the studio to anyone who's recently been to a party or any significant social gathering.
Let's meet the teams.

"Lion, please"

Sixteen teams took part in this year's Only Connect. Filming was delayed: the original dates were around this time last year, but Mr. Drakeford thought the public health was more important than a television quiz. He's right.

Only Connect (2) The Walruses and friends.

We had the usual mixture of family teams, fans of murder mysteries, people from the same school, a Dungeons and Dragons group, and teams put together by the production staff. One of these was the Walruses, comprising Counterpoint champion Dan Adler, Celebrity Masterchef champion Emma Kennedy, and Scouseology award-holder Mitch Benn. Hey, that's at least two people famous enough to appear on Pointless Celebrities.

It's rare for well-known people to appear in a civilian quiz. We have no problem with famous folk appearing with everyone else: if they audition, if they can pass the high bar for entry, let 'em in. Amongst the smart celebrities we remember, sports reporter Sally Jones has won a heat of Mastermind, and Marcus Buerkmann appeared on Fifteen-to-One. Stunt casting – like Michael Fish and John Kettley on Masterteam (1) in the mid-80s – is a thing of the past.

"Horned viper"

The heart of Only Connect is the questions, and they were up to the usual standards. In the first round, reasonably simple and accessible for the new audience. A spare tyre. A drawing pin, A turkey. A strike.

Only Connect (2) Terms in ten-pin bowling, and not famous Family Fortunes moments.

Some questions were quite puzzley. Another first round question took the numbers from 4 to 7, cubed them, and wrote the digits backwards. The gotcha is that 7 x 7 x 7 is 343, and when you write that backwards, it's 343.

Later shows had more difficult questions. A second round match had horseradish, grapenuts, Chinese chequers, guinea pigs. These turned out to be doubly-misleading names: a horseradish is neither a horse nor a radish, and so on. African countries with increasing numbers of the letter A removed, horses to have won the Grand National twice in successive years. By the quarter-final, a question we summarised as 'Over-complex synonyms for Bond films containing "Die"'.

But the questions are only part of Only Connect. The magic comes from the way Victoria taps into the questions, and uses them to start a discussion. Can the teams expand on the clues? If they can't, Victoria will, and she'll entertain as we go...

[Buzzer rings]
- They don't appear in the plays. Godot doesn't appear, Rosaline's in Romeo and Juliet but we don't see her.
- You're absolutely right. They are unseen characters. George and Margaret are in a play by Gerald Savory, and George and Margaret are the guests that are coming for dinner, but they're late. Rosaline, that's right, that's Romeo's first love in Romeo and Juliet. Godot, of course. And the second clue, do you know?
- No.
- That is Natasha's lover from Chekhov's The Three Sisters. Oh. I'm not sure "Prone-to-pop-off" is a great name for a lover, but... Oh, Protopopov! I'm so sorry. And they are all characters that do not appear but are just discussed in plays. Well done.

Only Connect (2) The stories we don't tell our children.

Only Connect has been more popular than ever this year. The average audience is around 3 million viewers, comparable to ITV's Tipping Point or BBC1's A Question of Sport. Like those shows, not everyone watches for the questions. We watch Only Connect for the warmth, it's like eavesdropping on people as they talk about their passions and share what they know. Some of us can be smug when we know an answer. Everyone can appreciate Victoria's elegant explanations, making the imponderable seem sensible. It's as magical as Mary Berry's baking, or Stephen Mulhern's gift of light entertainment.

"Wick of Twisted Flax"

As in the last few series, Only Connect had a double elimination format to reduce its original 16 teams to 8. Two wins and you're through, two losses and you're out. The shows are banded: all eight first-round matches, then we see the losers again. Questions get more difficult for the first-round winners, and then the crossover matches where teams going lose-win meet teams going win-lose. And that's our eight for the quarter-finals, it's straight knockout from there on.

Only Connect (2) We saw a lot of the Dungeon Masters.

Whether by accident or design, the first round matches proved an excellent barometer of teams' strengths. Seven of the eight first-round winners made it to the quarter-finals. The Polyhymnians were the only team to lose out, falling to the Severns by a single point. The upshot was that the quarter-finals in February were almost entirely a repeat of the winners' matches in December, only this time without a safety net for the losers.

Whodunnits made the semi-final after losing to the Corkscrews in their second-round match, but magnificent Missing Vowels skills cut a deficit of eight down to a single point. In the rematch, a Missing Vowels set of "Marx Brothers and March Sisters" secured their win.

Puzzle Hunters also lost their second-round match to the Sliders, defeated by a horror of a wall. Their highlights included Pacman and the WASD games keys, items on Test Card F, and a crossword picture clue that makes no sense even after we've stared at it for a month. They won the rematch thanks, in part, to the Sliders not being able to split synonyms for "enamoured" with "choreographers".

Dungeon Masters won twice against the Barons, they started with definitions of Cluedo characters' colour and occupation and never looked back. Synonyms of Star Trek titles, components of the Stars and Stripes flag, and a superb Missing Vowels section to secure the last win.

Only Connect (2) We saw a lot of the Whodunnits, too.

Après Skiers took out the Severns: they'd come through with pictures of people whose names end "--ii", a sequence peeling two letters off the end of "Titania", the codes of the E-numbers in food, and pictures of the lyric to Pulp's "Common people". All three wins had been quite easy in the end.

"Two Reeds"

Puzzle Hunters came from behind to win their semi-final, the Whodunnits spotted a selection of songs covered by The Beatles and made hay. But cycling events with an increasing number of competitors, and the number of days in a year on various planets, helped the Puzzle Hunters to move ahead in the Sequences round. Though Whodunnits were still Missing Vowels specialists, the groups were just too difficult for them to close the gap.

Dungeon Masters began their semi-final with a bang, three on a picture round containing films with the pictured person's first name released in the year shown. It must take an effort to make this look easy on screen, the graphics people on this show are a wonder. Again, the show was close going into Missing Vowels; again, the Dungeon Masters extended their lead in the final round.

Only Connect (2) We've had three weeks to try and understand this question, and it still foxes us.

Like the football World Cup, like college basketball's NIT, like (er) (um) some other obscure sporting events, Only Connect has a match to decide third place. This is episode 27 of the series, the point at which the alphabet runs out and we code it "Match YY". It contained such brain-manglers as "Countries with anagram of the background colour deleted from the name", "Completing a 4x4 magic square", and "Quotes from top box office films, 1978-75". Whodunnits ran away with this one in the Missing Vowels round, same procedure as (almost) every time.

"Eye of Horus" (ba-bing!)

So here's an interesting observation. Each show begins with a coin-toss, to decide who will pick first. In 17 of the 28 matches, the team winning the toss has elected to pick their own Wall, and ask the other team to select first in the earlier Connections and Sequences. In the early years of Only Connect, a decade and more ago, almost every team winning the toss elected to start the show themselves. It doesn't affect the result of the show, it is a hugely geeky point of interest.

Only Connect (2) The Après Skiers, we saw a lot of them.

There are more geeky points of interest available. Eleven times, the Lion has been the first hieroglyph selected; on only five shows has it been left to fourth or later. There's little love for the Horned Viper, left till last on ten occasions – its next-door neighbour Water was picked last on nine shows. Glyphs on the top row (Two Reeds, Lion, Wick of Twisted Flax) were likely to be picked before the lower row (Horned Viper, Water, Eye of Horus).

Connections also has a sequence of picks, again with the top row likely to be picked early. Ten rounds started with the Two Reeds, ten rounds had Water picked fifth, and twelve finished with the Horned Viper. That's almost half a series! We wonder if the producers have done research on this phenomenon – is it the effect of a small sample size, lots of games involving the same teams? Are we making a mountain out of a molehill, like Schofe did on Test the Nation?

The Wick of Twisted Flax has an unremarkable show, it's the glyph most likely to contain a picture sequence (but that's just seven times in the series). The Eye of Horus, however, had the music connection no fewer than 15 times in the first 22 episodes. This is quite a remarkable finding, though we're certain it's not planned.

What also isn't planned is the organic success of Only Connect. It's averaging three million viewers, with remarkably little variance. Of quizzes running in long series, only two have bigger averages: The Chase where many of the OC stars have gone, and Stephen Mulhern's Celebrity Catchphrase. {1} It's been a long journey since the tentative steps in autumn 2008, and Only Connect has only ever grown upwards.

Only Connect (2) And we saw a lot of the Puzzle Hunters.

Only Connect is ephemeral: once the episode's been transmitted, and after it falls off the I-player, it's gone forever. You can't go down to Our Price and buy the Series 11 Complete Collection. Can't even see old episodes on a really clever digital channel, because all the digital channels are full of foolishness. Sixteen series across thirteen years, and it's still not been made anywhere other than Cardiff. Like Victoria's finest wines, Only Connect doesn't travel at all – to the best of our knowledge, no overseas broadcaster has picked up the format, or even bought the shows as cheap schedule-filler. Actually, no, strike that: SBS Australia has bought at least one series.

{1} "Average": arithmetical mean of all episodes shown on one channel during 2021. "Long-running": at least 11 episodes from 1 January to 28 March 2021.

"No choice for you, Water to finish"

Through the series, the Puzzle Hunters had a tactic. Look carefully at the first clue, don't see it and reflexively shout "Next!". It's a double-edged sword: if they're not careful, the team can be under great time pressure near the end, and only see the final clue for a fraction of a second. But they can think carefully, spot how something could link, and go for it.

They pull out a FIVE POINTER!!! In the final!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Only Connect (2) Sound the FIVE POINT KLAXON!!!!!!!!

Definitions of words spelt forwards and backwards. "Snug guns" was enough to give the answer, the noise heard across the world.

Later in the show, pairs of dice appeared: add up the numbers, translate to letters, and they spell out "DICE". "I particularly didn't want to hear a six and a five," commented Victoria. "And we'll just leave it at that."

6-6 after the Connections. 10-10 after the Sequences. Walls in the final are often idiosyncratic, and this year's were no exception. "Oh no!" "Goodness me!"

Only Connect (2) A wall of one- and two-letter combos.

17-17 after the Walls, and the editors pull out one final little trick: a Missing Vowels set they wrote years ago, and said they'd only use when the teams are level in the final. Why? The theme is "Champions", and the first clue is the name of the teams.

Only Connect (2) Us or them.

Puzzle Hunters got that right, and were never again headed, winning the show by 23-18. The usual lavish closing ceremony was slightly scaled back, what with one thing and another, but not before Victoria ended the show with the human touch.

"It's been a weird few months, hasn't it? And the world hasn't been quite the same as usual. I very much hope by the time this is broadcast, things will be back to normal. Who knows? "
"I really hope you've enjoyed the series anyway and I hope that despite all the distancing and the Perspex screens that we've managed to... make a connection."

Only Connect (2)

Only Connect will return later in the year.

University Challenge

University Challenge

Granada TV for BBC2, 13 July – 4 April

University Challenge has also had its final matches. Round one was filmed in the early weeks of last year, and aired from July to October. Subsequent rounds were filmed later in the year: Perspex dividers were required between the teams, they conferred by earpiece (and hence were more audible to the viewer). Graduates were allowed to continue representing their team, something clearly disallowed since the contretemps in 2009.

Every year, one team gets lucky with its first round match, runs up a huge score against unfortunate opposition, and then crumbles in its next game. St Andrews occupied this invidious position, beating Darwin Cambridge by a distance, then losing to Imperial London in the second round. Imperial came through the first round repêchage, their narrow loss to Strathclyde earned them a game against Exeter, which Imperial won by just five.

Strathclyde had given us all cheer, slaying Manchester The Team Everyone Wants to Beat in the second round. According to the usual draw, Strathclyde and Imperial would have met again in their opening quarter-final, but the producers correctly chose to delay this rematch as long as they could. The team from Strathclyde therefore met Durham, who had had two nailbiting victories. Durham's win in this match was another squeaker, memorable for a very pleasant spirit between the sides. Imperial were found wanting by a very impressive Warwick side, who had breezed to two easy victories.

University Challenge Jeremy Paxman appreciates a good performance.

The other half of the draw featured two mature sides, Birkbeck and Open met in the second round; Birkbeck won by a larger margin than we'd expected. Magdalene Cambridge beat Birkbeck in the first quarter-final match, pulling away in the final minutes. Balliol Oxford and King's London completed the section, both had survived tense opening games and easier second ties; Balliol won a low-scoring game.

The oh-so-complicated group phase

Since moving to 8.30 a couple of years ago, University Challenge has struggled slightly in the ratings. The reason? It's usually up against Coronation Street, and ITV's soap attracts an audience as loyal as it is massive. There isn't much audience crossover between Granada TV's biggest shows, but enough people want to see the continuing drama rather than the episodic quiz. We reckon it's television's sixth most-seen quiz, with Tipping Point in fourth and Pointless in fifth.

Warwick continued their impressive form through the winners' quarter-final, winning a squeaker against Magdalene Cambridge. Balliol Oxford won the other match, eclipsing Durham's talent by a hundred points. There were no surprises in the losers' bracket, Imperial and Strathclyde ended challenges from Kings' and Birkbeck.

A slight surprise in the first crossover quarter-final, not so much that Imperial beat Durham, but that they beat Durham by a full hundred points. Magdalene Cambridge took out Strathclyde in a nip-and-tuck affair; we suspect they'd have had a fabulous scrap with Durham.

University Challenge Magdalene would be beaten, but rose again.

Throughout the tournament, University Challenge continued its move away from pale stale male questions. We've had wide-ranging questions: vampire films, Iris Murdoch, queer film, the book "Men Explain Things to Me", and many more. Some old farts are annoyed that not all questions are about pale stale males (or the corpses thereof), but their efforts would be rejected as insufferably dull. University Challenge is a television entertainment, it's meant to be both entertaining and informative. A good question is one we'll know when we hear the answer; a great question will tell us something interesting en route.

Semi time, getting harder

Warwick beat Imperial in the first semi-final. Warwick had shown great skills on the bonuses throughout the show – wide-ranging knowledge, accessed quickly, and passing what they don't know. Imperial captain Michael Kohn was the best buzzer player on the show, and began the re-match strongly. Warwick were never out of contention, drawing level on many occasions, and taking the lead with a few minutes to go. 160-135 in Warwick's favour.

Balliol Oxford were a strong buzzer side, perhaps a few gaps in their bonus knowledge. Magdalene Cambridge had the bonuses, and decent buzzer abilities. In the event, Magdalene won the battle of the buzzers, 270-50 didn't reflect Balliol's undoubted abilities.

University Challenge Warwick prepare for the final.

Throughout the series, fans of University Challenge have been playing a fantasy game online, using the simple scoring system devised by this column about twenty years ago, when the current contestants were in nappies. Congrats to Tommy KL96 for victory in the season-long championship, and starter_for_ben for running the whole shebang.

The Final

In the studio, Warwick and Magdalene Cambridge met for the final. The stats suggested Magdalene could win it, the heart said this was Warwick's for the wonning. Warwick started the better, Magdalene kept the game tight. After the second visual round, Warwick's lead was 160-100, and Magdalene had little room for further error.

Q: In the UK, who was the first person to be given official use of the title Prime Minister? He entered office in December 1905 following...
A: Bannerman-Campbell?

Amazing how tiny the swings can be. "Love is other people"? Na-ah, it's "hell". Who was on the throne in 1414? Not Henry IV but Henry V. Three microscopic errors, three missignal penalties for Magdalene, three starters and six bonuses for Warwick.

On such small slips did the title turn. Warwick closed the game with a 195-140 victory. Warwick might have ridden their luck, but they'd spent five games making their own luck: relentless pressure on the bonuses, if they got a set they'd score from it. Magdalene knew they had to buzz early, and buzzed just that moment too soon.

The best matches of the tournament? Of the episodes we saw, we enjoyed Strathclyde take on Durham, and wowed at Warwick's two wins against Magdalene Cambridge.

University Challenge Warwick's captain lifts the trophy.

More University Challenge is already in the can, and we expect to see it on our screens in the summer. After Wimbledon. Remember Wimbledon.....

In other news

We're sorry to report the death of Nikki Grahame, one of the most well-remembered Big Brother contestants. A contestant in the 2006 series, Nikki grabbed the public attention, demanding to be watched and shouting the odds over the smallest thing. "Who is she?" asked Nikki of a late arrival into the contest. Nikki was voted out during the series, and then voted back in again, but finished fifth in the contest. She was voted the Most Popular TV Contender at the ITV Television Awards in 2006.

Nikki went on to make the most of her public image, holding down everyday jobs on Princess Nikki for E4, and the face above a Big Brother column in one of the gossip mags. Nikki returned for Ultimate Big Brother in 2010, where she opened up about her long-standing problems with her body image; the cause of Nikki's death was complications arising from anorexia. Nikki remained a frequent guest on Big Brother's Bit on the Side, and turned up on Big Brother Canada in 2016. Nikki Grahame was 38.

Need help on eating disorders? BEAT eatingdisorders website or call 0808 801 0677 4-8pm weekends.

The death also of Shay Healy, songwriter, broadcaster, and talent show judge. His most famous song, "What's another year?", won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1980; his later work on talent show Glór Tire gave Gaeltacht talent a chance to show their brilliance on network television. Shay Healy was 78, he's survived by two sons.

Next week's Week plans to review This is My House as part of a Richard Bacon double bill. In later weeks, we'll look at Game of Talents (which began on ITV last night), and I Can See Your Voice (which started on BBC1). Our exact plans are as flexible as schedules following the death of Prince Philip of Edinburgh.

Scheduled for this week: A stitch at nine sounds fine: Sewing Bee is back (BBC1, Wed). All That Glitters is a contest for jewellers (BBC2, Tue (Wed in NI)). Sally Lindsay is the new host on Tenable (ITV, weekdays); we've also new episodes of Tipping Point and The Chase after they both spent a month in repeats.

Stephen Mulhern's in Sheffield, which can only mean one of two things: either he's playing in the World Snooker Championships (BBC2 and Eurosport, from Sat) or it's a new series of In for a Penny with Stephen Mulhern (ITV, Sat), or it'll be cancelled for extended funeral coverage. Next week's Epic Game Show format is set to be The Price is Right (ITV, Sat), we're intrigued by how this will work given current health restrictions.

Photo credits: Parasol / RDF Media, All Things Quiz, Granada.

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