Weaver's Week 2021-10-24

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Isn't it time for...




That M&W Co / Renegade for Dave, 29 September to present

This column always takes us in strange and unpredictable directions. The Outsiders is no exception, seeing as how it's a submerged larp of another show.

Outsiders David Mitchell is the game master.

A whatty whatty what? Live Action Role Play is a popular hobby, where people dress up in costumes and improvise stories. The stereotypical larpers dress up as elves and orcs, and live out a world of Tolkeinesque quests and banters. Other larpers go for historical accuracy: live in a Viking settlement, or a Roundhead battlefield, or a Jane Austen novel. larps can be based on any shared cultural niche: history, geography, high art, low art. Novels,

Most larpers dress in a suitable costume for their setting. To live in a Viking settlement, one might reasonably dress as Vikings did, all woad and thick hemp. To visit a Jane Austen novel, one might wear a cummerbund or a bonnet. Wearing the costume helps keep one's mind focussed on the roleplay, it's a pervasive psychological cue.

Outsiders The larpers arrive: Ed Gamble is hiding behind Jessica Knappett, then it's Lou Sanders, Jamali Maddix, Kerry Godliman, and Toussaint Douglas.

Now, we said that most larpers dress in costume, but not all. Such "submerged" larps may use only small costume identifiers, a badge or some other accessory. To non-participants, the larpers are indistinguishable from anyone else. You never quite know who is in character, and who is acting genuinely.

All of which brings us to Outsiders, which is quite clearly a product of celebrity husband David Mitchell's fevered imagination. He's going to the great outdoors, and uses a great big gazebo as his base. And he's going to invite six of his comedian friends along to spend time in the great outdoors.

Outsiders Hello, welcome to my office / briefing area / rug showroom.

The opening episode sets up the series' premise, and introduces the first challenge, and gets in with it within five minutes. We've barely met these teams, and already they're chopping down trees. We see all of them wield their choppers, and try to get to grips with the girth, before making the inevitable repetitive insertions. David pays each of the comedians a visit, sees how they're getting on. He hopes to be on hand when their trees are going to fall — if any trees are going to fall.

Outsiders Insert axe-head C into tree-trunk R.

Outsiders has a simple basic premise: can our teams can survive in a post-apocalyptic world, one where complex civilisation has entirely collapsed. The only thing that survives is a series of laminated instruction cards, presumably taken from the Readers Digestive Handbook of the Apocalypse. Can our teams administer basic first aid? If, for instance, they find a lifesize ragdoll entangled in a tree while wearing a parachute, can they improvise a stretcher and carry the casualty to safety?

The second half of the show takes the excitement, and squashes it quite badly. After two exciting challenges, the third is to, er, invent a suitable motto for the camp. No, we have absolutely no idea what sort of survival skill this is testing, unless it's a negative test to find the most smug person in the village.

Outsiders It's a dummy, voiced by David Mitchell through a two-way radio.

We reach the final part of the programme, and David hasn't sat in judgement on anything; that all comes in the closing minutes. Each team's performance in each challenge is assessed, and those who David thinks have done well are rewarded with his badges. Whichever team has the most badges at the end is the winner of the series. It's very much like the early years of the GCSE examination: if you could achieve certain criteria, you'd be rewarded with marks towards your grade.

Outsiders It's not as dramatic and tense as the Survivor climax, but then it's not hosted by Mark Austen.

The comedians each have their own individual tents, in the clearing around the campfire. David goes back to London each night to live with his wife and child. And he never misses a chance to rub this into the teams' faces, with that sarcastic tone of voice he uses. The show's recorded at Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre, near Potters Bar, easy commuting distance for David and his winged horse. David's reminders of the outside world are all that we hear of it, occasional enough to remind us that these comedians do have proper homes to go to, and they are just playing at this post-apocalyptic society.

Now that we've established the format, we can zip through some of the challenges set in later episodes. The Hairdressing badge, awarded for a "suitable" haircut for the apocalypse.

Outsiders Is this an improvement? You deride.

The milking badge: milk a goat, and make something nice with the milk (or just make edible, David is going to eat the cooking for lunch). The Repurposing badge, awarded for finding strange and novel uses for a regular item.

The Camouflage badge, blending in with your surroundings and not being found by the others. Design an anthem and a flag.

Outsiders A goat (left) and Lou Sanders.

The Bivouac badge, build a waterproof shelter large enough for two people. The Gadget badge, building something to enhance the camp experience using materials at hand. Survival Items, explain why you'd pick these items in the end of civilisation.

Each segment is gently entertaining, the setup is easy enough for the most casual viewer to understand, and the contestants make a decent effort at each of the challenges. The atmosphere is relaxed, it's a friendly competition rather than a cut-throat one.

Outsiders The contestants bond over a campfire.

It helps that the stakes are tremendously low, the teams are playing for badges and perhaps a little honour at the end of the series. As we've observed with David's wife's show, low stakes and a supportive atmosphere help to make for pleasant television, gently uplifting and fun to watch.

Some have described Outsiders as "slow television", alongside the occasional sleigh ride and canal boat films they show on BBC4. It's not quite as slow as those ultra-relaxed programmes, but it never moves at anything faster than a gentle amble. And, let's be honest, it would benefit from a shorter running time – trim it down by six minutes and it's a winner – but there's a lot of fluff and filler to bulk out the hour. They can certainly lose the perpetual "coming up" sequences, they spoil so much of the later programme.

Outsiders Exit, pursued by a giant rabbit.

What would people wear in the apocalypse? Whatever comes to hand, quite honestly. If you've got slightly grubby t-shirts and frayed jeans to hand, that's what you're going to wear. There's no special costume. The only identifying mark is the badges flown by the teams' tents.

Outsiders is the perfect show to record in a pandemic. Especially one spread by horrible viruses that congregate indoors, and get wafted about by the least breath of wind. As the name suggests, Outsiders is set entirely outside. The only time anyone's inside is when they're in David's clubhouse slash gazebo, which has canvas walls on many sides. There's no particular need for distancing, Big Perspex need not appear on this show.

Is Outsiders inspired by the ongoing pandemic? We'll have to ask David Mitchell, who co-devised the show with Leon Wilde. We think it owes a debt to another programme that was very popular during the health crisis, and that David might have seen with his child.

Hey Duggee is an animation, shown here on the Cbeebies channel. It's set in a club a bit like the Girl Guides or the Scouts: the benevolent dog Duggie teaches a disparate group of young animals about science, nature, technology, and life in general. Each episode centres around a badge, which is awarded to those of the "squirrels" who master the skills described in the programme. And, being a programme aimed at children aged about four, everyone gets a badge in every episode.

Outsiders is, quite simply, three extended episodes of Hey Duggee put together, and with Duggee's less benevolent cousin in charge of the squirrels. Not every squirrel will get a badge every time, Davey expects higher standards of his charges. (Either that, or the comedians are all being upstaged by an animated octopus.) There is still an aim to teach people about some potentially useful skills – how to administer first aid, the basic essence of camouflage, how to tell a good story.

And that it's important to have fun while learning something. Hey Duggee can use a script to be fun: its larp counterpart Outsiders has to employ vibrant and witty people for the same effect. And, before we finish the review, we should probably address the elephant in the room.

Hello, Ethel!

Oh. The other elephant in the room.

Being a panel show on the Dave channel, many expected Outsiders to be the new Taskmaster. Yes, there are superficial similarities – a smart-Alec comedian sets other comedy performers things to do, and evaluates their performance.

But there are two crucial differences. Tasks on Outsiders are self-contained, either the team will be good enough to win the badge, or they won't. David's criteria are set out in advance, the results on Taskmaster tend to be whimsical and reflect only Greg Davies' opinion.

Outsiders The small rewards.

The other key difference: Outsiders tends to be tests where the correct solution is known to the team, there aren't many tests of improvisation and perspicacity. Laminated instruction sheets literally say, "this is how to chop down a tree", "this is how camouflage works". Taskmaster would just drop its players in the woods with a toothpick and some dental floss and say, "go on, build a rope bridge with this".

We want to judge Outsiders on its own merits, and that's what we're going to do. It's a fine watch, pleasant television to have on in the background while ironing. It doesn't require all our concentration, it's fun to watch while it's on, and it leaves us feeling good. And any show that is able to meet all of those criteria is going to get its game show badge.

Well, that was fun, wasn't it.

Alan Hawkshaw

Stop all the clocks. Take the sausage off the forks. Alan Hawkshaw, composer of many great television themes, died last weekend. He was 84.

Alan was one of the great "library music" composer. He'd write some music off the top of his head, polish it up, and make it available through a music publishing company. Television producers would hear the tunes, find the bit they liked, and include it in their show. It saves on commissioning someone to write a full score, and it's particularly used in mid-budget dramas. The pastoral soundtrack on the BBC's All Creatures Great and Small? That's library music.

Alan plays for a publicity photo.

Alan Hawkshaw wrote library pieces – often at great speed. Perhaps his best-known was "Chicken man", which he literally wrote in an afternoon while recording a session in Munich. It was picked up by the BBC children's department for Grange Hill, when the original commissioned theme was rejected. Later, the theme was slightly re-orchestrated and used by Thames Television for Give Us a Clue - yes, Thames knew they were nicking Grange Hill's theme. Another of his library pieces, "Best endeavours", has been the theme to Channel 4 News since the 1980s; it was originally intended to soundtrack a movie scene where Clint Eastwood rode off into the sunset.

There is great art in library music: it can be broken down into smaller fragments. A 29-second opening theme, a 59-second closing theme, a middle eight that might get used from time to time but will generally not be heard. And all of these can be chopped down further: stings in and out of the adverts, or for trails. Why such eye-catching names? The title has to sell the piece to the producer on first sight, before he's even heard it.

"The Hawk", as he was known, also took commissions from television producers. One came from Yorkshire Television, who were about to edit a show where they needed some thinking music. The drip-drip-drip of a bathroom tap, and a gentle melodic up-and-downlift, and the required bit of a sting as the tune concludes. That became the Countdown theme. It's amazing what ideas come to people when they're sitting on the toilet.

Countdown Better than bog-standard.

Alan wrote music for many, many other programmes and films. The recent Eddie the Eagle movie, Channel 4 Racing, Midlands Today, Milk Tray adverts, the film Nacho Libre, Silent Witness, The Kenny Everett Video Show, the list is almost endless.

Alan Hawkshaw had started his music career as one of the Checkmates, who backed rock 'n' roll singer Emile Ford in the 1960s. He then became a session musician, someone who would be hired in to play keyboard or arrange the other musicians. He often worked with The Shadows (Cliff Richard's sometime backing band), and was a member of the group at various points.

As a songwriter, he worked with all the greats of the ear – Don Black, Keith Mansfield, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. His work has been sampled and interpolated by more modern writers – Jay-Z's "Pray" is centred around one of the Hawk's themes. The most-sampled section is three notes from "The champ", originally recorded by The Mohawks. The "ba-da-da, ba-da-da, ba-diddle-de-da" riff is punchy and pacy, it's been used on hundreds of tunes by Ini Kamoze, The Black Eyed Peas, Ariana Grande, Rita Ora... it's another endless list.

So many samples, so many covers, such familiar songs and melodies. Alan used his money wisely, and donated much of it to good causes. Every time a lazy producer uses "Chicken man" to introduce a school scene, the royalties go to a performing arts college: a tune associated with education helps continue someone's education. Though Alan Hawkshaw is no longer amongst us, his legacy of music will live on.

Diddle. Diddle. Diddle-de-dee. Pew!

In other news

Life imitates art The CW network made a full series of Killer Camp, the Hallowe'en-skinned mess-and-silliness fest. After just two episodes, they've decided to pull the show aside, and ask it to take a long walk off a short pier.

The Void Going down.

ITV has confirmed the inevitable. The Void won't be coming back. The dash 'n' splash show played to very modest ratings in the summer, and even Nick Heath's commentary couldn't save the show. Maybe they can use the big pool as the centrepiece of some other show.

Turin-about Full details for next year's Senior Eurovision Song Contest have emerged. It'll be held in Turin, from 10-14 May. Hosts and slogan are to be confirmed.

Three broadcasters return to the contest, all last competed in 2019. They're AMPTV (shown on screen as "Armenia") who withdrew late this year, due to the precarious security situation. RTCG ("Montenegro") sat out for financial reasons, and RTBF ("Belgium") yielded to VRT ("Belgium") – VRT will sit out this year, so there will be 41 entries. Two semi-finals of 18, and a final of 25. Plus an Active Voting Window longer than the entire 1957 contest, a guest performance by Mika, and the inevitable Frank Naef Tribute Voting Breakdown.

Meanwhile, the BBC have announced how they'll select next year's entry. It's a collaboration with TaP Music, a publishing-and-management company. The external consultants plan to put together an "A-team" of great songwriters, performers, media folk, and other "creatives" – names in the press release include contemporary hitmakers Dua Lipa and Elton John, and Mel C the sometime Spice Girl.

Hmm. Mel C for Turin? Sometimes it seems completely forbidden...

Quizzy Mondays Only Connect (2) went to the Muppets, who won a low-scoring match against the Steelers. The show began with a head-spinner – mnemonics for the first six letters on a keyboard in various languages – went through F Scott Fitzgerald and "March of the Mods", before finishing with Wombles and people with "van" removed from their name.

(Which brings us to a nit-picky point. How come people on telly can't pronounce common names. The painter "Vincent van Gogh", for instance – that's "Vincent fn Hochk". Greta Thunberg, that's "Greta Tun-berr-eh". They need some advice from the BBC pronunciation head Mr. Featherstounehaugh.)

University Challenge entered its straight elimination phase, with St John's Cambridge beat UCL by 175-170. It was a big recovery from 175-50 at the second visual round, some great buzzing and quality quizzing from both sides.

(Another nit-picky point. One question asked for recent "FA Cup winners" (by which they mean men's FA Cup winners) not from London or Manchester. The model answer: Portsmouth and Wigan. But Wigan is in Greater Manchester; if they're not to be counted as a Manchester side, then Manchester United are not to be counted as a Manchester side. On what grounds? On the grounds that Manchester United's Old Trafford ground is in Trafford, not Manchester.)

Mastermind went to Marianne McKillop, taking Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Marianne says it's her first attempt to get on a television quiz, a reason for all viewers to have confidence and apply.

BBC Brain saw slow start for Alan Hodgson, four points off the lead going into Beat the Brains. But he knew where to find the Aubrey Holes, what the letters of shopping channel QVC stand for, and secured a set of five in a row. Alan added a few points in the later rounds, and ended up winning by four points from Heather Auton.

After last year's walking talking scarecrow, Brendan off of Coach Trip isn't the most scary thing one might associate with Hallowe'en season, but he hosts Celebrity Ghost Trip (E4, Sun-Thu). Irish viewers get talent show Réalta Agus Gaolta (TG4, Sun). ITV brings on the Moneyball next Saturday, Ian Wright pits contestants against The Launcher. Don't confuse this with The Chase, starring Mark Labbett as The Luncher.

Pictures: That M&W Co / Renegade, Studio AKA, KPM, Yorkshire Television, Gameface.

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