Weaver's Week 2001-10-01

Weaver's Week Index

1st October 2001

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.

This week:

- Fun and frolics in a Manchester studio

- Confetti in a London court

- Even more ticking clocks in Newcastle

Let the games commence.


One week late, it's the titanic battle between Trinity Cambridge and Magdalen Oxford.

Trinity appeared in 95, and scraped past Brasenose Oxford in the opening round. The team then hit its stride, beating Queens Belfast and St Andrews in the knockout phase. They drew against Aberdeen in the semis, winning the tiebreak, and crushed New Oxford in the final, 390-180.

Returning as defending champions in 96, Trinity fell to Keele.

Magdalen made their first revival appearance in 97, beating Portsmouth and the University of Western England in consecutive programmes. They went on to thrash Queens Belfast in the quarters, inch past Manchester in the semis, and bested Open 250-195 to win the championship.

Returning as defending champions in 98, Magdalen beat Kings London in a high-scoring opening round match. They beat Open in a tight second round match, trounced Cardiff in the quarters, the LSE in the semis, and beat Birkbeck 225-195 in the final.

Returning once more as defending champions in 99, Magdalen beat Kings College Medicine and Dentistry, before falling to eventual champions Open in a wonderful second round match.

Magdalen have slightly the better of the early exchanges, leading 60-35 after the first picture. Paxo's inability to do mental arithmetic shows once more when he's sniffling at Hugh Sutherland's (Trinity) knowledge of 2^10, and later the powers of i. "es vinculum, invalissimum vale!" [1] says our host to Trinity. Then he says it to them in English after they fail to translate.

It's neck-and-neck by now, Magdalen pull away, Trinity haul them back and go on a charge of their own, stretching the lead to 75 by the second picture round. Magdalen pull back, but Trinity has a head of steam, winning 210-140.

Ian Fisher is the highest individual scorer, claiming 72 of Magdalen's points. Hugh Sutherland (68) and John Ferguson (67) lead Trinity's charge, though 20/36 bonuses helped. Magdalen got 13/26 bonuses.

A severe case of bad luck as Sara Love (Magdalen) answers "USSR" when asked the country of which Lincoln Steffens said in 1919: "I have seen the future, and it works." Russia was the correct answer: the USSR didn't come into existence until 1922. On the other hand, Paxo had accepted "Throat" as correct from Sutherland (Trinity) in what appeared dubious circumstances. This decision may well have an impact on the highest-scoring losers.

The reason why this episode was delayed is not clear - the only potentially contentious subjects were an early set of bonuses on war quotations, and a set on religion in the middle of the programme.

The highest-scoring losers after game 9/14:

185 Hull

150 Edinburgh

140 LSE, Magdalen Oxford

Next week: University London -v- Cardiff

[1] "You are the weakest link, goodbye!"


The Observer reminded me that all Millionaire contestants have to sign a contract preventing them from disclosing how they perform on the show. As Charles Ingram held a press conference, this is a prima facie breach of contract and provides Celador with a useful get-out clause regardless of investigations of cheating.

The soldier recorded his appearance on September 10, and left Celador's studios in Elstree, Hertfordshire, with a cheque post-dated to the scheduled transmission date, September 18. He had not paid it into his bank when, a week later, a representative from the show called and informed him that the payment would not be honoured.

The investigation centres on the final question and allegations that Ingram used a code to receive the correct answer from a member of the audience. Police sources suggested that every member of the 200-strong audience would be questioned by officers, and asked to provide mobile phone records to see if any calls were made while the programme was being filmed.

Before Ingram answered the Million Pound Question, it's reported that a single cough was clearly heard coming from somewhere in the audience. The suspicion is that the cough formed part of a code with the number of coughs corresponding to which of the four possible options was correct. The correct answer was option A.

Celador sources also point to the fact that Ingram took a considerable amount of time - in one case almost 15 minutes - to answer each of the questions. He also repeated each of the answers out loud. On several occasions he appeared to pick one answer only to change his mind later. While neither of these are unprecedented in Millionaire history, a long pause tends to destroy the confidence of the contestant, and they go in short order after.

Investigators are keen to learn whether this may have been a delaying tactic to allow someone outside the studio to look up the questions on a computer or the internet before sending a text message to a mobile phone held by an an audience member. The audience member would then cough corresponding to one of the four options. Ingram denies all the allegations.

From the start, Celador has been concerned about the possibility of someone cheating all the way to the top prize and introduced elaborate security measures from the start of the show. During recording, one camera is permanently trained on the contestants' faces to check that they don't look away for signals from the audience. Another camera watches friends or relatives in the audience to ensure they are not sending signals. As an additional precaution players are always positioned with their backs to any supporters in the audience.

Police are studying the tape of the show and looking through still photographs of the audience to see if they can spot anyone signalling.

Ingram's win coincided with the publication of a book by his wife, Diana, and her brother, Adrian Pollock, both of whom won £32,000 on the programme earlier this year.

By last Friday, positions were becoming entrenched. Ingram had lodged his papers with the High Court, Celador was refusing to pay a penny, and a court showdown looks inevitable.

According to press reports, Diana's book contains mathematical analysis of each question based on the correct answers to previous ones. Or you could adopt the strategy used by Jim Smillie on the £64,000 question last Tuesday: "My mates and I play a drinking game where if you don't know, you say it's B. So it's B."

Smillie left with £32,000.


Another fifteen minutes is added to Countdown, Britain's favourite teatime parlour game. Richard Whiteley says that there have been lots of letters crying out for more. With eleven (count 'em!) letters games, three numbers, and one conundrum, the balance of the game has been subtly tilted towards the literate at the expense of the numerate.

There's still some waffle from the host at the start, and the guest in Dictionary Corner is still only expected to come up with one good anecdote per programme. They've had Mr 10%, Gyles Brandreth, in the studio this week, but even his legendary energy has been waning at the end of some of the programmes.

Personally, I think the extension is a step just too far. While the daily show was just the right length at 30 minutes, the extended programme feels like it's doubled in length. 45-minute finals had a sense of occasion about them, and a variety of games. When Richard announced round 8, letters, we're still only half way through proceedings and the rest of the game feels like an eternity.

The extension to the formula is an interesting experiment, and maybe there will be some tinkerings around the edges as the format beds in. I'm not over-impressed at the moment, but I'll come back to Countdown 45 in around a month to see what's changed.


As ever, all times subject to change, consult your preferred on-screen guide for accurate listings.

Ignore the billed Millionaire Celebrity Special (8:10 Saturday night.) This actually aired last week, to fill the gap caused by Major Lawsuit. Jasper Carrott did well, Jonathan Ross didn't. Not that I'd advise you to miss this episode, as press reports suggest there may be a handily placed sizable winner. The parent-and-child specials may or may not begin on Tuesday. There's a scheduled Thursday edition (8pm.)

C4's LOST sees three teams try to get from Russia's White Sea to London with three days' rations and USD 200. Monday 10:30, Tuesday 10:35, Wednesday 10:55. Do not confuse with ITV's THE RACE, where three teams try to get from London to London via all points between. This begins October 11.

Owing to coverage of the Labour party conference, FIFTEEN TO ONE airs at 12 noon on Tuesday only.

Eight American comedians compete in a special WEAKEST LINK USA at 5:15 Friday BBC2. Will any bring jokes with a punchline? And BRUCE'S PRICE IS RIGHT returns to prime time at 8pm on ITV that night.


Congratulations to Davina McCall, who delivered Holly Willow at her London home. Mother, child, and hubby Matthew Robertson are said to be "beaming."

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