Weaver's Week 2004-10-30

Weaver's Week Index

30 October 2004

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

It's always gratifying to know that we're not the only people to remember Robert Kilroy-Shaft's brief foray into game shows, Silked, which ITV cancelled after just four of a scheduled 20 episodes. Three years on, the hand actions still look obscene. To share, or to shaft, that is the question. But let us go back a little further in time, for a joke we've been running since September of 2001.


Nicked! Part The Googolth

For those of you who missed the previous gazillion instalments, here's a brief summary: Charles Ingram recorded an episode of Millionaire. There was some coughing during the recording. He left the studio with the cheque for a million. Before he could cash it, Celador pulled the show. Mr Ingram counter-sued for the money. The case went to a criminal trial, and Mr Ingram, his wife Diana, and Tecwen Whittock were convicted. Celador made, and ITV televised, a hatchet job on the three. Mr Ingram was convicted of a separate insurance fraud. Mr and Mrs Ingram need to find lots of money to pay some hefty legal bills. Now read on...

Charles and Diana Ingram returned to court last week to plead poverty and beg for financial mercy. Trial judge Geoffrey Rivlin accused them on Wednesday last week of "deliberately" frittering away their money instead of paying defence costs of £65,000. The couple have been able to spend £11,000 on a new car while repaying a £6,000 loan, "against a background of knowing that substantial sums of money had already been ordered in respect of defence costs," he remarked.

Mr Rivlin said he took a "jaded view" of Ingram's failed £265,000 civil suit against Celador, when he tried to force the company to hand over the prize money they withheld - a claim the Court of Appeal described as "inherently fraudulent". "This money could have been used to pay the cost orders that I made."

It also emerged that the couple had also spent £5,000 on spread betting. Even their barrister, Selva Ramasamy, said: "Their star is on the wane and plainly it is not stable on the horizon." Time to get yourselves on Come Dancing, perhaps.

The judge said: "The true picture which has been presented to me is that of a consistent and deliberate deprivation of funds so that the Ingrams would pay off whoever they wished to, buy whatever they wanted to buy, bet on whatever they wished to bet on and leave the court nothing by way of costs."

Justice Rivlin's reached his answer without having to ask the audience, or phoning Martin Bashir: oh, go on, we'll halve the costs and a bit more, to £30,000. That will be his final answer.

In an unconnected development, the High Court has given leave for Alan Melville and John Baccini to pursue claims against Celador over the Millionaire format. Mr Melville says that he had a similar game - "Millionaire's Row" - in 1995, while Mr Baccini's claim dates from a 1982 board game "Millionaire" and an unaired 1990 television format "BT Lottery."

Test The Nation: The National Spelling Test

(ITV, 2100 Wed 20 Oct)

Doctor "Neil" Fox and Gabby "Yorath" Logan stand behind two music stands, clearly reading some almost-funny jokes off an autocue. They're here to raise oodles and oodles of money for ITV's emptying coffers, and to test the nation's grammar skills along the way. Though it was billed as an educational programme about spelling, this was actually an interactive game show about grammar. Subtle differences.

The format of the game is reasonably simple: Dr and Gabby will read out questions with multiple answers, and we have to note the number corresponding to the correct answer. At the end of the round, players can send in their answers by SMS, or by phoning a dedicated hotline, or their answers will be processed by a small application downloaded over digital satellite. (Viewers on digital cable, or on the erstwhile ITV Digital transmissions, can't enter by pressing red.) The pass mark is set at 60%, and any entrant scoring that pass mark is entered into a draw to receive a call from Gabby where they'll be asked six questions in a minute to win a million - no they won't, they'll answer one question in fifteen seconds to win £10,000.

Now, when the BBC does this kind of thing, they bill it as entertainment. They also have some decent hosts - Anne Robinson is a legend in her own lifetime, and we've always had a soft spot for Phillip "Gopherman" Schofield. They may skimp on prizes for the public, but they do invite in some colourful audience people, have a few celebs, and make a thoroughly entertaining evening out of it by putting the entertainment on a par with the questions.

ITV has some hosts who know what they're doing, but that's where the similarity ends. There's no audience interaction at all - the 300 or so people are just there to participate, and have one of them appear on screen for 30 seconds and win ten grand. This was a particular waste, as the names flashed up on screen at the end included a fair few Countdown champs and superb Scrabble players. No celebs have taken the opportunity to reveal their complete mastery of the English language, and/or appear on national primetime television - this may be the first live ITV show to air all year without plugging any other ITV show.

The questions went at a fair clip - with 15 seconds per question, and blocks of ten or fifteen questions at a time, the whole quizzing was crammed into blocks of about four minutes. It's almost as if the producers were embarrassed that the quiz had to have questions, so they just shoe-horned them in. They certainly didn't have any experts (like Susie Dent) on hand to explain why the answers were correct, thus proving the show's intent was not to educate, but to quiz. A question like "Drinking alcohol { affects | effects } your ability to drive" could have spawned a discussion on when to use which word, but Doctor Fox (he's not a real Neil, you know) just gave the answer and moved on to the next question.

Instead of intelligent discussion, we had some video inserts of talking heads pontificating about matters linguistic - the Sosity for Simple Speling got their moments on air, as did the Apostrophe Protection League, and a teacher who had run a snap spelling test on her class and claimed that this had great scientific validity.

From Gopherman's pontifications at the end of every Test The Nation, it's clear that either he or his producers doesn't understand the first thing about statistical significance tests; that the Law of Large Numbers probably relates more to speed limits, and we're not even going to ask about standard deviations, otherwise Gordon will come out of his ranch in Arizona and squeak at us. At least the BBC understands averages: Gabby proudly proclaimed that the average score across the nation was 68%, male respondents averaged 60%, and females averaged 62%. We can deduce that either 7 participants in 32 declined to state their gender and went on to score 100%, or that someone can't do fairly simple maths.

For the record, this column scored 78% on the test, which probably indicates a quarter of the Grate British Public knows more about spelling and grammer than does us.


Semi-final 1/6

Always assuming that one can have six semi-finals. Shall we just call it the Final Eliminator and be done with it?

Jim Cook was American manned space flight, now it's British prime ministers of the 20th Century. There's roughly one question per PM, ranging from Neville Chamberlain's first name to Tony Blair's failure - Arthur and Beaconsfield, respectively. Nothing on John Major, as that comes next week. Jim makes 12 (2).

Jane Ann Liston was Offenbach, now the Life and Works of Robert Ferguson. After the round, we're not quite sure who Ferguson was, only that he came from Scotland. 13 (1) is a good score, but we are in the Final Eliminator Round.

Roland Marshall was Elgar, now it's the television series "Fawlty Towers." There's no question about the fire drill, which was always our favourite silly bit, and Roland finishes on 13 (0).

Andrew Warmington has traded capital punishment for the English Civil War, 1642-1659. We don't have a favourite silly bit in this conflict; indeed, we don't know enough but to sit back and think "Wow. He knows his stuff." Andrew's final score is 12 (0).

Regular readers will have noted that first round matches were often decided on the specialist subject round. The FE should be decided by genera knowledge, which is perhaps right.

Jim Cook's first up, and speaking of PMs, he agrees with Asquith that "characters matter much more than brains." Asquith never did very well at Mastermind, though. Jim guesses well, perhaps passes too often, once wincing when he says "Pass" then remembers the answer. His final score is 25 (7), and that's enough passes to count against him.

Andrew Warmington suggests that the civil war removed religion from the centre of English life. He then goes on to miss the first six questions, including the direct ancestry of Romulus and Remus. The slow start effectively ends his chances of winning, and Andrew finishes on 19 (3).

Jane Ann Liston confirms that Robert Ferguson was a poet, and an inspiration for Robbie Burns. She misses her first three, which is going to make things difficult but not impossible. A slow continuation doesn't help, and she finishes on 20 (5).

Roland therefore needs twelve to win. He's the only contestant to get their first question correct, but spends a very long time not getting Strontium 90. He does get the question about The Clangers, but correct answers are thin on the ground. Roland finishes on 21 (0), so Jim is the worthy winner.

University Challenge

First round 7/14: St John's Cambridge -v- Reading

Reading were with us last year, when the side lost a cracking match to eventual finalists Gonville and Caius Cambridge, came back to the repechage, beat St Hugh's Oxford, but lost to St John's Oxford. In spite of their large size (800 students is large for Cambridge), it's the unconnected St John's Cambridge's first appearance in the revival.

Two mathematicians, no arts students, and one notable beret on the St John's team, no out-and-out scientists on the Reading side. St John's thinks that there have been a number of English kings (and a cartoon cat) called Louis, and Reading gets off to another cracking start. The first picture round is great for Disney fans: Name That Dwarf, after which Reading's lead is down to 30-25.

Do the editors want to keep the score down? Around the first picture round, the teams drop seven out of nine starters, only one of them resulting in a missignal. We're going to go round and smack someone's botty - Thumper asked about the famed M6 junction called "Gravely Hill," pronounced like something deep and meaningful. The motorway conflation, famed for its long delays, is spelled "Gravelly Hill," with a double L and a completely different pronunciation. Shortly afterwards, Thumper pronounces "finance" with emphasis on the opening syllable.

The audio round is Name That Musical (And Its Song.) Lydia Massey is on sparkling form for Reading, she's single-handedly led the side to a 90-30 lead. It's clear that the editors really do want a low-scoring game, as there are no fewer than ten dropped starters - just two from missignals - at the second picture round. Thumper is very harsh to disallow "walking the length of the country" for "walking from Land's End to John O'Groats," but after Reading gets Name That Rabbit Internal Organ, they're 170-45 ahead, and no-one's really going to notice. Except us.

The final result comes as a surprise to no-one - Reading has avenged its defeat against a St John's, and by a commanding score - 195-70 should fool no-one. Reading are a one-woman team, Lydia Massey was responsible for 119.8 points, and no-one else on her team got a starter until well into the second half. Owen Jones top-scored for SJC with 34.1. His side lost it on the bonuses, making a very poor 3/18 with one missignal. Reading made 16/33, also with one missignal.

The repechage entries are unchanged: Univ Oxford 150 Jesus Cambridge 145 York 120 Downing Cambridge 105

This Week And Next

Regular readers will know that Endemol is not a Mickey Mouse outfit. It might become a Bugs Bunny outfit; Time Warner has offered 2 billion euro (just under 1.5 million pounds) to purchase the company from Spanish owners Telefonica. The group is looking to dispose of its non-core assets, and ousted co-founder Jan de Mol last year.

High time we had a look at Countdown. We last looked at the long-running letters and numbers game at the start of the month, when John Gray was making his octochamp run. His eight wins netted 757 points, at +25 to par. He's certain to come back in Finals Week. Mark Danks looked strong in his first two wins, but lost a squeaker of a third game to finish on 255 at +24. Andrew Dodd (197 at +48) had another squeaker in his second win, before losing to one-game winner Carol Joy (114 at +30.) During this run of games, Dictionary Corner was occupied by Victoria Mather. She is actually the answer to another question this week, Harry Hill pondering, "Who has the most and longest anecdotes that go nowhere?" John Hunt returned some sanity to proceedings with an octochamp run - he started shakily, and had a tie in his second game, but flew with increasing confidence through the rest. He finished with 778 points, +7 to par, and third seeding.

The last finalist in Brain of Britain came from those high-scoring losers in the first round. Mastermind champion David Edwards wasn't amongst them, but the line up included Emma Schlesinger, a solicitor from Richmond upon Thames (spelling probably completely wrong, and many apologies.) She took the game by the horns, got three maximum five-in-a-rows in the first four rounds, and won the game with 33 points - it's not quite a record, but it's very close. The record score does not appear to be noted anywhere on the internet; a 1991 copy of the Book of Records indicates that the top score is 35, achieved by 1981 winner Peter Barlow, and by the 1984 winner Peter Bates. The final's this Monday.

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