Weaver's Week 2004-11-13

Weaver's Week Index

13 November 2004

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

Farewell this week to Emlyn Hughes, a footballer who was a regular on A Question of Sport and Sporting Triangles, and who also fronted daytime filler Box Clever.

It's also farewell to the Surely Impossible Way Of The Warrior - BBC2 viewers saw that the signature challenge on Raven was finally conquered this week.


The National Lottery Draw Shows - A Potted History

In early 1992, the Conservative party announced plans for a national lottery, which would provide additional funding for arts, sport, charities, community causes, and for a celebration of the millennium. Following the party's election victory, the bill was steered through parliament, and an opening draw set for autumn 1994.

Once the lottery was a done deal, the question became who would televise the draw? The lottery was expected to be a big deal, perhaps attracting ten million viewers in the early stages. It would be a great centrepiece for the evening's entertainment. Under guidance from the independent television regulator, ITV and Channel 4 decided that they couldn't air the draw, as it would be advertising for Camelot, the corporation selected to run the lottery. That left the field open for the BBC, who controversially paid The Lottery Corp a royalty for televising the event.

The BBC had the show. Who would host it? Observers expected Noel Edmonds to be the chosen man, perhaps wrapping the draw into the Noel's House Party entertainment series. In 1994, this was a huge programme, and was described that year by BBC1 boss Alan Yentob as the most important series on air. In the event, The Lottery Corp balked at the prospect of having the draw started by a cartoon character, and insisted that the draw show stood alone.

So it came to pass, ten years ago tomorrow, that a Mr John Major of Westminster bought the first ticket in the first national lottery since the union of England and Scotland. Five days later, Noel Edmonds was filmed driving a number of vans down a major road, promising the country, "Within an hour, someone will become a millionaire." Within an hour, seven people had split a £6.5 million pound jackpot, and Noel's words had been exposed as hyperbole. 23 million people had seen the opening show, of whom around five million thought "An hour to see a 45 second draw sequence? Boring!" and promptly retuned to Blind Date, never to come back.

For the first eight months of its life, the draw show aired at 1950 each Saturday night, and travelled the country. Only the behemoth of the Eurovision Song Contest could move the monolith, and then only by five minutes. Gordon Kennedy and Anthea Turner would follow the same routine every week. Talk to someone who had won a big prize (but usually not the jackpot), show a film about some of the projects funded from the lottery, cheerily wave about a fax from The Lottery Corp giving the prize pool and a best guess at the jackpot, and talk to "astrologer" Mystic Meg, who would predict that the winner would live in a house, with windows tooooOOO! Only after this filler, required so that the show was padded out to the 15 minutes required to appear in the BARB ratings figures, would the actual winning numbers appear.

Eventually, the viewing public tired of this charade. Gordon Kennedy left the programme in summer 1995, it gained a permanent home at BBC Television Centre, and musical guests started to appear. Anthea Turner left in summer 1996, to be replaced by Dale Winton, Bob Monkhouse, Carol Smillie, Ulrika Jonsson, and by various one-off hosts during 1997. A Wednesday draw was added in early 1997, also hosted by Carol Smillie, and following a very similar format. At the same time, live coverage on radio transferred from Radio 1 (where the draw had fitted uncomfortable into a specialist dance show) to news station Radio 5. The lottery shows provided a showcase for the UK's entries to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1997 and 1998, and it's worth noting that those years produced a first and second place.

The first major change to the format came in spring 1998. The Lottery Corp had launched scratchcards in 1996, and one such game was The Big Ticket. In theory, people would buy the scratchcard, not win a huge jackpot straight away, but get their chance to win a huge jackpot live on tape on national television playing silly games. Patrick Kielty hosted the show, thus ensuring that he would come into Star Academy with one high-profile Saturday night flop already under his belt. Anthea Turner, Kate Robbins, and Alan Dedicoat also appeared on Big Ticket, this marked the start of a regular engagement for Mr Dedicoat. For reasons related to the complex lottery regulations, the scratchcard players couldn't actually take part in any game of skill, so had to play by proxy - one randomly chosen C-list celeb and one randomly chosen person who has benefited from lottery funding. This, coupled with the most incomprehensible and tediously boring format we can't actually remember, led to the show falling flatter than a hedgehog beneath a steamroller. There's never been another tie-in scratchcard, and this can only be a good thing.

After this mess, the Saturday shows were thrown out of TV Centre for the summer, brought back Bradley Walsh, with other guest hosts coming in for the autumn and winter. The Wednesday draws were generally hosted by Carol Smillie, though Carol Vorderman and Ulrika Jonsson took their turns in the spotlight.

By spring 1999, the Lottery Corp had come to realise that people didn't just want to see the winning numbers, they wanted to be entertained. The first proper game show to be wrapped around the draw was set to be Your Number's Up, hosted by Philippa Forrester. She pulled out quite late in the day, to be replaced by Brian Conley; the show's name was changed to We've Got Your Number. This was a people show, with the parity of the bonus ball settling a domestic dispute, and its number determining which of seven promising young acts got their moment of national television fame. There was also a game called "Second Chance," the difficulty of which depended on the main draw numbers. This show was promising, but lacked a certain sparkle.

June 1999 saw the surprise appearance of Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo fronting the Celador format Winning Lines. The main game was a bit ropey - 49 people (one for each number in the main lottery draw) have gathered, and answer general knowledge questions quickly to qualify for the next phase, where the answers are the numbers they had in the opening round. So far, so tedious, and the show's only worth watching if you're a fan of Simon Mayo's repartee. But after the main draw, the winning contestant would play the Wonderwall, and try to give the answer and associated number for twenty general knowledge questions in three minutes of playing time. This is always edge-of-the-seat viewing, and is quite possibly the greatest four minute game in the entire history of game shows. It was clearly the best lottery show to date, and has come back each year since. Winning Lines has also survived a change of host - Phillip Schofield took over from the 2001 series, after Simon Mayo moved to Radio 5 - and had a short run on US television.

Had the Lottery Corp found a winning vein of form? Er, no. After the song-led "Stars" shows, fronted by Dale Winton, November 1999 saw the launch of Lulu's Red Alert. This was, in effect, a direct copy of Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, in which streets competed to win a holiday. This was uninspiring rubbish, but still managed to get renewed for the following winter. Summer 2000 saw the unlikely combination of Des O'Connor and Suzi Perry host a show that we didn't get at the time, and certainly don't get now. This was not renewed.

After Red Alert came Eamonn Holmes fronting Jet Set, which introduced the viewing public to the concept of two-way satellite delay. Eamonn speaks, there's a second's delay to transmit his words to Hawaii, there's another second's delay on the way back. The endgame here is, again, partially predicated on predicting whether the next ball out was higher or lower than the previous one. Jet Set has been renewed every year since, and briefly spawned the Wednesday show Departure Lounge in autumn 2001; the same year's Winning Lines had the champion come back to play without pitstops and for cash.

Summer 2002 saw the debut of In It to Win It, hosted by Dale Winton. This is a typical David Young format, with a random draw of lottery-esque balls including the motif. Unlike the other quizzes wrapped around the lottery, this game is played for cash, not travel. To complete the picture, autumn 2003 marked the debut of Wright Around the World, in which Ian Wright invites people to circumnavigate the globe in one of the most tedious shows this century. The BBC seems to have given up on the Wednesday shows, they've been just five minutes long for a couple of years now, barely long enough to complete the draw formalities. They've also given up on the radio coverage, simply feeding the numbers as an item in the night's bulletins.

Every show has presented the lottery in a good light, associating it with travel, big money, and reminding players that 28% of their money goes to various charitable causes, though this last emphasis has diminished in recent years as lottery funding has been raided to supplement the general tax pot. Whatever the next format is, we'll be there to chart it, and being thankful that it doesn't involve Mr Blobby.

(Source for much of this article: Richard Lloyd's unofficial site)


Second phase, 3/6

Ruth Newbury has moved from "What Katy Did" to Historical Buildings of England. That is one huge subject, and perhaps not really appropriate for a semi-final. With such a massive subject, and a deeper knowledge required, the question-setters have a huge advantage. Ruth does well to finish on 8 (3).

Brent Peeling has moved from Essex Cricket to the 1879 Zulu War. This is a far tighter subject, and Brent has clearly done his studies. He finishes on 14 (0).

Duncan Mitchell was Halifax Rugby, now it's British Murders and Murderers 1850-1950. There were lots of murders in this time, but most of them were very well documented, and many have become a minor part in British folk history. Duncan rather goes downhill towards the end of his set of questions, finishing on 8 (6).

Anirudh Chari has moved on from Satyajit Roy to Herge's Adventures of Tintin. This is a relatively small subject, but the questions concentrate on the trivia of the books, which makes the round relatively dull to the occasional Tintin reader. Anirudh finishes on 9 (6).

Duncan Mitchell finishes on 16 (9), which isn't going to be a winning score. Ruth Newbury finishes on 16 (5), which isn't going to be a winning score. Anirudh Chari finishes on 16 (10), which certainly isn't going to be a winning score.

Brent Peeling needs two correct answers to force a tie, three to win. Five questions later, he's won, with a final score of 25 (2).

University Challenge

First round 9/14: St Hilda's Oxford -v- Portsmouth

St Hilda's were last amongst us in the 2000 series, losing in the first round to King's Medical School London. Portsmouth's one appearance came in the 1999 series, when they lost the one and only Battle of New Universities to De Montfort. Not since that match have there been two New Universities in a series. The St Hilda's team does not have a scientist, Portsmouth's team is surprisingly well balanced. St Hilda's is the only all-female college at Oxford; Portsmouth say their four players were the only ones to apply for the team. This does not bode well.

This really does not bode well after Portsmouth start the game with a missignal. They then think the run of 20th century prime ministers includes William Pitt, and respond to one question with the words "Haven't got a clue, mate." Even so, after the first picture round - Name That Food, in which we hear of the famous botanist Nachos - they only trail 35-25.

The second period is rather dull, but does include the singular of the word "criteria," something we can use as a criterion for finding those who know their grammar. The audio round is Name That Nursery Rhyme, after which St Hilda's lead is 85-35.

Herbert Asquith was the subject of a bonus round for Portsmouth, then provides a quotation in a starter. According to St Hilda's, the longest running farce in London is "Cats", rather than the House of Commons.

Something we've not had to rant about too much this year is long starters. This week, Thumper read out a reasonably concise scientific definition of "multiplex" at rocket speed, giving the show the impression of moving on at a decent clip even though the scores are resolutely slow. Picture round two is Name That French River, by which time Portsmouth have closed the gap slightly to 115-75. We pass the 200 point mark with the next starter, and it looks like St Hilda's are going to cruise to victory.

Two starters later, Portsmouth are suddenly within striking distance. What seems to be a lucky guess from one of the Hildas gets twenty points and runs down the clock. Portsmouth pull to within 25, but the next four starters are dropped. At the gong, St Hilda's have a 150-120 victory.

For St Hilda's, Samantha Warnakulasuriya and Katherine Roskelly both scored 54.1 points. Garth Jandrell top-scored for Portsmouth with 49.6, just ahead of Jamie Osbourne's 48.2. St Hilda's made 11/30 bonuses and one missignal; Portsmouth took 6/30 with two missignals.

Portsmouth come into the repechage picture, displacing Downing Cambridge:

  • Univ Oxford 150
  • Jesus Cambridge 145
  • York 120
  • Portsmouth 120

If there's a tie for the last place (or places) in the repechage, the producers appear to take the side that performed better on bonuses and missignals. York's 120 came from 10/21 bonuses with no missignals, but they were beaten 250-120 by Lancaster. This column would suggest that York had a stronger performance than Portsmouth and should take the higher seeding. We hope it doesn't come down to a producers' choice, though the way the games are going this year, it may well do.

This Week And Next

For the third week running, HIGNFY played a clip of Robert Kilroy-Shaft's 2001 game show. We're beginning to wonder why ITV haven't capitalised on all this free publicity from their BBC rivals and dug out an old episode or two. Just for the comedy value, you understand.

Brain of Brains got off to a flying start, with Russell Davies stating the full name of the small Anglesey village where Dr Johnson, the Brain of 2002, lives. The village is LLanfairpwllgwyll... LLanfairpwllgell... LLanfair... This is why Russell Davies hosts the show, and we listen in approval. Only three come back for the end-of-term exhibition match, and standards are very high - the first three rounds see 26 points scored from a theoretical 45. The final score saw something of a runaway win, with this year's champion Alan Bennett winning the engraved silver salver, and a seat in the once-a-decade Top Brain when it airs in 2007.

E4 has confirmed that its Christmas season highlight will be a pantomime featuring some former Big Brother contestants. We await confirmation of the festive lowlight, a day devoted to abysmal torture show Distraction.

Next week's highlights: famous duos on a Weakest Link special (1745 today, BBC1) and ITV poses The Great British Pop Test (2145 today). E4 is taken over by 9 Live from 1000 weekdays, Masterteam returns to Radio 4, and there's a one-off return of Blankety Blank for Children in Need at 2000 next Friday.

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