Weaver's Week 2005-04-10

Weaver's Week Index


Growing Old Disgracefully (part three) - 10 April 2005

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

Has anyone looked for The Family so we can ask them something?

Ask the Family

(1983 final - BBC2, 1931 Tuesday 28 March)

The 1983 series began with some plinky-plonky piano music, played over pictures of a mother, father, and two children making faces as if they were thinking and puzzling, before cutting to an artist's impression of our host, Robert Robinson.

We briefly meet the families - one from London, another from Blackburn. The parents say "good evening" individually, the two children are sat in the middle, and say "hello" together. Robert launches into a short series of confusing plurals: "court-martial", "mongoose", "cannon" as in the military. The reward for a correct answer is five points for those questions, rising to ten for most of the posers in the show.

The questions tested general knowledge in an all-round sense. "Where might you see this design?" was one question - on the back of a pound note was the answer. There was a short series of questions on literary descriptions of people, recognising a city from a reflection, and many word puzzles, including a punning anagram. This column found the questions to be quite difficult, though part of our problem was the topical references from time to time.

To modern eyes, Ask The Family enjoyed an ambience from a completely different era. There was no studio audience, just nine people in a studio bantering about the questions. The lack of audience rather detracted from the atmosphere, leaving the programme quite flat.

The pace was also strange by modern standards. For instance, three music clips were played into the programme. None of them was shorter than 40 seconds, and Robert allowed one question to drag on for as long again before dropping it down to a five-point quick-fire question.

Perhaps the biggest difference from today was that tension wasn't built through the programme. Robert Robinson occasionally gave the score, but there was no way of knowing - other than by looking at the clock in our room - how long the families had left. When he said, "And we come to the final question," we knew that the family from Blackburn had won, for they were 45 points ahead with just 10 points to play for. We saw last week that Double Your Money had perfected the art of building the show to a tense climax back in 1955; thirty years later, Ask The Family was left to fizzle out.

In its 1980s incarnation, this was mostly a quiz for the adults. There were factual questions with a youthful bias - what links some children's authors, and many of the brain-teasers were as easy (or difficult) for young people as old. However, a good proportion of the answers could only come from a person who was widely-read and had accumulated that memory bank of trivia that television quizzes test.

The prizes were not huge, but were worth having - the winning family requested some home computer equipment, the losing family took home a video camera.

It's difficult to compare Ask The Family against other quizzes and game shows of its era, as it was an awfully long time ago. Ask The Family's problem was that it felt like it belonged to an awfully long time ago even when it still aired.

By 1983, computers were beginning to take over the production of graphics, and Eric's models - laying a strip of card over the letters C * L O O P S E E N D * to reveal the words inside - were looking dated already. Thanks especially to the BBC Model B, computer graphics could easily be done on a budget, as The Adventure Game would show the following year. It wasn't a tremendous surprise to find Ask The Family fell off the air after the 1984 series.

(Dick and Dom's version, 1831 weeknights, BBC2)

The first voice we hear is Dave Chapman, who provides many of the voices on the weekly Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow session. He tells us something slightly embarrassing about one of the members of each family. The hosts are busily doing a little dance in the middle of the studio, before retiring to a sofa at the back of the room, picking up their leather-bound quiz books, and announcing in unison, "Question One." Welcome to Ask The Family, thirty years on.

The show always begins with a number of general knowledge questions. Some of them are intellectually taxing, some of them are an excuse for the hosts to say slightly rudey words, and some of them are just an excuse for silly answers. By the end of the round, someone from each team will have given a thoroughly silly answer, and been asked to put on a "silly ass" mask.

After this, the show tends to pick from a range of rounds. The "close-up of an object from an obscure angle" round is reasonably traditional, as is the rebus round, and the "Put these things in order" round. The "which celebrities have got together to make these babies" round feels like it's been around since the original series, but it's not. Clearly less traditional is the "put the male models in order that the numbers painted on their chest add up" round.

There are some recurring jokes, such as Piggy Cowell (a stuffed pig that wants to take over the show) and Tiddler, the expert on vintage Ask The Family, who always asks a couple of questions from the original series, usually a visual question involving one of Eric's models. The only models used on this show are the young lady variety, and the bit of cardboard with something sticky on the back variety. There's not a single computer graphic on display throughout the programme. Not even the scores are computerised, instead they're read out by Mr Chapman.

Points are, of course, awarded through the game. The family in the lead going into the final round receive four cream scones, the other family has five. Both families are asked questions on the buzzers, and they can start eating once they get a question correct. The first family to finish their cake is the winner of the game.

Two things this column doesn't like are the rather anti-climactic finale - it's not easy for the viewer to see the progress of the teams. Nor are we particularly impressed with the prize - the winners get a china plate saying "Winner," the losers a china plate saying "Loser." These prizes are actually smaller than on the original.

Two other comparisons favour this version; there's a studio audience, and there's an atmosphere about the show. Yes, the atmosphere is more people doing silly things as an intellectual quiz, but this year's programme doesn't exist in a strange vacuum. More importantly, there's a clear final round, with an obvious conclusion. We don't get Robert Robinson announcing the final question from out of the blue. The presence of recurring jokes and regular rounds helps the regular viewer to keep track of where we are in the quiz.

Hosts Mr McCourt and Mr Wood are entertaining, though it does seem that they've only got a limited number of jokes to go round the entire show. The constant re-invention that's marked ...Bungalow (and made it almost impossible to review) is absent.

Lest we forget, Antan Dec's first appearance on prime-time television, 2001's Slap Bang, was a bit of a one-joke wonder. Dick and Dom's debut has sustained our interest for a week, though we don't think we'll be watching it every day for the rest of the run.

Where do our heroes go from here? A well-earned break over the summer, and a final series of the Bungalow next winter, but then what? Hopefully, a ground-breaking format that's like nothing we can imagine.

University Challenge

  • Balliol Oxford bt Edinburgh
  • Corpus Christi Oxford bt Lancaster
  • University College London v Jesus Cambridge
  • Manchester v St Hilda's Oxford

Third Quarter-final - University College, London v Jesus College Cambridge

Back, after another week's break. Balliol and Corpus Christi will fight the first semi, for those who have forgotten. UCL were outstanding when they beat UEA and Warwick in the earlier rounds, Jesus Cambridge came through the repechage after losing to Leicester, beating Queen's Belfast and Univ Oxford. Jesus also features the only tie on the panel; this may indicate something about the modern student.

Here we go again... Thumper is a little generous to give Jesus a second bite at the cherry: when seeking "Fahrenheit 911," they gave "Michael Moore." Maybe he's not, the phrase "your bonuses are on red-hot pokers" being the result. UCL got off to a strong start, but two mis-signals allowed Jesus to take the lead without answering a single bonus correctly.

Familiarity breeds contentment. Last time, it was:

Q: Beating the time of 2h 18m 47s set by Catherine Ndereba in 2001...
Durham, Barraclough: Paula Radcliffe
Q: ...a new world record for the women's marathon was established by Britain's Paula Radcliffe in October 2002 when she completed the course in which US city?

And today:

Q: In which city did Paula Radcliffe break the world marathon record in October 2002?

Almost half the show has elapsed by the time we reach the first picture round, Name That Type Of Beach. UCL pulls away in the second stanza, and is looking uncatchable by the time of Name That Composer And Its Year.

There seems to be a preponderance of religious questions this week - we'd usually expect two or three, but there are no fewer than nine questions, worth 55 points, on this episode. The second picture round is Name That Fashion Designer From Their Work In Films.

Thumper launches into a long, confusing, impenetrable, and multi-claused question about the reproductive cycle, and is clearly glad when someone interrupts. We wonder if anyone actually tests these questions for readability before Thumper gets his hands on them. There's a long series of panel-beaters, and the time eaten up by these questions has made Jesus's cause a lost one. However, Jesus gets the last two starters, and the final score - 175-110 - is a fair reflection of the balance of power. UCL didn't fire on anything like their usual power.

The box score through each quarter of the contest shows how UCL's strong second stanza won the game.

UCL 30 85 30 25 [170]
JCC 35 0 35 40 [110]

For those who require a quick recap, the individual scores work as follows: 10 for a starter, 0.9 per person for a bonus, 1.4 if your buzz led to the team being asked the bonus, and 5 away for an incorrect interruption.

Ivan Polancec was the leading buzzer tonight for UCL, he was responsible for 60.1 points, just ahead of Peter Hinstridge's 53.7; the side made 17/33 bonuses with four mis-signals. Most of Jesus's buzzes came from Katie Birkwood, she finished as the night's top scorer, with 73.8 points. The side made just 6/24 bonuses.

Over their matches, Jesus had a bonus conversion rate of just 35.4%, and an overall rate of 41.8%. Katie Birkwood was responsible for 60% of the team's score.


First round, show 5

Peter Wright is telling us about the Age of the Welsh Princes, 800-1223. This is clearly home territory for the quietly-spoken gentleman, he scores a magnificent 17 (0).

Gwyneth Welham has to follow that with Elizabeth Fry, the social campaigner. She does her very best to follow that, and comes within spitting distance, finishing on 14 (3).

Tony Ruscombe-Poole takes the Swallows and Amazons novels of Arthur Ransome. The second question asks about "Dick and Dorothy," which we almost mis-heard. He's also making his way to a very high score, finishing on 14 (3).

Chris Tunnah offers Orchestral Film Scores, 1933-80. The widest range of the week, and he finishes on 11 (2).

Chris's general knowledge turns into a short tour of pass hell, finishing on 17 (9).

John points out that Gwyneth Welham has already set a record; at 86, she's the oldest contestant in Mastermind history. She also picks up the traditional question about arctophiles, sadly not worth an arctophile. She finishes on 21 (4).

Tony has a reasonable round, but still misses more than he hits, finishing on 23 (8).

If Peter can't win from this position... well, it's another trip into Pass Hell here. He scrapes together the six he needs, and gets the seventh on the final question. Peter's final score is 24 (6).

This Week And Next

We just about liked the new Ask The Family. Its devisor, Patricia Owtram, did not. She wrote to the Telegraph newspaper, saying,

"Families in the earlier series understood maths, read books and generally knew things. I wish Dick and Dom had not hooked itself on to Ask the Family. We believed that, if you invite people on to your programmes, you do everything to make them appear to their best advantage. I was disgusted that, in the first Dick and Dom programme, a boy who gave the wrong answer was forced to wear a donkey mask and be hooted.
"The difference between the two series shows the difference in the BBC's attitude to its audience and performers. You could only do Ask the Family if you respected them both - and only do Dick and Dom if you despise them."

Where's Mr Peter Luff when we need him?

In other news, someone has tried to extend their fifteen minutes of fame by claiming to have cheated on Millionaire. The contestant claimed to have pressed all four buttons on his Fastest Finger keypad at once, thus qualifying for the hot seat. "Piffle," said a Celador spokey, saying that the cheat he described didn't work. This contestant appeared on the 1998 first series, when Fastest Finger questions required just one answer. "It couldn't happen now, anyway," said Celador.

Next week's new show is Perseverance, 1330 weekdays on ITV. Brainteaser moves up to 1300. There's a Strictly Dance Fever spin off on BBC3, Spellbound shows on C4 (2100 Thursday), and Cruel Holiday repeats on FTN.

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