Weaver's Week 2005-09-25

Weaver's Week Index

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


Old Friends Return - 25 September 2005

The end of an era this week, as the monkeys in charge at ITV confirmed they will stop using its historic regions at the end of programmes. This is going to lead to some fairly messy credits, though this first one looks reasonably straightforward.

University Challenge

(ITV (Granada) for BBC2)

Year twelve of the revival begins here. Last year saw a marked improvement in the standard of questions, and in the standard of teams competing. Corpus Christi Oxford won the trophy with clear victories in all five matches.

For those of you joining this column's coverage for the first time, a brief word of explanation. Starter questions are on the buzzers for all eight players, are worth 10 points to the team, and must be answered without conferring. A correct answer to the starter will earn the team the right to answer a set of three bonus questions, worth 5 points each. Incorrect interruptions to starter questions will incur a 5 point penalty; this does not apply if the host has finished the question or if the other side has already been penalised on this question. This column refers to these penalties as "missignals." We'll give the score after the visual and audio rounds, which usually fall roughly on the quarters of the quiz.

Individual scores are worked out according to the following formula: a correct answer to a starter question is worth 10 points to the individual who gives the correct answer; similarly, a missignal will deduct 5 points from that person. A correctly-answered bonus question will earn 1 point for each member of the team, plus a further point for the person who answered the starter. All individual scores will be whole numbers, and the scores of the four team-members will add up to the score of the team. By comparing these statistics, we are - in theory! - able to work out who are the best buzzers across the different teams.

The competition format has remained the same for some years. 28 sides will compete in first round matches between now and Christmas. There will then be a repechage tournament between the four highest-scoring losers in the first round, producing two winners. These teams will join the 14 winners in the second round. In turn, four rounds of single-elimination matches will produce one winner in April or May next year.

First round, match one: St Hugh's Oxford v Manchester

St Hugh's were in the opening match just two years ago; they lost to Strathclyde, but did well enough to come back in the repechage, where they lost to Reading. The college made the quarter finals in 2002. Manchester made the semi-finals last year, trouncing St Andrews' by 315-40, and getting slightly narrower wins against Newcastle and St Hilda's Oxford, before being beaten 190-185 by University London. They'd also made the semis in 1997. Since last year, Manchester has merged with UMIST, whose last appearance was a repechage defeat three years ago, and best was the semi-finals in 2000.

Two subtle changes to Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman's opening spiel: the competing teams are "28 of the most impressive" in the qualifying test, and the host's hair seems to have gone much greyer over the summer. The St Hugh's side has three people from London and no scientists; Manchester's team includes two postgrads, the one in politics is the closest they get to an arts subject.

The first question goes like this:

Q: Which medieval king who spent less than six months of his 10-year reign in England..?
Alex Chester, St Hugh's: Richard I.

Which shortly leads to a set of bonuses on ancient history. Thankfully, that's not the events of the mid-80s from when the contestants were born. Stop making us feel old, sir. The first visual bonuses are on highway code stopping distances; thanks to their knowledge of 90s politicians, Manchester leads 70-35 after this round.

As even in the opening game, there's some high quality buzzing this week. Thumper's also hurrying the game along, requiring bonus questions to be answered very quickly. Manchester's getting a lot of these questions, and just about has the game wrapped up before the audio round. Not that we care much, it's a joy to see such a free-scoring team. The audio round is themes from "blaxploitation" films, and Manchester's Chris Holmes names Shaft in two notes. His side leads 185-50 at this point.

The way things have been going this week, that's not an unbridgeable gap. But St Hugh's need to get their bonuses, and not have Manchester make some good guesses count. The guesses count for both sides, and by the second visual round - on eponymous weapons - St Hugh's has pegged the lead to 220-125. Guess what - that score would have brought them back last year.

Two more starters, and a few bonuses, will surely suffice for a repechage place. The Oxford side doesn't have the sense of urgency to drive the game for an upset, but does keep going to the gong. Manchester wins the match, 240-195. On these performances, neither side would disgrace the later stages.

The best buzzer statistically was Gareth Aubrey (Manchester) with 85, Chris Holmes made 71, and Raj Gathani (St Hugh's) 67. The Oxford side was correct in 14/34 bonus questions, Manchester in 24/36, and there were no missignals.

It's a fact that all eleven defeated sides in the season opener have come back in the repechage. St Hugh's will surely make it a round dozen.


Robin Chapman has been studying the Life and Music of Igor Stravinsky. The contender is slightly stronger on the life than the music, but still makes a thoroughly respectable 12 (3).

Danielle Monnier will talk about the History of Ice Dance. This contender is very young, has given herself some very long names, but answers with an almost frightening ability. 15 (1) is the target.

Iain MacFarlaine has the Life and Career of Lord Randolph Churchill. We wonder if the questions might be more entertaining to the viewer if they're presented in approximate chronological order. A slightly shaky start, but it turns into a 13 (1) finish.

Dave Berry offers Status Quo, a rock group who have been around for almost as long as Brain of Britain. The contender is of the same era as the band, and makes 14 (0).

Mr Chapman pays tribute to one of the most versatile composers of the twentieth century. His general knowledge round is almost flawless, only a couple of errors towards the end. 28 (3) has thrown down the gauntlet.

Mr MacFarlaine is not a fan of Mr Churchill, suggesting that he was a bit of a turn-coat over the Irish problem. He does well, but not quite well enough, finishing on 26 (2).

Mr Berry talks about the school at which he works, rather than the rock group. He falls into pass hell, and doesn't even spot a reference to "the gnomes of Zurich." 22 (3) is not a winning score. The sports host on BBC Radio Gloucester - himself a fan of the rockers - has since challenged Mr Berry to a Quo-off.

Miss Monnier suggests that ice dance is both sport and art, but is clearly not naff. She makes steady progress, but doesn't seem to have the speed to take the match. Five passes kill her chances, and a final score of 27 (6). It should be good enough for a repechage place, but Mastermind has done away with the repechage in order to extend the series to a mind-numbing length.

It is very rare for a contestant to come from clear last to win the contest - the last occasion was Jim Cook's win in the second round last year.

It's The Beginning Of The End Of The Scam!

The watchdog for premium rate telephone services, ICSTIS, is moving to stamp on the plethora of channels that promise to give away oodles of money if only you can guess the number they're thinking of. The government-appointed watchdog reckons there are at least twelve channels clogging up the EPG with this sort of malarkey, and many more channels - as diverse as ITV2, Performance, and Tacky TV - running programmes alongside more regular fare.

Many people have complained that the questions are open to different interpretations, and hence are not fair. Many of the operators hide behind catch-all "our ruling is final" clauses in their terms and conditions, and claim that this means they don't have to explain their answers to anyone. When compilers of real quiz questions find it impossible to reverse-engineer the answers, something is surely going badly wrong.

ICSTIS has seen the scene, and delivered its ruling. The watchdog with teeth has proposed new rules. People who want to run these channels will have to be pre-cleared by ICSTIS, and comply with such little matters as:

  • Clear pricing
  • An adequate explanation of how the service will operate
  • Clear terms and conditions
  • A cost warning after spending £20
  • Making sure there's a single correct answer
  • Ensuring both the answer and the working are available for ICSTIS to inspect should complaints arise.

The watchdog has received more than 100 complaints about these channels since the beginning of May. If you know exactly how many complaints, call our special phone line on 0949 U-R-1-F00L to win our star prize. Calls cost £2 whether you're put through to the studio or not. We have no studio, and no prize, star or otherwise.

This Week And Next

Confirmation that Des Lynam will be the new host of Countdown. We'll be returning to this topic when his first shows take to the air, probably in late October.

Antan Dec's Gameshow Marathon began last week, with a revival of The Price is Right (ITV (Yorkshire) / Thames (on behalf of Fremantle Media)). The opening stanza was mostly taken up with yet another talking heads and clips from the show montage, as seen in every "10,000 Best" show of the past fifty years. The game proper was, in effect, the 1990s Bruce Forsyth version played on the set of the 1980s Leslie Crowther edition. Carol Vorderman won on "Cliffhanger", Vernon "Monkey" Kaye scarcely needed the platform to play "Plinko", and Ruby Wax played that Runaround game. She won a cuckoo clock. Vorders managed to win the spinning wheel eliminator, and succeeded in the single person showcase.

Antan Dec turned in the usual quality job as hosts, making light jokes, and showing that they were having a whale of a time. That's infectious through the screen, but by using celebrities instead of ordinary people, some of the tension - the "this is the prize of a lifetime" was missing. Rather than win the prizes themselves, the celebs donated the value to a nominated charity.

ITV must think that viewers have to be bribed to watch shows, for the prizes were awarded to a viewer who had answered an Insultingly Easy Question (another ITV invention, though they haven't marked it) by premium-rate phone or premium-rate SMS. Furthermore, each prize had its supplier's logo come into shot for a significant length of time; not quite long enough to attract the attention of exceedingly light-touch regulator OFCOM, but long enough to be noticeable, and for us to recall that Crowther's Price Is Right never disclosed the names of its suppliers. Perhaps worse was the "Coming next" banner displayed while Carol was giving her price for the showcase. A brilliant way to dissipate the tension from the climax of the show, monkeys in suits.

At the end of the day, Carol Vorderman, a geek from Leeds, has progressed to the semi-final at the end of the month. The second leg of the seven-week voyage was Take Your Pick, which aired last night; next week's revival of The Golden Shot will pit Antan Dec against Bob Monkhouse in one of the most complex shows ever devised.

A leading self-publicist - who needs no oxygen from this quarter - claimed last weekend that he had been auditioned for the Price Is Right gig. He also quizzed his friends about which 60s pop sensation had also been approached for the host's role. The answer has been up on the UK Gameshows website for a very long time. Not that we encourage doing any research or anything.

New episodes of Jungle Run (ITV, 4pm Tuesday) are the highlight of this week's programmes, though some will prefer the erudition of QI (BBC2, 10pm Friday). Radio 4 will have a documentary about the art of setting quiz questions (10.30am Saturday), and Challenge has finally acquired Friends Like These (5pm Saturday).

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