Weaver's Week 2005-10-30

Weaver's Week Index

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


Congratulations - 30 October 2005

One highlight of the Yuletide season has quietly been revealed: Andrew Marr's Guide to Mornington Crescent. And one not so quiet revelation: The Generation Game, with Graham Norton trying to be the new Larry Grayson.

Congratulations! The Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Eurovision Song Contest

(DR for EBU, no UK broadcast)

According to the Weaver's Week Year Planner, this edition should begin with a detailed review of last weekend's show celebrating half a century of the Eurovision Song Contest. You should be reading about the quirky genius of Reynars and Katrina, about the way Eurovision can be comfortable with its history, and how the best song ever, according to the mass opinion of every voter in Europe, was Hello From Mars, the Latvian entry from 2003.

But to tell all this would be a lie. The people of Europe voted Waterloo as their number one, and we didn't actually see the show.

For the past couple of weeks, this column has been trying to find out why the BBC flatly refused to join with thirty other European countries and show the Eurovision celebrations. "It didn't fit with our schedule for a Saturday night" is the first argument from Auntie. If we restrict our discussion to BBC1, this is an argument with a scintilla of merit. The centrepiece of BBC1's Saturday schedule this autumn is the third series of Strictly Come Dancing, where minor celebrities are challenged to learn ball-room dancing, and to perform so that viewers at home can vote on their performance.

This column has reservations about the BBC's concept of dance, a matter we'll develop further in the coming weeks. For now, let us remember that the BBC does have a moral duty to compete with ITV's puzzlingly successful X-Factor on Saturday nights. It doesn't have to win, but it does have to put up a decent showing, otherwise the tiresome press critics (usually orchestrated by Mr R Murdoch of Australia and Wapping) will be on the Beeb's back.

So, BBC1 is out. Why not put Congratulations on BBC3? After all, that's the dumping ground for Eurovision's midweek semi-final, why can't it air the anniversary show? Let us review the schedule for last Saturday night:

7pm Three's Outtakes (R) - Libby Potter fluffing her lines.
7.20 Farscape (R) - An imported science-fiction drama.
8.05 Robbie Williams (R) - An hour-long advert for a mediocre pop recording.

9.05 Little Britain (R) - The people who work in a street near St Paul's.
9.35 Tittybangbang (R) - Unfunny comedy.
10.15 Bodies (R) - Hospital comedy-drama.

(R) - denotes repeat.

As the more observant amongst you will have spotted, there's nothing new on that BBC3 schedule. With one arguable exception, there's nothing produced in Europe and of lasting merit on the schedule.

By its own definition, BBC3 should be airing a wide variety of programmes to appeal to the modern youngster. Since its launch two years ago, the channel appears to have been programmed to please a focus group. We know the make-up of that focus group, it's Stuart Murphy, who resigned as channel controller on Thursday last week.

We're not sorry to see him go, Mr Murphy's reign has been an almost unmitigated failure, with schedule revamps occurring every few months (remember "microtelevision"? Exactly), and with little reason for anyone to tune into the channel. There's been too much resting on the one success, Little Britain, and even that show has been compromised by the thin budgets distributed by BBC3.

Even worse for Mr Murphy, while his pet channel has been floundering in the shallows, its intellectual sibling BBC4 has become a joy to watch, with witty scheduling, and programming that entertains and informs. Just in the game show genre, BBC4 has given us originals and copies of 50-year old programmes. BBC3 has given us nothing but repeats of Little Britain, but Stuart Murphy likes it, so it must be OK.

But let's do something unusual, and try to be fair to Mr Murphy. It may not have been his decision to schedule an hour-long commercial for a here-today-gone-tomorrow singer in place of some classic tunes. When the concept of a 50th anniversary show was first mentioned, the BBC won the rights to stage it. Somewhere along the line, Auntie lost the will to put on a proper show, and it ended up catching the night ferry and pitching up in Denmark. There are those who will suggest that the BBC has been eating sour grapes ever since, and that's the reason why the viewers in Britain have been deprived.

Whichever reason is correct, the British viewer is the loser. An evening of repeats is, a cheap way of filling time. Eurovision 50, a rare continental celebration, would have been in the greater good. The people of Britain were denied the chance to join with our friends around Europe and say, as one, "Get off the stage, Ronan."

This column has long believed that there is a place for a strong public service broadcaster in the UK, and the BBC is just that broadcaster. Sometimes, it makes gross errors of judgement, and forgets that its prime duty is to provide a public service. Not a service that pleases the departing controller. Not a service that's impaired by fits of pique from senior managers. A public service, in the service of the public.

Antan Dec's Gameshow Marathon

Week Six: Bullseye

So, instead of the fine wine of the Eurovision celebrations, we settled down with a cheap bottle of plonk to watch Vernon Kaye and Bill Roach have a pop at Bullseye. Though host Antan Dec claimed to be keeping everything the same, this week's show was vastly different from the original. Just for starters, there were two players, not the traditional three. The phrase "super, smashing, lovely" was used as a catchphrase, even though it never appeared on the original. The categories board was played five times, exhausting all the possibilities, rather than just three; the points-for-pounds round was played a fourth time. And rather than being someone the brains met with down the pub, the darts players were professionals - Eric Bristow and some bloke we don't recognise.

There's a lot to like about this week's show. The game naturally filled the 30-minute slot available for play, without feeling rushed, and without feeling padded out. The prize board was present and correct, with some great prizes and some rather rubbish ones. Even the throw for charity turned up. The speedboat at the end had been telegraphed throughout the show, and it would only have been a surprise if they'd actually been trying to give away a car.

For perhaps only the second time this series, the game was entertaining. While we'd like to make a few changes - allowing questions on the categories board to be passed between players, and getting rid of the sound-effect when a dart failed to land a prize - these are only tinkerings at the margins.

In the quiz itself, a missed shot from Eric Bristow proved pivotal. Had he collected a bonus on one question of the category board, Bill Roach could have won the game. As it was, Vernon Kaye won by a whisker, assisted slightly by a preponderance of questions on pop culture - but what does one expect from ITV - and he will face Carol Vorderman in the Family Fortunes Finale next week.


Week four of the Ronnie Barker tribute.

"Who is Dean Martin?

"Yes, what sort of artist?
"That's near enough. What make of vehicle is the standard London bus?
"In 1892, Brandon Thomas wrote a famous long-running English farce. What was it?
"Complete the following quot... I've started so I'll finish. Complete the following quotation about Mrs Thatcher: 'Her heart may be in the right place but her'
"And you've scored 18 points and no passes."

Final eliminator, 4/6

Rachel Leonard will review the Life and Work of Diego Velasquez, a painter from the early 17th century. A mistake towards the end of the round throws her a little off course, but 14 (0) is an excellent score.

Ed Brims has Pink Floyd, a musical group of the late 20th century. Some very obscure questions in this round, but this man also knows his subject, scoring 13 (1).

Neil Crockford discusses the Life and Works of George Crabbe, a poet of the 18th and 19th century. This round struggles to recover from a slow start, finishing on 11 (0).

Dorothy Walker talks about Wines of the Loire Valley, after taking Stephen Sondheim in April. This contender gets the first two questions correct, and we'll draw a veil over the remainder of the round, finishing on 5 (6). The general knowledge round advances her score to 12 (8); at least she had fun researching her subject.

Mr Crockford took Raymond Queenau last time, and has another relatively obscure writer this time. His second round goes well, though not quite perfectly, finishing on 26 (2). It may yet be enough.

Mr Brims won with naked eye astronomy, and says that he's a relatively new fan of the band. And he recounts the tale of the Incredible Flying Pig, which you can read on the Wikipedia article about the band. He's held up by Mr Humphrys' delivery, but makes one error too many to take the lead, ending on 25 (3). He'll win one year.

Ms Leonard's first subject was George Eliot. She suggests that Velasquez was so accurate that he didn't need to make imaginative portraits. The general knowledge round begins with a string of passes and errors, but picks up speed, and thanks to what appears to be a good guess (though we understand it was deduced after the buzzer), finishes on 25 (2).

So, for the second week running, we've a come-from-behind winner. Mr Crockford will take some beating in the final two weeks hence.

Yes, the last two final eliminators will both air next Tuesday, at 8 and 8.30. The final, an hour-long affair, will follow on 8 November.

University Challenge

First round, match six: Birmingham v Strathclyde

Before we begin, a disclaimer: Weaver is a graduate of Birmingham Uni. This report may be coloured by his prejudices.

Birmingham lost to Christ Church Oxford in 2002. And Durham in 2001. And Selwyn Cambridge in 1996. And Aberdeen in 1995. But that first defeat was in the very first programme of the revival, and Birmingham came back as one of the highest scoring losers, beating Lampeter before securing a losing draw against New Oxford. This record ensures that Birmingham is the worst institution to regularly send sides to UC. Strathclyde's one and only appearance in the revival came two years ago, beating St Hugh's Oxford but losing to eventual finalists Gonville and Caius Cambridge.

Two journalists and two mechanical engineers from Strathclyde, a more traditional mix from the Brummies.

We haven't had a Hidden Student Indicator yet this series, have we? These are little vignettes about student life brought to the fore by questions on UC.

Q: Complete this observation of April 2005. "For those who are dreading the saturation and media coverage because they yearn for an election that has charismatic candidates, where their votes can really make a difference, and which genuinely speaks to their hopes and fears, they can always look forward to this: three weeks after election day sees the return of ..." what?
Deepinder Chema, Birmingham: Wimbledon.
(Ho, no.)
Peter Brady, Strathclyde: Summer.

Rob Linham, who could and did famously name all the first series contestants in order of exit, must be turning in his lavish boudoir.

Thumper misses a chance to plug Heimat, currently airing on The Fourth Programme (BBC-4), which is most unlike the BBC. Just three bonuses from twelve have been correctly answered by the first visual round - completing recipe ingredients - after which the scores are 25-all.

Has The Millennium Problems entered common enough parlance to be the subject of a question? These seven so-far insoluble problems are the subject of a million-dollar prize, and a very long question. It's a very slow week, with the scores not so much soaring as creeping up. By the audio round - jazz from a film - Birmingham have booked their place on the repechage board, leading 80-30.

What's the all-time low aggregate? 210? We could be on for something even worse this week, especially with suggested film titles including A Blanket For My Museli, and that the thinker who worked in a Lancashire cotton mill was Karl Marx. The round on quantum chemistry really is taking the you-know-what. The lowest winning score is Edinburgh's 120 against Glasgow last year.

City parks form the second visual round, after which Birmingham's lead has been trimmed to 90-60. Are we on for a record this week? Perhaps not. Catriona Mackenzie gets a starter to push Birmingham above 100, then the team manages to get not just two but a whole three questions in a set correct. Of the first twelve sets, half went for one correct, the others beat the panel. Strathclyde pushes their way onto the repechage board, and briefly threatens to take the lead, but Birmingham's chemist pinches a starter, and even though Strathclyde gets a starter just before the end, they run out of time before the first bonus comes out. The final score: Birmingham wins, 125-115.

Repechage placings

1) St Hugh's Oxford 190
2) Durham 130
3) Exeter 125
4) Strathclyde 115

It's a heck of a way to end the first-round losing streak, but it's far from convincing. Stephen Wickes (50) top-buzzed for Birmingham, Tim Hill (36) for Strathclyde. Brum scored a singularly rubbish 8/27 bonuses, Strathclyde took an even worse 4/27. Both sides managed one missignal.

Hoping not to provide a Hallowe'en horror: Hertford and Lucy Cavendish Cambridge.

This Week And Next

The eighth annual television awards were presented this week, as voted by the Grate British Public. Winners included:

  • Antan Dec (most popular entertainment presenter for the fifth year running - the previous winner was Michael Barrymore);
  • Sharon Osbourne (television expert, for no obvious reason);
  • The X Factor (entertainment programme, defeating double winner Takeaway);
  • Big Brother (reality programme, only the second win, but the category's been going three years);
  • Millionaire (quiz programme, for the seventh year running - the only previous winner was HIGNFY in 98.)

Countdown makes its much-anticipated return to the schedules at 3.30 on Monday (or 3.15 Tuesday for viewers in Wales). It's followed by Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal (except in Wales, where DOND comes at 2.25.) We've also got the return of Buzzcocks and the start of Al Murray's Fact Hunt.

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