Weaver's Week 2007-02-04

Weaver's Week Index

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


Count Des

"The programme should be taken off!" - Gyles Brandreth.


Yorkshire Television for Channel 4, 3.30pm weekdays

It was a fantastic way to start the new year's transmissions - invite the new host to play an exhibition game against the numbers champion since the dawn of time, with the old host and the wordsmith adding to the jollity of proceedings. That's how Des Chiffres Et Des Lettres began 2007, Patrice Laffont reprising his time as host, while Bertrand Renard beat Laurent Romejko by a large margin.

No such entertainment here in the UK, where Des Lynam slipped out of the back door at Yorkshire Television in December, to spend more time with his seagulls and pebbles. This column appreciated Mr. Lynam's dry wit and under-stated approach to the game; many other commentators found him dour and monotonous.

Taking the hot seat - and only the third regular host of Countdown in its twenty-four year history - is Des O'Connor. The numbers champion since the dawn of time, Carol Vorderman, took less than a minute to rename him as "Desso Connor", and that name seems to have stuck.

Des O'Connor was an interesting choice for the role - he first found fame in the 1960s with such meaningful titles as Dick a Dum Dum and Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenella Boden By the Sea. Or was that Max Bygraves? We weren't around at the time... Anyway, the new host had a chat show on ITV for most of the eighties and nineties, before returning to the channel as host of their lunchtime chat show Today With Des And Mel. The titular "Mel" was Melanie Sykes, herself a replacement host on The Vault. Thanks to ITV's inability to spot a decent format when it presents itself, Today was allowed to drop off the radar last year.

What does the new man bring to the show? A bit of showbiz glamour, that's his contribution. Original host Richard Whiteley was many things, but glamorous in a showbizzy way was not one of them. While Mr. Lynam opened the show with a soft, understated opening routine, Mr. O'Connor begins with a loud "Hello, Countdowners!" It's not quite glitter coming out of the television screen, but it is a more vigorous welcome than we've experienced before.

That vibrancy continues right through the show. Where Mr. Lynam would ask the celebrity and Susie what they had, Mr. O'Connor shouts "Dictionary Corner, what do you have?", almost building them up to a solution to the Schleiswig-Holstein problem, or at least an explanation of whether FEDORAS is or isn't acceptable. Like the previous hosts, the new boy is capable of throwing anecdotes, words and numbers into the show; like his predecessors, the new host knows that the star of the show is not sitting at the far right of the set.

The real stars, the contestants, have been an interesting mix. The series began with Anita Freeland coming back for her second four games, but after some tricky games, she lost her eighth match 86-83. Seven wins and 734 points (at +26 to Par) should be enough to bring her back in the series finals next June. Anita's conqueror was John Young, the world strip poker champion, who would only win the one game (145 at +26). John had the misfortune of coming up against one of the child prodigies who appear on Countdown from time to time; Bradley Cates won three games, scoring 333 points at +33 to par.

The grown man who put out the youngster was Ian Volante (three wins, 353 at +18). Mr. Volante looked like he could progress further, but encountered a former child prodigy. Amey Deshpande had competed about ten years ago, and returned to the main show in excellent form; he won all eight games, achieving just the one century, finishing on 718. That he's only +4 to Par shows that Mr. Deshpande made the most of some difficult selections. Leigh Brook (one win, 151 at +8) inherited the empty chair, but lost to Martin May (two wins, 181 at +11). Mr. May was unable to continue filming, allowing Mick Barnewell to win two (242 at +13) before Paddy Izod won a cracking match on Friday.

After a month, it does rather feel as though Des O'Connor has been piloting Countdown for many years; his experience has helped him fit right into one of the more high-profile jobs on television. He's bringing a lot of energy to the programme, and it really does show. We might like to see some banter from Mr. O'Connor's relative age - for DENARIUS this week, "You should remember, you used them Des." The programme's silver jubilee is coming up in November, and after a tricky couple of years, we have much more confidence in the future of Des Chiffres et Des Lettres et Desso Connor.

Junior Mastermind

Heat 4

William from London is taking the radio show, Hancock's Half Hour. For our younger listeners, this is a 1950s comedy programme starring Tony Hancock. If the original show was a classic, so was this round - a perfect 17 (0).

Rose from Belfast discusses Emmeline Pankhurst, the Votes For Women campaigner. In spite of a slight stumble early on, Rose visibly grows in confidence, finishing on 15 (1).

Racing to the chair is Isabelle from Chester, and she's taking The Chronicles of Narnia. This column reckons it knows a bit about the fantasy land and got ten; the contender does far better, making 17 (2).

Ashika from Oxford has Nelson Mandela under the spotlight, and scores 9 (5). Her parents are from South Africa, and she's been sent comics from the country. Ashika even met the man when she was about six months. She compares notes with Smallhead about his memories of the 1994 elections. Is there a quiz in here? Indeed there is, and her final score is 19 (10).

Rose describes Mrs. Pankhurst as "brutal" in her beliefs, almost forcing men to see the world her way. Our contender is "annoyed" at the downturn in voting at political elections. Didn't we have a question about McFly and Lindsay Lohan's motion picture last week? Anyway, she finishes on 25 (4).

William has a family that listens to a lot of cassette tapes of classic comedy. He also listens to the Today programme (host: J. "Smallhead" Humphrys) - but only because he's in the back of the car, and the radio is in the front. His general knowledge round goes well, finishing on 31 (0).

Isabelle began her journey into Narnia when she was seven, and has read them "loads" of times since. 200 pages per book, but a chapter a day will take four months and more to read. She rather falls into pass valley, and finishes on 25 (9).

University Challenge

Round 2: Durham v Somerville Oxford

Two Cambridge sides - Churchill and Trinity Hall - fell by the way so that these sides could meet tonight. We're still trying to work out who Caroline Walker, the Durham captain, reminds us of - Maureen Lipman springs to mind, in one of her characters.

Thumper goes long on the way both sides scored well in their first-round matches, so we'll put this down as a no-score draw, shall we? The first starter - on words used with "anarchy" requires the invocation of the Sex Pistols. Hidden Oxbridge Indicator of the Week is the way Somerville gets the "real" abbreviation behind GCMG (God calls me god) in a joke about the British civil service. The first visual round is the high concept Name That Moustache. Somerville's lead is 60-45.

Durham moves into the lead with the next set of bonuses, on concepts in mathematical proofs. The lead extends with knowledge of aspartame, George Galloway's contribution to Celeb Big Brother 4, and Finland's appearance in the 1912 Olympics. The audio round follows quickly, just three starters in that stanza, and after Name That Dance Composer, Durham's lead is up to 120-55.

Somerville comes back with a round on Latin neologisms, easy when you've got two classicists on the team. We'll take Bouncer of the Week:

Q: Cos of an angle a plus i sine a, all raised to the power n, is equal to cos of n times a plus i sine of n times a, where i is the square root of minus one. Born in 1667, which French mathematician first stated this..?
Tom Jinks, Durham: De Moivre.

Durham goes on to show knowledge of belly dancing. The second visual round is on the years of battles written in Roman numerals, and Somerville has pulled some way back, but Durham still leads, 155-115.

We never knew that Scotland the Brave was written in the 1950s, or that Thumper needed a script to recite the names of the Birmingham X constituencies. Durham moves away again, extending their lead past 50 points, then onwards and upwards. The final score doesn't do justice to Somerville's contribution - Durham has won, 260-135.

Durham spread their starters around evenly - four for Marc Williams and Tom Jinks, but those of Caroline Walker led to more bonuses, and her 73 points leads the team. Chris Rawlinson got four starters for Somerville, and we credit him with 65. Durham took 24/39 bonuses, Somerville 15/21 with two missignals.

Next match: Corpus Christi Oxford v Edinburgh

This Week And Next

Our best wishes to Ned Sherrin, who we're told has been making a good recovery from recent surgery. It must be serious, because there's a new voice at the helm of Counterpoint - step forward Edward Seckerson, the thinking person's Elaine Paige.

Where this column leads, others follow. The Church of England has added its voice to the criticism of ITV's Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway. An Anglican spokesvicar said, "We are concerned about programmes that turn humiliation into entertainment. Does a young person always realise what the consequences might be of being recognised as the person who went on the show begging - this is of great concern to us." Carla Lane and Don Foster were also quoted in the article, as was a spokeshandbag for ITV.

ICSTIS has proposed a warning system for people who participate in the call-and-lose television programmes that blight overnight television. Alistair Graham, the head of the premium-rate phone regulator, said, "If the sector is to flourish, call-TV quiz shows must enjoy widespread consumer confidence." They reckon that a cost warning after every £10 spent will suffice; it's certainly better than nothing.

The BBC has announced this year's winners of the Fame Academy bursaries, funded by revenue from the telephone voting during the contests in 2002 and 2003. Receiving £12,500 per year for the next three years are pianist Maria Redman, fiddle player Sam Sweeney, conductor Graham Ross and percussionist David Smith. A one-off award of £5,000 goes to violinist Cerys Jones and tuba player Leslie Neish.

A further series of Comic Relief Does Fame Academy will take place in the next few weeks. Dogsby and Kielty will be back to reprise their pantomime routine, but the part of Cat Deeley will be played by Claudia Winkleman. Good. It's well past time she got to host a really big show.

BARB viewing figures for the week to 21 January, when Celebrity Big Brother went mad. 8.8 million tuned in to see the house fall on the Wicked Witch of the East End. It wasn't the most-watched game show, though, as Dancing On Ice took 9.1 million for its return on Saturday. 5.35 million stuck around for The Con Test, causing One Versus One Hundred to slip to just 4.95 million, barely ahead of A Question of Sport. Deal or No Deal's best score was 3.95 million, Link secured 3.15m, University Challenge 2.95m, and Mock the Week 2.3m.

Biggest audience on the digital tier was for BB Big Mouth on Friday night, 1.4 million there; Wednesday's edition had 1.15 million, and Thursday 940,000. In any normal week, Pop Idle US's 630,000 would have won out. The other scores: 290,000 for Friday's More4 or No More4, 200,000 for Clutter Nutters on CBBC, 158,000 for QI on G2, where Buzzcocks pulled in 125,000 and HIGNFY 110,000. Challenge's top score: 78,000 for Wednesday night's Millionaire.

The fall-out from Celebrity Big Brother has continued. Trevor Phillips, former producer of Black On Black, said of the Channel 4 management, "Either they take responsibility for their actions or they resign." Never Mind the Full Stops presenter Julian Fellowes voiced his support for Shilpa Shetty, saying that she was both attractive and brainy, and readers are making their own jokes here. Miss Shetty did win the contest, beating Jermaine Jackson 63%-37% in the final vote. Private Eye pointed out that Mark Owen beat Les Dennis by 77%-23%.

This week: Challenge has the children's The Crystal Maze programmes (weeknights at 6), the return of Dragons' Den (BBC2, 8pm Wednesday), and a tribute to Magnus Magnusson (BBC2, 7.30 Monday).

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