Weaver's Week 2007-10-07

Weaver's Week Index


Ned Sherrin and Ronnnie Hazlehurst

We regret to report the death of Ned Sherrin, ubiquitous raconteur and satirist; and of Ronnie Hazlehurst, composer.

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Born in 1931, Ned Sherrin rose to fame in 1962, when he was part of the team behind That Was The Week That Was. It's very hard for those of us coming afterwards to work out just how important TW3 was to television. Out went the deference to politicians and senior public figures, and in its place came a probing show that would question anything and accept no taboos.

Ned Sherrin produced ten films, wrote several books, directed plays including Sondheim's "Side by Side", and continued to tread the boards. He was a regular at glittering occasions – film premieres, literary luncheons, restaurant openings, political discussions. If there was glitter and a catwalk, Ned Sherrin would be there.

This vivacity carried over into his occasional forays into game shows. He was a natural choice for the Countdown dictionary corner, less frantic than the early regulars Kenneth Williams and Gyles Brandreth. He made his debut in 1983, and appeared on and off until 2000.

Back in 1978, Ned Sherrin had hopped over the Atlantic to create We Interrupt This Week for the Public Broadcasting System. In this game, columnists and journalists constituting a team of Visitors challenged the resident Home team in a game that was somewhere between University Challenge and The News Quiz, with more than a dash of QI. Sherrin would award points not only for correct answers, but for interesting, witty, or surreal responses. The show would begin with Ned giving a brief monologue on events of the week – a device he would reprise on Radio 4's Loose Ends – and end with the programme's one catchphrase, "Those are all the rules, except to say that my decisions will be arbitrary, prejudiced, and final." We Interrupt This Week ran for 13 episodes during autumn 1978 and spring 1979, but has not been seen since.

In 1986, Ned Sherrin was approached by the BBC Light Entertainment department to host their wide-ranging music quiz Counterpoint. He took to the show like a duck to water, adding his wit to what could have been a dry and unyielding programme. His presentation owed something to Robert Robinson's practised stewardship of Brain of Britain, geeing up contestants, and occasionally introducing an anecdote from his own long association with music. Ill health forced Ned Sherrin to give up his Loose Ends programme of wit and whimsy late last year, and this year's Counterpoint had Edward Seckerson as a guest host. His final quiz was a twentieth anniversary celebration, featuring Julian Lloyd Webber, Steve Harley, and Denise Leigh.

Ronnie Hazlehurst, born in 1928, was a musician, fond of Delius, who happened to have a talent for writing short melodies to order. After working for George Chambers' band, and for Granada Television, Ronnie Hazlehurst became one of the BBC's staff arrangers in 1964, creating the bouncy tune for It's a Knockout two years later. In 1968, he became Head of Music for the Light Entertainment department, and used motifs from the programmes in his work – a cash register in Are You Being Served?, chimes for Yes Minister, and using Morse code to spell out the title of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

In the world of shows we call game, Ronnie Hazlehurst will be remembered for the inane frippery of the Blankety Blank theme, a perfect foil for the inane frippery of Blankety Blank itself. He was the musical director for the Eurovision Song Contest when it came to Britain in 1974, 1977 – when he conducted Rock Bottom using a rolled-up umbrella – and 1982, and conducted Michael Ball to a magnificent second place in 1992.

Ronnie Hazlehurst remained active into his seventies, writing S Club 7's 2000 hit single Reach. (Someone who has actually done some research writes: Er, no he didn't, that was Cathy Dennis and the somewhat less famous Andrew Todd. That'll teach you to believe anything you see on Wikipedia, that great repository of lies, untruths, and stuff people made up down the pub at lunchtime yesterday.)

The World's Greatest Elvis

BBC1, 22-29 September

Our nostalgia-fest continues with the BBC's attempt to find the best Elvis impersonator in the world. Will the honour go to an impressionist from Mr. Presley's country era? From his time in the army? From the years he spent in clubs in Nevada? From the fat and bloated years? Will it be won by a pastiche act, such as Shakin' Stevens? Or by the man who won the Elvis Presley Estate's contest earlier in the year?

We'll quickly scoot past the three audition shows, partly because there's only so many Elvis impersonators we can stomach in a short space of time, but mostly because we didn't see them because we really don't want to spend a whole week watching Elvis impersonators.

Host for this quest is Vernon Kay, who has had his hair tamed for the occasion. No longer is he sporting a shock of hair that has us confusing him with ITV's mascot Monkey. Instead, he's slicked his hair back in a quiff, and is wearing a sharp white suit. The look suits him; it may or may not be borrowed from some point of Mr. Presley's career, but the look suits him.

Our five chosen performers represent various stages of Mr. Presley's twenty-odd years in the recording business. Or, to be exact, represent various accepted clich├ęs of Mr. Presley's twenty-odd years recording. It is sobering to note that the subject has now been dead for 30 years, somewhat longer than he was active in the studio. Over that time, there have been certain accepted ways of performing, and it's clear that the judges were marking on these stereotypes.

After all five had performed, the pop panel passed their judgement. Two performers remained, and the remaining Elvii could fly off. (A Latin pedant writes: Elv-is is a 3rd declension noun with an I-stem, so the plural should be Elves, and the copycats are Elvium Honororium. It was easier when they were videotaping the opposition, really.) The last two had a karaoke-style duet on one final song, the audience voted on the one-and-a-half performances they'd seen, and the winner was crowned.

It would be churlish to analyse this programme in too great a depth: it was a blatant piece of filler, plugging the gap between DanceX and the new runs of Strictly Come Dancing and Robin Hood. It may have preached a little bit too much to the converted, but just about passed muster as general entertainment.

The winner, Shawn Klush, was also crowned the winner by the Presley Estate earlier in the year. He now meets Declan McManus in the Greatest Elv-off.


Heat 13

Cliff Hughes has a very large subject, Top 20 Singles of the 1970s. Very large subjects give the question setters great leeway to ask difficult questions, and they take that opportunity with both hands. 5 (2).

Catherine Slater will tell us about The Number One Ladies Detective Agency novels of Alexander McCall Smith. And now we know why this programme is in widescreen! These are books set in Africa, and there are about five in the series so far. This contender has done her homework, finishing on 14 (0).

Nigel Taylor has been studying The History of Hornby Railways. These were (or are) model railways, inspiring many intricate layouts. Fans included the first editor of Blue Peter and at least one of this show's presenters, Peter Snow. 9 (2)

David Hill has the Life of Joe Jackson and the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. This was a remarkable event in the history of Chicago baseball, involving an owner who was too mean to do the team's laundry properly, or to pay his players properly, and some of them took bribes to throw The World's series. It's a pennant-winning performance, no errors, ending on 16 (0).

Mr. Hughes defends the music that was around in the 1970s, an era that stretched from the aftermath of the hippies through glam and punk to disco. Though it starts well, the round soon falls into incorrect answers, and ends on 9 (5)

Mr. Taylor discusses his work as a vet, rather than his subject. His general knowledge round goes from correct answer to correct answer, finishing on 20 (2).

The books studied by Catherine Slater are marvellous detective yarns, but with a moral side to boot. Her round takes a very long time to get started, but gathers speed as it rolls on, finishing on 25 (4).

Mr. Hill explains how the White Stockings in general conspired to lose the season finale, and Joe Jackson – the Wayne Rooney of his sport and era – was incorrectly fingered as one of the culprits. He treads carefully through his round, passing the winning line after the buzzer, finishing on 26 (2). He would have won on pass countback anyway.

University Challenge

First round, 13/14: St George's London v York

St George's is a specialist medical college, with alumni including Harry Hill. York's former pupils include Greg Duck, which is rather useful because the university has the highest student-to-duck ratio of any institution. At least until we set up the UK Game Shows University.

Very quickly, it becomes clear that it's going to be a low-scoring match – two of the first five starters are dropped, and of the nine resulting bonuses, precisely one is answered correctly. St George's have the good fortune to be asked a series of bonuses on DNA, and after the first visual round, on Dustin Hoffman movies, St George's lead is 50-30.

This brings us to the Tiger Woods Memorial Question:

Q: You are playing golf. You hook your first shot and it lands 200 yards due north of the tee and 210 yards due west of the hole. How far is it from hole to tee?
York, Bull: 220 yards.
St George's look blank.
Are any of you actually working it out?
It must be Pythagoras's theorem in there, but...
You're not giving an answer. 290 yards.

Thumper has to disallow "American civil war" when he sought "civil war", for two of the battles he read out were to do with other national civil wars. York takes the lead from the resulting bonuses, and after no-one can identify an obscure Smiths album track (that's the audio round, on titular cities) York has a 70-60 lead.

The game continues to tick along. It's a very low scoring match, tying up at 90-90 with about eight minutes to play. Last week's Manchester side had already racked up about a million points by now. York gets its share of luck, with the two English Lit students able to answer a set of bonuses on Paradise Lost in their sleep. The York side promptly goes and gets three questions on the development of anaesthetics, suspiciously like questions the opposition should have had. The second visual round is of English city crests, after which York's lead is 140-105. St George's missed Birmingham's crest in that round.

Repechage, one, two, three:

  • Lancaster 185
  • Liverpool 165
  • Magdalen Oxford 160
  • Birmingham 145

York gets in a twist when discussing crossings for the use of horse riders, going into the various people who rode Pegasus. Quite why they're not called centaur crossings is beyond us, for centaurs are noble and wise and able to crush these puny cars into dust with the merest stroke of their hooves. But we digress. York picks up a couple of starters, and runs up a 185-105 lead. Then the side gets a bit too cocky, has two missignals, one starter goes to the opposition, and the game isn't quite won. Dropped starters runs down the clock, and though St George's gets a starter with about a minute in the game, they would need another starter to make the repechage. St George's never gets that starter, for the gong goes, and York has won, 175-130.

Gujan Niranjan is St George's best buzzer, securing five correct starters. The side was correct on 10/26 bonuses, and suffered two missignals. York was correct in 19/27 bonuses, with two missignals; James Quelch was best on the buzzer, with three starters and no incorrect interruptions.

Next match: Christ Church Oxford v Homerton Cambridge

This Week And Next

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The Competition Commission has determined that British Sky Broadcasting's 17.9% holding in ITV restricts competition and may be acting against the public interest. The body, formerly known as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, will make recommendations to the government by the end of the year

OFCOM has published its review into the state of children's television. The television regulator has found that only the BBC makes its own programmes any more, that most of the imports are from the USA, and that youngsters aged 12-16 are particularly poorly served, with next-to-nothing aimed at them. Advertising body ISBA said that a good proportion of this problem had been created by OFCOM's restrictions on advertising food. We'll be spending the week-end reading this report, and will report back next week; we'll also be reviewing the Very First Edition of Countdown.

Last week, we mentioned how RDF Media had had its BBC commissions suspended after a hyped-up row over incorrect editing of a programme trailer. This week, the BBC flagellated itself over the error, saying that it had left too much for RDF to do. BBC1 controller Peter Fincham has resigned.

BARB ratings for the week to 23 September show ITV still has the most-seen game shows. The X Factor remains top of the pile, 8.35m tuning in; 7.15m for Antan Dec, and 5.85m for the Hell's Kitchen finale. Millionaire pulled 5.55m. On BBC1, In It to Win It had 4.85m, and The World's Greatest Elvis 4.1m. For BBC2, University Challenge (3.05m) came within a sneeze of beating Nigella Lawson; both surpassed QI (2.8m). Eggheads and The Restaurant both passed 2m, Mastermind and Mock the Week continue to bubble along just under, and Idennidy and Take On the Take Away had 1.65m. Over on Channel 4, the most-viewed show is a daytime production. No, not one of ours, Paul O'Grady tops the list with 2.4m. Deal had 2.15m, and with the Legalised Telephone, Web, and Postal Lottery being edited out of this month's shows, that's another profit-making scheme consigned to history. (Unless it's to do with the postal strike, and if you are DOND producer Glenn Hugill, there's a man in a bar with a question for you.)

High point of the digital tier was the Sunday night repeat of The X Factor on ITV2, pulling in 1.32m viewers; Saturday's Xtra Factor had a very respectable 1.13m. A new high for Come Dine With Me on More4 (360,000), and a welcome return for QI on BBC4 (600,000).

Results for last night's The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing will be broadcast tonight (6.45, ITV and BBC1, respectively). There's a new series of Have I Got News for You (BBC1, 9pm Friday), and if you can't bear watching England in the rugby next Saturday evening, there's always an early episode of The Crystal Maze (More4, 9pm Saturday).

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