Weaver's Week 2007-10-28

Weaver's Week Index


Dining Out

"Television is more interesting than people. If it were not, we would have people standing in the corners of our rooms." – Alan Coren, whose obituary is below.

The Restaurant

BBC2, 30 August – 17 October

This review is based on the shows of 3 and 4 October.

Take one large mansion somewhere in the Oxfordshire countryside. Add nine budding restauranteurs, and their nine chosen business partners. Slot each chef and their partner into a prepared case, somewhere in the Thames Valley. Add one celebrity chef. Decorate with many carefully-prepared shots of sunlit uplands, people marching in, people marching out (make sure to get those in the right order, cooks!). Put in the oven at gas mark 6 (200°C) for 30 minutes, and serve while still hot.

That may – or may not! – be the recipe for a successful television series. We don't know. What we do know is that the BBC took that dish, and drenched it with lashings of apprendista della salsa, a concoction that is either completely tasteless or over-sugary. So powerful is this flavouring that it completely obliterates any subtle tastes that might be present in the original dish.

We begin, obviously, with a lengthy recap of the previous week's two episodes. We're already beginning to detect a familiar, musty aroma. It is a fact that the majority of restaurants will fail in their first year. It is also a fact that, in the late-90s infancy of reality television, the first year of a restaurant would have been worthy of six half-hour episodes, tucked away on Tuesday nights between Eastenders and the Nine O'Clock News. But fashions have changed, and the modern programme-maker demands action. "It's not enough that these eateries should die from natural causes, we should go out there and positively kill their restaurants!" Already, the stench of artifice is beginning to make us feel slightly queasy.

The remaining 110 minutes of footage do nothing to abate our nausea; quite the reverse. In the two episodes we've picked for review, just four restaurants remain in the contest. Each has made more of a profit than a loss, in spite of suffering from the handicap of not living over their shop, but in a country mansion many miles away. No danger of nipping down in the middle of the night to do a bit of cleaning, not when meetings with the sugar daddy have been arranged for 9 the following morning.

Ah yes, the sugar daddy. Raymond Blanc is the man here. According to the blurb, he'll go into business with the pair he thinks is the best. So we're not actually finding the best restaurateurs, but the ones who M. Blanc reckons he will be best able to work with. For narrative reasons, and because he's a very busy man in real life, M. Blanc is confined to his office, and sends out his henchmen to check up on his candidates. Wonder how much sugar he takes in his coffee.

It's clear to all that the location of the restaurant will have helped people to progress. A rubbish location – the back end of a village next to a motorway, say – won't directly kill someone's chances, but it will reduce their takings, reduce their profits, and it'll be harder work to remain in the show. Of the last four, three are in large towns, and only one is in anything like a rural location.

The pace of the shows was poor, with a lot of time taken up as the teams handed out flyers and chatted up students. Nor were we impressed with the way The Restaurant dictated the mood by some very heavy-handed background music. That many of the customers were shirty and difficult to please could be the luck of the draw, but we cannot rule out selective editing, or even deliberately getting in a few people from the awkward diners' club. No wonder that their card is accepted nowhere.

At the end of Wednesday's programme, one couple was awarded Restaurant of the Week, and two others were told to face the Elimination Challenge. This is a task set by M. Blanc, certainly after consultation with the producers, a task that they think will make good television, and may as a beneficial side-effect give additional information as to who is performing badly.

In the episode we saw, this task was a singles night, to which the producers had already invited 20 young professionals. That rather sums up the show as we saw it: appealing to young, thrusting, middle-class people with steady jobs. It's a good description of the audience BBC2 would like to attract, and also a good description of most of the contestants.

Truth to tell, we couldn't get at all interested in The Restaurant, to the point of throwing our remote out of the window before finding out who left. The whole show is an obvious rip-off of The Apprentice in almost every detail, even down to the very glossy feel to the programme. And, just as we found The Apprentice to be feel-good fluff for yuppies, so we find The Restaurant to be feel-good fluff for yuppies who eat out. Not our cup of tea at all.

The Beach Towels Are Going Out Across Europe

Image:Square Alan Coren.jpg

The death was announced last week of journalist and broadcaster Alan Coren, at the age of 69. Born in 1938, he was evacuated to Blackpool for the duration of the war, returning to East Barnet Grammar School, before obtaining a First in English from Wadham, Oxford. He was awarded a Commonwealth Fellowship for study at Yale and Berkeley, where he wrote a thesis on punctuation.

While at Berkeley, Coren began to send articles to the weekly news magazine Punch, where he found employment upon his return. He would rise through the ranks, becoming deputy editor in 1969, and editor in 1977. By the time he left the editor's chair for The Listener in 1987 – sparking a downward spiral that would close Punch within five years – Coren had brought his dry wit to many television and radio shows.

He'll be best remembered for his regular spot on The News Quiz, a show he was almost born for, and that started life as a battle between his Punch and Richard Ingrams's Private Eye. Coren read the newspapers avidly, so could not only provide the boring answer that Barry Took was looking for, but some witty little aside to entertain as well as inform. He never prepared his material, and expressed irritation with those who actually thought about what they were going to say. His talent for improvisation made him an outstanding player of Call My Bluff, where he was a regular guest in the Robert Robinson era, and a team captain in the recent revival.

Coren was the television critic for The Times from 1971 until the paper went on strike in 1978, returning in 1988 as a humour columnist, and wrote books with such surreal titles as "Golfing for Cats" and "The Cricklewood Dome". He was Rector of St Andrews University from 1973-6, and was voted the Wittiest Man in Britain by listeners to Radio 4's Word of Mouth; the audience had been impressed by his malice-free comic timing. He is survived by his wife, Anne, by his poker-star daughter Victoria, and journalist son Giles.

Countdown Update

Image:Countdown square current clock.jpg

Five weeks ago, we left Dave Von Guyer undefeated on five wins. He completed his octochamp run, his average of 90 points per game would not have given him a seed higher than fourth in the last five series. David Marsh won one game, then Matthew Green took over, winning four, but falling to a superb performance by Michael Howe. He lost the next game to Terry Mullin, who lost on his first defence to John Scott. Mr. Scott's third (and final) win was by 59-39 – both contestants had two words disallowed, the numbers fell very badly, and they both scored on three rounds. It's the sort of total that was common in the nine-round era.

Dinos Spheris won the next game, holding on for three wins before losing another cracker to Dorian Liddel. Four wins for young Mr. Liddel, who is the grandson of wartime announcer Alvar. Baz Hunt won one game, but was swept aside by Craig Beevers, who has won four games so far.

The seedings at this point:

  1. James Hurrell – 8 wins, 838 pts
  2. Jeffrey Hansford – 8 wins, 818
  3. David Edwards – 8 wins, 737
  4. Dave Von Guyer – 8 wins, 724
  5. Steve Baines – 7 wins, 758
  6. Mikey Lear – 7 wins, 680
  7. Martin May – 4 wins, 465
  8. Craig Beevers – 4 wins, so far

Even without points from a fifth-game loss, Craig Beevers has already scored enough points to enter the seeding picture. With a maximum of 33 more qualifying games, the top three on the board are certain to return. More Countdown on 9 December, when the finals board should be nearly complete.


Heat 14

So, now we know that the average contestant will score about two-and-a-half points more in their specialist round than in the general knowledge section. On average, that is.

Sandra Piddock will take Coronation St. That's a soap opera that's been running on ITV since the invention of the hovercraft. And, in the Hidden Cockup Indicator of the Week, is going out right now. (That's except for viewers in Scotland, who saw this show at 7pm.) As much about the behind-the-scenes production as plotlines in the show, which is how it should be, and 13 (1) is not bad.

Next comes Gaurav Gollerkeri, who will be telling us all about the Asterix the Gaul strips. We have no idea how both the contender and the host managed to get through the round without bursting into laughter at such names as Alecginnis and the Oxbridgienses. Anyway, the contender scores 16 points, and conquered all his interrogation. All? No! One indomitable question evaded his grip, and turned into a pass.

Martyn Brooks has the Life and Career of Bob Dylan. We're still in cartoon territory, this is the rabbit from The Magic Roundabout. What? It's the folk singer turned guitarist turned radio presenter? Oh. He finishes on 14 (1). It's a high-scoring week!

Jerry Smith discusses the "Ramage" novels of Dudley Pope. These are books set in the Second World War, though without any aliens spoiling the party. The final score is 9 (2). Mr. Smith goes on to discuss his career as a publican, and in spite of getting a general knowledge question that began after the buzzer, finishes on 17 (6).

Sandra Piddock has been watching Corrie since the get-go, and reminds us that it was the first show to attempt to portray working-class life. She picks up points steadily, finishing on 26 (1).

Something for Mr. Brooks to tilt at, after he's lauded Mr. Zimmerman for his forty albums. They all sound the same to us, but then we liked Dick 'N' Dom's Ask The Family, so what do we know? He gets a lot of questions on modern music, but finishes on 23 (4), so won't win.

Eleven needed for Mr. Gollerkeri to win, and he tells us of all the puns in an Asterix book. Not a mention of Anthea Bell's translation, sadly; it's a masterpiece. Mr. Gollerkeri has been on University Challenge India, but doesn't have the experience gained from spending a life in the UK, such as suggesting the band that charted with Surfin' USA was the Sex Pistols. He finishes on 24 (2).

University Challenge

Repechage 2: Magdalen Oxford v Liverpool

Magdalen Oxford lost by the narrowest of narrow margins to SOAS in heat 2; Liverpool was overpowered by the concrete jungle of Leeds the following week. Magdalen gets the first two starters, and does particularly well on a set on bonuses that form a Schubert dip. And while we're in a bit of a silly mood, we'll have a game of What Letter Is Thumper Thinking Of?

Q: Which common foodstuff consists of a vitellus anchored by two chalazae in a mass of albumen, the whole thing enclosed in a container made of almost pure calcium carbonate?
Magdalen, Laith Dilami: X

An awful lot of starters are dropped, which leads to Plea Of The Week:

Q: "Unscientific because it simply postulates a God-sized cause for whatever gap is currently of interest..."
Magdalen, Daniel Sinnot: Intelligent design?
Q: ... "This leads to no falsifiable predictions or unification of knowledge." These words from the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy describe which pseudo-science, associated with literal interpretations of the Bible?
[We wait. Time passes.]
Thumper: One of you buzz, please. It's not difficult, this one!
Liverpool, Emily Dixon: Creationism.

Apparently, we do have to have a winner this week. Our money's on Liverpool's stuffed dog. First visual round is on representations of functional groups in molecules, which leaves Magdalen ahead by 55-20. No-one gets the old chestnut about Malaysia's head of state, and Thumper eventually reaches for the pile labelled "When in doubt, say Byron." That actually starts a bit of a roll for Magdalen, who score their century. Liverpool get a set of bonuses about the French Revolution, and wilt so visibly that Thumper implores of them, "Don't despair!" They confuse Marat and Robespierre. Can we do the despairing for them? Audio round is from film versions of novels, and Magdalen's lead is 100-40.

When Magdalen do get their starters right, they do very well on the bonuses – six sets have all had two or three answered correctly. But four missignals are hurting them, and the fact that we've lost count of the number of dropped starters is hurting us. It's about this point that our eyebrows start to droop, and we start blowing the dust off the Lowest Scores Ever list, both individually and combined. We also remember that the winner is set to meet Birmingham, who scored 315 points last week. At the second visual round, 19th century Parisian painters, Magdalen leads 145-40.

Magdalen is asked about Ian McKellan playing a rampant heterosexual: they suggest Casanova, we shout Jason Donovan, the real answer is John Profumo. Liverpool won't get on the Under 50 list, just, but the sides are still to break 250 points with four minutes to play. Liverpool actually comes back rather well in the final few minutes, and spot the Hidden Antan Dec Lyric of the Week: a "sike" is a Geordie term for small streams that dry up in summer. Thumper is completely incorrect to disallow "unity" as an answer for which he required the number "one", but it's ten seconds from the end and it's not going to affect the result. Magdalen has won, 185-100.

"Can we have ten more minutes," ask Liverpool. For the sake of our eyelids, no. Emily Dixon was Liverpool's best buzzer, three starters; the side was 6/24 on the bonuses with two missignals. Jon Wright led for Magdalen, five starters. The side all got at least one starter, and made 20/33 bonuses, but seven (7!) missignals may tell its own story. And the show's aggregate? 30 less than Birmingham's score from last week.

Next match: SOAS v Exeter

This Week And Next

0898-ITV update: Antan Dec has offered the competition profits from the next series of Saturday Night Takeaway Your Money to charity. This is welcome news, not least because it confirms there will be a next series of Takeaway.

Fremantle, Talkback Thames, and Syco will all return some of their profits from the last two series of The X Factor. Apparently, the show is still going out on air, not that we noticed.

Readers will recall one of the earlier problems in 0898-gate, when Brainteaser took it upon themselves to make up winners to their contests. In their coverage, the BBC's news website used a picture of one of the last people to play on the show. He was, of course, completely unconnected to the scandal, as the BBC made clear in Grovelling Apology Of The Week. You see, if they'd only used a picture of Alex Lovely like the one on the left, none of this would have happened...

BARB ratings for the week to 14 October. The absence of X Factor meant that Strictly Come Dancing had the floor to itself, recording 8.5m on Saturday, 8.15m on Sunday. Antan Dec still took second – this was before the revelations of Takeaway's swindle – with 5.6m. HIGNFY came back on Friday with 5.4m, ahead of In It to Win It (5.2m). Question of Sport had a great lead-in from the England football match, scoring 4.75m, and Tuesday's Millionaire recorded 4.4m.

University Challenge (3.1m) beat QI (2.95m), both very good ratings for BBC2. The Restaurant picked up speed as the series drew to a conclusion, 2.5m saw this week's episodes. The darker evenings mean there's a rise across the board – 2.25m for Eggheads, 2.2m for Link, 2.05m for SCD It Takes Two, and Mastermind rises to 2m. Deal or No Deal also profits, becoming Channel 4's most-seen programme this week, on 2.4m.

Even though there was no new episode, Xtra Factor recorded 850,000 on Saturday night, and auditions highlights on Sunday registered 580,000. QI on BBC4 had 700,00. On More4, Come Dine With Me led with 350,000, Deal had 215,000. G2's last week had 175,000 seeing QI and 150,000 Dragons' Den. UK Gold's QI transmission pulled a mere 155,000, still ten thousand ahead of Dancing With the Stars. Challenge's top show was Tuesday's Ninja Warrior, 115,000.

Celebrity Scissorhands returns to BBC3 tonight, and there's a new series on BBC2; Food Poker (4.30 weekdays) is one of those shows with a title so cryptic that it gives no clue as to what happens. Channel 4 has a spoof of the Call And Lose sector in Swizzcall (11.50 tonight), and will be showing the First Ever Countdown and the 25th Birthday Special from 2.55 Friday. Between those is the first ever Treasure Hunt (More4, 11.05 Tuesday); afterwards is The Big Fat Anniversary Quiz (10pm Friday).

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