Weaver's Week 2013-09-29

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Could they not book Sally James and Nigel Rees?


Celebrity Fifteen-to-One

Channel 4, 20 September

Always at the cutting edge of everything hip and happening, Channel 4 had an 80s night last Friday. This set us reeling, because we had eighties nostalgia pegged to autumn 2003, and it's no longer autumn 2003. Is Channel 4 being ironically retro for ten years ago, by being sincerely retro for twenty years before that? Or has the channel completely missed the zeitgeist once more, as if it had launched in 1982 with the Wonderful War Years season, a history from the Boer and Boxer conflicts.

So, there was an edition of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown in which Wayne Carr wore a mullet wig for a moment. There was a chat show with Alan Carr featuring such 1980s luminaries as Jessie J; at the end of the decade, she was 21 months old. There was an utterly predictable programme about The Tube, a pop music show that tried not to be predictable. And there was the first new edition of Fifteen-to-One since autumn 2003.

Fifteen-to-One Who are you, and what are you doing in a photographer's developing room?

The show began with a comedy skit, in which Adam Hills was a huge fan of Fifteen-to-One. So much of a fan that he had huge clunking VHS cassettes sent through the post. So much of a fan that he took the throwaway comments of the host and tried to turn them into catchphrases. And so much of a fan that, when he heard about the programme being taken off air, he ripped the William G. Stewart poster off his bedroom wall. And then plotted to get the show back on television.

The plan begins with fifteen contemporary celebrities, most of them will be familiar to a Channel 4 primetime audience. Sprinter Colin Jackson, medic Dawn Harper, cleaner Kim Woodburn. Some of them are game show hosts already: key-holder Richard Bacon, Krishnan Guru-Murthy from Number One, Arlene Philips from the dance shows. There was the actor Stephen Mangan, the comedian Danny Wallace, Konnie Huq of the gold Blue Peter badge, and former cabinet minister Ulrika Jonsson.

Fifteen-to-One Bonus points for spotting the anachronisms.

The line-up also included chat show hosts Jonathan Ross and Eamonn Holmes, and we had to check that both were making their Celebrity Fifteen-to-One debuts. For this wasn't the first time fifteen celebrities had gathered in a semicircle to face difficult questions. Back in 1990, William G. Stewart invited some of his close personal friends from the world of showbiz to go through the inquizition. He repeated the effort in 1992, then promised that he'd never ever go through this hell again.

Back in William G.'s day, these celebrity editions weren't so much fifteen-to-one as fifteen-against-one; all the contestants united to help each other out, to make a good show, and to gently and subtly wind up the host in the hope of making him explode in a volcano of rage. Or, seeing as how it's quiz god William G. Stewart, in the hope of making him look sternly over his glasses and say "thank you" in a tone that meant "stop it". While we like to evaluate contemporary programmes on their own merits, anything made as part of a retro night openly invites comparisons with the past, and we'll refer to the history throughout.

With your host...Fifteen-to-One

For now, round one. Two questions, one right to survive, one life lost for an incorrect answer. Adam's delivery of questions was slow: almost every question was prefixed by the topic, as in "Your subject is castles. In which castle was Mary Queen of Scots executed?" The players were allowed a long time to give their answer, five or six seconds before they were timed out – Adam was using the throwaway line "Don't pass, I'll tell you if you're wrong" as a mantra. Correct answers were marked with a cheery ding, which is familiar; incorrect responses with an electronic sniffle, which wasn't.

For the hard-of-thinking, there were also coloured lights shining down on the player's head, turning green on a correct response, red on a failure. These aren't the iconic visual representation of Fifteen-to-One. No, that would be the massive neon strip lights in front of each player, the three green lines of success. Except this set didn't have three green neon tubes, it had piddly little LED displays about the size of the players' hands. It's no surprise that they changed the logo, taking out the three lines and replacing it with a representation of the semicircle.


We weren't impressed with the visual presentation, either. The concentric circles from the logo had been converted into photographer's parasols, and dotted about the side of the studio, obscuring a starfield backdrop. And the studio appeared to be huge, contestants stood behind these spindly little sticks, looking like they were miles away from each other. The original set made it look as though contestants stood at close quarters, almost shoulder-to-shoulder as they went into close-quarter combat. That was a quiz of swordfighting at less than arm's length, this was sniping from a great distance. In fairness, it could be that the semicircle was only a bit larger, and the other changes made it look massive.

Long questions, and long pauses for answers, meant that there was no pace, no urgency about proceedings. The show plodded along, taking breaks in unusual places (halfway through round one, in the middle of the middle round) and never quite getting into a good gear. Perhaps we could have predicted this from the opening music: Paul Maguire's familiar theme music had been slowed by Marc Sylvan and Richard Jacques, and only the elements of the main tune were kept: the variations going in and out of the break had been discarded.

Fifteen-to-One You could fit a motorway between these desks.

Adam tried to bring something to the table, attempting to make "Jimmy, it's lights out" a catchphrase when someone was eliminated, before a visual sting of their lights going out leaving the player in the dark. It's an effort, but it doesn't compare to the effortless brutality of the original. "No, Jimmy, it was Fotheringay. Alex, another number please?"

Fifteen-to-One As it had to be, it was twelve down, three to go.

The surviving players for this year's Fifteen-to-One final were Jo Brand, a diving critic; Fern Britton, a television presenter; and Alex Brooker, Adam Hills' partner in comedy. For the final, the one change to the rules: just 25 questions, rather than 40, and the first correct answer opens the Question or Nominate session. We never did understand why it took three questions on the buzzer to open up QoN.

Donations were made to charity on behalf of the two losers, and winner Jo Brand was allowed to play out the remainder of the questions, earning £1000 for each correct answer she gave. Prize money? Not a rare archaeological treasure, like an ancient Greek vase, an Egyptian stylus, or the Fifteen-to-One Quiz Book from 1989? That's modernity.

In truth, this wasn't a remake we'll remember with great fondness. A one-hour slot is too long for the game, there was too much filler, the programme didn't sparkle and crackle with energy. Yes, they could repeat the Barry Cryer rule that all fifteen players survive into round two, and with four going in the opening round, that might well have made a better show. (The Barry Cryer rule? Just one life away for each incorrect answer in round one, as used in the 1990 celeb special. The veteran comedian was the only one to miss both questions.)

The original Fifteen-to-One was described as the Rolls Royce of television game shows. This remake was more like Mark Vettel's motor racing car: looks swish and modern, but doesn't move as fast as we'd like and never quite sure it'll get to the end without stopping entirely.

Only Connect

Series 8, Match N: Lasletts v Pilots

So what links Fifteen-to-One, Mastermind, The Krypton Factor, and this programme? They're all described as television's toughest quiz. The Lasletts are a family team, Jake and Emma and father Chris. The Pilots are Simon Morgan, the unrelated Neil Morgan, and the still unrelated Paul Judge, and they're all airline pilots.

Round one, what's the connection. For the Pilots, dogs in 1871, Habeus Corpus in 1640, Trading with the Enemy in 1914, and Human Rights in 1998. "Acts passed in parliament". Yep, they could have had three points there, and as the dogs act has been repealed, all dogs are now illegal. For the Lasletts, it's countries and substances. In Italy, trifle is "zupper inglase", "crème anglais" is French, and so on for two points. Which makes it 2-1 to them.

Bucket, two onions, and has someone been reading this column's shopping list? Former name of Chennai, that's Madras, so name derivations of curries and two points on Paul's home subject foods of the world. Another normal question for the Lasletts is Jacques Cousteau's ship and the Fairy slipper, which turns out to be a flower, and Calypso. 4-3 to the Lasletts.

Special questions: the Pilots get pictures. Some woman, Spamela Hamderson from Bay Of Pigs Watch, a bloke with a moustache, and they're going for it. CJ: one from Reginald Perrin, Amanda Donahoe in LA Law, and two points. So to the music, which the Lasletts didn't want. Fratellis, something else, Marnie Nixon, and "Whistle while you work." The others were "Whistle for the choir", "Anyone can whistle", and "I whistle a happy tune." Might have had another point, but one is better than it going for a bonus, and it's 5-5.

Sequences is round two. The pilots kick off with the pictures, and it's maps: south Argentina, China and Mongolia, and they're already thinking Sahara, being the largest deserts (away from the poles). Grand for three points. And we learn that, yes, pilots do use maps, just to be sure where they are, and to remember to take the left turn at Albuquerque. We claim five on the next question: MP for Bath turns to Governor of Hong Kong, Commissioner for External Relations, and now Chris Patten is chair of the BBC Trust. He is not Home Secretary, he is going for a bonus. 9-5 to the Pilots, and 1000% sucking up from Victoria there.

Onwards! Foreman, Longman, so we're not in boxers. Perhaps something on a ship. Ringman might actually make it more confusing, and the answer's neither Ringmaster nor Midshipman. It's Littleman, being names for the fingers. No score. For the Lasletts, it's Walker and Lynch and Gilroy, so we're with Coronation Street landladies, culminating in the present incumbent. Whose name escapes the team. Pilots buy time by giving the connection, not the answer. Duckworth, as in Vera, is the name that they might have got to by last orders. Still 9-5.

From the Season of Light to the Season of Darkness and the Spring of hope. Does that lead to the Season of Mellow Fruitfulness? No, spits Victoria. This isn't a sonnet! It's not the Winter of Discontent, but of Despair; the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times in round one, the worst of times in round two. Now is the clue of 3: Michael Todd, 4: Eddie Fisher, so 6: Richard Burton, being the husbands of Elizabeth Taylor. Three points to the Lasletts there, closing the gap to 9-8.

Grief, play-along walls are back! 343 and 344 this week. The Lasletts kick off, and already they've got weather terms in French. And already they've got parts of a shirt. And within moments, they've got the other connections: US television detectives, and terms in snooker. In not tremendously more than ten seconds, Ten Points!

Pilots have their wall, which is tremendously easy. Things as easy as, 80s musical bands, mobile telephone companies, but what's that fourth link? Ooh, this is appealing, it's things to be peeled. They've had three parts of the final group ready for a good half-minute, discussing their answers. "Happy with that? All ready?" The captain presses the button, and gets the electronic honk. One peels an orange, not a giffgaff. Still, they got there in the end. Ten points!

All of which leaves the Pilots ahead by 19-18 going into Missing Vowels. Sporting knights and dames is good for the Lasletts, winning 2-1 to level the game. US states includes the minimalist clues "H" and "W", and is 3-1 to the Lasletts. We get just two from one-word compositions and their composer, both go to the Lasletts, who have a strong win of 25-21.

This Week And Next

Questions about this week's University Challenge: not just that Pembroke versus Somerville was the third Cambridge – Oxford battle of the young season, but that Pembroke were the sixth Cambridge side to appear in eleven episodes. We thought they were only entitled to send five teams. Somerville was an all-woman college until 1994; the show's one woman was on the Pembroke team. Honours were just about even in the opening stages, then slowly, gently, Somerville began to open up a lead.

The teams needed about one-and-a-half notes to recognise the opening theme to Chariots of Fire, then Somerville had a strange notion that the Vatican would approve of the gay-rights film Philadelphia. That, as our priestly advisor tells us, would be an ecumenical matter. Almost imperceptibly, the Somerville lead had reached a hundred points, and continued to grow from there. Pembroke helped by incurring a few missignals, those incorrect interruptions added up. Though Pembroke staged a brief comeback, a well-placed starter from Somerville was enough to stem the tide. Somerville's final winning score was 255-145.

University Challenge Pembroke Cambridge: Mark Nelson, Lucy Colwill, Harry McNeill Adams, Matthew Anketell.
Somerville Oxford: Hasheen Karbalai, Zack Vermeer, Michael Davies, Chris Beer.

It's Eurovision season! Big deal, it's always Eurovision season, how else do they distribute pictures of the news? It's also Eurovision Song Contest season, and the EBU has announced the rules for the 2014 competition. The names of the national jury will be announced a week before the contest, rather than during it. Everybody's marks will be published following the contest, both the national televoting and the juries appointed by the competing broadcasters. So, yes, we'll be able to see at once how Tony Blackburn has been so middle of the road he may as well be a white line. Contest supervisor Jon Ola Sand isn't saying that Ictami of Azerbaijan tried to buy votes this year, but the allegation won't go away, and he hopes this will help to dispel the myth.

We also think that the rules regarding tie-breaks have changed, preventing joint winners by giving the title to the song performed first on the night. But this only applies if (for example) YLE of Finland and France Networks each get absolutely equal records, say 18 votes of 12 points and 18 votes of 10. More chance of a bear becoming Pope.

"Worst quiz ever! But the best one as well" – Al Shields

That Ewan Spence, he gets everywhere. Not only does he host the really very listenable ESC Insight podcast, a fortnightly dabble into the world of EBU competitions, but he also has a show on the wireless in Edinburgh. There, he invites comedians to give incorrect answers to either-or questions, in the hope of getting Twenty Questions Wrong. It's a slightly cut down version of Dan and Nick's Twenty-One Questions Wrong, as heard on the Fifty 50 podcast {3}. Which is better? There's only one way to find out!

From twenty-or-so questions wrong to twenty-or-so questions right, on yet another of Television's Toughest Quizzes, Mastermind.

  • Andrew Spooner (Life and Work of Eadweard Muybridge) fell over one of the ludicrously long questions that bedevil this series, had a pass or two, and finished on 9 (3). The contender went through that invidious position of can't win, can look a plonker on telly, and avoids that fate by finishing on 19 (6).
  • Ron Wood (The Byrds), with an occupation of "Clergyman", completed his caption in fewer letters than two of tonight's other specialist subjects. This brevity extended to his thinking time, with correct answers until the closing moments. 13 (0). The second phase continues in this calm, unruffled manner, the contender piles on a pass and many correct answers to finish on 28 (3).
  • Paul Philpot (Life and Career of Sebastian Coe) started at the B of the bang, and went at a steady pace throughout. Go, go, Coe, 14 and 0 and oh. There might be a little more speed to this contender's responses, firing out responses where Rev. Wood was still thinking. The final answer is incorrect, but there are no passes, and 28 (0) is enough for the lead.
  • Carol O'Byrne (Violette Szabo GC) took the spy who worked for the UK during the Second World War, a little discussion in the contender's answers brought another perfect round, 14 (0). All too often, we see contenders score excellently in their specialist round, and then fall apart in the general knowledge phase. This fate doesn't befall Carol O'Byrne, though we were worried for thirty seconds in the middle of her round – a run of errors and passes, and a generous acceptance of "Alonquin" for "Algonquin" means she finishes on 27 (2). But for that stutter, she might easily have won the match.

As it is, Paul Philpot is certain to progress to the next phase. We expect to see Ron Wood there, the cut-off usually falls around 27 points. If third-place contenders are allowed, then Carol O'Byrne is in with a good shout.

BARB ratings for the week to 15 September. Most shows are down a bit this week – The X Factor falls to 8.85m, The Great British Bake Off drops to 6.8m, and Through the Keyhole (4.25m) slips less than Pointless Celebrities (4.05m). Celebrity Big Brother finished with 2.45m, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown did 1.9m, Celebrity Super Spa began with 1.3m, and a Bake Off repeat (1.55m) proved more popular the new Mock the Week (1.45m).

ITV2 swept the board on the digital channels, with 1.3m for Celebrity Juice on Thursday, 725,000 on Saturday, and 875,000 for Xtra Factor. The Satellite Channel's A League of Their Own recorded 705,000. Lower down, we note that the 1978 Top of the Pops reruns are pulling 405,000 on BBC4, only slightly behind Swashbuckle on Cbeebies and within range of QI XL on Dave and Come Dine on More4.

This week, we've new runs of Four in a Bed (C4, 5pm) and Come Dine with Me (C4, 5.30). Two contemporary comedy shows go head-to-head at the end of the week, when Have I Got News for You butts up against 8 Out of 10 Cats (BBC1 and C4, 9pm Fri). Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, 5.30 Sat) has West End stars (and maybe the biggest audience of R Ben's career), and opposite Strictly (6.20) is The Chase With Celebrities (ITV, 7pm) including Jon Culshaw. X Factor reaches judges' houses at 8.

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