Weaver's Week 2013-10-06

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We were going to review Through the Keyhole with Keith Lemon this week. We found it to be missile television: whenever we watched it, we wanted to throw our set through the window. So, in its place, a review we can write without having the glaziers on speed-dial.

Roland's Rat Race


Roland's Rat Race

BBC1, 1989

This review is mostly from the episode shown on 25 March 1989.

One famous snout missing from Channel 4's Eighties Night was Roland Rat. Along with his right-hand man Dave Claridge, Mr. Rat turned TV-AM into a station worth watching, and then into a station that everyone watched. At the height of his fame, Mr. Rat defected to the BBC. There, he helped Peter Duncan create havoc in the Blue Peter kitchen, and launched BBC Three over Easter 1986. A primetime sketch-and-chat show series followed, the obvious and logical lead-in to Doctor Who.

File:Rat Roland.jpg Let's meet the star of the show.

Unfortunately for Roland and his rodent menagerie, fashion proved to be more fickle than usual. By 1988, rats were falling out of fashion, and it was all about the gophers. Gordon T. Gopher had his own Saturday morning squeak-show, a sitcom, and cuddly Gordon toys were the must-have gift.

What's a rat to do when faced with this challenge? Work harder, turn up earlier, drive the Ratmobile faster, get in there before the gopher. Roland put forward a quiz, featuring teams of three children. Five heats, the four highest scores progress to the knock-out semi-finals. It's a format they'll nick on contests for grown-ups using the University Challenge format.

This is the final heat, and we know that Carmarthen are safe for the next phase. Plymouth and Saffron Walden are tied for second, and the 215 miles of Newcastle and Leeds is the target for today's teams. Scores are shown by Stanley, one of the resident humans who followed Roland about; usually, he was the caretaker. Quite why he's dressed "like one of Sigue Sigue Sputnik {1}" is not fully explored.

Roland's Rat Race Stanley, what are you wearing?

Kevin the Gerbil introduces the team from Sheffield: Scott Atkinson, Cassandra Hargreaves, and Wayne Bates. Well, the team from Highfields Junior School in Barnsley, according to the Radio Times, but this detail wasn't given on air. With the mob from Milton Keynes is Reggie. We don't recall what species of rodent Reggie was, only that he made a raspberry noise after every sentence. We do like him, as he was an astute game show critic of the era. "Double Dare! Rubbish!" {2} "Bullseye! Rubbish!" {3} The team from Fulbrook Middle School in Woburn Sands are Jane Hargreaves, Sarah Doyle, and Michael Steer.

Round one is general knowledge, for the first on each team, the "Know-Alls". The round begins with Roland calling "To your cars – go!" At this, the players leave their place on the pit wall, run to their motor-racing cars, jump in, and press the buzzer. There's a five-mile bonus for the first player to do this, proving that knowledge is nothing without some athletic ability. And, because this will happen for three contestants, there's no chance of a tie, and no need for a tie-break. Naturally designing a game that cannot be drawn. Brilliant!

Roland's Rat Race Contestants race to their cars.

The first round proper is ten questions on the buzzer. Ten miles awarded for each correct answer, an error kills the question without either side scoring but without any other penalty. The questions are perhaps a little easy for a bunch of ten-year-olds (samples: what is the capital of Spain? Identify the theme from Top of the Pops {4}) and each gets four correct.

Round two is for the second contender, the pop music lap for the pop fans. It may be the distance, but we think these were a bit more tricky – who knew about Climie Fisher then, never mind now? Roland's Rat Race was also a proving ground for future Pointless questions {5}, as one question asked the players to complete the lyric, "Never gonna give you up, never gonna ..?" {6}. Sound cues, such as that one, are made by Errol playing a tape from his Walk-Hamster. This round is completely owned by Sarah for Milton Keynes, she takes nine questions to Cassandra's one.

Roland's Rat Race The contenders wore badges with their position - here, "Rat Fan".

We're just about eight minutes into the programme, and already two of the three players have done their solo round. How will round three slow down the pace? The Rat Fans take part in an observation round, based on "Dial R for Rat", a short feature in which Roland Rat plays Sherlock Holmes, Kevin the Gerbil plays Watson, and other parts are played by members of the gang. Each player gets a clip, and six questions about it, including one based on the back stories assigned to the characters. For instance, as a showbiz legend, Mr. Rat doesn't drink tea, he quaffs champagne.

This very neatly fills six minutes of the programme, and keeps viewers coming back for all the episodes, because the instalments tell a complete story {7}. We have time for The Last Lap. One minute of quick-fur (and quick-fire) questions per team. By starting with the Rat Fan, and going down the line, it means that the Know All will face the fewest questions. Gives a bit of variability and unpredictability to the scores. Gives viewers at home more chance to beat the panel, especially when young Wayne thinks there are 25 letters in the alphabet.

Roland's Rat Race The successful Milton Keynes side.

Just enough time to get the final result from the wierdo at the scoreboard, just enough time to confirm that Milton Keynes' 290 miles puts them top of the scoreboard (and, if we remember correctly, they'll go on to win the series). Just enough time to hand out laurel wreaths and bottles of pop to the winners, and smaller prizes to the losers. And just enough time for Roland to invent a catchphrase for later years: "Stanley, you're fired!". He'll be replaced by Nicholas Parsons. Nicholas Parsons! This rat may not be in the prime of his career, but he can still pull in some showbiz legends.

And that's the show. It was an amiable piece of work, entertaining while it lasted, forgotten very shortly afterwards. Sadly, it was Mr. Rat's final engagement with the BBC, he left to pursue a career in Hollywood, from where he filed reports for Channel 5 in the late 1990s. Nicholas Parsons, being the modest gentleman that he is, tends not to talk about the time he starred alongside this other living legend. Viewers went on to watch Gordon's show, with T'Pau and the final of the Going Live Young Entertainer of the Year competition. {8}

{1} A band of the era, better known for flamboyant dress than unimpressive industrial punk records. The leading website about this band describes them as "der Neon-Pop hatte seinen Zenith soweit überschritten, eine riseige Hubba-Bubba-Kaugummiblase und gab die haarsträubendste Combo." We couldn't have put it better ourselves.

{2} UK adaptation of the Nickelodeon show, famed for host Peter Simon falling over at every opportunity.

{3} Long-running darts-and-questions programme, held together by Jim Bowen and a lot of sticky-tape.

{4} A weekly programme playing the latest hits by Kylie, Jason, Bros, Madonna, and The Reynolds Girls.

{5} See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SzsM7BCbkQ

{6} Let you down.

{7} It's a narrative device The Krypton Factor would pilfer in the coming years. Does this make Gordon Burns less of a legend than Roland Rat? Ooh, difficult.

{8} Other highlights of the weekend included the University Challenge Boat Race, Trick or Treat with Mike Smith and The Joan Collins Fan Club, and An Audience With Victoria Wood. There's 35 minutes of highlights from the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday at 9.10, and the specialist subjects on Mastermind are Dorothy Wordsworth, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Roman Cheltenham, and communism in Eastern Europe since 1935. And amongst the guests on You Bet! were Nicholas Parsons. Slumming it with has-beens!

Only Connect

Series 8, Match O: Globetrotters v Board Gamers

Walls 348 and 349 lie in wait. We meet three people who like to travel the world – Michael Reeve, Suda Perera, and Chris Clough. And we meet three people who like to play with dice and pawns – Hywel Carver, Michael Wallace, and Jamie Karran. Yes, that's Jamie Karran, winner of the Best Dressed Contestant in 2011, and he's still wearing his headband.

The Boardgamers kick off with the music question, one for a badman. Scarlet Fantastic, something we don't recognise, Rose Royce from TOTP '78, and Pink. "All related by colour" is just about good enough for our far too lenient host. The second one was Ruby Turner, so it's Red 'n' Pink. Büsingen Switzerland and Monaco France and Berwick Scotland and Swansea England is a suitable question for the Globetrotters. "The city used to be in the country." "How did Swansea get to England?" asks the host. It turned up at the station and bought a ticket like everyone else. The discussion runs on, to "What is Wales, really?" This is a valid question, and doubtless BBC4's new editor can commission a series of talks on such deep philosophical questions. But not now! Football clubs playing over the border is the answer Suda got about ten minutes too late. 1-0 to the Board Gamers.

Let's fly away on a jet-propelled unicycle. And (flicks through ACME catalogue) some dehydrated boulders, invisible paint, and iron bird seed. "All things of the Order of the Chocolate Teapot." No, but a lovely idea. It proves the new month is completely useless. These are, of course, products used by ACME's greatest customer, Mr. Wile E. Coyote. Do we have a picture to illustrate this?

Another fine product by ACME.

Ahem. 1968 Black Power athletes, Curley in "Of Mice and Men", Freddy Krueger, and that's enough. All wore one glove, good for two points, and the Globetrotters lead 2-1.

The World: 1804. The Facebook: 2012. Africa: 2009. China: 1982. "Stock exchanges." No. The year they passed one billion people, good for a Globetrotter bonus. Pictures on their own go: a woman in black-and-white, a tattooed singer, someone at the BET awards, and Prince Naseem. "All have titles they don't hold" – Lady Bird Johnson, Professor Green, Queen Latifah. 4-1 to the Globetrotters.

To Sequences, and what comes fourth in 4: Parade's End, 5: Forsyte Saga, they're going for it. 7: Harry Potter, being a literary series of seven books. Also A la recherche du temps perdu, also Chronicles of Narnia. Three points. We can't explain "How now brown cow", let alone spot it as quickly as the Globetrotters did, but they scored three points as well. 7-4.

Graphs of mathematical functions for the Board Gamers, and they get that the sequence converges to y=x and three points. Flight and Shaft is not followed by Head, nor Warhead, but it's Point, as in sections of a dart. The Globetrotters thought it was an arrow, and we're level at 7-7.

Back to the Board Gamers, who have Adenine, and a very very long think. They're going for it! Sound the Five Point Klaxon! Thymine or Uracil is the answer, bases of DNA in alphabetical order. Good for five points! Good grief! For the Globetrotters, someone in a courtroom scene, an England cricketer, a vinyl record. It's a Justice of the Peace, Kevin Pietersen, a Long-Playing record, and Alistair Darling. Board Gamers now lead it, 12-9.

To the Walls, where the Globetrotters begin with songs recorded by the Beautiful South, and cars made by the Ford company. There are also makers of board games (!), and types of bikini waxing. Took a few guesses to get going, the team completely missed the diversionary tactic of smutty magazines, and the grid quickly came out. Ten points!

The Board Gamers kick off with Bands They're Showing on Top Of The Pops 78 (most Thursdays at 7.30 on this channel), but they don't come out. Then they try types of helicopter. Might there be a group of Anne or Annie? Nothing's coming out for them, and Jamie is banging the buttons as though he was going to get Pokemon red 'n' pink from a new high score. We're also getting news correspondents, the team are getting buried underneath the wall. But when time expires, disaster. No groups found. The groups include former BBC political editors, like John Cole in a herringbone coat. Helicopters, types of jar, and those UK punk / new wave bands. Four points!

So the Globetrotters have taken their lead back, 19-16. Missing Vowels begins with Irish novelists, that's 3-1 to the Board Gamers. Ranks in the British forces gives the Board Gamers a brief lead before ending 2-2. Phrases used in letting adverts gives the Board Gamers a stronger lead, ending 4-(-1). Just one sweet or savoury biscuit, that goes to the Board Gamers, and they've won by 26-21.

The Board Gamers are on the fast track to a million, the Globetrotters are taking the scenic route.

Countdown Update

We were pleased to find that Countdown has a new celebrity fan: pop popstrel Miley Cyrus caught up with the letters-and-numbers game while in the country recently, and thinks it's the best thing on telly. Such a well-adjusted and sensible young person.

Surely she was impressed by Jen Steadman; to the surprise of nobody, Jen completed her eight wins with eight centuries, seven super-centuries of 110 points or more, and a total of 952 points. She's number two seed. That's how good Countdown is these days. But there is room for other people as well, like Natalie Corriette; she appeared on The Brittas Empire at six weeks of age, and won two games of Countdown with a total of 225 points.

Alex Fish was another octochamp, three centuries in his total of 798 points, and a very stable performance. We didn't really get to see how he fared under pressure from a good challenger. Ritch Greenwood won two games, (208 pts), before losing to Callum Todd. The match between the pair was scrappy, but Callum has gone on to improve in every episode since. His last three wins have all been with a century score, and octochamp status beckons on Tuesday.

The top eight seeds are:

Dylan Taylor8 wins974 pts
Jen Steadman8952
Glen Webb8945
Alex Fish8798
Gemma Church6602
Callum Todd6so far
June Glasspell5491
Zarte Siempre4542

There are very few more days of racing left to interrupt the schedule, and the last update before finals week should be published on 17 November.

This Week And Next

Match twelve on University Challenge and, as they were in this heat last year, Exeter were on the bottom row. Above them this time were Cardiff; UCL last year did rather well. Exeter's mascot was named after their current Chancellor, Floella Benjamin, one of many unexpected people to be heard on the Liberal Democrat conference platform last month (Lauren Laverne was through her singing career.)

Onwards! Exeter suggested that Alec Douglas-Home was a denizen of Ormskirk, and went on to propose that there's a Greek letter Cairo. Whatever would VCM say? "Wake me up when this show ends," probably: the first eight starters yielded three correct answers and one missignal; just two of the resulting nine bonuses were answered correctly. The teams weren't even nuts, missing a question about literary characters named after them. They couldn't even see a definition of the Invisible Pink Unicorn when it's in front of them.

(Er, that's because it's invisible.) Nuts did come up in a later bonus, and Exeter did get that correct. The game continued, more miss than hit, everyone managed to get at least one starter, and the match wasn't secure until the last few minutes. That's more because the teams were weak on the buzzer than anything. Cardiff won by 145-95, a fair reflection of the result. "It's not a very high score, but it's good enough." A fair reflection of the result. Eleven dropped starters, Exeter had nine bonuses right.

University Challenge Cardiff: Eleri Evans, Sarah Caputo, Roderick Lawford, Tom Parry-Jones

Exeter: Tom Nelson, Finn Sharpe, John Earle, Martin Gentile

The X Factor has announced its new scoring system. It really is terribly simple, because ITV2 viewers have got to understand it. Heck, people watching the ITV2 repeat after midnight have got to understand it, and they'll have had their brains beaten out of them by Gary Lineker on Match of the Day. So, here's Dermot O'Leary's explanation.

During the Saturday night live show, there will be a ten-minute First Active Voting Window. The act receiving the fewest valid votes during that First Active Voting Window will go straight through to the Sunday elimination window. They'll be joined in the Sunday elimination window by the act finishing bottom in the Second Active Voting Window, which begins immediately after the announcement of the result from the First Active Voting Window and ends as announced during the Sunday live broadcast. In the event that the contestants cannot determine which act to eliminate in the Sunday elimination window, the result of the First Active Voting Window will take precedence. It will not be possible for viewers to vote in any window for Cher to be eliminated, as she's not an active contestant but a hired interval act, performing in the window between the Second Active Voting Window and the Sunday elimination window.

This year, The X Factor is sponsored by Microsoft Office 365.

Mastermind had a heat this week. We saw the contestants in the same rotation twice.

Bel Freedman (Eddie Chapman) scored 10 (3) on the criminal-turned-war-spy. Sounds like an entertaining character, training pigs and pretending to be Norwegian. Glad he could affjord it. Second time around, she remembers how Drake discovered San Francisco, how helium got its name, and that song by Bryan Adams. The final score is a very honourable 23 (4). On another day, this could be a winning performance.

Peter Russell (Portsmouth FC) had questions about the cup-winners of 1939 and 2008, about top-scorers Guy Whittingham and Ron Saunders, and about a lucky pair of spats. Nothing about the women's side, they play in the Premier League, far above the blokes. 11 (0) is advanced by the European Single Currency, clam chowder, and has consecutive questions about Nigel Farage and Huckleberry Hound. The correct answers keep coming, the rhythm is rarely broken, the final score is a stonking 27 (2).

Steven Broomfield (Battle of Balaklava) talked about the Four Horsemen of Calamity, Ronald the horse, a brief appearance by Lord Lucan, and the poem of Tennyson, securing a perfect 14 (0). He gets questions about Rupert Murdoch, Spithead, Renoir, and quite resolutely does not pass. Lloyds and mercury and the quagga, but there was a pass in there, it may prove to hurt him. Maybe not. 30 (1)! Steven Broomfield will be back.

Michael McPartland (Father Ted) brings us to our Apology of the Week. We incorrectly suggested last week that questions a priest didn't want to answer would be an "ecclesiastical matter". It is, of course, an "ecumenical matter". We will have to listen to "My Lovely Horse" some more. It's not as good as this perfect round, 15 (0). "To be, or not to be", who said it? A bit of an easy question. Billie-Jo Armstrong's band? Ask us not such trivia! There's a slight pause in the middle, but Frankl and Carlisle and Charlie Brooker quickly get him back on track. As long as he didn't pass the final question, the contender was certain of winning the game. "Snowdrop" was the wrong answer, a final of 30 (0).

So Michael McPartland wins, by virtue of having zero passes. He'll be back as a heat winner.

Ratings in the week to 22 September. The X Factor topped with 9.15m, there were 6.95m for The Great British Bake Off, and 4.45m for Bruce Forsyth's biography. Through the Keyhole pulled 3.95m, and well over three million saw Big Star's Little Star and Stepping Out. University Challenge pulled 2.8m, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown took a year's-best 2.55m, a similar score to The Chase – the first time since the summer that Bradley and co have been in ITV's top thirty. Big Fat Quiz of the 80s scored 1.9m, and Celebrity Fifteen-to-One had 1.65m viewers. Celebrity Super-Spa on Channel 5? 970,000 viewers. Well missed, everyone.

By comparison, Celebrity Juice had 1.42m on ITV2. Xtra Factor had 800,000, and A League Of Their Own Series 7 scored 670,000. There was 435,000 for Swashbuckle on Cbeebies, 365,000 for New Would I Lie to You on Dave, and 215,000 for Masterchef Australia on Watch.

Next week, Channel 4 asks Was It Something I Said? (10.05 Sun), and we're back with Beat the Ancestors (C5, 7pm Mon). Comedians – including Simon Greenall – on Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, 5.40 Saturday), with Strictly Come Dancing running 6.30 to 8.30. Anton du Beke leads the charge on The Chase With Celebrities (ITV, 7pm), X-Fac's live show goes from 8 till 10.15, and the theme is 1980s music. Errol, the tape!

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