Weaver's Week 2013-12-15

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Here at the Week, we don't just review the most recent and up-to-date shows. We also delve back in game show history, looking at old programmes and seeing what impact they made on the genre, and on television in general. This week's piece of archivery was inspired by a throwaway remark made by Victoria Coren Mitchell a few weeks ago, and the filming of the pilot for a new edition.


Celebrity Squares

ATV 1976, LWT 1993, So TV 2003

Celebrity Squares is a noughts-and-crosses game, played with nine celebrities on the usual grid. The aim is to make a line of three noughts or crosses; getting five squares on the board is also a win. The fun comes from how the celebrities react to the questions.

Celebrity Squares

Our whistle-stop tour begins in 1976, with a three-minute clip taken from an ATV edition. There's a voiceover from the unmistakable Kenny Everett, talking about the secret square, and how the first contestant to win it could enjoy all the fun of the fair. A trip to a funfair, is that really tonight's star prize?

Given its name, Celebrity Squares requires celebrities; the line-up for this episode was Magnus Pyke (telly boffin), Patsy Rowlands (Carry On films), Terry Wogan (blank), Pat Coombs (comedic foil), Arthur Mullard (Yus, My Dear), John Conteh (sporting Superstar), Roy Hudd (comedian), John Inman (Are You Being Served), and Willie Rushton (satirist). The host was Bob Monkhouse. He describes the show as "television's equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition: tremendous fun to watch, agonising when you're in it."

Celebrity Squares Bob Monkhouse from the 1970s.

After the introduction – well, that's all we have, as the show then cuts to the end credits. We know the contestant playing Noughts won, we know she won £145. We know that the show had a subtitle "Bob and the Big Box Game", used in the end credits and spoken at least twice on screen. And we know that some of the questions were set by the audience at home, as Kenny reads out their names over the end credits. From other research, we reckon the UK version was a close recreation of The Hollywood Squares on NBC: the same board, same opening announcement about the mystery square, the same chord progression and opening music, even the same bouncy and fun typeface. Merrill and Heater kept close control of their programme.

Toot-toot! On to 1993, where we do have the luxury of a full episode. The line-up here is Gordon Kaye ('Allo 'Allo), Terry Alderton (comedian), Lisa Maxwell (The Laughter Show), Bradley Walsh (Only Joking), Harry Carpenter (boxing commentator), Richard Digance (comedian), Frank Bruno (boxing participant), Dennis Taylor (snooker star), Ellie Laine (another comedian). Bob Monkhouse is still the host. And we meet the contestants, a drama student from Hatfield and a policeman from Liverpool.

Celebrity Squares Bob Monkhouse from the 1990s.

"All of the questions have been written to get the best out of the celebrities," promises Bob. They'll be given a statement that has one of two possible answers, usually true or false. The player – it's always a lady playing O and a gentleman playing X – must say whether they agree with the celeb, or disagree. Right answer, square and a tenner is yours; wrong answer, no money, and the square will go to the opponent – unless that would give them the board, because people have got to earn their wins in this game. There's £50 for winning a board.

With the rules out of the way, we can settle down for eighteen minutes of increasingly frenetic comedy. When the celebrity players are first called, they have a bit of a banter with Bob, and perhaps a joke at the idea of the question. The first question is about an American who married a lot: did he marry 25 or 27 times? Gordon Kaye says it's 27, the contestant disagrees, but Gordon was right and the contender was wrong to disagree, so loses the square.

Even before he's entered the game, Bradley Walsh is rolling about with laughter and banging his desk. OK, he's young, he's not yet begun his career, we'll only be worried if, in two decades, he's incapable of asking questions about winter sports competitors. Terry Alderton gives his impression of Mick Jagger.

Celebrity Squares Some things never change.

In the second round, we get the Secret Square, a weekend for two in Venice. Bit of a trade-up from an evening at the funfair and a bag o'chips. It's Dennis Taylor who has the Secret Square, and is asked "who sang 'I get around'?" It's not Stephen Hendry in the bar, according to the Irish snooker player. After the break, the cash is doubled – £20 for a correct answer, £100 for the board.

Harry Carpenter hasn't entered the game so far: when he does, he tips Lennox Lewis for the top. A prescient call. The show ends with a speed round: one minute of questions, played for £40 per square and £200 for the board. By winning three of the four games, the drama student takes £540 and is entitled to play for one of the night's star prizes, a brand new car.

Celebrity Squares The star prizes are parked on set.

The final game is a category game. Between them, the studio audience has been polled for sports played with a ball. They've named 23 sports. The winner is to name nine of them, light up the entirely blank board, and she's got 30 seconds to complete the task. It's a round that creates its own tension: anyone can name football and tennis and golf and cricket, but can one remember other games, especially under studio pressure? And thirty seconds is not a long time. Having won the car, the contestant is invited to push her luck one more time, to select the car she wins.

And that's the show: light, fluffy, undemanding, raised a lot of chuckles, and – after quite some effort – someone's walked out with a brand new car and enough money to insure it for a year.

Celebrity Squares ran on ITV for four years during the 1970s, and again for four years during the 1990s. Both times, it ended when Bob Monkhouse left the company for the BBC. For some reason, the show has a hold on television commissioners, they think that getting ten excellent comedians in one programme is a surefire ratings winner. Channel 5 thought so in 2003, when they commissioned a pilot episode from Graham Norton's So Television company.

Celebrity Squares Tom Binns. Who? Read on.

With Bob Monkhouse unable to take part – illness would claim him by the end of the year – it was Tom Binns who fronted the programme. Tom who? A comedian and actor, Binns had already established a reputation as a crude comedian, having been fined for bad taste on the Xfm breakfast show. We've never been fans, and we don't mourn his exit to New Zealand.

Nevertheless, the panel reads like an entertainment Who's Who of 2003. Ed Byrne (comedian) (comedian), Brigitte Nielsen (actress and great Dane), Coolio (rapper), Anneka Rice (treasure hunter), Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins (from RI:SE), Phil Tufnell (jungle king), Tess Daly (T4 presenter), Richard Blackwood (MTV host), Joan Rivers (funniest woman in the world ever, according to the hyperbolic voiceover).

Celebrity Squares A great Celebrity Squares panel, but who has been on Celebrity Big Brother?

Binns promises a "slightly surreal" entertainment experience, and he delivers on his promise. Mel and Sue (bottom right) get into a shouting match with Brigitte Nielsen (top middle), Coolio is plugging his new album, Tom Binns uses the catchphrase "who would you like to play with", clearly showing that they're not going to pitch this at the Milkshake audience. All the questions are open questions – no this-or-that, open and suggestive questions like "in which Bond film would you find Pussy Galore?" It's a far cry from the 1970s, where contestants might be asked what Prometheus brought to the mortal world.

Played for points – rather than pounds – the show is colourful and lively, but we found it grew very tiresome very quickly. Mercifully, the copy we've got only contains the first part, we don't know how the end game worked, or if the end game worked, or indeed if there was any more than this eleven minutes.

Nor do we much care. Does the world really need yet another bunch of celebrities making jokes about bodily functions? Worst: does the world really need yet another bunch of unoriginal and trite jokes about bodily functions? We can see why Channel 5 passed on the idea: the innuendo was everywhere, and while it would have been OK for a one-off episode, the same shtick would have worn thin very quickly.

And there the story would have remained, a footnote from a chance comment, had there not been yet another pilot made last month. Warwick Davis was the host, we've no clue who the celebrities were, or which company was making the pilot, or who they wanted to show it to. Will there be a future chapter in the Celebrity Squares story? We'll have to see.

Spoiler Yes, there was a future chapter. We wrote it in September 2014.

Only Connect

Series 8, Match X: Oenophiles v Board Gamers

"The teams have been waiting for this moment for weeks," promises Victoria. Well, more like minutes, as the Board Gamers went straight from their elimination match to the dressing room, had a quick change of shirt, and came back here. One of the Oenophiles reckons he knew all of the world capitals by the age of five. Does he believe he's Richard Osman? Walls 398 and 399, and be aware this is the semi-final round, there's no shame in ending up pointless.

The Oenophiles begin with the music question. Something from the 60s, Pachabel's canon, the Smiths, and with time out, they're going for it. "All mention football managers"? Er, no. No lyric to the canon. Zadok the priest is the final clue; it is members of the Anglican clergy. "Vicar in a tutu" and "The dean and I". A good bonus for the Board Gamers is followed by some historical ideas: Laytons in India 1942, Hollywood in the Depression, Carnivorous walking plants. "Day of the ___" is a bit of a guess, and even the guesses count. 2-0 to the Board Gamers.

Pictures for the Oenophiles: blue shirt with Ireland written on it; green shirt, Romania; black shirt, Italy; and they're going for it. "Political movements named after shirts". Yeah, European fascist parties, ending with the brown shirts and a very quick edit to the next question. For the board gamers, H1N1 has a lot of discussion, before calling for Leeloo The Fifth Element, and with three seconds a buzz. "All recreated from a small amount of its original stuff". LSD and Frankenstein's monster the clues they didn't see: "escaped from a laboratory" is the link they had in mind. 2-2.

Back to the Oenophiles, with De Bono's thinking manager, and England Test cricketer, and they're going for caps, coloured caps. No. UN peacekeeper and Noddy are the last two clues: the Board Gamers pick up that it's blue hats for a bonus. On their own question, it's the Japanese tradition hanami, Lester Burnham dreams, Beauty and the Beast, and the British Legion Festival of Remembrance. Flowers, rose petals: ooh, just enough to get the point. Just; "falling petals" was the link on the card, "red flowers" came up as a plausible alternative. 4-2 to the Board Gamers.

We've reached Sequences, where the Oenophiles begin with "Passed on". Sorry to hear that, chaps. Oh, it's a clue, followed by "No more." "Ceased to be." It's not "Shuffled off this mortal coil", though it has. It's not "An ex-parrot", though it is. It's "expired, and gone to meet its maker." Dead Parrot sketch, as everyone spotted. And, for the benefit of children in primary school, there it is. For the Board Gamers, 5 cards is City, 4 cards is Settlement, and Hywel's got a lot to say for himself. Turns out to be card trading in Settlers of Catan, where 2 cards is Road. Glad someone knew that, we had no clue, though we understand that one of the Oenophiles knew it straight away and might have gone for five. The lead's 7-2.

Pictures for the Oenophiles: a Commodore 64, Katherine Hegel wearing a dress, a tape cartridge. They're going for a hard drive; nor is it the Gamers' offer of a spider with eight legs. The dress is from 27 Dresses, then an 8-track cassette, so it's decreasing cube numbers, ending with The One Show. In their own question, the Board Gamers have a calculator display: 90210 to 25 to 10 to 8 and then to 7. Segments in the previous number. Devious little question, earned with a second to play, and it's 9-2.

The Triwizard Tournament Selector. An Anti-Voldemort organisation. Yeah, it's a Harry Potter question, and that seems to be a hole in the Oenophiles' knowledge. Severus Snape is the third clue, and they guess "the Deathly Hallows" as a group. The Gamers know what the Hallows are: wand stone and cloak. It's the actual things in the titles of the books, and a bonus has gone. For their own question we have B: Farming profits, C: Public annuities, D: Profits from trade or profession. So what is part E of the tax code? E is salary and pay and that kind of thing. Which means the Board Gamers have a 12-2 lead.

Only Connect (2) Hywel Carver, Jamie Karran, Michael Wallace, nominally linked by board games.

Have the Board Gamers ridden their luck a bit this week? They might, and the wall hasn't been their strong point in the past. Jamie takes control of the board, and has spotted there's a group of awards that people don't want to win, and automatically put Darwin in there. There's also a group of things beginning with "El". Finally, the awards come out, and Darwin wasn't included. There are explorers in there. What they're too young to remember is the Falklands War, settlements made famous in that 1982 conflict. And they're not explorers, they're people called Gibbons. Three points!

For the Oenophiles, a lot of talking. An awful lot of talking. Very little of it is audible. Reckon there's a group of nicknames for tea, and four Reports Into the Actions of the British Government eventually come out. Too late, they spotted characters in Gone with the Wind. After the wall is resolved, the remaining groups are no problem: domestic servants and a nice hot cup of tea. Five points!

So the Board Gamers take a 15-7 lead into Missing Vowels. Scandinavian television series is the first group. How well do these teams watch BBC4? 3-0 to the Board Gamers. Merged singer-songwriters (as in George Michael Bublé) is theirs by 3-1. Concepts in mathematics is another 3-1 win. Works of Èdouard Manet is a point to the Oenophiles, but it's too little too late. The Board Gamers have won by 24-10.

"Start taking down the decorations", invites Victoria. It's the 9th of December. Some of us haven't put them up. The Unified Theory of Creep continue to be tested and not found wanting.

This Week And Next

The Celebrity Squares boxes to have been on Big Brother are Brigitte Nielsen, Coolio, and Sue Perkins.

It's inevitable that University Challenge would throw Manchester up against one of the Cambridge colleges. And so it happened in the sixth match of the second round; Queen's Cambridge were the chosen victims, having beaten Durham by twenty in the first round. Manchester overpowered Brasenose Oxford by 110. The defending champions picked up where they left off, racing to an 80-point lead by the first visual round. We wondered how the first question could have a reliable source, given that That Other Wiki is not a reliable source about anything, including its own linguistic code.

A lack of knowledge about cuts of meat might have detained Manchester, but they profited from knowledge of forgettable Labour politicians. We did eventually find a chink in the Mancunians' armour, failing to score on bonuses about the geometric mean. They also confuse Bette Midler with Diana Ross, somehow. Queen's staged something of a comeback after this audio snafu, but their bonus conversion was telling against them – barely 50% when Manchester were over 60%.

We noticed that the introductions this week were a bit short, and wondered if we might be heading for a tie-break. "No" proved to be the answer. By the second visual round, Manchester had extended their lead over 100 points, and it wasn't coming down at all. With Thumper going at a pedestrian pace, two more starters should suffice for Manchester. Two starters were promptly delivered, some bonuses taken, and that'll be game over. Manchester evidently believed that there are style points for winning by a huge margin, as they kept scoring to the end: 325-110, and a bonus conversion rate of 32/48.

Break the Safe Series one ...and?

Some slightly incredible new show news. The BBC has confirmed that it's making another series of Break the Safe, a show that stops being slightly interesting after the first round. And Channel 4 has told the world that it's making another series of Fifteen-to-One. This reverses C4's long-standing policy of never going back, never recommissioning a programme that has come to an end. Sandi Toksvig takes over the short-run daytime programme, Adam Hills hosts four more celebrity editions. Note that he'll have hosted more editions with famous faces in six months than William G. managed in sixteen years.

In old show news, Mastermind went out this week. The first round indulged in some binary scoring, with the totals after round one being 11-10-11-11.

  • Pamela Culley (Life and Novels of Elizabeth Gaskell) told us about the Cranford novels, editing the works of Charlotte Bronte, and other tales of Manchester. 10 (2) is something to build on, and going first in a flat start, Pamela needs to score like the clappers and hope the others don't catch her. Same tactic as last week; unlike last week, the questions are more reasonable for the first round, though one asks after Gyles Brandreth. A score of 23 (10), a silly jumper count of zero.
  • Gordon Stone (Philadelphia Soul of the 1970s) began with Gamble and Huff, including a lot about The Three Degrees, a mention for The Jackson Five, and many songs still heard and covered today. 11 (2) is a slight advantage, but the contender begins with a lot of passes. Then he gets a few right, though these correct answers were fewer and further between than he needed. 19 (8) won't be a winning score.
  • Jeffry Kaplow (German Expressionist Art) had a subject we really can't talk about, even after hearing the questions. All we know is that this all happened in the early part of the 20th century, and the Arnolds were involved. 11 (0) is going to increase, but not before we remember this actor's role on CBBC's Crisis Control a few years back. No, the one where children made the decisions and generally saved the day. In this round, the contender might need some help from trusted advisers, as he only moves slowly towards the goal, so slowly that he only makes it to 22 (0). Not enough.
  • Clive Dunning (Blackadder) is discussing the comedy series, which is another very good choice – about 24 episodes, all worth watching, all packed with detail. Doesn't make the two minutes in the chair any easier, though the contender made it appear so: 11 (0). His general knowledge round begins with the Seasonally-Adjusted Question about Christmas hits from The Right Rev Sir Cliff Richard. The question-setters claim that Nick Berry got his acting break on The Eastenders; we remember him as Second Rat in The Box of Delights. All of this serves only to obscure the fact that the contender passes the winning post with ease, 29 (0) is his final score.

Yes, Clive Dunning is the winner. And that's a very decent score, the general knowledge knocked off with ease, which should help him next time out.

BARB ratings for the week to 1 December, and something is badly wrong at The X Factor. This week's episodes attracted 7.3m (Saturday) and 6.85m (Sunday), many millions below where we'd expect the show to be at this time. I'm a Celeb had 9.25m on Monday, while Strictly had 11.4m (Sat) and 10.75m (Sun) for its episodes. Pointless Celebrities was seen by 4.9m, the daily Pointless by 4.6m, and HIGNFY by 4.55m.

The Chase With Celebrities (3.3m) was beaten by Masterchef The Professionals (3.75m) and by University Challenge (3.4m). Strictly on Two had 2.65m. We don't have data for Channel 4. No surprise that I'm a Celeb on ITV2 pulled in 970,000 viewers; no surprise that Only Connect is suffering from going up against Masterchef, with 945,000 seeing the show. Junior Bake Off finished third in the new channels list, a round half-million for the final; it's just 1000 ahead of a Celebrity Juice repeat on ITV2. Missing from ITV2's top ten is The Xtra Factor, squeezed out by I'm a Celeb.

Last chance to miss The X Factor this year (ITV, 7.30 Sun), it's finals week for Countdown (C4, 3.10 weekdays), and the final live edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (ITV, 9pm Thu). Mid-December also means Christmas is coming, with special editions of Sewing Bee (BBC2, 7.40 Sun) and Bake Off (BBC2, 8pm Tue), World's Strongest Man (C5, 7pm weekdays), and Christmas University Challenge (BBC2, 7.30 Fri and 7.05 Sat, different in Wales and NI). It's also ITV's annual Text Santa appeal (all day, Fri). Legend in Japan, stars of the Week's recent outside broadcast, are playing their final concert of the year, at the Islington pub on Tolpuddle Street this Friday night. It's a battle of the mediocre on Saturday as The Chuckle Brothers (Pointless, BBC1 5.40) go up against Des O'Connor (The Chase, ITV 5.30); Strictly Come Dancing reaches its final at 6.30.

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