Weaver's Week 2014-12-14

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Well, we've reached the end of term, and we're going to bring in some parlour games.

First, anyone for a round of top teatime entertainment Pointless?

If you plan to play Pointless this Christmas, good on you. For added realism, you'll want to abide by Pointless standards: be lovely to everyone, even Kelvin MacKenzie. For our first lesson, we look at what's excluded by this familiar definition —


Country: a sovereign state that is a member of the UN in its own right.

There are some other entities that might be regarded as countries, but don't meet the specific definition used by Osman and Armstrong. Well, by Richard Osman, that other bloke just stands around and says "Lovely" a lot.


So we exclude the Vatican City – a sovereign state, but not a member of the UN. Why? That would be an ecclesiastical matter. The Holy See has full observer status at the General Assembly, it doesn't vote or speak. Does that make it a member? Not according to the UN, and we would expect the UN to know UN members from unmembers.

Palestine has full observer status. The GA deems it a "non-member entity" with observer status. It's excluded by the same argument as the Vatican City.

Cook Islands and Niue are two other sovereign states, both represented in the General Assembly by New Zealand. That would be an economic matter – the country doesn't wish to pay the membership fees. Both states participate in some UN bodies in their own right. They present a more difficult edge case: the countries are members of the UN, but not members of the General Assembly. Richard doesn't take them, this column would.

By this, we're not asserting superior judgement over Richard Osman. Not in the slightest. We are, however, setting out the difference between our house rules and Richard's studio rules. Should Richard come round to our place to play Fabricated Pointless, we'll be surprised and gobsmacked. Our cousin will have the mistletoe out, and everyone's aware that we accept the Cook Islands and Niue as countries. When it's a match at the Osman and Armstrong gaff, Cook and Niue are out because Richard Rules. OK?

The various bits of Antarctica aren't sovereign states. And obviously, you'll need a list of British, American, French, and other overseas territories. They're wrong answers, being neither sovereign states nor members of the UN.

Pointless Even these two are confused by some disputes.

Disputed territories are disputed. The clue's in the name. None of these are allowed.

The Western Sahara saga has been dragging on since the 1970s. The United Nations believes in its right to determine its own future, Morocoo believes the area is part of Moroccan territory.

Kosovo, or Kosova, or Kosov@, is an area between Serbia and Albania. About a third of countries recognise Kosovo's independence from Serbia. It has never applied for UN membership, as Russia would likely veto the application.

Taiwan (formerly Formosa, formally the Republic of China) is also not a member of the UN in its own right. The People's Republic of China (capital: Beijing) reckons Taiwan is a rebellious part of their country. The Republic of China joined the UN when it was founded in 1945, and when the Republic ruled over the whole of China. A civil war in 1949 forced the Republic government to the isolated island, but it was recognised as the Chinese representative until 1971. The UN's position is that Taiwan is part of China (and not a sovereign state).

Eurovision Song Contest Trouble at t'Eurovision.

Some other bits of the globe have disputed claims to independence. Abkhazia (claimed by Georgia), Nagorno-Karabakh (claimed by Azerbaijan), Somalialand (dibbed by Somalia), South Ossetia (another claimed by Georgia), Transnistria (see Moldova), Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (oh, work it out for yourself). None of these are members of the UN in any way.

Former countries leave the UN when they cease to be countries: Yugoslavia (both the Socialist and non-socialist Federal Republics), Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Southern Yemen, the German Democratic Republic, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Federation of Malaya have all gone into the history books.

Old names are no longer accurate: Burma, Cameroun, Cape Verde, Central African Empire, Ceylon, Dahomey, Ivory Coast, Kampuchea, Khmer Republic, Malagasy, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Siam, Surinam, Upper Volta, Zaire. These are all wrong, unless you're asking for "names under which countries *joined* the UN". Which would be a fabulous round, and we already regret putting it out in public for Aunt Maude to find.

And then there are all the micronations, fictitious states, and pokey little islands that get covered up beneath a cake crumb. None of these are valid answers for "what is a country".

Pointless More from one of these later.

Good luck if you're being Richard Osman this year, and do remember to duck when going through doors.

Our next parlour game is a bit niche.

Making University Challenge A Bit Better

Those of you missing our detailed recaps of University Challenge should run to Jack's Online Writings, where there are well-researched and erudite pieces. They go beyond the scoreline (this week: Bristol 160, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 135).

While reviewing It's Academic last week, we were struck by the complete lack of cynicism. The host gives positive support to all teams equally, the show is designed for each to have their moment in the sun and for every competitor to get something right. When people give a wrong answer, it's acknowledged and corrected, and the show moves right on.

Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman says that he is over-awed by the knowledge of students in the studio. He has a very strange way of showing it. He sneers at some of the wrong answers, and he scoffs at people who know about non-academic subjects. After two decades in the job, we fear that the character of "Thumper" is going to follow him around for the rest of his tenure. Is it time for Paxman to step down, and let someone more gauche take the chair?

Over on Only Connect, the group phase slowly wanders on. It guarantees every team two matches, their trip to Cardiff is more worthwhile. The viewer might not much care about such behind-the-scenes trickery, except that it makes the teams more relaxed and they produce a better show.

For the viewer, the series has a clear progression: new teams, then elimination matches for the losers, qualification matches for the winners. Then come crossover matches, the knockout phase, and eventually One True Winner. At each stage, the questions get a little harder, the show gently gets more difficult as it nears a conclusion.

University Challenge also has a group stage. It involves teams we've seen at least twice before, and confuses elimination and qualification matches in the most complex way possible. At one point, last week's loser stays on, next week's loser stays on, this week's loser leaves. It doesn't make sense. Changing the broadcast order would help to make the show easier to follow.

This column's ideal for the UC tournament is this. 27 teams enter, drawn into nine groups of 3. Each group plays a three-game round robin, shown in consecutive weeks. The nine group champions go through to the quarter-finals, played as a straightforward knockout. It's 35 matches, and every match counts.

Gail Trimble, last woman to captain a winning side.

Jack's Online Writings also discusses the preponderance of men on UC teams. Quotidian sexism is a vicious circle: women have few role models in quiz teams, and they see abuse directed at the few women who put their heads over the parapet, so they don't play, and they don't get on to UC. The solution is to fix society as a whole, so that successful women aren't subjected to abuse. University quiz societies have a role in this: they can encourage women to participate, perhaps run additional events for less confident players.

Would a woman host help to inspire, or to allow teams to be more comfortable? We'll have to tangle with the Eye of Horus to shift Victoria from Only Connect, but someone similar would fit the bill. Might (for instance) Clare Balding be solid and enthusiastic enough to take over the host's chair? Or Julia Hartley-Brewer, Jo Good, Vanessa Feltz, Penny Smith ... A woman host would forever prevent University Challenge from being ten men in an echo chamber.

We don't ask the producers to fix a patriarchal society: Granada is capable of many good things, but this might be beyond their capabilities. What they can do is encourage role models. They can make it normal to see successful women. They can give examples of women succeeding. That's the best way to encourage other women.

We don't believe that the producers should interfere in team composition. Universities decide which students can best represent them, and it would be wholly wrong for the producers to assert that they know better. This column doesn't agree with any mandatory quota.

We do believe that the producers should make quality television. This isn't achieved when ten men go out to shout at each other. Where there's a choice to be made, the producers can give the benefit to the team including more women. A high-quality team of four men can still qualify, but a middling team would be squeezed out.

It is possible that the producers have followed similar reasoning, and reached the same conclusion, and already apply this policy.

You Can Help Save Christmas

The following is an entertainment, with only the flimsiest link to game shows. If you'd rather skip to the rest of the news, go right ahead.

Last week, we noted that there was no Puzzled Pint in London, something about it being impossible to get a room in a pub for less than a few thousand quid.

That's true. That's only part of the reason. Last weekend, the UK Gameshows pixies got a message from Puzzled Pint host Daniel Peake saying, "Suddenly out of the country. Please feed Tiddles."

Tiddles was fine: she'd already worked out how to use a can-opener and was sharpening a packet of wax crayons. But while we were passing Dan's desk, we noticed a letter...


On Dan's desk, there was a pile of twelve books, red spines with gold lettering. The photo didn't come out at all well, so we've re-typed the volume codes.


And there was another piece of paper, Joining Instructions.


We wondered, which department is Dan working in?

But there were more pressing questions, like how did Tiddles manages to get her litter tray all the way up there, supported by a dozen piles, each of ten plastic cups and paper plates?

We'll explain everything in the new year.

Need some hints?

This Week and Next

"Britain's Best Potter" is the latest project from Love Films. The winner is obvious to everyone already, he's got a theme park near London.

It's not just young Harry, we heard that the BBC wants a theme park. Yes, you could rub shoulders with The Eastenders, see the sonic device collection of Jenny Flynn, scoff cakes and tell funny jokes in the Mel and Sue Lunch Tent. Find the origin of Hacker T. Dog's jokes with the Horrible Histories crowd, or enjoy a night of pure relaxation in The One Show Hotel. If it all gets too much, recharge your batteries thanks to Stephen Fry and the Qi Elves.

People who can't get to London aren't left out, the BBC3 Think And Laugh (But Not At The Same Time) Experience will be available over the internet and won't be on site. And guests can Think *and* Laugh when they drop into Victoria's Arms for a quick gin 'n' tonic or twenty. Who's in there tonight?

Only Connect pitched the Linguists against the Galifreyans. The latter team kicked off with Mick Hucknell and Cliff Richard. Something for everyone to detest there; the link turned out to be celebrity wine-makers. The pictures aren't cricketers, but top men's sprinters – Alan Wells Cathedral, David Donovan Bailey, and Usain Door Bolt. The tones of Meat Loaf give away the "bat" connection, the Galifreyans gain a point and a ticking off from Mr. Loaf for dropping the space in his name. "U R N idiot," said the 1-point clue.

There's a bonus for the Galifreyans on shows that aren't allowed to have adverts: royal events, parliamentary programmes, short children's shows. Then the Galifreyans sound the Five Point Klaxon, and shout "Next". The answer they're offering is a call for the following clue, and it's right! Then "phhhhh – things that Michael Jackson has had to deal with." Which, to the surprise and bemusement of the Linguists, turns out to be the right answer! Subjects of the songs Ben, Thriller, Billie Jean, Black or White. It's 9-1 to the Galifreyans.

The shield of the Royal Arms is split across the current coins, and the shield can be built as a jigsaw. The Galifreyans spot this, and pick up two points. Victoria reckons her explanation was "the most boring in ten series." We wouldn't say that. There's two for the Linguists on the length of planetary days, which Victoria explains. Using fruit. And an unidentified flying Bourbon biscuit. This probably is the most incomprehensible thing on Only Connect ever.

Only Connect (2) A whole new meaning to bistromaths.

Greek letters beginning with English vowels gives two to the Galifreyans. Deep knowledge of the board game Risk is required for the next question, neither team knows that Asia is the largest continent, still less how many divisions it has. Galifreyans know their link is Radio 1 breakfast show hosts, but cannot remember Nick "Grimmy" Grimshaw. That goes for a bonus. The final set is on the 12 Days of Christmas. Which is valid to sing, we're past Advent Sunday, but it's a week early to have the Christmas idents out. After a low-scoring round, it's 4-13 to the Galifreyans.

Lots for the Linguists to do on the wall, where they get windows, and then try to solve the rest of the wall without pushing another button. This is difficult enough in the Rusty Old Radio Times, and not to be tried in the studio. As soon as they push a button, it all falls into place. Irregular past tenses, computers, and Sherlock Holmes characters. The setters wanted computers that had tried to win championships, not all were chess, so Seven Points!

Jack your body! The Galifreyans try to pick the four Jacks out from at least six possibilities, then spot there might be another. There might be inventors, or might not. There might be biscuits, or might not. They get a group, "I don't know what that was". Helpful. Time expires with just the one group, types of chair. The remaining groups: Poirot characters, chemists, and things to be drawn. The chemists were mistaken for inventors, so Four points!

Narrowed a bit, 17-11 into the Missing Vowels round. Things sharing a name with a BRIC country is 2-0 to the Linguists (but Victoria disallows a right answer from the Galifreyans when one player buzzes, gasps, and another answers). "Party leaders with one letter humorously changed" ends 2-0 to the Galifreyans, and EM Forster works a 1-1 draw. It's 20-14 to the Galifreyans at the end.

Some confusion on Mastermind this week, with lots of things requiring a little explanation. The winner scored the most points, and he's Rod Laver. Not the Australian tennis player, but a juggler. He went like the clappers on Marc Almond and Soft Cell, included a pass, and still scored 16 (1). Sixteen points on specialist! That's almost a winning score in some weeks! Even so, seven to win proved a steep target, only passing the winning post with one question to spare. 23 (7) the final score.

David Sutherland (CSS Alabama) answered on the Confederate steamship, not the web style instructions. He reached 11 (2), increasing to 22 (7) after the general knowledge round. Carys Logan (Life and Films of Cary Grant) answered on the movie actor, not the Fame Academy judge. She scored 9 (3), which rose to 19 (7). The round included a four-question pass spiral, it felt a whole lot longer while we watched it. Ewen McPherson (Masters of Rome novels by Colleen McCullough) passed over her better-known work The Thorn Birds. 7 (1) increased to 19 (3), and a good general knowledge is two-thirds of the battle on this show.

A matter arising: one question claimed that Luton was London's fourth airport. That'll be after Heathrow, Gatwick, City, Northolt, Stanstead, Boris Island, Lydd, and Oxford.

BARB ratings in the week to 30 November.

  1. Bit of a fall for Strictly Come Dancing, down to a "mere" 10.75m this week. I'm a Celeb peaked on Sunday, 8.55m saw the first ejection.
  2. The Apprentice continued on 7.05m, The X Factor trundled on with 6.95m. Pointless Celebrities had its biggest audience since the start of the year, 5.9m for the dancing special.
  3. Masterchef The Professionals pulled 3.45m, and The Chase (3.25m for celebs, 3.05m for civilians) was clearly ahead of University Challenge (2.9m). The Apprentice You're Fired brought 2.85m to BBC2, and Only Connect pushed up to 2.5m.
  4. There's a constituency for QI and for The Great Interior Design Challenge, both attracted 1.67m viewers this week.
  5. Coach Trip remained just above the million. 8 Out of 10 Cats and Out of Here Now (ITV2) were both around 910,000.

It's the week before Christmas, and things are moving to a conclusion. The X Factor finishes tonight (ITV, TV3), Counterpoint (Radio 4, Mon) and Countdown (C4, all week) have series finals, as does Fort Boyard (CITV, Weds).

There are special editions of Catchphrase (ITV, Sun) and Release the Hounds (ITV2, Thu), and the British and Irish Bake Off judges get shows of their own (BBC2, Tue; TV3, Wed).

We're also noting documentaries about darts (BBC4, Mon), a memory contest (Watch, Tue), and Saturday night telly (BBC4, Wed). And the comedy awards (C4, Wed).

New runs of Keep It in the Family (2) on Radio 4 Extra, bunged out here because the slot is being closed in the new year. And Channel 4 has something for those who find it hard to sleep: repeats of Face the Clock at 5am.

Next Saturday's got Pointless Celebrities Christmas (5.40), with Biggins, Pasquale, Ashleigh and Pudsey, but Ann Widdecombe. Celebrity Squares (ITV, 6pm) features Dame Sandi Toksvig, Bridget Christie, but Andi Peters. It's not opposite Bake Off, but it is opposite the Strictly Come Dancing final (6.30). If you must, Christmas University Challenge begins (BBC2, 8.35).

Photo credits: Initial Productions (an Endemol company), Granada TV, ITV Studios, santaclaus global enterprises incorporated ®©, Parasol. Thanks to Dan Peake for puzzle assistance, and Quiet Room for *SANTA*.

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