Weaver's Week 2022-02-13

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This column sketches out and loosely plans what we want to write about, in amongst the more unpredictable stuff like obituaries and poached bakeries and smashed Icelandic quizzes. One entry on our list is "Americano songfestivalen", NBC's attempt at re-creating Melodifestivalen. We were going to review the series in late April, after it had finished. Except that NBC have had to postpone the show, and it's now due to finish the night before the Senior Eurovision semi-finals.

So, in its place, a show we've never managed to review in full before. It's how an anglophone broadcaster selects their song for Eurovision. It's got all the local clichés, and an interesting result, and a song we can get behind.


Eurosong '22

RTÉ1, 4 February

Our show begins with a montage of almost every Eurovision Song Contest opening from the past 70 years. Then there are some famous faces: ABBA, Johnny Logan, Dana Domestic, Dana International, Céline Dion, Netta,

Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington.

And some of the most famous hosts: Katie Boyle, Fionnula Sweeney, Ronan Keating, Terry Wogan; sadly not Christopher Price.

Ryan Tubridy is our host. Looks like Father Dougal, says his surname "TUBB-ar-dee", and is as sharp as a well-cut axe. Over 300 songs were entered, they were filtered to a longlist of 40, then to a shortlist of 10, and now the final 6.

Ryan Tubridy, the host with the pocket square.

We start by meeting the International Jury. Ekaterina is the head of delegation for C1R/RTR, "Russia" on the big night. Literally no expense has been spent on the background, a wrinkled grey bedsheet in desperate need of a smoothing iron. Jan is from CT, "Czechia" when it counts. And we've got Hulda from Daði Freyr, last year's entry from RÚV ("Iceland").

And we meet the studio jury: Caroline Corr from The Corrs, Paul Harrington the rock 'n' roll kid, Lucia Evans from You're a Star, and Bláthnaid Treacy from RTÉ's pop station 2FM. There's a chat with each of the panel, about their memories of the contest, and how important it is to get the right choice.

The domestic jury. From left: Bláthnaid, Lucia, Paul, Caroline.

And we go to the green room, where Marty Whelan has come in. He's going to talk with each of the performers, put them at their ease and learn a little more about the contender.

Thirteen minutes into the show, and we finally get under way. Remember, many historic Eurovision finals were quicker off the mark than that.

Marty Whelan in the green room.

"One night, one kiss, one promise" – performed by Patrick O'Sullivan

Winner of Last Singer Standing on RTÉ last autumn, with a song co-written by Nicky Byrne. It's a mid-tempo song, pulsing beat and blue-pink lights.

Patrick is sitting on a medium-sized bed, intoning the words with a clear Irish accent. As Patrick rises from the bed, a couple of dancers slouch into view, and perform a contemporary dance routine around and on top of the bed. We get a close-up of Patrick as he delivers the title line, but much of the performance asks us to concentrate on the dancers.

Patrick O'Sullivan had a viable song, unhelpful staging.

And that's a bit of a problem. RTÉ doesn't have the budget for a wow-factor staging – we're not going to get CGI holograms or massive climbing walls. RTÉ has to sell the song, provide something that will add visual impetus to what we're hearing. They hit gold a few years ago with the lads on the bridge; this performance tries to reach the same idea, but comes up very short. Are we watching a modern dance performance, or are we hearing the best pop song in Europe?

"One night, one kiss, one promise" is a good song. It's got a great hook, we remember the title line later on. Patrick is a tremendous singer, stands still while all the action takes place around him – and the staging plays to that strength. If it goes through, it wouldn't disgrace RTÉ, but we reckon they can do better.

"Ashes of yesterday" – performed by Janet Grogan

Another veteran of Last Singer Standing, Janet has also been on The X Factor. Like all contenders, she's introduced by a factual voiceover by Larry Gogan, while we see her strumming a guitar around the RTÉ campfire.

Janet Grogan: went well in the studio.

"We're lighting a fire in ashes of yesterday", the hook line. We're interested by the opening verse, which feels like it could go into the very successful minor key ballad territory. But no, it's a gospel-tinged major key song, the sort of thing that flops harder than this column diving into a swimming pool. Four backing singers, and some backing video effects of fire.

Ryan points out one of Janet's posse in the audience, who apparently was the one and only person standing up while his lass sang. We agree with Bláthnaid's critique: Janet has an interesting gravelly voice, and the emotions are clear. But we know from experience that Europe rejects average songs in this genre: for every "Nobody but you" there's two unsuccessful songs by John Lundvik. If the televote picks "Ashes of yesterday", it also needs to book return flights on Friday morning.

"Real love" – performed by Brendan Murray

He's been at the big show before, "Dying to try" failed to get out of the 2017 semi-final. Brendan's easy on the eyes, with a good vocal range – there's a lovely falsetto in the chorus.

Staged with a small backing band in the shadows, the video screens show a full moon in the purple-teal colours. There's a jury note at the end of the song. Does this have any reason for the viewer at home to tap on their app? There's a mournful quality, the slight minor key undertone allows people to make a deep connection. Brendan's stage presence is really good, fights shy of the camera's gaze like he isn't quite ready to look down its lens.

Brendan Murray: hides behind the mike.

Cards on the table: this column doesn't much like "Real love" as a song. But we can see why it would be a good choice: Brendan's got the stagecraft, people who love it will really love it, and the simple song shouldn't get overpowered by fussy staging.

Competition time! Answer the patronisingly simple question, call the €2 phone line, and be in to take a call on next Friday's show. And then the adverts.

"Yeah, we're gonna get out of it" – performed by Miles Graham

From the first moment, we can hear it's a very different song. A jazzy beat, a high-pitched vocal, it's certainly different from everything we've heard so far tonight.

The presentation is unusual: the backing dancers are all dressed in yellow hoodies, one wears a back-to-front baseball cap. Miles is the only one in an orange hoodie, seated at a keyboard, and the only one not to have a brass instrument to wave around. The song has one massive hook, the repeated line "Are we gonna get out of it?", and some very memorable brass sections like Wham! circa 1984.

Miles Graham and his backing band.

Unfortunately, all this means Miles is a passenger in his own song: the mumblecore sung rap is buried beneath the brass section, the insistent refrain, and the breakdancing at the front of stage. It's a very simple song, fun, memorable. And it inspires a reaction: positive or negative, a song to divide opinion tends to do well. Could do worse.

"I'm loving me" – performed by Rachel Goode

Rachel is a classically-trained soprano, sings most of this song in a comfortable chest voice, then raises the pitch during the chorus without any effort.

The song is a Euroclub banger, relentless disco with a powerful female vocal. The sound – inevitably – reminds us of "Euphoria", the one decent song in the 2012 contest. The aesthetic is more 1994, the Gladiators logo, wind machine, backing dancers dressed in cropped tops and tight shorts, and this would have fit straight into a 1994 club.

Rachel Goode: out raving until The Big Breakfast.

And it's a contemporary song, it would fit straight into the 2fm playlist. There's a lineage with "Technicolour", the hyperpop entry from SBS last year: "I'm loving me" is more restrained, a lot more accessible, and probably more successful for it. First song we can seriously see going through to Saturday.

"That's rich" – performed by Brooke

We said about three lines ago how "Technicolour" had inspired one entry in this contest. Make that two: "That's rich" jumps off the screen and down our eyeballs before we're quite aware that it's happening. Brooke has an unusual costume: white fake fur top, fake fur trim on her boots, hair done up in pigtails like a primary schoolgirl.

Not that that hurts her stagecraft, Brooke finds the camera, and oozes a standoffish charm into every shot. It reinforces the song's message: Brooke's lover has let her down, and the song is a kiss-off to the useless lad. Is RTÉ ready to send hyperpop to the songfeest?

Brooke: knows where to look, when to look, how to look.

The difference with "I'm loving me"? The prior song was a facsimile of a 90s club hit; "That's rich" wears its influences more lightly, it's a contemporary song with influences from what's gone before. The panel's thinking La Roux and Lady Gaga; we're getting influences from Roxy Weigel and Maléna, and the youthful "stuff you" that propelled Måneskin to where they are today.

Ryan declares the phonelines open, but not before Aunty Maureen in the audience has got her phone out to send an SMS for her nephew's song. Voting is by SMS and telephone across the island of Ireland, including the bits administered by London.

Aunty Maureen (front, centre) covers her phone with paper, and her face with her hands.

Interval act and result

While the viewers are doing the televoting, and the international juries are preparing themselves, and Ryan's reading a sponsor's announcement, we have a moment to contemplate: what is The Late Late Show? OK, we know it's a two-hour live show, goes out after the 9 o'clock news on a Friday night, puts the week to bed. But how come it's lasted since the invention of television?

Fundamentally, it's the place where Ireland talks to itself, about itself. Sure, there are celebrities on the programme, but they're the stardust to lure viewers in, the honey to attract flies. The Late Late Show deals with real people, it addresses real questions of the day. And it does it quietly, patiently, with charm and a smile and gentle courtesy.

Any other week, these folk would be the stars of the show.

Since the 1960s, The Late Late Show has given voice to all opinions in an ongoing discussion about values and morals. Under Gay Byrne, the show frankly discussed the role of the Catholic church, relations with those eedjits across the water, a courteous and probing discussion with the Tániste, and where to find the best cuts of prime steak. And all of this is mediated through ordinary people, telling their extraordinary stories. All Irish life is represented on The Late Late Show, and all of Ireland watches it or hears about it.

Is there an equivalent show on this side of the water? No. The closest we can imagine is to combine The One Show and its ability to let people speak, and Lorraine with her soft but incisive interviews, and some of the less fluffy items on This Morning, and have it all hosted by a television genius like Phillip Schofield. But even then, you've got to get round the point that British telly goes out to a disparate population; Ireland is more accustomed to rallying round a familiar show.

This year's contestants were filmed around the RTÉ Campfire.

The Late Late Show uses its power carefully. There's an annual "toy show", about a month before Christmas, where the most popular toys of the year are showcased and demonstrated and critiqued. The host and audience all wear garish sweaters, and the show has become legendary as feelgood television.

And, since 2009, The Late Late Show has hosted the Eurosong selection show. From RTÉ's point of view, it's a sensible decision. The studio is already booked, the crew are accustomed to shooting pop performances and using difficult visual effects. They don't need to hire out an external venue, or arrange for redundant links from The Millstreet Cowshed back to headquarters.

Now, time to roll back the clock, and remember the winning entry from 1994. As we've never seen it before: Riverdance in civvies.

Yep, still compelling television.

And then it's time for the results. "That's rich" tops the international jury vote, but only comes fifth from the studio jury; "Ashes of yesterday" is their favourite.

The public televote? "Ashes of yesterday" comes fifth, it's out of it. "Yeah we're gonna get out of it" picks up third place, and the lead on tiebreaks. But the douze points go to "That's rich", and Brooke Scullion is going to Milan!

The burning question: is this song going to do well? It's modern, it's accessible, Brooke has bags of personality, and sells the song. History has shown that modern songs stand out, it should be enough to qualify out of the semi-final – but there's a ceiling of around 15th on Saturday night. Would RTÉ class that as a win? We reckon so: to get to Saturday night would be vindication in itself.

Brooke is congratulated by Marty Whelan and Panti Bliss, while Ryan Tubridy stands down the studio jury.

This column will come back to the other anglophone entries when they've been announced, probably in about a month's time.

Bamber Gascoigne

"An incredibly generous man and everything he did was pointed towards sharing the gifts of his own life with others."

Bamber Gascoigne, original and best host of University Challenge, has died. He was 87 years old.

Bamber Gascoigne

Arthur Bamber Gascoigne was born on 24 January 1935, the son of Lt-Col Derick Gascoigne and his wife Midi. The child could trace his lineage back to the 14th century, via a long line of landowners in Yorkshire. "Bamber" as a name had resonance – it had been held by one of his forebears, an MP in his time.

Bamber was educated at Sunningdale prep school, and was a scholar at Eton. He later said that even though he enjoyed his time at the school, he would not have sent a son there because he did not believe in the separation of social groups. He was conscripted into the Grenadier Guards, then read an English literature degree at Magdalene Cambridge, and a year at Yale.

While at Cambridge, he had written Share My Lettuce, a revue good enough and cheap enough to be produced in the West End, starring Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams. Bamber would go on to write other plays in the coming decades, most notably Leda Had a Little Swan, and Big in Brazil at the Old Vic in 1984.

Bamber also reviewed plays for various press – literary magazine Granta, right-wing thinkspaper The Spectator, liberal organ The Observer. From this micro-stardom, Bamber was asked by Granada television to chair a new quiz show for university students. Bamber turned a promising idea into television gold.

University Challenge From the series 1 final.

University Challenge might be pitched at a level where most people don't know the answers. Many viewers were chuffed to know one or two answers across the whole show, and ecstatic if they could beat the student boffins. University Challenge was always honest about its intellectual level, and didn't attempt to explain its answers to the lay viewer. If you understood about the Stefan-Bozeman constant, or the writing of Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, you were in clover: if you didn't, you'd get nothing from the question.

No, the success of University Challenge rested on the bonhomie between host and teams. The students – only a few years younger than Bamber Gascoigne when the show began – were allowed to show what they knew, and were encouraged by this genteel and dapper young man. Even if he only wore a suit in the studio, and returned it to Granada at the end of every session, Bamber looked dapper. The host was charming, phrases like "starter for ten" slipped effortlessly into everyday conversation. The host was exacting, reading every question carefully before asking it, and editing some to match his style and his knowledge.

Bamber Gascoigne Bamber with the prize for University Challenge in 1966.

Bamber Gascoigne had a tremendous knowledge, and a tremendous thirst for knowledge. He was responsible for The Christians, a landmark documentary series shown on ITV (and German network ARD) during autumn 1977. Bamber was the presenter, and scriptwriter, and researched many of the locations himself. It took Granada's directors three years to film the show, and the result was 13 hours of high-quality television. The programmes presented a blend of history and contemporary tradition, and produced a feeling for the ways in which the varying and evolving forces of the Christian religion influenced mankind. Bamber insisted that his lay status was precisely what was required: he said he wanted Christians to assume he was a believer and non-Christians to assume he was not.

Bamber continued to make important documentary series – most notably Victorian Values, and Man and Music. As a completely incorruptable and honest person, he accompanied Kit Williams to bury the treasure indicated in Masquerade, and later wrote about his experience in Quest for the Golden Hare.

Bamber Gascoigne Bamber spoke about this escapade in The Man Behind the Masquerade.

By the early 1980s, ITV's scheduling of University Challenge became haphazard – some regions would show it at teatime, others in the afternoon, and London put it out on Sunday lunchtimes. Viewers around the country couldn't watch the programme together. In an effort to address this problem, ITV networked two series in summer 1986 and 1987, but at the non-prestigious slot of 10.30am. BBC1 showed Play School, perhaps the greatest difference between BBC1 and ITV's target audiences ever. To nobody's great surprise, University Challenge was not recommissioned.

Connoisseur The host of a high arts quiz.

Bamber wasn't done with game shows, as he hosted Connoisseur for BBC2. Two series of this arts-based game were made. Bamber would show a painting or building and ask questions about it. Most of the show was taken up by "Connoisseur" questions, where Bamber would ask lots of questions at once about the exhibit, and hope the contestants would infodump about it. Typical of BBC2 arts programmes of the late 80s, the show was academics talking about their area of expertise. To modern eyes, it's tremendously male, pale, and painfully stale. The only innovation was an illuminated strip lighting up part-way to show who had buzzed in first.

Bamber's love of knowledge continued – he edited the Encyclopaedia of Britain published in 1993, and in 2000 he became editor-in-chief of historyworld.net. He was a trustee of many arts organisations, including the National and Tate galleries, and the National Trust. For this work, he was appointed CBE in 2018.

Grange Park Opera's performance space.

In 2014, and most unexpectedly, Bamber inherited a 16th-century stately home. West Horsley Place, near Guildford in Surrey, was bequeathed by his great-aunt Mary Innes-Ker. She had lived alone, and hadn't been able to maintain the house's 50 rooms and 380 acres of grounds. Rather than sell the property, Bamber and his wife, Christina, decided it should be renovated and turned into a community arts centre.

The £10mn cost of repairs was met by selling much of the contents, including famous paintings. The result is a 700-seat opera house for Grange Park Opera in the grounds. The house will be used for conferences, classes and filming. Bamber explained, “We both felt it was a bit feeble not to give it a shot. A place that for several centuries has been entirely private, somewhere people did not even really know was there, can look forward to many centuries of people enjoying it. I think that’s a wonderful thing."

And if this sounds a bit familiar, it could be: the BBC's sitcom Ghosts is filmed at West Horsley Place. Bamber and Christina's efforts are reflected by Alison and Mike's on-screen restoration of Button House.

West Horsley Place, or Button House.

A few of the many tributes from quizzing greats:

Paddy Duffy: I never met him but having had the honour of working on the show I owe Bamber a tremendous debt to have given us proof positive that a hard quiz could be a big hit, and a professorial character could be a pop culture icon. A real role model. RIP.

Paul Sinha: It seems that Bamber Gascoigne has passed away. His effortless erudition, making whole swathes of impenetrable knowledge seem cheerfully accessible, was totally inspiring to this kid of the 80s. Sadly we may never see his like on our screens again.

Bobby Seagull: Farewell Bamber Gascoigne. The OG host of University Challenge. Scholarly, gentle and yet commanding, he joins the pantheon of great game show hosts. We shall miss you. RIP Bamber

Bamber is survived by his wife, Christina.

In other news

At The Beano Power Awards, sensible voters said The Masked Singer was best telly show.

Broadcast magazine held its expensive awards bash. Don't Hate the Playaz won Best Entertainment programme, for which I'm a Celebrity, Strictly Come Dancing, and The Masked Singer were nominated.

Also nominated: Drawers Off (Daytime) I'm a Celeb (Lockdown programme), The Rap Game (multichannel, and popular factual) The Great House Giveaway (original). BBC1 was named channel of the year.

Lingo has been picked up by CBS, for broadcast to the American network's audience of old people who can't find the remote. The host they've chosen: RuPaul. It's believed they've gone with the Lingo Zonder Ballen variant pioneered by ITV: telly over there has quite too much betting and gambling already.

Eurovision Song Contest Not her finest hour.

Quizzy Mondays Another low-scoring Mastermind was won by Ashleigh Evans, whose specialist subject was the music of Madonna. Thirty-five years of it, from "Lucky star" until that 2019 appearance in Tel Aviv. Seven points on general knowledge, we can but hope everyone tonight got tough questions. Sirin Kale, from this week's show, wrote about the experience.

University Challenge had the losers' playoff, and King's London defeated Birmingham in a one starter shootout. The one question was about philosophy, and was correctly answered by the philosophist on the King's side. Do they have specific question sets for specific matches? The producers swear they don't, it feels like confirmation bias when we spot science questions on a science-heavy pair of teams.

Paxman keeps on reading the question even after the buzzer's gone, even after Roger Tilling's shouted "Manchester, Ancaster!" Yes, teams hear Paxman chuntering on, and can alter their answers based on what he says. One of the Birmingham side mused on Quizzy Mondays that they could have rescued an incorrect interruption if they'd been able to think a bit more quickly.

Not on your telly next week: "Celebrity" Big Brother Down Under (E4). It's the Chicken Big Mac of television shows: people have been calling for something like it for ages, but when they got to taste it, found they didn't like it. So it's come off air early, to be replaced by repeats of The Big Bang Theory, probably.

A new series of Celebrity Eggheads (C5, from Mon). The Big Design Challenge (Artsworld, Mon) is a challenge for designers. Viewers in Scotland get Loggerheads (BBC Scotland, Thu); listeners in Scotland get Breaking the News (R Sco, Fri). If you're missing mystery singers, The Masked Singer Us comes to ITV2 (weekdays).

Next Saturday, Saturday Night Takeaway is back (VM1 and ITV). Later in the evening, a new run of Paul Sinha's TV Showdown which we really hope has improved. Elsewhere, Olly Smith brings his elf costume to Celebrity Mastermind, and it's family night on Pointless Celebrities.

Pictures: RTÉ, TV Times, Granada, BBC, Grange Park Opera, EBU/KAN.

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