Weaver's Week 2003-11-08

Weaver's Week Index

8 November 2004

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.


After last week's special edition (and thanks to everyone for their good wishes, especially a Mrs Trellis of North Wales,) it's back to normal this week.

MASTERMIND (Fourth semi final)

Peter Spyrides advances from Blackadder to Eighties Pop. He scores 13 points with five passes. Showing its author's age, this column claims a score of 15.

Ian Pickering was on the Beatles, this time it's... (cue The Liberty Bell.) Monty Python's Flying Circus gives him 14 points and one pass. This column claims 8.

Hamish Cameron won on Robespierre, this time it's the War of the Roses. He gets off to a slow start, but picks up speed, finishing on 13 points and no passes. This column claims no points and 13 passes.

Jennifer Smallman graduates from 20th century English fashion to the overly- broad British Childrens Books Since 1860. Three passes and 10 points; four here.

In the general knowledge round, Mrs Smallman suggests sumo wrestlers throw in a dead fish before the bout, forgets her own party leader, and finishes with 21 points and three more passes.

Mr Spyrides is reminded of his half million pound win on Some Other Programme. Ahem. He has two more passes, and a total of 23 points.

Mr Cameron starts strongly, but falls away quickly. Three passes and a total of 22.

Mr Pickering looks like he's going to win, but again falls away quickly. He finally passes the winning post with the penultimate question, one pass and 24 points.

Phew. Ian Pickering just advances to the final, in a scrappy week.


Blimey, they've actually moved out of the studio for this prestigious occasion! They're in the Lowry; not the artist himself, but the arts complex named after him in Salford.

Geoffrey Thomas is a retired lecturer, taking the Life and Works of Marc Chagall. Mr Thomas makes a strong start, then stalls rather. He finishes on 12 points and no passes.

Andy Page is a civil servant, and he's telling us about the Golfing Majors since 1970. Mr Page knows his golf, knows all the statistics and finishing positions and quirks. Sixteen points and no passes.

Darren Martin is an IT consultant, here offering the Life and Music of Jim Morrison. That's the one out of The Doors. Again, Mr Martin knows his area, and because the questions are slightly shorter, he scores 17 points and no passes.

Ian Pickering, an accounts assistant, is telling us about the Life and Career of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In a week when one can't show weakness, Mr Pickering has two passes and 11 points.

There's no chitter-chatter this week, which can only be a good thing. Sadly, Mr Pickering never quite gets going, finishing with one more pass and 19 points.

Mr Thomas attacks the general knowledge section with gusto, and though he doesn't know some of the answers, he finishes on 26 points and no passes.

Mr Page looks a little uncomfortable, has three passes in the middle of the round, and finishes on 28 points.

Mr Martin, therefore, needs eleven points and no passes. He starts off shakily, but picks up speed towards the end of his round, and is visibly annoyed by not knowing some of the answers. He finishes on 26 points and one pass - it's only enough for third place.

Andy Page, therefore, has won the final and wins the trophy Mastermind 2003.


Opening round, match 7: Queens Oxford -v- Imperial London

Jim Robinson is studying a DPhil on Indium Gallium Nitride Quantum Dots. Thumper goes long about how Imperial could become the first institution ever to win the UC title three times.

Slapped wrists to the researchers, claiming that the annual CHILDREN IN NEED appeal always appears on the third Friday in November. This is not true, it's been as early as the 14th and as late as the 26th. Raised eyebrows to Queens, who reckon television historian Simon Scharma was a civil servant.

Imperial won't win for a third time if they don't answer any questions. Shortly after the first pictures, Queens have a disappointing 65, Imperial a well- rounded 0.

We just report this... "Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan suffered from Dupuytren's contracture, a medical condition that results in which part of the body being fixed in a bent condition?" Saeed Amen: "The brain."

Thumper is mean, and probably wrong, to penalise Queens on the next starter: he had just about finished the final word of the question. After eight starters, each side has answered correctly just three bonus questions. This clearly shows how badly pitched the questions are this week. The all time low aggregate score, set just four weeks ago, is 230. At the music round, the aggregate is a painful 105.

Rolls eyes starter of the week: "What name is given to the longest side of a right-angled triangle?" Is this University Challenge or an ITV daytime quiz?

There's some fairly obvious editing going on here, in an attempt to show correct answers and squeeze out a little more play. Another harsh penalty on Queen's, confusing "Secretary General" and "Director General" of the UN. If you're not going to offer it, is it fair to penalise it?

185 is the total after the second picture round, and three minutes in the game. Imperial gets a very easy set of bonuses where all the answers begin with "xeno-

", deviating from the norm, where the "xeno-" would appear in the questions. Queens secures the win with the last starter, and that score also passes the low aggregate.

The final score: Queens 140, Imperial 105. It's the second lowest aggregate in the University Challenge revival's history. Both lowest scores have come in this year's series, showing further evidence that this quiz is becoming too esoteric for its own good.

Stats: For Queens, Jim Robinson scores 65.1 points, the team made 9/33 bonuses and three missignals. For Imperial, Matthew Smith top scored on 43.7, the team 9/18 bonuses and no missignals.

The combination of two relatively weak teams, and some ridiculously arcane questions, makes for television that's the visual equivalent of having teeth pulled. The strength of teams isn't really something the producers can change (if we believe their claim that the best 28 sides in the tests qualify) but the inaccessibility of the questions is within their remit, and desperately needs to be examined.

Opening Round, match 8: Nottingham -v- Magdalen Oxford

For the second week running, Thumper raises the fact that no team has won the title on three occasions. He doesn't miss an opportunity to bring up this fact. He does miss an opportunity to point out that Magdalen is the fifth Oxford side to appear in the eight programmes so far. With three Cambridge teams, that's an Oxbridge side every week. Only one has beaten non-Oxbridge opposition so far.

Thanks to the highly structured nature, meticulous record-keeping, and informative website of Oxford's quiz society, we know that Matt Holdcroft and Freya McClements were playing on the same side as far back as 2001, and that Dave Cox (2002), and Josh Spero (2003) also represented the college. Thumper's claim that the team "met in the bar" may be technically true, but the impression that theirs was a spur-of-the-moment decision to enter is utter nonsense.

The tediously long starter of the week involves Thumper giving all the statistics - atomic number, mass, melting and boiling points, inside leg measurement - of an element, then describing how it got its name. This takes forever. Magdalen's ability to identify cities from pictures is far swifter.

Penance for the long starter is swift: a brief etymology of "libretto" suffices to have both sides racing for their buzzers. Some misplaced buzzing put Magdalen on the back foot early on, and the side remains behind during the first half.

The music round descends into farce: Thumper asks the teams to listen to a piece of music, then recite the words back to him. No one buzzes. No one can decipher the ramblings of Shane McGowan. "Can we have some paper?" asks Nottingham Smith. "No, you're supposed to be clever," responds the insufferably smug host. This column always thought University Challenge was a test of general knowledge, not of auditory comprehension of the deliberately incomprehensible. That's TOP OF THE FORM territory. That's demeaning to the teams involved, especially when the host takes the piss in that way.

Thanks to that disgraceful mess of a round, Magdalen takes the lead just before the second picture round (on birds' skulls.) Magdalen hasn't done enough to win, but then neither does Nottingham particularly deserve a victory. In the final analysis, Magdalen has the victory, 160-110. They don't look like an impressive side.

Other stats: this is the fourth show this year where the aggregate score has been under 300. In previous years, that's almost never happened, and indicates that the questions have stopped being general knowledge, and started becoming specialist knowledge. In an attempt to measure the validity of this argument, this column will attempt to keep its own score under the same rules, and this week claims 225. In previous experience, a score of around 70% of the aggregate is usual.

Nottingham made 9/21 bonuses with one missignal; Gareth Smith top scored with 33.7. For Magdalen, 16/30 bonuses hides four missignals; Matt Holdcroft led the way with 64.2.

High scoring losers: 175 St John's Oxford 160 Hull 150 St Hugh's Oxford 115 Edinburgh

Edinburgh's deeply unimpressive score is still in contention for the repechage.


Charles Ingram was to have appeared at a charity auction, and take part in a question and answer session with Leeds MP Fabian Hamilton at Elland Road on November 11 at an event organised to raise money for the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board.

Organisers have cancelled the invitation, saying that Mr Ingram would not be coming to Leeds because of his "unsuitability." They also said that had the denouement of NEW NICKED not been delayed, the former major may not have been available anyway.

Dan Cohen, Chairman of All Jew Care, said: "Given his current court case, we had no alternative but to reconsider our position. We also had to take into account that we live in a community where a vocal minority was rallying against his participation."

Speaking to the Mirror this week, Mr Ingram said that he expected to go bankrupt soon, with debts of £430,000. Mr Ingram said: "We are in debt with no income. There are no lucrative cough medicine deals or film roles. I think our only recourse is going to be state benefits. In the past I wouldn't have wanted to do this because I'm a very proud man, but we've lost so much. Basically we are staring into the abyss, as simple as that."

Mr Ingram is in training for next year's London Marathon.


Commiserations to Rob Mitchell, who went for the Half Million Pound question on Millionaire, but erred, thinking the Academy Awards statuette is 11, not 13.5 inches high. He joins Duncan Bickley in losing £218,000, but hasn't been featured elsewhere in the media. That tells us how Millionaire is no longer event television.

Mark Burnett, the head producer for Survivor in the US, held a press conference this week. He was asked if he would ever open up the show for Canadians to apply. " I want to, but there are some legal issues. Honestly to me, I think one year, I'd love to have an Australian involved, someone British... It's honestly the legal issues. That's the only reason." No UK channel currently airs US Survivor, though it has aired on Ireland's TG4.

Still on the topic of wonky scheduling, someone has finally come to the defence of Channel 4's bizarre decision to move Countdown to the unusual 3:15 slot. Carol Vorderman, who has been with the show since it started, said that ratings for the slot had gone up by 60%. She didn't say that viewing figures for Countdown had diminished by a similar factor.

In completely unrelated news, Ms Vorderman and her co-host, Richard Whiteley, have signed new contracts taking them through until the end of 2006.

Channel 4's top brass has caved in to relentless media pressure over something else, with the remarkable claim that this summer's BIG BROTHER IV was "dull" and "lacked the sparkle" of previous editions. If "sparkle" is a synonym for drunken excesses and booze-filled rows, then BBIV was deficient in that department. For thought-provoking entertainment, though, careful casting meant BBIV topped last year's effort without trying. It would have been a better show had C4 and Endemol not taken the asinine decision to remove two people in the fourth week. That set the show on a swift downward course.

Elsewhere, ITV's new trend - axe poorly-performing shows quickly - has reached its apotheosis. In 2001, Robert Kilroy-Shaft's SILKED lasted no less than four episodes before hitting the trashcan. Earlier this year, JUDGEMENT DAY made two episodes before falling under the cosh. Last week, the Monkey was scheduled to air MAN VERSUS BEAST, in which humans and animals compete against each other. The show was pulled two days before it aired, a new record for the struggling channel.

This week, I'M THE ANSWER, the new Dale Winton vehicle, was similarly chopped after just four weeks. Or a full four weeks, depending on how many episodes you sat through before turning to something less boring, like WHEN WET PAINT DRIES. Once again, ITV's duty office promises that the series will return in "a more appropriate timeslot."

Wonder when they'll pull POP IDLE, on the grounds that no one actually cares who wins. Already, there are reports that the show's host, Antan Dec, will be leaving to concentrate on his Takeaway show, and persistent speculation that Slimon Cowell will confine his appearances to the US version, which pays far more money.

From one bunch of losers to David Sneddon, who has announced his retirement from the cut-throat pop industry to concentrate on writing some more blinkin' good songs. Snedders, the winner of STAR ACADEMY last year, and the man who still has the second best-selling new single by a UK act this year, was his usual restrained self: "There is so much crap in the charts that I have to go out there and compete with. The majority of it is rubbish."


Returning to shows even more pointless than I'm The Answer, the BBC has somehow seen fit to commission a whole series of HERE COMES THE SUN. In January, this column dismissed the show as a pale knock-off of FRIENDS LIKE THESE: "It was entertaining three years ago, but it's now old and cliched and getting rather past its play by date." See if a little learning is still a disqualification at 1845 tonight.

More promising: something new to BBC1 daytime, EGGHEADS pits quizzers against boffins, 1230 daily. Something new to C5 evenings, 19 KEYS pits Richard Bacon against a bunch of contestants and a potential £7,500 prize.

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