Weaver's Week 2004-01-03


"We all have to go sometime. I usually go during the commercials."


The veteran comedian and television host died on Monday morning at his Bedfordshire home, aged 75. He died peacefully in his sleep after a two-and-a- half year battle against prostate cancer, said his manager Peter Prichard.

Born in Beckenham, Kent, in June 1928, Bob Monkhouse started out as a comedy writer and rose to become one of the country's top comics with a highly polished on-screen persona that people seemed to either love or hate.

He worked a punishing schedule. "I'll never stop working," he once said. "I want to die in the saddle. A day is wasted for me if I haven't done something even mildly creative."

Mr Prichard described Bob as "one of the finest men I've ever known. We've lost one of the greatest comics England has ever produced."

When Bob appeared in March at the Television and Radio Industries Club awards in London, where he received an award for his contribution to the entertainment world, the comedian wise-cracked: "I discovered about two years ago that visits to the loo were less and less profitable.

"I saw a specialist who asked me 'Are you familiar with the phrase faecal impaction?' I said I think I saw that one with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas."

Bob Monkhouse had a strange love/hate relationship with the British public. In the 1970s, he was simultaneously voted the third most popular man on television, and the most hated man on the box. His quick repartee, ability to put the most nervous contestant at ease, and charming persona were reflected off the small screen.

Bob's career began at an early age, writing for the classic comics Beano and Dandy, then drew cartoons for other DC Thompson productions. The first venture into stand-up came at 17, in a Beckenham park. Within ten years, he was performing five nights in Birmingham, and a growing band of fans found that he had a completely fresh routine every night. When he returned to Birmingham in the 1960s and visited the Cadbury plant, many workers left their station to look at the television superstar. The chocolate company had to send its selection boxes around the next day, so the workers could finish filling them up.

His TV debut was in the 1950s comedy show Fast And Loose, and the forgotten 1952 punchline "Why?". He went on to front The Golden Shot, Celebrity Squares, Family Fortunes, Bob's Your Uncle, Bob's Full House, Bob Says Opportunity Knocks, The $64,000 Question, Monkhouse's Memory Masters, Gag Tag, and, more recently, the National Lottery Draw, and Wipeout. Bob Monkhouse also appeared in 12 films including Carry On Sergeant. Amongst his innovations: managing to make sense of The Golden Shot, the rolling jackpot on Fortunes, not having any script for Full House, telephone voting on Opportunity Knocks, and making the Lottery programme vaguely interesting without using the Wonderwall.

In the early 90s, Bob was the star attraction at a charity dinner organised by the CBI, where - as usual - he had researched the interests of his audience. As he left, he gave the organiser a donation to the charity. Only after the star had left did the organiser find that the donation was for the same amount as Bob's fee. He lost many of his best jokes when two ring-bound volumes were stolen in the mid 90s, but had managed to recreate many of the good gags from memory before the books were returned.

Bob Monkhouse was amongst the first to see the folly of the television companies discarding many of their "ephemeral" output. Two episodes of Bob's work on The Golden Shot appeared on Challenge last year; their survival is entirely down to Bob's insistence that he take a couple of shows home with him. The editions don't include one (possibly apocryphal) tale of a contestant standing in a callbox by a television rental store. His attention to fine detail made him a natural host for retrospectives on television comedy, and his last work was a tribute to Bob Hope.


Repechage 1: St John's Oxford -v- Hull

Hull conspired to lose to Bangor, St John's lost to a promising London Met team. Both are far more deserving of a place in the second round than many actual winners.

The show gets off to a great start: the words "Your bonuses are on university architecture of the 1960s" strike boredom into hearts across the land.

It's 35 all going into the first picture round, but both sides are brimming with confidence and fighting a good game, as we'd expect at this stage. They're not helped by a thoroughly confusing bonus round on homophones, including spelling stationary and stationery - this detains Hull for over 40 seconds.

It's 65-60 going into the music round, for which the answer is "Superman." St John's answers a ludicrous BBC self-promotional question about a planned cartoon with an even more ludicrous answer: "Top of the Popes."

Thumper is clearly working against St John's, fining them five after clearly finishing the question. In spite of that, Hull's lead is just 110-100, and he gives the team the benefit of the doubt on "dance" and "ballet."

Dead level at two minutes to play. St John's gets a starter, but no bonuses. Hull gives a missignal, and a starter is lost. Time expires, and St John's has sneaked a deserved win, 140-125.

These are two very, very good teams. Matthew Nicholls led for SJO on 69.7, the team made 11/30 bonuses and three missignals. Hull split their buzzes equally, with Dan Porsa securing 38.2; the team had 10/24 bonuses and that one missignal. This column claims 250 points, 94% of the screen total, but about 70% of the teams' value.

Repechage 2: St Hugh's Oxford -v- Reading

St Hugh's lost to Strathclyde in the season opener, and answered at least one in every set of bonuses. Reading lost a rotten game to Gonville & Caius Cambridge, and didn't missignal. Of such statistics are columns made.

The first batch of questions include one on Top Of The Pops, which would have been 40 this week; and events of 2003. Sounds like the producers knew they would be airing this show this week.

Q: In chemistry, if a chemical change involving loss of electrons during a reaction is called oxidation, what term..? Liam Brooker, St Hugh's: Is it reduction.

Level pegging going into the first picture round, and both sides are 3/6 on their bonuses with nary a dropped starter. Then it's nip and tuck all the way, the sides even managed to take a missignal in succession. Reading has been watching Fifteen To One, as they do know about Oscar Wilde. The side has also been researching its quiz chestnuts, knowing the state capital of Texas.

Reading is 90-60 up at the music round. Then this happens:

Q: Although himself possibly a fiction, which mediaeval knight was considered
to be one of the foremost travellers of the age, and was purported to be the
author in the 1350s of a volume of tales including visits to Prester John, the
land of darkness, and the abode of the ten lost tribes of Israel.
Reading, Hugo: Baron Munchhausen?
Thumper screws up his eyebrows.
Q: No.
St Hugh's, Curran: Ibn Battuta.
Q: Who?!
Curran: He existed. It was a long shot.
Q: It was a wrong shot, too.

Curran, St Hugh's resident physicist, gets the definition of "nanotechnology" correct, saving his blushes. The resulting set of bonuses is completely dropped, and Reading is beginning to look like the side to advance.

The 250 aggregate comes up immediately after the second picture round, and St Hugh's had the momentum, but a missignal costs them time. However, the Oxford side keeps getting the starters, and it's all going to go to the final moments. Hilary Fraser gets that last starter with 10 seconds to play, and it's game over. Reading has the win, 155-140.

Fraser led for Reading with 63.3 points, Brooker's 58.3 was the best for St Hugh's. The Oxford side made 11/30 bonuses with three missignals, Reading 15/27 with two errors. This column claims 170 points, a rubbish 58% of the screen aggregate.

WORLD IDLE (19 and Fremantle Media for ITV et al, 2040 Dec 25 and 1930 Jan 1)

Well, that just about wraps it up for the Overblown Karaoke format. During 2003, we'd become increasingly disenchanted with people who found their fame by singing other people's songs on television. Only three of the original Pop Idles had record contracts at the end of the year, and while Will "He Won, Remember" Young had the biggest selling CD over the festive season, Gareth "The Annoying One" Gates languished outside the top 50. The BBC's Star Academy had proved an altogether more palatable beast, but only one of the first season's contestants - Lemar - moves into 2004 with a record deal. Winner David Sneddon retired from singing to concentrate on songwriting, and his album is available for a fiver in all discount record stores.

But we digress. Eleven Pop Idles later, the champions gather in London. Antan Dec started the show by welcoming us to "the world's biggest entertainment show." Not quite; global viewing figures of around 25 million pale into insignificance beside those who watch Eurovision. The standard of performance was very patchy, and it felt like one of those early editions of Star Academy 2, where the good singers weren't having a chance to shine, and there was a clear gulf between the talented and the also-rans.

Stars of the night included Diana from Syria, whose traditional Arabic song completely wrong-footed everyone. Alexander from Germany has done better on record, but Heinz from South Africa and Kurt from Norway set a very high standard, enough to win the public vote in every country except the Arab region.

Guy from Australia had way too much vibrato, as did Kelly from the US. She used the Paris Campbell-Edwards-From-SA2 iconic hand gestures, while Jamai from the Netherlands also brought the undeveloped talent to mind.

There were a couple of moments when we wondered if we were seeing SA2 again, when Peter chewed up the judges with his indie sentiment, just as Mr Brame threatened to do, but never did. And we were struck by Alex Janoscz from Poland auditioning in a familiar Tiger Club t-shirt, then singing like she owned the song. She'll do well if she makes Eurovision this year.

The final voting saw a huge victory for Simon Cowell. Biggest gainers of the night, though, will be Antan Dec, preparing to launch their Saturday Night Takeaway on the US market.


Speaking of Eurovision, the BBC has quietly let slip some more plans for the Got To Be Better Than Last Year contest. Pencil in Saturday 6 March (that's nine weeks today) for a two-hour extravaganza, possibly incorporating the lottery corp's promotion. Or possibly not, as that would restrict Jet Set to 11 weeks. Sertab Erener will be there. So will Jemini, but don't let that put you off, as the Beeb's sweet-talking Katrina of The Waves might also put in an appearance.

Six songs will go into the final, at least one from the British Songwriters' Academy (and haven't they done well in the last few years), the rest commissioned from Sony and EMI records. The phrase "if you're going to have a tie-in with Polydor for Star Academy, use it for something else" springs to mind. Performers will probably be solo acts who have live experience; amongst names floating around are Claire Richards (the dreadlocked one from Steps), Peter Brame, the Cheeky Girls, and Gareth Gates. A panel of "expert" "judges"

will comment on each entry, and the winner will be announced on the night.

Neither Radio 2 nor Radiohead will be involved. Terry Wogan will, and he'll be joined by a "young female presenter." Names in the frame there include SA presenters Cat Deeley and Claudia Winkleman, Johnny's daughter Zoe Ball, and Kenickie's Lauren Laverne.

Eurovision graduates running for high political office is nothing new. Dana staged a competent attempt to become Ireland's President, and there are probably some more examples but we're too drunk to think of them. Nominations for the Russian presidency closed on Wednesday (you can see where this is going, can't you), and the second most out-of-tune act from last year's contest put themselves forward. Juliaan Lena must be 35 to run for the top job in Russia; at 19 and 18, that just about adds up. As the rules insist that only one head can be on the throne, the older Lena gets the nod. Not sure whether that's the red or black head. The Russian election is scheduled for March 14.

Still in Russia, we hear that Alsou might be getting a regular job in the UK. Alsou, who finished behind Denmark and ahead of Latvia in the 2000 contest, is the daughter of oil tycoon Ralif Safin, and apparently Mr Safin is the man looking to take over football club Manchester United. Could she be warming up the fans at Old Trafford next year?


Three new series of note from Channel 4 begin this week. Demolition Day (1830 Su) has two teams building things up, then knocking them down. Shattered (from 2200 Su and all week) has Dermot O'Leary trying not to send contestants to sleep, so no showing tapes of BBLB. Beat the Nation (1445 weekdays) sees two- thirds of the Goodies ask questions of the public. Reviews over the coming Weeks.

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