Weaver's Week 2006-12-24

Weaver's Week Index

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


They think it's all over

Image:des-lynam-hat.jpg The British view of Des Lynam

"Il est devenu de plus en plus populaire avec les observateurs" - the French view of Des Lynam.


One piece of housekeeping before we begin. Robin Brown's final score was 4 wins, 458 at +35; his was the twelfth-best record of the series. Anita Freeland ran up four wins before Finals Week came along; she will return under the next host having already amassed 375 points at -11. A strong contender for next June, perhaps.

"We've come to the business end of this series," says a dashing man with silver hair, in navy blue suit and red tie. Yes, it's Countdown Finals Week. In a changed to the advertised Brandreth, the smart alec is Ken Bruce, wearing a shirt almost as pale blue as the tree behind him. He doesn't look at all like we imagined.

QF1: 1) Steven Briers (8 wins, 843 at -54) lost to 8) Phil Watson (6 wins, 574 at +46) 82-72

Phil has been checking through the Countdown Corral, and worked out that one of his winning scores was the lowest in the Lynam Interlude. There's a surprise in the opening round, as Phil has a word that's longest, LONGEST. Steven pulls back the deficit with the perfectly legal HEARTED. Both men offer nine-letter words in the next round, UNTOASTED^ uses an absent "E", and OUTSTANDS* isn't in the book. Even worse, STANDOUTS is valid. An easy numbers game ensures it's 23-23 into the anecdote.

In the second part, Steven's offer of FOILERS* is disallowed - it's a colloquial term in fencing, but not common enough for the dictionary. Honours remain even in the letters round, but Phil has been practising four-large numbers selections, and takes a 60-43 lead into the intermission. Do we have an upset on our hands? It looks like it, as the last three letters rounds are drawn, but Phil's four-large magic fails him at the last; Steven pulls seven back, it's now 82-72, and the number one seed needs to take the conundrum to force a tie. Steven crouches over his monitor like a frog, but time runs down, time expires. For the first time in a long time, the number one seed has fallen at the first hurdle. Disallowed words and a missed conundrum hurt both players in terms of Par - Steven's 85 was +17, Phil declared for 93 (+9)

QF2: 7) Andrew Blades (7 wins, 650 at +82) lost to 2) Richard Brittain (8 wins, 820 at -15) 96-52

Andrew is a doctoral candidate from Oxford, Richard is described as the Iain Duncan Smith of Countdown. That's intended as a compliment. It's sevens all round through the opening rounds, though Richard's RUSSLED* is not in the dictionary. He strikes back in the next round with BIRETTAS, hats worn by priests. Richard goes on to take seven points from a tricky numbers round, and leads by 29-21 at the anecdote.

Declaring second, Andrew has to risk GAVOTES* in round eight; the word requires a second T, and Richard's lead has increased to 15. There are no other changes in the letters, and a trivial numbers round takes the score to 67-52 at the interlude. Richard offers DRACONES - sausage-shaped containers for transporting oil - immediately afterwards, and he's as good as won. "Which of your A-levels gave you that word?" asks Des. "None of them," replies the leader; are we detecting a little bit of needle in that exchange? Richard wraps up matters with DARIOLE - a mould for cookery - and ROARING. He even beats Carol, who manages to finish out by 100 in the final numbers game. Even though the conundrum eludes him, Richard has won by 96-52. Par was 107, Richard declared for 96, Andrew for 85.

QF3: 3) Stu Horsey (8 wins, 732 at +68) beat 6) Joy Longworth (7 wins, 699 at +61) 76-69

Paul Zenon of the goatee beard and spiky hair has moved into Dictionary Corner over the week-end. He, Susie, and Carol are all wearing black-and-white clothes; it's as if Yorkshire Television can't afford the colour license for their own production. First blood goes to Stu, spotting VIRTUE, the only common six in a very difficult round, only for Joy to reply with PARASOL in the next round. Neither player scores in an obnoxious six-small numbers round, so Joy takes a 21-20 lead into the magic trick.

Another possible host, COLEMAN, is allowed for both players, and Joy moves further ahead with LIGATED and METHANE in the next rounds. Des is right to remark that Joy is consistent - she's declared 7 in all but one of the first eight letters rounds, but a blob on the second numbers round allows Stu to pull back much of the deficit - he's 49-44 down at the intermission. Round eleven could be the clincher - Stu declares the eight-letter CONSPIRE, and takes the lead for the first time since round three. SANDIER moves the third seed further ahead, and a five-vowel selection yields LOAMIER and a surely impregnable seventeen-point lead. Though Joy gets the conundrum, she has still lost, by 76-69. A close game, one that turned on Stu's performance in the last third. Par was 98, both contestants declared for 93.

QF4: 5) Chris McHenry (8 wins, 633 at +70) lost to 4) Tony Warren (8 wins, 712 at +66) 75-37

We're pleased to see Chris here, he's had to ask nicely for extra time off work. We're glad to see Tony wearing a bright red shirt and very loud tie. We're not glad to see the opening letters selection - Q, Z, and two Ms. Tony's offer is invalid, so Chris takes a four-point lead. Don't knock it! Chris's offer of POULET* in the next round is invalid, allowing Tony to take a 6-4 lead. Our usual tennis joke is to say the score is deuce! Tony's BARONET and PASTILLE win him the next rounds, and a no score draw in the numbers round (which this column can honestly say it got in 20 seconds, beating la Vord for the first time this year) means it's 21-4 to Tony at the magic trick.

Carol comes back with the solution to the numbers game. Late. Business as usual in the game - ROASTER is another winner, Chris offers the very Countdown-friendly word CARDIES, but loses to BOFFINS; an impossible numbers game makes it 56-25 at the intermission. Chris tries to pull back with CORDITES* in the penultimate letters round, but it's a mass noun. He does win with RESOLED in the next round, though. The last numbers game is missed by both, as is the conundrum, so Tony wins by a big score, 75-37. Par was 96, Tony declared for 81, Chris for 69. It was one of those games.

SF1: 8) Phil Watson (7 wins, 656 at +55) lost to 4) Tony Warren (9 wins, 787 at +81) 85-82

Phil's upset win was, according to Des, only the third time that the number 8 seed has beaten the number one. This would, by our arithmetic, be the 50th running of the current seeding system, so we'll expect another one sometime around 2014. Phil looks set to repeat his upset win, starting with SNOTTIER, BRIOCHES, and COMERS before the first numbers round. At the magic trick, Phil leads 36-14, and Paul Zenon auditions to be the new host of 3-2-1.

Carol proposes a Channel 4 Daytime Pantomime. Presumably, that would be A CHRISTMAS CAROL, with the obvious casting for Ebeneezer Scrooge. The break has done Tony some good, he returns with ADOPTING, and was wise not to stick the "S" on the end. Tony also offers QUARTES, the fourth of eight fencing positions. It's back to 58-51 in Phil's favour at the intermission. Phil tries BOILERMAN* after the break, but it's not there, and the game is tied at 58-all. The draw doesn't last long, as Phil returns with APOSTLE in the next round, and takes his seven-point lead into the conundrum. Tony buzzes on ten seconds, and decodes FREESTYLE for a come-from-behind win, 85-82. It was a great semi-final, and Tony never led until he won. Par was 108, Tony declared for 109, Phil for 95.

SF2: 2) Richard Brittain (9 wins, 916 at -4) beat 3) Stu Horsey (9 wins, 808 at +73), 83-75

There's a lot less needle between Richard and Des today, especially after the former wins with AMNIOTE, a term familiar to biologists. "Who is Miss Dynamite?" asks the host, clearly auditioning for a role at the High Court. Well, he has got many days to fill. Stu's offer of JILTER* is not acceptable, much to the surprise of Susie. Tens all round in the numbers game means Richard leads 37-24 going into the magic trick, in which Paul Zenon asks Susie to grab his nuts.

Stu isn't going down without a fight, and PARADED his claims in round seven; six points the gap, and it comes down to nothing when Richard's COMETED* is declined. No change in the last letters, or the numbers, and we're tied at 62-all at the interlude. It doesn't last long, Richard spots MINARET straight after the break, and moves further ahead as UNSTORED* is disallowed for Stu. The final letters round only contains a six, but we may as well shout it loud: BOGIES. Stu asks for six small numbers. "Is this wise?" asks Carol? Stu thinks not. In the end, it is, for Richard flubs completely, Stu gets seven, and suddenly the conundrum is crucial. MARYSFOOT turns into STYROFOAM, we doubt anyone would have got that. Richard wins, 83-75. Par was 106, Richard declared for 89, Stu for 87.

Final: 4) Tony Warren (10 wins, 872 at +80) lost to 2) Richard Brittain (10 wins, 999 at +13) 60-113

Win or lose, Tony has set a Countdown record that's unlikely ever to be broken - from his first appearance on 10 May to the final on 22 December was a span of 226 days. Des makes his last appearance in a light brown suit and gold tie; indeed, it's very smart casual wear from everyone, and only Tony (yellow shirt and braces with numbers on) is not wearing something in black. Much channelling of last time's champion, Conor Travers, there. Richard moves ahead in the second round with POINTES, the tips of the toes. Tony pulls back in the next round with POISON, but some difficult letters rounds restrict scoring badly. Richard comes off better in a bruising numbers round (again, this column got it in 30 seconds, reducing Carol's lead to 26-2 this series), to lead 27-19 at the magic trick, which ends with a pair of antlers on the host's head. "If you've just tuned in, worry about it."

Image:countdown-richard-brittain.jpg The new champion with his trophy

Richard moves further ahead after we've all calmed down (and someone has removed their headgear) with COINAGE. He goes on to find winners ABODES and SOARED as the letters continue to fall awkwardly; Richard is confident enough to pick a one-large numbers game. 100, 8, 8, 5, 2, 7 to find 102 makes it 63-36 at the interlude. Anyone who couldn't get that really should audition for WHEEL OF FORTUNE. Tony offers TYREMAN* after the break, but it isn't there, pretty much ending the show as a contest. Sevens and another simple numbers round ensure that the scores will be respectable, and Richard wins, 103-60. Par was 103, Richard declared for 108, Tony for 87. The winner is "delighted", and hopes that this will help him get into Cambridge. "What a fine thing to do," suggests Carol. Richard Brittain gets the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy, and Paul Zenon presents the retiring host with a tea-towel, which turns into a bottle of champagne.

Here's that draw graphic in full.

  Quarterfinals Semifinals Final
  1  Steven Briers  72  
8  Phil Watson  82  
     Phil Watson  82  
     Tony Warren  85  
4  Tony Warren  75
  5  Chris McHenry  37  
       Tony Warren  60
     Richard Brittain  113
  3  Stu Horsey  76  
6  Joy Longworth  69  
     Stu Horsey  75
     Richard Brittain  83  
2  Richard Brittain  96
  7  Andrew Blades  52  

University Challenge

Repechage 2: Pembroke Cambridge v Reading

Pembroke lost in week two to the UCL, by the odd five points in 335. Reading was more comprehensively beaten by Corpus Christi Oxford in heat 11, 220-150. That was the first round; this is the repechage, winner to come back next year and play Manchester. A change to the Pembroke line-up - captain Jacob Hupart is unavailable; top scorer in the opening round David Tite moves to captain from seat 1, Simon Allen moves in from the sub's bench.

Pembroke gets an entertaining little starter about Edinburgh University's midge forecast; Reading gets one about the forthcoming channel UKTV University Challenge, set to launch on Palm Sunday next year. The first visual round is on Ealing Studio films, and Reading's lead is 60-20.

The charge continues for Reading, getting a lot of starters right, but relatively few bonuses. They reach 100 points before the audio round, and all members of the team have answered at least one bonus correctly before we reach the Best Of Jazz round, featuring Louis Armstrong. Reading's lead is surely unbeatable, 140-15, but can Pembroke pull their score into something moderately respectable, perhaps greater than their combined ages.

"Glad you're still with us"; after nine successive starters for Reading, during which time Pembroke has made just one missignal, the side gets a second starter and moves to 30 points. The next starter takes them past the New Hall 35. The second visual round is Name That Typeface, and Reading's lead is 190-55.

Two more starters for Pembroke immediately afterwards ensures that, yes, they will score more than the aggregate of their ages. Indeed, if they carry on at this rate, they could pull off the greatest come-from-behind win in history. A tricky question about the German flag holds no troubles, and the gap is down to 50 points. And falling further, until Reading manages to buzz in and spell "innocuous" correctly. (Which reminds us, no Hard Spell this year. A shame.) Fifty points in 90 seconds is a bit too much; Reading gets another starter to lead by 70, and though Pembroke pulls back in the final minute, we have our winner. Reading has survived a late barrage to win 225-185.

For Pembroke, David Tite led from the front, answering seven starters in a personal score of 98. Reading's best buzzer was Warren Read, six starters in an 88-point display. Pembroke took 18/28 bonuses with one missignal; Reading had 19/39 bonuses.

After that, we need a little break. There's no Celeb UC this year, and the next match - the repechage final, between Manchester and Reading - will follow on 8 January at 8pm.

This Week And Next

We regret to report the death of Michael Mepham, crossword and puzzle compiler for the Telegraph newspapers.

After the surprising success of their recent Maria search, the BBC is now looking for a new Joseph to wear the famous Technicolour Dreamcoat. Any Dream Will Do is to be hosted by Graham Norton, with Andrew Lloyd Webber reprising his role as Man On The Throne. It's set to go out in late summer next year.

In a completely unrelated development, ITV has announced plans to find a new pair of leads for a production of Greece. The show - as yet untitled - will feature David Ian from Maria, and will be a co-production between Simon Cowell's production company and Thames Television.

We're pleased to report that the BBC's INFAX database of programme notes came back on line this week. Its records show that the 1000th edition of The Weakest Link was the Soap Stars special from July, and Monday's celebration was for the thousandth afternoon transmission. Does anyone remember Ken Hom's Hot Wok, the show that went out the week before? Thought not.

Ratings for the week to 10 December saw Strictly Come Dancing depose Eastenders from the top of BBC1's tree - the firey-foot show took 10.35m for its mid-evening results programme, suggesting that the earlier slot did it good. X Factor reached the last three with 8.4m bothering to tune in. HIGNFY takes third place, 6.8m were there on Friday night, ahead of 6.05m for the later-than-usual In It To Win It. Question of Sport had 4.6m, Family Fortunes 3.95m.

Two scores of 4.05m for Deal or No Deal puts it streets ahead of Link - 2.95m there. UC had 2.8m, level with Secret Millionaire. Dancing on Two 2.7m, QI 2.55m, Ready Steady Cook 2.15m. Unanimous failed to make Channel 4's top 30.

On the digital channels, 915,000 gluttons for punishment saw an extra X-Factor programme on Saturday, with 545,000 seeing a behind-the-scenes show on Thursday, QI on BBC4 took 600,000. Jade's PA took 235,000, and beat all but one More4 repeat of Deal - but 250,000 on Monday is the score of record. CBBC's Raven is on 190,000, and Challenge's best was a Sunday afternoon Family Fortunes, viewed by 100,000.

So, Ian Bayley and Pat Gibson were the European Pairs quiz champions in 2005. Mr. Gibson and David Stainer both won life-changing sums of money on Millionaire. Dr. Bayley and Mr. Stainer won the first series of Masterteam. Even with the assistance of the BBC's INFAX catalogue (back after a six-month review, and we thank them for it,) we've not been able to trace the quiz career of the fourth finalist, Colin Bannerman, who won a close-fought match this week. And you'll be able to find out which one wins in the Brain of Britain Final, 12.30 on Christmas Day.

Other highlights of the festive season include six celebrity editions of Mastermind (including one in Welsh), five chatshows with Gloria Honeyford (Biography Channel, Boxing Day), four Quizzes of the Year (Radio 4 Christmas Day 8am; C4 Wed 9pm; ITV Sat 30th 9pm; BBC1 New Year's Eve 9pm), three charity Millionaires, two half-million games of Deal or No Deal, and Anneka Rice in work for charity (Boxing Day, 8pm, ITV).

Highlights of the new year include The Crystal Maze (FTN, 6pm, from 1 Jan) on free-to-air television for the first time since 1998; Just a Minute (Radio 4, 6.30 1 Jan), a sob-story giveaway (ITV, 2 Jan), the return of Just the Two of Us (2 Jan), Celebrity Big Brother (3 Jan), and Soapstar Superstar (5 Jan). Countdown has a new host, and Challenge offers 3-2-1 for breakfast. Yum.

Next week's Week will be the annual Review of the Year. May we wish all our correspondents, contributors, and readers the compliments of the season.

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