Weaver's Week 2012-09-16

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Jacques Antoine, le créateur de Fort Boyard, est mort. Restera à jamais dans nos mémoires.

Jacques Antoine, 1924—2012

A full tribute will be published next week.

Secret Interview


Secret Interview

Group M for Channel 5, 22 August – 12 September

This review's mostly based on the show of 5 September, featuring celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke.

The basic premise of Secret Interview is that the traditional job interview is a piece of bunkum. It's difficult to think of a worse way for a potential employer to judge the quality of applicants, or for potential employees to learn about their prospective workplace.

(Actually, this is a fib. The fundamental premise of Secret Interview is that there's nothing wrong with the buying and selling of labour, and the extraction of surplus value presents no moral problems. This is a fringe view, and we're not reviewing Channel 4's 10.03 Live programme of satire, comedy, and Jimmy Carr.)

Secret Interview Watching footage in a wood-panelled office.

Rather than the traditional chat in a wood-panelled office, and perhaps a staged test on the workfloor, Secret Interview takes cameras to follow around two applicants. The footage is seen by their possible employer. The programme is cut and edited as though the boss was seeing things live, but we're never actually told that it's being seen life, and we're sufficiently wise to the ways of television that we assume the footage is sent over. Possibly edited, too.

(Did we just spell "cynical" as "wise to the ways of television"? Soap and water for this column.)

Throughout the programme, the anonymous voice-over tells us that the applicants "don't know the interview is happening". Only one of their existing co-workers is in on the secret, and can help to maintain order in the workplace. Goodness knows, they're going to have to work hard to ensure the secret doesn't blow, because some strange things are going to happen. Though perhaps not that hard, because while we viewers are going to see three bizarre events in 35 minutes, the workers will experience them over a few days, spread out amongst their regular work.

Secret Interview It could be worse: Richard O'Brien was unavailable.

The episode we watched was about hairdressers, and the first constructed stunt was to send in a difficult customer. Someone who really didn't know what they wanted, and who was going to be more than a little obstructive to the working of the hairdresser. The producers chose to make one of their awkward punters the sort who would try to get the candidate's phone number, which is the sort of casual sexism we really don't like to see on our television screen, even when it's presented as an example of What Not to Do. The viewer chops between filmed footage from both candidates, and the reactions of the celebrity hairdresser who will (as the voiceover reminds us every few minutes) be employing one of these people after the conclusion of the secret interview.

In part two, there's another set-up stunt, a day with a completely incompetent work experience person. We've seen in the past how easy it is to take footage from a day, bundle it into a five-minute package for public consumption, and present someone as something they're not. With so much choice, the editors are able to slice and dice, taking the one moment and ignoring the hours that contradict it, just so they can tell the story they want to tell. Goodness, that's the modus operandi of Big Brother. Was it also the working model for this programme? We don't know: our cynicism says that it could have done, and that's enough to worry us.

The Bank Job The model for an incompetent work-experience person.

All of the stunts have been set in conjunction with the celebrity employer, and we're told what they're trying to measure. How cool will the hairdresser be with annoying twerps? Will they display the demeanour that this particular employer wants? Because that's all the employer can measure – performance against their own standards. That much is reasonable: we don't like the implication that the opinions of this person are representative of the entire industry.

The last stunt we saw was the wedding party from hell: with a fixed deadline, a bride and three maids, and absolutely no idea what they wanted to go as. Yes, a contrived situation, though we fear it's not quite as contrived as all that. It may have provided something to the boss, it certainly allowed the producers to manufacture some tension.

Secret Interview Hair up!

The final part of the interview, and the only one that the contenders might have known was part of the process, was a fashion shoot, where they were charged with getting hair looking just the way the photographer wanted in barely a quarter-hour.

At the end, the candidates are told that the interview has already taken place. Shock! Horror! Gasps! The person they thought was with them for moral support has actually been participating in a little deception. Both candidates are de-briefed, discuss what they've gone through with the boss person, before the announcement of the successful candidate.

Secret Interview Nicky Clarke reviews the week with a contender.

Remember how we said at the start that the purpose of a job interview was to help the employer work out if they wanted to employ that person, and vice versa? The converse doesn't happen: everything that takes place is done on the boss's behest. Crazy stunts are pulled, normal practice is re-written, all to please the employer. The employee has no chance to work out if they really want to work for this person, especially as it's been proven that the employer is perfectly happy to mislead and fib so that they can promote themselves. It's not a healthy power relationship.

And remember how we said that this programme was going out on Channel 5? Though there were breaks between the various parts of the programme, they were denuded of advertisements. There were promotions for Micro-Celebrity Big Brother, for Dallas, for a history documentary about James VI's witchcraft obsession, and for the internet video clip show Jedtoob. In the entire hour, only one paid commercial appeared on Channel 5 (prop: R. Desmond). It was for the Daily Express (prop: R. Desmond). There's a message in there, somewhere.

Only Connect

Footballers v Second Violinists

So we're all on the same page, the Footballers are not professional footballers, but fans of the game. The captain is a traffic technician, someone who designs road schemes. The Second Violinists all play in the Cardiff University symphony orchestra, and their captain has since posted her entry to The Only Connect Bake Off. You know, the one hosted by Television's fourth most popular double act, The Two Reeds.

Only Connect (2) Rosie Howarth's remarkable cake.

The Footballers begin with a set of films, in which they reckon leading characters pretend to be someone different. No, nor is it cross-dressing. It's that they're all remakes of French works, so no points there. Queens of the ___ come next, with the Second Violinists retro-fitting Queen of the South Nil to the picture they missed, and two points. Music for the Footballers, they reckon it's tunes about footwear: clogs and wellies and boots and no need to play "Blue suede shoes".

The Second Violinists know Brooke Magnanti from somewhere, but it's not newspaper columnists, it is actually people whose hidden identities were reveaked – Brooke was a belle du jour, and no-one knows The Story of O. Misheard lyrics come up next – The Police's "Sue Lawley", Jimi Hendrix's "Scuse me while I kiss this guy", and a point to the Footballers. Taxi for the Second Violinists – they have cities and the colours of their cabs, and trail 3-4.

Into Sequences, where there are bits of Italy heading up the left-hand coast, and Tuscany gives the Footballers a couple. Pictures for the Violinists: they reckon its Howard Stern, some Port, a Bow, and a Star on a Board for two. We don't recall who edited the scripts for The Vicar of Dibley, but we do recall the MPs for the Isle of Ely, and we're not talking Harry Legge-Bourke. Emma and Clement and his father Ernst, which leads up to Sigmund Freud. Nothing for the teams, we're a-freud.

Categorisation of industries into primary, secondary, tertiary, which should have led to primary industry, or raw materials. A guess at "grand slam" because it looks a bit like bridge. The guesses count, for two points. Highest buildings in London for the Second Violinists, currently ending with The Shard. Two points, 8-7 to the Footballers, and an excuse to re-publish a photo that Tom Scott of The Hitchhikers took last Sunday. "Mordor!"

Tom Scott promises he didn't alter this in any way.

Website wonders 177 and 178 this week, and the Second Violinists are jabbing for cocktails and chocolate bars and additional payments. And shades of pink, and things that could be revenge. None of these form groups, mind, so only the answers can give them points – films with Mel Gibson, additional payments, Radio 2 announcers, and things that can be blown. But not the inheritance. One point!

Something for the Footballers to tilt at: they start with cartoon dogs, and wasn't Spike from another show? Things one shoots suddenly comes out of nowhere. "Ruckman" looks like it's going to be the key clue here, but the exact combination evades them. It's not things one shoots, but synonyms for swift movement. Parts of a gun form another group, as does positions in Aussie Rules football. Four points!

So the Footballers are 12-8 up into the final round, which probably won't detain us long. Fundraising events go to the Violinists by 2-0, and even we got "coffee morning". UK racecourses are to the Footballers 3-1, and Advocates of women's rights is to the Footballers by 2-(-1). Things in a first-aid kit ends 1-1, and the Footballers have completed their win, 18-11. A low-scoring week, some tricky walls, and so long as no-one mentions the body under the patio, we'll be fine.

Only Connect (2) Second place for Sophie Fitzsimmons, Rosie Howarth, and Agnes Henson.

This Week And Next

Lincoln Oxford played Manchester in this week's University Challenge, and with four doctoral students on the panel, it was almost inevitable that the opening question will be missed by all. None of the next starters were dropped, though Lincoln failed to recognise three bonus questions on the logos of animal pressure groups. "They need to work on their brand recognition," mused our host.

Manchester needed to work on getting some questions right: they managed to fall 100 points behind by making a couple of missignals, and otherwise being beaten to the buzzer by their opponents. The defending champions did manage to get a couple of starters, and some fundamental theorems of mathematics, but it was Lincoln all the way.

University Challenge Lincoln Oxford: Victor Jones, Michael Hopkins, Jacqui Thompson, Hugh Reid
Manchester: David Brice, Adam Barr, Richard Gilbert, Debbie Brown.

Manchester briefly pulled back to within 50, before Lincoln moved ahead with words formed from CLUELESS. That should have put them within one starter of victory, but Manchester denied them that starter, and Lincoln managed to suggest that "Missouri" ends in a silent S. Manchester pounced on the error, then this:

Half-way through the heats, the repêchage board is:

  • Lincoln Oxford 175
  • King's Cambridge 145
  • Sidney Sussex Cambridge 125
  • Queen Mary's London 120
JP: Level pegging. Your bonuses now are on place names.
Q: Around the size of the Isle of Mull, and at a latitude of 38 degrees north, Sado is the sixth largest island of which country?
[Manchester wastes 7 seconds giving the wrong answer. It's Japan.]
Q: Reaching the Atlantic Ocean near the city of Setubal, the Sado is a major river of which country?
A: Portugal.

Manchester held the lead for slightly less than one second. It was the very final less than one second. Manchester won, by 180-175! We didn't see that coming!

Can Mastermind produce a result as close? (No.)

  • Jackie Phillips (Story of Moses) turned in a perfectly fine performance, making 10 (1). Her general knowledge round never quite got out of third gear, ending on 19 (4).
  • Iain Copping (History and Geography of Arkansas) didn't get a question about Bill Clinton, but does have one on Dr. David Owen, 10 (1). We're not entirely convinced by the idea of animals without ears, but he did advance to 22 (3).
  • Shahab Mossavat (Terry Venables) had a round like its subject: starts strong, a bit wobbly mid-career, nowt wrong with 12 (0). A very good general knowledge round, no passes, few guesses, and 26 (0).
  • Philip Walters (Doctor Who 1963-89) distracted us as the neon lights around Humpo's desk reflected in the contender's glasses. 13 (0) is increased with a pass in question two, making his task that much harder. The contender never quite seemed to pick up speed, finishing on 25 (1).

Which means Shahab Mossavat adds "Mastermind heat winner" to "commodities trader" on his CV, and will rejoin us next year.

Mastermind We got distracted by the set reflecting in the contender's glasses.

The OFCOM broadcast bulletin has reported on a couple of cases. A competition on Northsound Radio offered tickets to the Eurovision Song Contest, but it wasn't clear that these were tickets to one of the dress rehearsals. Global Radio has also been ticked off for failing to make it clear that its competitions ran across the UK, and not just in the Gemini FM area.

News from Britain's Got the Pop Factor, where Gary Barlobe has suggested that contenders should not be allowed to promote themselves and the programme on the internet. Mr. Barlobe, the most disagreeable man in pop, said the contenders needed to put all their energies into their performances. On the other side of the argument is will.i.am, who promoted himself and The Voice live on air in April. He hasn't directly responded to Mr. Barlobe's statement, because will.i.am has been busy making popular and distinctive music this week, something Mr. Barlobe hasn't done since 1993.

Main-channel ratings in the week to 2 September, where our unit of account is the Thumper, defined at 2.6m viewers. The X Factor continued to be Britain's most popular game show, with 3.24 Thumpers (8.4m), ahead of The Great British Bake Off (1.75 Thumpers, 4.55m). By comparison, the opening ceremony to the Channel 4 Para'lympics was seen by 3 Thumpers (7.8m). Red or Black? 2.0 took third, with 1.26 Thumpers (3.25m), and University Challenge had precisely 1 Thumper. Minor Celebrity Big Brother topped Channel 5's list (0.95 Thumpers, 2.45m), and for the sixth week running, no game shows made BBC1's top thirty.

For channels out of the big five, our unit of account is the Hieroglyph, worth 161,000 viewers. Celebrity Juice returned to ITV2, securing 13.85 Hieroglyphs (0.86 Thumpers, 2.23m). Xtra Factor was seen by 6.68 Hieroglyphs (1.075m), and the new run of Only Connect had 6 Hieroglyphs (965,000). By comparison, ITV4's coverage of a men's football match involving Newcastle United was seen by 5.9 Hieroglyphs (950,000). Hell's Kitchen and an ITV2 narrative repeat of The X Factor both had about 4.5 Hieroglyphs, and 5*'s BBLB broke 3 Hieroglyphs.

One Man and His Dog rather crept up on us, and concludes tonight (BBC2, 5pm Sun), and for the first time ever, this year it's live. There's a Big Fat Decades quiz (C4, 9pm Sun) and The Reunion (Radio 4, 11.15am Sun – or BBC Radio Player for the next week) brings together producers and lab rats from the 2000 series of Big Brother. Indoor League gets an outing on ESPN Classic (11am weekdays). At the other end of the week, Channel 4 has the relationship programme Baggage (8pm Fri), and there's an Extreme version of A Question of Sport (BBC1, 5.40 Sat).

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