Weaver's Week 2013-02-10
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For reasons we're not entirely sure we can fully explain, Keith Chegwin is still participating in Dancing on Ice. He's outlasted Pamela Anderson, defeated Oona King, and laid to rest the legend of Tucker Jenkins. This gives us an excuse to delve back into the archives for some Cheggers-tastic nostalgia.
BBC Manchester for BBC1, 17 April 1984
We had to double-check the date on the papers, as beefburger manufacturers reported "significant departures from the agreed specification". From the shelves, they're off. There were computer programs advertised to help with O-level revision, and an obituary for Tommy Cooper, who died two days earlier. On the telly, 16 million people are watching The Price is Right, 14 million see Child's Play, and Pot Black finished its series with 4.3m viewers. Look Back with Noakes is tossing the caber, Why Don't You is with the Cardiff gang, and appearing in Countdown's dictionary corner is Nigel Rees. After Sixty Minutes, there's Young Musician of the Year with heats from the wind section. Joining Bill and Emlyn on A Question of Sport are Graeme Souness, Neill Holding, Steve Cram, and Eric Bristow.
It's the first in the new series, and after the heavy metal thrash of the opening sequence, and the pulsating yellow-and-red colours of Terry Speake's angular graphic, host Keith Chegwin bounds down the stairs and into the arena, pausing only to regale us with his catchphrase, "Whay-hey!" He's excited, and wastes no time linking into the first musical performance, from Blancmange.
Yes. A musical performance to open the programme. Viewers who are interested in the hit sounds of the day have something already; those who are tuning in for the games know they have to wait four minutes before anything happens. It's a sign of confidence that the audience will stay with the programme, that the mixture of tunes and silly will keep them entertained for the duration.
So, after Blancmange have played "Don't tell me"*, we meet this week's special guest team captains. Yep, every team who competed on Cheggers Plays Pop got to meet someone modestly famous. This week's guest stars are Therese Bazaar, from the pop duo Dollar; and David Grant, a soul singer with the group Linx. He demonstrates his keep-fit routine, a bit of breakdancing on the studio floor. He's with the Waverley Middle School, Therese is captaining the Glossop Comprehensive.
At almost three decades' remove, it's difficult to remember how big these names were: both had had a few top ten hits, but it's fair to say they weren't the era's A-list celebrities like Boy George or Duran Duran. For modern equivalents, we're thinking people who couldn't get recognised on an aeroplane, like The Wanted.
But we're not here to speculate on the temporal equivalence of the hit parade. We're here for games, and Cheggers is demonstrating the first one. Rolling a large circular token across the studio floor, so that it's caught by one of the team with oversize arms on a revolving thingummy, and then they revolve further to throw it into the crowd. The revolve is powered by two players who are wearing blindfolds, and they're directed by the celeb captains. It's more complex to explain than to see it in action: a perfectly simple game of rolling, revolving, and throwing.
While watching Superstars 2012 last year, we were struck by the way they were playing contemporary music underneath the events, helping to drown out the comments of the commentator. When did this become a popular thing to do? Here's an antecedent: Cheggers Plays Pop from spring 1984, where the action is soundtracked to Slade's pumping pop-rock tune "Run run away"*. It's exciting music, building the atmosphere, and just about goes in time with the chanting of the crowd. In the points, Glossop scored 18, Waverley 12.
Next is the On The Spot round, in which two members of the crowd are invited to come out and do something silly. This week, it's two young lads, asked to sing "Old Macdonald's Farm" in a really deep voice. Technical trickery will loop the vocal round, multiplying it and turning into a high-pitched alien echo. The players had no idea this was coming, of course, and step up to the unusual challenge well. Never mind the prospect of three million children watching them on national television, or some of them laughing at the idea in three decades' time. Four points each!
It's the hottest part of the show next, the Hot Box Quick Quiz. Two players for each team, but first they're watching clips from pop videos. The Weather Girls, Depeche Mode, Culture Club, and The Thompson Twins. That's the first question, name the groups. To signal that the player wishes to answer, they press their buzzer, which causes a star on top of their hat to rise. It's simultaneously comical and genius, a bit like Keith Chegwin's entire career. Two points for a correct answer.
After half-a-dozen questions, we're off to another music break, Modern Romance are sat between the teams, playing a version of "Just my imagination"*. It goes on for three-and-a-half minutes, it feels long enough for the Sugababes to change their line-up. Twice. Then it's back to the Hot Box Quick Quiz, and the self-selection round. Players can choose from four categories: pop sounds, pop history, pop pics, or pop luck. Now, we know our regulars are quite clever enough to work out the contents of each of these, but in case any hosts are reading: sounds is a question about a clip of music – often played backwards, pics comes from a picture, history is about music from before 1984, and pop luck could be anything. One question each, two points, The first two answers are both "Shakin' Stevens", which is a hint to our next musical guest.
Except it isn't: it's The Bluebells. These days, we remember Bobby Bluebell and his band for the impossibly catchy and jangly and summery "Young at heart", forgetting that they actually made some other tunes. Here, they're performing "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Im-Falling/dp/B001F5XLM8/labyrinthgames I'm falling]"*, an impossibly catchy and jangly minor-key song about losing in love.
And we note that there are no shots of the audience during The Bluebells' performance, just as there weren't during Blancmange's. The likely reason is prosaic: the main programme was filmed in one afternoon – apparently little more than an hour, the better to keep the children's energy levels up. That only allows time for one of the bands to set up and mime their release. Note also how the attention before and after Modern Romance's performance was over at the other side of the studio, allowing time to dress the set while filming continued elsewhere.
Back to the games, and Chegwin is demonstrating the goal of the final game: fill some pastry cases with jam. The cases are at one end of the studio, the jam is at the other end, it's to be carried on oversized spoons, and between the two is a net over some balloons and a pit of polystyrene chips. Yes, it's the Infamous Cheggers Plays Pop Inflatable, it's the end game played to the sounds of Weird Al Yankovic's "Eat it"*. Everyone taking part is going to end up messy, and the result (five points for each filled case) is less important than the fun.
That's the basic idea of Cheggers Plays Pop: a bit of bragging rights, a lot of entertainment both for hipsters into their pop music and for kids who like to see others get messy. Glossop beat Waverley by 93-68 on the scoreboard, but all the participants look like they had fun. Next week's captains are Rocky Sharpe (of the Replays) and Su Ingle (from Wildtrack), with music from Captain Sensible, Matt Bianco, and Belle & The Devotions.
The final week of the Round of 32, and we'll be seeing the winners again next week.
If you have a Countdown Book of Records, tear it up, there needs to be a new edition. A further note to Match 20, when Kirk Bevins beat John Ashmore by 130-92. We must confess to losing count part-way through, as this was, actually, only the second known Perfect Game in 15-round history. The first was achieved back in 2011 by a chap called K. Bevins. Can nobody beat this egghead? We'll find out in two weeks.
Match 21 brought our last new contender, David O'Donnell (champion, 2008), up against preliminary winner Tom Hargreaves. "We only pay for perfection" is Nick Knowles' spiel on the other side: he'd be digging deep as both players have a maximum 38 points after five rounds. David broke away with "Nopales" (cactuses) and "Toupees" (ask Terry Wogan), before Tom came back with "Aileron". David went and spotted "Fortalice" (small fort) in the final period, and won by 111-86. Until missing the conundrum, David was one letter away from a perfect game. That's how high standards are; he meets Chris Davis on Friday next week.
Match 22 pitted Wayne Kelly against Jack Hurst. "I've got a nine," was Jack's first competitive phrase, followed by "Unreality", and we were writing "Game over" in our notebook. Then he had the "Compleat" winner to round two, and it really was game over. The prospect of another perfect game went, and – goaded on somewhat by Rachel – Jack was choosing his letters hoping for a nine-letter word. The century came up in round ten, but his risk of "spousing" wasn't allowed. Had he gone for the safe seven, he would have beaten the all-time highest score of 146. Jack's winning score is 143 (ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY THREE)-89. A measure of his drive: Jack's disappointed not to have hit 150. Chris Willis faces the revenge on Thursday next.
Match 23 was the long-awaited match between Conor Travers and Mark Tournoff; these two would have met in the 2006 Championship of Champions, but both were beaten by Paul Gallen. Conor had the first winner, "Laureate", and solved a snicky one-large numbers game. The younger man turned the screw late in the game, with "Morphia" and "Notecase" and "Budgies", and getting the conundrum meant Conor's winning score was 112-62. This doesn't reflect Mark's ability, but note that both players had a word disallowed in round four. In the other fourteen rounds, Conor was perfect. Chris Hawkins is next.
Darryl Francis (1985) and Barry Grossman (1991) met in match 24, in what we expect to be the last clash between two players who made débuts before 2000. Darryl rang the niner bell with "grouplets", but Susie wasn't going to allow it; very probably it scores a squillion in Scrabble. "Cordiest" was allowed for him, and Darryl's one-point lead turns into eight after a tricky numbers game. Another disallowed word chops him back; both have "lionet" rejected, and "spirula" and "congue" fall. Seven rejected submissions in the first eight letters rounds: is there any chance of a Unified Word Game dictionary, one on which Countdowners and Scrabblers can agree? Back in the studio, a crucial conundrum, which Darryl solved to win 82-63. Jon O'Neill on Tuesday, then.
The last match of the First Round Proper pitted Andrew Hulme against Jonathan Rawlinson. Andrew made the first attacking move with "diabolo", but it hasn't been listed. He offered "Smidges" later, with more success, to get a smidge of a lead. The two remained toe-to-toe until Andrew brought out "Deplores" in round eleven, only for "unmixed" to be disallowed. Andrew took a three-point lead into the conundrum, and Jonathan won the race to the buzzer for a 98-91 win. No rest for the youngster, as Tom Rowell is up on Monday.
Group phase, match 1: Manchester v Imperial College
Here's a spooky coincidence: the first match of the group phase last year pitted Manchester against another London college, UCL. That was in the week before Christmas 2011. Manchester pleased all neutrals by knocking out Magdalen Oxford, Imperial accounted for Bristol last time out. Manchester manages to buzz first on the first three starters, Imperial give two correct answers to those questions. In no time at all, it's the first visual round – disused letters from the old English alphabet. Clearly, these are still used in Manchester, they move back to a 35-30 lead.
Manchester have the next few starters, and the Smuggled Greek Letters: Thumper gives definitions of terms, the team is to give the answer and the Greek letter hidden therein, for instance "Riot act" conceals "iota". The audio round begins by asking for the name of a classical composer, Manchester knows he's Handel, and leads by 100-50. Imperial do all the buzzing in the third period, picking up three starters and two missignals – penalties for incorrect interruptions. The visual round is on ruined abbeys, after which Manchester leads 100-80.
And then this:
- Q: Timothy Dalton, Orson Welles, Toby Stephens and Michael Fassbender are among the actors who have played which romantic figure, the creation of Charlotte Bronte?
- A: Inspector Clouseau?
Mr. Rochester, actually. Manchester prove to know a lot about Fantasia, so much so that they discuss the answer while Thumper is still reading the question, much to his disgust. The game is just about won when Imperial suggest that a meteorological equipment is used for measuring rainfall: it's really for sunlight. We had to check the subtitles to determine that the host had referred to "the great George Osbourne" and not used a homophone. Just afterwards, Guille from Imperial buzzes in, needing to get the starter, but he can't answer and rests his head against the desk.
Manchester are back, folks, pulling out a 185-115 win. They'll face the winners of UCL – Bangor (next week) with Imperial battling the losers. Manchester ended up with 17/30 bonuses correct – a good return at this stage of the series, Imperial had 10/24, but Martin Evans was the only player to get five starters right.
This Week and Next
Mastermind has just two heats to go.
- Kimberley Westall (Battle of the River Plate) scored 6 (3) on a round about the Graf Spree and very little else. Already ruled out of a win, she finishes on 16 (6).
- Mick Judge (Films of Tod Slaughter) has a subject that neither we nor Humpo knows anything about, finishing on 8 (3). His general knowledge round fizzes and crackles, finishing on 22 (4).
- Jonathan Payton (Joy Division), the popular band from Manchester sees him to 12 (1). It's a general knowledge round that is full of careful deduction, using all the clues from the questions, to finish on 23 (4).
- Marcus Hake (Ashes cricket since 1981) clearly knows his cricket, ending on 13 (0). He races through the ten he needs to draw level, and after a slight stumble, progresses past the winning post to finish on 28 (1). A decent chance in the Top Thirty.
News from the regulators, and we note that OFCOM has ignored 182 complaints about The Big Fat Quiz of the Year. The vast majority of these were sent in by proxies for Associated Newspapers. The regulator has also turned down a complaint about nudity on World's Strongest Man: it's not clear whether the gripe was about too much bare male flesh or not enough.
Such was the reaction to the first series, ITV has decided to bring back Splash! for another run. We literally cannot wait, we are pacing up and down the office in anticipation. And viewers to Stroll! will be able to see that in slow motion from fifteen different angles. Except one showing our feet actually touching the carpet.
BARB ratings for the week to 27 January are without ITV, so we've no formal confirmation that Dancing on Ice was number one – though unless it lost a million viewers through timeshift, that was the case. In It to Win It was seen by 5.2m, The Great Comic Relief Bake Off by 4.45m, and Celebrity Big Brother (3.4m) just beat University Challenge (3.35m); according to reports, both were beaten by The Chase and Pointless. Mastermind had 2.3m viewers, 8 Out of 10 Cats 1.9m. Got to Dance 4 (705,000) led the way on the new channels, followed by Come Dine More4 (490,000) and QI XL (405,000). Ninja Warrior brought 170,000 to Challenge?, and on the very minor channels, Mantracker (Extreme Sports, 23,000) and Quiz is Anfield (LFC-TV, 10,000).
This week, we've the start of Just a Minute (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday), and the return of What's the Story? (Radio Wales, 6.30 Friday). Saturday has another run of Let's Dance for Comic Relief (BBC1, 6.50).
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