Beat the Nation



Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor


Endemol UK Productions Midlands for Channel 4, 5 January to 2 July 2004 (121 episodes in 1 series)


The basic premise is as follows: Century Quiz has written a shedload of questions. Wary of the effect Century Quiz has had on other shows, Endemol has tested these questions on "over 1000" internet users via the Yougov polling site, and scaled up these responses to the Grate British Public. The resulting game replaced Fifteen-to-One at the start of Channel 4's Quiz Hour in early 2004.

Our hosts are very much playing the one tough, one tender cliché. Only they're both being nice, so it's the not so clichéd one tender, one tenderer. Tim Brooke-Taylor plays the really good cop role, chatting amiably to the contestants, and offering losing contestants a chance at winning £100 in a short game. Curiously, we seem to recall Tim playing the tough cop back on Qd - The Master Game. Graeme Garden plays the merely nice cop, asking most of the difficult questions, and most of the easy questions as well. Viewers who expected Humph to be asking Colin Sell what he was playing need not tune out just yet.

Graeme and Tim welcome us to the show.

After Tim has said hello to the contestants, and invited them to regale us with a possibly interesting anecdote, it's on to round one. Fingers on buzzers, the contestants try to answer questions that the majority of the nation gets wrong. The score for each question is the percentage of people who got the question wrong, so here it's going to be between 51 and 100 points per question. First three to 150 will progress, so we're going to be asking no more than eleven questions in this round, quite possibly fewer. The last player, the one who hasn't reached 150, must leave us. Before they go, Tim offers £100 if they can guess how many people got a question correct to within 10%.

In the second round, Graeme asks six questions, with scoring as before. The contestant has the chance to double if they can correctly predict whether a minor celeb will get the answer correct. The lowest score after six questions is eliminated, but Tim has another £100 to give away. In this game, the contestant is given two categories of people, and tries to work out which group gave the more correct answers. It's a 50/50 guess.

There's a missed opportunity for Heavy Tactics here - six questions, three contestants, why not limit each player to answering two questions only? That would force contestants to gamble on the unknown difficulty of future questions and the celeb's knowledge.

Before the break, Graeme poses a One Percenter. That's a question that 99% of the nation got wrong. Such as, "In which country was Yehudi Menuhin born?" Or "Colin, what are you doing on the piano?"

The studio reminds us which Nation we're beating.

Last year, Fifteen-to-One occupied this slot, and it appears William G. Stewart left a large pile of spare lives around. In the third round, each contestant starts with three lives, and the two are, in turn, asked questions of increasing difficulty. First error loses a life, then the difficulty goes back to the easy. First contestant to lose all three lives is eliminated, but can win £100 by predicting which of two people is more well known.

In the daily finale, the winner has to answer ten questions in 90 seconds. We start with an easy question, one to which less than 10% of the nation didn't knew the answer. After a correct answer, the next question foxed between 10 and 20% of the nation, and so on. Success is rewarded with £500 and a possible seat in the Season Final; failure means they'll come back the next day to try again.

One hidden statistic: exactly how intelligent is the Grate British Public? 30% knew the colour of the rainbow between yellow and blue. Only slightly more than half the nation knows where to find New England, less than half know the Irish flag or the logo of the National Trust. After the infamous "Oak Leaf" incident, surely everyone in the country knows this one. Only 15% of the country knows the Spanish flag by sight, and the number of people who know what Colin's doing on the piano is none, apparently. 33% don't know who wrote "Handel's Water Music" (and must wonder what the other 67% are laughing at when that infamous clip from 3-2-1 gets an airing), while 19%, shown a picture of a big round thing in the sky, failed to recognise it as the Moon.

The title sequence follows a bird following the road signposted "Right" through a cartoon mock-up city, finishing at a road sign supported by Tim and Graeme. At least, we think that's who's supporting what. The roadsign motif spills into the other graphics, many displaying like the rounded ends of the sign. Departing contestants take their desks with them, as last seen on Shafted.

Overall, Beat the Nation is very sedate and polite; the hosts are very much in the Nice mould, and the whole show feels more like a replacement for Countdown than the quietly thrusting Fifteen-to-One. It played out its one series and never returned. Many of the ideas were later used on BBC One's teatime favourite Pointless, where Tim's role of genial assistant was taken by Beat the Nation producer Richard Osman.

Theme music

Augustin Bousfield


The original publicity for the show named Michael Grade as host, which might have been quite good. But he pulled out.

One of the last shows to be filmed at Carlton Studios in Nottingham alongside BBC sitcom Doctors and Nurses before being sold to Nottingham University in March 2005, where it's now called King's Meadow Campus.

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