Weaver's Week 2008-06-29

Weaver's Week Index

The series logo contained a hidden message

With nothing much worth watching on the television this week, it's time to pitch ourselves back into the dark recesses of history for the second look back at The Adventure Game. This week's show is the second broadcast from the second series, originally transmitted on 9 November 1981.

We should point out that the pictures in this photo-essay were sourced from a home video recording, and though we've tried to improve them as best we can, they're not brilliant.

There is no hidden message in this picture

To the sounds of a brass band playing Grieg's Opus 35 (Norwegian Dance), we see the show's logo, and Patrick Dowling in the familiar foyer of Pebble Mill. Mr. Dowling devised many of the puzzles we'll see this year, and gives the team two pieces of information. First, he shows them a 12-drogna piece: a green triangle in an otherwise clear perspex circle. And he tells the team that one of them – one of the earth people in the programme – is a mole, whose aim is to slow them down, make them overstay their time, and give the Argonds a chance to evaporate the visitors. The usual crew of Gandor, Ganord, and His Highness the Rangdo have been joined by Lesley Judd. Our explorers know that she visited previously, and has failed to return; they might be able to find her and maybe rescue her.

(l-r) Dowling, Smith, Yip, Gale

The players this week are Madeleine Smith, David Yip, and Derek Gale. Madeleine Smith had appeared in various roles during the 1970s, including Henrietta Beckett in the Two Ronnies serial Hampton Wick, and Miss Caruso in Live and Let Die. More recently, she played the female characters in Jeremy Beadle's series The Deceivers, so was well-known to children tuning in at 6pm. Liverpool's own David Yip had played the title role in BBC1's The Chinese Detective earlier in the year, and continues to play oriental characters to this day. Derek Gale is a research chemist, fighter pilot, and one-finger typist; this may be his greatest claim to fame.

The prototype for the Central Line trains

Our three intrepid explorers go off into the studio, and into the Arg shuttle. Inside, it looks like a London Underground carriage, perhaps modelled on the 1938 Metropolitan Line stock. They have a very fast journey, via a black hole, and eventually dock at Arg Spaceport. Ganord (still playing the role of Charmian Gradwell) is waiting for them, and invites them across the vortex. They'll have to hurry, the evaporator will be switched on in about 40 minutes, when the clock quacks. Ganord says that there's a message for the team somewhere.

It's quite safe, the evaporator's switched off

The first substantive problem is getting through the ticket office, There are other texts for them to review: "Richard of York Gave Battle" says one inscription. "Today's password: Nepo Emases" says another. There's a message in a balloon: "When you're not looking at it, this message is written in Swahili." Is that Zen philosophy at six minutes past six on a Monday evening?

When you're not looking at it, this channel discusses extistentialist philosophy

The noise of the balloon popping has woken the sleeping Gandor (still shifting into the shape of Christopher Lever). He hands over a postcard, addressed to Ivy P. Daid of 11m Helmdean St, Keedle, Arg, 2D 13AC. The message reads: "Well, God give them wisdom that have it, and those that are fools, let them use their talents!" The team need to shout out the password, but "Nepo Emases" is yesterday's password. The team are helped by Gandor being a bit lazy, he hasn't changed the password. Eventually, after a bit of shouting, the door opens.

Is this a huge hint, or a red herring?

Now our intrepid trio are into the main room. On the floor is a pattern of squares, leading to a plinth. There's a clock in the corner, a picture of some men with flags on one wall, but the team don't know what's them are for. A computer in another wall will only work if the team insert one drogna. Further over is a water device and a pot plant saying "Please water me here", and right at the far end is a metal grille: it's all black behind that. The team wear their party hats, and have some of those squeakers. Ever suspicious, they check inside the hats for messages.

Ganord explains the mosaic, with HH The Rangdo watching

Ganord points out the mosaic on the floor, and explains it's based on the planet's currency. "You'll be safe if you stick to the higher values", she explains, saying that a red pentagon is worth just five drogna. That's not high enough to stop the squeaks, nor is an orange square, but a blue triangle is high enough. Ganord's said that the team will need to work out the values, otherwise the conductor will swindle them.

The team follows the path to success

Just as the team are getting the hang of it, what should slide in but a hissing aspidistra (played by the Rangdo), who's come along to watch. Derek works out that green-or-a-triangle is safe, which is rather odd. Green circles will work, but orange squares are too small? Colour us confused.

How does one water a plant? Lesley Judd looks on from her cage.

At the end of the logical path is a perspex tube, covering a button. By the base of the tube is a sign saying "which weigh now?" This makes no sense, and the computer won't talk to them until they insert a drogna. The team look into the clock, but are distracted by Lesley Judd calling from the far end. She's locked in a cage. Again. Lesley will only be released is the team can insert 12 drogna in the slot.

It'll just get wet...

Over in one corner are some weighing scales: if all three team-members stand on the scales, they'll lower the tube and can press the button. The team try to water the plant by carrying water in one of those squeaker things, but all it achieves is getting the paper wet. The water device works by blowing down one end to raise the level in the connected tube. Gandor and Ganord are watching proceedings from upstairs, and this covers an edit while the trio discuss their options.

A technique later borrowed for The Crystal Maze

Eventually, David has the bright idea of putting two of the scales on top of each other, allowing Derek to cross the squares and press the button. A cluster of balloons fall from the ceiling, and the team examine them. Does one contain some drogna? Another message? David even tries to water the plant by using a balloon; some water goes in the balloon, more goes into his eye.

Blow down one end, water rises in the other, flows down the trumpet...

Enter, stage right, Gandor. He's in search of his spectacles, on the pretext that he can't hear without them. He leaves his ear-trumpet behind, and that's just the right size and shape to funnel the water to the plant. When it grows, it turns out to be a drogna plant, containing lots of money. The 12-drogna piece goes in the slot, and Lesley comes out. The team still needs one drogna to start the computer, but Lesley says she doesn't know anything about the currency on the planet.

Out of the hole!

Derek starts conversing with the computer, and David goes down a dark passage. At least he took a torch, but he's stuck in a black hole. He emerges into another room, beyond the one Gandor's shepherded the team to. In this room is a table with some flowers and a thermometer. Behind them is a shelf of books, and on the wall is a safe. The room Derek emerged into is a kitchen, containing some Earl Grey tea, some mugs, a bottle of milk, and a bottle of chilled wine.

Air conditioning, at this early date, had yet to be imported

Ganord pops into the room, and says that time is flying. She's warm, and lets Madeleine have her bag to keep the drogna. The team take the hint to cool down the thermometer – first by putting the wine onto it, then by rubbing it with an ice cube. When the thermometer cools, the mercury in it contracts, and that breaks an electrical circuit. Breaking the circuit releases a spring, and the pot plant rises to reveal some signal flags.

There's a hidden message here...

Gandor's back amongst us: his glasses are in Ganord's bag. Gandor is looking for change for his 16-drogna piece (a blue square), but David hasn't worked out the values. The red circle is a one-drogna, and the yellow oval is a yellow one. There's a comedy routine involving Gandor putting his glasses on and taking them off to mislead David.

Yes, that's a yellow one

The safe on the wall has letters on the dial, and David suggests using "BUKK", book. One of the books is the International Code of Signals, and it contains a list of signal flags. B-D-V-C, the same letters as were on the mugs in the kitchen. Inside the safe are some more drogna, and a postcard with the message, "Have you found the seven pillars yet? To find your way out, enter the password when the clock quacks!" Elsewhere on the bookshelf is a chart of semaphore symbols, which can be used to decode the picture in the other room.

David examines the contents of the safe

But that's for later: right now, Ganord has bustled into the room, because it's time to Find the Mole. The team go to the other room, where there are two painted circles on the floor. Ganord invites the team to get into the circles, two in each. Madeleine and Lesley on the left, David and Derek on the right. "If you can persuade one of the others to join you in your circle, or if you want to join the others in theirs, and three of you agree, point to the other and say, 'Mole, mole, go to your hole'. If they're wrong, the innocent party gets evaporated."

Who hasn't been pulling their weight?

One of the four of them is definitely a mole. Has David got the yips? Is Madeleine at the end of her wick? Was Lesley judd here to hold them up? Will Derek be blown away? Find out in next week's instalment of The Adventure Game.

0898gate: GCap Caps It All

The latest episode in the premium rate telephone scandal has concluded, and it'll cost someone dearly. During 2007, thirty-one radio stations jointly ran a competition. Listeners would be played a mystery sound, and would send an SMS, or call an 0898 number, to register to play. Each hour during the competition, one person would be taken to air. If they gave the correct answer, they won the prize. If they were wrong, all entries were discarded and the competition rolled over to the next hour. Some SMS entries included the proposed answer.

The competition was run by GCap, who delegated the operation of the competition to junior members of staff. Though GCap had bought in a properly-audited system to manage large competitions, this system wasn't used. Instead, someone suggested that "it would be unfortunate" were the contest to be won too early. The junior member of staff responsible for picking the caller interpreted this as "extend the contest for as long as you can", and deliberately selected losing entries to go to air.

We'll just repeat that. GCap deliberately and knowingly selected losing entries to go to air.

We said that no audit information was kept, so no-one can say for certain how often this particular scam was perpetrated. GCap's own evidence suggests that it ran for "about two days" for each sound. The whole promotion lasted for a month, during which time four sounds were guessed, so somewhere around half the calls taken to air were known to be wrong.

OFCOM, the regulatory body for all things to do with commercial broadcast media, only got to hear about this from a whistleblower within GCap. OFCOM determined that the person in charge of syndicated competitions had approved the practice at a production meeting.

Obviously, that particular competition was extended, resulting in more calls, and a little more cash, but spread amongst the fewer winners. The net effect was to encourage more people to call, and probably increased GCap's revenues.

Unlike many of the other 0898-gate scandals, GCap's actions were premediated. They hadn't arisen through sloppy practice, or been a spontaneous reaction to an unanticipated failure. Unlike any of the other scandals, GCap didn't go out of its way to help the investigation, providing different explanations to premium-rate regulator ICSTIS and to broadcasting regulator OFCOM. It was many months before GCap was willing to provide job titles of the people responsible. No previous 0898-gate investigation had had to repeatedly ask for such information.

OFCOM decided that GCap had failed to train and manage its staff effectively. OFCOM also found that, by prolonging the competition, there had been increased harm to consumers. Had it not been for the report from a whistleblower, the breaches would not have come to light.

GCap said that none of its senior managers had been aware of the problem. This was found to be poor risk management, and OFCOM deemed it a gross failure by managers. No formal written report was produced for GCap's board into the matter, only a verbal report. OFCOM found the investigation to be inadequate.

The feather in the cap was GCap's response when it was fined by ICSTIS. GCap put a statement on its website saying the whole matter was "an isolated incident" and "a system error", and promising to refund anyone who complained. This refund wasn't publicised on any of the thirty-one stations. It wasn't put on their websites. Instead, the refund was buried deep in GCap's website. And, let's be fair, everyone who asked for their money back got their money back.

One person wrote in, and got a refund of £2.

Taking everything into account, including the Michael demonstrated above, OFCOM decided to impose a fine of £37,000 for each of the stations carrying the competition that were owned by GCap, a total of £1,110,000. Since the hearing, GCap has been bought by Global Radio, subject to regulatory approval. A further investigation continues into the independent Mercury FM, which bought the competition wholesale from GCap; no adjudication has yet been published.

We have to wonder if this is the net effect of GCap's policy of consolidation and networking. The company began life in the early 1980s as GWR, broadcasting to Wiltshire and Bristol, then acquired various other stations to hold a near-monopoly of local commercial radio in southern England outside London. It meant that the producers could just see listeners as numbers on a sheet, and not associate them with the people they saw every day.

This Week And Next

The Round Britain Quiz-style question from last Thursday's television guide was: What is the illusory link between a movie starring James Mason and Kathleen Ryan; an autobiography by Lance Armstrong; and a single by Animal from the Muppets? Answer later in this section.

Our American reporter tells us that their local version of Cash Cab has won the Best Game Show award at the "Daytime Emmy" presentation. This is the biggest prize won by the British format (far exceeding this column's Best New Show of 2005 award) and, once again, shows ITV's lack of thinking when they stopped the show after just one series and two episodes. In not so surprising news, the Best Game Show Host gong went to CBC announcer Alex Trebeck.

Ratings for the week to 15 June, the last week of The Apprentice, and it's no surprise to find Alan Sugar's promotional vehicle in two of the top spots. 9.3m preferred the series finale to the water-polo match on BBC2, 5.2m the interview with his new employee, and 4.8m switched across to see the losers discussed. But it was a good week for One Versus One Hundred, 5.7m were shepherded to see the show on Saturday. Big Brother's best was 3.85m on Friday, beaten by Weakest Link Blue Peter (3.95m) and ITV didn't bother with any game shows all week. We should also note the success of the Monday repeat of HIGNFY, seen by a series-best 2.1m.

On the digital channels, ITV2 continued to lead with America's Got Talent (760,000) just pipping Come Dine With Me (705,000). QI on Dave came third (495,000), much to the chagrin of Big Brother's Big Mouth (480,000) and Little Brother (430,000). Dear Channel 4: nobody likes Big Brother any more.

Answering the quiz question. The movie starring Mason and Ryan is Odd One Out, Lance Armstrong's autobiography is Every Second Counts, and the single by Animal from the Muppets was Wipeout. The link is that all three gave their names to gameshows presented by that master illusionist Paul Daniels. Another question next week.

A slightly more busy week next week, with ITV capturing the zeitgeist in its own inimitable style by launching a series for those buying houses at auction (Good Bid Good Buy, 2pm weekdays in most regions). BBC3 has Britain's Missing Top Model (9pm Tuesday), another find-a-face show. BBC1 has Celebrity Masterchef (from Wednesday), and C4 captures the zeitgeist in its own inimitable style by seeking housekeepers, au pairs, and dog walkers. (Personal Services Required, 9pm Wednesday).

Next Saturday sees the debut of inter-singing competition Last Choir Standing (BBC1, 7.45 – or 70 minutes after the tennis has finished) and new lottery show This Time Tomorrow (BBC1, 8.45 or immediately after the choirs). Channel 4 makes its usual contribution to Saturday night entertainment with what we fear will be a predictable clip show on the subject of television quizzes, How TV Changed Britain (8pm).

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