Weaver's Week 2018-04-29

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"I want to be friends with Barbara Windsor. I want to be friends with Cilla Black. I want to host a tacky game show."


Dale Winton


Dale Jonathan Winton was born on 23 May 1955. His father was Gary Winton, a furniture delivery driver. Mother was Sheree Winton, who became an actress after Dale was born. Their only child was named after Dale Robertson, star of the TV western Tales of Wells Fargo.

Young Dale was educated at Aldenham School, where he became the class clown. After leaving at 16, connections gave him a job at the HMV record store. He was employed in the room where HMV wrapped all their new LPs in plastic film.

At this young age, Dale wanted to entertain and to be loved. He pestered and pestered the agents until they gave him a sideline job as DJ in various pubs. We're in the early 1970s, a time when workers went down for two pints over lunchtime and wanted someone to entertain them with pop and prattle. Dale also did evenings and nights, his ear for rare soul tunes and access to import discs ensured he filled the floor every time.

Dale Winton

When he wanted to be, Dale was forceful. He hand-delivered his application to United Biscuits Network, a closed-circuit radio station breaking the monotony of quiet biscuit factories. Then he moved to public broadcast, Radio Trent in Nottingham. He would spend eight years on Trent, mostly on mid-mornings as "the housewives' favourite". Dale had the gift of the gab, and showed a natural interest in people.

Music remained important to Dale: he was protective of his favourite star Dusty Springfield, and continued to work in clubs while on the wireless. When he became a star, Dale hosted editions of Top of the Pops in 1995 and 1996; he was at home with mainstream stars Gina G and Michael Bolton and made sense of cutting-edge acts Hole and Montell Jordan. He covered Simon Mayo's Golden Years on Radio 1, stood in for Steve Wright In The Afternoon, and took over Radio 2's Pick of the Pops from Alan Freeman in 2000. Dale brought his breezy presenting style to the old record countdowns.{1}

After leaving Trent in 1985, Dale spent time at Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton, this column's local station. Again, a mid-morning slot, and we recall he made it sound effortless, There were also spells in Vienna at Blue Danube (now ÖRF4) and Chiltern. He had a segment on Pet Watch, a 1986 Sunday afternoon show on BBC1. The programme sank without trace, Dale's "presents for pets" section was perhaps the only memorable item.

By now, Dale Winton had the television bug. He worked on a nascent television home shopping channel, and once had to talk about some living room tables for twelve minutes. What can you say about tables, and how can you fill twelve minutes? Dale ended up counting the screws, and saying how safe it was that the edges were rounded off. There was a touch of the Alan Partridge about Dale, he once had an interview stop when he dared suggest that a pop star writes "catchy tunes". Howard Jones is a serious artist, don't you know.{2}

Supermarket Sweep Would you buy a timeshare from this man?

To keep going, Dale started selling timeshare properties, he was a pushy salesman, not prepared to take no for an answer. More television work followed, including Anything For Money on a satellite channel. Dale was the man on the street, asking people to do odd things for a cash prize. Will you loan Dale Winton your trousers for £20? Remember, Dale Winton is a trained timeshare salesman, he will not take no for an answer.{3}

There were television chat spots – Catching Up With... on Lifestyle TV, but he was passed over for Sky's The Price is Right, and a pilot of Canadian format Personals came to nothing. His own game show format, Seven Deadly Signs, may have gone to the grave with Dale.

When you're at the checkout...

And then, a surprise. Talbot Telegame had liked Dale's work on The Price is Right and Personals, and reckoned he could host a good show. Dale committed to a game show, he would understand the format, figure out the rules, have a good idea of where the programme needed to end up. When the host is powering the programme down the tracks, the producer has more energy to concentrate on everything else.

Talbot worked with Central on Supermarket Sweep, and Central took a lot of convincing. Rob Clark, the commissioner, was impressed by Dale warming up the Frost Programme audience. But he wanted an established name for his programme. Matthew Kelly was unavailable. Keith Chegwin got a better offer from The Big Breakfast. Which left Dale, and he used all of his high-pressure sales tactics to convince Rob Clark that he was the man for the job.

Supermarket Sweep Glad to see you!

The first series of Supermarket Sweep was a little eerie, as if everyone was walking on eggshells. In truth, everyone was walking on eggshells. The producers insisted that Dale take the show seriously, and told him not to be so camp. Dale wanted to be associated with Supermarket Sweep, and encouraged the contestants to say his name after each answer. "It's true, Dale." "Bacon, Dale." "Courgette, Dale." We'd never seen that done before, and it became a Supermarket Sweep catchphrase.{4}

For this column, Supermarket Sweep is one of the greatest low-brain game shows. It's happy and upbeat and thoroughly enthusiastic, a wonderful way to pass half-an-hour. Perhaps the best modern equivalent is Tipping Point, Ben Shepherd is as warm and positive as Dale was.

By the end of the first series, it was clear that Supermarket Sweep was a word-of-mouth hit. Dale turned up in character on Christmas Surprise Surprise, and had a fan in Shane Ritchie, but still had to re-audition for his own job. Camping it up, Dale got the job, and the rest is history.

The first time Dale realised he was a star might have been when he recorded Fist of Fun with Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. The reception when he walked out at the University of Greenwich was incredible. Appearing on The Word in late 1994, Dale was overwhelmed by how much the student audience liked him, and the respectful questions from Terry Christian and Dani Behr.

Though Supermarket Sweep went out at 9.25, Dale was not a morning person. He thrived on adrenalin and said he "works to his own rhythm" Read: he will be late, reckons it improves his performance, and never mind the rest of the crew who have to fret on whether the star will be on time.

Supermarket Sweep Dale promotes the 2001 series.

"No one is entirely sure why, but the demographics of Winton's audiences revealed a startling breadth of appeal," wrote a Daily Telegraph profile writer. "The reviewers thought again, this time proclaiming him a brilliant talent and the natural successor to Forsyth, and demanding that he be given bigger and better shows." He got Weekend Plus, a local events show for Anglia; and The Weekend Show, a toe-curlingly inept national events show on BBC1, an audience show where they once forgot to book the audience. He also filed reports for BBC2's The Travel Show, indulging his twin loves of Western America and fast cars.

Pets Win Prizes

Dale's second BBC primetime show was a people show. The titular pets are asked to do daft things, and give the host an excuse to talk with the humans.

In the sample we've seen (two-fifths of an episode!) we see Dale chatting to the owners of eels. Why do you keep an eel as a pet? The subtext: isn't this a bit daft? But he'll never cast doubt on them, never ask this difficult question. Just nod along, let them demonstrate their pet's ability to do their trick. Or, in the case of two of the eels, their ability to just sit there and not move.

Pets Win Prizes Bring on the eels!

We can guess that other animals (ponies, dogs, rabbits) had similar challenges. One would have emerged from "That's My Puppy", a title changed for the animal, and abandoned after they used a male hen. Each winner got a prize – either something for their pet or something for themselves, picked at random. Then the five winners played "The Final Furlong", an animal knowledge quiz with the first to five right answers winning.

Their prize? It'll be picked by The Professor, a young kitten who scampered around a playpen, and wherever he finished would determine the prize. We approve of having prizes generated at random, and the walk of a cat beats a ball machine.

Pets Win Prizes had launched in 1994, hosted by Danny Baker. Both Danny and Dale brought something to the show. Dale was interested in the people, he would rattle on with the owners and make them feel like friends. Danny was a superb showman, he would draw us into his surreal world and ramp up the utterly bizarre nature of the challenges. The hosts had different skills, and while it wasn't the same show under Dale, this is neither a compliment nor a criticism.

Dale hosted The Great British Song Contest for 1997, featuring some of the strongest songs considered for the Eurovision stage. And then he took on a long-lasting primetime show. The Other Half had a very simple premise. "Here's Jane and four men. Which is her other half?" For a people person such as Dale, this was manna from heaven, his mildly risqué patter and genuine affection made for popular viewing.

Just a Minute Dale with Tony Slattery and (seated) Nicholas Parsons.

Winton's Wonderland, a variety special with his personal friends, ran annually from 1998 to 2000. He also made public health series, Weight of the Nation and Kick It With Dale addressed weight loss and smoking; Dale would later host Celebrity Fit Club for ITV. He was a regular on Carlton's television version of Just a Minute, hosted One Thousand to One, and fronted the daytime clip-and-interview show Stars Reunited.

Dale never let fame go to his head, he was always the first to ridicule himself. Lots of comedy skits and bits, including an Irritating Game Show Host in the movie Trainspotting, and mock-reality show Dale's Wedding for BBC3.

In 2001, Dale hosted Touch the Truck. Another very simple premise: touch a truck, don't let go, last person touching it wins it. This was experimental television, and the whole point of experiments is that they can (and do) go wrong. Dale was a solid host, a familiar name for an off-the-wall idea. We knew he would keep us grounded, and he'd make the best of whatever happened. Touch the Truck was not bad television, and Dale's hosting helped keep it from being bad television. He applied the same magic to the offbeat Hole in the Wall (2008); compare his hosting to Anton du Beke's hopeful efforts.

Hole in the Wall Bring on the wall!

In It to Win It

Dale Winton had been associated with the lottery draws since 1996. At the time, this was must-see television: someone could get very rich indeed, and there was shared excitement as we thought, "let it be me". Never was.

So they wrapped entertainment around it – first a song, then a full-on chat show like Dale's All Stars. His segments on the Millennium Lottery were a mess – the first machine refused to come through the doors, and a later draw suffered from confused camera work.

He's best remembered for a very long-running show. In It to Win It began in 2002, and only ended when the BBC cut ties with The Lottery Corp in 2016. This column was never a fan – it was mind-numbingly slow, spinning twenty-odd questions over 40 minutes. But it worked, Dale kept the programme plodding along at its gentle pace, and it became the show we'll most remember as a lottery quiz spin-off.{5}

In It to Win It Take a chair, Dale.

Re-watching a random episode from 2013, we see Dale oozing with positivity. He's all "get this right and you put £5000 in the pot". He doesn't dwell on the negative consequences, Nick Knowles would add, "if you get this wrong, you go over to the Red Area." Nick is balanced: Dale always looked for the sunny uplands.

This positive attitude helped Dale get where he wanted to be. From HMV to pub DJs. From pubs and clubs to UBN, and then to Radio Trent. From Beacon to the television. From Supermarket Sweep to television ubiquity. Yesterday is gone; today is sweet; tomorrow will come.

Dale hit problems in his private life. He had a bad break-up in 2014, and it knocked him for six. He missed the funeral of his close friend Cilla Black, and looked odd. Dale liked to look tanned on screen, it brought out his features and made him look slimmer. But it gave him an artificial look, as if he'd been painted in wood varnish; in the last episodes of In It to Win It, Dale looked gaunt.

He kept a low profile for a year or so, returning to action this January with Dale's Florida Fly-Drive for Channel 5. The series was pulled after a spree shooting in the state, and will air as a tribute. It's a muted end to a larger-than-life career.

The Man and the Tributes

When we're asked to name the greatest game show hosting jobs, we think of Dale Winton on Supermarket Sweep. He knew that programme inside out, and it showed every single time. He could give a completely natural and genuine response, and still move on to the exact next point. He believed in that show, and let us believe in it, and believe in him.

Supermarket Sweep

A handful of tributes:

Jake Humphrey: I remember as a young CBBC presenter, I used to sneak into the studio next door, to watch him at work. A master, who taught me plenty, without even realising it. Thanks Dale.

Graham Norton: Dale Winton gave me the best bit of showbiz advice I ever got – Don’t quit the hit! Thank you Dale. X

Matthew Sweet: Dale Winton's secret was that he always looked like he couldn't quite believe his own good luck, and nobody ever begrudged him it.

Dale summed up his character thus. "People want friendliness. They don't want cleverdicks… That's why I play it the way I do. I actually love the show – and I love people."

This Week and Next

The University Challenge final took place. Merton Oxford got off to the best start, and opened up a 55-0 lead after three rounds of questions. It didn't last, Rosie McKeown buzzed in for St John's Cambridge, she'd pick up seven starters across the programme. The Cambridge side didn't find the bonuses to their taste, and some seemed to play to their weaknesses. But while Merton had the better bonus rate, St John's had more possession – and when you're winning the starter race 9-6, it's difficult to lose.

At the gong, St John's had won, and won comfortably: 145-100 the final margin. Judith Weir, the musician, presented the trophy to John-Clark Levin, Rosie McKeown, Matt Hazell, and captain James Devine-Stoneman.

University Challenge The winners from St John's Cambridge.

Credit where it's due, University Challenge has included a lot more questions about women this year. They're catching up on Only Connect, where the lead guideline for writers is "please don't ask questions solely about Dead White Men, otherwise Victoria will get cross. And we're still rebuilding the studio from the last time that happened."

The final of Brightest Family, won by the Curtis family: Alex, Brendan, and Chris. We've liked this series, when it's asking similar trivia questions to every other show, Brightest Family attempts to dress up the questions as something different. And it goes into areas that other shows daren't touch. There are changes we'd like to see, the pace is slow enough to sap tension, and the show doesn't quite work on screen. We hope these will be addressed in the next series, for which applications were sought.

Only Connect took its second semi-final, the Inquisitors and Escapologists met. Escapologists had the best spot of the Connections round, spotting the changes needed for a country name to be rendered in its own language (such as Denmark changing the E for an A). Escapologists scored on all their questions, and grabbed a bonus, for a 7-3 lead.

Anagrams of "script" plus an increasing number of "E"s met with the answer "Tree Spice". Of course, the bandmate of Geri and Mel who lived in the woods. Shows presented by Desert Island Discs hosts allowed someone to remember The People Versus on primetime television for the first time since 2000. Shakespeare's sonnets and the QWERTY keyboard fell kindly for the Inquisitors, levelling the match at 9-9.

Little changed on the walls: Inquisitors didn't know their final group, so concede a three point advantage. Escapologists are a bit good at Missing Vowels, we know this from the tournament, and here they got ten in a row. It's the most dominant performance in years, perhaps ever, and helped the Escapologists to a 30-18 victory.

Next week's final is a re-match of the Group Phase (Direct Qualification) match; a low-scoring affair, the Belgophiles won 17-16.

BARB ratings in the week to 15 April, and for the first time in months, we have full BBC ratings to see.

  1. This Territory's Got Talent is back, and seen by 10.6m viewers (ITV, Sat). Welcome back.
  2. The Masterchef final attracted 6.1m (BBC1, Fri), and led into Have I Got News for You (5.5m, BBC1, Fri).
  3. ITV's other Saturday schedule did well: Ninja Warrior scored 4.05m, Alien Fun Capsule 3.6m, and hurt Pointless Celebrities (3.65m, BBC1).
  4. BARB's problems with the BBC mean we've missed Only Connect becoming more popular than University Challenge. This week, Only Connect had 2.45m, University Challenge 2.35m. Bargain Hunt moved to BBC2 for the Commonwealth Games, seen by 1.35m. The Crystal Maze resumed with 1.6m (C4, Sun) for Team Zero.
  5. A digital one-two for ITV2, Celebrity Juice had 1.195m (Thu) and Got More Talent 1.065m (Sat). Yankee Next Top Model takes third place (480,000, UK Living, Fri).

The return of Mary Berry is nigh! Best Home Cook (BBC1, Thu) is a knockout competition to find the best home cook. Taskmaster (Dave, Wed) and Stop the Press (2) (R Scot, Fri) are back, and Only Connect (2) ends (BBC2, Mon).


{1} If you're interested in Dale's radio career, spend half an hour with David Lloyd's Radiomoments: http://audioboom.com/posts/6828347-dale-winton-the-radio-years-a-conversations-special Back!

{2} Howard Jones bought his first synths with compensation from when a runaway vehicle crashed into his fruit and veg van.Back!

{3} Judith Holder later took Anything for Money to the BBC, where it became notorious flop Public Enemy Number One.Back!

{4} We looked at the first edition of Supermarket Sweep on 8 September 2013, twenty years after the original airing.Back!

{5} And if you must see our early review, it was published on 25 May 2002. There are reasons why this column don't re-read its juvenalia.Back!

Photo credits: Talbot Telegame / Central, BBC, Carlton, Talkback, Granada

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