Weaver's Week 2008-02-03

Weaver's Week Index


There goes our man from the council

Jeremy Beadle, trivia king and prankster, died on Wednesday after a bout of pneumonia.

Jeremy James Anthony Gibson Beadle was born on 12 April 1948 in Hackney, and was raised on a council estate in Kent. Attending Orpington Secondary Modern, the young Beadle made a name for himself as a practical joker, running trousers up the flagpole, and somehow managing to put a prefect's bicycle over a lamp-post. Canings were a regular feature of his life, and he was expelled from the school.

Such high jinks continued after leaving school. He worked on a bakery production line, but shaped the dough into phalluses. He worked as a porter at a hospital in Sidcup, where he would race patients in their wheelchairs through the grounds. Even toilet humour wasn't beneath him; when working as a lavatory attendant, he would block the toilets with used tea bags and leave coins in the urinals, then watch from behind a screen to see how people would react.

But Jeremy Beadle had also shown his ability to work with endless streams of trivia. He collected reference books and began to compile a collection of unusual facts. After writing to Bob Monkhouse, enclosing some lines that could be used on Celebrity Squares, he was employed as one of the show's researchers. In turn, that led to the short-lived Beadlebum Show on LBC, a show that many listeners loved but the management disliked. Beadle's Odditarium on Capital Radio, the book "Today's the Day", and the BBC Youth Department programme The Deceivers followed in quick succession. A special on the same subject, April Fool, aired on children's television in 1980, and a feature "Spot the Goat" became a running strand through his early work.

By 1981, Beadle had been engaged as a scriptwriter on Terry Wogan's show You Must be Joking. Wogan turned down a role on an LWT show working as The People Show, perhaps sensing that two genial Irishmen on the panel would be more than enough, and Beadle was asked to step into the void. In the Game for a Laugh family, Jeremy Beadle was the impertinent cousin to Henry Kelly's suave uncle, Matthew Kelly's father figure, and Sarah Kennedy being any female relation you care to name. His hidden camera stunts were the highlight of the show, but it's fair to say that the show ran for too long, enough to exhaust its ideas.

The hidden camera stunts, though, had a life of their own, and gained their own programme. Beadle's About ran for three weeks shy of ten years, and the recent Encyclopaedia of Classic Saturday Night Television states that it's "generally regarded as the 'Rolls-Royce' of hidden camera shows." Rather than setting up a scene and recording what happened, a la Candid Camera, Beadle's show made each stunt for a single person. So long as the viewing public kept up a stream of people who were prepared to be duped, the series could run forever.

The success of this series, and his work on You've Been Framed (the video camera out-takes show attracted 19 million viewers in early 1992), led to Beadle becoming one of the most hated people in Britain. Critics seemed to use Beadle as a sitting duck for all their concerns about the state of television: William Rees-Mogg, shortly to be in charge of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, let it be known that he though Beadle was too American. This was wrong on many levels: the culture of very carefully-planned practical jokes is uniquely British, and is perhaps restricted to a certain aspirant social class. Beadle's shows always went on at a cracking pace, compared with the slow and ponderous American entertainment shows that are so sluggish they make For the Rest of Your Life look nippy. And his pranks never had an ounce of malice, they were done for the sheer fun of it.

No, the ire directed towards Beadle stemmed from a) a sense of guilt about laughing at the brunt of practical jokes, b) his shows being obscenely popular (18 million was a typical viewing figure) and c) that he wore a beard. A poll taken in late 1990 ranked him the second-most loathed person in the world, behind only Sadaam Hussein, and ahead of such luminaries as Anneka Rice and Paul Gascoigne. When the BBC launched its own hidden camera show Public Enemy Number One in 1992, host Bobby Davro said that "the humour of Beadle comes from humiliating people. This show is not like that." Another point of difference was that Davro's show lasted six weeks, and was beaten by the first episode of Gladiators. The subsequent popularity of Noel's House Party put a hole in the good ship Beadle's About; it's hard to believe from his more recent work, but there was an innocence and wholesomeness about Edmonds's show. Beadle may not have been evil, but his humour wasn't slapstick.

But Jeremy Beadle still had that retentive mind, a first-rate knowledge of trivia. He set the questions for Ultra Quiz, educated about inventions on Eureka!, wrote a long-running quiz column for The Independent newspaper (against which he had won a settlement after it falsely claimed he offered his mis-formed hand to shake as a joke), hosted Chain Letters, appeared on Countdown, won his episode of Celebrity Mastermind, and made erudite contributions to Quote... Unquote. In 1999, he hosted Win Beadle's Money, and was the co-star of the first run of Saturday Night Takeaway, when someone spent each week Banged Up With Beadle.

He continued to appear on radio, with stints on Radio 2, GLR, and as a presenter in the early weeks of Talk Radio. In a prank that even he couldn't have planned, Jeremy Beadle (prankster) found himself jostling for position on the nation's airwaves with Jeremy J. Beadle, a music critic and general egghead. Jeremy J. Beadle (music) mostly presented on Radio 3 and Radio 4, and insisted that he was always credited as Jeremy J. Beadle, not as Jeremy Beadle, to avoid confusion with the hidden-camera prankster. It's unfortunate that Jeremy J. Beadle (music) never worked with his namesake on a project where they'd swap roles; we know that Jeremy Beadle (prankster) could pass for a music expert, thanks to his depths of trivia.

The autobiography of Jeremy Beadle (prankster), "Watch Out", was published in 1998. After surgery for a cancerous growth on a kidney, Beadle was treated for leukaemia in 2005. He raised over £100 million for charity, and it was for this work that he was created MBE in 2001. If he had sought publicity for his good deeds, it's certain that Beadle would have been more appreciated in his life-time. He is survived by a wife, two daughters, and two step-children.

What Was Beadle About?

As a rule of thumb, this column doesn't re-produce work wholesale from other places; copying and pasting is so easy that it's not art, and it would be grubby and cheating our readers if we were to repeat someone else's work. Everything you see in this column is, to some extent, original writing.

Just to prove our point and test our resolve, once in a while we unearth a long-lost gem that makes our point in a succinct and telling way than we can only ever hope to emulate. In this case, an example of Jeremy Beadle's simultaneous ability to attract and repel is illustrated by a condensed extract of Matthew Parris's column in The Times of 24 February 1992.

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In 50 years, the BAFTA award-winning stuff will be disregarded but last Saturday's episode of Beadle's About studied with real respect. Beadle's About is a nasty but compelling series in which practical jokes are played on unsuspecting members of the public for the amusement of the television audience. Mr. Beadle and his team show devilish cunning in the practical jokes they devise. Saturday's idea was the cleverest and most disturbing I've seen.

I think the dupe was called Tim. He seemed to have been taken on as casual labour to assist in a Moonie-style "Temple of Worship". Tim appeared unfamiliar with the temple and the worshippers and had perhaps been recruited through a newspaper job advertisement. He had been set up by a malicious friend: the religious scene that greeted him was faked, and the priests and congregation were in Beadle's pay. There were hidden cameras. Tim was not to know this.

Within moments of his arrival, the head priest "recognised" Tim as the long-lost prophet of the movement. An image of the prophet was unveiled: the spitting image of Tim. The prophecies, they told him, predicted that their prophet would come in a black chariot: how had he arrived? "In a black taxi," Tim stammered, amazed. Worshippers fell on the floor before him, the priest kissed his hand and asked him to touch their foreheads. He was garlanded with flowers and people began dancing round him, chanting. They were chanting the menu from an Indian restaurant.

As the conviction on the part of everybody but himself was borne in on him that he was God's chosen prophet it was a revelation to study Tim's face. He was puzzled but, increasingly, he was flattered. He could have disclaimed spiritual supremacy at the outset, but he did not. Tim began to dance and chant along with the others. When an attractive young novitiate fell at his feet and offered to be his handmaiden, he appeared to accept.

What will have gone through his mind during the 10 minutes we saw, as he moved from hired help to religious leader? We can guess with confidence that his first reaction will have been disbelief. We can say, because we saw it, that his next reaction was to go along with the idea. We can also say that he began to enjoy it, and seemed prepared to accept the benefits that came with the job. What we cannot know is whether Tim began secretly to suspect that he really was God's prophet.

It wasn't God. It was only Jeremy Beadle. Poor Tim. How would I have reacted? I'm not sure. Of this, though, I am perfectly certain: that if, even in the 43rd year of this increasingly implausible life, a great voice from the sky were to shout "Stop! There is no God, but there is Jeremy Beadle, and I am he, and you are on camera, and, Matthew, you didn't honestly believe any of this, did you?" then I should without hesitation reply "Not for a moment, Lord," or, rather, "Mr Beadle."


Heat 22/24

We're not saying that this show has been going on forever, it's just that... OK, we are saying that this show has been going on forever. When this series began, the host had a full head of black hair, and Lewis Hamilton was racing remote-control carts in the Blue Peter garden.

Alasdair Lowe will take Formula One 1980-2007. It's a surprisingly long period, with such forgotten names as Zonta and Lotus, and races in Switzerland and Detroit. The round never quite reaches full speed, ending on 11 (1). Not bad.

Howard Pizzey is going to tell us about the Total and Utter King of Rock 'n' Roll, Cliff Richard. If we squint a bit, we can see a slight resemblance between contender and subject. The questions keep coming, the correct answers keep coming back, and he finishes on a stonkingly brilliant 19 (0). One for every number one single, and a bit more.

Follow That! Chris Jones will take the Coen Brothers films. The questions are mostly trivia about the movies themselves, with a few queries about the actors thrown in for good measure. He finishes on a challenging 15 (3).

Alan Frith discusses Kwame Nkrumah, a politician from Ghana, active following the country's independence. What the round doesn't make particularly clear is that he was the country's prime minister and president. The round, in any other week, would be a prime contender, ending on 17 (1).

Mr. Lowe would have hoped not to be starting the general knowledge round from the Mastermind equivalent of the pit lane. Apparently, starting ahead of the pack isn't a sure-fire way to win races. Might be here, especially when the contender has as many passes as correct answers, ending on 17 (7).

Mr. Jones next, the fan of the Coen Brothers, the two-headed directors who write, direct, produce. Sound like the cinema equivalent of Antan Dec, except that some people's production credits are more than vanity. He gets most of his general knowledge questions correct, and 29 (6) is something to tilt at.

Mr. Frith worked in Ghana for some years in the 1980s, and accepts that if there are people dancing in the streets when you're deposed, it's not good. History has been somewhat kinder to Kwame Nkrumah's memory. It's only obvious when you hear it that "something to be carried back" is the literal translation of "referendum". He does enough to take the lead, ending on 31 (2).

How come Mr. Pizzey knows everything about Cliff Richard? He's a great fan, and seeing as how Mr. Richard has lasted for half a century, he must be doing something right. Though his first answer is wrong, both Mr. Pizzey and Smallhead go at a great rate of knots. There are errors and passes through the round, and he finishes on 29 (3), allowing Mr. Frith to progress.

University Challenge

Second Quarter-Final: Christ Church Oxford v Warwick

Before we begin, a correction. In the email version of last week's column, we stated that Manchester was looking to appear in its fourth consecutive grand final. This was incorrect; Manchester was narrowly defeated in its semi-final in 2005. It will teach us not to believe anything Thumper says at face value, and to assume his spiel is entirely unsupported. Rather like certain other things we could mention.

Christ Church Oxford demolished a very impressive Nottingham team three weeks ago, and never let Homerton Cambridge into their match. Warwick, the defending champions, had a narrow win over Leeds, and accounted for Lucy Cavendish Cambridge. We've been rooting for a Christ Church – Manchester match since the second round began, and reckon Warwick won't quite be up to it tonight.

The rules remain unchanged: gold to gold in 60 seconds or less, the clock begins when someone says where on the left they want to start. Max Kaufman of CCO gets things off with our first three-letter starter, answering "HIP" after just one of many definitions. Warwick comes back with the next starter, drawing level at 20-all. CCO loses the lead when one of them suggests that the Blue Peter cat was almost named "Spam". Three dropped starters in a row has Thumper reaching for his box marked "Well-known quotations". By the first visual round, alphabets of Europe, Christ Church has a lead of 55-45.

The Oxford side stretches its lead at the beginning of the second stanza, scoring 10 on a particularly tricky set of bonuses on Chinese dynasties, and knowing that it's a "charm" of finches. Charles Markland decodes this week's best question, one about synonyms for the colours of the rainbow. When Warwick gets a series of questions on cell biology, they almost shout "That's osmosis!" to each one, as though this were a cheesy daytime game show. The audio round is on songs from Lloyd Webber musicals, eliciting the inevitable groan from the Oxford side. Yes, Thumper, there is shame in knowing this, the best Lloyd Webber lyric was written by the brothers Finn. Anyway, Christ Church is comfortably ahead, 130-65.

On a question about a lighthouse off the coast of Ireland, the Oxford side muses if it might be located on Craggy Island. Our Hidden Transmission Indicator of the week comes as Warwick gets a bonus round asking them to spell words; as we pointed out in last week's Week, it's seventy years since the first ever game show in the UK, an inter-university Spelling Bee. Warwick is having the better of this stanza, picking up the majority of the starters, and by the time of the second visual round – Name That Nuclear Power Station – Christ Church's lead has been pegged back to 160-120.

Sorry, did we just have a series of questions asking people to identify pictures of nuclear power stations? The mind boggles. And Max Kaufmann has finally got his buzzer to work again, and almost single-handedly pushes the side ahead by a hundred points with four minutes to play. In the heat of the moment, Warwick manages to believe that the animal disease is "red tongue", and when Christ Church picks up that starter and the next one, the game is as good as over. Glad to hear that Minh Nguyen knows how to pronounce "Betelgeuse"; a shame that the Warwick side doesn't know the difference between curling (throwing stones down the ice) and hurling (blokes doing strange things with sticks and balls). Good games to watch, those. So was this, and Christ Church has won, 255-170.

Max Kaufman was just the best buzzer for Christ Church, with six starters and no missignals. The side made 24/42 bonuses with one missignal. Five starters for Jonathan Elliot of Warwick, the side was correct in 14/32 bonuses with two missignals.

Next match: Magdalen Oxford v St Andrews

This Week And Next

We regret to report the death of Terry Mardell, co-creator of Bob's Full House and Big Break. We also regret the death of Miles Kington, whose ability with words should have secured him a place in Countdown's dictionary corner, but never did.

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The Music Factory has been slammed by OFCOM for completely misleading viewers over its SMS-and-lose contest. In a game played over the top of pop videos, viewers had to guess a four-figure number, with clues as to whether each digit was higher or lower than the entry displayed on screen. The caption said, "Win £25", but when a viewer gave the correct answer (at £1 a pop), he was surprised by the response. "Congratulations," it said, "you're now in a prize draw for the £25 prize."

Er, where did it mention that the £25 was a draw, and not given to everyone who cracked the code? In the small print on the website, and never ever mentioned on the television broadcast. This was so clearly and blatantly misleading that even OFCOM couldn't ignore it, and told the channel to clean up its act and stop misleading people. It's worth noting that this complaint relates to a competition broadcast in October last year, when six-figure fines had already been imposed in relation to fraudulent call-and-lose contests.

Which brings us to Eckoh Communications, responsible for the prolonged cock-ups on Richard and Judy's show. The company's income has dropped by two-thirds, and it's in talks to be taken over.

BBC2 has confirmed that The Restaurant will come back for second helpings. The rechauffé version of The Apprentice will feature more Raymond Blanc. Applications are now being accepted at www.bbc.co.uk/restaurant.

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As expected, the Ministry of Productivity has ordered British Sky Broadcasting to sell most of its stake in ITV. BSkyB bought 17.9% of ITV in late 2006, as Mr. Murdoch's UK arm tried to stop cable company NTL from buying the country's most popular broadcaster. The defensive move succeeded in heading off a takeover bit from NTL and its figurehead boss Richard Branson. Now, BSkyB must take a loss of about £250 million (€350m) as it reduces its holding to below 7.5%, cannot seek a seat on the board, and cannot influence ITV's policy. BSkyB has a month to appeal; the period over which it must sell its shares has not been revealed.

In not entirely unrelated news, BskyB's television channel Sky Onc has announced that it will make a new edition of Gladiators. "There isn't an arena in the country we can use," said the channel's head of schedule-filling, Mr. Woolfe, leading us to assume that it'll be filmed in the open air. The new series, we understand, will feature such new challenges as Swing 360 (where contestants try to get their swing to go over the top), and Slide (where they ascend a steep metal slope that's been coated in lard) and will be filmed in the adventure playground at Marble Hill Park on the bank of the Thames. When we put this proposition to Mr. Woolfe, he ripped the microphone out of our hands, shouted something incomprehensible, and flounced out while giving young children the best laugh they'd had since Jelly and Jackson were last on the telly. The show will be shown to Sky Onc's audience of almost a hundred in west London, and will be made by Shine productions. Or, as it's known in BSkyB's office, The Boss's Daughter's company.

Our congratulations to Ross Antony, the British-born winner of Ich Bin Ein Star, Holt Mich Hier Raus! The German equivalent of I'm A Celebrity has been won by the former member of Bro'Sis, the band created on Popstars in 2003, and star of a 2006 reality show chronicling his marriage to opera singer Paul Reeves. Mr. Antony wins a prize of €30 000.

Ratings for the week to 20 January have arrived, and Dancing On Ice holds steady at the top of ITV's schedules, securing 9.35m viewers. Millionaire registered 4.4m on Tuesday night, but the Saturday night lineup of Duel and Thank God You're Here! failed to trouble the top 30; slightly later than scheduled, we hope to review both next week. Over on the BBC, In It to Win It registered 7.75m, its better score of the still-young year. BBC2's leader was Masterchef (3.15m), but the only other show to improve on its previous week was QI with 2.4m. Deal registered 2.9m.

BB Celebrity Hijack continued on E4, its 865,000 viewers postponed the inevitable victory of Come Dine With Me (810,000 this week). Pop Idle US returned for its umpteenth series with 745,000 tuning in; if previous years are anything to go by, this won't be topped until the final, if at all. On Dave, QI (560,000) and HIGNFY (430,000) had their best scores of the year. Challenge's top was Millionaire on Wednesday night, with 98,000 viewers.

Next week sees the very last The Weakest Link transmission on BBC2.

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