Weaver's Week 2009-04-19
Many happy returns to Bother's Bar, celebrating its fifth birthday today. Bar-owner Mr. Nick Gates has single-handedly popularised Deal or No Deal, brought back The Krypton Factor, and made Fort Boyard the most compelling television on the planet. And then he had lunch. Well done, sir.
"A man convinced he can do almost anything better than almost anyone else"
The death has been announced of raconteur, gourmet, connoisseur, and politician Clement Freud.
Clement was born on 24 April 1924 into a famous family in Berlin; his grandfather was the psychoanalyst Sigmund, and his elder brother was the artist Lucian. Wary of the rise of fascism, the Freud family moved to London in 1933. Clement was sent to the St Paul's School in Devon, then worked as an apprentice at the Dorchester hotel before serving in the army. He started writing on cookery for newspapers and magazines in the 1950s; over the years he expanded into sport, particularly horse racing, and contributed a political column to The Sun in the mid-60s, before it was sold to Rupert Murdoch.
In his youth, Freud was an accomplished cricketer and took athletic training with such legends as Roger Bannister and Christopher Chataway. A scurrilous piece in the Empire News in 1955 suggested that the slightly-overweight "Clay Freud" intended to run a mile in four minutes. Freud sued for libel over this article, believing it disparaged him and his training friends, and secured an out-of-court settlement; he was also successful the following year in an action against Associated Newspapers after the Daily Sketch said he hired out women by the hour. Freud continued to court controversy: in 1964, questions were asked in the Commons after the Press Council criticised an article he wrote without asking for his side of the story.
Freud's broadcasting career began with Henry the dog on commercials for the pet food Minced Morsels in the early 1960s. His lugubrious voice and deadpan humour counterpointed the pet. He appeared on discussion shows such as Tonight with Eamonn Andrews (ABC for ITV), Where Did That Come From (Rediffusion for ITV, 1967), and the cookery show Attack! The Don't Care Caterers (ATV for ITV, 1967). Along with Derek Nimmo and host Nicholas Parsons, Freud was a permanent fixture on the first series of Just a Minute in 1967-8. The pair were joined by Kenneth Williams in the second series (1968) and Peter Jones (fifth series, 1971) to become Just a Minute's lynchpins; at least two of these "regulars" were booked for each show until the mid-90s.
Freud was always competitive: Barry Norman recalled how he was bowling slow leg breaks at Clement's son, when the father came along and clouted the deliveries out of sight, just to prove he could do it. He won the London-to-New York air race in 1968, was named After-dinner Speaker of 1973 by the Guild of Professional Toastmasters, and served as Rector of the Universities of Dundee (1974-80) and St Andrews (2002-5).
By the early 1970s, Freud had become someone who seemed to pop up on every television recording going, a role subsequently filled by such people as Anthony Beaumont-Dark, Tony Slattery, Sharmi Chakrabati, and Davina McCall. He didn't miss a recording of Just a Minute until the 1973 series, and had a good excuse: he had been elected to the House of Commons. After contributing a recipe to a Liberal cookbook in 1972, one press snarker said that the dish – which contained half-a-bottle of champagne – should be reserved for celebrating by-election victories. Barely a year later, the joke was on the columnist: Freud rode a wave of protests against the unpopular Heath government and gently mocked his Conservative opponent John Stevens at every turn. The result was that he won his bet (£100 at 33/1) and the Isle of Ely for the Liberal party. The previous MP had been Henry Legge-Bourke, a man who spent 28 years in the Commons but never made a single speech. The new member contributed fully, and named one of his racehorses Liberal Gain; later horses included Weareagrandmother and Spoonbender, purchased with Uri Geller.
While in the Commons, Freud had to reduce his broadcasting commitments: though he continued to contribute to Just a Minute, his television appearances were confined to relatively weighty matters as So You Think You Know Your Rights? (BBC1, 1975). He was appointed the Liberal spokesman on broadcasting after David Steel was elected party leader in 1976, and warned against the proposed fourth television channel taking most of its programmes from the existing ITV companies. He led agitation for the service in Wales to be separate from the rest of the UK, leading to the distinct S4C service. He introduced bills to reform official secrets (1978) and Sunday trading (1980), measures that would be introduced by the government many years later; and opposed the introduction of television cameras to the Commons. Freud moved to the Education brief for the Liberal / SDP Alliance in 1983, but his hard constituency work failed to keep the seat at the 1987 general election. He was appointed a Knight in the dissolution honours.
After leaving the Commons, Sir Clement Freud (as he now was) resumed his role as a television pundit, though now usually as a raconteur or in connection with cookery. He had a brief residency on This Morning (1989) and spent some weeks in Countdown's Dictionary Corner (1988-89). Countdown producer John Wilby recounted his meeting with Freud before letting him loose in the Corner. Freud dragged the meeting out, and his abhorrance of cigarettes ensured that Wilby would not dare light up. Eventually it emerged that Freud's house was being visited by the team of Through the Keyhole. In 1994, Freud was appointed British Rail's Chief Sandwich Advisor, hoping to ensure the company didn't always offer soggy sarnies, and that their catering would cease to be a cheap joke for comedians.
Through the years, he continued to make Just a Minute recordings; by the end of the last series in March, he had been on 545 editions, and further shows featuring him are yet to be aired. In recent years, he may have been beaten by the likes of Paul Merton and Tony Hawks, but – in Just a Minute, as in life – the chairman always says it's not the points, it's the contribution.
Clement Freud died at his desk on 15 April 2009, nine days short of his 85th birthday. He is survived by his wife Jill, and their five children.
Magnum Media for Channel 4, 10pm Sundays from 22 March
This review is mostly from the show of 5 April. Just to confuse, pictures on the website are from the following week's edition.
There's a creative tension at work in this review. On one hand, we would like to give Chris Moyles a right royal slagging. His last foray into television, an early-evening chat show on Channel 5, was dull and insipid and deserved to be cancelled after one series. His shows have us shouting at the radio, usually along the lines of "shut up and play a record". But somewhat more crankily, because he broadcasts at breakfast.
On the other hand, Mr. Moyles must be doing something right – he's held down Radio 1's breakfast show spot for over five years, a reign to draw comparisons with broadcasting legends like Simon Mayo and Noel Edmonds. And his new quiz show is actually rather watchable.
The format is terribly simple. Mr. Moyles invites some of his showbiz chums to while away the last hour of the week-end in a glass box. On the show we saw, he had that well-known musical star Jerry "Jerry!" Springer, original The Vault host Davina "as ubiquitous as Clement Freud" McCall, and Radio 2's new signing Alan "Ding dong!" Carr. That was a panel we already liked; a weaker panel (for instance, the many faces of Louis Walsh, the many expressions of Denise Van Outen, and the many voices of Ronan Keating) would make the show much more difficult to like. Just as if they were on Who Dares Wins, the host has a button he can press so that he can't hear what the people in the glass box are saying. And he presses it just as often as the script or the banter will allow. It's a gimmick, it wears thin very quickly.
Before each round of questioning, one of the celebrities is released from the glass box, and has a chat with the host at his desk. If we're lucky, the banter will be interesting or brief. If our luck's out, it'll be both, and if our luck is really out, it'll be neither. This week, Mr. Carr fell into the first category, Ms McCall into the second, and the opening guest Mr. Springer into the third. It's not the best way to start the show, boring the pants off of us with a tedious guest.
So far, we've established the presence of Chris Moyles, and with the show going out at 10pm, we can take the Night bit as read. But is there a titular Quiz in all of this? There is, and the questions are mostly asked by the week's Guest Quizmaster. Their role is simply to stare into the camera, and read out a dozen pieces of linking copy. Anyone can do it, and on the edition we saw, anyone did do it. Melanie Brown (aka Mel B from the entirely-blameworthy Spice Girls) sat in her hotel room in Nevada and filmed about five minutes of material, obviously reading from cue cards. The footage is then sent to the producer, chopped about, and re-assembled to make a quiz. The guest host offers questions, links to other bits of film, and the occasional answer.
The budget clearly wasn't spent on making these inserts. No, the budget was spent on the guests; the ones answering the questions, the one asking the questions, and the others popping up from time to time. People from other television shows randomly break off from their regular drama to pose their little stumper. On one show, we saw a leading rock band sing a simple mental arithmetic problem. This is actually the best bit about the show: we viewers never quite know what's coming up next, but it is likely to be fun.
Back on the stage, each person writes down their answers, and marks their own responses. There's no cheating, anyone who tries to make out they're doing better will be mercilessly ribbed on national television. And, let's face it, Mr. Moyles has built his career on such ribbing: if someone gives him an inch, he'll take the whole mile.
After twelve questions, the time is over, and whoever has the most points is the winner. They win a prize donated by the host, such has his video player, or his barbecue set. However, there's a booby prize: whoever comes bottom of the pile is invited to sing during the closing credits. Now we know why they invited Miss Van Outen onto the show.
The quiz isn't quite the star of the show: it's important, and the show would lack focus without it. But as a quiz, it's not the best. It's very one-paced: the questions are all in the television-entertainment-"and finally" sphere, which gets a bit tedious after a while. The only discussion of Westminster village gossip we saw was a question about Mr. Tinmey's pay-to-view movies, and how much he (via his wife Miss Smith) billed the taxpayer. The majority of the answers could be picked up by reading the newly focus-free Heat magazine, or one of its copycats.
If we're being honest, the show is really all about the interaction between host and panelist, with the questions used as something to spark conversation. And that conversation is where Chris Moyles' Quiz Night really comes into its own. Mr. Moyles is a dab hand at generating good conversation, he's talking with people who tend to have something interesting to say, and the programme speeds by at times.
The show is an entertainment, perhaps with ideas above its station – there's a live band providing musical stings, the opening credits have huge lettering against a teensy-weensy little city backdrop, it's the kind of hubris that Mr. Moyles has exuded since he was the warm-up act for Mark and Lard's Breakfast Show.
Most importantly, there's an air of Occasion Television throughout the whole proceedings. Once upon a time, Saturday Night Takeaway had that air, but it's long gone. We wouldn't like to describe Chris Moyles' Quiz Night as the new Takeaway, but we found it far more entertaining than the format suggested, and the host's previous record implied.
This Week And Next
The Mastermind semi-final coverage will appear in the next edition of the Week. If you think we're treating the programme in a cavalier manner, we're not the only ones. The BBC thinks that showing grown men push coloured lumps of ivory around a green cloth is more important than letting this series limp to its conclusion. Snooker fills the slot for the next fortnight, the semis continue on 8 May, and there's just one week's slack otherwise we run into The Immovable Murray. Well, not on BBC2 we don't...
Simon Cowell's touring variety show returned last weekend, and the broadcast included footage of a burlesque stripper. As the description of her act gives hint, the stripper performed a dance while stripping. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. It didn't come as a shock to ITV, who edited the footage to ensure that she wasn't showing too much flesh. This didn't stop Mr. and Mrs. Smallmind of Tunbridge Wells, and OFCOM said that it had received 39 complaints about the show – all in green ink, even the emails. That's nothing: even the entirely innocent Kerwhizz gets complaints, and not just from people like us who can't understand it. We weren't surprised to find ITV had got wind of these complaints, and put out a press release trumpeting just how risqué and daring the channel was, and would someone please watch this channel, and then stick around to watch the next show, otherwise they'll cancel it.
The Great British Public did what they do best: ignored ITV's press office, and created a megastar of their own. Footage of Susan Boyle was put on the interwebs, and became such a huge attraction that it's entirely redundant for us to put up yet another copy. Everyone who wants to see it has seen it. Does it render the remaining fifty million shows of the series entirely redundant? Very possibly. Will ITV bung them out anyway? Very possibly, which is more than can be said for next Saturday's episode of The Colour of Money, cancelled in favour of an episode of The Drying of Paint. History will probably show that last Saturday's episode was the last, and it ended without giving away one new penny in prize money. A pair of losers.
Even One Versus One Hundred gave away a few grand last Saturday. On a similar subject, the BBC has announced that production of all its Saturday night quizzes will move to Glasgow and Belfast. The current line-up of shows also includes In It to Win It and Who Dares Wins. A fourth show will replace the so-bad-it-was-hideous This Time Tomorrow. Though the Beeb wants the new programme to have some tie-in with the IOC's spectacle, we'd rather like that fourth show to be BBC Northern Ireland's greatest game show of 2008, Panic Attack.
Ratings for the week to 5 April are in. The Apprentice reigns supreme with 7.15m people finding nothing better to watch. 5.85m saw One Versus One Hundred, and 4.85m saw The Total Wipeout Awards. The Apprentice You're Fired was seen by 2.95m, and Come Dine With Me took 2.85m viewers. The Colour of Money failed to make ITV's top thirty for the second week running, clearly having been eaten by Ratings Bear, Bother's Bar's answer to the Sockmonster. (... Knitted Character, if you're old.) What's the colour of The Colour of Money? Blood-spattered.
Leading digital show was Come Dine With Me on More4 (780,000) with Pop Idle Us (ITV2) and QI (Dave) both creeping over half-a-million. The final of America's Next Top Model brought 425,000 to Living, and Total Wipeout Us had 230,000 scratching their digital guides asking "Where's UKTV Watch?" Family Fortunes on Challenge recorded 165,000 viewers. The final of Cor Cymru (S4C) was seen by 34,000 people, but it made the channel's top ten, and The Colour of Money didn't.
Highlights for the coming week include the return of Beat the Star (ITV, 6.45 Sunday, or after the football), in which rugbyman Austin Healey is given silly things to do by Vernon Kay. We're looking forward to Tim Vine's contribution to Countdown (C4, 3.25 weekdays). Have I Got News for You (BBC1, 9.30 Friday) makes its annual return with Frank Skinner in the chair, and it's preceded by Total Wipeout Fast Forward (BBC1, 8.30 Friday, not Scotland). Digital highlights include a new series of Britain's Next Top Model (Living, 9pm Monday) and Don't Forget the Lyrics (The Satellite Channel, 7pm Sunday).
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