Weaver's Week 2010-02-14
CBBC and BBC-HD, from 21 January
Game shows and the British Museum have tended to be more miss than hit. The most famous time these worlds have collided is over some marble friezes, brought to London from the Parthenon by Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin. Some people, most notably William G. Stewart, believe that these sculptures should be returned to Athens, where they spent 2000 years. In support of his campaign, Mr. Stewart ensured that he had an excuse to discuss this matter at least once on each series of Fifteen-to-One (1988-2003). Had the Week been running at that time, we'd no doubt have noted the Not Particularly Hidden Marbles.
Later, much later, came Codex (2006-7). Tony Robinson guided some teams around the hallowed halls, and got them to play observational or knowledge games about the exhibits, prior to cracking a code and potentially winning a trip to somewhere exotic, somewhere historic, or Scunthorpe. While the first series showed potential, the second run was reduced to a standard team quiz, and the third series seems to have been lost down the back of the sofa.
Maybe the problem was that Tony Robinson is still very much alive and with us. Relic addresses itself to this question by employing Agatha as its host. Agatha is a stereotypical archaeologist, pith helmet and torch, and very much dead. Commentators at Bother's Bar thought she was like an uncle, and were scratching their heads for the feminine of "avuncular". That is (or should be!) "materteral", from the Latin "matertera", mother's sister. The Oxford English Dictionary only records one use, and notes that as "humorously pedantic". We reckon Agatha is a "jolly hockey sticks, what ho old bean", character, somewhere in the space around Boris Johnson and Annabel Croft.
Also appearing on the show is The Dark Lord, as himself. Mr. Lord will only join the show in its final few minutes, and before then sends some of his minions out, ostensibly to distract the teams. Oh rubbish, these minions are just there to give the show a narrative excuse to move around the museum and to pad it out to the necessary half-hour running time. Such are the demands of the BBC's HD channel, where everything must be in neat blocks and 25-minute shows have to run long. (See also: Raven)
As is traditional, the show falls into five acts: an introduction, three rounds of the main game, then a denouement. The introduction is literally that – Agatha and the team introduce themselves to each other, and Agatha explains the challenge. They're to learn about a relic to be found in the walls of the museum, and there will be questions later.
But that comes later. The three rounds all begin with a challenge. Some of the challenges are physical – retrieving shields through slots, or building a tower. More of the challenges are based on knowledge – which of these facts about ancient Egypt are correct, what did indigenous Americans use these items for? These challenges don't take place in the museum, but in a studio away from it. This is a sensible production decision, the thought of children running amok is one to give any living historian cause for concern. While the challenges could be spectacular in themselves, they're not the stars of the show – as in Trapped (2007 – present), the games are played down to allow room for a larger plot. It's arguable that these games are too simple, certainly we found them less educational than some of the better ones from Codex I.
But back to Relic, where Agatha ends each challenge with a vision of the relic, telling all the facts about it. The only catch is that the whole team will see it only if they've won the challenge just before. Should the team fail in their endeavours, only one will see the vision, a 45-second burst of facts and visuals. Whether one or all three see the infoburst, they spend a little while discussing what they've seen. In part, this is to impart and reinforce the information, but again we do think that part of this exchange is to pad out the show to the desired length.
In the grand finale, the team are asked questions by Mr. The Dark Lord. Three correct answers from the team will dismiss Mr. Lord, and grant the title "Guardians of the Museum" to the players. Failure in any question will allow Mr. Lord to dismiss the player and put them into a large box. If all the team members finish up in the box, they've lost the challenge, and will remain in the box forever, or at least until the museum staff clock on and let them out.
Relic has been made as part of the BBC's "History of the World in 100 Objects" series, an educational partnership with the British Museum. The main series is telling adults about the development of civilisation through artefacts via 15-minute talks on the radio. This show is telling children about the development of civilisation through artefacts via 45-second infopods on the telly. It's education through entertainment; we're not entirely convinced it's doing the entertainment part as well as it might.
Elimination quarter-final 1: Girton Cambridge v St Andrews
In this seemingly never-ending quarter-final progression, the end is nigh. For one of the sides, this is actually going to be their final appearance. Girton Cambridge have beaten Nottingham and St George's London, but lost to St John's Oxford. Somerville Oxford and Newnham Cambridge are the vanquished for St Andrews, but they found Manchester to be too much.
Word of the week is "creep", and gives Girton a set on unfinished literary works, which they finish in little time. After the next three starters are dropped, Thumper reaches for the pile labelled "hidden transmission indicators for next week", a question about the BPI awards. We're impressed by his ability to pronounce the names of the author and band of the Maori responsible for "Ka mate", the chant used by New Zealand rugby sides to impress their opponents. The visual round is to name tripoints of Europe. Sybil Fawlty would have got the answer to the starter, it's Basel, and with St Andrews' contribution limited to a missignals, Girton's lead is 50-(-10).
There's another of those three-rhymes answers, and Thumper is probably wrong to reject "tramp" for "vamp". One of the Girton side is certainly wrong to suggest that "Sardinia" has a name composed of five vowels. Now there's a question they don't want to get in The OC's studio, for the clue would be
St Andrews have actually managed to answer a couple of questions correctly, and they're asked what they want for those answers. "Point" is a starter, making something out of nothing, helping improve their position. How to get from the west coast of England to the east coast in two counties? Cumbria and Northumberland: we're not all southerners! The audio round is on the works of romantic composers, and Girton's lead has been trimmed to 70-60.
It increases when Thumper's a little generous to accept Brown-Kerr's answer to the next starter, though she was clearly correcting herself and knew what she was talking about. One of the bonuses talks about the Dadaist movement, and how it pioneered chopping up photographs and making something new out of them. We told you Keep Your Enemies Close was good for something. A set on centenaries could give St Andrews' the lead, but it only brings them level. The second visual round is Name That Bloke Associated With St Paul's Cathedral, neither side gets it, and the scores are 85-85.
St Andrews take the lead with the next correctly answered starter, but they confer and confer about the bonuses, as they've been doing all night. Just get on with it! Are the Milgram experiments the most famous piece of experimental psychology ever? Even we've heard of them! St Andrews get that, and extend their lead to 30 points, Girton halve it, and we get Remarkable Interruption of the Series:
- Q: Which French mathematician and scientist..?
- Girton, Daniel Spencer: Descartes
After Thumper's recovered his jaw from the basement, their reward is a set of bonuses on homophones, which the side is asked to spell. When they make an error, Thumper helpfully points out "you've got to give the right answer." Does he know the shape of a CD? Never mind, at the gong, Girton have won, 140-115.
Christopher Cameron was best on the buzzers for Girton, with five starters as the side made 12/24 bonuses. There were six starters for Christopher Flaherty as St Andrews made 9/24 with two missignals. The overall accuracy rate was 37/73.
Next: (QQF2) Imperial London v Emmanuel Cambridge
Followed by: (EQF2) Edinburgh v Jesus Oxford
Heat 6: Exeter Alumni v Gourmands
Victoria is lost in a blizzard of clues, blinding her with facts, accuracy, and compressing into a ball of knowledge. Building their snowmen of wisdom this week are the Exeter Alumni, graduates from the University of Exeter; and the Gourmands, people who like fine food and drink. They mention the Unspeakable Brother G***s, much to the host's chagrain.
Shall we get on with the quiz? Please do. Exeter won the toss and elected to play, and begin with the audio set. Madonna performing "Angel" is mistaken for Belinda Carlisle, there's Duffy's "Warwick Avenue", and "Baker Street" gives it away. Gourmands have Nero, Kenneth Williams, and more – they were roles for Michael Sheen, apparently. Exeter get the visual round, and it's people whose names contain parts of the human body.
Liverpool in with Kew Gardens and the Ironbridge Gorge? It throws the Gourmands totally, but Exeter pick it up for a bonus. Dresden wouldn't be on the corresponding German list, we found out in UC. Helpfully, Victoria explains that Ironbridge took its name from the world's first iron bridge. Oh, that next one really gets our goat and annoys us: Exeter's offer isn't exact enough, and the Gourmands pick up the bonus point for reduplicative acronyms that repeat themselves. Gourmands add a point with wormwood, and that brings the match level at 4-4.
A non-Fibonnaci score! At last! Ahem. Exeter kick off on What's Fourth, and get the connection – fates in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – but takes forever to remember what happened to Mike Teevee. Gourmands zero in on increasing amounts of cloud cover, but their answer is not entirely overcast. Exeter pick the visual round, but it's clear they're floundering – only the Gourmands remember obscure 70s rock groups.
Gourmands wind up thinking about the heads of MI5, and zig for Stella Rimmington, stealing Exeter's answer. Sawers is the answer, apparently, but it allows Victoria to over-act asking why the head of MI6 calls himself C. Exeter get one-and-a-half bites of the cherry to get police ethnicity codes, and the Gourmands have some distances. Lines on a rugby pitch, but they zag for halfway, allowing Exeter to steal a point with a good try. Exeter lead, 11-7.
On to the grids, and Gourmands begin by thinking there's a group of birds there. There's always a group of birds there... oh, that is a group of flightless birds. Then they go for a set of Booker-winning authors, and are very quickly looking for the last two groups. After a bit of thought, they find some synonyms for "swindle", but miss the final connection. Seven points!
Exeter think about architects, but they don't know about Charles Barry of the Palace of Westminster. While considering that, they've been distracted by terms of endearment, and fairly quickly move on to ___ metal, but the final answer isn't sitcom sidekicks, but Graces. Again, it's Seven points! Exeter's lead is now 18-14.
Which brings us to the Missing Vowels, beginning with National dishes. That ends up in a 3-0 win for the Gourmands. Home territory, really. Famous mottoes are next, and that goes 1-(-1) in Exeter's favour. Former names of major cities is a 3-1 win for Exeter, writing systems goes 2-1 to Gourmands. "They drowned" includes this week's Shakespeare character, Ophelia, and brings the quiz to an end. Exeter have won, 23-20.
Still trying to get a human response from computerised phone hell: Insurers v Gamblers
We begin with Iain Copping, and he's taking TV Westerns of the 1950s and 60s. These were cheaply made television programmes chronicling the pioneers of the Wild West of America in the mid to late 19th century. Shows such as Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza spread to the UK where they were used as cheap schedule filler into the 1980s. Actors in the series included a middle-aged Ronald Reagan, many years before his starring role in Spitting Image. The round never has a head of steam, ending on 8 (1).
Valerie Roebuck discusses the Life and Work of JRR Tolkien. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) set the template for sword-and-sorcery novels with his interminable Lord of the Rings trilogy. He also had the time and good grace to write charming letters to future Mastermind contenders who will go on to impress us with her knowledge and score a rather good 14 (1). What a clever chap.
Rob Dunne is going to tell us about the Government of Gough Whitlam 1972 -1975. Whitlam (b 1916) rose through the Australian Labor (sic) Party to become leader in 1967, and led them into government in 1972. His reforming programme was partly blocked by the Senate, and he was ousted from power by the Queen's representative in Australia in 1975. That precipitated the greatest constitutional crisis in Australian history. No such crisis in this round: it's quietly but devastatingly good, even though the contender forgets the Sydney Opera House, and gives him the lead with 15 (1).
Brian Weight has turned up in a blue shirt, to discuss the Life and Career of Dixie Dean (1907-80). Dean played centre-forward for Everton immediately before the second world war, and was described by Matt Busby as "a perfect specimen of an athlete." One of the questions describes how Dean claims to have scored eighteen goals in one day, and the contender comes close to that mark, finishing on 14 (0).
Iain Copping is back in the chair, and remembers the basic plot to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased): one of them was dead, as was the script. He also remembers the Eleventh Labour of Hercules, building a concrete tower up to the sky, and ends on 17 (4).
Valerie Roebuck begins with the Hidden Transmission Indicator of the Week, getting the question about Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. That's this coming week, and our technical department hopes to have an experimental pancake-by-email thingummy up and running by then. So far, they've got email-to-burned-toast. We're not hopeful. She also knows about St. Elmo's fire, and finishes on 24 (5).
The top six runners-up:
- John Cooper 29 (3)
- Ian Scott Massie 26 (2)
- Les Morrell 26 (3)
- Colin Wilson 25 (0)
- Peter Cowan 25 (2)
- William de Ath 25 (4)
Brian Weight is next, and kicks off with the sport played at the Crucible in Sheffield. It's snooker, and we can expect the world championships to kick Mastermind into touch for a couple of weeks just when the series is heating up. The contender picks up lots of points early in the round, but loses speed as the time progresses, and finishes on 22 (3).
Rob Dunne needs ten to win, a challenge for any contender, and there's a theory that younger challengers (and Mr. Dunne is young) have greater trouble with general knowledge than more experienced contestants. And, sadly, that's the way it goes for this contender; he falls into pass hell early in the round, only gets going in the final few moments, and finishes on 21 (7).
So Valerie Roebuck is this week's winner, to return in the semi-finals.
There's no Mastermind next week, but it does appear on the schedules for 26 February.
This Week And Next
ITV's top primetime show I'm Cruel To Rats, Vote For Me has been fined for cruelty to rats. In last year's series, two contestants killed a rat in an inhumane manner. ITV has been fined $3000 (£2000), and ordered to pay a similar amount in costs.
Astute readers will have noticed that we haven't given ratings figures for a little while. That's because compilers BARB have been working with a new panel, and January's figures were released in one lump this week. Dancing on Ice was the month's most popular show, 9.65m saw the opening night on 10 January. The celebrity edition of Total Wipeout (2 January) had 7.85m viewers, and So You Think You Can Dance (9 January) was seen by 7.15m. Celebrity Mastermind broke 7 million on the snowy Wednesday.
Unlike the last few editions, Celebrity Big Brother finished with more viewers than it started with – 4.45m saw the final on 29 January, 3.8m the opening on the 3rd. Pop Idleus opened on ITV2 with 1.4m viewers on 13 January, and lost almost half of them in the following fortnight. The Satellite Channel's Got to Dance began with 1.3m viewers, and Come Dine With Me has had its usual million-plus audiences on More4, and 3 million on Channel 4. Only Connect has been a breakthrough hit, peaking at 420,000 on 18 January – that's rivalling the successes of Dave's panel games. What Do Kids Know? attracted 275,000 to UKTV Watch for its launch, and World's Strongest Man has been a shrewd buy for Bravo, 220,000 is the station's highest audience in ages.
Hoping for similar success this week: Coach Trip (C4, 5pm weekdays) sets off around Europe, and Instant Restaurant (BBC2, 5.15 weekdays) has people opening kitchens in their kitchen. There's more cookery in Masterchef Goes Large (BBC1, 8.30 Thursday), and David Mitchell invites comedy people to spend a few days in The Bubble (BBC2, 10pm Friday). It's the terrestrial premiere of Copycats (BBC2, 9am weekdays), and the finals of Got to Dance (The Satellite Channel, 6pm Sunday) and Popstar to Operastar (ITV, 9pm Friday). Next Saturday has Let's Dance for Comic Relief for Sport Relief (BBC1, 6.30).
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