Weaver's Week 2011-08-28
Later in this edition of the Week, we find ourselves pushing a bicycle up the hill, remembering Skylab, and dissecting the latest utterance from the Oracle of OFCOM. But first, a question.
"Are you the Radio Shade?"
A few weeks ago, this column was coming home from our day job, when some total stranger came up to us and asked, "Are you the BRMB Shadow?" "You are making a mistake", we replied, slightly nonplussed, and went back to what was on our Pearpod. But the question kept coming. People driving down the road, slowly, asking the question of every pedestrian. "You are making a mistake", we repeated, as if finding a mantra. Someone walking the other way muttered something about "if I find this shade, I'll knock his lights out", a remarkable philosophical insight for Wednesday tea-time.
Birmingham's local independent radio station BRMB sends one of its employees out on the road, with prizes – cash, concert tickets, that kind of thing. Then the station gives their listeners clues to where their mysterious stranger might be – on this particular evening, listeners were directed to stations on the railway line, including one near us. According to the rules, people are to challenge anyone they suspect of being the station's Shadow with the simple interrogative, "Are you the BRMB Shadow?" If they've decoded the clues and are the first to find the right person, they stand to win that day's prize.
After a little time working out why the punk cover of "Survivor" we were listening to was more than disposable pop, and some time in our research centre, we see that this is just the latest incarnation of a very old game. A year ago, we came across this game description: "'Hunt the Fugitive', to be played in That London, August bank holiday weekend (that's last year, 2010). Photo of target is uploaded, along with a dozen places he'll be visiting in the course of the next few hours. The target must stay in public places, and report the location every half-hour – it'll be published on a five-minute delay. The first people to come up and give a codeword will win a prize."
The radio industry traces the contest back to "The Fugitive" (a competition run in Manchester in 2004) and "The Radio Renegade" (in Scotland and the North East since 2009), but it's much older than that. It's even older than an Irish radio station encouraging its listeners to say "I listen to Atlantic 252, now give me my money." We're indebted to a marvellous feature at Planet Slade for most of this background.
Back in 1927, the Westminster Gazette newspaper was losing readers and sales. Some bright spark hatched a plan to boost the newspaper's circulation. The idea was cunning in its simplicity: plant an ordinary person at a popular seaside resort, publish a picture of him in the newspaper, and offer £50 (now about £2500) for the first person to identify him correctly. The contest turned holidaymakers into bathing-suit sleuths, peering into each other's faces and comparing them against their precious newsprint.
The Gazette's man, nicknamed "Lobby Lud", toured the south east like a Radio 1 Roadshow. From Great Yarmouth to Clacton, then on to Hastings and Eastbourne. Lobby Lud would file reports from his tour of the resorts, giving enough local colour to prove that he'd been there, and the paper would publicise some of his movements in advance.
- "Today, Mr. Lobby Lud will appear at the Wish Tower Slopes at 11am, where he hopes to see Mr. Phillip Schofield of the BBC Popular Programme rotate some wax cylinders, and miss the special guest Mr. Jason Donovan. He will then attend the end-of-the-pier show between 2.30pm and 4pm, where he fears he cannot avoid Mr. Donovan."
Many hundreds of people would come to the announced places, and would challenge each other with the original phrase that pays, "You are Mr. Lobby Lud – I claim the Westminster Gazette prize." The slightest slip in diction would disqualify the challenger.
Not until the fifteenth day of his grand tour was Lobby Lud successfully challenged, by someone watching over the admission gate at Boscombe Pier near Bournemouth. George Rowley, on holiday from Tottenham, won the rollover jackpot of £150. The man may be caught, but the contest continued, resuming that weekend in Blackpool, where Lobby Lud was in the station to meet a specially-chartered train, the "Lobby Lud Express". No-one bothered to challenge him, surely the most wanted man in the town wouldn't be so bold as to face his adoring public like that?
When September came, and tourist season ended, the contest moved to the streets of London. Literally: Lobby Lud was going to ride the buses, and the paper printed which routes he would cover, and when. To spice up proceedings, Mrs. Lobby Lud became the target in October, but the contest was swiftly losing its shine.
Lobby Lud's stories were sharply written and made for good copy, and the contest led to more sales, but it wasn't lucrative enough to keep the paper open. The Westminster Gazette merged into the Daily News in early 1928, and that paper into the News Chronicle in 1930. Under his various new owners, Lobby Lud continued to appear on seafronts, but to diminishing returns – the prize by 1933 was just a tenner (now £550).
The game returned after the war – the Daily Mirror brought Chalkey White out of its "Andy Capp" stories and onto Britain's seafronts, with the most famous version of the phrase that pays. It changed daily, but always ended with the incantation "...and I claim my five pounds." Or, as we'd value it now, "...and I claim my hundred pounds."
This latest version of this game offers tickets for Take That or £2000 in cash, but it's remarkably similar to the one run almost a century ago, right down to having the target travel on public transport. The only problem is that, radio being radio, they can't publish a picture of the quarry on air. Oh, they can and do put up pictures on the station's social media sites, but you can't get there from the end of a transistor radio. Hunters have to target anyone they find, however unlikely they might be. While making their challenges, they promote the station to everyone they meet. It gets a bit annoying; if we weren't so enamoured of a good game, or a bit of research, we could yet be so annoyed as to turn the Radio Shadow into a smelly stinky Shade.
For the record, this column is not the Birmingham shadow. We're not big and beefy and undefeated in Duel.
Birmingham's most memorable Shadow, from Gladiators.
Heat 8: St Andrews v Merton Oxford
A quick piece of correspondence from last week, and thanks to Katie Bramall-Stainer for pointing out that there have been many UC teams with three women, hers included. Our point, and we didn't make this at all clear, is that we don't think any mixed college has ever sent four women – only the single-sex colleges of Oxford and Cambridge have done so, and none has seriously challenged for honours. This week, two all-male sides will pass without comment.
The show begins 90 seconds late, and it's another three minutes before St Andrews are rolling up their sleeves, and Thumper is explaining the rules in full. There's a set of bonuses on founder members, and the Project Gutenberg gets its rubric read out. Corny Question of the Year comes from microblogger icod: "When younger, did you too think they used to sit in tiers on top of each other on University Challenge?" In 1986, they did.
It's a race to the buzzers when the party emblem of the US Corporatist party appears in the visual round, but Thumper is tremendously generous to accept a fairly long pause. Merton has the lead, 50-40, only for St Andrews to draw level after the maths round, which Thumper doesn't understand. Journalists believing what's currently written on that other wiki contributes to a set on Norman Wisdom, and there's a set of bonuses on the Shipping Forecast areas. Who wants to be in Finisterre?
We've reached the audio round, on the music from The Two Ronnies' spoof of that advert where a lad pushes a bike up the hill to deliver a loaf of bread. Does no-one recognise Dvorak's New World symphony? No. Merton leads, 100-45. More music from the adverts in the audio bonuses, so we're not going to hear a punk cover of "Survivor" here. Actually, two reasons – as Blacksheep63 points out, "Paxman can't contain his disgust at the use of classical music in adverts". St Andrews have had a bit of a revival, but Merton pull back, and get a series of questions about winners of the Booker prize. We're not going to hear about "There's a Monkey in the Refrigerator!" here.
Questions about cotton are good for Merton, Whistler for St Andrews. The second visual round is on foreign owners of English non-league football sides, such as Carsten Yeung of Birmingham City. Since this show was recorded, Birmingham have secured relegation to the Football League. Sally_Bridge has this week's Coverall Response: "oh gawd i don't understand the question". For us, and for the teams, it's a question on acceleration.
St Andrews take the lead for the first time with questions on poets' graves, including one on Merton alumnus T S Eliot. We've not heard many questions about St Andrews' former student Alex Salmond. Merton pull back ahead with Wales ... sorry, whales, and advance with some questions on film scores. Less than four minutes to play, less than five minutes until Marxistpoet's prediction is tested: "I do assume everyone watching University Challenge is going to watch Only Connect, yes?"
MichaelLAmbrose notes "This last few minutes of University Challenge is always SO stressful *need to lie down*" We'll help you out here: Dettori's rides through the card and the satellites of Neptune allow Merton to go 65 ahead, but they need one more. Or St Andrews to blow these questions on palindromes; they get two. St Andrews picks up a missignal, and that feels like game over. Fountains is St Andrews' set, but time expires, and the result is in. Merton Oxford wins, 195-165.
St Andrews should have done enough to make the repechage, though they're only in third place with six episodes to go. Three missignals hurt, and 26/52 overall might not be a winning start. Merton didn't do any better, finishing on 28/59. Random Punter of the Week is @LichP: "I got three :P"
Next match: Manchester v Selwyn Cambridge
Heat 2: Edwards Family v Inorganic Chemists
And we're over, for the Hardest Quiz on TV, in which Victoria Coren's in your cellar, drinking your wine. The Edwards Family are father, son, and daughter-in-law, and one of them will appear on Round Britain Quiz next Monday. The Inorganic Chemists are, well, students of non-organic chemistry at Oxford, and include a couple of names familiar from University Challenge.
Edwards kick off with the Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom, which is concealing the French nuclear tests of 1960. Getting blown up by a nuclear bomb, that's pretty doomy. They buzz after two clues, knowing that this and a Kieslowski film trilogy are "red, white and blue". Three points! "A Treasure Island" kicks things off for the Chemists, then "A Hike Together" gives them the answer: "Five on ___" books. In the ensuing discussion, David Edwards suggests Noddy is the cruellest book.
Is there a game in here? There is. Pictures of Rudolf Hess and the Kray Twins, who were all imprisoned in the Tower of London. That's a bonus for the Chemists, but their own question is a blind guess. They suggest Scottish dances, but even Strictly Come Brucie hasn't heard of the Caretaker fling. All the words begin with punctuation marks, the answer no-one's going to get.
Sheridan is the link for the next set, including former Celebrity Big Brother contestant Tommy. Wonder who from this show would be most likely to appear there? We'll tell in a couple of weeks. The audio round for the chemists, who have four songs about Berlin, including "White Christmas", and "Looking for freedom", the song David Hasselhoff performed on top of the city's wall. It cracked beneath his ego. The Edwards Family leads, 6-5.
Into the connections round with pictures of Clint Mansell, a hill, and Geoff Hamilton, so obviously it's going to be a button. Or, as we now know for next year, half a button, the other fastener is only available at an extortionate price from someone who already knows you're calling, or by watching German telly. The chemists know that peat will eventually become coal, but they're foiled by the requirement for a specific form of coal – Anthracite Coal. Bonus for the Edwards, who promptly get central London dialling codes. 020 is worth 003 points. And, yes, we know they said 0207, hoping to get 0037 points. It's a common misconception, promulgated by such know-nothings as British Telecom.
We claimed five on this one. If S America or Australia = 2, then Asia = 7, because it's continental bonuses in the game of Risk. Nothing for the players, so we can justifiably feel Utterly Smug. This column does like a good game of Risk: we always advise new players to start by dominating Europe. Manned American spaceflight programmes for the Edwards, but they forgot about Skylab. Everyone forgot about Skylab. One of those diminishing words sequences gives two points for the Chemists, Sparta turning into Spa. The Edwards lead, 12-7.
To the walls, where the Chemists begin with four of their favourite Disney movies. Are there clubs in there? What about bands with numbers in their name? That comes out eventually, after some jabbing. There are nightclubs, but the team loses their last lives before spotting the right ones. The last link evades them: eye ___. Five points!
Very slow progress for the Edwards family: there's a group of rugby union positions, and that absolutely has to include the "Number 8" clue. Tips are in there, the captain is jabbing, and are there some seats? Perhaps not. Kitchen utensils evaded the team, and the connection of ballroom dance steps completely eludes them. Five points!
The scores have increased, the gap remains the same. Non-alcoholic beverages sees this round's first incorrect answers in many months, and a 1-1 draw. Fictional vehicles, that includes the Compact Pussycat in a 4-0 whitewash. World cities and their major rivers, that's a 2-2 draw. Art techniques is a 3-1 win for the Edwards, and animals that could talk cost the Chemists a point. Was there a character called Mustard? We can't find one, and it doesn't matter, the Edwards have won at a canter, 27-15.
Bank Holiday smartness from Analysts and Editors. That's except for viewers in Scotland, who get Regular Working Day smartness from Analysts and Editors.
This Week And Next
OFCOM's report into broadcasting failures included a section relating to game shows. Back in 2006, Simon Curtis appeared in the second round of Mastermind, taking the Life and Works of Jim Carrey. This column's report included the passages:
- "This is, regrettably, a noteworthy performance, as Mr Curtis's score in this round is 1 (8). The host dwells on the matter, rather than getting on with it. Mr Curtis's final score is 9 (11)."
- "Inevitably, this week's show brought Mastermind back into the national papers, full of sniggersome and rather inaccurate coverage at Mr Curtis's performance. [..] In interviews, Mr Curtis said that he was expecting more questions about the Life of Jim Carrey, rather than many questions about minor plot details of his Works."
At the start of this year, Channel 4 broadcast David Walliams' Awfully Good Television, in which the panel person showed clips of television that was "so bad, so awful, it's actually good". Throughout the show, Mr. Walliams would sneer at the material he was introducing, and there was no exception to his introduction to clips of Mr. Curtis's specialist subject.
- "If you're not, let's say, very bright, it's probably not a good idea to go on a quiz show that tests your mental agility. And by 'not very bright', I mean 'astoundingly thick'."
Mr Curtis complained on three fronts: that the introduction had been unfair to him, that the show should have mentioned his other achievements, and that he should have been asked for permission before the clips aired. The last would have been most unusual: we don't believe the BBC sought permission from all contestants before selling earlier series of Mastermind to Challenge, and the contestant's contract generally covers such re-sales rights. Nor were the clips shown unrepresentative of the round – many errors, many passes, and the correct answer.
Where we do believe Mr. Curtis had a case was that the introduction clearly suggested that he was thick, stupid, foolish. Such a claim could seriously damage someone's reputation, even from this festival of sneer. This column doesn't believe the claim is accurate, doesn't believe it's justified, and doesn't believe it can be justified. The adjudication states, "OFCOM recognised that these comments carried the potential to be offensive and insulting to Mr Curtis."
The worst part is that, had the researchers actually looked at the ensuing commentary, they would have found that Mr. Curtis has appeared on other shows, most recently ITV4's Beer & Pizza Club. There, he explained that he had plucked the subject out of air, and hadn't prepared himself sufficiently for the recording. Had Mr. Walliams' script concentrated on the importance of preparation, of knowing one's enemy, then we can't see any offence being caused. But it chose to attack the person rather than the action, and it's clear that the writers caused unnecessary offence.
Ratings for the week to 14 August show Dale topping the world one last time, In It to Win It scored with 5.7m viewers. Dragons' Den comes in second, 3.25m can't decide whether the new panellist is Pete Burns or Cruella de Ville, even the 365,000 on BBC-HD couldn't help. University Challenge finished third with 2.5m, inches ahead of Dickinson's Real Deal. Top for Channel 4 was 8 Out of 10 Cats (1.85m), and Shooting Stars returned to 1.3m viewers. Normal service on the digital channels: Come Dine on More4 had 755,000 viewers, Hell's Kitchen on ITV2 had 605,000, Britain and Ireland's Top Model on UK Living a round half-million, and Only Connect's repeated championship of champions match perplexed 465,000.
This week's big new show is Minute to Win It (ITV2, 8pm Tuesday), featuring challenges that can be gone in 60 seconds. Those with more stamina have not one but two editions of Two Minute Hate (C5, 9pm Wed and Fri), the latter opposite The Million Pound Drop Live Live (C4). There's a new run of Coach Trip (C4, 5pm weekdays), and Nickelodeon shows the Aussie original of Camp Orange (5pm weekdays from Tuesday). UKTV Good Food has competitive cookery in Perfect... (6pm Thu), and Celebrity Juice is back (ITV2, 10pm Thu), with Jedward unavailable for the recording, their part is played by Ant and Dec. They'll be back on Saturday (ITV, 7pm) for Red or Black?, aka Simon Cowell Gives Away a Huge Amount of Money.
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