Weaver's Week 2003-10-25


It's been Revivals Week in game show land. Without further ado:

NEW SUPERSTARS (BBC1, 2000 Thursday)

Way back in the distant reaches of time, circa 1980, BBC1's new year schedule played host to a bizarre sporting contest. Sportsmen of the time competed at each others' sports, with the most successful winning the coveted prize of Superstar Of The Year, and an invitation to appear on that summer's run of WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS. Details of this original incarnation have faded from public consciousness, apart from Brian Jacks' squat thrusts and Kevin Keegan falling off in the slow cycle race.

In summer 2002, the series was revived for one night only to raise money for charity. Public reaction was favourable, and the BBC commissioned a six-part series. They've swapped a rainy Crystal Palace for a sunny Spanish resort. Original host David Vine has been allowed to remain with his snooker coverage [actually, he hasn't done that in years either - Ed], the show is now hosted by The Ironic Johnny Vaughan and Treasure Hunt's Suzi Perry.

The sports people take part in eight events: runs over 100m and 800m, 50m swim, kayaking, target golf, an uphill cycle, football, and those infamous gym tests. Except that they only actually take part in six tests: the producers pull them out of the test closest to their home sport, and the contestant opts to sit out of one of the others. Top five in each contest score points: 10, 7, 4, 2, 1; sixth or lower fails to trouble the scorers.

As sports people do, they take this really seriously. It's not just an excuse to show more sport on prime time television for them, it's an excuse to get themselves on national television, and do so without Ant and/or Dec laughing at them in Australia. The added incentive of a prize at the end of the series helps, too. We've already seen one scene for the archives: John Regis's attempts at kayaking, coming to a halt when he wandered out of his own lane.

The competitors are a mixture of active participants in minority sports, and recently retired or past their peak footballers. Unexpectedly, the choice of competitors means that Annabel Croft will be appearing in her fourth (count 'em!) cult series, after doing Treasure Hunt, Interceptor, and the embryonic Survivor in the late 80s.

Johnny Vaughan takes the event reasonably seriously, and certainly doesn't give a "look at these people making a fool of themselves" commentary like Jeux Sans Frontiers or Eurovision. Maybe it's something in his tone of voice, but he doesn't quite come across as sincere. Suzi Perry seems to be there to do pre- and post-event interviews and little else. The event commentator is Paul Dickinson, reproducing his love-it-or-hate-it style of athletics commentary.

Fans of retro game shows will be cheered that they've kept the original theme. Advances in computer graphics mean they all line up and look presentable these days, which may or may not be a good thing

Cramming eight events and some glimpse into the sporting personalities makes for a fast-moving hour, and perhaps it's too fast for its own good. A 65 or 70 minute slot, as was common in the early 80s, would take a little of the pressure off and allow the programme to run at its own pace.

In summary, it's a welcome return, and proof that the original show should never have been axed.

NEW FORT BOYARD (Adventure Line / Flextech for Challenge, 1700 Mo/We/Fr)

Is it really only two years since the last episodes aired on Channel 5? Apparently so.

Most obvious change: we have a new cast. Melinda Messenger has gone off to spend more time in the Celeb Big Brother house, and has been replaced by Penfold. Since we last saw him on seminal 80s cartoon Dangermouse, our diminutive rodent chum has grown a little, conclusively emerged as female, and cultivated a hairstyle not a million miles away from Chief's. She's also grown an extra name, Jodie.

M Boyard is also away, spending some time looking up old friends in Albert Square. Replacing him is Penfold's uncle, also called M Boyard. He looks a lot like Chris Ellison, who apparently used to deliver payment demands in some little-watched drama on ITV. Quite why that channel thinks people will watch the bill is a mystery.

And it turned out that Geoffrey Baynham's character wasn't a Professor, after all, but a time lord. He's regenerated into someone wearing a sailor's outfit, and sounding a lot like The Doctor, or the actor Tom Baker. Clearly a reverse- Ace effect in operation there.

Less obviously, it's goodbye and good riddance to those filmed inserts of Mel explaining how the game works. It's not particularly complex, first time viewers will get it quickly enough, and Penfold explains it as she goes along.

There's been a subtle change in emphasis since we were last in the Fort: fewer ordeals for codewords, more timed challenges for keys. Five from about ten are required to open the door, any extra are swapped for bonus clue words from the Captain Who is in the tower. When Fort Boyard first crossed our screens five years ago, the ordeals were something different, no one thought of putting contestants through minor torture to win. Thanks to Anne Robinson, Antan Dec, and a whole host of other shows, minor torture has become de rigueur, if not downright passé, and the Fort shows itself one step ahead of the pack again.

Another change to the endgame needs to be noted: the contestants don't find out any clue words (other than the riddle) until they're going into the treasure room. This stops clever teams from getting the answer with ten minutes to play, making the last few games nothing more than filler. Indeed, on New Fort Boyard, there are barely ten minutes to play the ordeals.

No change to the very French filming style, which isn't surprising, as the same French camera crew works the entire season. The direction is a little more laid back, and somehow appropriate for the show in a way Pearson never managed. The little things make the show: Jacques puts the keys on a keyring and holds them up to the camera.

The new cast is rather good. Tom Baker is a national treasure, as we all know, even if he's a bit stereotyped into slightly dotty characters. Chris Ellison is magnificent, more human and less pantomime villain than Leslie Grantham, and a lot more credible as the fort owner who is reluctant to yield his treasure, but welcomes the contestants. Jodie Penfold has been building her part up a little, trying to be the new Richard O'Brien with all her asides to camera, but coming across as more of the new Ed Temple-Pole-Stewart-Morris-Wotsisname. If they wanted someone cool and suave, maybe Dangermouse himself could be available.

In summary, it's a welcome return, and proof that it is possible to bring back old formats in an entertaining way.

NEW NICKED! (Crown Prosecution Service, Bournemouth Crown Court, all week)

Charles Ingram denies seven charges of deception. The prosecution alleges he made claims totalling more than £30,000 on dishonestly obtained insurance policies.

Christopher Parker leads Team Prosecution. He said Mr Ingram had taken two consecutive insurance policies with two different companies and in both cases had dishonestly failed to reveal that he had made claims against a previous home contents policy.

Mr Ingram was initially insured by the Norwich Union between 1991 and 1997; during this period he made seven claims. When Ingram applied for a new policy, he failed to declare that he had made four claims in the proceeding three years.

Team Prosecution reckons the failure to declare these claims was dishonest, and that's where the crime lies. Under this new policy with Zurich Municipal, Mr Ingram made a further four claims - these would be deception because the initial policy was fraudulently obtained.

Mr Parker said: "There is no suggestion that in respect of any of the dozen or so claims made by Mr Ingram that the losses were not in fact incurred, the claims themselves were properly brought."

At the end of the Zurich Municipal policy, Mr Ingram took out a new policy with Direct Line in July 2001, but again failed to declare the four claims with Zurich Municipal. He then went on to claim the sum of £30,000 on August 10 2001 from Direct Line, Mr Parker said.

When interviewed by police, Mr Ingram claimed that he had not declared some of the insurance claims because they were "highly forgettable items." He was arrested in October 2001 after making a £32,300 claim following a burglary.

Sally-Anne West, a home claims consultant for Zurich Municipal, told the court that had Mr Ingram declared all four claims, her company would not have offered him an insurance policy. The insurance house wrote to Mr Ingram in April 2002, asking for repayment of these four claims minus the amount of premiums he had paid, a net transfer of £2,262.

After suspicions were raised about Mr Ingram's claims, Direct Line employed investigator Edwin Pattington in September 2001 to examine the case and question Ingram. Mr Pattington, working for the firm Strikeward, delivered a letter to national television and radio celebrity Mr Chris Tarrant at home.

The note read: "Chris, I investigate for insurance companies and your dodgy major put in a very doubtful claim. If you want to pass my numbers on to those looking into his win, I may have some background information. Regards. Eddie."

Mr Pattington said, "I knew the alleged accomplice lived in Wales. I wasn't aware as to whether [those investigating for NICKED!] had made the connection or whether there was any connection. Knowing I had this information I felt it was necessary to pass it on." He added that he did not contact Team Prosecution because of previous bad experiences of finding the right departments dealing with cases. He further claimed that Mr Ingram had signed a statement indicating he had not held any contents insurance for six years prior to 1997.

Selva Ramasamy, for The Defence, said: "You have sought to whip this case up as much as you can in order to ensure there is a prosecution," a suggestion Mr Pattington denied.

Mr Ramasamy added: "Because a prosecution means publicity for you, you want to be the man who brought down Mr Ingram with this case." The investigator replied: "It's absolutely of no consequence to me what happens to this case."

In excerpts of police interviews read to the jury, Mr Ingram told police he had not sought to deceive the insurance companies but had simply forgotten about the claims he had failed to disclose. He said his busy Army lifestyle led to him being forgetful.

"Although I am a meticulous person, like anyone else I make mistakes and my memory isn't particularly good. Insurance isn't something I think about all the time."

In his defence, Mr Ingram said that he did not provide details of previous claims because he had forgotten about them or thought they preceded the three- year cut-off period. "I don't know why I didn't remember. There was no deliberate intent."

He said the stress of his army lifestyle - he had to move home eight times in 11 years - added to his mental confusion over the claims. The diagnosis of one of his daughters with autism and another with dyslexia at the time he took out the Zurich Municipal policy added to the stress.

The case is expected to conclude early next week. Coverage of New NICKED draws heavily on Press Association reports.

In summary, it's a retread of the original NICKED, and what it proves is down to the jury. Can we have a new series of THE MOLE now?



Third semi-final.

Catherine Gillespie moves from the Emperor Nero to Lawrence of Arabia. She does reasonably well, scoring eleven points and no passes.

Andrew Whitworth took Stanley Kubrick last time, Clive Barker this. He knows his onions, 13 points and two passes.

Steve Clark progresses from Red Dwarf to Tony Hancock. The questions tend to the obscure, nary a mention of Half Hour, he scores 9 points and three passes.

Andy Page had the Academy Awards, now it's the Lives and Works of Gilbert and Sullivan. He rattles through the questions, scoring 16 points, two passes, and still finding time to make two errors.

Steve Clark advances to 19 points with two more passes. Catherine Gillespie takes five passes and 18 points.

Andrew Whitworth never recovers from a slow start, finishing with 20 points and two more passes.

Andy Page needs just five to win. He stumbles through the section, but Thomas Edison's patents proves the tonic he needs, Andy finishes on 29 points and one pass.

University Challenge

Round 1, match 6: Jesus Cambridge -v- Oriel Oxford

It's slow and stodgy going this week, with Oriel failing on bonuses on nothing and modern classical, while Jesus gets to identify the 60s from quotes, and haircuts from pictures. Anyone would think they wanted Cambridge to win.

The only reason Cambridge will win this week is because they're a little better on the buzzer than Oxford. And they get questions on rabbits.

Two starter questions on Elvis Presley's career this week, it smacks of a singular lack of planning by both question setters and compilers. On the upside, we do get a snappy starter: how many semiquavers are there in a minim?

Jesus is slowly but surely pulling away with the show, and it doesn't look as if Oriel will challenge for a high-scoring loser's slot. Then Jesus's Sam Urquhart starts answering every starter going, and Jesus begins to run away with it.

And run away with it in spectacular style. At 2.3 points per bonus on his starters, 0.9 on anyone else's, with the starters scored in full, Sam Urqhart finishes on 119.8, his side on 270, Oriel made 90.

All eight players got at least one starter correct, Oriel's best was captain Michael Bench-Capon, scoring 35.6. Jesus made 24/45 bonuses, Oriel 8/15. For the second time this series, neither side picked up a missignalling penalty.

Those high scoring losers remain the same: 175 St John's Oxford; 160 Hull; 150 St Hugh's Oxford; 115 Edinburgh.


Ambulance crews called to the aid of a 72-year-old farmer who injured himself after tripping over a rabbit hole were powerless to help him after his herd of stubborn llamas leapt to his defence.

Graham Bailey, who farms four South American llamas, fell in a field on his farm near Kettering, and was stranded for two hours before a passer-by heard his screams. Attempts to rescue the stuck farmer came to a grinding halt when the head llama led the animals in a circle and began dancing around to protect him.

Eventually, the air ambulance service came in, a helicopter scared the animals away and allowed the farmer to be airlifted to hospital.

According to a contestant on US Millionaire, Hannibal crossed the Alps riding a herd of llamas.


Speaking on the Gevincountdown group, Countdown chief honcho Damian Eadie said that the programme's office had received about 7400 (seven thousand four hundred) complaints and comments about the new, far too early, time slot. About three (3) supported the time change. At least one has suggested taping Countdown and Fifteen To One, and playing them back after 4pm, fast forwarding through the commercials. Not that this column would ever endorse such a plan. Oh no.

In the US, plans for a reality television awards show in November sweeps have been cancelled, as other networks wouldn't allow their shows to be ridiculed in public. Well, not again.

Next week's new shows. BBC1 debuts Wright Round The World at 1940 tonight. In this show, contestants bid to send various people called Wright as far away from the UK as possible; they'll then be given $100 and told to make their own way home. Last one to Greg Dyke's office wins. This week: Ian Wright.

Scaredy Camp comes to Nickleodeon at 1900 weeknights. Julian Clary and Dale Winton compete to be a bit frightening.

Radio 4 debuts Whispers, a Gyles Brandreth show where he talks to people about gossip, rumour, and idle chitter-chatter.

And C4 has Distraction at 2240 Friday. Jimmy Carr explodes paper bags down people's ears.

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