Weaver's Week 2005-04-03

Weaver's Week Index


Growing Old Disgracefully (part two) - 3 April 2005

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'

"He's like a picture of God, only without the beard."

Double Your Money

(original: Arlington Television and Radio Ltd for Associated-Rediffusion, ITV, 7pm Monday)

(re-presentation: Fifties Night on BBC-4, 9.55 Sunday)

The basic idea behind BBC-4's Television On Trial season was a good one - take a "typical" week's programmes from the past six decades, and have a couple of people comment on what they see. Somewhere along the line, a spurious public vote appeared (this is BBC-4, where people have brains; not Channel 4.)

Thanks to some strange production decisions, we had two ways of watching this show: with Roy Hattersley and Kathryn Flett talking over the programme; or without the commentary but with two huge graphics splashed over the show. It wasn't possible for us to see the programme as it originally aired. And let us correct one historical error that shamefully crept into the programme: Double Your Money was never an ATV London production. The frontcap was completely spurious, and we thank various members of MHP-chat for exhaustive confirmation.

The show - a repeat of the first in the original, 1955, series - started with a hostess asking children to double numbers. One of the "children" is host Hughie Green. He's hosted the format on the radio in the past, but takes time to explain it to the television viewers. Some contestants have been auditioned from the studio audience, and they must pick from a list of 48 specialist subjects.

During their first appearance, the contestant will face up to six questions. The first is for £1, then it doubles up to £2, £4, £8, and £16. The contestant can stop and walk away with the money after any question, but once the question is asked, they must answer or leave. "We're very sad to see them go," says our livewire host, before pulling a funny face. Or they can press on for a sixth question, worth £32, and possible entry to the Treasure Trail, which we'll explain shortly.

There's always banter between the host and contestants - the first is an Arsenal supporter, and that's enough to get the audience into wild applause. This programme was recorded in London, before a London audience, and only transmitted in that area. Hughie Green isn't afraid of being upstaged by the contestant, and after the contestant's given their answer, will often ask if they think they're right, or ask the audience if they think the contestant is right.

These questions are not all easy - for a contestant taking geography, they progress from the highest mountain in the UK (worth £4), to name that city from its picture (worth £16). Then there's a huge jump - the first £32 question is to name the ten Canadian provinces. All ten of them. Modern commentator Katherine Flett didn't have a clue, and suggested that this bit must have been rehearsed. Says who? This was exactly the sort of trivia that would get people through their Leaving Certificate.

After naming all the provinces, our contestant then enters the Treasure Trail. He must answer a three-part question - if he gets this wrong, he keeps the £32 but can progress no further. A correct answer lets the contestant come back at the end of the show to answer a £64 question in two parts. If that's correct, they'll come back next week for a three-part question worth £128, and a four-parter worth £256. The third week would see a five-part question worth £512, and the top prize of £1024 would require a six-parter on this third programme. Though it wasn't made clear, we think that only one contestant can be on the Trail at any time - the other contestants are only playing for a prize of £32.

There are hostesses on the show; one sits with a folder of questions and hands the correct piece of paper to Hughie when the contestant selects a subject. Another brings the contestants on and off stage, and gives them money. The host is prepared to give anyone a bit of a hint on the first question - "you're a bit off the EDGE, you need to be-WARE" - and he's not afraid to bend the rules and give one particularly entertaining couple £6 even though they got their question wrong.

There are elements of the quick-fire patter of Bob Monkhouse in our host, and a flash of the campness we'd eventually associate with Larry Grayson. Hughie keeps the show moving and the sense of fun trickles down the years. Modern commentator Ms Flett says that this is the first programme that has actually drawn her into the time; she and Mr Hattersley had previously seen a period comedy and an etiquette programme where women's inability to find a man, or questions about dances, were answered by panels of men.

In 1955, the top prize of £1024 was about twice the average annual wage. That would put a comparable prize today somewhere around £40,000. "This format could have been on ten years later and it would have been fundamentally the same," said Ms Flett after the programme had finished. Let's be honest, this is almost exactly The Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Question from 1990, and there's a clear lineage down to Millionaire.

"It was all done with a lively, accessible touch," said Mr Hattersley, explaining why the programme worked. A bit of it's in the format, but most of it's down to the engaging, entertaining, and - yes - accessible host.

The 48 subjects were displayed on a board at the start of the show. We believe this to be a full list, but there may be errors in transcription:

Astronomy, architecture, athletics, army, ballet, bridge, business, biology, chemistry, cricket, cooking, dogs, English history, fashion, films, farming, football, general knowledge, geography, gardening, good housekeeping, gramophone records, history, horse racing, law (criminal), literature, London, motoring, music, music hall, meteorology, navy, opera, painting, RAF, Shakespeare, theatre, tennis, vocabulary, world religions, zoology.

Lashings of Fun - The Story of Ask the Family

(BBC2, 1901 Tuesday)

The following night, BBC-4 showed a documentary from 1965, in which people were seen going about their normal business while hearing them talk about their normal business. There was no attempt to match the audio to the video, no-one directly addressed the viewer, and the voice-over man was never seen. The average sequence lasted about two minutes, and had maybe half-a-dozen shot changes.

Tuesday night saw another slice of history, consisting of clips of Robert Robinson's reign on Ask the Family. They had plenty of very short clips from the show in the 70s and 80s, interspersed with reflections from some of the contestants. And clips from the news of the time, clearly on the assumption that the casual viewer needs reminding of the era by the news clips. Tell you what, cut the Jan Leeming footage, give us more Robert Robinson.

Many of the clips were clearly taken from the contestants' own video tapes, as they were of very poor quality. There was plenty of discussion about the families who took part, and their attitudes to each other, but no mention of the famous all-hands-on buzzers, nor - shamefully - of Eric's famous diagrams. Not even a picture of Eric himself, the least he deserved for years of sterling work.

The producer from 1979-81 was present, but there was no appearance from Robert Robinson himself, nor any explanation of why not. Regular readers of this column will know that Mr Robinson had to leave last year's Brain of Britain series part-way through for health reasons.

The commentators went on to discuss the changes in knowledge taught at school over the past thirty years - and, yes, some of the footage illustrating School Then came from the documentary shown on BBC-4 the previous night. They don't openly discuss how this is going to change the quiz when it comes back. We're left to draw our own conclusions.

We'll be comparing and contrasting the 1983 series with the 2005 revival next week. As for television documentaries, one thing is clear: the 2005 work falls into the "Oh, This Will Do" school of television making. Except it won't. There is a documentary to be made about Ask the Family, contrasting school studies then with now, and perhaps demolishing the myth that it was a completely middle-class endeavour. Instead, we got half an hour prattling about, arguing by anecdote, without a clear thread, or any clear point to the programme. It's not good documentary-making; this column would say that it's completely pointless television.


First round, show 4

Jeffry Kaplow is talking about the French Revolution. His round gets off to a poor start, getting the wrong month for the start of the calendar, but recovers to finish in style. 11 (0).

Rachel Leonard tells us about the Life and Novels of George Elliot. A superb performance - just one pass spoils her copybook, the final score 16 (1).

Colin Kidd has taken the History of the World Chess Championships. The first answer is "Smiznov," the second is incorrect, the third contains two long Russian names. He's going to do well to squeeze in seventeen questions, and never really gets going. He eventually finishes on 4 (1).

Roy Delaney offers the Trumptonshire Trilogy. That's Camberwick Green, Chigley, and the eponymous Trumpton. Though it's classic children's television, this is a thoroughly difficult round, concentrating on some of the esoteric detail of the episodes, and he does very well to finish on 9 (2).

In disussion with Mr Kidd, host John Humphrys suggests that they'll soon have a computer sitting in that chair. Would its name be Bournemouth, by any chance? His final score, for the record, is 7 (6). Mr Humphrys is too kind to point out that this is the lowest score in Mastermind history.

"I always said I'd do Trumpton, so I did," says Mr Delaney. He sounds confident in every answer, and is always plausible in his responses, but finishes on 16 (2).

Mr Kaplow has more plausible guesses for his general knowledge, finishing on 20 (1).

Only a very low target for Ms Leonard to surpass, and though she wobbles a little, there's never any serious doubt that she won't make the five points to win. Her final score is 28 (2).

This Week And Next

Celador is taking its circus on the road this summer. The Who Wants to be a Millionaire? tour will visit eight venues across the UK, with a summer season on the cards. The show will consist of two rounds of fastest finger first, with the quickest audience members getting a chance in the hot seat. According to Celador's press release, the questions will be of the same level of difficulty as the TV show, and will be set by the same people. Prizes will vary from venue to venue but will probably include plasma-screen televisions and personal music players. Contestants reaching the Million mark stand to win a brand new car. The host will not be Chris Tarrant - he's committed to other work over the summer.

In other news, Terry Wogan has said that he was "behind Jordan" at the recent Eurovision national heat. We suspect he's in a minority of one there.

A Demi Grauniad's Media Monkey tells us about some staff changes at Channel 5, where press officer Sara Lee has left to join Thames Television. Ms Lee took her post after finishing fourth on the Jersey series of The Mole, and gets a large feature in this month's Company magazine, where she's plugging other C5 programmes.

The third series of The Games was won by Kirsty Gallacher, who readers might remember from Simply the Best last summer; and by Philip Olivier, who used to act in Channel Four's Brookside.

Next week sees the return of Ask the Family, not once, but twice. Old editions air at 3pm on BBC2, with Dick and Dom's new version appearing at 6.30. There's also a new series of CITV's rather fabulous Jungle Run, that's at 3.55 Thursday; and FTN viewers get the sight gag at the end of House of Games from next Saturday night.

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