Weaver's Week 2010-08-01

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Escape in Time


Escape in Time

BBC2, 4.30 weekdays

Back when this column was young, a mere footnote, it was taken to all sorts of historical places. The museum of childhood, the museum of buildings, the museum of the country, the museum of industry. If they'd invented the museum of museums, that would have been on the list. As educational as all this was, it inspired a distinct case of museum overload, of seeing too many parts of history preserved in aspic.

So it's with a fair amount of trepidation that we approach this daytime programme. We needn't have worried, it's actually really rather good, and certainly better than we were expecting.

The basic plot is decently simple. Take two families, preferably with an equal number of children. Take them to the Acton Scott estate, a farm set up as though it were still the nineteenth century. Give them some training in how to do the jobs that would be done around the farm. Judge the results. At the end of the day, the family that's won more challenges is the winner, and wins a token from the farm; at the end of the week, the winners get a more substantial token. See, we told you it was simple. It has to be, it's BBC2 daytime and hence can't have the intellectual fibre of Blue Peter.

But it's the treatment of the challenges that appeals to us. There are typically four per day, and in a 45-minute programme, that's going to be about ten minutes for each. If you're bored by one task, don't worry, there'll be something else along shortly. It gets better than that: these aren't arranged in a straightforward Challenge 1 – Challenge 2 linear format, as though this were Best of Friends. No, they're woven together, and woven in sensible chunks.

Escape in Time It's a donkey, it's got one leg missing... oh.

We will, for instance, see the fathers being shown how to make a hook, then cut to mother and eldest daughter being talked through scraping beeswax from a hive. Then it's back to the forge, where fathers are doing their metalwork, before heading to the kitchen, where the beeswax is being made into boot polish. Scenes change at a natural pace, only once we've reached a pause in the action do we jump across to the other strand. It's the right thing to do when editing any show, and it's handled with sensitivity and panache. Seems that we do know good editing when we see it, and this is really good editing.

The other thing they've done really well is make the programme gently educational. Even after watching just one edition, we know (in theory) how to make a hook from a piece of metal. We know how to behave at a bee-hive, and how to turn beeswax into boot polish (it's not just adding soot, we now know.) Thanks to a sadistic crafts teacher in the First Form, we already knew how to make a wicker basket, but these children are shown how to do it properly. And if this column ever needs to plough up a field, we might have the first inkling of how to operate the machinery. Just make sure we've got a spare field to practice on first...

If they wanted to play this format for laughs, it could have been a low-rent daytime version of The Generation Game – here's how to do a job, now you have a go, and we'll laugh at the progress and the results. But it's not a comedy, the activities are taken seriously, set into context amongst the other activities on a farm. It's not life-and-death serious, and the programme is full of an infectious lightness that allows everyone to laugh with the botched jobs, and along with the bumbling amateurs.

Escape in Time Even the threat of morris dancing couldn't entirely put us off.

Well, it's not life-and-death serious, unless you are The Dad, who is almost contractually required to take everything far more seriously than The Mum or any of The Kids. For The Dads, the task isn't just learning to plough behind a lovely horse, it's the International Championship of Ploughing (Incorporating Top Furrow), for the Golden Sickle. It's only a game show, people! So long as nobody gets hurt, and everyone has a good time, and everyone gives their all, there's going to be no complaining.

Escape in Time is both entertaining and gently informative. Lord Reith would approve. So do we.

Countdown Update

The words-and-numbers programme has moved into its summer break, we've caught up on the last few editions, and here's the standings at the moment.

The new series began as the old one had left off, with Scott Gillies completing his set of eight wins (807 pts); he'd been a good contestant before Finals Week, and became even better after the interlude. Chris Longden managed one win (158 pts) before losing a cracking match to Annie Hawes, by a couple of points in 162. Annie (157 pts) lost to Olive Collis (1 win, 152), who fell to Ben Cooke (1 win, 153), and he lost to Ryan Loughborough. This contender started strongly, but the second recording date saw his performance tailing off badly. Six wins and 554 pts may be enough to bring him back in December.

Doug Elkins won that match (1 win, 133 pts), but lost to Chris Longden (2 wins, 258). Chris secured the first century since Scott Gillies, but promptly lost the next game to Richard Harris. It was the first of five wins, four of them in the 90s, and we hope he's back in the finals week (535 pts). David O'Flanagan beat Richard by 87-86, and finished with two wins under his belt (253 pts). Tom Rowell won the last two matches before the summer break.

The top three seeds:

  1. Scott Gillies – 8 wins – 807
  2. Ryan Loughborough – 6 wins – 554
  3. Richard Harris – 5 wins – 535

University Challenge

Round 1, Heat 4: Peterhouse Cambridge v Exeter

Where shall we begin tonight? With Machiavelli, and then with the popularity contest. It's all being answered by Peterhouse Cambridge. This college was established by Bishop Hugh Balsham of Ely in 1284, and was named after his favourite saint. Alumni include the physicist Henry Cavendish, the broadcaster Richard Baker, The Quiz Broadcast's David Mitchell, and Family Fortunes's Mr. Babbage.

Peterhouse prove noteperfect on treaties of the 20th century, but it's Exeter who pick up on the history of the waltz. Exeter traces its history back to a School of Art, established in 1855; it subsequently merged with a School of Science, a Technical College, an Education College, and the Camborne School of Mines. This year's honorary graduates include Ian Botham from A Question of Sport, Deborah Meaden from Dragons' Den, and Moira Stuart from The Adventure Game. Thumper reminds us that the postage stamp has yet to arrive in Exeter, as the team's application form was sent without postage being paid.

The Exeter side goes on to answer questions about new quotations in the Dictionary of Quotations, including one from that well-known philosopher, sage, luminary, or other thinking person Paris Hilton. What would Thumper's entry be? "Did you threaten to overrule him?" The visual round is upon us, and it's based on the logo of a reliable source of misinformation, lies, and stuff they made up down the pub at lunchtime yesterday. Peterhouse lead by 60-35, and that lead extends as Exeter confuses the Great Red Spot (on Jupiter) with the Gulf Stream (on Earth).

University Challenge The Peterhouse team wait expectantly.

Why was Wall Street so named? Because it was the wall of the original New Amsterdam settlement? And because it's a street. High time we had the Little Billy Shakespeare question of the week, it's Cymbeline. Thumper then goes on to ask about the monoclinic, and if you've been affected by the issues in this show, do call the BBC action line. Or your GP. Viceroys of India and acronyms all prove easy pickings for the Cambridge side, and the audio round comes up. It's a performer they'd know all about in Big Brother, being Dame Miss Shirley Bassey, the first of four female singers from Wales. No danger of confusing Charlotte Church with Katherine Jenkins, except they do, and Peterhouse take their lead to 140-60.

Peterhouse continue to steam on, but go for the difficult (Second Punic War) when the question's about the commander (Hannibal). Exeter prove to know nothing about telephone boxes, proving that the country needs a Wanted revival. The second visual round is upon us, it's about the Louvre and pictures in its collection. Exeter's staging a bit of a comeback, trailing as they do by 95-155. Might do better if they could get more than the odd bonus question – they've currently got 6/21 right.

University Challenge Exeter take this very seriously.

Who was it that coined the word "fractal". Oh, that's right, it's part of the Mandelbrot Set, along with Tony and Gordon and Alistair. Exeter prove they know rather a lot about wine grapes, thus disproving our standing theory that students don't actually know anything about alcohol any more. Thumper asks about nucleic acids and almost does a good job of making it sound like he knows what he's talking about.

The repechage board is now full:

  • 210 Cardiff
  • 185 St Andrews
  • 165 Exeter
  • 155 Balliol Oxford

A very high standard already this series, we suspect that even St Andrews may struggle to come back.

The geography of France, asking after the regions containing various départements; the antonym for antonym; monsters in Greek myths; and the three-digit prime number containing three digits, each themselves prime. All questions popping up on this show, and they've got to have a wide range of knowledge to succeed. Then there's St David (known by Exeter) and countries achieving dominion status (known by Peterhouse). The game's not at stake, not directly, but for the honour of being the night's best buzzer.

At the gong, the match is clearly won, Peterhouse has it by 265-165. Peterhouse have the highest score of the series so far, and only one first-round match last year had a bigger total. (St John's Oxford scored 270.) Exeter have beaten their previous score by a factor of eleven. In the race for best buzzer, it was Tim Abbott of Exeter by a nose – he had eight starters and one missignal, Ben Slingo of Peterhouse was right on eight starters and two missignals. The game was won by Peterhouse's bonus conversion rate, 28/42 right, and any two-out-of-three bonus conversion is outstanding. Exeter improved slightly, but 12/31 isn't the mark of champions. Still, Exeter only had one missignal to their opponents' three. Overall accuracy was 65/102.

Next week: York v Royal College of Music

This Week And Next

Big Brother was thrown into confusion last Sunday; as part of a task, one of the housemates asked for five volunteers who might wish to be replaced by new housemates. Nothing came of it, the whole thing was a set up by the Tree o'Temptation. Later that afternoon, protesters from the "We Less Than Three Shabby" campaign turned up on public land near to the studio, and began shouting for the return of their favourite contender. Their cries were heard on set, and the result was a houseful of nervous and edgy contestants, convinced that the jape from Tree was actually real. Proof that not even Big Brother itself can entirely control the house.

Also this week: Pandora suggested that Richard Fairbrass should host the revival of The Crystal Maze, probably presented from his bed. Laura walked out of the house after just 106 hours, breaking the record of Sunita Sharma from BB3 by almost half a day. We thought it would be the greatest exercise in futility, but then we saw her interview with Davina, who was clearly auditioning for a role in Banzai, the new Lady One Question. Hei! Anyway, Laura added another way to leave the Big Brother house: through the fire escape. That's BB 4, 101 Ways 3.

Andrew and Corin gave a singing performance so bad that we had to watch it through our fingers, laughing all the while. Then JOHN AND EDWARD turned up and gave a singing performance that was even worse, and not actually funny. The audience completely ignored them, and that must count as one of their best gigs ever. Apparently, the annoying buzzing noise wasn't the one-joke wonders performing, but one of the pair tripping a fire alarm.

More game show deities have been in touch this week. Perry Fripp, the Mezzanine-level God of Minor Entertainments, reminds us that his plan for the current series of Big Brother was "Teaching the world that you can hide things in plain sight." This week's shopping task was to pretend that various things clearly in the set weren't happening. There wasn't a stripping postman, there wasn't an estate agent with some buyers for the house, Marcus Bentley didn't show his face on national television for the first time ever, and Bother's Bar favourite Ratings Bear certainly hasn't been spending the summer in the garden.

University Challenge Ben Duncan: exits, pursued by Ratings Bear.

And, seeing as how all the press are filling a quiet week with their wishlists, and we're having a bit of a quiet week ourselves, here's our eleven for the All-Star series at the end of the month. Maximum of one per series, and we're trying to balance the civilian and other editions fairly.

  • Nick Bateman (BB1), without him there would have been no BB2.
  • Brian Dowling (BB2), probably the biggest star from the show.
  • Alison Hammond (BB3), we're still sore about the manner of her exit.
  • Jon Tickle (BB4), obviously, and we reckon he could well win.
  • Anthony Hutton (BB6), a winner who actually would take part.
  • Lisa Appleton (BB9), because Eunice Huthart is not eligible.
  • Marcus Atkin (BB10), to make sure he holds the record for most nominations ever.
  • Shabby Katchadourian (BB11), this would be cracking telly.
  • Sue Perkins (CBB '02), always guaranteed to give good value, and to annoy caption-writers who can't get Mel Giedroyc's name right. Let's spell it out: M-E-L.
  • Chantelle Houghton (CBB '06), to complete the set of people who owe their careers to BB.
  • Paul Brennan (Teen BB), because no-one ever remembers Teen Big Brother. Except us.

Ratings for the week to 18 July are in. Tonight's the Night came back, and if one accepts its claim to still be a game show, its 4.3m viewers were most popular. 101 Ways held up reasonably, 4.05m for the second episode, and the returning Dragons' Den came next with 3.25m. Channel 4's Come Dine With Me celeb special had 3.1m, and beat ITV's Saturday night gawpfest Odd One In (3.05m). Missing from ITV's top thirty was Magic Numbers, so we know it's less popular than Big Brother (2.85m saw the conclusion to the superhero task), and attracts fewer viewers than Living With Brucie and University Challenge (both 2.8m). Antiques Master plunged to 2m, and Shooting Stars got 1.8m. And, goodness, is that a hit show on Channel 5? So it is; Don't Stop Believing was seen by 1.55m people.

Top of the digital pops was Come Dine With Me (770,000) from QI and HIGNFY on Dave (both 420,000). Big Brother's Little Brother continued its torture of the viewing public, 415,000 suffered through George Lamb for the interesting bits. Dating in the Dark returned with 210,000 viewers.

A quiet week this week, because it's the Mastermind Championship of Champions next week (BBC2, 7.30 Mo-Th, 8pm Fri), finding the best champion of the past goodness knows how long. That other clever-clogs quiz Round Britain Quiz is back (Radio 4, 1.30 Monday), as is cookery show Britain's Best Dish (ITV, 5pm weekdays). We're not sure about The Boss is Coming to Dinner (C5, 6pm weekdays), and know exactly what will happen on Just a Minute (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday). Who Wants to be a Millionaire has one of its occasional revamps (ITV, 8pm Tuesday), A Question of Sport is also back (BBC1, 7.30 Friday), and Celebrity Masterchef crowns a winner (BBC1, 8.30 Friday).

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