Gareth's blog

Watches TV, does little else.

Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the winning team of this year’s University Challenge, has been disqualified by the BBC for using a contestant who was no longer a student at the college.

The disqualification of the team means that Manchester University, who lost to Corpus Christi in last week’s final, have been awarded the title by default.

It emerged that Corpus Christi team member Sam Kay had left full time education and was working as an accountant at the time the programme was filmed. 

A statement made jointly by the BBC and Granada, who produces the programme, said: “The University Challenge rules on student eligibility are that students taking part must be registered at their university or college for the duration of the recording of the series.

“Whilst obviously not intending to, Corpus Christi broke this important rule when other universities and colleges taking part adhered to it.

“We therefore find ourselves in the regrettable position of having no choice but to disqualify Corpus Christi from the final. This means they forfeit their hard-fought title which now goes to the Manchester University team.”

University Challenge presenter Jeremy Paxman said: “I suppose it is mildly embarrassing but I do feel sorry for the Corpus Christi team – I mean they were all legitimate students when it started. But rules are rules, and they had to be stuck to.”

Mr Kay has apologised and said “it was never my intention to mislead anyone. hugely regret not confirming my change of status to the University Challenge programme makers before the final rounds.”

“I had honestly believed I was eligible as I had indicated my course dates when I applied.”

Despite some newspapers reporting the possibility of the first rematch in University Challenge history, the Manchester team have said they have “ no desire” for a rematch. Manchester team captain Matthew Yeo said: “While we accept the deci

sion of the University Challenge judges, we are saddened to have been awarded the trophy under such circumstances.

“As far as Simon, Henry, Reuben and I are concerned the final was a great experience and we believe Corpus Christi College were outstanding opponents.”

A spokesperson from Corpus Christi college said: “Our students entered University Challenge in good faith. The team had a wonderful run and we are, of course, disappointed to be losing the title.”

The 2009 final had already made the headlines more than any other University Challenge competition in the programme’s 47-year history due to the performance of Corpus Christi captain Gail Trimble, dubbed the greatest contestant ever.

Ms Trimble declined to comment on the decision.

 

Moving Wallpaper, ITV’s tricksy comedy about a TV production team, returned last night for a second series.

It was, however, mercifully without its companion ‘soap’ Echo Beach, which was cancelled both in real life and therefore in the reality of Moving Wallpaper. Pusillanimous producer Jonathan Pope (played by the brilliant Ben Miller) described the decision to axe the show in just the right amount of detail; ‘It was s**t and nobody watched it’, a line symbolic of what endears us to Moving Wallpaper – it doesn’t take itself or anything else seriously. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The fact that Moving Wallpaper was re-commissioned and the dire Echo Beach dropped is an event in itself. It is an example of a TV channel making a good decision, taking into account the opinions of both critics and the general public and taking a chance. Now that’s not something that happens every day. 

With Echo Beach cast adrift, the production team anxiously await news of their future. In a last-ditch attempt to save his job, Pope pitches the first programme proposal that comes to hand (provided by a writer who subsequently has a heart attack in Pope’s office, but we won’t get into that): Renaissance – a romantic drama series with zombies. 

Rather than two series running in parallel, the ‘pilot’ episode of Renaissance will air at the end of Moving Wallpaper’s run. While not as high-concept as the original format, this is a more viable idea, and the end result will at least be mildly entertaining, with in-jokes accessible to the audience, without having to sustain itself independently of Moving Wallpaper.

Moving Wallpaper is a bit thin on actual laughs to be termed a sitcom (which is no bad thing, as who in their right mind would watch an ITV sitcom?), and its in-jokiness will alienate a lot of viewers, but it’s decent enough fare with some fine performances, something not to be taken lightly in a Friday night slot. 

 

The world is an incredible place, but it would be considerably worse without Sir David Attenborough and his wonderful documentaries to remind us of the fact.

Last night’s episode of Nature’s Great Events (BBC1) was another spectacular epic, following a pride of lions as they struggle to survive in the Serengeti Plains when the wildebeest and zebra move off on their annual migration.

The herds, we are told, follow the rains and the prospects for fresh pasture, leaving the lions without their usual source of sustenance.

The effect of this on the younger members of the pride is catastrophic, and I challenge you to keep a dry eye at the sight of an emaciated, dying cub wailing for its mother.

It is a moving, occasionally harrowing story. There is a happy ending (or as much of one as is to be found in nature) as most of the pride survive to see the return of the herds, and a wonderful image of one of the lionesses indulging in a celebratory roll in the grass watched by a confused zebra.

We witness the circle of life in its all its beauty and cruelty, but The Lion King is certainly is not.

The series is gloriously filmed, and the 10 minute ‘diary’ added to the end of each programme, charting the experiences of the filmmakers, is very welcome, and just short enough to stay interesting.

There are still 3 more episodes to come, all of which will be fantastic. Why the conviction? Come on, this is Sir David we’re taking about.

 

Last night saw the grand final of University Challenge (BBC2), with Oxford college Corpus Christi beating Manchester University to the 2009 title.

The show had the highest ratings for BBC2 in over a week, as it consistently does, and it’s good to know that such a programme can survive in the current television climate. There’s no cash prizes, no voting, no viewer interaction, and none of the contestants (we can be fairly sure) have their eye on a future career in TV. 

That said, in the past few weeks the media have been trying their best to bring the programme down to their level by, frankly, picking on Corpus Christi’s team captain Gail Trimble in the hopes of creating a new celebrity. The 26 year-old has been dubbed the greatest University Challenge contestant ever, with famously hard-to-please host Jeremy Paxman describing her as ‘a phenomenon’. She was even approached by lads’ mag Nuts to do a ‘tasteful’ photo-shoot. She declined. 

On the other hand, it would be nice to have a celebrity who is famous for being clever.

Trimble has apparently been responsible for two-thirds of her team’s points throughout the contest, but even she started slowly, looking nervous and unsure, but soon she – and her team-mates, it must be said – livened up and the answers came pouring out. Manchester put up a tremendous fight, and the score was fluctuating between the teams for most of the duration of the show. Manchester even had the lead by quite a way halfway through, but Corpus Christi bounced back as expected. When the two teams are evenly matched, the result is actually quite thrilling.

What is truly fantastic is the tension, the excitement, that always surrounds a University Challenge final. It is eight young people answering questions – and it is mesmerising. 

So hurrah to you, University Challenge, for staying on the air for nearly 50 years (how much longer do we give Big Brother?), for celebrating intelligence and knowledge over pomp and spectacle, and for proving that as long as there is quality programming, intelligent people will continue to watch it.

 

There has been a lot of talk about the decline of the British sitcom, specifically the traditional, studio-based kind with a live audience. And quite rightly, when you consider some of the most recent offerings in this genre – the abysmal Life of Riley, the gag-led Not Going Out, the never-should-have-been-commissioned-in-the-first-place Green Green Grass, and of course the constantly disappointing My Family.

The format has become associated with sub-standard production values, overly-broad humour and hammy performances.

So it was with trepidation that I approached The Old Guys, a sitcom about two men in their 60s forced to live together in suburbia after leading happy city lives, which is currently halfway through its first series on, yes, BBC1. 

I contemplated avoiding it completely, not wanting to see national treasures Roger Lloyd-Pack and Clive Swift (who made their names with classic sitcoms Only Fools and Horses and Keeping Up Appearances respectively) reduced to such things.

I am not the only one who took the plunge, as the first episode was seen by 4.95m people. And I, for one, am glad I tuned in. 

Chief among the persuasive reasons to watch was the fact that the show is created by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the masterminds behind Channel 4’s excellent Peep Show, and the premise is, in essence, Peep Show with seniors. Or, if you prefer, Peep Show meets One Foot in the Grave. 

The show is also written by Simon Blackwell, whose credits include BBC4’s (and later BBC2’s) wonderful satire The Thick of It, and the writing of The Old Guys is as sharp and clever as anything that would spit at the notion of a laughter track.

Tom (Lloyd-Pack) is a feckless baby-boomer still living in the 60s, while Roy (Swift) is a more traditional pensioner, forced into his situation when his wife left him.

The performances are as skilled and nuanced as we would expect from two veterans like Lloyd-Pack and Swift, and their chemistry is undeniable. They even manage to successfully play-off a rather more stunted Jane Asher (playing Tom and Roy’s neighbour Sally, a washed-up actress). Katherine Parkinson plays Tom’s ingenuous daughter, doubtless cast with a view to bringing in the younger viewer off the back of her role in Channel 4’s The IT Crowd (another excellent show that could be cited in defence of the studio sitcom).

It is warmer in tone than Peep Show, but just as anarchic in its own way. That is not to say that it avoids some of the more uncomfortable issues that would no doubt be addressed were this to have been made a naturalistic, mockumentary-style piece. Tom and Roy argue about which one of them will get Alzheimer’s first, which of their bladders is strongest, and how far they should walk each day to avoid having a heart-attack. It does occasionally fall into traditional sitcom territory (the first episode ends with Tom and Roy peeing in Sally’s sink following a competition to see who can hold it in longest), but any disappointment is usually assuaged by the more original ways in which the situations are arrived at. 

While on the surface it is just a variation on the well-worn odd couple format (but, hey, so was Peep Show) the sharp writing and skilled performances make it into something more. It could even have the makings of a classic BBC sitcom, and when’s the last time anyone said that about a BBC sitcom?

 

Actor John Nettles is to leave Midsomer Murders after 12 years of crime-solving in the fictional English county.

Nettles will have played the role of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby in the ITV crime series for 14 years by the time his final episode airs in 2011. Bentley Productions, the company behind the series, says that Nettles has 2 more episodes of the current 12th season to film this year, then a further 8 for his final 13th season.

“It has been a joy to work on such a long-running series, with so many good actors and great story-lines,” says Nettles. “It’s the end of an era for me, and while I’m very sad to be handing in Barnaby’s police badge, he has solved some 200 murders, which I think meets the targets of modern policing.”

Midsomer Murders has been commissioned until at least 2013, meaning that it will continue after Nettles’ departure. Producer Brian True-May says: “the brand of Midsomer is so strong that I am confident of its continuing success with a new actor.”

 

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