An Amazing Week Of Grazing And Moral Mazing, 1 to 7 December 2017

It’s a cracker

It’s December, so of course the eating and drinking goes into overdrive.

Starting on the very first day of December; lunch with Michael Mainelli, Brendan May and John Lloyd at the Guildhall. Great to catch up with those guys, it brought back to my mind a quite interesting 2003 evening in a TV studio with Brendan and John – now Ogblogged – click here.

The next day, cousins Jacquie and Hilary Briegal came to Noddyland for a late lunch that morphed into early evening. Jacquie couldn’t resist bringing some of her famous chopped herring for us, although, as any fule no, chopped herring cannot take part in “herring of the year” contests, which in any case have to be held at Jacquie’s place – click here for the most recent example.

In any case, herring didn’t form part of the Noddyland meal, which comprised smoked salmon nibbles followed by Janie’s (Daisy’s) famous wasabi beef fillet dish and finally danish apple cake. We hadn’t seen Jacquie and Hils for over a year; it was great to see them again and have a chance to reciprocate Jacquie’s warm hospitality.

As usual, Daisy had massively over-catered, so I was able to lunch on some left over beef, sauce and potatoes couple of times during the week, including Thursday…

…which was probably just as well, given the tardiness of the Cafe Rogues meal in Holborn that evening, at the comedy writers Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner.

I reported last year on the ruthless efficiency with which the venue forced us to pre-order and the chaos and long waits that nevertheless ensued. Last year, it was Jonny Hurst who took the brunt of the tardiness, waiting about an hour longer than everyone else for his main course. This year, Jonny was again such a victim, but I too was one of the chosen people for this indignity. Perhaps we weren’t served a full hour later than everyone else, but surely at least half an hour later.

I suppose you can chat, drink and even be ruined while you wait for food

To add insult to indigestion, four of us were served our deserts some 30 minutes after everyone else. Jonny escaped this time, but I was caught twice – along with Jasmine, Barry and John for the lengthy dessert desert.

Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Nine of us gathered this time; me, John Random, Jonny Hurst, Jasmine Birtles, Colin Stutt, Hugh Rycroft, Gerry Goddin, Mark Keagan and Barry Grossman.

Jasmine and John brought crackers. John Random’s were very special; he had doctored some real crackers, emblazoning them with a picture of Michael Buerk and describing them as Moral Maze crackers.

With Jasmine’s crackers, we played our regular Christmas game of trying to work out the feed line from the punchline of the corny cracker jokes…with limited success this year as the jokes were so corny. Examples:

A. A monkey burp.

Q. What’s silent and smells of banana?

A. Mrs Sippi

Q. Who is the most famous married woman in America?

But John had doctored his crackers with moral maze dilemmas to replace the corny jokes. Example:

Q. What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?

A. A series of far-reaching ethical questions that go to the very heart of modern genetics.

Tut tut if you read that question and thought the answer was, “a wooly jumper”.

Jasmine and John pulled…
…which left Jasmine grappling with a tricky moral dilemma.

Traditional quizzing after dessert…or in the case of the four of us sorely neglected souls…during the dessert.

Colin Stutt again did a warm up game, taking the best jokes from the fringe for the last few years and seeing if we could remember the punchlines or construct good/better punchlines ourselves. I reckon I did a reasonable job on 10-12 out of 30 of them, actually knowing the answer to only a couple.

Mark, the holder of the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy, naturally led the main event quiz. I’m usually in with a chance when Mark writes the quiz but so are one or two other people. In a close run contest this year:

Mark had bubble-wrapped the trophy for safe-keeping…
…let’s hope that Jonny also treats the magnificent artefact with the respect it deserves.

Yes, the place was ridiculously noisy. Yes, the service was poor, except when it was terrible. But at Christmastime, almost everywhere is thus. These Ivan Shakespeare gatherings of good old friends are always lively, witty evenings that make me happy; that is the bit that really matters.

An Evening Watching Daytime Television? Impossible, 3 January 2017

I don’t watch daytime television very often.

I define daytime television as programmes that are designed for a daytime audience and regularly, probably exclusively, broadcast during normal working hours. Catching up on TV news while I am at the gym or following cricket matches during the day through the TV don’t count as daytime television by this definition.

So, in the five years 2012 to 2016, I guess I had watched daytime television twice.

The first instance was around 2012 or 2013. Hugh Rycroft, one of my old writer friends from NewsRevue, who now devises quiz-based game shows, mentioned to me at one of our Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners back then, that he had devised a new show, Tipping Point, a daytime quiz, being broadcast on ITV.

“I’ll take a look at that”, I said, meaning it.  “I don’t think Tipping Point is your sort of quiz show”, said Hugh, meaning it.

I looked up the timing of the show and resolved to watch it the next time I was at the gym in the afternoon at that hour. Thus I took a look at Tipping Point, as promised. Hugh was right; it’s not my sort of quiz show. The conceit of the show is a facsimile of a coin pusher arcade machine, for which contestants win tokens to play and from which they get (or fail to get) prizes.

My second instance of watching daytime TV in recent years was Bargain Hunt in 2014, when Z/Yen’s practice manager, Linda Cook together with her friend and Z/Yen alumna Marie Logan, appeared on the show. We wrote this big moment up for the Now and Z/Yen blog – click here. As it happens, this programme’s momentous first broadcast was on a Friday when I had no meetings, so I actually watched the programme when it was first shown.

I don’t think Bargain Hunt is my type of programme either, although it was great to see people I knew so well on that show.

But let’s be honest, whether or not these programmes are my kind of show is rather beside the point. They must be a lot of people’s kind of show, because they are phenomenally successful. According to Wikipedia at the time of writing (January 2017):

  • Tipping Point had 10 series and 508 episodes (at 6 January 2017);
  • Bargain Hunt had 39 series and 1264 episodes (22 January 2016 figures).

Anyway, I saw Hugh again at this year’s Ivan Shakespeare Christmas Dinner – click here. He mentioned that he had devised a new quiz show, which would start  broadcasting on the New Year Bank Holiday Monday; Impossible.

“I’ll take a look at that”, I said, meaning it. Indeed, I intended to watch it on that Bank Holiday Monday.

Come Tuesday evening, after finishing work, I was pondering my evening (probably planning to do some Ogblogging), when it occurred to me that I had clean forgotten to watch Impossible; indeed I hadn’t even set the vid to record it.

But these days, what used to be impossible (seeing a programme despite such neglect) is now more than possible, thanks to iPlayer.

Thus I spent a chunk of Tuesday evening watching daytime television.

I did spend some evening time not all that long ago watching bizarre (in this case comedy) telly on the computer, in bizarre circumstances, but that’s another story, click here for it.

The conceit of the show Impossible is that all the quiz questions are constructed to have three rather than two types of answer: correct, incorrect or impossible. Impossible answers fail some aspect of logic in the question. For example, the name of a British film star would be an impossible answer to a question starting, “which American film star…”  Impossible answers get contestants eliminated or make them lose their accumulated winnings, adding an additional dimension of pressure to a time pressure-based quiz.

Surprisingly, I rather like Impossible. As I said to Hugh in a congratulatory e-mail:

…I liked it and enjoyed watching it far more than I can ever remember enjoying watching such a programme.

The format is clever without being too clever.  I am tempted to watch it again…

Hugh seemed pleased with this note and even suggested that he plans to use the phrase “clever without being too clever” in his elevator pitches henceforward; which surely means that I get a significant share of the (presumably substantial) earnings from successful “clever without being too clever” programmes, for ever.

Joking apart, my fear, though, is that the very fact that I liked Impossible might be the kiss of death for it. I don’t suppose I am a barometer for successful daytime TV shows; I might be an anti-barometer for them.

Indeed, on reflection, I’m not sure that Hugh should want his shows to be “clever without being too clever” at all. The phrase reminds me of Spike Jones’s explanation for why his hugely talented comedy orchestra was not more successful:

“We’re too sophisticated for corny people and too corny for sophisticated people.”

Still, I am rooting for the TV show Impossible. I sincerely hope it gets the hundreds or thousands of episodes it deserves.