Tuesday, 30 December 2008

When is a crib sheet not a crib sheet ?

Can open - worms all over the floor - Get Over It !

When is a crib sheet not a crib sheet ? In case you haven't seen the news, Celebrity Mastermind has hit the headlines today. In her Radio 5 Live show, Victoria Derbyshire revealed that she had been invited to take part in the show back in November. When she said that she would like to do the Novels of Thomas Hardy as a specialist subject, the production team offered her some help. Now, the furore seems to centre around her choice of the words 'crib sheet' to describe the help she was offered. These words conjur up pictures of a sheet of paper containing possible answers to the questions she could be asked. Which was not what she meant at all. Nobody was offering her insider knowledge of the questions or answers. What she was offered was a list of possible useful sources for research. Despite this, she apparently turned down the offer to appear on the show because she wouldn't have enough time to learn her subject well enough to avoid embarrassment.

So what makes this a news item ? Well, apart from anything else it comes at the end of a period when television companies have been forced to own up to some very questionable practices, and it really has come to seem that nothing is sacred , even Blue Peter. So its hardly surprising that the media would leap at anything which has the slightest sniff of underhand practice about it. But please, is this really worth making a fuss about ?

Now, nobody offers to help you find research sources for your specialist subjects in regular Mastermind - that's true. But although Celebrity Mastermind may look like regular Mastermind its a different show. The celebrities who take part are all, or nearly all, presumably , people who would never have chosen to appear in the regular series of their own volition. Unless they win, and they get a trophy, they get nothing for their pains, since their fees go to charity. So not only are they giving up time, and putting themselves through the hassle of learning a specialist subject for no reward, for each of them there is the very real chance that they will make a fool of themselves in front of 5 or 6 million people. Case in point. Do you know how Victoria Derbyshire made her revelation in the first place ? It was because she and her guests were discussing the less than impressive General Knowledge performance of David Lammy on Sunday's show. So if the production team try to give the celebrities a little help by pointing them in the right direction of some research materials, then what on earth is there to object to about this ? They still have to do the research themselves. Look at the scores these people achieve, for heaven's sake. If they were being told the answers to their specialist rounds beforehand, then they would all score between 15 and 18, which they don't.

From my own experience the Mastermind production team are very decent, honest and talented people who work extremely hard to put together an entertaining show. Everything, and I repeat everything, was absolutely above board in all of the shows I participated in. They dedicate a huge amount of time and trouble to make sure that every contender is given a fair chance with their specialist subjects, without showing any partiality in the least to any of them. They don't deserve this nonsense.

So what we actually have here is a non-story, whipped up by a hungry media which is at a bit of a loose end, all because of Victoria Derbyshire's careless use of the phrase 'crib sheet', which she didn't really mean. Would this have been a story if she'd have said " The production team said they could suggest some good sources I could use to help me learn my subject " ? Would it hell !
I wasn't listening to the show, so I don't know if they were discussing Mr. Lammy's performance in a tone of sympathy or one of schadenfreude, but I hope it was the former. After all, the reason why Victoria Derbyshire turned down the invitation was because she didn't want the same thing to happen to her.

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