Saturday, 5 December 2009

Pranks and spoofs and figures of speech

I must apologise for my tardiness.I meant to post this several days ago, but its been a very busy week, for one reason and another. A couple of weeks ago I commented on Michael Burton’s claim that his record equalling lowest score on Mastermind was all a deliberate prank – if you missed it and want to read it, its called Angels and Demons , and it was posted on Monday 23rd November. I basically explained why I find Mr. Burton’s claim to be a little less than credible. So you can imagine that I was delighted to see Russell Howard doing exactly the same thing when I watched his show on the iplayer a few days ago.

I don’t know why it made me so happy. I guess it was because, apart from the fact that Russell Howard said what I wanted to say, only in a much funnier way, but I always find it a little heartwarming to see something which confirms that Mastermind is still there in the national consciousness.

Think how many spoofs of it there have been of it, for example. I suppose that it was always pretty easy to send up, having such a strong central idea and a very strong visual identity. Probably most of us of a certain age remember the classic spoof by the Two Ronnies.
Barker : And so to our final contender. Your name please ?
Corbett : Good evening
Barker : Thank you. In your first heat your specialised subject was answering questions before they were asked. This time you have chose to answer the question before last. Is this correct ?
Corbett : Charlie Smithers
You probably remember it now. If not, then you can – and should – watch the clip on YoutTube - just google Two Ronnies Mastermind spoof.

Apart from the brilliant script, and brilliant delivery of it, the sketch looks so much like the classic Magnusson Mastermind. Amongst others there have been a Morecambe and Wise sketch, which really featured Magnus Magnusson, but had production values nowhere near as high as those in the Two Ronnies sketch. Basically, Ernie plays a know-all professor who really does answer all the questions before they are asked, and Eric is a chancer who cons his way through, but looks set to lose on the last question, where he has to complete the phrase – Khyber – well I’m sure you get the drift.

When Channel 4 started broadcasting, one of the popular programmes in their original line up was the Paul Hogan show. Remember that this was a good 5 years before Crocodile Dundee came out in the cinemas, so he was probably only really known at the time in the UK for his TV ads for Fosters. One of his shows, if I recall correctly , had a Mastermind spoof called Thick’Ead. You can work that one out for yourself.

Benny Hill also sent up the show more than once, as did Spitting Image. In one of them I recall Jeffrey Archer answering questions about himself, and getting them all wrong – make up your own mind about what was being implied with this one. In c. 1991, George (H. W. ) Bush was shown in the chair, answering questions about which countries had committed various human rights atrocities, and answering Iraq incorrectly to each one.

I am ashamed to admit that I did also once catch an episode – by accident - of Strip Masterbrain on the late and unlamented LiveTV cable channel. From what I remember of it, contenders, who consisted exclusively of Page 3 model type ladies were posed sets of questions by a little , middle aged , balding bearded guy called Reggie Reggison. Come to think of it, maybe that wasn’t his real name. If they got a question wrong – guess what ? That’s right – all their clothes fell off. Yet despite all this, LiveTV still went belly up. What were the chances of that happening, eh ?

I stand willing to be proven wrong, but I believe that Pass – in the sense of – I do not know the answer to that question so please may we move on to another one – became part of our national consciousness through Mastermind. Watch almost any TV quiz now, and you’ll hear it being used in that sense. Likewise “I’ve started So I’ll Finish” has had a tenacious quality about it. Its 12 years since the late Magnus Magnusson presented his last edition of the show, but the catchphrase goes on. John Humphrys tries to vary it with a variety of different ways of greeting the buzzer – and you may answer – more often than not, but even he finds himself slipping into it from time to time.

Its interesting to think of other quiz show figures of speech that have wormed their way into the public consciousness. Off the top of my head, from other shows I can think of -
"Starter for Ten"
"I'll have a P please Bob"
"Phone a Friend".


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly agree with you about the Morecambe and Wise sketch: the premise was strong, but the whole thing just looks cheap and feels predictable. Excellent post, anyway.

As for phrases that have entered the collective idiom from quiz shows, I share your understanding about "pass". I believe that, in addition to "starter for ten", University Challenge also gave us "fingers on the buzzers"; if you go to the National Media Museum in Bradford, you can watch a very early episode of the show - the third of the first series, I think - in which you see that Bamber did indeed need to remind contestants to use these newfangled noise-making devices.

Otherwise, I would also attribute the use of "specialist subject" (particularly the specialist subject The Bleeding Obvious) to Mastermind, and perhaps even the popularisation of the construction "X down, Y to go" (where X+Y=15 in the original context) to a certain Mr William G Stewart.

Londinius said...

Hi, and welcome to LAM. Thanks for your thoughtful post. Yes, I agree about fingers on buzzers.

Oh, I wish I'd thought to include that reference from Fawlty Towers when I wrote the post ! It brings to mind one of my teachers when I was a lad - no names, no pack drill - who had a marked fondness for ridiculing wrong answers with something like - Thank you Professor Clark , specialist subject - coming up with stupid answers to easy questions - . Charming fellow.