Well, it’s Thursday and that means life on the i-player. So what have I watched this week? A lot of factual stuff, as it happens: firstly, I’ve been comparing and contrasting Mastermind and University Challenge, and then I’ve been finishing the two-part retrospective on Morecambe and Wise.
So, first the quiz-shows. Well, the first thing I notice is that women are woefully under-represented in both but tend to do a lot better on Mastermind than they do on University Challenge. This cannot be because fewer women go to University, so why is it? Is it that by the time they get to Mastermind they are older and have more confidence? I watched a Bangor team made up of 3/4 women get utterly slaughtered by a gang of four supremely confident men; you could see the women sagging every time they failed to buzz or got an answer wrong. I can’t help wondering whether UC still favours the old-style Oxbridge culture, both in its style and in the type of questions, though that might not be fair. It’s just that Oxbridge students seem to figure disproportionately in it. Or is it the abrasive and often sneering style of Paxman? His brusqueness is bad enough; what’s harder to stomach is the sneering way he corrects wrong answers, when we are only too well-aware that he only knows the correct answer because it’s written down in front of him. I much prefer Humphrys. Though a pit-bull when interviewing politicians on ‘Today’, he strikes exactly the right balance of rigour and sympathy when chairing Mastermind. And the contestants are ordinary people: last night they numbered three men and one women, one of whom gave his occupation as ‘Enforcement Manager’. This, when translated by Google, turned out to mean Traffic Warden.
And the woman won…
I worry, too, about the under-representation of women in comedy. Shows like QI, which I love, rarely have women on, but even the occasional appearance by Sandi Toksvig or Jo Brand (I met her once, you know) is an improvement on how things used to be, back in the day when Morecambe and Wise trod the floors of the Beeb. The BBC’s two-part retrospective of the duo was really interesting; a sympathetic portrayal of them as human beings and performers; the ups and downs of their career, the writers who worked for them and the intense rehearsing that went in to making every sketch look totally spontaneous. I could probably write reams about this: the guests they had on the show (people like Andre Previn, Penelope Keith, Glenda Jackson and Angela Rippon), how they were able to share a bed without suggesting they were gay; exactly why they were so funny (I still can’t put my finger on that) – but what occurred to me as I watched, more than anything, was that they were never sexist. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember them being racist either – or homophobic. Lots of comics were – it was an easy way to get a laugh – but they never went for easy laughs. And perhaps that is why, because they were so inclusive – that they were, and are, so much loved.
So catch this before it disappears:
Likewise the latest round of Mastermind:
and if you must, here’s University Challenge: