TV habits . . .

I guess I watch a little too much TV, perhaps. Of one thing I am sure, however. I’m a news junkie, and the availability of a 24 hour news channel on the BBC is good news as far as I’m concerned. So if I miss the scheduled main bulletins at 1 pm and 6 pm, I can always catch up at any time in between.

Funnily enough, I quite like tuning into the BBC Parliament channel to see what our representatives are up to – or not, as the case may be. It’s incredible how empty the Chamber is sometimes. Must be soulless being a Member of Parliament on some days when you decide to make speech on a topic close to your heart and only a handful of colleagues (from all sides of the House) turn up to listen. And there are 650 MPs elected to parliament.

I do like adaptations of the classics – such as Jane Austen and Dickens, and there have been some wonderful series over the years. While we lived abroad we were able to catch up through DVD purchases. So we look forward each year to the autumn schedules and wonder what new adaptations will be presented for our delectation.

And I particularly enjoy history programs very much. We’ve just watched an excellent three-part series on The Churchills by David Starkey (a rather controversial historian), in which he ‘showed’ how Winston Churchill was destined to become a great wartime Prime Minister after having researched and published during the 1930s a magnum opus biography of his ancestor, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, one of the greatest generals in the first decade of the 18th century, under Queen Anne.

Other historians that have presented interesting series recently are Amanda Vickery on the Georgians, Cambridge classics scholar Mary Beard on the Romans, and Bettany Hughes, most recently presenting a 3-part series Divine Women and co-presenting Britain’s Secret Treasures (with, I have to say, increasing focus on her ample Rubensesque, Nigella Lawson-like bosom, all plunging necklines and profile shots); Lucy Worsley (Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces) rarely fails to please in the various series she has presented. Michael Wood has also made some good series, particularly that about Trojan War (as long ago as 1985 – how time flies).

But there are three BBC programs, all of which have enjoyed multiple series, that I’ve become somewhat ‘addicted’ to, and I’m not quite sure why.

Bargain Hunt
Presented by Chartered Auctioneer and Chartered Surveyor Tim Wonnacott, the program format is surprisingly simple.

Two teams, the Reds and the Blues (of two contestants each) are given £300 each (it was £600 in the early series) – and the support of an expert – to find three bargains at an antiques fair or similar within one hour, which will then be sold at auction (filmed at a later date at an auction house somewhere in the UK). The balance of what they pay for their items is given to the expert (often auctioneers themselves) to spend on a bonus buy. The winners are the team that makes the most profit at auction – whether or not they choose to use the bonus buy – or make the least loss. Any profit is kept by the contestants. A team that makes a profit on all three of their items gets the award of the Golden Gavel – actually a pin button with the BH logo.

What I really like is the last 20 minutes or so of each program when the various purchases are assessed by the auctioneer who is going to sell them. Did they really buy a bargain or a load of junk? It’s impressive the knowledge these auctioneers and the other experts have – but they don’t always come up trumps. It just depends on the ‘buzz’ at the auction on a particular day and, it seems, that some items do better in one part of the country than another (the program is filmed in different auction rooms all over the country). And it’s really interesting to watch the skill of the different auctioneers, and how they move items that don’t look to have any chance of making a profit whatsoever.

Dragons’ Den
This is presented in the UK version by broadcaster Evan Davies (one of the regular anchors of the BBC Radio 4 Today program each morning). Apparently Dragons’ Den began life in Japan, but now there are versions in a number of countries. I’ve seen the Irish and Canadian versions on the TV over here.

Budding entrepreneurs seeking investment in their company or an idea make a pitch to five venture capitalists who have made it, and who are (apparently) prepared to invest their own money in return for an equity stake. The pitch can only last about three minutes, during which time they have to convince the investors about the potential of their idea/product/invention.

And while a few are successful, it never ceases to amaze me how many budding entrepreneurs arrive in the Den ill-prepared. Obviously they are nervous, and some just blow it, and go to pieces. Quite a number do not have the necessary financial details and projections at their fingertips, nor a viable business plan. But there are two ‘mistakes’ that crop up time and again.

The first relates to intellectual property on inventions. The investors are unlikely to invest (maybe up to £200,000) in an invention that has not been protected. The award of a valid patent is sure to attract their attention. And the other mistake is to value their companies or product too high, by asking for an investment and yet unwilling to offer a sufficiently high equity stake. So asking for £100,000 and offering only 10% equity (thus valuing the company or product at £1 million) is sure to end up in some hardball negotiation, and the Dragons usually ask for a much higher stake, even as high as 49%.

But there have been some impressive investments. I have to say however that watching some entrepreneurs squirm under the intense (and sometimes quite hostile) grilling from the Dragons does make for compulsive TV.

QI
Now this is a different kettle of fish – much more light-hearted.

With resident quizmaster, polymath Stephen Fry and resident panelist, comedian and actor Alan Davies (who is joined each program by three other panelists) the show aims to throw some light on things that just might be Quite Interesting – thus QI. It was created by John Lloyd who wrote/produced/created a whole load of other shows on British TV, including Spitting Image and Blackadder, among others.

The panelists are most often other comedians (although Professor Brian Cox was a guest on a recent episode), who are asked about different topics; each show seems to have a particular theme. They are lulled into traps to provide an ‘obvious’ but quite often incorrect answer. Which then allows for much witty banter to-and-fro among the panelists.

The scoring system is a mystery, with Alan Davies most often coming last, with multiple minus points. In recent series the ‘nobody knows’ option has been introduced. In each program there is one question for which nobody knows the answer. Extra points are awarded for correctly identifying this question.

But it’s not about the points – it’s all about the free exchange of wit among Fry and his guests. Forty-five minutes or so of jovial entertainment.

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