Sunday, June 04, 2006

Not the Weakest Link

The blog has been just a bit on the quiet side in the last week or so - partly down to trying to get some work done, and partly down to limbering up for my first appearance on national TV - as a contestant on BBC's 'The Weakest Link'. I finally recorded my episode last Friday afternoon - though it was well into the evening before I eventually got away.

The show is recorded at Pinewood Studios - and it was a bit of a nostalgic trip back, as I often visited Pinewood in the years when my father in law worked there as a neg cutter.

But last Friday was my business and I rolled up to the gate at about 2.15pm with more than a few butterflies in my stomach.

I almost bumped into the show's host, Anne Robinson, as I arrived. She'd just finished one show, and was heading out for some air with her entourage. She doesn't really speak to contestants, so not a word passed between us - and I don't think there was even any eye contact.

The next few hours were what TV game show recording is all about - boredom. The crew records three shows a day and as I was to appear on show 866, they've clearly got things down to a very fine art.

We were coralled in the green room with coffees, teas and sarnies (I really couldn't touch any food), until the next show had moved from the holding room into the studio (as I arrived, the first set of contestants were still on their high in the green room having just completed their recording, and were about to leave.). As show 865 moved into the studio, we were taken to the holding room - a yellow-walled, institutional waiting room. Over the next couple of hours we had our show clothes chosen by a pair of wardrobe assistants; had our make-up applied to cover the ravages of time and fate, and drank more coffees and water - and made a few loo trips. I have to say that the secret of my day was a couple of immodium before even leaving for the studio. It works wonders, honest!

Ben the assistant producer took us through our biog details (which provide Anne Robinson with the ammunition for her banter), but most of the time it was sitting around, getting to know the other contestants a little, and chatting to Becca and Marco, two of the show's 20-something, trendy-in-a-BBC-sort-of-way researchers.

We were the usual spread of contestants - 18 - 66; five male four female and covering everything from a dinner lady to a wheelchair-bound Mormon priest....with, of course, the obligatory student.

Finally, at around 5pm, we moved to the 'pre titles room' - the one in the picture above. Here, more sandwiches awaited, plus a thorough briefing from Ben, before the first bit of filming - the pre-titles bit when the camera zooms in on the contestants as we sit around and chat on the BBC's new sofas.

Probably 45 minutes later we finally entered the studio. All draped in black (the studio, not the contestants), with no audience and a quietly expert crew, we were taken through a technical rehearsal: - "Don't talk until the red light over the camera flashes..." "I'm Mark, I'm 42, I live in Princes Risborough and I'm a communications consultant."

There's no rehearsal with Anne. She arrives on set at the start of the show and launches right into it. No introductions, witty banter or relaxing words. Nope, the ice maiden image is retained from first to last and her guard really doesn't drop.

So, for the next couple of hours we recorded the show. The rounds are recorded in real time, but the voting off process is a two-stage affair, and Anne disappears between rounds to get cues from the production team on who to go after in the next round.

It was a fascinating experience, and one I really enjoyed being a part of. So how did I do? Well, BBC contractual obligations mean I can't reveal the result - or how I personally got on - until the show first airs. That's likely to be sometime between mid-July and mid-August. So, until then, it's my little secret.

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