Television review: Off Their Rockers, Ian Hislop’s Olden Days and University Challenge

Off Their Rockers from left Mo Thomas, Sonia Elliman, Rosie Bannister and Seb Craig.
Off Their Rockers from left Mo Thomas, Sonia Elliman, Rosie Bannister and Seb Craig.

The Standard’s resident small screen examiner James Waller-Davies takes a look at the week on television.

Can you make something refreshingly new from something old? In the case of Off Their Rockers (ITV) the answer is a resounding yes.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Off Their Rockers is a hidden camera prank show. If you have seen it, you’ll know the twist is that the show stars a bunch of prankster pensioners.

Standard readers are enjoying it too. Jane Green (via Twitter), tweeted: “Absolutely love it. It’s simple comedy at its finest.”

It’s a tried-and-tested format with a history in the UK that goes back to Candid Camera in the 1960s (with Bob Monkhouse as its first presenter). Other incarnations have included Just For Laughs and Beadle’s About. But Off Their Rockers has added something old to something old and come up with a cracker.

The programme also opens up some more pertinent questions about how we view and treat older people in society. Much of the public’s gullibility in the show stems from the fact that too many presumptions are made about the elderly.

All too often the debate about contributions to society is made in material terms, but what about the human contribution? There is a real warmth in this programme and the smiles and laughs of the supposed ‘victims’ are honest and without cynicism.

If this is the future of our aging population, then bring it on!. Rock on ‘rockers’!

For oldies of a different style, you could have tuned into Ian Hislop’s Olden Days (BBC2). The programme sets out to show that not all was good in the golden olden days, a fact that you don’t really need one of Michael Gove’s new history GCSEs to know already.

Mr Hislop is an intelligent presenter with a keen eye for the historical, but on this occasion he’s been let down by some rather strange production.

The cameraman seemed to have compressed his depth of field so much that one was left trying to find Mr Hislop on screen through a haze of blurry backgrounds and foregrounds. Added to the fact that the director had him hiding in windows, behind gravestones or on hillsides, the final effect was a TV version of “Where’s Wally”.

In amongst the haze, we then had little slightly surreal animated sequences reminiscent of Monty Python. Why?

History programmes are in the middle of an identity crisis at the moment. They’re either too over-reliant on dramatic reconstruction or have been made by bored producers determined to use every technical trick in their box. History is interesting enough as it is: it doesn’t need to be a soap opera.

Back in the present, the “yooff of today” were battling it out in the annual final of University Challenge (BBC2).

Trinity College Cambridge triumphed with a sensational contribution from Mr Drnovesek-Zorko, a young man with a name so long it gave him advantageous added thinking time as the announcer struggled through it each time he buzzed in.

It was left to author Jeanette Winterson to award the winning team with a trophy that appeared to have been made from a piece of left over corrugated iron.

Ms Winterson, noted for her pro-feminist writings, must have been more than a little narked to be faced with an all-male student line-up and Paxo. Apart from a round on Jane Austen and a Sylvia Plath answer, most of the question topics were all pretty much male dominated.

And your starter for 10: In what year did Oxford and Cambridge first award degrees to women?