BEN visits ‘Beat the Star’


Forget what Heidi Klum says in “Germany’s Next Top Model”,  It’s really dead easy to get a job at a casting agency, you just need to be… English.

Well okay, that might not work every time, but it did work with the new ITV Quiz show “Beat the Star”.  Britain is one of twelve Countries anxious to try out the formula of Germany’s successful “Schlag den Raab” and of course with all the props and stage settings plus presenter Vernon Kay already in Cologne, the only thing that needed importing was us – Brits!  A casting agency (Mediabolo) ordered a quota of English native speakers and we at BEN arranged to be a part of the ‘delivery’.  Here is how the evening went.

English-network of course was there for the benefit of our dear readers.  We wanted to check that you Brits in Germany were being treated properly (and the raffle prize of 500 Euros was a nice incentive too).   We headed off to Cologne with open minds and high hopes that the Country which gave us a Scott and a  Nelson would also give us a Raab – a plucky little tough guy moderator who can successfully turn his hand to everything and win.

The Brit version of “Schlag…” though doesn’t attempt to emulate the German version and is consequently ‘Raab’less.  What would they have called it anyway? “Klobber the Kay”?  Instead, ITV offers up a well known athlete (Amir Khan, Greg Rudeski) to pit against a weekly contender from the star-less masses.  The budget is plainly smaller, as is the smaller prize of £50.000 (Raab offers up to a million Euro).  All kept together by  former ‘Family Fortunes’ presenter and Radio DJ Vernon Kay. 

Back to the studio and having been run over with metal detectors and had any refreshments removed from our persons we are shepherded to our seats in the ‘Brainpool’ Studio usually resided in by Mr Raab.  The resident ‘warm up’ man assured us that with luck and no major gaffs we would all be able to use the toilets again in a couple of hours time – but it was clear that should there however  be problems with scripts, make-up or props we could be sitting on these little hard plastic seats with our legs crossed into the early hours.

Maybe just as well then that we have no access to liquid refreshment.  Even the sound of running water could become unbearable.

The said ‘warm-up’ man, Ian Royce, is pluckily trying to keep everyone awake and must be blessing Michael Ballack.  It was the German football star who pulled Chelsea back into the Premiership that evening against Man Utd and, ‘Thank God’ thinks the comedian, there is someone in a Man Utd jersey I can take the P**s out of all night (and believe me he does).    

Being from Portsmouth myself, a team  with a Cup Final place already safely booked,  I can sit comfortably in my seat (well, dis-comfortably anyway) and it occurs to me that I am now a studio’ prop’ with no more importance than the empty glass of water on Vernon Kay’s desk.  This thought is enforced when I, and my fellow props, are requested to practice clapping, then ‘ooing’ and then ‘aahing’ and then doing it on cue at a moments notice.  Wow, Heidi Klum doesn’t have it easy after all.  There’s also a mean machine for hammering the hell out of anyone who dozes off.  Actually it’s a camera with lens that extends seemingly out to eternity in seconds like a boxing glove on a spring and would have the same effect if it caught me standing to stretch my legs in the aisle.  Remember those wonderful shots where the audience all flies past the camera clapping ecstatically? Believe me it’s fear at that lens flying past that gets their hands pumping. 

Whilst I’m waiting there is lots of time to look for secret microphones/cameras nearby and sure enough I have to warn Caroline about chatting in front of a tiny mike clipped directly onto the barrier to her left. 

So time is passing, no show of the show, and the big question is ‘can I pick my nose?’  Not that I want to pick my nose in public I hasten to add, but I want to know ‘can I’? without it being a talking point in the factories of Britain the next day:  “Ey, did you see that ‘Beat the Star’ yesterday, Dora?.  There was an awful man in scruffy shoes with a spot on his chin and he was picking his nose…on national television would you believe, it was disgusting!” So I looked around and, despite not spotting any miniature cameras, decided that anything that itched had to itch until the break (if there was one).  You can safely let your children watch.

When the lights do all finally go on it’s like being thrown suddenly into a lightly heated oven like an unwitting oven-ready turkey.  Our host appears and it seems immediately obvious why he is not, as Mr Raab is, the man to beat.  Vernon Kay started life not, as Raab did, a butcher, but as a male model.  He might have brains but brawn seems unlikely.  He was I hear voted ‘Most Stylish Man’ by FHM readers in 2005.  In short: he is long, 6 foot four, and not Stefan Raab.  He looks very like Prince William in fact which flies in the face of all the publicity I’ve read about his trademark long hair.  My money for that is either on a limited knowledge of ‘barbershop German’ or an income that can afford the same ‘snipper’ as HRH.  If it’s the former I can sympathise – words like ‘Koteletten’ for sideburns still don’t come easily to me. 

So the show gets going and – due to having had to sign what almost amounts to the official secrets act before entering (in case of a fire they said!) I can only say that by the time I ran gasping for a gulp of water and fresh air at shows end, Vernon Kay had earned my respect and the hair of an old TV favourite of mine had surprised me by being whiter than I remember from Childrens’ television.  If you want to know more then get someone to tape the show on June 8th when it airs on ITV.