TV review: My Pointless love affair

It's rude to point. Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman host Pointless. Photograph: BBC
6 Sep 2013 @ 6.55 am
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It's rude to point. Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman host Pointless. Photograph: BBC
It’s rude to point. Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman host Pointless. Photograph: BBC

Pointless (BBC1, Monday to Friday, 5.15pm)

My affair with Pointless was not a case of love at first sight. I was wooed gradually into its warm and tender embrace.

As with Neighbours, I first glimpsed Pointless when switching on early for the news at 6pm. But there the similarity ends. The Aussie soap and I were never destined for one another.

In fact, I generally avoid quiz shows. But Pointless (for the record, I’ve never bothered with a celebrity version which goes out now and then) was a different kettle of fish. As our shy courtship developed I started switching on the TV at a quarter to six, half-past-five and finally, in order to go all the way, at 5.15.

I liked the hit-and-miss banter between Alexander Armstrong and his assistant, Richard Osman. Armstrong plays the host role brilliantly and always manages to sound fresh, as though he’s delivering those well-worn lines for the first time.

Reasonably sincere, too, even if he pushes his luck occasionally (“This is the part of the programme I dislike because it means we won’t see you again”).

But most of all, I liked the clever format which requires contestants competing in pairs to get the lowest possible scores. They do so by coming up with correct answers which very few people, based on a sample of 100 members of the public, know.

So, for example, pretty much everyone would guess that Liverpool have won the FA Cup, far fewer that Huddersfield Town and Burnley have done so and probably nobody at all that Old Etonians and Clapham Rovers managed it in Queen Victoria’s day.

At the end of the show, to win the cash, you’ve got to give a Clapham Rovers-quality answer that has eluded those 100 people. Questions throughout the programme can be on anything and of any brow and they are sometimes phrased cunningly and wittily.

I have become freakishly accurate at predicting just what percentage of the public will know certain facts. This skill, like chess, is probably non-transferable.

The current series is the one in which I had hoped to appear myself because earlier this year (surely this should have been your intro – Ed) I auditioned for Pointless. Together with an old friend from university days, we sailed through our preliminary telephone interviews. Alas, after joining in with several others at an audition in a Manchester hotel, we heard no more.

Were we insufficiently telegenic? Maybe I should have picked a much younger and easier-on-the-eye team-mate than my friend, although he will feel that he made the same mistake.

We were competing in an overcrowded market. There is probably a surfeit of middle-aged men (those sad individuals who are most likely to learn facts by rote and to do pub quizzes) applying together for Pointless.

I am no longer in love with Pointless. This is not the spurned, love-sick swain saying: “I never really liked her that much anyway.” I think our relationship just ran its course.

And maybe I am not the only person for whom the innocent first-love days with the show have gone forever. Contestants are wising up. Questions connected with chemical elements crop up regularly on Pointless and on Monday, correct answers included Rubidium, Rutherfordium and Boron. Not a copper, silver or zinc in sight. They’d been doing their homework.

I still switch on occasionally to see how things are going in the Pointless world. If your break with old flames is perfectly amicable, it’s nice to keep tabs on them, and wish them well.

Like most TV quiz shows, pub quizzes have never really been my thing either. Many years ago, I went for a mid-week drink with a friend. We left our first pub, The Snickleway if memory serves, because a quiz was getting under way. The same thing was going on in our second choice of tavern.

Finally (as in drama and comedy where it’s occasion three when revelations are made or jokes are revealed) we headed for the Punchbowl in Stonegate. A journalist acquaintance of mine was sitting at the bar.

“Blimey, Mark,” I said, “You can’t get away from pub quizzes in this city.”

For a few seconds, Mark was silent. Then, he picked up his microphone, looked out to his expectant audience who were poised with pen and paper, and said: “Question three…”