I like quizzes, especially during lockdowns, which is a word I didn’t expect to see pluralised because I was given to understand that The Lockdown would be a one-off way a way to banish Covid-19, just The War was a one-off way to banish Nazis.
Still, if we have to live through recurrent periods of social isolation and taking up unviable hobbies, TV quizzes may be a way forward. They are little more than a pleasurable way of wasting time but can be plausibly disguised as challenging intellectual exercises essential to our mental health.
This works better in quizzes which have brainy contestants, such as Mastermind or University Challenge, because, even if you are only able to answer a couple of questions, you have a chance of outwitting the combined forces of Brasenose College, Oxford, or the sort of Mastermind contestant who, despite knowing almost everything, has never heard of Ed Sheeran.
Lynne and I have taken to watching, as a diversion from the lockdown wilderness, the early evening BBC1 show Pointless, in which couples of all sorts (mainly spouses, friends, colleagues and relatives) compete for a basic prize of £1,000, which wouldn’t be life-changing for most of them because they tend to be comfortably retired or working in jobs with titles I don’t understand but sound very important, which is one of my unfulfilled career ambitions.
This makes them very gracious losers, just like departing President Trump isn’t, and the mood of the show is as amiable as our other favourite teatime viewing, Richard Osman’s House of Games (BBC2).
Osman, who also co-hosts Pointless, looks like someone who enjoys quizzing not for the fame or money but for its own sake, which is a very important, although far from universal, quality in quizmasters – Jeremy Paxman, for example, has yet to master it, despite doing it for so long that his hair has turned white and he has to wear glasses all the time, which I’ve only recently noticed because, before lockdown, I didn’t arrange my life around watching TV game shows.
Now Mondays finds me in a kind of voluntary lockdown because, after watching the two Osman shows, we have a short break to sharpen our wits (usually wasted because our toolbox doesn’t contain a wit-sharpener or, if it does, we’ve no idea what it looks like) and then we watch, in turn, Mastermind, Only Connect and University Challenge.
Only Connect (BBC2), which is one of our lockdown revelations, isn’t really a quiz show; it deals more in puzzles which only people with good general knowledge can solve. The contestants remind me somehow of the contestants on the Robert Robinson BBC show Ask The Family, which ran – later under Alan Titchmarsh – from 1967 to 2005.
Both shows have a kinship because they involve quick thinking and high intelligence and produce a similar look among the participants; a disregard for the glamour of being on telly, and an impression that they are less concerned with getting their hair of clothes right than with the sheer joy of quizzing, which is as it should be.
Thank you so much for this Oliver, until next time…..