In my favourite poem, The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock, TS Eliot writes: “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.” Sadly for me, he didn’t say: “I grow old, I grow old, I shall happily watch episodes of Pointless to the end of my days. And I don’t wear trousers. Though I do like leisurewear.”
I love Pointless though it belongs to a world I glimpse only infrequently, because it dwells in the sunny meadows of daytime television at 5:15pm weekdays on BBC1. I’m only an occasional traveller to this carefree land, not through choice but because I have a job.
But days off, holidays and illness present golden opportunities for the kind of louche afternoons (and, let’s be honest, mornings too) that are usually only happy fantasies to the office-bound. I lost my soul to Pointless, its presenter Alexander Armstrong and his faithful sidekick, his “Pointless friend” Richard Osman during a nasty bug-blighted week.
Those precious 45 minutes became a balm. I looked forward to them, enchanted by the quiz’s geniality and the Armstrong/Osman double act. It’s like watching a quiz show presented by Lord Peter Wimsey and his clever, faithful factotum Sgt Bunter. I expect them to offer me a sherry and Bath Olivers.
I adore Pointless for all the reasons that I’ve never liked Weakest Link, which ends for good this Saturday on BBC1 after 12 years.
I remember when Weakest Link was a Big Thing, when it went to America and became a Big Thing there too. But it was never for me. I can’t bear bad manners, even jokey bad manners and I couldn’t be doing with Anne Robinson’s Stasi impersonation. So you don’t mean it, Anne? So what?
Even my beloved University Challenge can be a bit of a trial when Jeremy Paxman is at his most whinnying and rude. Be nice, Jez, no one will die.
But in Pointless everyone is kind. Armstrong is solicitous of the contestants, however pin-brained they may be. Though they are never quite as stupid as the “100 members of the public” who answer the questions at the core of the show.
(If you’ve never seen it, the quest is to pick the most obscure answers, the ones known by as few people as possible. If no one knows your obscure answer, then it’s Pointless and you can win a bit of cash. Not much, though, it’s not the Million Pound Drop. Now THAT’S a whole new vista of stupid).
Osman, a TV writer, producer and exec, is a fantastic find, he looks like a cartoon professor and shares a nice, easy bantering partnership with his old mucker Armstrong. As Osman jokes on his blog he adds “to the Brokeback Mountain-style sexual frisson of the show”.
Pointless has already moved from BBC2 to BBC1 so I wonder if a peak-time slot will eventually beckon. Or maybe not, maybe there would be too many pressures to jazz it up and make the cash prizes massive. Pointless, in the best possible way, belongs on daytime where I hope it remains, forever unsullied.
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 27 March 2012.
Pointless airs weekdays at 5:15pm on BBC1