“Let’s meet today’s Pointless journalists!” Somehow you feel the sting of this pun much more keenly when you’re nervously standing behind a podium with a large friendly name badge pinned to your chest.
So consider this our comeback: Radio Times’s top quizzers David and James are about to play a Pointless game fronted by Pointless host Alexander Armstrong and his irrepressibly Pointless fact hunter Richard Osman. How did we get on?
When I was first persuaded to appear on a special journalists edition of Pointless, my mother instantly sprang to mind. She’s one of those sorts of people who like nothing better than to shout at contestants on quiz shows for being “idiots”. I feared I was going to be one of those idiots.
When we arrive at Elstree Studios we are taken to ‘Pointless Green Room 2’ – essentially an elongated cupboard with seats – as Number 1 is given over to the actual contestants for the day’s recordings.
As we waited for our time in the limelight, we drew balls from a bag to see which podium we’d occupy and consequently who’d have to answer first. I drew the first ball and got… podium number 1. We’d have to answer first, getting less time to think of something pointless. More pressure!
Then it was time to take to the stage; a strange feeling of nervousness descends as I face an audience of literally a handful of crew members, recording something that no-one will watch. Luckily here come the genial hosts Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman with a pre-record pep talk.
I take my place behind the podium, wondering if I should affect an air of nonchalance and lean on it. Instead I stand with my hands clasped in front of me, like a naughty schoolboy waiting outside the headmaster’s office.
And now, once the obligatory preamble is out of the way, here is the question…
“Words ending in… -ank.”
I barely hear Richard explaining what sort of words are acceptable as I try to work out whether “phalank” could be the singular of “phalanx”. No, phalanx is singular, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Hang on, Alexander is talking to me, I must respond. I mumble some answers while I desperately try to think up some two-syllable words. Nothing is coming. I fear I may have to go with “bank”. No way is that Pointless.
But then suddenly inspiration strikes. I have a word. I think it’s a good word. It’s a bit slangy so it’s a bit of a risk, but I’m fairly confident. When Alexander asks me what word I’m going for, I’m ready:
“I’m going with ‘skank’.”
An eternity passes as the Pointless column cranks into life. Have I broken it? Is my word invalid? Eventually the red bar appears and at Alexander’s prompting it starts to show how many people out of 100 also answered ‘skank’ when asked to name as many words ending in -ank in 100 seconds. As the bar descends my hopes soar. As it passes around 25 I start to entertain the possibility that I may have a Pointless answer. But no. The bar stops at four. A great score, but I feel slightly disappointed not to have scored that elusive zero.
If I didn’t have to continue to share an office with David I would kiss him. Not just because he scores better than any of our rivals, but also because he avoided blowing our chances with the only (highly rude and therefore excluded) word I could think of. My rotten mind.
Not quite so rotten as one of our competitors however. Keith from the Metro offers up the audacious (and utterly wrong) ‘spermbank’ as his answer. No Keith, it’s ‘sperm bank’, two words, but kudos for trying. “I’d go as far as to say that’s ballsy”, quips Richard.
It’s moments like that when you realize why this game works so well. The gentle joking and joshing between Alexander and Richard are so natural it’s easy to forget they do three episodes of this flippant game a day, four days a week. There’s no big prize money, no serious jeopardy: in the end it’s just two mates coaxing members of the public into showing their talent for Pointless fact hoarding.
Meanwhile, I’m still thinking of ‘sperm bank’. No, not like that. Surely there must be a compound word that would actually work. Pinbank, marchbank, sandbank… Sandbank? Or is it sand bank?
“If you could score 40 or less James, you are the winners.” Alexander stirs me from my musing, and I bottle it. Completely.
“I’m going to say frank.”
Immediately I regret it. It’s too obvious. They’ll think I’m talking about the name ‘Frank’ and not the open and honest adjective I’m thinking of. The red line starts to fall. It’s still not going to fall far enough.
It drops below 40. “Like every Chelsea game in the last 15 years, Franks wins it for you in the last minute. Terrific work.” Richard again, beaming at me as if I’d just discovered time travel.
As we rattle through the Pointless answers, it all seems so simple: databank, gangplank, mountebank. Then it comes: sandbank! I can’t believe I missed out on a Pointless answer.
Never mind, thanks mainly to David we are now very proud Pointless journalists. The trophy really does exist, it’s a glass block with the Pointless column inside. It’s also currently doubling as a very valuable paperweight on my desk. Alexander turns to camera:
“It just remains for me to say goodbye from me – no it’s not. I can’t remember how we do this…”
Even after 500 episodes, it’s good to know there’s still room for a Pointless mistake.