Fifteen to One returns: behind the scenes with Sandi Toksvig

The antique vase has been replaced with big money prizes and there's no William G. Stewart in sight - but the contestants will still be challenged when the classic quiz returns to Channel 4, says Emma Daly

As quiz shows go Fifteen to One is one of the toughest. Hitting screens in 1988, the show gave contestants no room for error, no time to prove they knew the Periodic Table backwards. The elusive Laura said their name and a few minutes later they were on their way.


But, more than a decade after its final episode in 2003, Fifteen to One is winging its way back to Channel 4. And it has had an update; contestants can come back. In fact, contestants can take part in a maximum of three shows in one week. Got your composers in a muddle and out in the first round? No biggie, come back and try again.

And there’s an extra incentive to come back – there’s a £40k prize up for grabs in the Grand Final, which sees the top fifteen scorers of the series battle it out. Unfortunately that does mean the underwhelming antique vase prize has gone forever…

Following in the footsteps of quiz master William G. Stewart, beloved by university students (it’s on in the afternoon after all), is broadcaster Sandi Toksvig.

With three appearances apiece, Toksvig will get more of a chance to get to know the contestants. Banter with them a little. But the show isn’t moving too far from Stewart’s ‘question, question, question’ style. Stewart asked 350,000 questions in his 35 series run and it’s still fast-paced quizzing at its heart. Leave the backstory at the door.

Tom Blakeson, Chief Creative Officer at Remedy Productions, told me that the meeting to choose Sandi as the question master was a short one. Discussion basically surrounded whether she was available. Job done.

Toksvig says of joining the show: “I’m thrilled to be taking up the mantle of hosting Fifteen To One. It is a legendary quiz show with tough questions. I’m glad I’ll be asking not answering. I’m also delighted to be back at Channel 4.”

Tough questions indeed. I tried the entrance test and didn’t make it past zero, getting a pat on the back simply for not leaving with a minus score.

But Toksvig seems like she could handle herself on the question floor. Adding extra tidbits of information as contestants answered, Blakeson told me none of the information was being fed to the question master. Johnny Depp collects Barbie dolls by all accounts. Who’da thunk it?

I had the chance to scuttle on (and quickly off again at the risk I’d be asked something) before the cameras started rolling. Standing behind one of the famous podiums sure makes you feel small. It’s a large space, with a circle at Sandi’s feet that looks like rather like a black hole in which losing contestants are thrown down.

There’s no audience for contestants to contend with. You’re alone out there – the tactical Question or Nominate remains. As ever this means it all gets rather tactical. Contestants swing between picking off the weak and ganging up on their tough competition. As a viewer you can’t help but get caught up in the drama of it. How could they nominate Julie when she’s only got one light left? Are they ganging up on Brian? Is Norman for the chop? Will Barry be able to pull it together and come back for another bash tomorrow?

It’s enough to make your palms sweat from the comfort of your own sofa.

Choose who to champion from this Saturday at 5:30pm on Channel 4, continuing weekdays at 4:30pm.