Why on earth has the BBC bumped Only Connect for Simply Nigella?

"Moving Only Connect from its 8.30pm home is rude and irritating," says TV editor Alison Graham

Do you have a favourite little neighbourhood restaurant that you feel is yours and yours alone? You are so comfortable in it and so delighted by it that you have to go every week, at the same time, and have exactly the same mains and pud. You’re a creature of habit and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But imagine if you turned up at your regular time only to find the door locked and the lights off. Your delightful little hideaway has altered its opening times without telling you. When you finally settle yourself down in your habitual seat (an hour late!), having tucked your serviette into your collar because you’re a bit splashy with the spaghetti alle vongole, the waiter brings you the chocolate mousse first. Because that’s the way they’re doing things now. Your feelings, dear customer, are not important. You must lump it.

This is exactly how I felt when Only Connect was peremptorily moved from its 8.30pm home on (Monday) BBC2 to 7.30pm to make room for Simply Nigella. Now, I know rivers aren’t going to dry up and it won’t start raining frogs, and I know that as we stare out at a world in flames this doesn’t seem even remotely important. But it’s rude and it’s irritating. Only Connect has a tight, devoted following, and to every one of us it provides a little marker at the start of the week.

I’m sure we’re not all control freaks who want everything to be the same at all times (that’s just me). But Only Connect, since it moved from its BBC4 hatchery, has always been on at 8.30pm, after University Challenge. That is its home. Where it belongs. It’s that mains and pudding thing. University Challenge is the rare meat, the beef wellington – rich, succulent and accompanied by a glass of thick red wine. It’s grown-up and rather serious. 

Moving Only Connect, brilliantly hosted by Victoria Coren Mitchell, to BBC2 last year was an unqualified success. BBC2 started referring to “Quiz Monday”, and OC’s viewing figures were excellent. Then along comes Nigella and OC is pushed without a word to 7.30pm in the most high-handed manner. (Why check the time in RT? We all KNOW it’s on at 8.30pm.) Its audience figure slumped to 1.65m from its usual 2.20m. Those people will have missed OC because they didn’t know it had been moved. 

There was an inevitable Twitter backlash, with some comments using language I wouldn’t expect from fellow Connecters, who I feel are the kind of people that wear gloves at all times on public transport so they don’t get germs from touching anything. (Oh, that really is just me, isn’t it?)

I dare say, very much in the manner of late trains or interrupted water supplies, if anyone had actually let us know that Nigella and her fairy lights and avocado on toast (for breakfast!) were going to supplant our favourite show by an hour, we might, possibly, have been more amenable. And before you say it, no, I’m not going to watch it on iPlayer. Only Connect is one of those little shows its devotees enjoy watching together, when it goes out.

But to make such a dramatic shift – an hour is a long time in busy lives – just because is a cheek. And the BBC really should know better. At a time when it’s running all of those slightly sick-making If You Love Something Let It Show filmettes, when it needs every single right-thinking licence-fee payer on its side as it comes under attack from the government, this is not the time to be mucking about with schedules. Seemingly little things, like bumping a beloved quiz show, mean a lot.