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Only Connect

Posted By Stuart Ian Burns On Monday, September 15, 2008 @ 8:30 pm In 2008 reviews | Comments Disabled

BBC4Victoria Coren looks incongruous sitting behind a desk presenting BBC4′s new panel game, Only Connect. That’s because, with the exception of Balderdash and Piffle, all of her other television work is either playing or presenting poker games.

Maybe it just seems odd because she’s holding big question cards instead of the usual slightly smaller playing cards, or I’m too used to seeing her flouncing around searching for or justifying word definitions. Either way, she’s a more genial and forgiving questioner than Jeremy Paxman in the most intellectually stimulating half hour quiz show since University Challenge.

Nice logo!

Nice logo!

Victoria Coren at the desk

Victoria Coren at the desk

Actually, the closer touchstone is probably the impossibly difficult questions found in the 1970s heyday of this sort of thing in Top of the Form or Ask The Family. The format is fairly simple. Two teams take it in turns to try and work what links four words, pictures or pieces of music before the time runs out. The twist is the answers require some lateral thinking; in one round you’d need to know the pilots of the first three Thunderbirds and in which order so that you could name the fourth one, or what Bertrand Russell looks like and that he unsuccessfully ran for parliament.

BBC4 have been experimenting with this kind of programme for years, their equivalent of Radio 4′s Round Britain Quiz. But unlike Never Mind the Full Stops (too smug) and The Book Quiz (too exclusive), Only Connect enlists shlobs like us rather than celebrities, and there is a genuine competition with a title at the end. The teams are collected together through some shared interest – in the opening episode that was knitting or, um, not being psychologists. Each is asked to introduce themselves at the opening, and fans of nervous banter were well served by a moment in which Vicky asked one of the contestants if the jumper she was wearing was homemade, only to be told that it’s not called that any more.

Perhaps my brain’s gone soft after years of watching quizzes based on multiple choice questions, but much of the time the answer was hidden in the dark recesses of my brain, but only seemed to surface at just the moment after it had been given on screen. I did know Shakespeare’s seven ages of man, but floundered when faced with the final round in which the names of series of mathematicians were flashed up, sans vowels and with the spaces messed up. In other words, imagine A Question of Sport if the contestants were being asked about Ayn Rand rather than Ronaldo. And instead of a numbers board they had to choose from letters of the Greek alphabet. That last bit’s not a joke, by the way, in this quiz you really did need to know your alphas from your zetas before even being given a chance to ponder anything.

Which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. It requires a modicum of intelligence, not just from the viewer but the contestants themselves. Beat that In it to Win It.

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