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Monday 18 December 2017

Evil twin of Family Fortunes

Just getting the right answer isn't enough for Alexander Armstrong. So dedicated is he to obscure facts, that his quiz show Pointless actually penalises common knowledge. So when he asks contestants to name a Beatles single, the most popular answers -- such as Hey Jude -- score the fewest points.

"I think it particularly appeals to my quiz sense and general knowledge. I enjoy something where you have to find an obscure answer. It appealed to my sense of the obscure," he ponders.

The scores are based on the answers of 100 people who were asked the same question beforehand, making Alexander's BBC2 show like an inverse version of Family Fortunes, where the most popular answers win the most points.

"That's sort of what it is," Alexander says, nodding. "It's the evil twin of Family Fortunes if you like."

The programme's own brand of fact-finding made the first series a hit with hardcore quiz fans. Alexander reveals proudly: "I was very touched to hear from someone who's a big quiz fan that it is considered in the quiz community to be the ultimate quizzers' quiz show."

Its daytime slot also makes it a hit with students, in the same vein as Countdown and The Weakest Link.

Denying he'd like a primetime slot for the show, the comedian says: "I think it might sit rather well at half past four. It seems to be building quite a strong slot and half past four is probably the best time for a student fanbase."

He agrees, however, that Pointless isn't your average daytime fare. "It's a funny sort of slot. I'm not used to the daytime thing but I particularly love this, and there's something about this which appeals to me and it slightly breaks the mould. It really isn't a daytime quiz show in its character. It's got a lot more to it," he says.

Strangely, if Alexander wasn't presenting Pointless, he probably wouldn't know it existed -- because of his ban on daytime television. "I have a very strict rule about not watching TV during the day. When I was little, we were never allowed to watch telly during the day and I still don't," he says.

The show's format is slightly different this time around, with round two involving a list of possible answers ("so it's as much a question of judgement as it is general knowledge") and round three requiring the contestants to go head-to-head ("which is impossible to describe").

Alexander's hoping the second series will be even funnier than the first, with less time spent on rules and more on fun.

He says: "With the first series, we had to sell the concept to people so we had to spell it out almost every round -- a lot of the filming was taken up with explaining what the rules were.

The comedy element is very important for Alexander, who, along with Ben Miller, forms comedy duo Armstrong and Miller. He says he owes a lot of his success to the fine training in comedy he had at Cambridge University's Footlights society, whose other famous graduates include the Monty Python crew and Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry among many others.

His comedy partner Ben was also a student at Cambridge but it wasn't until they had both moved to London after graduation that they met.



bond

They appear together in their eponymous TV sketch show, and wrote and presented a series of popular podcasts for the Times newspaper.

But Pointless is one example of work Alexander has done without Ben, and similarly Ben lists roles in Primeval and Moving Wallpaper among his solo pursuits.

Much like in a happy marriage, Alexander credits their successful comedy partnership to this independence.

"It means you don't go stark staring mad," he says.

Watching Pointless, viewers can see Alexander has a similarly easy bond with his co-host Richard Osmon. "He's one of the best comedy producers . . . We have a really lovely time doing the programme."

The second series of Pointless starts on BBC2 on Monday

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