The finest programme currently on television is Only Connect. Cunningly scheduled to begin on BBC Four (not ‘BBC4’, note: being the most growed-up BBC channel, ‘Four’ is spelled out in full) just as University Challenge finishes on 2, and heralded by a similar diddle-diddle pseudo-classical theme maintaining the mood of slightly supercilious, peering-over-spectacles, tea-and-scone civility much as one might find at feeding time in the Pump Rooms at Bath (though better than the daytime-ish comfort mush that introduces Fry-fest QI), Only Connect is a brainteaser quiz.
It’s quite tricky, you have to connect stuff like Tube lines if they were translated into the colours of snooker balls. I get more answers than I do on University Challenge these days (those damn students seem to get sharper every year) but I haven’t yet devised a similar drinking game for it.
Only Connect’s contestants are not unlike those on University Challenge only older, fatter and arranged in trios with something nerdish in common. “The Steam Railway Enthusiasts” might take on the “Series 1 to 4 of Red Dwarf Fans”, for example. The team members always look like each other regardless of age or gender though sometimes the connections between them are pretty weak, such as that they all like quizzes containing the sorts of questions that are asked on Only Connect. It cannot be long before the “Only Connect Would-be Contestants” take on the “Victoria Coren Admirers.”
I for one would be proud to join the latter team. Victoria Coren is a lovely poker-player, daughter of the late Alan Coren (witty, likeable columnist and celebrity) and sister of Giles Coren (columnist and celebrity). She is the presenter of Only Connect. In both looks and in the timbre of her voice Victoria is striking in her resemblance to the actress Joan Greenwood (who was, by the way, surely one of the very worst British actresses to have appeared on the silver screen, her mannered delivery wrecking The Importance of Being Earnest and threatening but not quite bringing down Kind Hearts and Coronets).
Also striking is the lack of a studio audience. Only Connect is a clap-free zone. This makes a refreshing change since most shows, such as Celebrity Family Fortunes or Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Plebian Clap-Along consist of little else. The empty studio on Only Connect means that Victoria’s little witticisms and monologues are greeted with nothing but self-conscious chortling and awkward snickering from the Railway Enthusiasts and Red Dwarf Fans. It’s infectious; I find myself self-consciously chortling and awkwardly snickering along often. But then they are unusually good witticisms and monologues.
Well anyway, that’s Only Connect, it’s very British, check it out.