sun 19/11/2017

Only Connect, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Only Connect, BBC Four

Only Connect, BBC Four

Quiz show for unashamed brainiacs returns

Victoria Coren Mitchell oversees the diabolically clever quiz show with feisty wit

EM Forster fans will straight away get the reference in the quiz show's title to Howards End. Those of a less literary bent will make another mental link – Connect Four, a game for six-year-olds and up invented in 1974 and still going strong – which shares with its near-namesake the need for abstract reasoning. In fact when I first heard about Only Connect the latter was the connection I made, but it's typical of fans of the BBC show that they could make either. Arcane knowledge, both of intellectual pursuits and popular culture, goes a long way in this programme.

Victoria Coren (or Victoria Coren Mitchell as she prefers to be known since her marriage to comic David Mitchell) is the host, and – I think I'm safe in saying – the only one who writes her own script. Introducing last night's series opener, she told us the show is now five years old and, like all five-year-olds, the programme makers “could ask awkward questions in public”. But her feisty wit can be off the cuff, too. When one of the contestants saw the clue “Sex” pop up on the screen, he said, “We're going to need more” and her immediate rejoinder was: “That's what I always say.”

There's hope yet that the Reithian ideal of 'educate, inform and entertain' is making a comeback

There's no time for chit-chat and we learn very little about the contestants, although occasionally there's a tantalising glimpse of their home life. Two of last night's Heath family were interested in the paranormal while the third most definitely was not, and the other team was three middle-aged men who called themselves the Exhibitionists; sadly not the nudists I was hoping for, but art lovers.                             

The show has four rounds, and they all in some way have connections – finding what connects four clues, working out the fourth in a sequence with as few clues as possible, placing 16 clues in connected groups of four, working out words and phrases from clues that have had the vowels removed – all against the clock. Some are fiendishly difficult, others have booby traps. Would you, for example, have buzzed in early when you saw the words “Boron", followed by "Carbon" and then "Fluorine”, thinking it was an ascending sequence of atomic numbers? Or waited for “Hydrogen” to appear so you could see it was an alphabetical sequence on the Periodic Table of single-letter elements?

Some clues are devilishly difficult. One that stumped both teams last night was finding the connections between Jennifer Melfi, Roderick Glossop, Hannibal Lecter and Frasier Crane. Only when I saw the last did I remember that they're all psychiatrists (a knowledge of major US dramas and soaps, and the novels of PG Wodehouse and Thomas Harris comes in useful here). Others, such as finding the connection between “Sex", "Set", "Folk" and "Land”, are deceptively easy (they're all suffixes for English counties), but such is the deliciously twisted logic behind many clues that some contestants are tempted to over-think the answers.

Only Connect is in many ways an old-fashioned show with few gimmicks or whizz-bangs, and Coren Mitchell, like the contestants, is unashamedly brainy; it's a certainty that, whatever the lacunae in their knowledge, their wrong responses or wild guesses will never appear in Private Eye's "Dumb Britain" column. The show has been a sleeper hit on BBC Four and is moving to BBC Two in the autumn, a terrific boost for those who lament the sheer volume of mind-numbing dross on the terrestrial channels; there's hope yet that the Reithian ideal of “educate, inform and entertain” is making a comeback.

Such is the deliciously twisted thinking behind many clues that some contestants are tempted to over-think the answers

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5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Exhibitionists is different thing from nudists

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