The Week in Comedy: A Question of Sport doesn't need a spin-off, it needs an early bath

There are few more dispiriting sentences in the English language than “Jason Manford is to host a spin-off from A Question of Sport”. It is not Manford’s fault; of course the unimaginative BBC would choose the ubiquitous everyman for the job. The question is whether it was a job anyone wanted doing in the first place.

A Question of Sport: Super Saturday will feature team captains Matt “haven’t got a Scooby” Dawson and Phil “whatisname?” Tufnell and celebrity guests playing a series of physical games, “with a sporting twist”. In the “Kids vs Captains” round, ex-internationals Tuffers and Daws will play crazy golf and the like against children. Which is funny, because children are funny. It sounds like an unholy, and wholly unfunny, mash-up of Total Wipeout and a rugby club quiz night.

The original Question of Sport is Britain’s longest-running quiz show, having racked up 43 series and almost 1,100 episodes. Since its first northern-only episode, presented by Stuart Hall in 1968, it has been a constant fixture, although the line-up of its first national broadcast two years later – George Best, Ray Illingworth, Tom Finney, Lillian Board, and team captains Cliff Morgan and Henry Cooper – has rarely been outclassed. Forty-three series – that’s about 600 hours of questions and conferring and banter and Mystery Guests and Observation Rounds, only about 580 of which have been wasted on Tufnell having convulsions, shoulders shaking like Mutley, at one of his own jokes.

It is odd that the show has lasted so long. These days, it does not really appeal either to sports or comedy fans, apart from Sue Barker who still, after 16 years, appears to find everything everyone says hilarious. Perhaps it looks different from where she is sitting. While fellow long-running quiz Have I Got News for You still manages to score witty points against its guests and topics, A Question of Sport long abandoned insight or analysis for crash helmets and green room larks. It doesn’t need a spin-off; it needs an early bath.

Perhaps sport simply isn’t funny. For those in the heat of competition, it is always deadly serious. That is why when anything remotely amusing happens – a rogue pigeon on court, a loud sneeze, a streaker – everyone watching laughs like drains. The bar is set low. And while sport has inspired some great comedy characters and moments – Eastbound & Down’s Kenny Powers, the baseball scene in Naked Gun, Alan Partridge – real-life sportspeople tend, rightly, to save their most sparkling performances for the field.

On television, sporty entertainment has tended to centre on the sofa or the panel show, to emulate the chat that goes on in sitting rooms and pub quizzes across the land. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner got it right with the matey Fantasy Football League, a show that made the game beautiful even to non-fans. They Think It’s All Over was similarly appointment viewing in the 1990s: watch the risky, laddish chat of Rory McGrath, Nick Hancock and co on YouTube now and it looks like a relic from a time before super-injunctions and stage-managed sports stars. More recently, A League of Their Own has proved an ideal vehicle for James Corden, John Bishop and Jack Whitehall, while The Last Leg, first broadcast during the 2012 Paralympics, made the names of Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker. All are examples of talented comedians riffing on sport, which is, after all, a very different thing from talented sportsmen having a go at comedy.

It is the Baftas on Sunday but not everyone is excited

Sarah Millican has written in the Radio Times about her experience at last year’s ceremony, when she was nominated for the Entertainment award and presented another.

The comedian had a wonderful night until she got home and saw thousands of cruel comments about her John Lewis dress on social media, in the newspapers and on breakfast television.

“It was like a pin to my excitable balloon”, she writes. “I’m sorry. I thought I had been invited to such an illustrious event because I am good at my job.”

Upset, then furious, Millican resolved that if she was invited this year – which she was, and nominated too – she would wear the same dress. So when asked the inevitable question, “Where did you get your dress?”, she could say, “Oh, it’s just last year’s, pet.” Bravo. It would have shown the red carpet up for the absurd, sexist irrelevance it is.

In fact, Millican will be busy on Sunday doing what she does best, making people laugh at a gig in Buxton. I know what I’d rather be watching.

What I Watched…

The Comedy Vaults

By far the most interesting offering yet in BBC2’s 50th birthday celebrations this show had rarely and never seen comedy clips from the archives. Fascinating to see Borat, Miranda and Partridge, among others, in embryonic form. Recommended.

People Just Do Nothing

Already a hit on YouTube, the daft mockumentary set in a pirate radio station has become the first BBC comedy to be uploaded to iPlayer in full ahead of its transmission on BBC3 later in the year. Watch all four in a binge.

The Midnight Beast

An easy target, perhaps but the comedy trio’s parody of One Direction’s “You and I” is nicely done. The “It’s all a bit vague” chorus is a real earworm.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk