Matt Gatward: A harsh light shines on Sue and her new friends

View From The Sofa: A Question Of Sport/Freddie Flintoff: Ashes Warrior, BBC1
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The Independent Culture

If there were points awarded on A Question Of Sport for gurning and wriggling around like a five-year-old who's had too much fizzy pop and wants to get down from the table, Phil Tufnell's team would win every week. Mind you, it's little wonder that the once England cricketer is a bit hyperactive, as the new set – proudly introduced by Sue Barker when the latest series was aired last week – is like a big bag of e-numbers for the eyeballs, with more flashing, strobing, colour-changing lights than Blackpool pier can boast.

It seems wrong that dear Sue, who these days looks like she'd be more comfy with a blanket on her lap, a nice cup of tea and a soft reading light in the corner of the room, should be so pleased with such a vomit-inducing display of energy inefficiency. If the BBC are really struggling with the budgets, they could just pull the plug on a couple of sets of AQOS lights and save enough cash to keep the drama department going for a decade.

Anyway, the long-running show has been hobbling rather than running flat-out over recent years, forcing the Beeb to give it a spot of physio before the new series, presumably in an attempt to recapture the glory days. Hence the new set, new rounds and the addition of contestants who aren't sportspeople, breaking with AQOS tradition. But wasn't that the point? That we had sportspeople answering questions on sport? Last week it was Frank Skinner and Peter Jones, of Dragons Den fame, on the guest list which made the programme feel the same as the multitude of other mediocre panel shows that dominate the small screen. The rationale was that Skinner supports West Bromwich and Jones used to play tennis. Tonight it's Olly Murs and Paddy McGuinness making up the numbers and we'll have to wait and see what their sporting links are. Surely, it's only a matter of time before the ubiquitous Jimmy Carr pops up?

The show also has a new post-watershed airtime of 10.30pm, which allowed the crazy Tufnell to say "bloody" but also lumps it in with Mock The Week etc and deprives it of its original purpose of being a show you could watch with your 10-year-old son and your 85-year-old granny. Another irritant is the canned laughter (it's either canned, or the audience have had a job-lot of lobotomies on the way in) because Matt Dawson calling Barker "Susan" just isn't funny.

AQOS didn't need an extravagant lightshow, comedians or swear words back in its heyday when 19 million viewers tuned in to watch the 1987 Princess Anne edition when the lovable Emlyn Hughes bounced off the straight man Bill Beaumont. OK, that set might look a little dated now (certainly some of David Coleman's cardigans would) but the show then relied on its simple charm and strength of personality. If it won't work like that now, maybe the Beeb should gently put it down.

Freddie Flintoff: Ashes Warrior followed AQOS last week, and while its timing seemed slightly odd, as he's obviously not involved in this series, it was a gentle reflection on the big man's career and in particular his performances against Australia.

We all know what he got up to after the 2005 Ashes win and it was interesting to hear him say that, as he stood on the podium after England reclaimed the urn in 2009, he was happier drinking in the atmosphere than the champagne, realising that his career was at an end. "It was the perfect way to finish," he concluded. "I didn't want to be jumping about and pulling silly faces." Tufnell take note.