Matt Butler: World Cup hat-trick hero has his cerebral teeth pulled

View From The Sofa: Pointless Celebrities BBC1

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The Independent Online

There is a reason why sportspeople are paid to kick and throw balls, run or punch people and not host televised political discussions, panel shows or Question Time. Because athletes – and darts players – tend to be better at their activity of choice than at sparkling conversation. Probably because their activity, or recovery from it, tends to take up a large chunk of their day.

And the contestants on this week’s edition of Pointless Celebrities, who included the darts player Phil Taylor (who introduced himself complete with “The Power” nickname), Ravi Bopara, Phil Vickery and Geoff Hurst, found out to their cost that witty banter is a lot harder than it looks.

To make fun of the name Pointless is too easy. And the tag given to the “celebrity” version of the show is not even worth taking on, it is dripping that much in the sort of bland irony that the chummy world of light entertainment is rife with. But it is necessary to point out that the 48 minutes spent watching the show are truly pointless.

For the benefit of those of us who aren’t night-shift workers, infirm or unemployed, Pointless is a game show broadcast in that pre-6pm no-man’s-land in which contestants must come up with obscure answers to category-based questions matching those of a mythical 100-person sample group. A bit like Family Fortunes without the tension, pace and biting repartee.

And with sporting celebrities, the show is rendered even more like pulling cerebral teeth. The host, Alexander Armstrong (referred to as “Xander” by his assistant, Richard Osman), tried manfully to garner interesting answers from his contestants but his efforts were, to risk labouring a point, pointless.

Bopara (right), who was partnering Taylor, began as if he had mistaken the show for a beauty contest by listing his hobbies as keeping fit and helping the community. The England cricketer then displayed his spectacular lack of general knowledge with his opening answer, to the question of people who have had two careers.

Having admitted he “didn’t have a clue”, he demonstrated that fact admirably by suggesting the former member of the Tiller Girls dance troupe who became first female Speaker in the House of Commons was... Margaret Thatcher. There were easier questions on the board – the host of A Question of Sport, for instance – but Bopara said he “had an idea” about the one he had chosen. He did: the wrong one.

Hurst garnered the most thunderous applause of the show by uttering five words – “hat-trick, World Cup final” (undoubtedly in the top three of the world’s greatest pick-up lines) – but didn’t last beyond the first round, thanks to his partner Sarah Storey, the paralympic cycling champion, inexplicably thinking the world championship boxer who became famous for his grilling machine was Mike Tyson.

The winners, the Olympic gold medal-winning rowers Helen Glover and Sophie Hosking, were by far the most relaxed on the show – and actually seemed like they had a life beyond that of a sportsperson.

But gaps in their knowledge of professional wrestlers meant they were unable to win the £2,500 prize for their chosen charity. Although credit where credit is due: they did know that Bret “The Hitman” Hart had won the Royal Rumble. They had clearly spent their downtime well.