Full marks for not keeping score

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The Independent Online
HAVE you noticed that television and radio quiz shows actually evolve? Clive Anderson, for instance, has been an innovative quizmaster and chat-show host, and I am not just thinking of the way in which he seems to enjoy being more nervous and twitchy than his guests. (Is he the only host who starts his show at the end of a sentence? 'Yes, well . . . anyway, right . . .')

No, I am thinking of the way in which, during the evolution of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, he came to undermine the scoring system by awarding freak points to both sides - adding 1,000 points here, deducting three points there, until the final score, even if believable, made no sense to anyone. A courageous blow for sanity. The bosses of Mastermind should consider adopting it.

But most of the quiz shows I have recently sampled still adhere to the idea of a serious scoring system, even something as anarchistic as Radio 4's News Quiz. This is strange, because it doesn't matter who wins or loses, except to Alan Coren, who is driven to win, and to Richard Ingrams, who is not happy unless he is on the losing side. (In Have I Got News For You, Angus Deayton tries another tactic: he pretends to make light of the scoreline by loading it with silly adjectives - 'And Paul has a luminous four points while Ian can only manage a tremulous three' - but he is only pretending. They all take it more seriously than that.)

It may be that the future lies with quiz shows without any score at all. I took part in one the other day and found it most liberating. This was a Radio 4 programme called Looking Forward to the Past, chaired by the affable Paul Boateng, on which guests are required to fantasise about history - who they would like to have married in history, what group they would be most wary of, and so on.

The absence of all point- awarding does make it less cut- throat. This despite the fact that, apart from me and Ludovic Kennedy, the other two guests were past or present MPs, Edwina Currie and Jeffrey Archer, and I had forgotten how competitive politicians are.

For instance, when asked if we could remember where we had been when we heard some vital piece of news, I said I had been in a remote spot on Madagascar, the port of Toamasina, when I had heard via someone's short-wave radio that Mrs Thatcher had stepped down. I was trying to explain how odd at such a time it was to be in a Franco-African culture where nobody but you cared enough to cheer, when Jeffrey Archer burst in to say that Mrs Thatcher had been a great leader and it was shocking to hear me cheer her downfall, and so on.

He was joking, I am sure. The point is that only a party politician would think of reacting in this way. Any normal person would say: 'Been to Madagascar, have you? What's it like? What sort of a place is Toamasina?' But information to a party politician is ammunition, and useless if not loaded. When pressed for a mate from history, Edwina Currie said she would have liked to marry Alexander the Great, and read out a long list of his achievements. 'So that's what I saw you researching in the House of Commons Library today,' said Paul Boateng mischievously.

This stockpiling of information by MPs is at its most transparent on a game show such as the BBC's Question Time, on which politicians shadow box while pretending they are trying to hurt each other. Out of curiosity, I turned on again the other day to watch Michael Heseltine and Tony Benn in action. Their exchanges were along the lines of 'This comes well from the man who, in 1987, went on record as saying . . . ' and 'If that is so, how do you explain that in 1967, you, as Minister of Power . . . ?' I did not stay to hear the final score.

Except that Question Time does not have a final score. That is maybe what is wrong with it. Maybe whenever MPs are allowed on a programme, there should be a scoring system, on the grounds that all that MPs are interested in is scoring points, off each other. Quiz shows without politicians should, on the other hand, never stoop to a scoring system . . . .

Maybe that is what is wrong with Parliament. It is the only quiz show known to man in which nobody but MPs can take part, and yet for which nobody has ever devised a sensible point-scoring system. No wonder it has never acquired the listening figures people hoped it would get.