Just a minute, am I repeating myself?

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The Independent Online
The other day I was in the foyer of Broadcasting House in London's Upper Regent Street, headquarters of BBC radio, and I picked up a blue piece of paper that said: "Funny You Should Say That. A new panel game all about the use of language. Chairman, Alan Coren, with panellists Barry Cryer, Willie Rushton, Kevin Day and Lorelei King. Monday 18 March, 1996. For FREE tickets send SAE to ..."

Now, this may well turn out to be an excellent programme, but that was not my immediate thought. My immediate reaction was one of sorrow and sympathy for the people who have to think up new ideas for quiz programmes when, quite obviously, there aren't any, and also new guests for panel games when there don't seem to be any.

Somewhere upstairs at the BBC there is a room with a committee in session behind locked doors (not to preserve secrecy but to stop them escaping) whose members have a day in, day out discussion that goes something like this ...

"I say, Controller, I read somewhere the other day that people are getting interested in the correct use of language again. Why, even the Reith Lectures this year were all about it. Why don't we have a new quiz on the use of language?"

"Because, for God's sake, it's been done. Remember Wordly Wise?"

"Well, let's do it again."

"It's been done again. Word of Mouth."

"No, I don't think that was a quiz game. That was a serious programme, actually looking at language."

"Bit of a waste of time having a serious programme on a subject that might be better used for a quiz, don't you think?"

"Well, sir, the fact is that all possible subjects for quizzes have now been used up. We've done films, radio, quotations, music, business, books, history ..."


"Yes, sir. There's a quiz on at the moment where historians have to answer questions on a subject such as Alfred the Great or Queen Victoria. History as gossip. Rather good, actually."

"Oh, is that a quiz programme? I heard that. I thought it was Start the Week without Melvyn Bragg. Well, it certainly explains why they were awarding each other points, which doesn't ever happen on Start the Week."

"On the contrary, Start the Week is all about point-scoring. Did you not hear Tony Parsons and Melvyn Bragg the other week? I remember thinking that I had stumbled into a new panel game that I had devised and then forgotten about ..."

"Quite so. Incidentally, will someone remind me of the difference between a panel game and a quiz game?"

"Yes, sir. In a quiz game it helps to answer the question correctly. A panel game is one where the answers don't matter as long as they are funny, and where nobody cares about the points. The News Quiz is actually a panel game, for instance."

"That can't be true. I think the answers are very important on The News Quiz. I have heard much better political points made by people such as Jeremy Hardy on The News Quiz than any of the faffing around on Any Questions. Which, despite its name, is not a quiz or a panel game."

"Do you think it should be? Do you think it would come back to life if Jonathan Dimbleby started awarding points for answers? And deducting points for evading the question?"

"Excellent idea. But we've got a political quiz on Radio 4 already."

"Have we? What's it called?"

"I can't remember, but it's got Austin Mitchell and Julian Critchley on it. Or if it hasn't, it should have ..."

"Tell you what. Why don't we have a quiz programme about itself? It would be called, As I Was Saying, and the panel would be asked questions in the second half about what had been said in the first half."

"It wouldn't be the first quiz about itself. There's that weird programme with Irene Thomas and all those other people which is so clever and inbred that they have to guess what the question means before they can applaud themselves for answering it."

"I say, Controller, why don't we have a quiz programme about the use of language? The Reith Lectures this year - oh no, I've said that already ..."

"Oh No, I've Said That Already. Actually, that's not a bad idea for a programme. A game in which you are penalised for repeating yourself ..."

"We've got one. It's called Just A Minute."

"Well, how about ..."

The discussion continues.