BBC1’s Pointless: A More Intelligent Version of Family Fortunes

By Matthew Laidlow

For too long now, teatime quiz shows on the BBC have been the same mix of dullness. At around 5.15pm on BBC 1, headmistress type character and rubbish bully Anne Robinson forces hopefuls to answer around a million questions before winning a laughable amount of £1100. Typically, you’ll see Robinson armed with supposed insults that often make for cringe worthy TV. Lines like; “who’s the best thing since sliced bread? And whose loaf has gone stale?” are typically used.

But over on BBC 1, a change has come around. No longer do students, the unemployed and those on flexi working hours have to stare at a leather clad dominatrix. Now we have the sophisticated and charming Alexander Armstrong who takes the role as quiz master. You know him – the bloke from the Armstrong & Miller show and a few adverts. He hosts a new show called Pointless which is thankfully easier to understand than ITV’s Golden Balls.

Like Family Fortunes, in Pointless the object of the game is to get answers right based on the responses of a hundred people. Unlike Family Fortunes, the subtle twist is that you have to get a lower answer than your competitors.  At the beginning of each show £1000 is given as the initial starting prize, but to increase the cash fund it’s beneficial for the teams of two to correctly get an answer that hasn’t registered a response from the public.

If one of these so called “Pointless” answers is found, an additional £250 is added to the jackpot.

Unlike Bullseye where the losing team in the final have the lost prizes mockingly shown to them, in Pointless, said prize is rolled over to the next show. Another strangely unique feature of Pointless is that contestants are given two opportunities to bag the cash. How pleasant for the viewer to see professional housewives Mary and Jan not once, but potentially twice if they crash and burn in the first round. With four separate teams starting at the beginning of each program, everyone has two bites at the cherry. Unless they win of course.

Questions aren’t always that straightforward; recent examples have had teams trying to remember who has won the Mercury Music Prize. Not so great if you only know Adele and Elbow have picked up the award recently, but ace for music fans who know that M People and Portishead have also been victors.

Basically, it pays to be intelligent and have a broad knowledge of various subjects. Pointless really does seem to be an intelligent and sophisticated version of Family Fortunes on ITV.

Effectively, BBC has the well rounded gourmet product whilst ITV have the cheap and cheerful economy version. How? Have you seen presenter Vernon Kay? Appearing like he’s on some energy drink blended with helium and ketamine, the Timmy Mallet of our generation leaps round the stage to the amusement of celebrities who’s notoriety is barely enough to get them out of having to queue at the local chip shop.

Family Fortunes is sandwiched in that slot where football fans are arriving home and are a little tipsy all whilst people prepare for a night out and start pre-pub drinking. Therefore ITV need to slightly dumb down the questions in order to make everyone at home feel that little bit more intelligent and superior to the competitors. After all, we’re not in a studio environment and having to make snap decisions, therefore giving us an easier ride. Questions such as “name five things you can do with water” are normally asked to one hundred people.

Wash, drink, swim and clean will be the majority of responses, but what about the elusive fifth answer? Funny man Vernon Kay will attempt a mock KGB grilling of the contestants as they spout out a weird and wonderful selection of answers to bag them a cash prize:

“Wash the car.”

“Used as holy water.”                                                                                                      “Water the flowers”                                                                                            “Cook with”

“Put out a fire in a house before all the people and their worldly possessions are destroyed.”

As you can agree, a mix of sensible, panic-fuelled and downright weird answers. With a choice of five to select from, it’s up to the team captain to decide from the scraps he’s been given and select the winning answer. Of course, a moment of madness kicks in as “used as holy water” is picked, all for the logical reason being that people still get their children Christened; even though more people require a hot meal on a daily basis rather than watching a vicar coming close to drowning an infant.

With lanky Boltonian Vernon Kay trying to hold back his laughter as he accepts the answer the inevitable buzzer sounds, signalling the failure of the team. At this point you’d assume the opposing side would play it sensible, but no. They’re equally dumb and suggest a completely different answer such as “keeping pet fishes in.” Once again, the buzzer echoes around the studio and Vernon Kay is forced to reveal that the last answer is “washing the car.”

Hooray for intelligence and humanity.


Pointless is on BBC 1 at 5.15 every weekday

Matthew Laidlow is also the music editor for snarky celeb-tainment site Hecklerspray. You can follow him on Twitter here 


About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at

2 Responses to BBC1’s Pointless: A More Intelligent Version of Family Fortunes

  1. Graeme Langlands says:

    I love Pointless. If the nice man with the glasses who reads the answers out is ever sick, poached by Channel 4 or accidentally run over by a man looking suspiciously like me, then I’ll happily take over his job of looking simultaneously smug and sympathetic while reading off a card.

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