TV Review: The Book Quiz (5/5), BBC Four, Tuesday 14 August, 9.30pm

The short run of the new comedy quiz show for know-it-alls The Book Quiz came to an end last night. Normally tucked away in a late corner of the evening schedule where all but the most devoted viewers would have missed it, this last outing was brought forward 90 minutes, thereby guaranteeing that even those determined few stood a good chance of tuning in too late.

Not that they would have missed much. BBC Four’s scheduling of this tired and unoriginal idea suggested from the off that they were a bit ashamed of it, and indeed the format, with almost zero visual element, could just as easily have been broadcast on Radio Four. Having now myself been the butt of one of presenter David Baddiel’s cheap jokes I have to say there won’t be any tears shed in this house if The Book Quiz is consigned to the remainder bin.

Baddiel was a strange choice of host. The man for whom the word smug was invented was clearly only there to make himself look clever, whether by association with his well-read guests or by delivering his pithy one-liners at the expense of those same guests, or the material they were talking about, or the unfortunate book club members, seen discussing one of their books each week, who being recorded were not in a position to answer back and in whose company, for last night’s show, I sat.

I’ve felt uncomfortable during the whole run with Baddiel’s cheap shots at the real people in the reading groups. With an 11pm slot on a minor channel, he must have realised these same people would make up a fair proportion of his audience, tuning in to see themselves on the telly. He has in the past compared them variously to old Spice girls and stalkers. Last night it was my turn. After a reference to The Picture of Dorian Gray earlier in the programme, our club footage was followed by Baddiel suggesting that “the bloke with the beard and glasses could be me, if I didn’t have a picture in my attic.” A mild enough jibe I suppose, but what did it bring to the programme? It’s either a quiz for literary aesthetes or a schoolboy comedy show. Make up your mind.

Talking of literary aesthetes, the guests during this run of 5 shows have been a curious mix. Perhaps it’s not too easy these days to find famous people who can be called well-read? Apart from the obvious regular quiz-show hangers-on like Germaine Greer and last night’s Brian Sewell (who both looked terminally bored with the whole affair) and the odd famous name like Kate Adie the numbers were made up from “the world of literature” which, you may therefore deduce, doesn’t contain many well-known faces. Maybe the budget wasn’t up to it, which might also explain the short run, the late night slot and the desperately unoriginal format.

Borrowing heavily from existing quiz shows on both radio and television, The Book Quiz (which as you can see can’t even come up with an original snappy title) grinds through rounds like “the opening line” round; the “made-up book title” round; and the “bluffers” round.

The show closed with the obligatory rapid-fire question round. What no-one in the production team seemed to have noticed is that the earlier rounds inevitably result in low scores, whereas 90 seconds of short sharp questions can regularly triple a team’s points, thus rendering most of the previous half-hour irrelevant, at least in terms of winners and losers.

If I’m honest it was fun taking part in the whole thing, but not much fun watching it. I won’t lose any sleep if The Book Quiz never reappears, and if I did I could always put the light back on and have a good read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *