Quiz show hosting is a lost art... and I mean that most sincerely! CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV
The Undiscovered Peter Cook (BBC4)
You're a lovely reader, I mean that most sincerely, and it's a pleasure to welcome you to today's column. Fantastic, absolutely fantastic!
Television reviewers don't need gallons of unctuous charm, but it's been the chief requirement of gameshow hosts ever since the small screen was invented. Kings of the welcoming grin today are Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman on Pointless, but it's a lost art, compared to the rich oily heyday of the Seventies.
Remember Bob Monkhouse on The Golden Shot, Hughie Green on Opportunity Knocks and the splendid Nicholas Parsons hosting Sale Of The Century? Those men had superficial smiles with the brightness of a nuclear flash.
Warwick Davis is the latest questionmaster to turn the sincerity dial up to 11, on his new afternoon quiz Tenable (ITV)
Warwick Davis is the latest questionmaster to turn the sincerity dial up to 11, on his new afternoon quiz Tenable (ITV). Already a veteran host of Celebrity Squares, he's got the teeth for it, that's for sure — glowing so white that they must be radioactive.
And he appears to have the requisite cold flint under that good cheer. A gameshow presenter must never weaken, especially when a contestant misses the jackpot by a whisker. Despite his bonhomie, it's not his job to give away prizes.
Warwick proved his ruthless streak when five female friends missed out on a £35,000 prize by a single question, going home with empty pockets. The format demands players to name top tens in categories from sport to pop to movies, and the girls were romping through.
They named every one of the leading countries on the International Cricket Council, and all but one of the stars who have made most appearances on Strictly Come Dancing. But in the final round, with all that cash to play for, they could only list nine of the first ten characters in the credits of Toy Story 3.
If those categories sound impossible, they surely are. Warwick could have offered a little more sympathy — it wouldn't have cost him anything. But the laser-bright smile never wavered.
Where he really failed was on the false humility. A great gameshow host is so humble, it hurts. But at just 3ft 6in tall, Warwick is a colossus of movie blockbusters, and didn't he let us know it.
HEADACHE OF THE NIGHT
As if The Missing (BBC1) was not already insanely complicated, set in 2014 and the present day, a third timeline appeared. Now we were following the characters in 2015 too. And there were flashbacks to Alice with her abductor. It’s enough to melt the brain.
'What does it feel like to be in the presence of Professor Flitwick?' he asked one contestant, reminding her of his role in the Harry Potter films.
He also found time to tell us he was in Labyrinth with David Bowie, and the Star Wars mega-hit Return Of The Jedi. If there were a Top Ten for vanity, Warwick would be right up there.
It's a shame the comedian Peter Cook never presented a gameshow because, if he could have stayed sober long enough, he would have poked holes in all the shiny veneer.
He did once try a chat show, in 1973, called Where Do I Sit? — but after three anarchic episodes it was axed, and he was replaced by Michael Parkinson.
Those three shows were long thought lost. But while exploring Cook's house, which has been closed up like an Egyptian tomb for 20 years, his friend Victor Lewis-Smith discovered video excerpts.
So much previously unseen material was tucked away in drawers and on bookshelves that it filled most of an hour on The Undiscovered Peter Cook (pictured)
So much previously unseen material was tucked away in drawers and on bookshelves that it filled most of an hour on The Undiscovered Peter Cook (BBC4). Some of it was dangerously funny — the menswear sketch from Not Only But Also, with Peter buying an atrocious jacket from camp tailor Dudley Moore, could bring on a heart attack from laughter.
But Lewis-Smith is so much an aficionado that every scrap of tape delighted him ... both gems and junk. The documentary opened with a muddy home recording of a half-written sketch about the risks of unhealthy food. It was all labour and no sparkle — even Pete could be a dud, now and then.
Some of the best stuff wasn't meant to be funny. We saw a cherubic Cook, talking to a TV journalist about his role as the Devil in the 1967 film Bedazzled. He looked like a choirboy on LSD.
And the footage from his memorial service, with Dud singing their theme song Goodbye-ee, could make anyone weep. Even a chatshow host.
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