It’s a conundrum… is rottweiler Anne Robinson tame enough for Countdown? As the Queen of Mean takes the chair, CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the show’s first all-woman line-up
(Channel 4, yesterday)
You have to wonder who the other contenders were, if Anne ‘Queen of Mean’ Robinson is the best choice to host Countdown – telly’s gentlest, kindest quiz.
Even in a shortlist of, say, Dame Maggie Smith, Jeremy Clarkson and Miriam Margolyes, Angry Annie is easily the grumpiest.
This is a woman who, on her BBC2 gameshow The Weakest Link, reacted with disbelief when one contestant revealed she was a beauty therapist. ‘You’ve not got round to working on yourself,’ she snapped.
And as she plonked herself down for the first time in the presenter’s chair on Countdown, she didn’t seem to be fully in tune with the 40-year-old show’s soothing character. Glancing at her notes, she turned to the first player, Steve, and asked acidly: ‘You’re from Manchester, you’re an accountant – is that as exciting as it sounds?’
You have to wonder who the other contenders were, if Anne ‘Queen of Mean’ Robinson is the best choice to host Countdown – telly’s gentlest, kindest quiz
Steve just smiled awkwardly. Perhaps he didn’t quite hear her – all through the show, Anne seemed to be speaking with a mouthful of cotton wool. Perhaps she had tried to bite back an insult, and bitten her tongue instead.
Insults have no place on Countdown. It wouldn’t be able to survive without its inner kindness.
Fans like me who have been tuning in for four decades enjoy the anagrams and the maths puzzles, but what we love most is the good-natured decorum of it all.
A little innocent joshing is allowed but there must be no needle, no criticism. This afternoon perennial, best enjoyed with a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits, needs to be as bland and sweet as a digestive. Luckily, the show’s regulars were ready for her. Someone must have tipped them off that Anne is a sucker for flattery, because Rachel Riley and Susie Dent heaped praise on her at every opportunity.
Susie remembered working with Anne previously, and thanked her profusely for help given on that occasion: ‘I will forever be grateful for that!’
A visibly pregnant Rachel was buttering her up from the beginning, and kept praising her throughout – right up to the end of the episode when she told her, ‘You did very well,’ and added an effusive, ‘Well done!’
Anne glowed – as she did when this week’s guest in Dictionary Corner, impressionist Rory Bremner, hailed her as Countdown’s first female presenter. ‘There have been more men called Des hosting this show than there have been women,’ he said, harking back to the days of Des Lynam and Des O’Connor.
With so much wheedling and cajolery, 76-year-old Anne allowed the game to slide along smoothly.
By the end, she even felt kindly enough to give the camera her trademark wink.
She sometimes looked baffled by the brain-teasers, but then so did the original host, the ever-charming Richard Whiteley.
Watching herself as she was 34 years ago, Anne seemed most aggrieved by her hairdo
We glimpsed dear old Dick at the start of the show, with a clip from 1987, as he welcomed his guest… a youthful Anne. She looked undeniably different, with buck teeth and quite a different nose.
Watching herself as she was 34 years ago, Anne seemed most aggrieved by her hairdo. ‘Very Bay City Rollers,’ she grumbled. The spangly red jumper of long ago has disappeared, and been replaced by a brown leather jacket that would make an Italian mobster proud.
The problem is that, whether she was chief rottweiler on Watchdog or sneering at viewers’ complaints on Points of View, Anne has been a professional curmudgeon for so long that she might have forgotten how to be warm.
Rachel and Susie can’t keep piling on the compliments, under the pretext of welcoming her to the show.
After a few days, they’ll just have to trust her to behave, which is a bit like giving a leopard a saucer of milk and hoping it leaves the baby antelopes alone.
The thing about leopards, as everybody knows, is that they might sometimes sheathe their claws. But they don’t change their spots.
Fans like me who have been tuning in for four decades enjoy the anagrams and the maths puzzles, but what we love most is the good-natured decorum of it all
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