Ah, would that it weren’t, would that it weren’t.
“It’s always a surprise to find out it takes so much to produce so little”:
“I wish you’d said ‘mongeese’. I just wanted to live to hear someone say that”:
A dazzling line up of bluffers, including Geeson, Woodward, Bakewell and – it being the late 70s – Edmonds:
“DEAR BBC, I am quite frankly staggered. Yours, quite frankly staggered.” Endless have-your-say soapbox shoutathon keeping voiceover artistes in work for over four decades and helping fill awkward 10-minute schedule slots historically just before the 9pm news. First in the chrome chair was ROBERT “WOULD THAT IT WERE” ROBINSON, establishing a precedent for ubiquitous surname supremacy later supported by KENNETH ROBINSON, ANNE ROBINSON and, erm, TONY ROBINSON. Early years majored in senior common room-style mutterings thanks to Robert’s penchant for pedantry and obscure literary gags. After long hiatus in the 70s, however, the show evolved into the more mass market, mass hysteria beast it remains. BARRY TOOK takes the blame here, pushing jocularity and funny voices well to the fore, topped off with whimsical calliope adaptation of “When I’m 64” as theme tune (in turn prompting a letter every six months wondering “Why have you got ‘When I’m 64’ as your theme tune?”) and having the correspondence unceremoniously torn into bite-size portions and glued to pieces of brown sugar paper, to be comically interrupted at will (“What’s that, Mrs Chateris?” “Surely not!” “Anything else to add?!”). These were the imperial years, continued by Anne with her “them upstairs” routine and shifty winking-to-camera goodnights. Formula got diluted throughout the 90s thanks to ever-changing roster of boring guest hosts, until ultimately it got bumped to Sunday afternoons (bad) and taken over by SIR TERENCE OF WOGAN (good).
NO-NONSENSE just the facts straight ahead so-you-think-you’re-clever-do-you? quizzery with Robert Robinson striving to establish the identity of the nation’s most skilled answerer of highbrow general knowledge quiz questions, all the while addressed by surname only. Lofty reputation ensures that finalists are regularly meeted and greeted by BBC ‘suits’, whether they like it or not, while the show was also an amusing source of irritation to classical music fans, and indeed ‘Robinson’ himself, on account of its dogged theme tune usage of a ‘pop’ version of Eine Kliene Nachtmusic.
CHAMELEONIC Monday morning discussion show, originally concieved as a light discussion of topical events (well, as ‘light’ as a discussion led by Richard Baker ever could be), with poets and droll wordsmiths dropping in to do their stuff as a kind of interlude. Then under Russell Harty it became more or less – what else? – a chat show, before Melvyn Bragg and Jeremy Paxman took it off into somewhat more serious climes. Accompanied for many years by bookending Saturday music and satire Robert Robinson extravaganza Stop The Week, and the self-explanatory Midweek, most famous as a source of anecdotes about Victor Lewis-Smith winding up regular anchorwoman Libby Purves.
SQUIRE ROBERT “WOULD THAT IT WERE” ROBINSON welcomes pre-PLAYSCHOOL idlers to a literary quiz. A nation sighs.
“AH, WOULD THAT IT WERE, but pray, let us have the next word, the next lexicographical leguna, the next syntactical soupcon, and lo, here it comes, but ah me, a turn of speed if you please, and nay, tish and fibble, come with me if you will, is there no hope, is there truly no hope, I spy no flicker on their faces, oh to be sure, well, I am throwing it over to the other side, do you have it, do you have it, do you have it, I think that you have it, by jove, the game is well and truly afoot, but wait, tush, a pause, a parenthesis, an intermission, could this really be the end, ah, would that it were my friends, would that it were, from me, Robert Robinson, farewell!”
THE HOME COUNTIES’ most preposterously erudite home-owners starred in this audience-free parlour-esque intellectual joustathon. Title sequence featured animated “royal” playing cards to signify members of the nuclear family. SIR ROBERT ROBINSON was your avuncular quizmaster ticking off “musical” rounds, “historical” rounds, the infamous “mother and eldest son/father and youngest child” pairings, the legendary “close-up of a tin opener, ooh, what can it be?” observation round, and of course the white-on-black hand-operated diagrams, by “Eric” (no relation to SWAP SHOP “assistant” of same name). Theme tune was ‘Acka Raga’.