Sunday, January 16, 2011
The Night I Treated Victoria Coren To Moussaka (And Unlimited Gin)
Can I make a complaint?
About the bloody telly?
Specifically, last night’s feeble channel-deep regurgitation of suffering?
Let me be clear about this, Mr & Mrs Sort The Schedules – when Famille Whirl hogs the settee of a Saturday night, armed with its salmon rolls and dinky donky dips, it expects to be entertained by a cornucopia of bedazzlement to rival Elvis’ sequins the night his pants flew off at Caesar’s Palace after one too many snorts of coke.
As it was, after the docu-soap that is Primeval, there was nothing much we fancied bar repeats, and since the salmon cobs had already begun striking home at my gullet, I said, “let’s see what we’ve got videoed.”*
* I’ll cut here the subsequent snark-laden exchange with Son of Whirl about our ‘video’ actually being a Freeview box.
As a family, we scanned the hard drive.
Just three choices, it seemed.
First up was a hundred and eighty minutes’ worth of David Tennant romping round as Hamlet – a recording now well over a year old. With a heavy group sigh, we moved on. “We’ll get round to watching it some day...”
Scrolling past undeleted episodes of Poirot and one of those How Publicly Visible Is Your Stupidity? programmes featuring a makeover of a friend’s childhood home, we came across a documentary about Mark E. Smith from The Fall. Rictus grins all round.
Finally we settled on Only Connect. Four whole episodes, as it happened – back to back, to recreate the Saturday Night Spirit so terribly absent since the end of the X Factor and Harry Hill’s Very Squeaky Head.
Famille Whirl simply loves Only Connect. It’s the only quiz show on TV that levels out our puzzle-solving playing field. Instead of the usual scenario where Girly of Whirly wins at ‘entertainment’, Son of Whirl triumphs at ‘miscellaneous crap’ and I come top in the ‘everyone knows this, but give him a chance’ category, when it comes to quiz show royalty such as the Connecting Wall, we’re all equally useless.
All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that I only watch the show for Victoria Coren.
Let me pause for a second to still my butterfly lungs.
It’s not so much a case of “ticking all the right boxes” or the fact that she’s so tiny she’d be the perfect person with whom to be trapped down a mineshaft – for me, it’s the way she turns to face the contestants. All panel game hosts have to master this skill, and some manage it better than others. So for example, what Stephen Fry lacks in poise he more than makes up for in affability, while Simon Amstell, in his tenure on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, relied on the Swivel Chair Ploy and frequently assaulted guests from behind. As for Sue Barker’s movements, the only mystery surrounding their origin is the precise voltage passing through the crocodile clips attached to her thighs.
Be in no doubt, viewing public, Victoria Coren is the best Turn To Facer in the business. I could watch her turning to face teams of contestants all day: The Cambridge Tintinnabulators, The Choo Choo Enthusiasts, The Effete-yet-strangely-rough-handed Scribblers, The Chirpingford Maserati BoyZ, The Chimp Breeders, The Stow-on-the-Wold Satanists – bring them on, say I! Then watch Victoria face them, watch her turn from captain to captain...to weird bloke on the end of the left panel... to camera...and finally (and I don’t know how she does this) to all.
It’s not so much the turning motion itself, but the way she copes with her unfeasibly long blonde hair without resorting to the Weathergirl’s Whoosh or the Starched Torso ‘n’ Neck Combeau of Potential Lumbar Dismay – and she’s stern as you like without being mean like Anne Robinson, yet friendly as a loving puppy dog without the need to lick anyone’s face.
I rather think I’d like to take Victoria Coren out to dinner. But not for the witty conversation, the food, the post-pud Poker. I’d take her to watch her turn.
The Savoy Hotel! A table for three! By the Help Yourself To Salad counter!
I’d pull out her chair, let her sit. Then shrug, almost embarrassed, as I tossed a coin to determine which side of her to place myself. “Heads it's left, tails it's right.”
Knees suitably under the silk tablecloth, bottoms snug on velvet, we’d survey le choix de canapés yummique, chatting idly about the Boer War and the digestive tracts of numerous species of turtle (it’s a guess: she’s very knowledgeable). All the time, she’d be turned to me, head tilted in that way, hair doing that non-whoosh thing – unless there was a gorillagram strutting its stuff by a neighbouring table, in which case she’d turn spontaneously and I’d be forced to cover my excited champagne snort with witty retort about an anti-asthma nasal implant.
And then my phone alarm would sound.
“Excuse me, Victoria,” I’d say, rising from my seat, “but it’s time for me to move to the other side.”
As I crossed to the spare place at the table, she’d turn to follow me, move in precisely the way she does on TV – but slower, and with no distracting letters of the Greek alphabet or spectacled frumps boasting four-digit IQs.
More talk – this time maybe David Cameron’s smile and the price of half cucumbers in Waitrose.
Moments later my alarm would sound again. And again, every two minutes, till either the battery or the Savoy’s supply of coffee ran out.
Not at all, say I.
At the first hint of Victoria (or anyone else) suspecting me of being some kind of narcissistic control freak, I’d be up out of my seat and straight over to the bloke in the gorilla suit with a morally robust sit down here and talk to the nice lady, Kong Face!
Or, better still, I’d arrange the diners into teams, one half to the right of our table, the other to the left, leaving the gorillagram free for his next appointment.*
* Katie Price’s new fridge.
I take my peccadilloes very seriously, thank you very much.
Looking back, the decision to watch Only Connect was the right one. Famille Whirl was thoroughly entertained (especially when Geoff got a question about Aristotle horribly – yet amusingly – wrong), I was inspired to dream about a fantasy tête-a-tête with a woman whose atlanto-axial joint I admire, and no-one was forced to endure any vile, vile dating shows or Top One Hundred Top One Hundred re-runs.