Robert Hampton

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1st July 2012

A Pointless Excursion

BBC Television CentreI’ve always liked game shows on TV. My obsession during my childhood led to my founding a short-lived Catchphrase fan web site (don’t ask) and the construction of an elaborate computer program, on my old Acorn A3010, to recreate the mise en scène of Family Fortunes, much to the chagrin of my relatives who had to endure a game at Christmas and other family occasions.

My favourite new show is Pointless, an amiable trivia-fest which fills the afternoon tea-time slot BBC1. I’m usually at the gym when it is on, watching the action play out without sound and with subtitles, and I’ve become quite hooked.

Therefore, when I noticed that tickets were available for the latest run of recordings, I jumped at the chance to apply.

View from the train windowThere were two motivations: since Pointless is regularly pre-empted by sport at the moment, it would no doubt aid my withdrawal symptoms. Secondly, and most importantly, it would be a chance to see inside the iconic BBC Television Centre before it is closed and sold off.

Of course, any experience is best shared, and I was fortunate my semi-regular intrepid band of friends with me: Scott and his partner Dave travelled down with me to London, where we would meet our mutual friend Ian.

On Thursday morning, we arrived at Lime Street and boarded a Virgin Pendolino, which got us to London with its usual speed, despite encountering a horrifying storm while passing through the Midlands.

Any trip to London will involve a welcome trip on the Underground. Bonus fun: seeing the new S stock in squadron service on the Metropolitan Line, and the new Wi-fi which was available in Euston Square station, allowing me to upload the picture below to Instagram immediately.

Train in Euston Square Underground station

We arrived a few minutes later at Wood Lane, directly opposite the main entrance to TV Centre. I’d never seen it up close before, and it was unbelievably exciting to be here. After meeting up with Ian, we headed for the audience entrance. The gates were not due to open for another 30 minutes or so, but a sizeable queue was already building up, so we joined it.

Walking into BBC Studio 6At 1pm we were allowed into the gates and, after a security scan, we were ushered into the audience foyer where we joined an eclectic mix of Pointless groupies – a fragrant mix of students and pensioners. We had the opportunity to buy snacks from the cafeteria (ker-ching!) or merchandise from the BBC Shop (ker-ching! again).

A few minutes later a tannoy announcement was made and we were led out of the foyer and into the concrete donut itself. I took a quick snap of the fountain, then looked around to see if anyone famous was having a quick ciggie in the smoking shelter (there wasn’t). Then we were inside the building and being led through a maze of corridors to the studio itself. My reaction was one that I’m sure TV types have heard a zillion times before: “ooh, it’s smaller than it looks”.

We were seated towards the back, which wasn’t too bad, except a camera on a crane (used to get those swooping overhead shots of the studio) was regularly wheeled back and forth during the recording, sometimes blocking our view slightly.

Pointless Studio

The warm-up man showed up and welcomed us to show number 367, before chatting to us while the production team ran around making last-minute tweaks. He singled out a poor woman in the front row who confessed to preferring The Chase, picking on her repeatedly every time he came back on stage.

His main role was to walk us through our big contribution to the recording – supplying the “wooaaaaaahhhhhh” noise as the score counts down to 0, which is not dubbed on in post-production as many believe. He advised us not to start until the countdown goes below 80, lest we run out of breath. I felt like a bit of a prat, but by the time the recording got under way, I was happily “wooahhhh”-ing along with the rest.

Dave, Robert, IanThe other big starring role for the audience came at the halfway point in the recording, where – in a piece of OUTRAGEOUS BBC FAKERY (© Daily Mail) – we were asked to provide fake laughter and applause to supply some audience cutaway shots. Being in the back row, I’m not entirely sure how visible I was, but I gamely jumped in anyway. To the left is an angle of the audience you won’t see when the show goes out – it’s a photo snapped by Scott.

Other than that, the production is very slick and progresses more or less in real time. There was the occasional fluffed line from the hosts but these were corrected quickly without fuss. The biggest retake came when some of the old dears in the front row had a coughing fit. The floor manager came on and asked us not to cough, before making the mistake of asking if anyone needed water – about twenty hands went up, necessitating a hasty trip to the cafeteria by a harassed runner.

The warm-up did have to fill when a technical glitch caused the “tower” display to fail to light up correctly (a problem pleasingly solved by turning the computer off and on again). He also had to cover an unexpected break during the final – which, we subsequently discovered, was due to the production team deliberating over the acceptability of one of the contestants’ answers.

Other than those minor hiccups, the only other gaps in recording came when the set was adjusted to relocate the contestants’ podiums etc, and the warm-up reappeared in those pauses to “entertain” us some more.

The contestants were the typical Pointless mix of entertaining characters and slightly annoying know-it-alls. A pair of childhood friends, now retirees, who seemed a bit nervous and replied to Armstrong’s genial pre-game banter with monosyllabic answers. A village postmistress and her (rather fit) twentysomething farmer son. A middle-aged man who declared that he was a “real forensic scientist”, sniffily criticising TV dramas for their unrealistic portrayal, and his precocious 19-year-old daughter who declared that she could sing “for any audience”. She seemed to be fishing for an invitation to sing, but luckily for us, Armstrong did not take the bait.

One thing which probably won’t make the edit is the slightly awkward banter between Armstrong, Osman and the contestants when Nick Griffin was offered as an answer during a round on London Mayoral Candidates.

The first recording over, the warm-up guy appeared again and told us there would be a break while the hosts and contestants change outfits. He suggested that if anyone wanted to eat their sandwiches, now would be a good time. To our surprise a sizeable number of audience members had planned ahead and brought out sandwiches and assorted snacks which they gnawed on happily. Ever since Scott and Ian accompanied me to Norton Bridge earlier this year, sandwiches are something of a running joke, but to their disappointment I didn’t have any with me this time.

We went into the second show via a hilarious practical joke inspired by the warm-up man, who convinced us to yell “WE LOVE YOU ALEXANDER” as loud as possible, followed by a subdued “and you, Richard” – cue puzzled reactions and faux-indignation from Messrs Armstrong and Osman.

After that the second recording proceeded much as the first. We had to do another set of audience reactions, with the camera pointing at a separate section of the crowd to give the illusion that there were two different audiences.

And that was that – at just before 5pm we were released and made our way back towards Kings Cross where a table was waiting for us at the Parcel Yard. It was interesting to see behind the scenes of a TV show, and especially pleasing to get to peek inside the iconic building that is Television Centre.

BBC TV Centre Helios Statue

During a round on Famous Comedy Troupes, Osman mentioned that one of the comedians mentioned had recorded many of his shows in Studio 6 – the same studio in which we were now sitting. A little extended chat between the two revealed the pair’s obvious reverence for Television Centre – which has been home to many exciting chapters in broadcasting history, but now soon to pass into history itself.

When the BBC is facing political and commercial pressures like never before, you could argue that there is no room for sentiment. But it’s still a travesty that Television Centre is being sold off. I’m glad I got to see inside the proverbial chocolate factory, even if it was for just one afternoon.

Also, the Pointless trophy, like everything else, looked a lot smaller than it does on TV.

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6 Responses
  1. Comment by Scott
    1st July 2012 at 8:28 pm

    You ran a Countdown fan website? WHY HAVE I ONLY JUST LEARNT THIS FACT?

  2. Comment by Seb
    1st July 2012 at 9:41 pm


  3. Comment by Gavin Kincade
    4th July 2012 at 10:48 pm

    I’m glad you pointed out that Scott took the photo. I was going to say that he looked like he was aging rapidly.

  4. Comment by Dane Cobain
    29th July 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Small world – I found your site because of a post about your railcard three years ago, I was searching for an image of one on Google Images. Turns out you were viewing the filming of Pointless a couple of days before me and my girlfriend were there to film as contestants! I wrote about it on my site in case you wanted to know more. Just felt like I should leave a comment to let you know!

  5. Comment by Robert
    29th July 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Oh wow, that means you saw the passport photo of my 17-year-old self. #embarrassed

    Nice blog – interesting to read a contestant’s point of view!

  6. Pingback by Natwest are a bunch of useless dicks... and here's the proof! |
    29th July 2012 at 8:59 pm

    […] This is Robert‘s railcard. In a huge coincidence, he blogged about viewing the filming for Pointless just a couple of days before me and Laura went to film it as […]