Quiz show Pointless is such a part of the furniture of daily TV that it feels like it’s never not been on, but it’s had its share of problems. In fact, host Alexander Armstrong revealed how close he came to leaving the show after the first series in 2009.
He says he and co-host Richard Osman were ‘so bad at being slick’ that he went to the producers and asked them to recast the show.
“We were just so bad at being slick,” he told The Telegraph. “I had a conversation after that first series and said, ‘I think you either need to recast this, or make a virtue of our slipshodness’.”
The Pointless producers, fortunately, stuck with the pair and both have become very popular TV personalities off the back of it.
He said: “One of the things I really like about Pointless is that it confounds on several levels. It’s sort of confection, but it’s also got real heft to it because our question setters are so brilliant. And I love that Richard and I are sort of anti-quiz hosts.”
Fast-forward a decade and Alexander is still as much of a fan of the show as ever.
“It’s just a beautifully crafted idea for a show,” he said. “It’s very hard to walk away from. You say, ‘I’ll just watch this next little bit,’ and then you get drawn in. You’re shouting out names of footballers, or capital cities, or things in the periodic table. It’s such a brilliant way of drilling into that thing we all have, which is slightly competitive obscure knowledge. It’s very British and very anoraky.”
You might think that having such a superlative career – besides Pointless he presents a daily show on Classical FM and is currently presenting Iceland with Alexander Armstrong on Channel 5 – he would feel relaxed and at ease with the world, a demeanour he certainly presents on TV. But no – far from it.
“It’s a funny thing, because your life as a performer is one of stress,” he said. “And I don’t really think I am stressed, but my God I am! When I had my various things analysed the other day, the cortisol levels in my blood were off the chart. I mean, they weren’t even there!”
Perhaps his new series about Iceland will give him perspective. It is famously a land of fire and ice, boasting 130 volcanoes and plenty of opportunity for near-death experiences.
Alexander says, because of this the people “have a kind of gleam in their eyes that is not far removed from mania ... You can’t take anything for granted. You’d never be complacent in Iceland. And I bet you they wouldn’t waste time with all of this terror of offence. They can’t muck about with that, because they’ve got too many life-or-death issues. I bet they very quickly realise that they’re all decent people, and nobody wants to upset anyone.”
Iceland with Alexander Armstrong screens on Channel 5 on Wednesday
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