Gyles Brandreth


BBC Entertainment for BBC Two, 27 July to 14 August 2009 (15 episodes in 1 series)


Gyles Brandreth hosts "the quiz without questions", a new early evening offering from BBC2 in which teams of three must try and show off just how much they know about subjects given to them by a panel of three experts.

The show opens with shots of the two teams preparing, "completely on their own", Gyles informs us, with "no books, no phones, and no Internet". Is this going to a be a programme about the decline of the art of conversation in a society filled with distractions? Well, it might be, but the point here is that the teams have each been given three subjects on which to pool their knowledge in preparation for the first round of the game. These subjects have been chosen by today's panel of 'experts' - three people who you may well not have heard of (the first episode featured Colin Paterson, History Hunt's Tessa Dunlop and Greg Foot, who manage a single Wikipedia stub between them), but are apparently fairly proficient within their given field (entertainment, history and science, in this case).

In contrast to most quiz shows, the teams do not have quirky collective names, but are instead referred to simply as "[Whoever]'s Team". While this is nicely down to earth and sets the show apart from, say, Eggheads (which precedes it in the schedules), it maybe isn't ideal given the knockout structure of the series. Somehow it just doesn't seem right to be talking about Ray's Team beating Glenda's Team, setting them up for a match against Becky's Team who beat Phil's Team. Perhaps there's a compromise to be had: encourage team captains to adopt more distinctive pseudonyms, and maybe vary the description a little. Let's see Ceolwolf's Clan up against Aethelfrith's Horde for the title. It sounds more exciting already, doesn't it?

So the scene is set - we have Gyles (mercifully trapped behind a podium a not inconsiderable distance from anyone else), we have our 'experts', and we have our drably-monikered contestants, who we know have had an hour before the show to prepare three subjects for Round 1. This begins with an expert telling us the subject they set for the first team (examples including The Ashes from the sport expert, or Elizabeth the First for history), and whichever team member responsible for the topic comes to the middle of the set. They have a brief chat with Gyles, and then get 45 seconds to rattle off as much information as they can. There are three 'key facts' (displayed on screen for the viewers) which, as the name implies, are pieces of information considered to be particularly important (for the Battle of Hastings these were 1066, the Bayeux Tapestry and William the Conqueror, for instance). A contestant gets 1 point for each one of these they mention, and a bonus 2 (bringing the total to 5) if they get all 3. Besides this, the expert can award them 1 point for each "fascinating fact", and 2 points for "something that truly impresses them". These are scored at the end, when the expert talks through what the contestant said, highlighting which points they think were worth of 1 (or sometimes 2) points, as well as pointing out mistakes. (This sounds fairly subjective, and the experts seem to differ from each other when it comes to how strict they are, but they tend to remain consistent when scoring different contestants, which is the important bit.) The other team then gets the same treatment from this expert, on a different subject, and the whole process is repeated until every expert has had two topics covered, and every team member has delivered a 45 second speech.

Gyles tries out a spectacularly ineffectual pair of earmuffs

In Round 2 each expert gives one topic, and the teams have 'minutes' to come up with one "killer fact" to deliver in a seven second time limit. It's unclear precisely how many minutes, however, as we are taken, via a graphic, from before this thinking time to after it. One member of the team 'volunteers' to deliver the fact (although everyone has to do one), and then five points are awarded by the expert for whichever they think is better. Obviously this is, again, fairly subjective, but a lot of the time it's made easy by one of the facts simply being false (or unconfirmable), or by it just being fairly clear cut (on the subject of electricity one contestant mentioned electromagnetism, whilst the other talked about Thomas Edison's electrocution of an elephant). Whichever team is leading goes first, which is a nice touch to offset the potential advantage of going second.

Finally, onto Round 3, which is a 90 second quickfire. The contestants, one team at a time, line up in front of the experts, who in turn name a topic. The contestant can then say whatever they can think of in an attempt to hit one of the three 'key facts' the expert has written down (and, again, are provided on screen for the viewer). If they manage to name one they get five points, or they can pass, and we move to the next expert and the next contestant in the line. The winners are the team with the most points (remarkably), and they proceed to the next round of the competition (the series starting with 16 teams). The team that wins the final, we are informed at the start of every show, will receive £15,000 and "more significantly" (apparently) the title of Britain's biggest knowitalls.

Now, we're legendary, nay, vaguely acknowledged, for our mastery of intrageneric comparison, so it is our duty to observe that, as ever, the elements of this show are recognisable from previous quizzes. The first round is essentially the same as Bamber Gascoigne's Connoisseur, the sit-here-and-prepare element has been a recurrent theme for a few years now in the likes of The Syndicate and The Cram, there's a smidgin of QI in the debunking of incorrect "facts", and the final round in particular owes a huge debt to Talkabout, or at any rate to the parlour game underlying that format. We're sure we've heard "the quiz without questions" before, too (Ask No Questions, the aforementioned Connoisseur, perhaps Pass the Buck, or all of the above?). Still, to chuck a couple more hackneyed phrases into the mix, there's nothing new under the sun, and what goes around, comes around. Though we're as surprised as you are that Connoisseur was in any sense "going around". The game looks like good fun for the contestants (though maybe less so for the studio audience, who have to endure a lot of stopping and starting while word gets back from the behind-the-scenes verifiers) and is entertaining to watch. And what's more, we learnt something new from every episode. Granted, we forgot most of it afterwards, but that's why we just write about game shows rather than going on them and winning barrowloads of dosh.

All in all, a good effort which we hope escapes the snappily-named Curse Of Being On After Eggheads which has befallen so many promising shows of late.


Brian's Team (John Jones, Brian Durand and Frank Murray)


"Knowitalls - the show where we know there's no such thing as 'useless' information."

Theme music

Will Slater

Web links

BBC programme page

See also

Weaver's Week review


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