Spelling Bee (2)



Chris Tarrant


Granada for ITV1, 14 July 2005


One-off charity spelling competition. Twelve famous faces battle it out to see whose vocabulary can stand up to the challenge (it says here).

The celebs are split into three teams of four (Phillips, Slattery, Bond, Peters; Maxwell, Currie, Cotton, Vine; Mower, Castle, Black, Palmer-Tompkinson I think it went). In round one Chris Tarrant asks each celebrity in turn to choose a difficulty level of 1, 2 or 3 for their word, which they then must spell correctly for ten times the number of points of the level chosen. At any two points during the team phase, a team can use their phone-an-eleven-year-old lifeline and ask American spelling bee champion Samir for the answer. There's no guarantee he'll get it right besides the fact that he's really really good at spelling.

For the second round, each team chooses a player to take a level 1 word, one to take a level 2 word, and one to try level 3. The remaining player from each tem takes a 'mystery spelling challenge' which involved putting a given word into one of two categories a la Every Second Counts, such as choosing whether the word is I-before-E or E-before-I. Alright, so it's not much like Every Second Counts but hey, wasn't that a great show? As many as they can in half-a-minute, ten poins each.

Now, the lowest-scoring team is eliminated and the scores reset. The two remaining teams play a repeat of round one, except with no option to choose level (not that it matters much as the only one who chose any Level 1 words was T P-T and she's been eliminated). Then a "speed-spell" round is played where players from both teams take it in turns to spell words within ten seconds, for ten points apiece. After two minutes, the lower-scoring team goes, and the winning team is split up into individuals for the final.

Now, each player is given two lives. (As in You Only Live Twice, a famous film with James Bond, who shares a surname with one of the participants. No reference was made in the programme to this startling coincidence, for some unfathomable reason.) A word is read out, and celebrities take it in turns to give the next letter of the word, an incorrect letter losing a life. This continues until two players are left.

The remaining two players play... well, can you guess? Hint: think of what the final two contestants do in every single game show since 1999. That's right! It's a best-of-five, with sudden death in the event of a tie. The words at least are by this point pretty challenging, including such stinkers as irridescent and opthalmologist. In fact, I just spelled both of those incorrectly. Did you spot it? Anyway, to the winner goes £25,000 for their chosen charity; to the loser, only the honour of having appeared in The Krypton Factor's thriller serial Dead Ringer.

So in conclusion, how was the show? Well, pretty good, surprisingly. The game mechanics were somewhat fairer, and eliminations don't seem so cruel when it's celebrities. In fact, it's hard to find fault with the show except to say that it's celebrities.. spelling words.. for an hour and a half. There's rather a limit on how exciting that can possibly be.


  • Lisa Maxwell (The Bill actress)
  • Fiona Phillips (GMTV presenter)
  • Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (ex-socialite)
  • Samantha Bond (actress)
  • Wendi Peters (Coronation Street actress)
  • Edwina Currie (ex-MP)
  • Patrick Mower (veteran actor)
  • Antony Cotton (Coronation Street actor)
  • Tony Slattery (comedian/actor/presenter)
  • Roger Black (former athlete and TV presenter)
  • Tim Vine (comedian)
  • Andrew Castle (ex-tennis player and TV presenter)

PS: Those correct spellings are iridescent and ophthalmologist.


Samantha Bond for Macmillan Cancer Relief.


Apparently derived from a US FOX TV format. Which is odd, considering the Brits had Spelling Bee way back in 1938.


Was going to be called Celebrity Spelling Bee but a glut of poorly-performing Celebrity-titled shows caused a hurried rebranding exercise.


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