Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

A Guttenfan writes

Friday, 6 August 2010

Oh yes. It is him.

You might have noticed on the news page (or Twitter) that I have been off filming new episodes of Only Connect for the autumn. I’m not sure exactly when they’re going out on TV, but of course I will announce it here when I know. For now, I can reveal that we are making a whole new 16-part tournament, plus four specials. More details on the other specials later, but one of them is, as the picture above might hint, very excitingly, the Only Connect Champion Of Champions (The Crossworders) v. the 2010 winners of University Challenge.

  At last! Once and for all it will be determined: are the young folk of BBC2 up to the rigorous challenges of BBC4?

I’ve been excited about this for weeks, and was intensely nervous before the recording. University Challenge v. Only Connect! How cool is that?

  The UC team had to come one player short, because we only have teams of three. They’re all lovely, and Jenny Harris and Josh Scott are excellent quizzers. But I’m sure they won’t mind my saying that the great phenomenon of the last UC series was the captain of their Only Connect team, the legend that is Alex Guttenplan. We all admired his super-fast buzzing skills on BBC2, and read about him after he captured mainstream press interest; in the flesh, I have to say he didn’t disappoint. I melted every time I looked at him. Just my cup of quizzing tea.

  During the recording, I flirted with him outrageously because I thought it would make our viewers laugh. I’m sure at least 75% of them are in love with him, whatever their general inclinations. The secret truth is, he actually brought out - more than anyone I’ve ever seen, more than chubby toddlers at the zoo, more than puzzled babies in tiny prams, more than clumsy kittens fighting with a sofa - my maternal instincts. If I had a son, I would want him to be like Alex Guttenplan.

  Not immediately, of course. Not at point of birth. But.. you know.. like that.

  He’s just utterly gorgeous. All bespectacled and long-haired and pudgy-cheeked, all shy and stammery in the green room, but absolutely fizzing with knowledge and speed of thought. It’s as though he comes alive at the ringing of a quiz show bell. He’s like a perfect baby quizzer, like a Gambler or a Crossworder or any of our other geniuses, but in super-cute youngster form. I could not love him more. It was terribly hard to keep treating him with the respect any visiting contestant deserves, because I kept wanting to hug him and feed him cake.

  I know this isn’t much in the way of salacious gossip. And you know there’s no point asking the result of the battle, because I wouldn’t tell you in a million years. Or rather, I wouldn’t tell you in the number of weeks between now and the show going out. All I can really tell you is that I have never struggled so hard to stop myself addressing someone as “Poppet”.

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Guido Solskjaer at 8:18 pm on August 6th, 2010

Just to add to the salacious gossip, but reading between the lines there, you may be a tad smitten with this admirable young gentleman ?

Could he be the future Mr. Coren ?

Lego at 8:33 pm on August 6th, 2010

“I flirted with him outrageously because I thought it would make our viewers laugh” Yeah, right, full of wanton lust, more like, you brazen hussy ;) *chuckle*.

Although if you ask me, he puts his tongue out too much. Hey, I notice these things. I suspect some women might go for the David Tennant lookalike down bottom right, too.

Wow, Only Connect v UC. That’s like…the Real Madrid v Barcelona, the AC Milan v Inter, NAY, the LIVERPOOL FC V MAN UTD of hardcore, tough quizzing!

P.S. I actually did a comment that fit the limit *faint*

Jules at 9:33 pm on August 6th, 2010

I must be the only person who didn’t really take to him. Nothing horrible, I just found him a bit too dithery (if that’s a word) for a team captain. I feel a bit bad now because he probably just needs a confidence boost.

I would however love to see him take on Gail Trimble in some sort of grudge match. Possibly in a vat of jelly. My money would be on Gail.

Victoria Coren at 9:56 pm on August 6th, 2010

Dithery? Alex Guttenplan? Dithery? On University Challenge? He was on that buzzer like a fox on a roast chicken, and pretty much never wrong. DITHERY? You’ve never seen such decisive quizzing. A little more hesitant socially, maybe, but that’s the whole joy of the man.

You’re misreading between those lines though, Guido; you can take my blog at face value. I felt genuinely motherly towards him, and I’m just not kinky that way.

Bill Green at 10:03 pm on August 6th, 2010

I like this idea! UC and OC make for a great telly quiz double bill when they are scheduled one after t’ other.

Dave Bill at 10:18 pm on August 6th, 2010

Ha ha! Am Genius in the eyes of the Coren!! :)

KlooRhee at 12:01 am on August 7th, 2010

UCers are gonna get battered! Windy cliff vs. Holland greenhouse,..

Millie J at 12:28 am on August 7th, 2010

I think you’re wrooooong. That UC team is very strong and young brains are good for quick connections, I think they’ll be fine.
  V glad to hear Mr Guttenplan coming back to our screens.

mike at 10:15 am on August 7th, 2010

Hi Vicky,

Thank you for the update on Only Connect.  I am a big fan of this quiz and think it is one of the gems on BBC4.

You are obviously very taken by Mr. Guttenplan and I think i can see why.  A young intelligent strapping lad, such as he, is going to bring about the protective instinct in any woman.  I am sure he would have loved you to feed him cake and given him lots of hugs. (Maybe you did but have not told us) I would simply love you to do the same for me.  However, I did not go to uni and only managed to get 5 O Levels and 1 A Level - so I do not expect you to even call me Poppet ;-(  How sad is that?

Talking of cake I am going to attempt your sister-in-law’s coffee and walnut one this w/e.

David Young at 1:36 pm on August 7th, 2010

It’s refreshing to see someone get an answer right without reaching for the ‘victory sip’ of water immediately afterwards. Why do most people do that?

RomanticRecluse at 8:53 pm on August 7th, 2010

There are worse things to be than a top quizzer but I can’t see why Alex Guttenplan went on UC, especially given what was likely to happen to him after what happened to Gail Trimble the year before and what Andy Warhol said about fame.  Alex is clearly a very intelligent young man but being intelligent can be a double-edged sword.

If I had a child first and foremost I would want them to be happy.

Jules at 8:54 pm on August 7th, 2010

Re: Dithery

Well, it was more during the team questions than the starters-for-ten. I should have made that clearer. Hopefully your flirtations will give him the confidence boost that he needs.

Emilee at 10:58 pm on August 7th, 2010

RomanticRecluse, seriously, take a load off. What does Andy Warhol have to do with anything? The guy just took part in a quiz, his university was presumably putting in a team, he’s good at quizzes. No need to take it so seriously.

More importantly, v good point DavidYoung. Why DO they do that? Dry mouth from the nerves of buzzing in when they might’ve got it wrong? Or just self-consciousness at knowing they’re on camera cos they’ve just given an answer, not sure what else to do while being stared at? Perhaps a mix of both.

@pholloway at 9:27 am on August 8th, 2010

Loved this little tale!  Very much looking forward to the next UC run.

Chris at 12:04 pm on August 8th, 2010


OK, putting Master Guttenfan aside for just a minute, and I am rather setting myself up to be slaughtered by your fan club here Ms. Coren, but can I ask why is ‘Only Connect’ performed without an audience? ..or worse still, is there an audience but they just don’t applaud? It does on occasion give, what is otherwise a very good idea, a somewhat desolate feel to the programme..

Like I said IMHO.. I am braced for a certain amount of ‘feedback’ from social media entourage

RomanticRecluse at 5:13 pm on August 8th, 2010

Emilee, UC isn’t a quiz like one at the Dog & Duck: it’s a national institution.  You don’t go on UC or X Factor or Big Brother on a whim: something drives you.  On UC it’s not money so what is it?  A competitive urge?  A need for validation?  “It wasn’t a guess” suggests the latter.  Going on OC suggests both.

And Warhol?  After the final Alex’s father said “he had his 15 minutes - but it wasn’t always pleasant” and that “until the press seemed to go crazy, he really enjoyed the process”.  Alex described his Facebook fans as “odd” and friends and former rivals came out of the woodwork.

Quiz victory may make Alex proud but maybe cake and hugs would make him happy.  I don’t know if they work.  I’ve never had cake and hugs.  I’ve never had cake

Victoria Coren at 5:32 pm on August 8th, 2010

Hi Chris. There was some talk before series 2 of bringing in a live audience but I’m glad it didn’t happen. For one thing, we don’t have the budget to make one show at a time, in the evening, so an audience would have to be made up of people who are available in the daytime and can sit through three shows and three long recording gaps; they might get bored.

  Besides that, I thought it might be kind of cheesy. Essentially it’s quite a simple quiz and the focus is on questions and answers. I think it’s rather stylish that our teams don’t need applause for getting something right (or a prize) - it’s just for the satisfaction of the thing. Besides, I like making jokes to the sound of silence. It’s what I’m used to ;-)

Chris at 5:49 pm on August 8th, 2010

Many thanks for the prompt reply, although you haven’t totally convinced me that silence is the typical response to a VC joke and I should have said in my first comment that I do genuinely enjoy the format/show. Yes, I agree that cheesy laughter wouldn’t necessarily add to the programme’s style - just some faint clapping and a little tittter perhaps? However, your ‘3 in a row’ & budgetary explanations are hard to argue with - I will admit to having a sneaky suspicion that, despite your stand up experience, you might be reluctant to do the show with a live audience.. Good luck with the new series and I’ll settle for adding in my own titters and applause from the comfort of my lounge..

The Tim at 8:20 pm on August 8th, 2010

You really shouldn’t have admitted to taking a shine to AlexG – we’re all going to be looking for any favoritism when it’s broadcast.

It’s quite right not to have an audience as it creates a kind of intimacy. Are the contestants strictly forbidden to make any jokes or are they naturally all humourless? - in which case it was inspired choice to make you the host with your dry wit. Actually, I’d really like to know how you brief people before recordings – do you tell them a joke to make them relax?

David, I think people take the sip to try and hide any sign of smugness, or it’s possibly just an involuntary reaction when you know everyone is staring at you - you know - like when you eye up an attractive woman (like VC) and she strokes the side of her head.

David Young at 9:49 pm on August 8th, 2010


I think the Victory Sip is a function of nerves, caused by knowing that people are looking at you. The reflex may be a desire to have a barrier between the contestant and the audience. In his early career Jasper Carrott used to have a guitar strapped to his back while doing stand-up, even though he made little use of it. He said it was for that reason.

mike at 11:37 pm on August 8th, 2010


I do not find your humour un-laughable (is there such a word?)  Quite the contrary, you have the sort of dry humour that appeals to me and in some respects is like my own.

Quite agree that an audience in the studio for Only Connect would not go down very well and is obviously not very practical.  In fact it might make make the contest more nervous for everyone, not least the 6 contestants.  So may the Wall of Silence remain intact, until of course its bricks are rearranged by each winning team.


MDW at 9:32 am on August 9th, 2010

I’ve never watched Only Connect but I’ll give it a go next time it’s on.

Question, is the early 80’s detective Eddie Shoestring (to the left of the Alex fellow) on every show or was this a one off for him?

The Tim at 2:46 pm on August 9th, 2010

MDW - OC’s on Wednesday at 7.30.


MDW at 9:01 am on August 10th, 2010

Thanks The Tim - I’ll tune in on Wed and check it out

Saul Richardson at 6:34 pm on August 10th, 2010

He actually looks a bit like me. Would you like me to send you a picture?

John at 2:02 pm on August 12th, 2010

Didn’t Larry Grayson used to hold someone called ‘Poppet’ in high esteem… ‘Pop It In Pete’?  Good old Larry!

James at 1:22 pm on August 13th, 2010


I actually thought that the Eddie Shoestring lookalike was Beaker from the Muppet Show making a long awaited comeback.  Beaker was my childhood hero ...

Fadrus at 11:42 pm on August 16th, 2010

I was just browsing through this blog without the intention of adding any comments until I noticed that, in order to add a comment, I would need to “enter the word in the image below” - that word being activity69.

Kind of juvenile I guess but I was tickled.

The Tim at 6:57 pm on August 17th, 2010

I see that your soft spot for Alex Guttenplan has reached the Radio Times: “I melted every time I looked at him. I kept wanting to hug him and feed him cake. If I had a son I’d want him to be like Alex.” There’s hope for me yet….

Looks like they’ve been reading this blog…

the faz at 8:45 pm on August 22nd, 2010

Hi Victoria, and to all your blogging fans, this is the very first time I’ve blogged, and hopefully, the last. My reasons for perusing your website on a wet and windy sunday evening, glass of wine and marlboro in hand are threefold. Firstly, thought your dad was a very funny guy, secondly, love your Observer column, and thirdly and most importantly, you are without doubt the horniest bird on the telly [used to be Kate Humble, but I went right off her when she refused to punch Bill Oddie in the face] Anyway, keep up the good work, no apologies for lowering the tone x

Julian at 10:28 pm on January 5th, 2011

The Children In Need episode was great, Victoria, your face was never without a smile throughout the episode, can’t wait for the new series! A gorgeous, clever, and extremely witty woman like you, why on EARTH are you single? Can’t agree with the live audience idea, why fix something that is obviously not broken?

Greenman at 8:17 pm on January 10th, 2011

Great to hear OC will be back-surprised its not been moved to BBC2?? Surely its proved its worth for a larger audience? New walls to do perhaps too? I think Guttenplan looks like Mr Ordinary, he’s no Brad Pitt lets face it so its a mystery why girls are practically wet themselves everytime he appeared :) No doubt he will do very well and you Victoria will frighten the heck out of him :D
Good luck with the new series. GM.

Greenman at 3:01 am on January 18th, 2011

That was a good last episode, although I half expected Alex to take his glasses off, open his shirt and reveal a large S on his chest:D and he needs a haircut. Anyway the Crossworders did it again-how about a special with Paxman, Humphrys, Buerk & Wark against a team-that would be something. See you next series Victoria. GM

I green at 5:20 pm on January 18th, 2011

I think Josh and Jenny are pretty hot too. How did you manage to keep your mind focussed on the questioning?

Sian at 9:44 pm on January 18th, 2011

I completely agree Victoria, he is very sweet! I loved your dress too.

Ken Singtone at 2:47 pm on March 6th, 2011

I am not Guttenfan myself, although I can understand why you are , and I do admire him for taking on Paxman. 
Having watched a few times, I am not convinced that what I saw really counts as flirting, maternal or otherwise.  Maternal flirting would be more like Anne Robinson on Weakest Link (albeit mother from hell in that case).
It was a portrayal of infatuation, or an invitation to flirt, not taken up by Alex.  A bloke might gaze that way at a woman, but that is when he lacks the courage to actually attempt to flirt or has no hope of success.  I can certainly sympathize with Alex, you would have terrified me at his age and he looked sh** scared when you had him and his team by the connecting wall. 
While you “flirt” we are left to admire your lovely shoulders and pine for your wits.

Victoria Coren

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