Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Heresy: an appeal

Sunday, 1 February 2009

[midnight, February 3rd: the response to this was so brilliant, the competition below is now closed!]

In March, we’re going to make a new series of Heresy, a show I did last year on Radio 4. I wasn’t sure whether to do another series, because it’s filmed in front of a live audience and I find that TERRIFYING. Especially since it’s sort of a comedy show and I’m not a comedian. It’s weirdly stressful, trying to think of funny things to say (in advance and during), when there are a hundred people sitting there who might just stare back in baffled silence. Much easier to write for newspapers: if you make a joke that isn’t funny, at least you’re not there to hear the pin drop.

  Then again, I love Radio 4. My dad loved Radio 4. I’m very proud of hosting a show on there. So I’ve said yes, and now I can start having sleepless nights until March, and nervous days trying to think of topics for the show. SO, I’M ASKING FOR HELP.

The idea of the series is, each week, we take three different “received opinions” - statements of majority opinion. And then we argue against them. They’ve got to be statements that the majority of people would immediately agree with, making it a tricky challenge to persuade them otherwise. The ideal statements are ones that people believe without even thinking about it, just take for granted without much thought. Could be about politics, culture, love, lifestyle, anything. Statements on the last series included:

There are too many repeats on TV
Travel broadens the mind
We are safer in Britain for having gun control
The Queen is marvellous but the other royals are a waste of space
Daniel Day Lewis is a better actor than Christopher Biggins
Short men look silly with tall wives.

  You know - stuff that most people believe. Or that most people would agree with, if you asked them. It can’t be subjects where there are two broad and opposite opinions (like “You shouldn’t wear fur” or “There is no God”). It can’t get a 50/50 “yes/no” response from the average audience - it would need to be about 80% agreement or higher, to be the right sort of thing. And obviously it can’t be something really extreme, like “Child abuse is a bad thing”, that it would be IMPOSSIBLE to argue against. It needs to be hard, but not impossible.

So, if anybody has any ideas for topics like this, for other received opinions that are widely held (or would be, if people asked themselves the question), please post them on here! I’d be so grateful…. within a couple of weeks, I’ll need to have come up with 18 of them…

  Should there be a prize for the best one? There probably should. If you post a Heresy idea (or, ideally, five) include a note about what sort of prize you would like if you had the best idea - value no more than £100. This is radio. Any more than that, and I’d have done the whole fee.






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Bridget Orr at 1:51 pm on February 1st, 2009

“Cheryl Cole is a national treasure”
“Richard Littlejohn is merely telling it like it is”
“Scripted dramas are more ‘quality’ than reality tv”
“Middle-aged women really appreciate Il Divo”
“Emo kids should quit whining and be more like nice middle-class children”

Oh dear.

Victoria Coren at 1:54 pm on February 1st, 2009

Excellent start! Thank you very much xxx. You didn’t say what you’d want as a prize if you had the best idea - you’re 100% winner at the moment… - other posters, do add your potential winner’s requirement if you can think of anything - but otherwise we can always debate that bit afterwards. Meanwhile these are v good, hurray.

MarkP at 2:42 pm on February 1st, 2009

The Beatles are better than Boyzone.
Text speak has ruined grammar.
The Eurovision Song Contest is not to be taken seriously.
Footballers earn too much.
The Internet has enriched our lives.

Carl Greenwood at 3:01 pm on February 1st, 2009

“Soaps aren’t true to life”
“Gay adoption is wrong”
“The vast majority of footballer’s wives are quite stupid”
“People who exist on benefits are a drain on the country”
“The Beckhams are in the spotlight too much”

Rad at 3:07 pm on February 1st, 2009

All the leaders of the Tory party between Thatcher and Cameron were a waste of space.
Even-numbered Star Trek films are the only good ones.
‘Old’ universities have a higher prestige than ‘new’ ones.
Salman Rushdie is a literary genius.
Trinny and Susannah should never have gone to ITV
Richard and Carol were the Countdown dream team
The England manager’s job is a poisoned chalice

... Oh yeah, and a prize.  I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Bridget Orr at 3:21 pm on February 1st, 2009

Me again. I’m actually not sure of what to ask for here - need to wait for other responses.

stephen at 3:59 pm on February 1st, 2009

Hello VC, Hope you’re having a nice sunday.This is my first blog entry, I got your dad’s book for christmas - a very, very good read so far. Here are my suggestions for Heresy:

1- If it wasnt for the Americans in WW2 we would all be speaking German.

2- Focus groups are more hindrance than help.

3- It is automatically easier for the sons/daughters of famous people to get into showbiz.

4- Everyone who wears a Ramones T-shirt has no idea who they are and could not name 5 of there songs if you asked them.

5- People who emigrate to other countries are the first people to moan about immigrants coming into Britain.

I’m not sure what I’d like as a prize, if you did like my suggestions….a signed copy of one of your books would be alright actually. Love Stephen.

James Gray at 4:08 pm on February 1st, 2009

How about ...

“The monarchy is good for tourism”
“Men can’t multitask”
“There’s no real difference between the main political parties”
“Eating a proper breakfast makes you slimmer”
“Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ was better than Alexandra Burke’s”
“Rupert Murdoch wields great political influence”
“There’s not enough for young people to do these days”
“Real ale tastes better than lager”
“Too many people go to university”
“Advertising makes people buy things”
“To be healthy we should eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day”

Could go on all afternoon ....

As for a prize - I’d be happy with tickets to a recording.



Victoria Coren at 4:55 pm on February 1st, 2009

These are excellent! To a poster, you’ve had better ideas than I’ve had so far. Good good good. They’re all going on the list for me to debate with the producer and see what turns out fruitful. Don’t worry to anyone who can’t think of their prize yet - can always be decided when we have a winner (maybe about a week from now, when the thread’s gone quiet?) - and frankly, so far your requests are so far off £100 that there might be several prizes.

Roy Spencer at 4:58 pm on February 1st, 2009

Ties and suits are smarter than jeans and boots
Films are better seen in a cinema than on TV
Some dogs are excellent pets
Singers are better when performing ‘live’ than lip-synching
Broadsheet newspapers are more authoritative than tabloids

I, too would be very happy with a signed book.

Lindsey Crawford at 7:22 pm on February 1st, 2009

Right, I fear that everyone else has already mentioned most of the good ideas but the allure of hearing my own idea being debated on Radio 4 proved too much!

1. George W Bush was the worst ever President of the United States.
2. Meeting a partner on the internet is still “a bit weird.”
3. The Daily Mail is a joke and not a reputable source of news.
4. British cuisine is dull and boring.
5. Britain’s Health and Safety culture has gone too far.
6. The smoking ban was a good thing.
7. The media is now far too geared at youth.
8. Britain only does badly in the Eurovision song contest because of political voting, and not because our song is terrible.
9. Modern comedy tries too hard to be cool.

And lastly, a bit of a weird one, prompted by someone I know (a volunteer at an Oxfam music store) being told twice by customers to switch off a song (on a compilation CD) that had started playing on the in-store music system:

10. People should not play or listen to the music of Gary Glitter because of “what happened.”

As for a prize, I cannot think of one on the spot. Possibly a signed copy of both of your books, VC, as someone else has suggested.

Mark Easton at 8:22 pm on February 1st, 2009

Looks like you’ve got a wealth of ideas already, but here’s a few more to throw into the mix:

* Cheating partners are detrimental to long-tern relationships.

* The breakdown of the traditional family is a social ill.

* Victoria Coren’s a fox.

ian at 8:54 pm on February 1st, 2009

just to say, i thought that what i caught of the last series of the show was excellent - together with Fighting talk on R5, one of the best things on the radio - please please carry on!

- British food is much better now than it was 30 years ago
- The Beijing Olympics were a British triumph
- Becks is much more likable than Posh
- Jeremy Paxman is a much more insightful interviewer than Richard and Judy
- Bankers are overpaid/responsible for getting us into this mess/deserve a good kicking
- women look better in men’s clothing than men do in women’s

any of the above prize suggestions would be great

Martin at 9:01 pm on February 1st, 2009

“President Obama will radically change America”
“The recession is the fault of the bankers”
“The only people that make money from gambling are the bookmakers”
“We wouldn’t survive 5 minutes in the wild without all our technology”

I did think of some more, then realised the series had already covered them, much to my disappointment.

sam at 10:31 pm on February 1st, 2009

1)  Capital punishment has no place in a civilised society.
2)  David Attenborough produces the best nature programming on television.
3)  The weekend should be extended to 3 days.
4)  Supermarkets are unpleasant places to shop.
5)  Large 4x4’s are vehicles ill suited to driving round central london.

Prize - I’d take a transfer to my pokerstars account and the opportunity for a heads-up sit ‘n’ go.

David Young at 10:58 pm on February 1st, 2009

Swimming is the best exercise.

Good sex is all about communication with your partner.

Germans are humourless.

Education, education, education.


Alan Glaum at 11:50 pm on February 1st, 2009

I thought you were an odd choice to take over the series but it did work and the producer seems to agree.
Heresy ideas

Radio 4 is a national institution

Rugby players are better behaved than professional footballers

GM foods are bad for the environment

You should not say ill of the recently dead

The House of Lords is an outdated institution

Local Councilors are self-important nobodies

Supermarkets are ruining British farming

John at 8:54 am on February 2nd, 2009

Rich men think they deserve gorgeous girlfriends.

A comfortable chair will take your mind off a haemorrhoid.

Drinking beer is a pleasure not a hobby.

We can’t be the only planet to have television.

Faceless bureaucrats live in cloud-cuckoo-land.

Four glace cherries and a rhubarb syllabub really should add up to my five-a-day.

If you know the right lawyer you’ll never get a driving ban.

We don’t get value for money from the tax we pay.

(A signed book or a bottle of Blue Nun would be great.)

Roy Spencer at 10:22 am on February 2nd, 2009

A few more:

The removal of apostrophes from street signs is a blow for punctuation

Contacts made on social networking sites are not ‘true’ friends

Fossil fuel use must be curbed as resources are finite

There is too much testing of schoolchildren

The current economic downturn is bad for Britain

Greg Lovett at 1:52 pm on February 2nd, 2009

1. The weather in Tahiti is better than the weather in England
2. The earth is round
3. Winston Churchill was Prime Minister during WWII

If I win, I would like to play you heads-up live in No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em…..first one to win two matches

spidermonkey at 4:17 pm on February 2nd, 2009

+Sex is better without a condom.
+You become more right wing as you get older.
+Biscuits taste better when dunked in tea.
+When in a checkout queue, the person in front of you will inevitably take forever searching for a means of payment.
+Anyone claiming to NEVER watch reality TV is lying.
+One of my best friends at work is Black/Asian/White/East European/Lesbian/Gay/Straight
*delete where applicable.

Prize - As already chosen by someone else, a Pokerstars transfer.

James at 6:58 pm on February 2nd, 2009

“It’s ok to be ripped-off in a charity shop.”

“The name Lembit Opik is weird, even for a Welshman.”

“You can never have too much Piers Morgan on televison.”

Prize? Well, should I be lucky enough to win one, it would have to be a copy of “The Naughty Twins”.  Since reading the book i’ve been wanting to see the film but I’m English and consequently way too repressed to actually buy a copy myself.

Rich G at 7:09 pm on February 2nd, 2009

Just a few:-

* Obesity is a problem in the youth of today

* Exercise is good for you

* The US invasion of Iraq was motivated by oil

Nick at 1:12 am on February 3rd, 2009

We’d be better off without lawyers
Being drunk in public is a bad thing
BBC Four is the BBC’s best TV channel
Diana was better than Camilla
Living under a dictatorship would be a bad thing

I’d go for tickets or the ‘give me money on Pokerstars that I can lose back to you’ suggestion.

Andrew at 6:14 am on February 3rd, 2009

Spam is a bad thing
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
It’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t

and two more to make up my five:
There is something a bit sad about men who play computer games past the age of 30
It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts

Two tickets to the show would be great

Dan at 12:21 pm on February 3rd, 2009

Wikipedia is too unreliable.

Years of NHS reforms have been immensely beneficial to the NHS

It is better to interact in person than online.

Channel 4 is worse now than it was in the eighties.

Channel 5 is better now than when it began.

The rich should pay more tax.

Sod’s law always holds.

Long working hours’ culture is a bad thing.

Shakespeare is the greatest dramatist to have written in English / the greatest figure in English Literature.

We need a new national anthem.

People nowadays are losing their manners / people are more unhappy than they were fifty years ago / we’re all going to hell in a handcart.

A signed photo would be great.

Ian Sealy at 12:51 pm on February 3rd, 2009

Men make the best chefs

Stephen Fry is a national treasure

Schoolchildren do better in smaller classes

It’s better to give than to receive

Footballers are overpaid prima donnas

It’s no longer possible to say the word beaver without someone smirking

The Mona Lisa is a masterpiece

Thanks to blogging, everyone is now a journalist

Only the good die young

The Daily Mail is a newspaper

Addster at 2:50 pm on February 3rd, 2009

Hi Victoria,

Long-time reader, first-time commenter :-)

Here are my five possible topics (apologies if any were used in the previous season):

1. CDs are more popular than records.

2. Professional wrestling is fake.

3. Novels that win awards are worth reading.

4. Neckties serve no useful purpose.


5. A pair of aces is the best possible hand in Texas Hold ‘Em Poker before the flop.

If by some miracle I win a prize, please give it to charity.

Hope the show goes well.

Nick at 2:57 pm on February 3rd, 2009

“You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you”

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”

“Never trust a man who changes football teams”

“Scousers have a great sense of humour”

“Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles, let alone The World”

I don’t know how much of the above could be considered received opinion, but certainly they get right on my nerves whenever I’m confronted with them. Except the Ringo one, which I totally agree with, but understand that it was the better option than having Paul on drums.

I have no illusions about the prize-worthiness of this lot.


Katy Jackson at 7:39 pm on February 3rd, 2009

1. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true

2. Computers have really made my working life a lot faster and easier

3. Cheats never prosper

4. It’s not a mid-life crisis actually - I’m just finding myself

5. Speed cameras contribute a great deal to road safety and are not bright yellow piggy banks in

6. The obseity epidemic is all the government’s fault

7. The journey is better than the destination

I’m a new-ish female poker player, so if I won I’d love a poker lesson from you. I’ll buy the wine

Andy at 7:40 pm on February 3rd, 2009

An old classic, probably already used:

“Hangovers get worse with age”

Michael at 8:41 pm on February 3rd, 2009

1. Seeing things in colour is better than in black and white.
2. Excelling at something is better than being mediocre at lots of things.
3. Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand went a bit too far. (sorry not very topical anymore - how about standards in broadcasting have fallen).
4. Variety is the spice of life.
5. Using political influence for personal gain is unethical.
6. The Germans have no sense of humour.

For a prize I’d like whatever % of you, you think appropriate in any live poker tournament.

PS Why does your blog’s spellchecker speak American!?

Andythe Dealer at 8:51 pm on February 3rd, 2009

1.  Jonathan Ross is paid too much by the BBC.

2. Prawn farming is a disaster.

3. Supermarkets make shopping easier.

4. Politics is still full of sleaze.

5. Englishmen are emotionally repressed.

Should I win a prize a book token would be lovely.

Chloe at 10:03 pm on February 3rd, 2009

“Media sensationalism contributes towards making crises worse than they would be otherwise.”

“Television is too romance-focused.”

Peter H at 10:24 pm on February 3rd, 2009

There’s no smoke without fire.

A shell suit is inappropriate attire for a court appearance.

Being good at the triple jump has no useful application.

Bunking off work to build snowmen is a ‘return to innocence’ and not a disciplinary matter.

Stevie Wonder will never get his eyes fixed. 

Elton John has a temper.

The C word is the ‘worst’ swear word. 

One can trust John Snow.

Jeremy Kyle is a sore on the dayglo face of morning television. 

Builders only read tabloids.

Kind of scraped the barrel a bit.  Not sure I get it.

Good luck with the show.

Victoria Coren at 12:12 am on February 4th, 2009

Stop, stop! At this point, I think I must declare the competition closed, and edit the original appeal to reflect as much. The only reason for that is: I am now sensing there had better be several prizes, and if there are any more brilliant suggestions then I won’t be able to afford it.

  Thank you all SO MUCH. We’ve got enough topics here to make several series. You’re all so good at this! Lots of the ideas have made me laugh, lots of them have great scope for debate, some of them are just silly but I love them anyway. The series may end up being composed entirely from topics listed here.

  I shall put a list together and pick, hmm, I should think five or six prize-winners (it would be 20+, but postage is so expensive these days). Have a look back in a few days; by the end of the week, I’ll put up a list of the prize-winners and they’ll all get an email asking for their postal address for the spoils. If anybody used an email address for their original post which is not a real one, they’d better… well, hang on until the list of prize-winners goes up. If you’re on there, you’ll have to let us know if you have a different “real” email address.

  So, give me a few days to put 20 names in a hat and pull out five. Shall report back. And thanks all, very much indeed.

VC x

R at 6:24 pm on February 4th, 2009

A missed deadline, yet again ... damn.

That was a speedy competition, though!?!

Should I shred my made notes? Maybe I should, yes. The producer would probably not ..... understand .. them. I did not hesitate for no reason to send them in, as I was truly confused about my findings.

Oh World ....

Ian at 12:04 pm on February 6th, 2009

Know I’m past the deadline but how about

Life is not fair….

Justin nelson at 6:58 pm on February 8th, 2009

I logged on to comment on your Observer article today (Sunday 8 Feb 2009) - brilliant item - well written (of course!) but also very insightful. Thanks!!

Have to say: blogsite NOT so good - I found it difficult to navigate, but that may be due to using an Asus ...

Victoria Coren

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