Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

OC/UC special

Monday, 29 April 2013

This blog was first posted a couple of years ago but, since the Only Connect / University Challenge special is being repeated tonight on BBC Two (terrestrial TV! Get us!) I thought I would publish it again…

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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Tom at 9:04 am on April 30th, 2013

Hi Victoria,  really enjoyed the special last night and good to see you on bbc 2, hopefully that’ll lead to a few more viewers!
Excuse the cheek for asking but it is a close freinds 30th birthday in a week and he holds you in the highest esteem… I was wandering if there was any way of sending him a personal birthday wish/autograph as it would make his year! happy to cover cost of postage & inconvenience and I know it must be a pain and you must get asked all the time but he’s a great admirer.  Totally understand if not. Keep up the excellent quizhostery!

Clive at 3:39 pm on April 30th, 2013

That Benedict Cumberbatch has got a lot to answer for.

Victoria Coren at 5:35 pm on April 30th, 2013

Hi Tom. That’s a nice idea but I don’t think there’s time - I’m away next week for the Monte Carlo EPT. You could try contacting Phoebe Mitchell via the contacts page and seeing if you can get an address to send her a card with a S.A.E. but it would have to arrive with her by Thursday, for me to have a chance of sending it back to you. Otherwise, just wish him a happy birthday from me! Best wishes, Victoria.

Glenn at 11:36 am on May 1st, 2013

Hi Victoria, not sure how to send you an email with a question which does not relate to this article? If you have a way of emailing my address is [EDITED]

Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,



Tom at 6:28 pm on May 1st, 2013

Thank you Victoria, very considerate of you to reply so quick, especially to such a “want”.
I’ll quickly ping phoebe but if timings dont work no problem at all and a screenshot of your birthday wishes will make his year!!
Thanks very much again and best of luck in Monte Carlo, Tom will cross his fingers, toes and all for you ;-)

Michael at 9:40 pm on May 2nd, 2013

Victoria, this is starting to get a bit creepy!

Clive at 8:12 am on May 3rd, 2013

A bit creepy? You’re just miffed that you didn’t think of it first!

Ms Coren doesn’t usually send out signed photos; however her knickers go on ebay quite regularly - I have put in many a successful bid myself.

Mind you, she goes under Vickie Koren, and the picture looks nothing like her now I think about it, but it’s not bad value for around £100 a go, cheap at half the price. Mind you, surprised to find it’s Primark rubbish but you can’t have everything.

The Tim at 11:14 pm on May 3rd, 2013

Really looking forward to the next series of OC - thought we’d have to wait until the Autumn.

Clive at 5:45 pm on May 5th, 2013

But hold up - why no mention of your Question Time last week, with the splendidly splenetic David Starkey on top form? Worth the licence fee all by himself.

Forgive me, but as the show progressed I imagined him as a character in an Eric Stanton cartoon (Google it, but not at work) where the domineering bully finally meets his match at the hands of Harriet Harmon and Vicky herself, who take it upon themselves to subjugate him as he begs for mercy.

Mind you, you did ramble on a bit with the Primark question VC…

Leon at 1:18 pm on May 7th, 2013

English is not my first language, so excuse my ignorance on this one, but the phrase ‘cheap at half the price’ is bizarre, isn’t it?

James at 4:26 pm on May 7th, 2013

Hello Victoria,

So glad to see you even more on the telly these days! I am not a stalker or anything, don’t worry, but I wish you continued success in everything you do. I think you are the ultimate combination of intelligence and sublime beauty - and you play Poker too!! Wow, you are the perfect woman me thinks.

Much love,

James :-)

john at 6:48 pm on May 7th, 2013

Well, I for one and literally on the edge of my seat waiting for this new series. I expect Tim, Clive and Tom will be watching as well. Along with Josh Scott (see above) if he can find a window in hs busy schedule as Britain’s top Jeffery Dahmer impersonator.

Clive at 10:12 am on May 9th, 2013

Hi Leon, yes ‘cheap at half the price’ is bizarre; I think Paul Merton did a riff on it on HIGNFY once. The phrase made sense to me once, then I lost it. Or was that a question for Vicky and her dictionary-oriented side?

Also apropos of nothing, GQ is a damned good read.

Clive at 4:48 pm on May 10th, 2013

Jeffrey Dahmer, hmm, that’s not a good thing is it? Or was he the one with The Specials?

I may watch this, but as lovely as Vicky is, there’s no getting away from the fact that if you start typing her name into Google, it comes up with ‘Victoria sponge’ which surely proves that gluttony trumps lust any day of the week…

Tim Spring at 3:49 am on June 11th, 2013

“It’s cheap at half the price” is a deliberate (for humour/irony) mis-quotation of “It’s cheap at twice the price”.

Victoria Coren

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