From St Pancras, I took the Thames Link to Elstree. A 10 minute walk through the town centre – or was it Borehamwood’s centre? – led me to the famous Elstree TV and film studios where a small queue had already formed. After a short while the gate was opened and we were led into a function room (think wedding discos) and allocated sequence numbers for studio entry.
We waited about 45 mins before we went into the studio itself, grouped by our priority numbers and managed by the floor manager (I suppose he was). Once leaving the back of the function room, a short corridor with life size models of R2D2 and C3PO led us to the semi-outdoors, with many portacabins and other buildings housing recording equipment, in between bigger studio buildings. I had a big excited smile in anticipation, having been really enjoying the show for the past few months.
And then we were inside quite a small studio. It’s less flashy than on TV, almost looking lacklustre and even a bit grubby. I noticed many contrasts with how it looks on the telly, especially the big pixels of the countdown stack thing, the black floor vinyl that looks so much liquid, and the lingering dry ice for the backdrop lighting. Also everyone looked less glamorous than on camera; the lighting and the angles set up for the cameras not the audience.
I was seated in the front row, about 6 meters from Richard’s desk and a couple more from Alexander’s podium thing. We were told explicitly No Photography or recording but I couldn’t resist a few surreptitious shots taken from my lap before filming began. Views from the front row:
A warm up guy got us laughing and livened up, and led us through different levels of applause: 30% polite applause, 70% more enthusiastic, 100% full on clapping, whooping and yeahs. Also fun was the audience sounds for the countdown ticking down towards pointless. The front rows had to be in a lower key than the back rows: oooooOOOOOOOOOOOOh! – into applause when it stopped. You can hear this oooh on TV but low in the mix.
The warm up guy then introduced Alexander Armstrong who came on to big applause, then same too for Richard. This wasn’t the start of the show, more like acknowledging their arrival in the studio, but they both said some words of welcome to us, including that it was their 800-and-something episode. Then they prepared their things – mic adjustments, while other technicians made final adjustments. I saw an oversized Pointless trophy and wondered what that was, along with a Blankety Blank chequebook & pen and a Countdown clock. It was announced that it would be a Pointless Celebrity filming and the contestants were named: Nina Myskow & Giles Brandreth; Matthew Kelly & Henry Kelly; Des O’Connor & Jenny Powell; and Nick Hancock and Ulrika Johnson. The guest theme was game shows.
There was some more, quite dry, jokey warmups and quite soon after the celebs were in the studio, the show began. The theme tune played and A & R tapped along on their podium and desk. I was surprised to hear it, but I guess it was just for us in the studio, to provide more atmosphere and familiarity. I could feel the nerves in the room, but it faded as the hosts and contestants got into their stride. Well, except for the 200-club entry in the first round.
Recording proceeded much like on TV but took a couple of hours in total – there’s much more celebrity chat than you actually see, more time to think about answers, and a delay before the countdown begins and sometimes a delay before a wrong answer indication. There were also pauses in between the rounds, while the warm up guy a bit half heartedly kept people amused and those on set had their make up touched up and quiet conversations and catch-ups took place. A & R talked to the producer, I guess. Also sometimes A had to do little continuity pickups to be edited in.
Near the end, we did to audience shots to be patched in as needed. So when you see the audience on TV, that’s not actually in response to what’s just happened, it’s filmed separately. But all the audio is actual, probably faded down or up accordingly.
It was much harder to get into the actual consequences of the game while there live, like the actual quiz didn’t really matter and everyone was just having a bit of a laugh making the show. Richard mainly took the piss, but cleverly and with warmth. Alexander was more nervous than he comes across on TV but he has a smooth assuredness about him. They have to cut so much out! More I suspect with the celebrity shows as there’s a lot of mickey taking, as is the British way. Richard enjoyed giving out a prize to the winners of each round, mascots from other quiz shows that I’d seen earlier. During each round he hid them behind his laptop. The laptop is not on, by the way, it’s just a prop.
Then at around 19:45 it was all over and we were ushered out. Alexander said thank you to us all. I asked a studio manager if that was it for the day for them, any more episodes? All done, he said. They are currently filming a sequence of Celebrity versions for 2015, apparently. Readying the set for the next episode:
Sorry about the blurry photos, I had to be quick and sneaky. I was spotted at one point but they let it go. A fun and interesting experience, but probably pointless, for fans of the show. And free!