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Sam Quek, Paddy McGuinness and Ugo Monye on A Question of Sport.
Sam Quek, Paddy McGuinness and Ugo Monye on A Question of Sport. Photograph: James Stack/BBC
Sam Quek, Paddy McGuinness and Ugo Monye on A Question of Sport. Photograph: James Stack/BBC

A Question of Sport review – vapid BBC reboot is a total howler

The Paddy McGuinness-fronted ‘revamp’ of the quiz series feels like an attempt to neutralise Sky’s A League of Their Own. Viewers will surely chant “you don’t know what you’re doing!”

For some time during its initial 51-year run, A Question of Sport (BBC One) had a round called What Happened Next?, which saw footage from a game freeze-framed, and the ex-players on the panel asked to predict the outcome. It was usually a dog or a streaker running on, or the ball bouncing off the ref into the net.

In future quizzes on TV, panellists may find it hard to believe that, when Sue Barker was dropped as presenter of A Question of Sport after 24 years, what happened next was that comedian and dating show host Paddy McGuinness moved into her chair. After Barker, David Coleman and David Vine, this is the first time the show has been fronted by someone who isn’t a serving BBC sports broadcaster.

The ghost in the studio is A League of Their Own (the imitation Sky show with far more tolerance of “balls” as an innuendo), which has been running just behind the shoulder of the BBC veteran for a decade, threatening to sprint past in its spikier shoes.

This reboot feels like a tactical attempt to neutralise the rival, which puts a comic (James Corden/Romesh Ranganathan) up front, with others (Jack Whitehall, Jimmy Carr) on the wings. But once the BBC decided to go comedy-entertainment rather than journalism-sport, it faced the problem of the competitor already fielding the most obvious choices.

Ranganathan and Whitehall were surely on the BBC wishlist, while Andrew Flintoff – a rare combination of sports star and primetime TV host – is also signed to the Sky franchise. McGuinness, as it happens, is a teammate of Flintoff’s at Top Gear. It feels like one of those cases where a club, unable to buy its No 1 target, settles for an understudy from the same squad.

Transfers and team selection are a key part of sport, and McGuinness – despite decent enough performances elsewhere (especially on Take Me Out) – will have fans shaking their heads at whatever made a manager think he would fit into this lineup.

The balance of the team feels off. McGuinness, who has telling moments of apologising that the script or format need more work, introduces the Olympic hockey gold medallist Sam Quek as “the first ever female captain” on the show. The producers leave in the audience applause for this virtue advertisement. Yet with former rugby union international Ugo Monye as the other captain and Barker replaced by McGuinness, there is still only one woman in the top trio, as has been the case for the past quarter of a century.

Quek and Monye make confident debuts – engaging, witty, knowledgable – but this only increases the feeling that they could have cut it as presenters. Or, if the casting had come after the Tokyo Olympics – which provides panellists here including weightlifting silver medallist Emily Campbell and gold-winning diver Matty Lee – then Alex Scott or Gabby Logan might have been rewarded for their on-screen performances there?

It wasn’t clear in the opening edition what McGuinness was bringing to the desk; despite his credentials, he was not notably more showbiz or jokey than Clive Myrie, the new signing for another BBC longtimer, Mastermind.

Unlike that show, which has been rebooted largely intact except for new hands holding the question cards, AQOS has changed markedly. Following the Sky model, the captains come out from behind the desks more. There’s a game involving straddling a map of the UK to stand on the region holding the answer, but there’s a lot of leeway – you can wrongly answer “London” and win for “Northampton”.

After 16 of the 29 minutes, there’s also now a half-time break, for a filmed insert in which Quek and Monye do sporting challenges. First up, trampolining. This was the best innovation, but, ominously, suggested the seed of a separate spin-off (or even replacement) series, in the style of the intra-sports competition Superstars from the 70s and 80s.

This revamp may tempt many longtime fans to shout at BBC executives the anti-referee chant from the football terraces: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

The target, clearly, is new audiences. But is this the way to get them? After the BBC’s role in promoting The Hundred, which is cricket for people who don’t like cricket, the plan now seems to be to attract a non-sporting audience to A Question of Sport. How long before a satanist hosts Songs of Praise?

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