Toby Young's Week

Into the Ambush
Feb. 14 2002 2:59 PM

Toby Young's Week

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Finally, I've arrived. After struggling in the wilderness for 38 years, I'm at last going to receive some recognition. Tonight, I'm going to receive the highest honour British society has to bestow: I'm going to appear on The Weakest Link. Now, I know that any Tom, Dick, or Harry can appear on The Weakest Link provided they send in the application form often enough, but this is a special writers' edition of the programme. I'm going to be appearing alongside Jilly Cooper, Andrew Morton, Lisa Jewell, Don Hale, Patrick Neate, Tony Hawks, and Sue MacGregor, which is a fairly distinguished line-up. Indeed, the producers only contacted me at the last minute, so I suspect they called every writer in Britain before they finally got around to me. Presumably, most of them told the producers to take a running jump, convinced it was a set-up. It took the poor girl who phoned me a good 45 minutes to persuade me she wasn't an undercover journalist. Indeed, for all I know, she was lying through her teeth and when I turn up at Pinewood Studios tomorrow afternoon there'll be a Punch photographer waiting to ambush me.

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The question I've been wrestling with, assuming it's the real deal, is whether to take on Anne Robinson at her own game. Naturally, I'm tempted to engage her in a battle of wits, because it would be so glorious to get the better of her on national television. On the other hand, if she gets the better of me, that would be incredibly humiliating. Of course, even if I do come out on top there's no guarantee that my moment of glory will make the final cut. The programme isn't going to be broadcast for at least another six weeks, and no doubt Anne Robinson herself oversees the editing process. Indeed, this may be why no one on the show has ever bested the sharp-tongued hostess, at least not on the version of it we see on television.

My wife, who's much wiser than me, is adamant that I should be as humble and self-deprecating as possible. She says that whenever someone tries to lock horns with Robinson they always come off looking like an idiot. I'm sure she's right. Quiz shows are like chat shows: The audience takes its cue from the reactions of the host. If they find you charming, the audience will too, but if they want to humiliate you all they have to do is raise their eyes or shoot the camera a sceptical look. The guests are entirely at their mercy. In this respect, appearing on The Weakest Link isn't a million miles away from what I imagine attending one of Princess Margaret's dinner parties was like.

The other worry, of course, is that I won't be able to answer any of the questions. I watched it on Wednesday afternoon to prepare myself and I could barely answer a single one. My God they were hard! Here's an example: "What's the biggest planet in our solar system?" I would have said the sun, which is wrong, apparently, since the correct answer was Jupiter. To add to my humiliation, the questions on this particular edition of The Weakest Link are going to have a literary theme. I'm bound to get them all wrong. Indeed, when the programme is broadcast, my appalling ignorance will probably be singled out by various leader-writers as evidence of declining standards in British education: "How can a published writer not know who the author of Jane Eyre is? It beggars belief. What's the country coming to?"

Oh Christ! What have I let myself in for? I'm beginning to wish that the whole thing is a hoax. Pray for me.

Toby Young is the author How To Lose Friends and Alienate People.

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