Uranium To Spare

I haven’t watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire regularly for quite some time; I preferred it when it was on every night for a fortnight or so, and everybody watched it and talked about it the next day. Nowadays it is just another quiz show.

So I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself watching it yesterday; and I was even more surprised when Alistair Campbell and his partner Fiona Millar turned up as contestants. Regular readers of this blog will know that Campbell is something of a bete-noir of mine, so I was interested to see how they would fare.

What was initially noticeable was just how nervous Campbell seemed; he was grinning uncertainly throughout the first few questions, a bit like a Cheshire cat trying to gauge the mood of the audience. Perhaps he was aware that he was in a position to get his fingers burned, like his boss Tony Blair seems to have done by appearing on just about every TV programme under the sun last week.

But it really got interesting when he was asked a question that went something like “Finish the title of the following television programme; ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You With…’” An easy enough question you would think? The programme makers obviously thought so, which is why it was only a £2000 question, or thereabouts. But Campbell and Millar were completely stumped; they started muttering something about ABBA, but they really had no clue at all.

Now this is fine I guess; I don’t expect everyone to have the same knowledge of sit-coms that I do. But isn’t it amazing that two prominent figures – one who was Labour’s director of communications, the other the former adviser to Cherie Blair – are apparantly unaware of a landmark television programme that ruthlessly mocked the pretence and pretensions of the media? Is it any wonder, then, that when Blair cranks the cheesy insincerity up to 11, Campbell is unable to tell him how stupid and Alan Partridge-like he seems?

In the end they asked the audience, and 91% gave the correct answer; an indication of just how out of touch the contestants are.

But worse was to come. A few questions later the duo were asked “Which country launched the Skylab space station in 1973?” with the options of Great Britain, France, the USA and Russia. Again, an easy question? Perhaps; but even if you don’t know the answer, there is surely only one guess you could reasonably make, isn’t there? I mean, Skylab doesn’t sound very Russian does it, and the British and French space agencies have done very little individually, whilst their most famous collective effort is currently littering the Martian landscape.

Well, apparently it isn’t that straight forward. Campbell and Millar ummed and arred, they thought and re-thought, they just didn’t know, and couldn’t even make an educated guess. To compound the offence, Millar wondered out loud “what year was the Apollo moon landing,” to which Campbell replied, “oh, 1970-something I think.”

1970-something? For Christ’s sake; doesn’t everyone know it was 1969? No pub quiz in the land would demean itself by asking when man first stepped on the moon; neither would any school quiz. It was, quite frankly, an astonishing display of ignorance.

Well, it barely matters what happened next I suppose. Our heroes got it into their heads that the most likely answer was Britain, but they asked a friend (no, not Tony) who thought it could be France. They went 50/50, and were astonished when Britain and Russia were eliminated, making it a straight choice between the United States (who have been responsible for the first space walk, the moon landings, the space shuttle) and France (their Ariane rockets enable us to watch satellite telly).

They went for France, and that was the end of their stay on the programme. £1000 went to charity though, so it’s not all bad news.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised at the fallibility of those who seek to rule us, but it is scary to think that Campbell was, at one time, probably the second most powerful man in the country. He still has the ear of the Prime Minister, and remains hugely influential within Blair’s cabal. If such people don’t even know in which year Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, then no wonder they don’t know if there were any WMD in Iraq, or anything else for that matter; yet these are the very people who make wide ranging decisions on our behalf. I was laughing when I watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire last night, but the more I think about it, it really isn’t a laughing matter.