One of Private Eye’s more sanctimonious regular features is “Dumb Britain” – a record of stupid answers given by quiz contestants on telly/radio. Not withstanding the fact that Family Fortunes has been providing such wonders for years (“Name something red” “My cardigan” being my favourite), the implication is that we as a country – or at least the proles who descend to appearing on telly quiz shows – are getting stupider. Because our education system is going to hell in a handbasket of course. Comprehensive education is to blame. etc

Just to ram this point home the current issue has a “Dumb Britain Extra” that contrasts the questions from the two generations of Ask The Family.

Robert Robinson: Which of these calculations gives the same answer: 1/2 x 1/3, 1/2 + 1/3, 1/2 – 1/3, 1/2 ÷ 1/3
Dick n Dom: What breeds of dog do you have to cross to get a Labradoodle?

Ha ha, so so stupid – everyone was so much cleverer when watching ITV was rightly frowned upon and brown and orange were the only colours you were allowed to wear if you went on a BBC quiz.

What’s curious about the implied criticism is how badly aimed it is. More astute sanctimony would have noted that the 70s/80s show did not feature a final round where the family have to eat large cream cakes as quickly as possible to win the game. Unless my memory really is playing tricks on me. Worse still D&D explicity compare the shows by having a round of two questions from the old show on VT. Point being that the old questions and the question-master are self-evidently both demented and fabulously dull. In a bad way. It’s not just the “ha, ha, the past was funny” (though it is of course), Robert Robinson’s burbling is actually a cause for concern. Worse still, the modern families get the questions right as often as the old families do. There was even one stunning example about football strips where the question was contemporary for the old quiz, but the modern-day Dad still got it spot on.

Ask The Family was then, and is now, a very cheap filler show. I watched the old show when I was 9, and I’m watching the new show now I’m in my 30s, but this time I’m enjoying it because Dick & Dom are, no strings, great TV entertainers. The faint Reithian whiff of “educate and entertain” about the old show was a nonsense. What educational value is there in marvelling at the clever kid who got the 1/2 x 1/3 question right? Conversly, what entertainment do you get sitting through the minute of them working it out for themselves? “Labradoodle” was a question that took up seconds of the show (in a quickfire round) and was, in a very real sense, “just a bit of fun”.

Dick & Dom are not the new Ant & Dec. D&D have the potential to be (and often already are) a lot funnier than A&D were, and their humour is more Vic & Bob in its delight in the arbitrary and just plain silly. The regular characters remind me of the regulars on Big Night Out. The “old Ask The Family questions on VT” round is hosted by a James/Lauren Harries*-type character, complete with bubble-perm blonde wig. Piggy Cowell is a knitted pig that thinks it is (and sounds like) Simon Cowell – he pops up to advise D&D about a great new reality telly idea, and is usually cut short by Piggy doing a double-take on Dick eating something. Upon learning that it is indeed a “bacon sandwich” or “pork sausage” or “ham sandwich” or “pie… with PIG in it”, Piggy feints on the spot and the show carries on. The voice of the scores “HA HA HA… RUBBISH!” is equally random in it’s pronouncements, and I’m pretty sure is the cat from “In Da Bungalow” who reported back on his trips to places like Rye, Rochester and Sandwich, picking out unimportant civic buildings and chip shops. Bring on the man with the stick.

Anyone left hankering for more of the “1/2 x 1/3…” questions are referred to BBC4’s Mind Games – a more boring game show I have yet to imagine, who’s viewing figures must be in the low teens. Mind Games regularly trots out Chicken/Fox/Corn/river-crossing type “puzzlers” that if you know them you know them, but the contestants here are obliged to scratch their heads before feigning interest in coming up with the right answer. Not an argument for switching to digital.

*Lauren Harries (and family) were the topic of this old Keith Allen doc