Called my bluff

Friday 28th October 2011

1996 saw Bob Holness take over as chair, with Alan Coren and Sandi Toksvig as team captains. I joined the Call My Bluff writing team the following year, contributing 1,593 ‘suggested scripts’.

As time went on, deadlines became shorter and the task of trying to outwit the captains more and more difficult. You knew they’d get it immediately, however cunning your linguistic acrobatics. Best you could hope for was your words coming up when the guest panellists had to choose the correct definition.

Actors were reliable. They’d often repeat what was written almost word for word. With other guests, the ego – or, occasionally, thankfully, the lack of it – would dictate whether or not they tried to be even cleverer than you, the clever-clogs scriptwriter.

I still can’t quite forgive the athlete who changed not only the text, but also the meaning of one word, leading to two definitions sounding ridiculously similar and confusion among both contestants and audience. You stick to throwing javelins, please, and let me do my job.

“I’m sorry if I’ve mucked about with your scripts,” Alan often told me: his way of apologising for having had a better idea.

Sandi and he went into recordings only with notes that would have fitted easily on a beer-mat. Both had an intuitive respect: for each other, for the audience, and for the game itself. Not to mention their wit and wisdom.

I’d usually sneak into the back of the studio, watch the start, and head for the green room. Monitors in many parts of the building showed live coverage.

Once, heading for the gents, I stopped for a quick chat with one of staff in the corridor outside the studio.

“Swapped shifts to get to do this. My favourite programme. And you?”

“Scriptwriter. That’s mine. Teguryon.” I pointed to the screen above the door. “She’s bluffing. It means, er… wasted effort, or pointless exercise. You’ll see.”

On my way back, he grinned a reply.

“Ah! You were wrong. It’s a canopy over a tomb. Are you sure you’re one of the writers?”



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