Richard Whiteley Unbriefed (BBC1, 1999)
One of the people who I recently featured in my Game Show Stars series was Richard Whiteley, and this piece was rather well received, so I thought that I would take a look back at one of the more curious moments of his career, and I do vaguely remember this from the time. Not being in the Yorkshire region, I never got to see Richard host Calendar, where I presumed he interviewed various people in the news.
He would need all of his interviewing skills for this one. This was an idea that started out as a stage show, before transferring to TV for a one-off. With Richard Whiteley Unbriefed, he managed to fulfil an ambition to have his own show on the BBC, and when he walked out on to the stage, a band played, and an audience applauded, what more could you want.
For chat shows, the hosts take time to research their guests so they know what the right questions are to ask. But for this show, Richard would not know who the guests were going to be in advance, and he’d have no script or autocue either, so he would simply have to ask them questions based on what he already knew about them… if he knew who they were at all! The guests would not come on totally blind though, as he would be given a few clues to who they would be.
These would be provided by Clare “Altered Images” Grogan for some reason, we would also see the guests in silhouette, they would even hold up a card saying what they were famous for, oh come on, you must know who it is by now. The first guest turned out to be Stephen Fry, Richard was rather surprised by this high-profile name, and he seemed to spend the first minute of the interview going “oh… yes… Stephen Fry… now… right… Stephen Fry”.
Although this was around the time when Stephen did seem to be a regular on the chat show circuit, because people liked to listen to him, he could be trusted to tell an amusing anecdote or two, and well, it gets you on the TV, doesn’t it. Other guests included the bloke who was in M People who was on Never Mind The Buzzcocks all the time, who baffled Richard somewhat, and Pauline McLynn, who said she was famous for being a “tealady”. Yes, very good.
The only edition of Richard Whiteley Unbriefed was shown fairly late at night rather quietly after the Eurovision Song Contest, and clearly wasn’t a big budget affair. I thought it was a shame that this didn’t get a full series, as I think that with two or three good guests in every show, and Richard interacting with them, this could’ve worked. After this, Richard returned to the much more familiar world of Countdown.