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I love Child Genius... it celebrates these smart kids, and tells them it's OK to be smart; As Child Genius returns to Channel 4, ELLA WALKER catches up with quizmaster Richard Osman about how being clever can be cool, and why he'll always love his Pointless co-host, Alexander Armstrong PICK OF THE WEEK CHILD GENIUS Monday, Channel 4, 8pm.


WE'RE arguing over the relevancy of Jaffa cakes and chocolate fingers. TV presenter and producer Richard Osman has a very strong idea on what constitutes a chocolate bar and what makes a biscuit a biscuit, and apparently most of us don't know where to draw the line between the two (don't get him started on Penguins).

He did organise the World Cup of Biscuits for Comic Relief this year (winner: the chocolate digestive - "I would have got into such trouble if Jaffa cakes had won, my life wouldn't have been worth living"), following his 2016 Twitter-led World Cup of Crisps (winner: Pickled Onion Monster Munch) so perhaps we should trust his judgement.

The Pointless co-host is currently turning his attention from snack food to quizzes as question master on the fourth series of Channel 4's docuquiz Child Genius. Run in association with British Mensa, the show is a chance for super-bright seven to 12-year-olds to compete to be crowned the UK's "child genius".

"It is quite uncool to be clever.

Certainly around the age of 10, 11, 12, it becomes really uncool, and that's what I love about this show," says Richard, 46, "it celebrates these smart kids, and tells them it's OK to be smart. I like the way it makes them heroes."

The kids, in front of a studio audience filled with their families, are tested on spelling, definitions, general knowledge and individual specialist subjects.

"I want the kids to know I'm entirely on their side and I'm not Paxman," says Billericay-born Richard, who feels the pressure as much as the kids when it comes to pronouncing the words they have to spell. "The last thing I want to do is mess up."

He explains how awe-inspiring it is watching the kids go through a stressful few minutes being quizzed, and then breaking into smiles at the end.

"You think 'Yeah, that's what life is'. And I was wowed by how they looked after each other, which I thought was incredible, and how much they wanted each other to do well, in a way you wouldn't have got on an adult quiz.

"It was really lovely; there was a sense that they'd found their people."

Aside from the sheer intelligence on show from the kids, the parentchild relationships involved are also fascinating, particularly who's pushing who to compete.

"Most of the parents are taken aback that their child is so clever, and they're along for the ride. I find that very funny. It's charming - and the kids have put themselves forward," explains Richard.

"There are some family units where it's like, 'I can tell you all share the same genes because, mum, you're desperate to win; dad, you're desperate to win; child, you're desperate to win', and you can see them geeing each other up.

"You think, 'Blimey, that's an unusual atmosphere', but there's a million different ways to bring up your kids, that's the truth - there's a million different ways to be successful and happy."

Richard doesn't consider himself remotely pushy ("unless wanting your child to be happy is pushiness") and says that, when it comes to his two children, "you can't tell them to go to bed, let alone take part in a competitive TV quiz".

However, he doesn't think kids being under pressure to perform, on telly or otherwise, is necessarily a cause for concern.

"Sometimes, we think you mustn't ever put children under any pressure whatsoever, but kids are much more resilient than adults. Every child on this show is competitive - I don't think that's a bad thing."

Richard is as obsessed with sport as he is with quizzes, and, as far as he's concerned, quizzes are sport - it's just "competitive question answering". He says: "I loved taking part in things (at school). I was always rubbish at football, but I was OK at quizzes."

In fact, he's built a career on them, from producing 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, in his day job as creative director at TV production company Endemol, to co-hosting teatime BBC quiz show Pointless, with Alexander Armstrong.

The duo were contemporaries while students at Cambridge, but only got to know one another once they'd both graduated and were working in TV.

"We're both quite different as human beings, but we're both quite amateurish. Neither of us is slick, and we both really, really like making each other laugh, and that's key."

Richard pictured co-host Alexander " Richard adds that, despite the huge amount of time they spend together (the Pointless filming schedule is gruelling), they've "never had an argument, never even a cross word".

"I endlessly take the mick out of him, I endlessly tell him (actor and comedian - and Alexander's former comedy partner) Ben Miller's more talented than him - I'm horrible to him all the time, but he takes it all in good part. I adore him."

Richard adores Pointless, too, even though he doesn't take in much of the knowledge the duo dispenses. "I think 'I must be learning stuff, I must be getting cleverer', but I don't - I think my brain got full at about 38, and nothing else has gone in since."

However, even though many people think it's all he does, he admits with a laugh that he couldn't "live a life just doing Pointless, I need other things".

As a producer, it's his job to "watch too much telly" - this year he's been addicted to Line Of Duty, Ant And Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, The Repair Shop and Gogglebox, of which he says he thought from the first episode: "This with Pointless Armstrong is going to run forever - as a producer, I did have a twinge of jealousy."

Richard's adamant, however, that all he's focused on next is getting "on with the day job, sitting in my office coming up with TV shows and enjoying that, and trying not to be on TV all the time".

We've still got our hopes up for the World Cup of Sweets, though.


Richard pictured with Pointless co-host Alexander Armstrong

Child Genius quizmaster Richard Osman
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 12, 2017
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