Morpheus on… “Qi” …Exit Fry, Enter Toksvig

Yes, after thirteen years and with the first half of the alphabet done and dusted, Mr Stephen Fry has stepped down from the Qi Chair, to be replaced by Ms Sandi Toksvig.

Qi was first envisaged as a radio panel show, with its creator – writer-producer John Lloyd – in the Chair. However, this never happened and John hawked the show around the Beeb for a while, eventually getting a pilot booked with Michael Palin in the Chair and two teams – Cleverclogs and Dunderheads – featuring one regular panellist and one guest in each.

The Cleverclogs were to have been Fry and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, with Alan Davies and Bill Bailey as the Dunderheads.

But then something happened which turned out to be CRUCIAL to the programme’s success. At the last minute, Palin backed out and Lloyd moved Fry into the Chair and whisked Eddie Izzard in to replace him as a panellist.

And the reason this was crucial was that immediately, in that pilot, Alan Davies and Stephen Fry BONDED – establishing a relationship in which Fry was the classically-educated Teacher with Davies as the Class Clown/Unruly Schoolboy.

Which proved to be the driving force of the show.

And John Lloyd NEEDED the show to be a success. Back in the Seventies, as a BBC radio producer, he had been largely responsible for The News Quiz (of which, more later) The News Huddlines and many others – leading up to the radio version of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, created by his friend and some-time flat-mate, Douglas Adams.

Then, when Hitchhiker’s transferred to TV, he had dominated the Eighties TV scene with shows like Not The Nine O’clock News, Spitting Image, the Blackadder series and Have I Got News For You.

This last was again to have featured Lloyd in the Chair – but that never happened either. One day, John!

Anyhoo, after two decades at the top, Lloyd’s star unaccountably SLIPPED during the Nineties – despite his earlier successes, he could NOT get anything MADE.

Thus Qi’s success was CRITICAL for him. And fortunately, he immediately saw the potential in Fry and Davies’ connection and DUMPED the idea of Cleverclogs and Dunderheads. The pilot was never aired (although it can be viewed on YouTube) but the show began shortly after, with Fry in the Chair, Davies heading up the team to Fry’s right – and guests occupying all three remaining positions.

And this “lop-sided” arrangement has continued ever since – a thirteen-year triumph which would likely not have happened, had Lloyd returned to the originally-intended format.

However, CHANGE is now upon us. Each series (season) of the show has (loosely) featured a LETTER. Thus the first series was called Series A – the next, Series B and so on (the American film and TV service IMDb can NOT get its collective head around that and insists on detailing the series as Seasons 1, 2 and so on!)

And with the last series/season having been “M” – the programme has essentially reached a half-way point. Thus it is that Stephen has decided it is now time to “move on” – one assumes amicably.

Enter Sandi Toksvig. She was a natural choice for the vacant Chair, having known Lloyd since their Cambridge Footlights days – and having Chaired The News Quiz (I told you) for nine years. Last year, she reluctantly left that Chair to pursue a part-time career in POLITICS; continuing to Chair a topical satirical quiz would clearly have been a MAJOR conflict of interests.

But with Qi, there is no such conflict. Therefore, it is the dream job. And she may well see it through to the END.

I mean, Stephen has helmed the show for thirteen years – and Sandi will probably only have to do eleven (X, Y and Z are bound to be truncated into one season). She will then be 69 – then again, Nic Parsons is still Chairing Just A Minute at NINETY-TWO (he and it will be celebrating their half-centenary together, late next year).

And as for Alan; he approached John, offering to stand down with Stephen, in order to give Sandi a “clean slate” – but John declined his offer; so Alan will remain, at least for now.

Which leaves us with a fairly rosy prospect; how Alan’s relationship with Sandi will pan out is anyone’s guess – but SHE SHOULD BE FINE. Nine years of Chairing The News Quiz and decades of experience on a myriad of other panel shows (including Qi itself) means she is hardly short on experience (albeshe in stature).

And while she may not QUITE be one of “Britain’s Treasures” (in any case, despite sounding like the young Margaret Rutherford – she was going for Celia Johnson – she originally hails from Denmark) she is nonetheless Qp – quite popular!

One last thing; Qi stands for Quite Interesting – and is obviously the reverse of IQ.

But it is also an Oriental word – qi – which literally means breath.

Or more expansively; life-force.

So now you know.

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