If you watch old movies or collect vintage photographs, you’ve probably faced the thought that everybody you’re looking at is dead. I recently realized that on Sunday nights at 10:30, I’ve been listening to a radio show of ghosts.
I should have known that the impossibly learned panelists of BBC’s quiz show My Word! were too well-read for this era – one guessed the meaning of “sciamachy” by sussing out the Greek parts of the word – but somehow it never quite dawned on me that the show aired from 1956 to 1990. It’s introduced simply as “a word game played by people whose business is words” but never gives any background on the panelists, most often Frank Muir, Denis Norden, Dilys Powell, and Anne Scott-James. Of that mixture of comedians and scholars, only Norden is alive as of this writing.
Tonight’s episode made seemingly contemporary reference to “sixpence” and also to having met somebody “during the war” but also called out a “communication satellite” and thanks to Wikipedia, I can trace its original air date to somewhere between 1962 and 1977.
As on Wait Wait Don’t Tell me, the best entertainment comes from the throwaway joke lines delivered before the real answers and the laughable coaching and arbitrary point awards by the questioner. One set of questions is introduced as being worth “two marks and a possible bonus mark for exceptional learning” – now that’s my kind of scoring system.
It’s a credit to the writers and panelists that this show is sufficiently timeless that I didn’t even notice its age for many episodes. Tune in for some ghostly erudition – it’s on many NPR stations.
In the process of researching this post, I found this essay from the Boston Globe and New York Times that says much of what I had in mind, even better, and two years earlier, too.