Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Child Genius; the Investigator

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Child Genius; the Investigator

Article excerpt

On Tuesday night on Channel 4, a stern male figure peered over his glasses (as equipped with one of those cords favoured by themiddle-aged specs-wearer) and offered us his robust views on how government benefits encourage laziness. Which might not sound that unusual -- except that the male figure in question was 12.

His name, no less improbably, was Mog and he was a contestant in the new series of Child Genius , now hosted by Richard Osman -- these days almost as ubiquitous on television as Susan Calman is onRadio 4. As ever, the first few minutes were spent assuring us how fiendish the quiz would be; but, as ever too, this was no mere hype. One of Mog's early questions was what comes next in the sequence 1, 3, 5, 15, 17, and although the avuncular Osman disappointingly failed to explain why Mog's instant answer of '51' was correct, a spot of Googling has revealed that the sequence is formed by alternately multiplying by three and adding two.

But what makes the programme such an addictive pleasure (if perhaps a mildly guilty one) is that we get the contestants' back stories -- which is how we heard Mog's political views and saw for ourselves his appealingly unashamed enjoyment of his own cleverness. We also found out that he's learning several languages, among them Mandarin and Korean, and that he likes to relax by doing a little art, with Picasso an acknowledged influence. 'Mog is a very unique person,' his waitress mother told us in what sounded like a rather long-suffering tone.

But, as far as the programme is concerned, Mog was unusual in another way as well -- because he'd chosen to take part in the competition himself, with his parents happy to look on in baffled awe. More typical was 11-year-old Christopher, whose dad Simon had not only insisted that he enter, but also made him study every previous episode of Child Genius as part of his revision.

In his defence, Simon's motives for making his young son appear on TV being asked very difficult questions in front of a studio audience were impeccable: 'Because I never got a chance to.' Less convinced, meanwhile, was his Vietnamese beautician wife, who at one point tried to take Christopher's mind off the ordeal ahead by massaging his feet: a plan that might have worked better had Simon not kept bursting in and bellowing such questions as '26 squared?'

Oddly, come the big day, even hearing his dad loudly proclaim that 'I'm expecting Christopher to absolutely nail it' didn't settle the boy's nerves, and he caved in a bit under the pressure. …

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