Wise up with Widdy! Get those Latin books out. Widdecombe’s got her
own quiz show – and she’s on a mission to make
dumbed-down Britain smarter

Yikes! Is there anything more terrifying than being quizzed on your Latin by Ann Widdecombe

It starts with the word ‘abacus’ (of course). Only when interviewing Widdy can you end up talking about the merits of the abacus as a learning tool. As, when she isn’t busy being a modern sho

wbiz icon, she is at home being ‘Great-Aunt Ann’ to a growing brood of great-nieces and nephews. And her chief responsibility, it transpires, is making sure they know how to string their abacuses. Or is it abaci She fixes me with a ‘could do better’ expression. ‘Well, it would be, but in this context – if the children have them – you would need the accusative, wouldn’t you So, technically, it would be abacos.’

Oh Lordy. It’s not just your Latin recall that gets challenged in a chat with Widdy, either. Later she asks – as if it’s the most normal thing in the world – if I happen to know the surname of the five brothers who helped Charles II escape after the Battle of Worcester. No She positively beams. ‘Well, it is Pendrell. See Every day is a discovery.’

Anne Widdecombe

Anne Widdecombe

Yikes! Is there anything more terrifying than being quizzed on your Latin by Ann Widdecombe

Happily or unhappily, depending on how much attention you paid at school, being quizzed by Ann Widdecombe is no longer going to be the preserve of hapless journalists.

Next week our favourite politician-turned-dancing-banana is back in the public eye in yet another unlikely guise – as a quiz-show host.

For the first time she has been given her own show, called Cleverdicks, and is on a self-professed mission to make the people of Britain a little smarter. ‘It’s roughly Mastermind level and my absolute dream would be if people came away from watching it saying, “Well, I learned something there.” They don’t need to learn from every question. Even learning one thing from each programme would be a start.’

The contestants on Cleverdicks will be quiz-show pros; the sort of souls, she suggests, who like to recite the monarchs of England for fun. Oh dear.

‘But it will be general knowledge, so there will be the odd question about pop culture, too, because that’s what will throw them.’ She pooh-poohs the idea that it will be too highbrow, however.

‘It certainly won’t be as difficult as University Challenge. I don’t even understand the questions on that programme, never mind know the answers. It’s OK for Jeremy Paxman to look terribly clever – but he has the answers written at the bottom of the card.’

Cleverdicks: Next week our favourite politician-turned-dancing-banana is back in the public eye in yet another unlikely guise  as a quiz-show host

Cleverdicks: Next week our favourite politician-turned-dancing-banana is back in the public eye in yet another unlikely guise  as a quiz-show host

Cleverdicks: Next week our favourite politician-turned-dancing-banana is back in the public eye in yet another unlikely guise – as a quiz-show host

So, bearing in mind she’s an Oxford graduate with two degrees (one in Latin and one in philosophy, politics and economics) who likes to read Chaucer for fun, how many correct answers does she average on University Challenge

‘Three,’ she confesses. ‘But I still end up shouting at the TV when someone stumbles over a question I thought everybody knew the answer to.’ It’s the kind of forthright answer that raises the prospect of Widdy, 64, striding up and down firing questions at crumbling contestants. Is she going after the Anne Robinson crown

‘Absolutely not,’ she harrumphs. ‘I don’t deal in humiliation.’

She can be a bit scary, though.

‘Really I don’t think so,’ she barks.

She turns to the young PR chap by her side, ‘Am I scary’

He hesitates. ‘Er, you have your moments.’

‘Oh,’ she says. ‘Well, I can pressure people a bit but I don’t think I’m scary – not like I was in Parliament.’

SO, ARE YOU A CLEVERDICKWhich city was invaded and occupied by Italy on 20 September 1870
Which Venetian composer’s pupils included Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt

Order of the Elephant

The Order of the Elephant is the highest decoration in which country
In which modern country are the ancient geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines
What was Second World War double agent Eddie Chapman’s code name among the British
What was the title of Charles Dickens’ last completed novel

Charles Dickens

What is the method by which bats detect objects using ultrasonic sound
In 1974, former child actress Shirley Temple became US Ambassador to which African nation
In medicine, what does a ‘sphygmomanometer’ measure
Which gas comprises over 95 per cent of the atmosphere of Venus
What piece of sporting equipment has a blade and toe and cannot be more than 10.75cm (4in) wide

Rugby ball

Which trophy is awarded to the winner of the France versus Italy Six Nations rugby match
Which 19th-century British prime minister wrote the novels Sybil and Vivian Grey
The first line of The Catcher In The Rye features a disparaging reference to which Dickens novel
Which book by Philip Pullman ended the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy


1. Rome. Until that date it had been under
Papal rule 2. Antonio Salieri 3. Denmark 4. Peru 5. Agent Zigzag. The
Germans called him Fritz 6. Our Mutual Friend 7. Echolocation 8. Ghana
9. Blood pressure 10. Carbon dioxide 11. Cricket bat 12. Giuseppe
Garibaldi trophy 13. Benjamin Disraeli 14. David Copperfield 15. The
Amber Spyglass

Fear-inducing or not, Ann Widdecombe
occupies a curious position in British life, straddling the worlds of
politics, academia and high farce. The fustier history books will
remember her chiefly as a Minister of State for Prisons.

However, she
has also, in her time, made the sort of documentaries that define niche
viewing – her programme on the beatification of Cardinal Newman for a
start. ‘A lot of people didn’t know who Cardinal Newman was,’ she points
out, with a shudder. ‘Come to think of it, a lot of people didn’t know
what beatification was. Some even pronounced it “beat-ification”.’

When she takes to daytime telly, though, does it mean she’s dumbed down Not when you consider that her last job was in panto with Craig Revel Horwood.

‘It’s not my problem if I don’t fit neatly into the boxes people want to put me in,’ she shoots back. ‘Widdecombe has never fitted in a box in her life! Besides, I’m not a politician any more. I can do what I like.’

She does agree, however, that as a society we have dumbed down ‘quite noticeably’ over the past generation. She rues the destruction of the grammar-school system, ‘which was the only way some children would have a chance’, and is incandescent at how her beloved Latin is taught these days.

Even in politics, she bemoans, one must avoid being seen as too clever.

‘David Cameron is almost apologetic when he talks about having gone to Eton, which is a terrible shame. He should say, “Yes, I had the best education possible and now I am using it for the good of the country.” We should not be ashamed to be educated or erudite.’

Of course, the TV world she has been so keen to leap into has its own issues with standards.

‘There are some great programmes out there – wildlife and historical shows – but when it comes to mainstream drama, there are a lot of people shouting at one another in Estuary English and plots of a degrading nature,’ she admits. ‘If I were a parent, I think I’d be reaching for the off button rather a lot.’

As a great-aunt, however, her role is to ‘spoil my great-nieces and nephews and stress the importance of their ABCs. I am quite bossy, but I also let them eat too many chocolates, on the basis that if they are sick once they won’t do it again.’

It’s not the sort of thing you say to her face, but I reckon she’s the perfect great-aunt – fearsome enough to make sure you do your homework before tea, but fun, too. And her unpredictability makes her the most entertaining company. At one point she tells me she once worked in a sausage factory. ‘I was responsible for tying the knots in between the sausages.’ Who knew What did it teach her ‘That I wouldn’t be able to stand the sight of sausages for years.’

Not exactly a career highlight, then. Had things been different, might she have been a bona fide school ma’am

‘I probably would have been a teacher,’ she agrees, ‘but I knew that I wanted a political career, ultimately, and I knew I wouldn’t have been able to get time off for campaigning.’ So how does she want to be remembered – for her politics or her paso doble

She says, convincingly, that she doesn’t ‘give tuppence’, but points out that in history, the serious and the frivolous have always rubbed along together. ‘Did Shakespeare not write comedies Have we not always had panto’

Have we always had Ann Widdecombes, though After an hour or so of lurching from chats about pensions to nail varnish, via Dickens and Edwina Currie’s knickers on Strictly (‘that was no accident – it was the behaviour of a five-year-old showing off’), I ask if she can think of any other politician who has attempted to operate in such contrasting environments. I’m thinking historically here, assuming that if such a character existed, she’d have read the book, probably making grammatical corrections in the margins. ‘Well, there is Lembit Opik,’ she says.

Cleverdicks starts on Sky Atlantic on Monday, 27 February, at 7pm.