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Alexander Armstrong ('Pointless')

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Alexander Armstrong from BBC's 'Pointless'

© BBC

Alexander Armstrong is a busy man. Between filming an appearance on Who Do You Think You Are? and voicing know-it-all computer Mr. Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures, he's recorded a third series of Pointless for BBC Two. We got Mr. Armstrong - Xander to his friends - on the phone to chat about the daytime quiz, his shocking family history and what the future holds for Sarah Jane and the gang.

How would you describe Pointless for people who haven't seen it before?
"Pointless is the quizzer's quiz, I think. It celebrates and rewards obscure knowledge. Knowing the obvious answers won't get you through, you have to know the obscure ones. Each round, you're given a category - for example, countries beginning with 'T'. You have to say something less well-known. You have to go for Tajikistan, not Turkey. It gets under your skin remarkably quickly."

There were some changes to the format for series two. Will we see any new features in the third series?
"Yeah, we've altered it again. In the second round, you now have to answer a question, as well as find a 'pointless' answer. For example, if we list names of singers, you have to say which bands they are in. We've also made it a best of three, instead of a best of five, in the head-to-head round, which just frees up a bit more time. [Co-host] Richard Osman and I had a lot of good fun with our banter, but when it got to the final edit, there was no time for any of our stuff. What's really nice this time around is that there is time and there is a lot more banter between us."

What would you say is the worst answer you've ever had on the show?
"We had 'coastal states in America' as a category. There were two guys - they were teachers - and one of them said Mexico, the other one said Orlando!"

There's a celebrity special coming up. If you were to compete on the show, what would be your specialist subject?
"Probably classical music. I did a degree in English Literature, but it scares me, because I'd be obliged to know the answers and I'd look like such an idiot if I didn't! I'm quite good at current affairs and politics. History and geography? Not brilliant, I'm afraid."

You've also filmed an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? How did you become involved in that?
"They just asked me and I leapt at it. I thought, 'God, I'd definitely like to do that.' We did a sketch about it in our first series [of The Armstrong and Miller Show]. Luckily it didn't come back to bite me in the arse! You just have no idea what you're going to find when you do it, so you're taking your life into your own hands."

How would you describe the experience of filming the show?
"Unbelievable. It is incredibly indulgent, obviously, because you are the focus of the whole thing. But the way they reveal things, it is genuinely shocking and surprising."

What was the biggest surprise you found in your research?
"Probably when I discovered that we were related to the Dukes of Beaufort. That was a massive surprise. My nine-times great-grandfather was the first Duke of Beaufort, which was amazing."

You also voice Mr. Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Have you worked on the fourth series yet?
"Yes. This very afternoon, I'm heading back into town to voice more."

Are there any hints you can give on what's coming up?
"There's some brilliant things coming up. I've done the first four episodes, which were great. Luke (Tommy Knight) goes off to Oxford University and there's some intrigue surrounding that. There's a nasty nightmare creature. And K-9 goes off with Luke - there's a very sweet moment between Mr. Smith and K-9. They sort of admit their grudging respect for each other."

Would you ever like to appear on-screen in Sarah Jane or maybe Doctor Who?
"Yeah, I'd love to. I'd give my eye-teeth to do that!"

Pointless begins on BBC Two next Monday at 4.30pm.

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