'We started Pointless thinking it would be a bit of fun... 1,200 shows later, we're still here'
There'll be games aplenty in Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman's homes on Christmas Day, just not a round of their hit television show, the presenters tell Hannah Stephenson
Dressed as Santa, Pointless host Alexander Armstrong admits he was melting under the studio lights filming the quiz show's Christmas special... on the "hottest day of the year" in September.
"I had five layers - my costume literally weighed about two stones," Armstrong laments. "I had to have an ice pack on my back, because it was sweltering," he continues, recalling making the festive one-off, which sees celebrity guests, including Duncan James from Blue, Joe Pasquale and Lesley Joseph, Shakin' Stevens and Keith Chegwin, dressed in panto gear.
"It's a good weight-loss programme," quips Armstrong's colleague, Richard Osman, the show's creator, who was a little less hot under the collar in his reindeer garb.
Pointless remains one of the BBC's teatime favourites, and Osman, who is also creative director for Endemol, the company that makes the show, is determined it will never be sold to another station, as Bake Off has been. Armstrong's fond of the familiar team that's built up, too.
"We've done the show with the same people from the off," Armstrong explains. "All our heads of department are the same people. Make-up, wardrobe, lighting, camera crew, all those people are the same. We've known them from the day we started. They have become such an important part of all of our lives."
"It's a lovely gang," Osman continues. "Every programme has a shelf-life, but as long as people are enjoying it, we will stick with it. If Channel 4 wanted to offer three times as much money, we wouldn't take it. We would stay with the BBC. We love the BBC. Pointless is not for sale. We owe the BBC an enormous debt, because they've looked after us."
The presenting pair have known each other for years, having met as students at Cambridge University. For now, they are both looking forward to some time off as the festive season gets into full swing.
But they won't be spending Christmas together. Osman (46) will be in London with his two children from a previous relationship, while Armstrong, also 46, will be at home in Oxfordshire with his wife, Hannah Bronwen Snow, and their four young children.
"I always have as much family around for Christmas as is available," says Osman. "It's literally whoever is around. But it's got to be an even number, so you can play games.
"The only person who loves games more than me is my daughter, who is 18 and returning from China on December 19. We always do quizzes and pencil and paper games.
"My son, who is 16, has just started to be able to beat her at stuff, and you can see her slightly losing some of her enthusiasm. Anything where you are trying to beat your family at something is the very spirit of Christmas."
What about games in the Armstrong household? "We tend to play games that we make up - they are usually pencil and paper games that we play around the table after lunch and throughout the afternoon."
They don't, however, have the Pointless game.
After nearly 1,200 episodes since 2009, it's hardly surprising neither host wants to play Pointless at home, although they are encouraging people to indulge in their latest quiz book, A Pointless History of the World.
Osman and his ex also buy each other the strangest gifts they can find, he reveals: "I love buying presents. I note things down on my iPhone during the year. I like going to junk shops and finding unusual things you can't buy anywhere else.
"I love ridiculous things. My ex and I have a tradition where we have to buy each other the worst thing we can possibly find.
"My best worst present for her was a big bright yellow teapot in the shape of a JCB, with the crane as the spout.
"Last year, she got me a Japanese talking heated toilet seat, which was pretty good. It speaks in Japanese, so I don't know what it's saying, but I imagine it's not very complimentary. Finding something bad is great fun."
Shopping isn't quite so pleasurable for Armstrong.
"Christmas shopping is a big part of my build-up and it tends to be me wandering sweatily around a department store getting increasingly fraught as I mentally run through my check-list - I always forget who asked for what," he says.
Both men play down their obvious intellect, but their successful careers tell another story. Armstrong won a Bafta for Best Comedy Series with Ben Miller for The Armstrong and Miller Show in 2010, he hosts the weekend lunchtime slot on Classic FM, often guest-presents Have I Got News For You and has just released his second album, Upon A Different Shore, after his first, A Year Of Songs, in 2015, made him the first comedian to top the UK classical charts.
"When I hear the Christmas Oratorio, that always gets me going," he says. "You can't beat a bit of Bach. I endlessly go to carol concerts. I'm part of a committee that organises a carol concert every year. I pressurise all the celebrity readers to come. We've had everyone from Geri Halliwell to Tom Hollander and Emma Watson. This year we have Hugh Bonneville.
"I do quite a lot of readings at carol services. I'd love to be in a choir, but I'd be very unreliable because of my working commitments."
Both presenters seem slightly baffled - and flattered - by fame. Osman, who is 6ft 7in, explains that it's not only his height which draws attention: "Because of the inclusive nature of the show, everyone feels they can come up and talk to you, which is rather lovely."
The lack of pizzazz on Pointless may go some way to explain its success, he reflects.
"It's never been a show that's had posters, or trailers, and it's presented by these two slightly inept guys," Osam says. "Everyone who's ever watched it feels like it's their programme.
"We've never changed it, but have always done it in the same way, which is slightly shoddy, enjoying ourselves."
Armstrong recalls that people had questioned his judgment over his choice, after having a hit comedy show, to move into daytime TV.
"People are reluctant to travel with you if you change genre too abruptly," he explains. "People would say, 'Are you sure you want to be doing this daytime thing?' There's this perceived lowbrow-ness to daytime, which is nonsense."
Osman concludes: "We went into Pointless thinking, 'This'll be a bit of fun'. And 1,200 episodes later, here we are."
A Pointless History of the World, by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, is published by Coronet, priced £14.99