WITH a cheeky wink and acid tongue, Anne Robinson shocked – and thrilled – the nation as she mocked contestants on The Weakest Link 21 years ago.
But TV’s Queen of Mean reckons she could not get away with it in today’s woke world.
The Weakest Link’s Anne Robinson speaks out on cancel cultureCredit: BBC
And as a woman who battled her way to the top of a male-dominated media industry, the 76-year-old is not happy about the constant threat of being cancelled as she finds herself bossed about by faceless snowflakes.
Anne, who takes over from Nick Hewer as host of Channel 4’s Countdown next week, says: “I feel increasingly that some very rowdy minorities are tying our hands behind our backs.
“They’re the ones who get upset by things, who tell me that I can’t say this and I mustn’t say that.
“There are some areas of woke which I am really thrilled about, for example, diversity on company boards. But in other areas I completely disagree.
“I don’t want unnecessary censorship. I don’t want statues torn down.
“I don’t know where it’s coming from, I don’t know who’s deciding what I say or what I can’t say.”
Anne is resigned to the fact she cannot treat her new Countdown contestants in the same harsh way she did on BBC’s The Weakest Link.
But she refuses to change her personality to please the social media mob — and has already hit a woke bump in the road in her new role with a contestant who said he taught English to non-English people.
She said: “I said, ‘You mean foreigners?’, and he said, ‘We never say that’. Is that woke?
“I just think we’re being told what to do by people who aren’t in a position to tell us what to do.
Anne takes over from Nick Hewer as host of Channel 4’s Countdown next weekCredit: PA
“I don’t want my language mangled. I don’t want to offend anyone but I don’t want to be told what to say.
“You know if you hire me, you are not hiring me to be Fiona Bruce, are you? You are hiring me to be me.
“Countdown is not unlike The Weakest Link — you hope you can assess the contestants to work out what fun you can have.
“You are not there to drown kittens or make somebody feel incredibly uncomfortable. You are not going to ask anyone why they are so fat, because it’s 2021 and you can’t get away with that any more.”
Anne also points out the mild hypocrisy of viewers being so shocked by some of the remarks she made on The Weakest Link in the first place.
With her catchphrase “You are the weakest link, goodbye”, the show ran on BBC1 up to 2012 and became a TV phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. And its success was based on her candid style.
She said: “For the first time on television, someone was behaving like we all do watching television and being rude, but you don’t expect to see it or hear it on TV.
“Whose mother has not said, ‘Why is she so fat?’ Who’s father has not said, ‘You think with his money he would have a better shirt on TV.’
“You would want to say them out loud. And this is part of this puritanical thing that it’s so shocking when we all do it at home.”
But it was not just ordinary members of the public who were put out by some of Anne’s remarks.
TV’s Queen of Mean says: ‘You are hiring me to be me’Credit: NBC
In February, TV host Vanessa Feltz, 59, said she was “horrified” when she had previously appeared on a celebrity version of the game show and was asked by Anne: “Looking the way you do, how do you think you land all these big black boyfriends?”
The jibe, which was cut from the final broadcast, was a reference to the fact Vanessa has been in a relationship with singer Ben Ofoedu since 2006.
But Anne said: “What I actually said to her was, ‘How can someone like you attract gorgeous black boyfriends?’
“First of all, she’d talked endlessly about doing just that. Secondly, it had taken her 16 years to discover she was upset about it.
“Maybe if I had a radio show to promote I might have done the same.
“I’m not complaining about it, but it wasn’t quite what I said.
“I think she came twice on The Weakest Link and we certainly heard nothing for 16 years.
“I probably couldn’t say it now, but it wasn’t derogatory, except to her.”
‘I don’t want to be told what to say,’ Anne addsCredit: Handout
Anne also claims that, contrary to popular belief, she did rein herself in and think about people’s feelings.
She said: “You always have to choose how far you can go with a particular contestant, and certainly Weakest Link contestants would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t sparred with them.
“I often found that young, undergraduate girls, you could deflate more than you wanted to, and I’d go back and tell the producer to cut that out because their mother is going to hate me.”
Anne had a long print media career to draw on before landing her TV roles — and she had to battle sexism as part of a new generation of hacks arriving on Fleet Street in the late Sixties.
But she soon became an alcoholic, partly as a result of the drinking culture that surrounded journalism at the time.
In 1973, she lost custody of her two-year-old daughter Emma, and then lost her job a few years later.
In 1978 she joined Alcoholics Anonymous and quit booze forever.
She said: “I became the most terrific, chronic alcoholic and so it was reasonably important to learn how to stop drinking. It was reasonably important to get back up a stage where I thought I could work again.”
She made a spectacular comeback, becoming a columnist and assistant editor at the Daily Mirror. But she still faced the huge hurdle of sexism.
Anne overcame alcoholism to make a spectacular comebackCredit: Handout
Anne said: “You had to take your copy to the backbench, a piece of paper, and the chief sub would hold it high in the air and drop it on the ground, then you’d pick it up so all the backbenchers could see your knickers.
“I just remember thinking, ‘These guys are pathetic, and very soon I’ll be in charge of them all’ — and I was. When you’re in a minority you were likely to be the tougher sort of women and now very clever women aren’t all tough. Some are fragile and are easily wounded by the treachery of the workplace.
“But we didn’t rush to be victims. I think I’d been brought up in a house that didn’t take any of that very seriously so I never went to the loo to have a weep. Crying is for when your dog dies.
“I was fortunate enough to have all those years in newspaper journalism, which taught me everything I could put to good use in television.”
She became a regular face on our screens in 1987 when she took over as host of BBC1’s Points Of View.
Then six years later she was fronting BBC1 consumer show Watchdog. She continued to host both shows through most of the Nineties until The Weakest Link came along and made her a huge star — and a multi-millionaire.
So when lockdown hit last year, she did not have to pray for work to pay for the bills.
So did she fill her time baking banana bread instead?
Anne says of facing sexism: ‘We didn’t rush to be victims’Credit: Rex
“Why do you think I made banana bread?” Anne replies. “I’ve got a cook. I haven’t stood on that Weakest Link podium for all those years to not be able to afford a cook.”
Although she loves being a grandmother, she has no plans to retire and goes for daily 5k runs and walks to keep herself in shape.
She is also relishing the new challenge of Countdown, particularly because — unlike Prue Leith or Mary Berry — she is not one of the older women on TV being used for baking and cooking shows.
Anne said: “I wonder why there aren’t more of us. I wonder if Huw Edwards had a twin sister, would she be reading the news on his days off?
“It’s almost as if news executives think that if they’re hiring a female newsreader over 50, they have to make room for her mobility scooter.
“I can’t remember which local news we get here but it’s typical, the guy has got no hair and the female presenter is young and pretty — and I don’t know when that’s going to change, I don’t know.
“I do know I’m the oldest woman on television not judging cakes.”
- Anne Robinson begins as the new host on Countdown on Channel 4 at 2.10pm on Monday.