Look out for Ann Widdecombe hosting new quiz show Cleverdicks on Sky Atlantic. The former politician and Strictly star tells What’s On TV what it’s all about…

So tell us Ann, what is Cleverdicks?
“Well, it’s a quiz show for people who think they’re clever. They’re usually very serious quizzers, always going for pub quizzes and that sort of thing – basically they just quiz, quiz, quiz. The questions aren’t obscure like they are, for example, on University Challenge. So they have an encyclopaedic general knowledge, anything from chemical compounds to obscure authors to whatever it may be. They’re really amazing. And it’s interesting because when you suddenly throw out a pop culture question that can be what throws some of the more intellectual contestants.”

How does the quiz work?
“There are four general knowledge rounds in each episode and it’s the standard thing, you eliminate one in each round. They’re against each other, then they’re against the clock. And it’s the usual thing that the person who survives at the end is playing for money. Not vast sums, it’s not Who Want To Be A Millionaire, but the idea is there’s possibility of a reward at the end. It also rolls over, like Countdown, where you have champions who keep coming back. So it’s fast, it’s competitive, it’s serious quiz stuff but it’s manageable quiz stuff. It should appeal to people at home.”

You must get offered a lot of TV projects, what was it that stood out about Cleverdicks?
“I really, really wanted to do this from day one. I love, love quizzes. I’m no good at them, let me make that clear, I’m a rotten, rotten contestant on quizzes, even when I know the answer I never get it within the time available, but I love quizzes and I longed for an intelligent quiz programme that could be popular. Mastermind is very staid, you’ve got someone on a chair. I wanted something with a bit more range than that, but way above the pop culture, soaps and that sort of thing. Also, I was attached to this project from from the start, so I had an input into the shape of it and the questions.”

How are you as quiz mistress?
“Now, I didn’t want to do an Anne Robinson. I do not like Anne Robinson’s style. I didn’t want her style of humiliation and that ruthlessness. I can’t stand rudeness and I didn’t want a walk of shame or something where you had to turn around and say: ‘Well I’m not smarter than a 10-year old.’ I hate that sort of thing. It’s very modern that sort of ritual humiliation. I didn’t want any of that. It’s a very good-natured programme and for families. I’m a bit sharp at them sometimes, I say” ‘Come on, come on’ but I’m never outright rude.”

Are the contestants really Cleverdicks? Are you willing them to stumble?
“Oh yes. Oh that’s inevitable. But some of them just left me reeling because in one of the rounds you’re asking them questions based on clues and the clues escalate in easiness not in difficulty, and the number of contestants that got the answer before I finished reading the first clue and you think ‘how on earth did you do that?’. The most amazing thing was we had quite a few people from the Inland Revenue taking part, and I was quite baffled by this.”

Do you see any Cleverdick in yourself? Do you ever show off the knowledge you have?
“Don’t we all? Don’t we love to know things that nobody else knows. But I also think that the sharing of knowledge is a very human instinct. If someone says: ‘I couldn’t do that’ you say: ‘this is how you do it.’ Unless you’re a magician, the sharing of knowledge is very instinctive. And that’s part of the appeal of quiz programmes, because you’re sharing as well as showing off.”

You must have to be quite careful in politics, because no one likes a smartypants?
“I was never careful in politics.”

Do you miss politics?
“No. I wouldn’t have left if I had any sort of doubt. I got the timing absolutely right. If I’d have left earlier I would’ve missed it, if I’d have left later I would’ve become jaded. There were straws in the wind. I was coming to prefer Countdown to Question Time. That says it all. If I’d been asked to go to the Lords I would have gone to the Lords. But I wasn’t asked to go to the Lords, and it was always going to be David Cameron’s decision, it’s never one’s own decision. And that hasn’t proved to be something that’s got me sitting on Dartmoor thinking: ‘why aren’t I in the Lords?’ I’ve just thrown myself into showbiz instead.”

Would becoming the next Strictly judge be out of the question?
“No, of course it wouldn’t be out of the question, but it’s a bit like the House of Lords, it’s somebody else’s decision.”

Does that mean yes, if you are asked?
“I don’t expect to be asked. See I haven’t entirely lost my political touch! I don’t want that fourth judge to be a specialist though. You’ve got three technicians who are capable of analysing every last step of every last dance. And I think what Alesha did bring to programme, that Arlene, whatever her qualities, didn’t bring, was a layman’s approach, somebody who’d been through it. She knew what she was talking about, she’d been through it very successfully, and she could comment on things like story, the entertainment, the dresses, the energy, the impact on the audience. There’s an element of entertainment there but it’s basically a dance competition. There’s a strong element of entertainment there and you need three quarters of the panel to be expert and one quarter to not be. And I think that’s the right balance. I did like Arlene Phillips, and I’m not in any way making an unfavourably comparison, but I think that Alesha was a different sort of voice that shouldn’t be lost?”

So you’re not backing dancer Karen Hardy for the job?
“I’m an admirer of Karen Hardy and I like her tremendously. I can only say that I do think that the fourth person on that panel should be someone with a more general approach. I mean Alesha only really went wrong when she started to try and be an expert. There was one wonderful moment when she said to Anton and me: ‘Well, you didn’t actually do any of the steps’ whereupon Len actually remunerated all of the steps we’d done, and one almost felt as if it wasn’t quite a deliberate put down, but it was. And so when she wasn’t being a technician there I think she really just brought something extra.”

What projects have you turned down?
“I’ve turned down big Brother, more than once, and this last time with exceptional firmness. The money offer was very large and I thought: ‘Good, if I turn this one down they’ll get the message.’ I just wouldn’t do it, I think it’s vulgar. I wouldn’t do I’m a Celebrity, because I’m too squeamish. Because I’m not developing a career I don’t have to do them. Suppose I’d hated pantomime, I didn’t, I adored it, but I could’ve said: ‘It’s behind me’ and never done it again. I loved it, I’m now booked to do Snow White next year. They booked me almost before I left, so I was very flattered. That’s with Craig Revel Horwood again, in High Wycombe.”

Cleverdicks, is on Sky Atlantic, weekdays, from Monday 27 February