After giving up the job in 2001, Anne Robinson returns to present BBC1’s consumer show Watchdog, which has now been extended to an hour long. Here she tells What’s On TV why she’s back, the big changes on Watchdog, why The Duke of Edinburgh is her biggest fan and why she doesn’t regret what she said about the Welsh…
Why are you coming back to Watchdog after eight years?
“Because it’s tremendously exciting and I was overjoyed to be asked. I only gave it up because I was doing Weakest Link in the US for three years and at the time I was commuting there every 10 days so it was completely impossible to do both jobs. It is now, and was then, a very important programme. When I came to it I was very determined to make it a ‘must watch’ programme by going after the big companies. There was a point where 10 of them met secretly to try to take us off air, which was fabulous. We were just doing them too much damage.”
What are the big changes in Watchdog this series?
“This time we’ve got an audience in a huge studio where they’ll have a chance to question the chairmen of companies. And if they don’t come in off their golf courses we’ll have a cardboard cut-out picture of the chairman to show they’ve chickened out! Often the chairmen of these companies are establishment figures who are removed from the nitty gritty of poor customer service, so they need to know! And I’m banning phrases like ‘99 percent of our customers are very happy’ and ‘let’s put it into perspective’ and all those other dreadful phrases they’ve learnt because they’ve been on the same media training courses, which in fact just end up making them a laughing stock and more unacceptable! They are robotic and I won’t stand for it.”
What will be the big targets?
“Definitely call centres and ticket rip-offs. Many companies with good reputations seem to think it’s enough to just have a call centre and customer care line yet aren’t worried if it works properly or not!”
Anything else new in the show?
“Rogue Traders is back as part of the show presented by Matt Allwright, which has been fantastically successful. Now we’re going up to an hour, Rogue Traders will run throughout, which makes great television.”
Have you personally had any bad experiences with customer services?
“No, because everyone’s too terrified of me! They always realise it’s me if I ring to complain. But that shouldn’t be the case. When friends of mine have their washing machine or car go wrong they take a picture of it with me standing beside it then send it off to complain.”
Do people always come up to you with their complaints?
“I remember the Archbishop of Canterbury coming up to me at a party saying my brother-in-law is desperate to get hold of you because of his vacuum cleaner – and of course I helped get it fixed!”
You must have a lot of fans out there?
“I’m told the Duke of Edinburgh never used to miss me when I was on Watchdog before. I can’t imagine he has many consumer complaints, I just think he likes feisty women.”
Who’s the toughest company boss you’ve tangled with?
“I remember a private health insurance boss was quite bad, but at least he came in to see us.”
Which were the worst cases from your last time on Watchdog?
“And they’re still bad – the car manufacturers. They’re still very shy about admitting when there’s a fault. They always pretended it was just the one car. But they can’t really get away with that any more. Mobile phones are much more prevalent now – last time it was BT.”
Why has Watchdog been so successful and stayed on TV for 29 years?
“Because it’s so brilliant and so necessary. There’s no other television company that can do it! Everybody else is craven to advertisers, the BBC doesn’t have to bow to anybody but the licence-payer. It’s very difficult for other channels to knock a product of an advertiser.”
Do you regret what you said about the Welsh on Room 101?
“I have enormous entertainment from the Welsh over it on the Weakest Link, so not really. I’m a Liverpudlian and it’s been a standard joke in Liverpool forever, that you’re either Irish or Welsh and we’re both as rude about each other. I never expected such a reaction but I was in Wales recently and everyone was very nice to me. It was always in jest – I just don’t want to marry one or have one in my house!”
Watchdog begins on BBC1 on Thursday 10 September