‘We will go on until we fall to the ground’

Maarten van Rossem and Philip Freriks in ten years ‘The smartest person’: ‘We thought we’d do that program for one summer.’Image Pim Ras Photography

When Maarten van Rossem (78) is already seated and Philip Freriks (77) joins, it first takes a few minutes over Hilversum. That is clearly not a place where the gentlemen would like to live. You can set off a neutron bomb without anyone noticing, it is so quiet here,’ says Freriks, who walked from the station.

Then Freriks orates, without disdain by the way, that in all those years they ‘have actually had all the questions in interviews’. “Because I live in France, it’s always about the differences between the Netherlands and France. Then we get the standard question how long we continue with The smartest person. And of course: how do you explain the success of the program? I usually give a very long answer to that. Then the interview is almost over.”

And don’t forget that one question from The smartest person: what do you know about…?

Van Rossem: “Well no, we haven’t had that question yet.”

Well here we go. Philip Freriks, what do you know about Maarten van Rossem?

Freriks: “Well, a few things. That he was born in Wageningen…”

Van Rossem: “Nooo! In Zeist!”

Freriks: “Ooooh yes, that’s true. Raised in Wageningen. Oh my, this is off to a bad start. Married to Winnie. Two children. Grandfather. Historian. Much toed in Utrecht cafes.”

Van Rossem: “I wasn’t a big helper.”

Freriks: “But a regular guest in café De Vriendschap. Even more? Maarten hates heat. He is going on holiday to Texel. Refuses to wear shorts.”

And vice versa: Maarten van Rossem, what do you know about Philip Freriks?

Van Rossem: “That he is six months younger. That he went on an adventure to Paris. That his family worked at the railway. You were an evening conductor, right?”

Freriks: “Sleeping carriage driver. In uniform. At the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens.”

Van Rossem: “He found his love in France. Has become a correspondent step by step. With anything and everything. And finally newsreader. By the way, I had him for The smartest person never met.”

That was ten years ago. How did that first meeting go?

Freriks: “We were brought together by Bernard van den Bosch of Skyhigh TV, the producer of The smartest person. With the idea: we will do that for one summer.”

Van Rossem: “Initially I had said no. I found the Belgian version of the program worthless. The jury too. A professor with a beard. I had the impression that the man read everything from the autocue. Moreover, the program had a tone of fun. Underpants fun.”

Freriks: “They had asked Humberto Tan to present, but he couldn’t. I’m actually second choice. But Bernard brought it nicely: there was no better presenter than me.”

Van Rossem: “I only heard later that you were going to present.”

Are there no sounds yet that you should gradually stop?

Van Rossem: “Not yet.”

Freriks: “Of course there is also a good chance that if they say that you say: ‘Well, I don’t think so at all. I can still keep going.”

When is it time to stop?

Freriks: “If we fall to the ground.”

Van Rossem: “If I get that signal from my children. Or if I wake up in the morning and think: ‘Jesus, should we do the 795th too?’

And if one stops, what does the other do?

Freriks: “We are gradually becoming a kind of couple.”

Van Rossem: “Jut and Jul.’”

Freriks: “Waldorf and Statler. But if I were to stop and Maarten feels like continuing, who am I to say, it’s not allowed?”

You are seventies. Isn’t it heavy?

Freriks: “I think it’s tough, yes. After such a shooting day, I was exhausted. I am constantly talking, but I have to concentrate.”

Van Rossem: “Not for me, I sit in that chair all day. For you, yes. You stand and have to keep up the pace.”

Your sister Sis van Rossum died shortly before the shooting from The smartest person. Have you hesitated to continue?

Van Rossem: “I have thought about that. Should I do nothing for a week? Go for a walk in the woods? At the same time I thought: ‘That doesn’t help at all’. I can do better what I normally do. I saw The smartest person more as a relaxed side effect than a leaden burden.

Do you want to continue with your brother with Here are the Van Rossems?

Van Rossem: “It must be adjusted in such a way that you don’t think every five minutes: what a shame that Sis isn’t there. I do have ideas about that, but it remains to be seen what the bosses in Hilversum think about it. I thought it was crazy to watch the broadcast that Sis was still in. I also think it’s crazy that my sister is dead, but honestly, I also think it’s crazy that my parents are dead, my grandparents are dead, basically everyone I grew up with is dead. It’s inherent in getting older.”

What is the aging process like?

Van Rossem: “My painful knees.”

Freriks: “Old, we are already!”

Van Rossem: “One of the nicest things about getting older is that you are retired. You don’t have to impress anyone anymore. You don’t have to make a career anymore. In my case: I don’t have to check anymore. A very underestimated aspect of university life. You can refuse anything you don’t like. And I don’t have to meet anymore. Philip and I, for example, never do that.”

Freriks: “You have enormous freedom. You don’t have to worry about anything. As long as you are still healthy. You know, of course, that Damocles’ sword hangs over your head.”

Is that a scary idea?

Freriks:”Nah, there you have to…”

Van Rossem: “…don’t think about it all day.”

Are you afraid of the approaching end?

Van Rossem: “It just depends on how it happens.”

Freriks: “My father always said when someone died suddenly: ‘Beautiful death’.”

Van Rossem: “I often think that too. In my sleep. It appeals to me.”

The smartest person, every working day at 8.40 pm on NPO 2. The smartest person: All Stars, every week from Friday 22 July on NPO Start and Plus.

Maarten van Rossum: 'When I wake up in the morning and think: 'Jesus, should we now also do the 795th?'  it's time to stop' Picture Pim Ras

Maarten van Rossum: ‘When I wake up in the morning and think: ‘Jesus, should we now also do the 795th?’ it’s time to stop’Statue Pim Ras

Report Philip Freriks and Maarten van Rossem eat at restaurant Meddens in Hilversum with Dennis Jansen Photo ;  Pim Ras Statue Pim Ras Photography

Report Philip Freriks and Maarten van Rossem eat at restaurant Meddens in Hilversum with Dennis JansenPhoto ; Pim RasImage Pim Ras Photography