Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Tenable - although I'm not as able as I thought I was


It’s 25 years since I became a born again quizzer, being asked to play for the Neath Workingmen’s Club in the Neath Quiz League. I remember Peter, my captain, during that first season being surprised when I got something wrong. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember his comment – which was along the lines of he was surprised I got that one wrong because I was (in his opinion) such a good ‘lists’ quizzer.

I want to stress that I have only rarely ever deliberately learned lists for quizzes. I know that this may come across as playground boasting of the “I didn’t do any revision for that test’ variety, but it’s true. I’m not bragging, I’m just interested in lots of things, so, for example, if I watch the FA Cup Final every year, then I’m going to remember that Everton beat Watford in 84, lost to Man U in 85, and then Liverpool in 86 – and I’m not even an Everton supporter. Still, it is a fac that learning, and remembering lists can stand you in good stead in quizzes.

I mention this because I’ve been watching a quiz called Tenable in the last few weeks, and this is a quiz which is all about lists. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s hosted by the extremely likeable Warwick Davis. Each show tests just one team. In each round, one team member is asked to complete a top ten list on a variety of topics. So, for example, you might be asked – Name the top 10 most borrowed authors from British libraries in 2019. Well, you might be, although you’re more likely to get a popular entertainment kind of question, but you get the point. If you add five correct answers you can add money to your prize fund, and go through to the final round. The team captain can overrule you on an answer, and you can nominate someone else to give an answer. You can get one wrong. Get another wrong, and you ‘re out of the game. Last to play is the team captain, who can’t be out, and can choose to buy back team members instead of adding to the prize fund. The prize game is another board, where all ten answers have to be provided. Wrong answers eliminate players.

Hmm, that sounds quite complicated doesn’t it? It’s actually not when you watch it. One thing that it has done is to convince me that either I’m not a great list quizzer any more, or that I wasn’t ever a great list quizzer in the first place. I mean, it’s very, very rare that I can’t get at least five on a given list before making any kind of mistake, but it’s equally rare that I get all ten on the list. Yes, I know that I’m at the very least semi- retired from quizzing, but I’ve still got my pride.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Quiz - Guilty, Not Guilty or Not Proven?


One of ITV’s big shows over the Easter weekend was “Quiz”, the dramatisation of the events of the Charles Ingram/Cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire scandal. While I enjoyed the show very much, to misquote Marx I wasn’t quite sure whether it was trying to present quiz history as tragedy or farce.

I’ll try to explain this. In 2003, following the trial of Ingrams, Diana Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock, ITV showed “Millionaire: A Major Fraud”, with clips from the actual show recorded in 2001 but never shown. This was in no doubt of their guilt, and presented the whole thing as farce – and, I have to say it, a very funny farce too, despite nobody dropping their trousers on screen. Then in 2015, Bob Woffinden and James Plaskett published “Bad Show”, which examined the evidence and found considerable reason to question the official ITV version of what actually went on during the show.

I think it’s probably fair to say that James Graham was influenced by the book when he wrote his play “Quiz” which debuted on stage in 2017. He wrote the TV adaptation.

What you end up with is a version which seems sympathetic to the Ingrams, and especially Charles. Matthew MacFadyen, even in the its replicating footage from the original show, certainly came across as far more of a sympathetic figure than the original major ever did then or in any of his subsequent TV show appearances. The problem, though, with James Graham’s stated intention of trying to play fair to everyone is that it makes it difficult to also deal with certain uncomfortable facts – Diana Ingram’s phone call to Tecwen Whittock – the business with the phone pagers – Charles’ own remarkable behaviour while actually in the hot seat. Not to mention the fact that the Ingrams were convicted of an unrelated fraud offence in  2003. Ah, you may say, but that’s unrelated to the show, so not relevant. To which I reply, well, neither is the fact that Charles is shown turning down large amounts of newspaper money to ‘confess’, or that the Ingrams and Tecwen Whittock have consistently maintained their innocence ever since, which the show made a point of telling us at the end of the last episode. In the case of the phone call it just shows that it happened. We’re not a party to what is actually said. In the case of the pagers yes, it says, they were there on the first night of the show, but not afterwards, and is a bit coy over whether they even worked in the first place.

As for Charles’ behaviour, well, this is another interesting thing. As a viewer, I have to say that Charles looked as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo. Put simply, people just don’t behave like that when they’re answering any set of quiz questions, let alone a set of questions for such a life changing amount of money. They just don’t. I’ve been playing in quizzes for three decades, with, and against all different kinds of people, and been question master many, many times as well. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, ever goes on such a run of changing answers of which they were certain, successfully. While the drama, if it did anything, made Charles out to be some vaguely Macbethic figure, who, if he DID cheat , did so reluctantly, on the urging of his wife. Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. Only the three convicted know without question what happened on the nights of that show, but if you ask my opinion, than I’m sorry, but I think that something very funny was going on in that show.

For me, the drama fudged the issue. If, like me, you believe that Charles Ingram was in some way or other cheating, then I doubt that the drama did anything much to convince you otherwise. On the other hand, the most interesting thing about the show was that it asked a quite different question – regardless of whether he cheated or not, were the jury right to convict him? Bloody good question. And in essence, a question which is far more important than whether a British Army Major cheated on a very popular prime time British quiz show. It’s a question about law, legal process, and justice.

You see, the British legal system rests on a number of fundamental principles, one of which being innocent until proven guilty. Thus, in a British court, the legal burden rests with the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. A British court never finds anyone innocent, incidentally. You’ve either been proven to be guilty, or you haven’t. In fact, unless I’m much mistaken, there is a third verdict in Scotland – Not Proven – which strikes me as a sort of – we think you did it, but we don’t think the prosecution did enough to prove it.

So, I said earlier that I think that Charles Ingram cheated in some way. Does that mean I should vote that he’s guilty? Not without evidence. So what is my evidence? The coughing? Well, the evidence for that is the ITV recording. According to the show, the recording played in court was the ITV’s own recording where the sound engineers had worked on it to enhance the sound of the coughs. Not only that, but the evidence in the form of the original recording had not been given over to the police. Not only that, but even the sound engineer couldn’t be 100% certain over which contestants had actually made the coughs. Does that cast some doubt on how reliable the video evidence is? Yes. Reasonable doubt? Ah, it’s becoming a little more difficult and less clear cut now, isn’t it?

How about the contestant sitting in one of the fastest finger seats who said that he thought Whittock was cheating by coughing when the correct answers were read out? That’s pretty damning. But then there was medical evidence that Whittock couldn’t have helped his coughing, or couldn’t have controlled it to be able to cough at the right moment. Does that cast doubt? Yes. Reasonable doubt though?

When you get right down to it, the whole thing is a little uncomfortable. My feeling is that they did do it. So maybe I could make out a case that the outcome – a conviction with the judge handing down suspended sentences was just about right considering that you could make out a case that the prosecution hadn’t made the strongest of cases. But that’s a dangerous way of looking at it. When you start convicting people because you have a gut feeling that they are guilty, rather than because they’ve been proven guilty to you, then that’s dangerous.

Coming back to the show, I did think that Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Chris Tarrant was uncanny at times – his voice, it’s tone and inflections being startlingly close to Tarrant’s in places.

Lockdown Quiz Pleasures (guilty or not)


I’m a great fan of comedian Dave Gorman. I love all of his TV shows, have seen him on stage several times, and as far as I know read all of his books. In his excellent “Modern Life is Goodish” series for Dave, in one of the shows he takes issue with the idea of the guilt pleasure. Basically, he argues that if you enjoy it, then there is no earthly reason for you to feel guilty about it – only he does it much more amusingly than I just did.

I say this, because I’ve been reflecting on the quiz shows I’ve been enjoying during the lockdown, most of which I would otherwise have described as guilty pleasures. In no particular order then. . .

Tipping Point

Back in 2012, on its debut, I wrote this,I’m afraid that, in my opinion, “Tipping Point” doesn’t work. Ben Shepherd is so inoffensive you hardly even know he’s there, but he is very bland. It doesn’t work as a quiz show because the questions are too simple, and there aren’t enough of them. It doesn’t work as a game show because the game itself is, well, a bit of a bore, and there’s no variety in it either. Drop – sweep – oh tough luck. As in the original amusement arcade game, I should imagine that this show is a lot more fun to play, than to watch someone else playing. Now, I wouldn’t want to give you the idea that this is awful. Awful is an adjective which should only ever be applied to shows like Ted Rodger’s 3 – 2 – 1. But even awfulness has a certain fascination to it. There’s nothing fascinating, or even interesting about “Tipping Point”.”

Ok, I’m ready for my humble pie now, Mr. DeMille. I’ve often watched and enjoyed “Tipping Point” during the lockdown. I could hide behind the fact that my 6 year old grandson Ollie really enjoys it, but that would be cowardly. Addressing the points I made in 2012, either I was completely wrong about Ben Shepard, or he’s developed in hosting style. But you watch the show now and you are seeing someone who appreciates that the questions are among the easiest on any TV show, and that the average contestant is not overburdened with a  decent working general knowledge, and this comes out with just the odd sly little comment or dig. Anyway, the questions are at best unimportant to the watchability of the show, and at worst irrelevant. It’s about the outrageous slings and arrows of fortune. OK, knowledge comes into it, as the more questions you answer correctly, the more counters you get to put into the machine, but lets face it, this is mostly about luck. And there’s something about that which works. One of the most gratifying TV moments of the lockdown was seeing a contestant not only get the £10,000 counter over the tipping point, but also the double your money counter at the same time, thus earning £20,000. Had he done anything noticeably more clever than any other contestant? Not really, yet I love it. Admittedly, part of this is the ritual of guessing who is going to be the most annoying contestant from their introductions. Tipping Point seems to encourage contestants to loudly and rather pointlessly comment while others are having their turn – ooh, you’ve got a coople on the edge for you there, luv” and other variations on the theme. So yes, I would admit that quite a it of my enjoyment of the show is from schadenfreude, because its often this kind of contestant who is eliminated after the first round.

Richard Osman’s House of Games

Every weekday of the lockdown, at just before 6pm, after the Government press conference on BBC1 has ended, I switch over to BBC2, and my grandson Ollie and I watch House of Games. It’s easy to put my finger on what makes this show so watchable. First and foremost, it’s Richard Osman himself. Fans of Pointless know that although there are times when his banter with Alexander Armstrong falls embarrassingly flat, he’s a witty and highly intelligent individual, capable of saying ‘that was a bloody stupid answer you just gave’ without actually saying it, being inoffensive and at the same time leaving nobody in any doubt that was what he meant. This is absolutely essential for a show which features 4 ‘celebrities’, because you can guarantee that at least one of them will probably set your teeth on edge. For example, in a recent week, Anneka Rice was one of them. Now, thirty odd years ago when she was running around in a jumpsuit on Treasure Hunt and Chalenge Anneka, I could take her, because she was in a position where her talents were probably shown to their best . But let’s be honest, almost everything that dropped from her lips on House of Games made me want to shout “Shut up Shut up Shut up!” at the telly. This is why you need a talent like Richard Osman heading up the show.

However, I also rather like the quirky question rounds. In fact, I so much like the questions where the answers are rhyming pairs, and the Answer Smash ending round, that I stole the format for a video quiz I did with my kids a couple of weekends ago – and what’s more they worked brilliantly. My favourite answer smash was on the show repeated yesterday, where we saw a photograph of Donald T. Rump and were asked – in a fairy story, who spun straw into gold? – Answer – Donald Trumplestiltskin. Made me laugh, anyway.

Beat the Chasers – Right, this is something different. Tipping Point and House of Games are both fairly sturdy old teatime warhorses which have been round the block a few times, and already had their audience. Beat the Chasers is something rather more ambitious. For over a decade The Chase has duked it out with Pointless as the early evening quiz show of choice. And let’s make no bones about it, they’re both great shows. Beat the Chasers then takes the central pro-am idea, and twists it, and put it on later to make it into event TV. So in Beat the Chasers its every contender for him or herself. We still have something equivalent to the cash builder round. Then we get the twists.

The contender will have to decide whether to play against 2, 3,4 or all 5 chasers. The play consists of a round of questions. When the contestant gets one right, then the chasers have to answer. Both contestant and chasers have to keep answering until they get one right, when the go passes over to the other side. While the turn is with the contestant, then their time, which starts at 60 seconds ticks away. Once all your time is gone, you lose. Same goes for the chasers. Look we’ve seen this kind of round before in several different quizzes, all the way back to Going for Gold in the late 80s.

However, as I said, the contender must decide to play against a number of chasers. So while a weak contender might get an offer of, say, £3000 to play against 2 contenders who will get 35 seconds of time, then they would also maybe be given an offer to play against all 5 Chasers for £100,000 in 45 seconds of time.

This is a fascinating development of the original show. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the format.

·       I think that it doesn’t make a huge material difference having 2 chasers against you or 5. That’s not me being disrespectful – it’s actually the opposite. The fact is that for the vast majority of the population, each of these Chasers can beat you comfortably on their own in even time. Yeah, OK, one of them has to hit the buzzer, but you can bet your life that for most of the questions, the others knew it too.

·       However, the amount of time you have does make a big difference. Massive. In “The Chase” come the final chase you have to answer more questions correctly than the Chaser does.You just do, it’s in the mechanics of the game. In “Beat the Chasers” you don’t necessarily. You just have to still be standing by the time their time runs out. If you’ve got, say, a 20 second advantage, then you don’t even need to answer every question correctly. If you can keep your head, and you have an average geeral knowledge, then you have a chance. If you’ve only got a 5 second advantage because you’re taking on all the Chasers, well, it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve been offered because you ain’t going to do it. Except . . .

·       One of the most interesting things about this format is that while, in The Chase, the format favours the Chaser in the Final Chase, this is reversed in Beat the Chaser. I’ll explain that. In The Chase, the two, three of four who make it through have to buzz in to answer their questions. When it’s the Chaser’s go he or she can just shout them out without buzzing. However in Beat the Chaser, it’s the Chasers who have to buzz. It’s not a massive disadvantage, sure, but it’s still a disadvantage.

I will confess that I recorded each show so that I could fast forward through Bradley Walsh bantering with the contestants. Look, he’s just not for me – not everyone can be. I like him very much as an actor, but I’m into this show for the questions. If you ask the Chasers though, they’ll all say that Bradley is the reason for the show’s success – Anne herself says that he is the Chase’s secret weapon. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the shows. Long term readers of LAM might remember that my principle point about pro-am shows is when the format gives an advantage to the pros, who are so good that they don’t need the advantage anyway. This is different, and so to my mind a very interesting proposition.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Why am I back? For that matter, am I actually back in the first place?


Right, let’s start by saying one thing: we’d all have been a lot better off if covid 19 had never reared its ugly head. The deaths in the UK and abroad have been nothing less than tragedies. It has disrupted all of our lives, changed all of our lives, and even when this lockdown is over it’s very likely that what’s normal then, will be quite different from what was normal before. I am not in any way trying to trivialise this disaster.

Still, the lockdown has had some unexpected effects. As a teacher, I am not going to pretend that I haven’t had a lot more free time since the lockdown started. Yes, like all teachers I’m still conscientiously preparing resources, setting work, distributing it to all of my pupils, and marking it promptly then returning it to my pupils. But that doesn’t take all day and I’m not going to pretend that it does.

If you’ve been with LAM over the last few years, you might remember how there have been times when it has just abruptly stopped without warning. At times this has been due to my depression. I was first diagnosed in 2017, maybe 6 months after the school where I’d taught for 29 years was closed and amalgamated with two others. I was off work for 8 weeks, and with treatment I was able to return to work. It’s been a bumpy road since, with further bouts in 2018, and worst, in February 2019, which lasted until the Autumn. I went back onto medication, and the school paid for me to have counselling, for which I will always be grateful to them. Between starting in October, and finishing counselling in January something changed. Maybe it had just run its course naturally, and maybe it was totally due to counselling. Most likely it was a mixture of the two. But from the October half term right up until lockdown, I felt differently, which was most obvious at work. I wouldn’t say it’s easy there – it isn’t. It’s bloody difficult. But I was coping better, I was finding a better way to work with the more difficult kids, and glory be, I was actually enjoying some of my own lessons.

Concurrent with this, I’d pretty much stopped quizzing.

In one way this had been a gradual process, and in another it was a very abrupt process. It’s a couple of years now since I stopped going to quizzes on a Sunday night. Partly this was self preservation, having to work the next day, and partly because I didn’t need the grief from some of the knobheads you’d encounter when you won the quiz a couple of times in a row. I stopped playing in the Bridgend quiz league after the 2017 season. This was partly due to a relatively unpleasant 2016 AGM, and partly due to the fact that I’d got to the stage where I really didn’t like the kind of person I was when I was playing in the league. So essentially I was playing once a week in the rugby club, and in the annual Brain of Mensa competition.

This continued up until about the time I started counselling in October/November. I went to Vienna for a visit, and missed the quiz at the club. Then the next week I didn’t go because I was knackered. I’d hardly, if ever. Used that as an excuse not to go before. But the fact is that I’m not getting any younger, and if I’m going to be on my best the next day at school, then really and truly now I need to be in bed about an hour before the quiz ends sometimes. So I pretty much just sopped going back.

Do you know something? For the first time since 1988 I was not attending at least one quiz every week. Do you know something else? I didn’t miss it. Not at all.

I haven’t a problem filling my time at all. So much so that I started thinking – do I really need to write about UC and Mastermind in order to enjoy the shows? Well, I’m sure you can work out the answer to that one. So I stopped, and I’ve been concentrating on my drawing and painting more. Sadly the lockdown has done for my exhibition which was going to happen at Easter, but hey, there will be other opportunities in the future, hopefully.

Then about 10 days ago, my son asked me to do a video quiz for him and his sisters on Zoom. To be fair he gave me about 2 hours warning. I thoroughly enjoyed putting the questions together, and I thoroughly enjoyed being the quiz master. At the end they asked me to do a Mastermind quiz for them for the next weekend. I had to make specialist rounds for all of them on subjects about which I knew nothing in some cases, and again, I loved it. Then last night we had the Mastermind final. After watching, and enjoying Dave McBryan’s fine performance and win, I really, really wanted to talk about it with someone. So I bit the bullet, and wrote the review in the post before this one.

So that’s that. I’m not putting pressure on myself by saying that I’m going to be starting regular posting again. In fact I’m not even promising that this will not be the last ever post I make. But hey, just because you’ve fallen out of love with quizzing, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still be close friends, hopefully.

Mastermind 2020 Grand Final: Review


I have thought over a couple of hours about whether or not to post again on LAM. Maybe I’ll post about that in a day or two. But this isn’t about that. This is about last night’s Mastermind Grand Final, and about this series as a whole. For once, let’s start with the stats: -

Julie Bungey
The Wars of the Roses
10
0
9
0
19
0
Lewis Barn
The Ancient Universities of Scotland
6
0
6
0
12
0
Marga Scott-Johnson
The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels of Alexander McCall Smith
10
0
11
0
21
0
Dave McBryan
The ‘View Askewniverse’ films of Kevin Smith
10
0
14
0
24
0
Emma Laslett
The Stonewall Riots
10
0
11
0
21
0
Jethro Waldron
Johannes Vermeer
12
0
7
0
19
0

The first thing to point out here, unless I’ve made a highly possible mistake, is that there were no passes. None. That’s not unique, but it is rare, and kudos to all 6 finalists for achieving that.

So, what can we say? Well, not having made any kind of comment on the show – or any show – for months, I obviously didn’t make a preview. Prior to the start of last night’s show – and I apologise to the other finalists for saying this, but I’m being honest here, I really saw this as being a two horse race between Dave and Emma, with Dave a clear favourite. Is that harsh? Maybe. I’ll explain my reasoning. I haven’t been writing about the show for months, but I’ve watched every show this series. What struck me was that Julie, Marga and Jethro had all played pretty much to their best form in both heats and semis. They had prepared their specialist subjects extremely well, and vitally, kept their heads during their GK rounds, and achieved good enough scores in them. If you’re not a regular, competitive quizzer, then that’s pretty much all you can ask of yourself. Crucially, however, it does mean that there’s not another gear there for the final. You’re already hitting your max, and for this reason I discounted the chances of all 3. Apologies.

With Lewis it was a slightly different story. I remembered Lewis from University Challenge, and judging by his performances on that show, and his GK performances so far, I didn’t quite see him having the standard of GK needed yet to really challenge for the title. It was interesting in Lewis’ filmed insert that he met with Gavin Fuller. Gavin was the youngest ever Mastermind champion at the tender age of 24. I thought that Lewis was really tempting fate actually saying that he hoped he could beat Gavin’s record – think it, Lewis by all means, but don’t say it.

As for Emma and Dave, well, to start with Emma, her first TV appearance that I know of was as part of a great family team on Only Connect, which was referenced in her insert. Then there were her GK rounds. Although not perfect, to my mind you could see that on the right day she could throw in a barnstorming round which would give her a real shot. Maybe the final would be that occasion.

As for Dave, I’d seen him playing well on Only Connect in the past as well. As a professional quiz master, it was no surprise that he was for me comfortably the finest performer on GK in the whole series. A comfortable favourite, but then anyone can have a bad day.

Let’s talk about the final, then. Julie Bungey is a schoolteacher of a similar vintage to mine. It’s been a long time since a schoolteacher won Mastermind, 12 broadcast years (my final was filmed almost a year before it was broadcast in 2008.) I have held the distinction of being the last schoolteacher to win Mastermind for longer now than anyone else ever has – Dave Edwards held it for 11 years from 1990 – 2001. While I still get a wee bit of a glow from that fact, I’d be quite happy for someone else to assume the mantle now. So at least a part of me was rooting for Julie. She did well on her specialist, the Wars of the Roses, too, ending up with 10. After half time she used the same tactic which had stood her in good stead for her previous GK rounds, and added 9 to her score. A perfectly good respectable performance, but I couldn’t see her winning. Well, anyway, it was really nice to see her school treating her so well for getting through to the final. I never got so much as a letter of congratulation from the governors or the education dept. when I won. I did get a reception in the Mayor’s parlour, but that was purely on his own initiative, and nothing to do with the governors or the education authority. Only 8 years later the school closed. Coincidence? (yes.)

Lewis, and his contemporaries, are part of the future of quizzing. I don’t know how many other grizzled veterans felt the same as I did watching his filmed insert, but he came across as enthusiastic, and so up for it and into his quizzing that I saw something of the young me of more than 3 decades ago. Now, I wouldn’t have won Mastermind at the age of 24, and I didn’t think Lewis would. Judging by Lewis’ specialist round, I somehow feel that there must have been some misunderstanding between contender and question setters over the parameters of the subject. Put simply, Lewis in his filmed inset suggested he would have done up to 3000 questions in preparation. The largest amount of questions I prepared for any of my specialists was 1500. So it wasn’t lack of preparation on Lewis’ part which saw him accrue a total of 6. It’s never over until it’s over, but I’ve little doubt that this played on Lewis’ mind during the GK. Lewis – there’s little you can do when it’s just not your night. You know how hard you worked and prepared. Keep at it – a few more years at the quiz face and this can all change drastically.

Marga Scott-Johnson put on a fine specialist and a good GK performance. Of all of the contenders, she seemed least phased by the occasion, and I hope she enjoyed it as much as she seemed to be enjoying it. Marga is a stalwart member of the Mastermind Club, and I think she’s a great example of how the show can get under your skin. Obviously, when you’re in the final, then the first objective you have is to win. However, with the best will in the world, only one of the 6 contenders is going to be able to do that. So being able to say, I performed as well as I could, and produced my best, is important. Marga, you can certainly do that.

I’ll skip David for a moment if I may. I just made the observation that the show can get under your skin. Well, Emma Laslett is a good example of this. In her filmed insert she seemed to say that if she didn’t win this time, then she’ll be back, and she’ll be trying again. Right enough, too. Like Marga, she scored 11 on GK, as did Marga, and ended in joint second. From my outsider’s observation, I would say that the only thing which Emma needs in order to be holding the trophy at the end of her next grand final, is a few more years at the quiz face. In all honesty, in my opinion there’s no substitute for playing in other people’s and setting your own quizzes over a period of years. This gives you such a fund of GK stuff which you wouldn’t necessarily know otherwise, and which you wouldn’t expect to be such a quiz chestnut. Over a period of time you find that your guesses become so much more educated , and your knowledge gaps narrower.

Jethro produced the only perfect round of the show in his specialist, which was a brilliant performance, but I’d felt his GK in the heat and the semi was weaker than the other finalists. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that he ended in joint 3rd with 19. Again, like Lewis and Emma he has years of quizzing ahead of him if he wants.

As for Dave, then, well, I felt he would be best of the lot on GK, and frankly that’s exactly how it panned out. In some ways, I felt that Dave had to do it the hard way as well. I tried each of the GK rounds while I was watching, and I had my lowest score of all on Dave’s questions. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, granted. Still, pulling out a round of 14 under the greatest pressure was a fine performance, a championship performance. The winning margin of 3 points isn’t the largest there’s ever been in a grand final – off the top of my head a certain Dr. Gary Grant may well hold that record – but it’s daylight, certainly.

While we’re talking about Dave’s GK, this does lead me to make one of the observations I’d make about the series. I think I understand why the questions have become so long and wordy. It’s another way of testing the contenders’ nerves a little more, and it also gives the people playing along at home a little bit more thinking time. But there’s a fine line with this sort of thing, and I think that line was crossed at times during the series. One of my lasting images of last night’s final is Dave’s frustration with John H chuntering on with what turned out to be the last question, when Dave had already worked out the answer seconds earlier, especially when the buzzer went.

On the whole though, I think it’s fair to say that Hindsight and Hat Trick have done a good job with the show this year. Going back to having all the contenders sitting in a row rather than forcing them through the portal of portent was a very sensible move. Likewise, not telling them each other’s scores last series was just daft, and I’m glad they’ve stopped that. It is a shame that we’ve lost the repechage places for highest scoring runners up. It’s also a shame that there were no reward visits for the filmed inserts as well. OK, for my insert I only got to go to London (I drove down myself, and stayed at my Mum’s, so the Beeb weren’t exactly splashing the cash then) but you can’t buy an experience like going into the Museum of London after closing time, and getting to see and handle artifacts which are not on display to the public.

Right, elephant in the room time. Last series I did make the point that I felt that some of the contenders should have been saved from themselves – that is they put in very low scoring performances which cannot have been very pleasant experiences at all. Yes, you can only tell so much from 20 general knowledge questions in an audition, I agree. But the number of contenders falling through the net just seemed to me to have increased significantly, and I have to say the same for this series.

Apologies if this sounds elitist. It isn’t meant to be. Everyone who is old enough has the right to apply to be a contender on Mastermind, and good luck to you for doing so. But if you do apply, then to my mind that gives you a right, but also a duty. You have a right to expect that the production team won’t put you in the position of really embarrassing yourself if there’s reasonable suspicion that you will perform badly on GK. Then you have a duty to prepare your specialist subject as well.

Overall then, thanks Hindsight and Hat Trick for the series. Well done, and well done for not fixing something which wasn’t broken. May this continue into the future.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

RIP David Rainford

I am so sorry that my return to the blog has to be prompted by such sad news. I have just seen on Facebook that David Rainford has passed away. Like millions of viewers, I first came to know Dave through his stellar performances in the first series of "Are You An Egghead", and met him first hand in the second series. We became internet friends, and took part in several charity quiz events for the Get Connected Charity. Having known Dave on the telly, on he internet, and at a few quiz events, I am deeply saddened. His family and closest friends are, I am certain, absolutely devastated.

I always found Dave to be warm, funny, modest, generous, and a great, great quizzer. He was a real gentleman, and the warmth he projected through the television set was 100% genuine. I'm sure that I speak for millions of Egghead fans when I offer my deepest condolences to his family.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

University Challenge 2020 - First Round


Last of the first round matches, then, dearly beloved. Hoping to take the last place in the second round by right were Matthew Le Croisette, Mary Lobo, Row Janjuah and their captain Isaac Brown, representing Lady Margaret College, Oxford. Hoping to prevent them from doing so, and take the coveted spot for themselves were Downing College Cambridge. Their team were Bovey Zheng, Naivasha Pratt-Jarvis, Pranoy Chaudhuri-Vayalambrone, and their own skipper Robert Jackson.

I thought that both teams sat on their buzzers a little for the first starter, It was so obviously alluding to Beatrix Potter, the famous ale juggling ceramicist. Eventually Naivasha Pratt-Jarvis buzzed in to earn bonuses on librarians. They took two. Painting – Diner – and – four figures were enough to give me Hopper’s Nighthawks for the next starter, and Isaac Brown was hot on my heels with the same. Alumni of the Slade School of Art brought us both just the one bonus. None of us knew the answer to the organic chemistry starter which followed, but apparently the answer is an amine, which I think once attacked the crew of the Enterprise during an episode of the original series of Star Trek. I have to be honest, with the next starter, as soon as it became clear it was a female character from Shakespeare, I would have been tempted to sling buzzer and go for Lady Macbeth straightaway. I’d have been right to do so as well. Robert Jackson hit the buzzer as soon as he heard the word monster. This brought Downing a set of bonuses on physiology. By the time that I zoned back in again, they had scored a full house which brought us nicely to the picture starter. This was a nice UC special. It was a definition, in Spanish, of a single Spanish word which is used in English as well. This one, with drink, water and wine all int eh definition, was always going to be sangria. Isaac Brown was first to see it. Three more of the same provided Lady Margaret Hall with their own full house. I’ll be honest, there can’t have been that many world shaking books published in Germany in 1867, so I thought I was in with a good shout when I went for Das Kapital. Robert Jackson felt the same thing obviously, and this brought bonuses on repetition. This brought bonuses on repetition. Boom boom. One correct answer added 5 to their score. Interesting to see Marx as a bonus answer when the answer to the starter had been Das Kapital. You rarely see that sort of thing happen in a GK round. Nobody knew two of the three great capitals of China other than Berlin. So, at just after the 10 minute mark, Downing led by 60 – 40, with both teams looking up for the competition.

I’ve never heard of the Cheyne -Stokes breathing cycle, but Pranoy Chaudhuri-Vayalambrone had, and buzzed in correctly. 16th century rulers provided a relatively benign set, and Downing put all of these low hanging fruit into their metaphorical basket. I didn’t even understand the next question, but Row Janjuah came in very early with the answer of cadence. Lawyers in Charles Dickens were all gettable, but Lady Margaret Hall (LMH from here on in) took 2. Eastern diamondback gave me rattlesnake, for the next, and evidently Row Janjuah too, who took his double with this one. Recent winners of the Pulitzer Prize for History offered them the chance to draw level with Downing, but they failed to trouble the scorer here. So to the musc starter. How ironic – I was in Vienna last week – locely time, thanks for asking – and we heard the zither-played strains of the theme from the film “The Third Man”. As JP offered ‘Come on! That’s one of the most famous films – “Robert Jackson offered “The Godfather” to predictable indignation from JP. “Matthew Le Croisette decided he was having some of this action too, and offered “Ratatouille.” A fantastic UC special starter saw us given Kirkcaldy and Blenheim Palace – the birthplaces of the historical figures on the £20 and £5 notes, and asked what £10 would be. Mary Lobo worked out that it was Jane Austen, so had to be Hampshire. Lovely question that. The music bonuses, three more leitmotifs used in film soundtracks, provided just the one bonus, but more importantly brought the scores level. At this point you’d have been forgiven for thinking that both teams had a very good chance of reaching the magic target of 150, which would at least guarantee a repechage slot. Nobody knew the lagest city of Bolivia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Nobody knew Sir George Grove for the next starter either. My lap of honour finally materialised with the next starter, a lovely UC special which involved working out that if you multiplied helium- 2 on the periodic table – by beryllium – 4 then you got oxygen – 8. Matthew Le Croisette took a little longer than I did. The next three bonuses were all connected with gyres. It seemed a long time since Downing had answered a starter, but Bovey Zheng identified Spurn Head as being in the Humber estuary. One correct answer put them into triple figures. However LMH were the leaders by 5 at just after the 20 minute mark.

For the second picture starter we saw a detail of a painting, in which a small bird was depicted. I’ll be honest, style and colours screamed Rousseau to me, and also to Isaac Brown I dare say. More details from paintings in which birds were depicted brought them two more correct answers. Now, when you’re behind, I’ve always said that you’re better off being hung for a sheep rather than a lamb, so I don’t blame Naivasha Pratt-Jarvis for giving it a lash on the next question. However she came in after just hearing “Which Spanish artist – “ and let’s be fair, there are 4 hardy Spanish artist perennials which often feature in UC questions. She gave us Velazquez, she might just as well have said ‘Picasso’ or Dali’ but the answer was Goya, which became clear with the full question. Isaac Brown had that. Bonuses on the works of Stephen Hawking were enough to bring LMH the magic total of 150, so whatever happened we’d be seeing them again. Nobody recognised surgical retractors for the next starter. Bovey Zheng gave Downing some hope, knowing that osier and other trees are species of willow. Winners of the Copa Libertadores Trophy brought just one bonus, and they were still going to need at least two visits to the table to reach the repechage at least. Pranoy Chaudhuri-Vayalambrone provided one of the starters they needed, completing a Dorothy Parker couplet with doubt. Two bonuses took them to 130, just a starter and two bonuses away from safety. I was surprised that nobody could work out that the two of Kipling’s six honest serving men which are anagrams of each other are how and who. Neither team worked out Samuel Coleridge-Taylor for the next starter. Now, I knew that the only world war year in which a census could have taken place was 1941, so that had to be the year ending in a 1 when a census wasn’t taken. I don’t know if Robert Jackson used the same reckoning to work it out, but he came up with the same answer. Two bonuses on the Pacific Islands to qualify, and three to win. They took the first, but were cruelly gonged before answering the second.

Let’s get the technicalities out of the way first. Jesus, Oxford, Durham and Downing all scored 145. So the two teams going through which will be revealed next week, will eb the ones who needed to hear the fewest questions to reach their total. Fair enough. Got to separate them somehow.

This was a terrific contest, and an exciting match. I don’t think either of them were amongst the best teams we’ve seen all series, but hey, it was a good show. Let’s settle for that.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

A little aside, when JP dubbed churros as ‘the slimmer’s friend’ was pretty much all there was from him in the first ten minutes or so. In the music starter his reaction of “Noooooooo!!!!” when Robert Jackson offered “The Godfather” for “The Third Man” was exaggerated beyond it’s natural lifespan. Matthew Le Croisette’s follow up suggestion of Ratatouille gave him the opportunity to respond in high dudgeon, “Ratatouille?!” then administer the coup de grace with the put down “meretricious offerings!”.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week

Loads and loads of things I didn’t know in this, but none of them so interesting that they stuck out for me. Sorry.