Monday, 14 December 2009

Radio Listen - Brain of Britain - My first round

Following the kind words about my extended accounts of appearing on Are You An Egghead, I though tthat I'd do the same with BoB. So here it is : -

I had stayed the night before the show at my Mum’s in Tottenham. So I took the tube from Wood Green to Oxford Circus.

Wood Green Tube, characteristically hectic

Despite tube problems at Finsbury Park I was the second to arrive, and one by one all the rest of us trooped in. I say all of us, because they record two heats in one go. So, one by one eight of us appeared in the reception of Broadcasting House in London. A show like Brain of Britain somehow could only be recorded in Broadcasting House. Its such an iconic, and reassuringly art deco confection of a building that to look at it is almost to believe that , if you could find your way to the roof without setting off a major terrorist scare, you might still find Arthur Askey and Dickie ‘Stinker’ Murdoch camped out there. ( For anyone under . . . well, basically for anyone still alive, in an old radio variety show of the 1940’s , called Bandwagon, Arthur Askey and Dickie Murdoch supposedly lived in a tent on the roof of Broadcasting House ). Doubtless the ghosts of Tommy Handley, Jack de Manio, et al flit through its corridors at night.

To compare Broadcasting House to Television Centre, when I appeared in “Are You An Egghead” back in May, I found that the foyer of TVC was in many ways very similar to a departure hall in an airport terminal. Security was almost as obvious as well. Lots of people were moving around in a very busy and businesslike fashion, and the ladies at reception had the air that they were very much doing you a favous by acknowledging your presence. Whereas the foyer of Broadcasting House was a lot smaller and more intimate, and rather more reminiscent of a provincial 3 Star hotel, and the atmosphere a lot more friendly, and less impersonal.

Broadcasting House in the late afternoon October sunshine

I will make a confession here. The fact is that I had actually once been in Broadcasting House about a quarter of a century before. When I was a student I worked for a couple of temp agencies in Ealing Broadway, one of whom supplied casual staff for most of the BBC canteens in various establishments dotted around West and Central London. In my student years I washed up in the canteens of the TV Rehearsal Rooms in East Acton, Television Centre in White City, Lime Grove in Shepherd’s Bush, and Greater London Radio just off Baker Street. I also spent one day in late1983 washing up in the Broadcasting House canteen. Not that I could remember hardly anything from that day itself as I presented myself to the reception, and was asked to take a seat and wait.

The first surprise of the day was when Dave Roberts from Newport walked in about five minutes after I had. I’d played against Dave in both the Dynevor Arms Sunday Night quiz, and the Pill Harriers Rugby Club Monday night quiz on many occasions. Dave wasn’t a novice by any stretch of the imagination. I knew for a fact that he’d played in at least one broadcast quiz before, when his team reached the second round in the first ever series of BBC4’s wonderful and tough team quiz “Only Connect”. Now, the fact was that I had actually lost my letter with all of the details of the show in the scrum I’d had to fight my way through outside Oxford Circus tube station, so I couldn’t check whether I was in the same show, heat number 10, as Dave. I couldn’t help thinking it was likely, though, especially since Brain of Britain always used to be run in regional heats.

I certainly hoped that this was the case as I watched Dr. Ian Bayley arrive. Ian had come runner up in the 2008 series of Mastermind, but I think I can safely say that he was by far the most accomplished quizzer who took part in either of the night’s heats. Nationally ranked in the top 10 of quizzers in the UK, in the two Quiz Grand Prix I had taken part in, Ian had achieved scores that were simply outstanding. Its easy to say this now with the benefit of hindsight, but anyone of us in Ian’s heat was playing for second place.

One more quizzer I knew arrived shortly after Ian. Stuart Davies from Swansea was a quizzer I knew, liked and respected. Back in the early noughties, my friend Rob Merrill had invited me to play in the Independent Swansea Quiz League with a pub called the Dillwyn in Pontardawe. We had a good team, and for the three years I played we were always contending for the league title with Stuart’s team, from the Reverend James in Gorseinon. We won a couple of times, and they won a couple of times. Stuart was the team captain, and I had always reckoned him to be probably the strongest player in a very good team. This was more weight to the argument that the heats must be organised on a regional basis, which gave me more of an opportunity to avoid meeting – and losing to - Ian Bayley at this stage. However, as reassuring as that thought might be, the fact was that Stuart was very serious opposition, and Dave R. was not to be lightly dismissed. Who was the fourth going to be, though ?

By 6:20 pm one of the production team, who sadly didn’t introduce himself, arrived, and took us through into the radio theatre. No makeup, no fuss about wardrobe, just straight into the theatre. He gave us a few minutes of talk and instructions, and then it was into the chairs for a brief rehearsal.

The system they have for the rehearsal is a good one. The contestants who are recording the evening’s second show have the first rehearsal. Then the contestants in the evening’s first show have their turn, and this means that they can stay in their seats, and get straight on with the show proper as soon as the audience come in.It turned out that yes, my show was going to be the welsh regional heat, and this was show 10. Ian’s show was designated show 9. So our show was to be rehearsed first.
The other contestant for my show was Dr. Jason Bray from Blaenavon. He modestly described himself as a quiz newbie, and so stupidly I tended to mentally dismiss his challenge. Based on my knowledge and experience of the other three guys I arrogantly mentally made myself favourite, and installed Stuart as the main opposition, Dave R. as the dark horse, and Jason as the outsider. Certainly the rehearsal suggested this to be the case as both Stuart and I scored 5 in a row for a bonus, and I managed to snaffle up a couple of bonuses. If the show itself went as well, then I wouldn’t be complaining.

Of course, there was Ian’s show to take place first. Just before the audience came in we were informed that the 4 highest scoring runners up would be invited back for a place in the semi finals, and currently it was looking as if a score of at least 14 would be needed. I have to say that William, Maya and Chris, the charming and intelligent opposition to Ian in the first heat had little chance of reaching that target without getting a full set of five answers for one of their question sets. Ian was awesome, awesome on his own questions, and awesome on the buzzer for everyone else’s, reaching a ridiculous total of something like 33 ! If you’ve listened to that particular show you’ll have heard the way that he blew away the opposition, with a string of five pointers, and an eagle eye for the bonus. Having said that you won’t have heard the way that he was told off at one point for being just a little too eager on the buzzer, but nonetheless this looked to me like the performance of a champion in waiting.

So it was our turn.

In all my broadcast quiz experiences I can truly say that most of them passed by more quickly than you can possibly imagine. In fact the only one where I can remember really making a conscious effort to stop and smell the roses and enjoy it as it happened was the Grand Final of Mastermind. And I only managed that because at half time I had rationalised that I was highly unlikely to win being two points behind the leader at the time, and so I might as well enjoy myself..

So , my recollections of this show are a little bit patchy, I’m afraid. Jason answered several of his first set of questions. I only managed a couple of mine, and Dave and Stuart only one each of theirs. However, I did have the advantage of knowing from the rehearsal that I could be very quick on the buzzer, and so was only a point or two behind Jason.

I kept on pressing the life out of the buzzer every time one of my fellows was either wrong or ran out of time, and this slowly built me a small lead. I wish that I could have put up a better showing on my own questions, but it didn’t happen. I think that I had one string of 3, but that was it. However, until the final round, neither could anyone else. The fact was that it was the old, old story of wishing you’d had everyone else’s questions. At least this gave me enough buzzer opportunities, and truly it was this which brought me a lead going into the last round. Quick mental calculations told me that the only way either Dave or Stuart could beat me would be for either of them to have a five point and bonus, and answer everyone else’s first question. Jason was the only one really in the position to do it. When he failed his first question, and I buzzed in correctly, then I was nearly home and dry. Nearly. Again, a couple of questions, and then the third one did for me, but even if Stuart had a five question run I thought he was still too far behind. So what did he do ? He had a five question and bonus. Dave failed his first question, which none of us were able to answer, and that was it. A win, but only by a couple of points.

Looking back I wish that I could have had a five point set, and I’m not that delighted with my performance on my own questions. Still, my buzzing in won the show for me, and for that I take a little pride.

Who am I kidding ? I was delighted to have won.

DC with Russell Davies after the show – the host with the most
I absolutely loved playing on the show. It was different from Mastermind in many ways. Apart from the other differences between the shows, it was also different because I couldn’t help having a different mind-set towards it. It works like this : -

When I took part in Mastermind in 2007 I had never won anything on TV. Yes, I had won through the fastest finger on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and taken home £1000, but the fact was that I had got as far as £16,000, and got the £32,000 question wrong. It was my biggest ever solo prize in a quiz, and yet it felt like a defeat, which to all intents and purposes it was. I had even been in Mastermind in 2006, and lost to the excellent Kath Drury in the first round. So as much as I knew that I was certainly a good quizzer, the fact was that I had no broadcast pedigree at all to speak of. If I had lost in the first round again, well, so what ? Who was expecting any more of me than me ?

Now, though, it was different. Now I was a Mastermind winner, and although it shouldn’t make any difference, at the back of your mind you can’t help worrying about what people will say if you get knocked out in the first round. After I won Mastermind I read Magnus Magnusson’s “I’ve Started So I’ll Finish” which is the official history of the first 25 years of Mastermind, and what worried me is that so many of the winners also went on to get to the final of Brain of Britain. To be Mastermind Winner , but knocked out in Round One of Brain of Britain was not a particularly appealing prospect. All the worst things you wouldn’t like to think about yourself – eg – that you only did so well in Mastermind by a pure fluke, and your name didn’t belong up there with the other champions would seem to be confirmed. Yet to be Mastermind Winner and Brain of Britain semi finalist sounded so much better.

BoB is one of the most convivial shows that I have been on. Top of the tree is “Millionaire”, where we were treated royally all day, and then given pretty much a party in the bar afterwards, with Chris Tarrant standing the drinks for all for the first round. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s a class act. Next would be “Come and Have A Go “, where at least we were given two nights in a good hotel, and very well treated until we lost, when we were given the bum’s rush. Mastermind do make an effort but it can be a little strained. Even if you’re a stand in, they really don’t want you hanging around in the audience for more than one show of Mastermind on any given day, and unless your show is the last one of the day, when you get back to the green room after your own show you are a little bit in the way .
Its not like that with BoB. You all stay in the radio theatre until both shows are in the can, then its contestants, the team who make the show, and the guests all back to the green room for a wee drinkie. As it was I couldn’t stay long, but long enough to get my picture taken with masterful Russell Davies. As for the semi , well, I couldn’t wait.

The Details

Jason Bray - 11
David Clark - 16
Stuart Davies - 12
Dave Roberts - 7


Ben Dutton said...

When I heard you were on this show I expected another Ian Bayley like trouncing of the opposition. You did well, but it was no certain thing it seemed. Looking forward to hearing you in the next round.

Londinius said...

Hello Ben

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not that good ! To be fair, Ian is an outstanding quizzer, and performances like his just leave me speechless with admiration - and envy !

You're right - it was no certain thing. I had never met Jason before, but know both Stuart and David well, and believe me they are good quizzers in their own right.

It was tremendous fun, and I do hope that this came across . As for the semi . . . watch this space !


Dave C.