Here's my recollections of the semi final, which I wrote within a couple of days of it being recorded : -
The quiz world, or rather the serious quiz world, is quite an incestuous one. After you’ve been on the circuit for a little while, and after you’ve appeared in a few of the more highbrow quiz shows, you’ll find the same faces popping up, and you get to know each other. I make no bones about the fact that 2009 was the year when getting to appear on Brain of Britain was my biggest quiz based ambition, but I don’t pretend that it was the only quiz that I applied for during the year.
Back in April, about the same time that I first sent off my BoB application, I was asked by a TV company to apply to appear on a show called “Are You An Egghead” and duly took part in the series, where I reached the quarter finals. I was knocked out by a very fine quizzer called Anne Hegerty. Anne and I both belong to the same internet forum, so we exchanged messages on the day that our show was broadcast. This happened to be a couple of weeks after the first round of BoB was recorded. One of the things that Anne mentioned was that she believed that we would be in the same Brain of Britain semi final. This betrayed a surprising amount of knowledge on Anne’s part, since she knew that I’d won my heat, and she also knew that I was scheduled to play again on the same day that she was. She mentioned another couple of names she thought would be on the same day. Suffice it to say that the other names were fearsome enough to put any thoughts of progression to the finals out of my mind.
In addition to this, I had the knowledge that I had only managed to score 16 in my first round heat. Now, OK, a win is a win. If you go back ( as I often do ) to mastermind 2007, my first round score was not one of the highest, and I only just scraped into the top 10. However, my score had still been pretty good. 16 seemed rather on the modest side, especially since in the heat before mine, Ian Bayley had scored 33 ! The other shows which had been broadcast so far had all been won by some fine competitors too.
I could tell you that I did no extra revision for my semi final, but that would be an utter lie. I learned the 1986 “Brain of Britain” quiz book, written by Mycroft himself, Ian Gillies, pretty much from cover to cover. I did make some rather ineffectual efforts to improve my worst BoB subjects – classical music and Science – yes, Science, all of it ! However I think any benefit I derived from this was purely psychological.
This time I made sure that my mum and step dad were put onto the guest list, and so we decided to leave the house at 4pm, and this time take the tube to Piccadilly Circus so we could walk up Regent Street and look at the Christmas Lights. So we did, and they were rotten. So that meant that we had to skulk into a coffee shop for about an hour, before arriving at Broadcasting House.
Last time, for the first round the contestants’ guests could stay with them, but they were taken off this time. All of which gave me time to check out the opposition. Just as Anne had predicted, David Edwards was all present and correct. If the name seems familiar to you, well that’s no surprise. To name just a few of his achievements David won Mastermind in 1990. He was the first Mastermind winner to win £1million on WWTBAM. In 2009, he was the losing finalist on “Are You An Egghead ? “ Before I go any further I have to state that David, as well as being one of the very best quizzers around, is also one of the very nicest, a true gentleman, and very good company. So it was no hardship to pass a few minutes in his company, even if the prospect of having to face him in the semi final was not one I viewed with any degree of relish. However David was able to put my mind at rest on one score. He explained that the Mighty Doctor Ian had actually played the night before. So whatever happened we wouldn’t be facing him.
Anne arrived, and we were eventually taken through into the Radio Theatre. I noticed the 4 names in the desk panel – and mine wasn’t there. This meant that my semi would be the first of the two, since they rehearsed the second show first, and then this would mean that the first show contestants could stay in their seats after the rehearsal. One other thing was obvious. Anne and David were both in the second semi final. Whoever I was facing, it wouldn’t be either of them, and it wouldn’t be Ian Bayley. So maybe the day was already starting to look up.
Brain of Britain 2009 – Semi Final number 3
Left to Right – Martin Boult – David Clark –Host Russell Davies - Jane Ann Liston – Anthony Payne
So the line up or my semi final, as you can see from the photo, was
Jane Ann Liston
My first thought, and its an unworthy one, I admit, was a certain amount of relief that I didn’t seem to have been placed in a semi with any of the real quizzing stars of the series. Both Martin Boult and Anthony Payne had won their heats, but its fair to say that they were not names I knew from the world of quizzing. Martin had won, I think, the last of the heats, which had yet to be broadcast, and so I didn’t know his score, and how well he had done. It would have given me food for thought had I known that he had gone through with the lowest winning score in the first round. However, to do this he had beaten reigning Mastermind champion Nancy Dickmann ! On reflection I’m glad that I didn’t know this at the time. Jane-Ann Liston I had not met before, but I knew of her through her appearance in my 2007 series of Mastermind . ( I’m sorry, but I cannot help but think of the 2007 series as MY series – although at a push I will refer to it as the 2007 SOBM ( Series of Blessed Memory ) . Jane Ann reached the semi finals , where she eventually lost to series runner-up Derek Moody. My recollection of her General knowledge performances was that they were good but steady rather than spectacular. Still, coming through as a highest scoring runner up commanded respect. As for Anthony Payne, he , like me, had managed a score of 16 in the first round, and so on paper he had at least as much chance as I did.
So, Russell kindly allowed me to have a photograph with the team before the start of the rehearsal. Then we were off. And what a rehearsal it was. I had my five in a row, and a ton of bonuses ! So much so that I scored 10 in the rehearsal alone. Which actually scared the pants off me, since something that starts so well can only get worse. On the face of it, though, at least it seemed to show that I was seemingly significantly sharper on the buzzer than my fellow contestants. A good omen, or so I thought.
On with the show then.
By the end of the first round it seemed pretty clear that my main competition was going to come from the competitor on my right, Martin Boult. He got a good string of three or four answers, more than I did. I had a couple of buzzes for bonuses to keep in touch, but it wasn’t enough to give me any great degree of comfort. This guy was a good quizzer. In the next round, he even started beating me to the buzzer, which surprised the hell out of me. He’d obviously been keeping his powder dry during the rehearsal round. Still, I started to get the measure with a good set of answers in round three.
It took a little longer to figure out why I was being beaten on the buzzer too. In the instructions before the start of the show we had all been told not to buzz in if we heard a wrong answer, until Russell said it was wrong. If we didn’t observe this, then we would be frozen out of the buzzing, and told off for it. Well, in the second round I came in so quickly after he said “Wrong” on one question, yet still got beaten to the buzzer, that the only way that Martin could have beaten me to the buzzer was if he had jumped the gun. So that , I thought, gave me carte blanche to do so as well. He hadn’t been told off for it, so I reckoned that if he could do it, so could I , and on a level playing field I would back myself to be quicker on the draw. For the rest of the show that was pretty much the way it turned out.
I forget exactly the exact wording of the two reader’s questions, but it was something along the lines of – when Lord Haw Haw announced on german propaganda radio that HMS – ( I forget the name ) had been sunk, how was this impossible. I didn’t have a clue, but Anthony and Martin knew that it had been a land installation, a ‘stone ship’ . The second question concerned Maurice Flitcroft – a man who set the record highest round in The Open golf championship ( Jane Anne gave me a reprimand for calling it the British Open ) after which stringent qualifying standards were applied to stop it ever happening again.
Round Four was where the tide turned appreciably. With a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, I got a run of five. In one of the middle questions I was asked,
“Who was the last PM born in the 19th century ? “ Now it just so happens that my team became welsh CIU champions in 2009, through correctly answering that Alec Douglas-Home was the first PM born in the 20th century. So with a quick bit of calculation I worked out that it had to be Harold Macmillan. It was. Then the fifth question asked what generic name was given to the shanty towns created by out of work Americans during the great depression of the 1930s. Thank you Dr. Who – since I remember a dalek episode a couple of years ago taking place in Hoovertown. Or was it Hooverville ? I answered Hoovertown – there was no reaction from Russell, so I had another stab, and so I changed it to Hooverville – and it was accepted. Blimey, that was a close one. 6 points – my first ever run of five, and a significant lead. Add that to a couple of buzzer bonuses, and I was well into the driving seat.
With a couple of rounds left I had the kind of lead I could have only dreamt of. Mathematically Anthony and Jane Ann were out of it, and the gap between Martin and me stayed at about 7 points.
There was an interesting cock-up which you won't have heard in the penultimate round. Anthony Payne was asked to identify the love theme from the film "Spartacus". Only this wasn't what was played in the theatre. Instead they put the on the famous piece of Katchaturian's Spartacus , later used for the Onedin Line. Not the same piece of music at all ! I noticed that they had put the right one on for today's broadcast. At last the final round ended, and I had scored 20. Instant delerium. I literally could not stop shaking. For the record, the final scores were : -
Martin Boult - 13
David Clark - 20
Jane Ann Liston - 8
Anthony Payne - 6
If anything, Mum and Tony seemed as delighted as I was. With forgiveable hyperbole Tony slapped me on the back and announced that I had ‘wiped the floor’ with the others. His words , not mine, and not the most tactful thing to say when we should have been commiserating with the other contestants. Still, it was a great pleasure to be able to sit down and watch the second semi, with my friends David and Anne going head to head with Jim Cook and Simon Pitfield.