Monday, 18 January 2010

Brain of Britain - My Semi Final

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
Martin Boult,
David Clark
Jane Ann Liston
Anthony Payne.

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.


Rach Cherryade said...

Fantastic! You were great, really worthy winner, can't wait to hear the final, all the best for it, I suppose it'll be on the week after next, this series has flown by! Have you got any other quiz appearances coming up?

Loved you're write-up too, I'm trying to write a review of our last two matches but have been a bit too busy with uni work, will get them written up soon anyway!

Best wishes,
p.s. I was happy to get the Blue Peter badge question Brain of Britain is so difficult that I'm always happy to get one right!

Londinius said...

Hello Rach

And thanks for your kind comments about the semi, and my account thereof. This semi the questions just fell right for me, and I got a great amount of pleasure from it. Actually the whole of Brain of Britain really was great fun from start to finish. If anyone out there is thinking of applying for the next series I can heartily recommend it. For all the seriousness of the competition, its actually quite a lighthearted show to be involved in, and Russell Davies is just wonderful. Its a testament to him that looking back I'm not at all disappointed that we didn't have Robert Robinson, of whom I've been a fan since he used to present Ask the Family .

I read your account of the selection and the first round of UC on your blog - and if anyone hasn't read these themselves yet I can thoroughly recommend them. Click on Rach's name above, then click on her blog, and type University Challenge into the search box.
Actually, if I may , when the series is over I'd like to write an entry where I can direct people to your accounts in your blog, if I may . They're very well written and interesting. So I look forward to reading further installments as and when you can do them.

Well done on the Blue Peter badge question. It just didn't occur to any of us. I mean - purple ! The final will be broadcast a week on Monday, as you say.

I haven't any others lined up at the moment. Gary grant, Lisa Hermann and I applied for this series of Only Connect, and we were offered an audition. The problem was that we had to be available for the 5th December, a date when gary was moving house, and I had to be in London for my mum's 70th birthday. So rather than waste everyone's time we pulled out before the audition. Hopefully there will be a fourth series, and we'll definitely go for that if they will have us.

How about you ? I'm guessing that the whole series of UC has probably been recorded by now -
and by the way, a big thank you to you and all other paticipant-contributors for never revealing any of the results beforehand. So where next for Team Cherryade ? Have you anything lined up ? If not, is there any other quiz you're thinking about ? I think that your public should be told !

Best wishes


Another Anne said...

Late as ever - I actually haven't got round to hearing your semi yet! (On the radio, I mean - obviously I was there.) I'm going to tape it tomorrow night.

The reason I thought we'd be in the same semi-final is that I was still in 'Are You An Egghead' mode, where the draw was quite straightforward, and if you knew who'd beaten whom, you could work out what the next round would look like. Paul Bajoria (sensibly, IMO) decided to sprinkle the highest-scoring runners-up amongst the other semi-finalists, rather than giving them one semi to themselves. So that was what confused me. Never assume I have inside knowledge, David - I'm probably just making stuff up again!

Rach Cherryade said...

Ah, thanks for the kind comments on my write-ups, please do feel free to link to them any time, I'd like to get the last two accounts done before our next match but not sure if it'll happen now, but they'll appear eventually!

I'd like to apply for some more quizzes (I've got a taste for it now!) and thought I might try Master Mind, I know you can enter more than once so thought I could have a go, problem is specialist subjects, I'd want to choose at least one music related subject but as the music I know about is fairly obscure I wasn't sure if putting a fairly obscure band as a specialist subject might automatically disqualify me, I thought of maybe putting Belle & Sebastian down as they're probably the most famous band I know about, if you have any advice about filling in the application then I would be very grateful! One of the other Team Cherryade members wanted us to apply to Eggheads so we might do that one day, we've thought about Only Connect but don't think we're ready for that yet! Plus, it'd mean leaving some of our regular pub quiz team out as there are more than 3 of us! In the meantime we have a fantastic local pub quiz that we go to every week so that keeps us in training!

Thanks again,

Londinius said...

Hi Anne and Rach,

Anne - I'm looking forward to hearing your semi on Monday ( again ) . Without giving too much away I think that we can guarantee listeners who weren't actually there a very good show.

You know that I will always think of you as a mine of information now Anne, so I'm afraid all protestations to the contrary are pointless ! But yes, I too am very glad that Paul decided to treat the runners up exactly the same as all the other qualifiers. Its hard lines on them that they didn't get their own semi final as used to happen, but probably fairer to everyone else in the long run.

Rach, obviously I'm going to say this, but Mastermind is a great show, and I can only advise you to go for it. If you want to email me if and when you fill in the application form - which you can do online at the BBC's own Mastermind site - basically just google BBC Mastermind - then I will gladly give you the (dubious) benefit of my experience. I think thd only thing that should give you any pause for thought is the fact that you have to put down 4 potential subjects, if I recall correctly. I would definitely go with Belle and Sebastian ( although do make it clear that its the band and not the 1970s childrens TV series ! ) since that's well within the normal remit. But if you can, show a little versatility as well, don't go for all music subjects if you can. As a University Challenge at-least-quarter finalist you will surely be appealing to the production team - as a female quizzer from a younger demographic, even more so. As I say, when you're ready, if you want to email me I'll try and answer any specifics.

I'd definitely suggest having a go at Eggheads. Its a good laugh, and the Eggies themselves are lovely, and if you go there in the spirit of expecting nothing more than a bit of fun from it you won't be disappointed.

Looking forward to your next show - I expect nothing less than a titanic clash !


rainford said...

Congratulations David. I can't wait for the final. Four quiz titans locking horns. It will be a classic.

Londinius said...

David - you are a gentleman, sir, and also, if I may say this without wishing to cause offence, a flatterer too. I agree with you about Ian, Rob and Anne as quiz titans, although I have to say that I've always thought of myself as more of a tight'un. I certainly hope that you enjoy the show on Monday .

Look after yourself