Monday, 31 May 2010

Misunderstandings will arise anyway -

but you don't have to go out of your way to make it happen.

If you phrase a question in a way that makes it possible for people to misunderstand it in any way, then you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will misunderstand it. This is a salutary lesson which all of us who aspire to be question masters at whatever level would do well to take on board.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I’m sorry for those of you who had to suffer less than perfect weather for your bank holiday, but here in the Swansea Bay area its been fine and sunny all day. My mum and step Dad have been staying the weekend with us, so we dragged them out of the house to introduce them to one of my favourite museums, the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. One day all museums will be like this one, which utilises all the wonder of interactive Information Technology to the full.

As you can see from the photograph, its in a wonderful setting, since it looks right out onto the Marina. Visiting the museum reminded me of a question I was asked in a quiz a few weeks ago : -
“Which was the world’s first fare paying passenger railway ? “
Now, if the answer – The Stockton and Darlington Railway – has just popped into your head, well, I can understand that. Have a look at the question again, though. As asked, it doesn’t mention steam at all. As asked, the correct answer is
The Oystermouth Railway ( which later became the Swansea and Mumbles Railway )
OK, so when it began it was horse-drawn, but nonetheless it is generally recognised as the world’s first fare paying passenger railway. It actually lasted until 1960, as a tramline, when the council, showing the great foresight and respect for heritage that councils were famed for during that decade, ripped up the tracks, and consigned the trams to the dustbin of history.
As for the question , well, the question master went down the Stockton and Darlington route for the answer. No, Gentle Reader, it was not I who asked for a steward’s enquiry. I didn’t need to . People in Swansea, especially those of a certain age, are justifiably proud of their city’s part in railway history, and several people pointed this out to the QM. His explanation of
“well I thought everyone would know I meant steam railway. “
did not appease many, it must be said, but the time honoured rule of – the question master is always right was observed.

Still, you’ll be glad to know that we had a nice day in Swansea today, at least !

Friday, 28 May 2010

Mastermind News

Would you like to be the next Mastermind champion ? If your answer is yes – well , sorry , but you’re out of luck, since they’ve already been recording the first round of the next series. So unless you’re already in it, you’re too late. Now, it doesn’t matter where I was or what I was doing. I’ll tell you all about it in the future. However I have it from cast iron sources that there’s a fundamental change to the format of the show. Basically the filmed inserts have all gone. Ok, we can all live with that, I’m sure. Albeit that they were an improvement on the inter round chats from previous Humphrys era series. This frees up the time to increase the GK rounds to 2 and a half minutes. This is not a rumour, or a mooted change – its already happened.

You know me. I’m essentially a pupil of the school of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ , so my feelings about this change are mixed at best. Its interesting to think that Bill Wright, the show’s creator, originally envisaged it as consisting only of specialist questions. Happily the classic format of contenders being given equal time on both specialist and general knowledge was established during the very first series in 1972, and this basic principle was adhered to right up to the semi finals of the series that finished earlier tonight.

On the other hand . . . well the principle was abandoned in this year’s semis, where the specialist round alone was reduced to 90 seconds, and yet we still saw some exciting shows. If anything they moved along at an even more cracking pace, having no filmed inserts to hold up the specialist rounds. So I think that we have to give it a try, and reserve judgement until we see it in practice.

One Million Pounds Dropped, and an Opportunity Missed

Let me choose my words carefully. The 1 Million Pound Drop Live burst onto our screens this week, and like it or loathe it, I couldn’t ignore it. Actually the truth of it was that I did none of the above. I can’t say that I particularly liked it, for reasons which I shall explain later, but on the other hand it really isn’t aimed at people like me anyway, and as such its inoffensive and I certainly don’t hate it.

So, if its not for my particular demographic, and I’m really ambivalent towards it, what am I doing bothering to review it ? Well, I do like to think of myself as at least a student of the Quiz show genre, if not a connoisseur, and I think that any show that tries to offer us something new is at least worthy of notice.

What’s new about The 1 Million Pound Drop Live ? Not the host , certainly. Davina McCall, or ‘Shouty Gurny Woman’ as she is known in certain circles, had a go at the Big Prize Quiz Show a few years ago with ITV’s The Vault. Screamin’ ‘Vina’s regular Big Brother gig ends with this year’s series, so she’s on the lookout for a new regular earner. Sorry, love, but I wouldn’t put a million pounds on this one being it.

How about the Prize ? No, sorry, winning a million on telly has been around since the 90s. The format , then ? Well, yes, to some extent. For one thing each contestant, or pair of contestants, starts with £1 million. They are asked a set of multiple choice questions. Put the million onto the wrong answer, and it falls down a hole and its goodnight Vienna. So you can hedge your bets, and spread the money around several answers. You’ll lose some, but you still carry some through. Well, I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched the show through from the start, but I have yet to see anyone get through all of their 8 questions without losing the lot.

You see , some of he questions are bloody hard. Most of them , in fact. I’ve seen a lot of questions of the – which of these happened first ? – genre. Trouble is, all of the options happened pretty much at the same time. These are things you are not meant to know. In fact I’ll go further. These are things you are meant NOT to know. So it’s a guessing game. There’s a place for guessing in a quiz, but there’s also a place for having a decent grounding in General Knowledge. I don’t think that this would get you very far in The 1 Million Pound Drop.

Is this why the show pretty much leaves me cold ? Its one of the reasons, certainly, but its not the only one. For one thing its obviously aimed at a younger demographic, the Big Brother Generation. There is a school of thought that says that all of the contestants will go straight into the Big Brother house and become the new set of housemates. Could be. But it means that the succession of contestants tend to merge into each other, and I found myself longing to see a scruffy, little balding bloke in his fifties for a bit of light relief. Fat chance of that. For another thing, I’m sorry, I’m sure she’s a lovely person when she’s off duty, very good to her mum and all that sort of thing, but I’m afraid that I find Screamin’ ‘Vina’s on screen persona very irritating. But above all else, it seems that the show is trying to set a new record for the least number of questions asked during a long show. Its pace is positively funereal.

So while I applaud this attempt to breathe life into the seemingly moribund big money quiz genre, I can’t help thinking that , as for The 1 Million Pound Drop, ‘dropped’ is exactly what it will be at the end of its run.

Mastermind Grand Final

Well, without lapsing into hyperbole, I think its fair to say that tonight’s show was probably the most eagerly awaited final for many a long year. 6 quizzers with a proven broadcast track record, duking it out in Mastermind’s answer to that old World Cup favourite, the Group of Death.

David Buckle had picked the cherry plum of what looked like the best outing for the filmed insert. In previous rounds he had taken Gerry Anderson, and the Jeeves and Wooster novels. For the Grand Final it was Hollywood in the 1980s, which necessitated a visit to what looked like Universal Studios. I have to be honest, I did think that this looked like one of those deceptively wide subjects, but David still managed to post a very respectable 13.

Second to take to the chair tonight was LAM joint favourite Kathryn Johnson. Kathryn had offered us Victorian and Edwardian Poisoners, then the Lord Peter Wimsey novels in previous rounds. She claimed that her choice of The Granddaughters of Queen Victoria had been the result of desperation rather than inspiration. Well, it resulted in a trip to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight for her film, so it can’t have been all bad. For a supposedly desperate choice Kathryn put on a bravura performance, and scored 16. Game on.

Our second joint favourite of the evening, Jesse Honey, was answering on Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. In previous rounds he had answered on the London Borough of Wandsworth, and The Life and Work of Antoni Gaudi. Jesse made his film – well , where else other than in the cathedral ? He explained how he had jumped on a train immediately after his semi final, and walked around taking pictures, determined to leave no cathedral stone unturned. It worked, too. 18 is a massive score at any time. In a grand final its magnificent.

Barbara Thompson , former Brain of Britain champion, whose previous subjects were British Female Cabinet Ministers and Ealing Studios, was answering on the English County Cricket Championship from 1960, and was filmed, appropriately enough, at a cricket ground. You couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for her, since I don’t know when they made the film, but it looked freezing to me. Barbara gave it a good old go, and at the end of the round she’d scored 10.

Les Morrell, seen earlier this week in The Chase, had answered on Clement Atlee and Ever Decreasing Circles. Speaking to us from the picturesque surroundings of the Beamish Open Air Museum , Les told us all about his specialist subject, The General Strike of 1926, and very interesting it was too. He knew his stuff, did Les, as was confirmed by a fine performance to score 16.

Last week in my preview of the final I made the point that double Grand Finalist Mark Grant always prepares brilliantly for his specialist subjects, a point proven by great scores on previous rounds on Manet and Bernini. Tonight he offered what looked like a dangerously wide subject in the shape of Venetian Opera. Mark, who had drawn second prize in the filmed insert lottery, explained how he came to apply for the show, with the splendour of La Serenissima in the background. I needn’t have worried about the width of the subject. Mark proved more than equal to the task with a splendid 17.

Barbara returned to the chair. To be honest she looked a little shellshocked at all of the heavy artillery coming from the other contenders in the first round. She battled grittily through the round, but it wasn’t her best GK performance of the series. She scored 9 to take her total to 19. David Buckle followed. He too couldn’t match his previous GK score, and also scored 9, to shift the bar up to 22 points.

My joint favourite , Kathryn , returned to the chair. Here’s a thought. Who would have predicted that with a score of 16 she would be the third person to go in the last round ? Kathryn and Jesse have been the two outstanding GK performers of the whole series, and tonight was no different, as Kathryn delivered a super 16, to take her score to 32. Lets just pause and consider that for a minute. 32 would have won the finals of 2003, 4, 7 and 8. Only Pat Gibson and Geoff Thomas had ever scored more highly than that in a Humphrys era final.

However, we were only halfway through the final round at this stage, and the clinically obese female personage had not even begun to warm up her vocal chords, to coin a phrase. Following Kathryn into the chair was Les Morrell. Les had a tough round, make no mistake about it, but managed to put himself into second place with only 2 more contenders to go, with a final total of 23.

With a one point advantage over Kathryn in the first round, Mark needed to equal her score to go into the outright lead without resorting to a pass countback. He maybe didn’t quite manage that, but his 13 looked like a pretty good round from the Clark sofa. 30 points gave him second place, with one to play, so he was guaranteed a podium place whatever happened.

Step forward Mr. Jesse Honey. What followed in the next two minutes was a GK round the like of which has rarely been seen throughout the Humphrys era. Speed, calmness, great knowledge, and the ability to guess correctly on just one or two questions landed Jesse a monster of a score, 19 points, for a winning total of 37. Just think for a minute. That is a new record score for the John Humphrys era, beating the 36 scored in the 2006 series by the great Geoff Thomas. My heart goes out to Kathryn, for in most other years she would have been champion, but you can only wonder at such a breath taking performance as Jesse’s. Nancy Dickmann handed over the trophy to the new champion, and I wonder if the same thought crossed her mind as crossed mine – Thank Heaven he wasn’t around in MY series ! Seriously, many , many congratulations to Jesse, who is a smashing guy, and also to all of the other finalists, who played their part in as memorable a final as we’ve had for a long time.

Me with the new Champion

Very well done to Jon Kelly, and everyone who worked on the series this year. Its been hugely entertaining and enjoyable – I can’t wait for next year.

The Details

David Buckle Hollywood in the 1980s13 - 19 - 222 - 3
Kathryn JohnsonThe Granddaughters of Queen Victoria16 - 016 - 232 - 2
Jesse HoneyLiverpool Anglican Cathedral18 - 019 - 137 - 1
Barbara ThompsonEnglish County Cricket Championship from 196010 - 49 - 319 - 7
Les MorrellThe General Strike of 192616 - 17 - 423 - 5
Mark GrantVenetian Opera17 - 013 - 030 – 0

Enter the Governess

A few words, then, on Anne’s first appearance as the Chaser. Yes, of course she won. You didn’t expect anything different, did you ? Well, if you didn’t know about Anne before, since watching the show you now know just how formidable a quizzer she is. To be fair to today’s challengers they gave it a fair old crack of the whip. Anne disposed of two of the four challengers comfortably in the individual rounds, and if she got any of the answers wrong I certainly didn’t notice it, but the two who remained made a good fist of the first half of the two minute round. As it went on the correct answers began to dry up a bit, and they levelled out at 21. This is not a negligible total, but I was certain that Anne would do it, and to be fair , she managed it with time enough for perhaps another 3 or 4 questions if needed.

Bradley seems to have latched onto the soubriquet “The Governess” for Anne. Fair enough. Well, anyway, its got to be better than his other offering, which unless I’m very much mistaken was , and I quote, “Frosty knickers “. I really wouldn’t stand for that from him, Anne ! I know a couple of blokes who could have a quiet word in his ear for you if you like . The repartee with the challengers was all good fun, and it was another enjoyable show. In a way Anne offers a slightly different challenge to Mark and Shaun, the ‘threat’ to the challengers is rather more subtle, but none the less effective for that, a rapier rather than a bludgeon if you like. Well done on your debut Anne – I enjoyed it a lot .

Speaking of The Chase, I did mention in my earlier review this week that Shaun Wallace was the only Humphrys-era Mastermind champion that I didn’t know via the interweb and had never met personally. I’m absolutely made up that this state of affairs was rectified yesterday. Les Morrell, who played in Monday’s show, told me that he really liked Shaun and thought that he was a top guy, and I’m delighted to say that although we only managed to have a brief chat, this was the impression that I formed as well. Shaun, if you’re reading, it really was a pleasure to meet you. A word for Mark, too. He’s been in rather merciless form this week. It may be one step easier for challengers to get into the final chase, but none of our chasers have been in charitable mood at all this week. So I look forward to seeing how close next week’s challengers get.

Monday, 24 May 2010

A little more on The Chase

Anne Hegerty, our newest Chaser, has just informed me that we have to wait until this Friday for her first show as Chaser. Well, it is a lady's prerogative to keep a gentleman waiting.

One other thing she pointed out to me, which I must admit that I didn't notice, is that the tweak for this series is that the ladders in the individual contestants' rounds are actually one rung shorter. If they stick with the amount that they have won they now only have to answer 5 questions correctly, rather than 6. Which should result in more contestants going through to the Final Chase if they play cannily. This certainly seemed to be the case tonight.

If I knew how to programme it, I would be setting the DVD recorder for Friday's show now.

Alan Coombs

I received the sad news today that one of my best quiz friends throughout the last 20 years, and a truly great quizzer, Alan Coombs, passed away yesterday.

If you’re not part of the South Wales quiz community, then I don't know that you ever knew of him, but within this community he was a figure who received total respect. In many ways Alan was my first quiz mentor. He was the first truly great quizzer that I ever met. In 1988 I was first introduced to the world of the pub quiz by another friend, Neville. I found that I wasn’t bad, and within a few weeks I was invited to play for the club in the quiz team in the Port Talbot League. I won’t lie to you, I fancied myself a bit as a quizzer. That’s when I first met and played alongside Alan. Alan, who was still in his pomp as a quizzer then, was awesome. Whenever you walked into a pub to play a league match, or a charity quiz, and Alan was with you, the other players in the room would seem to wilt. Mentally they were usually beaten before the start of the match. And if Alan was playing they were invariably beaten by the end of the match. Alan was that good. In my early years I used to look at Alan and think – if I can ever come close to being that good, then that’ll do for me.

As well as being an awesome quizzer, Alan was great company as well. He was one of very few people I have known for whom the phrase ‘nobody had a bad word to say about him’ was in no way hyperbole. It was through Alan that I was invited to make my first ever appearance in a TV quiz, where through his influence I was drafted onto a team for “Come And Have A Go If You Think You’re Smart Enough’. We didn’t win the show, but I look back on that weekend we spent in London, Alan, his wife Alison, myself and the other members of the team as one of my most enjoyable experiences in TV quizzing.

My deepest condolences go to Alison, and to all of Alan’s family, and to all of his friends from both the quizzing community and outside, of whom there were many. Tomorrow night John, who was Alan’s friend and team mate for even longer than I was, and I will be in Cowbridge, and even though it’s a school night, I hope nobody will blame me if I raise a glass in his memory and say God Bless you Alan. Thank you for being a friend all these years. Rest in Peace.

Return of The Chase

Tonight saw the return of the 2009 Lammy award winner for the Best New Quiz Show - The Chase. You’ll maybe remember that I’m not the greatest fan of Divided. I think its needlessly mean, and gameplay is too slow - just my opinion and feel free to disagree. So I welcomed this show back with pleasure. I will come clean, I did know that my friend Anne Hegerty has joined the Chasers, and although she wasn’t on duty in tonight’s show, I can assure you that any contestants who think they’ll get an easier run against Anne than against Shaun or Mark had better think again !

Tonight then, featured among the challengers none other than my friend, Mastermind Grand Finalist Les Morrell. Well done for getting onto the show, Les. Well done to the producers as well for allowing on a quality contestant as well. More about that a little later.

Gameplay seemed very much as I remembered it from last year. Each one of four contestants plays in turn to see if they can make it into the team for the Final Chase. They are asked 1 minute of quickfire questions, and given £1000 for each one they answer correctly. Then they meet the Chaser for the show, and their total is put onto a ladder. The total they have won is a couple of steps below where the Chaser starts from. If they elect to start from the next step up they get offered a higher amount, and if they elect to go from one lower, then they play for a reduced, and often much reduced amount. Both challenger and Chaser answer the same questions simultaneously. Correct answers take you one step down the ladder, and incorrect ones leave you where you are.

Tonight’s Chaser was Mastermind champion 2004 Shaun Wallace. Shaun, who is the only Humphrys era champion I don’t know either personally, or via the interweb, is pretty much perfect for this game. He has a certain warmth about him, and his little digs at the contenders are said with a twinkle in the eye and a tongue in the cheek. He took a while to hit form tonight, though. 3 challengers managed to make it to the bottom of the ladder, and even though none of them took the gamble of going for the highest amount, the £16,000 they carried through to the final chase was certainly a nice little earner. Who was sent packing in the first round ? Unfortunately it was Les. Host Bradley Walsh made a couple of comments about Les being a Mastermind Grand Finalist, and Les certainly carried the highest amount through onto the ladder, a cool £14,000. However, and I have to speak as I find, of all the sets of questions I think he was given the hardest . Not that it necessarily makes any difference, since Shaun had exactly the same set of questions, and he got more of them right which is why he caught Les. Still, I think Les would have certainly fancied his chances a lot more if he’d had any of the other three sets. Just coincidence , or the producers hedging their bets ? Lets say that it was just bad luck.

So on to the best reason to watch the show, The Final Chase. You know how it works. The contenders are asked to answer two minutes of quickfire questions. There were three people in the final team, and so they started 3 steps along the ladder . For each question they were asked they had to buzz in, and either offer an answer or pass. The challengers received no penalty for wrong answers. The Chaser then, being set a target, had to catch them in his own 2 minutes. If the Chaser gave a wrong answer, then the clock would stop, and it would be offered to the team, and if they answered correctly, then the Chaser was put back a step. However, offsetting this was the fact that the Chaser did not have to buzz in to give an answer. We know from last year that keeping out of reach of the Chaser can be done, but it ain’t easy. For tonight’s team it was made harder by the fact that the best quizzer among them was probably the one who was already sitting in Hospitality. They scored 19, but as we saw last year, the Banker never pays out for anything less than 20, and preferably more than that. Shaun was ahead of the clock by the minute mark, and yes, he got a couple wrong, but the result was never in doubt.

Look, it is what it is , right ? It’s a teatime show, and its not University Challenge, Only Connect or Mastermind. It is entertaining, though, and I like it. If you’re thinking , well, I would say that since two of the Chasers are my friends, and the other one, Shaun, is someone whom I would like to be my friend, well, yes, I would. But thankfully I can say this without my nose growing at all. I liked the show last year, and I liked it again tonight. I said last year that I think it’s a better pro-am format than Eggheads – which is not meant as a reflection on the Eggheads themselves, merely on the format of the show – and I stick by that. I’m looking forward to seeing Anne’s first run as Chaser, which I’m guessing will be either tomorrow or Wednesday. Bring it on !

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Mastermind Grand Final Preview

I am fully aware that I got it wrong last year . Mind you, when you look what Ian did in Brain of Britain I don’t think that anyone could seriously blame me for picking him as favourite for last year’s final. Still, that was then and this is now.

One factor that complicates things for me is that the semis this year were run in a different format to the heats, so comparisons between the two rounds so far may be less helpful. So bearing that in mind, lets have a look at the 6 finalists.

In previous years we have seen finals where a number of the contenders have been people who are not , by their own admission, serious quizzers, who have entered just to see how well they can do. None of our finalists this year fit that description. All of them have a quiz pedigree. So none of them can be lightly dismissed.

First to win her place in the semi final was Kathryn Johnson. Kathryn is a great quizzer, very well known and highly respected on the circuit. Hers was the pick of the performances in the first round, where she achieved the magical 30 points. Scores of 15 and 16 this year on general knowledge make her one of two players who I feel will just be too strong for the other contenders. Her aggregate GK score of 31 is higher than any other contender in the series. In fact, I have a feeling that it may come down to how Kathryn performs on specialist. If she has a lead after round one, then it will be extremely difficult for anyone to overtake her. Prediction – sorry to sit on the fence here, but champion or runner-up.

Barbara Thompson won the semi which I never got to see. Barbara is former Brain of Britain Champion, so she knows all about dealing with the pressure of a Grand final. As I say, I did not see her semi final because of the BBC messing about, but looking at her scores I have to say that I think that she may well find herself falling just a little bit short. 13 and 12 are both good GK scores, and yet you can’t help feeling that she is going to need two or three more to give herself a realistic chance of beating some fearsome competitors.The MM/BOB double is a hard one to pull off. Prediction – not on the podium

David Buckle is another seasoned TV campaigner. Like Barbara he has done well on GK in both rounds, but again, I feel he will need to find another two or three points from somewhere on GK to give him a realistic chance of holding off the biggest guns. His semi saw him improve on his first round score, and that was with a shorter specialist round, so he has the ability. Prediction – not on the podium.

Les Morrell made my week when he won his semi final. I’ve told before how we met on the day that both of our first round heats were recorded in the 2007 SOBM. So I’ll be cheering him on from the Clark sofa. I won’t be burdening him with the Clark tip, though. In another year, with a different field of finalists, Les would be up there with my favourites. However the line up this year is as gifted as I remember for many a long year. To be in with a chance Les will have to match or surpass his best GK performance from the first round in 2007. So , with regret, my head overrules my heart and predicts – possible third, yet more likely off the podium.

Mark Grant is the only one of the 6 finalists to have competed in a Mastermind Grand Final before. Mark was runner up to Pat in 2005. Can he go one better this year ? Of course he can. Yet will he ? The only thing that worries me about Mark’s chances is the inconsistency between his first round GK performance, scoring 10, and his brilliant semi performance scoring 14. There is no worry over his specialist round – he always prepares brilliantly and scores extremely highly. This means that I am confident to predict 3rd place, but make no mistake, if Mark has a flyer in GK he could win.

All of this means that if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have worked out that I believe that Jesse Honey is the other player I think most likely to win. His performance in the semi was amazing. 16 on GK equalled the best score of the series. 14 on specialist was an exceptional score for a 90 second round. 30 in total equalled the highest score of the series. To be honest, that score off 3 and a half minutes of questions is really a hall of fame score. If it wasn’t for the fact that he is facing such a formidable quizzer as Kathryn in the same show, Jesse would be my outright favourite. As it is – Prediction – Series Champion or runner up.

I could be completely wrong, of course. Any of these quizzers could win. However I think that we’re going to have to see a fantastic score in order for one of them to beat all of the others. Can’t wait !

Friday, 21 May 2010

Mastermind Semi Final 6/6

This set of semi finals came to an end last night, and I have to say that I have found them lean, mean, and thoroughly absorbing, despite the fact that the specialist rounds have been cut to 90 seconds.

Before we start, I think it worth saying that on Jenny Turner’s excellent Quizzlestick website it mentioned that there was an article in this week’s Radio Times that seemed to suggest that the good people of 21st Century Quiz are asked to produce GK rounds tailored to some extent to each competitor –the quote from one of the setters was -
“But if someone’s got a career in science they might have a slightly harder one in their general knowledge than someone who was a musician.”
Very interesting, that.

Tonight then saw the last five semi finalists take to the chair. They were : -
Jesse Honey
Chloe Stone
Peter Cowan
Ian Scott Massie
Ian Orris

LAM reader and one-time resident of Ealing, Jesse Honey won heat 13 back in January, answering questions on the London Borough of Wandsworth. Much fancied to do well tonight, Jesse this time was answering on the Life and Work of Antoni Gaudi. I have to admit that I’m a lover of Gaudi’s work myself, ever since a visit to the Sagrada Familia during a rainstorm several years ago. This didn’t mean that I could answer many of these questions. Jesse, however, made a mockery of the curse of the Clark sofa by having a perfect round of 14 from 14. Superb round.

In Heat 6, way back in October last year, we saw Chloe Stone clinch her place in the semis , answering on the Cazalet Novels of Elizabeth Jane Howard. Tonight she offered us British History from 1815 to 1914. Hello – I thought – chance of getting a few answers here, my boy. You know how it is. You want to answer at least one question right on every subject, although it doesn’t always happen. However there are some subjects where you fancy you could give it a good old lash. Without doubt some of these questions could have been asked in a GK round. Still I was pleased with my 9. Not as good as Chloe Stone’s 13 and 1 pass, though. Good performance.

Peter Cowan was runner up to Andrew Maclagan in Heat 14 in January, when he answered on Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Tonight he gave us The Pliocene and Galactic Milieu Novels of Julian May. I think they probably had to give the person who makes the captions overtime for that one. I will confess that I did once try to read “The Many Coloured Land “ many years ago, but found that it was not for me. Each to their own. Peter looked a little nervous in the chair, and passed on his first question, but then he was away. 11 is a good score in a 2 minute round, and in a 90 second round its even better. Well done, sir.

In October Ian Scott Massie was a close runner up to Andrew Warmington in Heat 7. Then he offered us the Life of Paul Nash. Tonight his subject was the films of Powell and Pressburger, another fine subject. Mr. Scott Massie started very confidently, snapping out his answers very quickly. However the fact is that this was a very wide subject, and although there were no passes and no pauses worth speaking about, a number of questions slipped through the net, and he ended with 8 points.

Finally came Ian Orris, conqueror of my friend Les Morrell back in Heat 3 in September. Well, Les has already claimed his spot in the Final, but Ian was going to have to go some to give himself a chance of joining him. In the first round, Ian answered on the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Tonight he went for King Henry IV. Cards on the table, I’ve always thought that Kings and Queens make good specialist subjects – I took George IV in my own semi final. This was a very good and confident performance. No unneccessary amplification of answers offered, and answers snapped out as quickly as possible. No surprise , then , that Ian managed a superb 14 .

So on to the General Knowledge. Down among the wines and spirits Ian Scott Massie returned to the chair first. 6 points behind in real terms, it looked a tall order. It was nice to see a nod to Brain of Britain in one of the questions. A fighting 11 took his score to 19. Peter Cowan may feel himself rather unlucky to have been in 4th after scoring 11, but these semis have shown some extremely well prepared contenders in the GK rounds. You can tell the World Cup is on its way since he was asked a question about the Jules Rimet Trophy. I’m afraid that nerves seemed to make him hesitate a couple of times in this round, but he still managed to take his score to 21.

Chloe Stone answered her first three GK questions very confidently, with no hint of the pass spiral she was to fall into. 4 passes later she managed to pull herself out, but the round was a desperate struggle for her. Having said that, you might think that 7 passes in a round indicates something of a train wreck, but it wasn’t. For all that she still added 9 to her score, and even took the lead with 22. So , with the full weight of the Clark tip hardly seeming a burden to him Jesse Honey returned, and zoomed through the questions for one of the finest GK rounds we’ve seen for a few years now. 16 points gave him 30 – as a matter of interest that’s higher than he scored in the first round, when he had 30 seconds longer on specialist. All of which didn’t just give Ian Orris a mountain to climb, it gave him Mount Everest. With K2 on top. Still he can be pretty pleased with the way that he went about it. Crisp and sharp answering brought him 11 points for 25.

Congratulations Jesse ! A stunning performance , which puts him right up among the favourites for the title. Since this completes the semis, we’ll be taking a look at all of the finalists, and seeing who gets burdened with the curse of the Clark sofa , in my preview which will appear within the next couple of days. Watch this space !

The Details

Jesse Honey The Life and Work of Antoni Gaudi14 – 016 - 030 – 0
Chloe StoneBritish History 1815 - 191413 - 19 - 722 -8
Peter CowanThe Pliocene and Galactic Milieu Novels of Julian May 11 - 110 – 221 - 3
Ian Scott MassieThe Films of Powell and Pressburger8 - 011 - 119 – 1
Ian OrrisKing Henry IV14 - 011 - 325 – 3

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Best of Questions, the worst of questions

Bless ‘em. Cast your mind back to when you were in school, if you will. I’m sure that you had atleast one teacher whom you knew if you could just get him – for invariably ‘twas a Sir rather than a Miss – talking about his hobby horse then he’d go waffling off on a tangent , and you’d save yourself minutes of graft . It all adds up over a year. Well, every now and then one of the little shavers at work tries this with me, by asking about the quiz shows and what have you. I had a cover lesson today – and for any teachers reading this wasn’t breaking Rarely Cover guidelines since it was a Year 11 lesson, and they are on Study Leave. During the lesson one of the children asked me a genuinely thought – provoking question : -
“Sir, what’s the best question you’ve ever been asked in a quiz ? “

I mean, how on earth can you possibly answer that ? I fobbed him off with something along the lines of ,
“If I’m at a quiz, then any question I get the right answer to is the best question. “ but I’ve been thinking about it since, and this just won’t do. For one thing my good friend and mentor Alan Coombs once said that the best questions aren’t actually the ones you know the answer to, they’re the ones you don’t know, but when you hear the correct answer you say “Of course ! I should have known that . “ He certainly has a point. Then there’s the question which you can’t answer, and yet the answer provides you with a useful tidbit of information which in some minuscule, yet heart warming way enriches you and enhances your understanding of Life, The Universe and Everything. Admittedly these are rather few and far between, and yet they do come up.

I won’t lie to you. I like questions which are clever in themselves as well. The best way I can explain it to you is to give you an example. Here’s a much loved one , which I’m sure you have all heard before : -

If Sunderland did it in 1979, and Villa did it in 1981, who did it in 1980 ?

The answer , of course, is Trevor Brooking. Alan Sunderland, Trevor Brooking, and Ricky Villa scored the winning goals in the FA Cup Finals in those years. The beauty of it is that at first you think Sunderland and Villa mean the two football clubs.


On the subject of good questions, we were asked one good question on Sunday night, and I’m afraid I fell foul of my old maxim – play the man and not the ball. John and I were asked this question –

Which medieval order displayed the cross of St. John on their shields ?

At once I scribbled down – The Knights Hospitaller. Then , fatally, I started to think about it. You see this was a pub quiz – a nice, social pub quiz. One of the teams features a former teammate of mine from the Dillwyn Arms team in the Swansea Independent Quiz League, but apart from that the rest of the players are just nice, ordinary members of the public. So I asked myself – based on my knowledge of what the question master usually asks , and based on the level of most of the players, is he really likely to want a fairly difficult answer like that ? I figured that he was more likely to want the answer – The Knights Templar, who, due to Da Vinci Code and all that are at least much more widely known of than the Hospitallers. So I changed it.

What I was ignoring was the fact that the question master compiles all of the questions for the quiz himself, and takes a bit – well, probably, a lot – of time and trouble over them. He is the kind of question master you want – but it does mean that if he asks a question it is extremely unusual for him not to have the correct answer. So of course, the answer was the Hospitallers. There’s not a great deal worse than getting a difficult question wrong when you know the correct answer, but deliberately didn’t put it down because you were trying to be too clever. To paraphrase the words of Frasier Crane at the end of each episode – scrambled egg all over my face .

Monday, 17 May 2010

Only Connect Series 4 - Contestants needed

I had a nice email from Jenny Heap of Only Connect today, asking if I could help put the word out about series 4. Being a fan of the show, as you know, I'm only to happy to oblige. So here's the details that Jenny sent me : -


Only Connect; the quiz where general knowledge meets lateral thinking.

Presentable are looking for contestants for series four of their popular BBC Four quiz.

Teams of three will be pitted against each other to fight for the right to call themselves Only Connect champions!

To request an application email including a telephone number.

All entries must be received by no later than Midnight on Wednesday 9th June 2010
- so get your application in as soon as possible.

If you applied for a previous series, but were unsuccessful, you are welcome to apply again for the new series.

Auditions will be held in regional centres throughout the UK.

All applicants must be aged 18+ and U.K. residents.

Ok - its all pretty clear, isn't it ? If there's anything you're not sure of, then drop the good people of Only Connect a line at the email address above and I'm sure they can answer any questions you might have. Go on - I dare you !

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Are Some Things Too Important To Be A Specialist Subject ?

Stan Tottman was one of the finest teachers I ever met. He was the Head of the English Faculty at Goldsmith’s College of the University of London when I did my English degree there in the mid 1980s. It worked out that I think I was only ever in one set of seminars led by Stan, and they were about the poet, Gerard Manley-Hopkins. With other lecturers you could go in feeling rough, and just coast through the session. Not Stan. He told you beforehand exactly what you were going o be covering in the session, and if you hadn’t done the pre-reading them you would be sunk, and would get nothing from the sessions. If you tried to sit back and let everyone else do the work he would be on your case. Yet if you did prepare properly, and did share your ideas and opinions, then he would challenge you, cajole you, and basically stage manage the whole group so that he wasn’t teaching you, you were teaching each other. Only gifted teachers can do that. By the end of the seminars you would come out feeling mentally drained, and yet energised all at the same time.

However, after this, I could never bring myself to try to answer the Manley Hopkins questions in the end of year exam, or my finals , always opting for something else.

You see, I thought that I had been given so much by these sessions, the process of trying to cut it all down, to condense it enough to make a coherent essay was just too reductive. So either Stan’s seminars had been a failure, since I felt unable to write about Hopkins in the exams, or as I prefer to think, they were a glorious success.

What has this to do with the price of tea ? Don’t worry , bear with me and I’ll get there.

Last Monday I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. No, please, I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m OK, and as long as I have the sense to listen to my doctor and the Practice nurse, and to stick to their advice I’m sure I’ll continue to be OK. But it is going to mean some changes of lifestyle. One of the changes is that I’m trying to just get out of the house for a decent walk everyday, or as many days as I can manage it. Yesterday I went to a local nature reserve called Kenfig Pool. You see, I like butterflies. It all started about 10 years ago, when my twins were 5 or 6. Close to our old home we saw a beautiful looking butterfly with round eye patterns on its wings. They asked me what it was called, and I had no idea. So the next day we took a book out of the library and found out. So then we started looking out for all the other different types we could find. The girls stayed interested for a few years, but I’ve kept up my interest ever since.

So, as I say, yesterday I went for a walk in Kenfig Pool, and my youngest daughter came along to keep me company. We didn’t see many butterflies, to be honest, a small white, a speckled wood, and an female orange tip. When we saw this one I went off on a lecture about how the female looked very like a small white, because it lacks the distinctive orange tip to its wing that the male has that gives the species its name. Jess then asked me why I never took British butterflies as a specialist subject in Mastermind. I had to think for a minute because actually it would fulfil pretty much all of the criteria I’ve ever used to select a specialist subject. Its finite – there are about 60 species of butterfly regularly seen in the UK – I already have a halfway decent knowledge of the subject – I already own a number of books on the subject, so it wouldn’t break the bank. The only meaningful answer I could give was pretty much the same reason why I couldn’t write essays about Gerard Manley Hopkins – I would find it too reductive a process for something so special to me. Not that I’m saying that any of the other subjects I’ve learned in my time weren’t special, but not in the same way.

As an aside, by way of coincidence, a good quizzer called Jane Anne Liston, whom I met in the Brain of Britain semi-final last year, did actually take British butterflies as a specialist subject in the semi final of the 2007 SOBM of Mastermind. Very well she did too, as I recall.

Of all the reasons we might have for rejecting potential Mastermind subjects – because the subject is too wide, because its too hard, because its too boring, because its too unusual, because its too popular , for example, I wonder how many of us have ended up rejecting potential subjects because they are too important and mean too much to us ?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Mastermind - Semi Final 5/6

After one of the most hectic and difficult weeks I can remember in a very long time, what better than to kick back yesterday evening with the latest Mastermind semi final ? Answers on a postcard, please. What a semi final it was too.

William De’Ath was one of tonight’s two highest scoring runners up from the first round. However going into the show I made him one of the two favourites. You see, even though we have seen some absolutely amazing scores in the specialist rounds in the semis, the fact is that their importance has been reduced, and William is a great general knowledge quizzer. William’s subject this time round was William The Conqueror. This is actually a subject really close to my heart, for reasons which will become clear in the near future. William’s knowledge was extremely secure – almost although not quite perfect. 15 and no passes was a superb score.

I met Mark Grant at the BoB final, and a very nice chap he is too. He is also a very successful Mastermind veteran, having already reached the Grand Final in 2005 where he was runner up to Pat Gibson. Back in November he won heat 10 answering on Edouard Manet. Tonight he produced an absolutely flawless performance on the Life and Work of Gianlorenzo Bernini. He too scored 15 and no passes. Like William, Mark is also a superb general knowledge quizzer, and for me the other favourite to win a place in the final.

This was not to pour scorn on the chances of Colin Wilson. Answering on World Heavyweight Boxing Champions, Colin took second place in heat 2 , way back in September. His 25 though held a runner’s up spot for the rest of the first round. Tonight he was answering on the History of Glam Rock. Ah, I was nobbut a lad at the time, but I remember the era well. I even had the right answer to one that Colin missed – I knew that Judy Teen was Cockney Rebel’s first hit. Howver, I don’t think I would have got anywhere near the 15 that Colin scored. Another great round.

In March Brian Southgate won heat 20 answering questions on Sir Alex Ferguson. Tonight, when he announced that he was answering on The Manhattan Project my first thought was – didn’t they have a hit with Chanson d’Amour ? Or was that the Alan Parsons Transfer ? Anyway it turned out to be a round all about the development of the first atomic bomb. I do always try to manage to answer at least one questions in all of the specialist rounds, and thankfully the ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Paul Tibbets’ questions saw me home in this one. In a 90 second round, 11 points and 2 passes is a very good score, but unfortunately it left him a mountain to climb in GK.

So it was all down to Stuart Maclagan to bring the round to a conclusion. Last time out in heat 14 he answered on the Eurovision Song Contest. In a real change of pace tonight he offered us The Life of King Robert the Bruce. Mr. Maclagan knew his stuff, and he answered quickly and concisely, and that’s the key to getting a good SS score. A couple of questions foxed him, but even so, 11 and no passes was, as I have said, a very good score.

John then proceeded to tell us all about what would happen in the event of a tie. Now, by my calculations time is so tight in the semis, if you get to see John saying all this, then it guarantees that it hasn’t happened, because if there wasn’t a tie break then they wouldn’t have time to show him saying it, so they’d edit it out. Got that ? Doesn’t matter. Brian Southgate earned my disapproval for not knowing that the brilliant Eurythmics recorded Sweet Dreams are made of this. To be fair he found the round rather hard going, and never looked like he would get close to the 10 he scored on GK in the first round. He finished on a total of 16 points and 8 passes . Stuart Maclagan had also scored 10 on GK in his first round match. 4 correct answers on the bounce at the start of the round made it look like he was fully determined to do even better this time. It was nice to hear a question about Boney M’s classic in-depth analysis of Russian mystic Grigory Rasputin. A fine round saw him score 13 and no passes. So in real terms he did even better in the semi than he did in the first round, and you can’t ask any more than that.

Right, time for the fireworks. John lit the blue touchpaper, and William de’Ath began his GK round. His face was a picture on the occasions when he supplied a wrong answer – the questions on pasta, Karl Marx, and others he doubtless knew, but the right answer wouldn’t come out. Yet he still scored 13 and 1 pass to set the bar at 28. That’s hard to beat , even if you already have 15 on the board, as mark and Colin both did.

Mark scored 10 on GK in his first round heat, and that wouldn’t do tonight. It wasn’t a great start to the round, but by crikey it got better. Slightly behind on the clock after the first 30 seconds , Mark kept his head and kept plugging away, and picking off the answers, and picking up his speed at the same time. Was it my imagination, or did John ask about JM Barrie’s Admiral Crichton ? It didn’t bother Mark, he still had this and 13 other questions right to take the lead to 29.

Colin Wilson had a mountain to climb, made none the easier by the fact that he scored 9 on GK in his first round heat. It started to slip away from him from the third question. He never lost his composure, and answered at speed, but by the end of the round he had taken his score to 23 and no passes. So congratulations to Mark. He becomes the first person to reach 2 Humphrys finals – and only the 4th person to ever reach 2 finals of any era of Mastermind. Commiserations to the other contenders, especially William. It needed a stupendous performance to beat him.

The Details

Willam De’Ath The Life of William the Conqueror15 - 013 - 128 - 1
Mark GrantThe Life and Work of Gianlorenzo Bernini15 - 014 - 029 - 0
Colin WilsonThe History of Glam Rock15 - 08 - 023 - 0
Brian SouthgateThe Manhattan Project11 - 25 - 616 - 8
Stuart MaclaganThe Life of King Robert the Bruce11- 013 - 024 – 0

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Congratulations Rob !

Enjoying this series of A Question of Genius a lot, not least because there's been so many familiar faces in the last couple of days. Special congratulations to my friend Rob Hannah, though. Rob you may recall shared runner up spot in this year's Brain of Britain with Anne Hegerty and myself.I can personally attest to Rob's buzzer speed, so in many ways he is made for a show like this, and it will take some performance to beat him. He's won Tuesday's and today's show, and you would be a brave man to bet against him tomorrow as well. Good on yer, Rob !

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Question of Tweaks

Last year the BBC had two new successes in the teatime quiz slot – a runaway success in the form of Pointless, and a qualified success in the form of A Question of Genius. Pointless completed its second run a couple of weeks ago. So tonight A Question of Genius returned.

As with Pointless there have been a couple of tweaks. Most notably, in this series we start with 6 contestants, who are whittled down round by round, with one contestant being dropped in each until we are left with the final three, of whom one goes on to face the question of genius. It’s a welcome change from last year, as it simplifies the game somewhat.

The first round is an almost straightforward buzzer round with a twist. Called A Question of Speed it works thus. Our Host Kirsty Wark asks a starter question , and the first to buzz answers for a point. Then if they answer correctly, they may choose how difficult the next question is, for an increasing number of points. 5 points earns a place in round 2, and the Devil take the hindmost. For a while tonight it looked as if this might well be familiar face Melanie Beaumont, who has appeared in Are You An Egghead and Only Connect. She managed to take the last place in round two though, and seemed to be getting into her stride as she did so.

Round Two is called A Question of Judgement. The gameplay was similar to the first round, only this time the target was 6 points, and a correct starter gave each contestant the right to nominate not only the level of difficulty, but also the opponent who would also get the chance to answer it. Some of these questions, even for just 2 points weren’t all that easy I have to say. Melanie this time was the second to make it through to the next round.

Round Three is entitled A Question of Knowledge. To be honest you’d struggle to do well in any of the rounds without much General Knowledge, but there we are. So the 4 remaining contestants battled it out by answering a starter, to be given three questions of ascending difficulty as a follow up. Get them all right and you’re automatically through. More likely, it’s a matter of building up your score through a few goes to reach the target of 7. For the second round in a row Melanie was second to get through.

Round Four was the last round to sort out who would face their question of Genius. The three contestants were given ninety seconds each to answer a series of questions. After each question category was announced they could nominate the difficulty. Any wrong answers or passes would allow an opponent to buzz in for a steal. However a wrong answer from the opposition would freeze them out for the rest of the 90 seconds. Sounds complicated ? It isn’t really. In this case I think TV experience, and quiz experience told, with Melanie edging out the opposition.

This entitled her to face one question on her specialist subject to win £1000. This is really cutting to the chase, since in the final round last year the prize money was determined by how many of 5 final questions the contestant answered. There's none of that faffing around now, its straight on to the final question. Melanie had nominated the Little House on The Prairie books of Laura Ingalls Wilder as her subject. The question was : -
In the Little Town on the Prairie, Laura is knocked out of the community spelling match when she spells which word incorrectly ?
Melanie thought for a bit, obediently let Kirsty into her thought processes, turned down the chance of being given four options for a 50% reduction in the prize money - and then provided the correct answer – Xanthophyll ( and I sincerely hope that I’VE spelled it correctly ).Very well done !

I liked the show last year, and I have to say that I liked it again. It’s a bit leaner and meaner than last year,moves along at a decent pace, and the questions were wide enough ranging to satisfy most levels of quizzer. For example I was mentally patting myself on the back for identifying Elephant Island as the correct answer to a question about Ernest Shackleton. Good show.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Choices, choices

As you get older I do think that you tend to get more set in your ways, and I’m no exception to this. I find that I’ve become a creature of habit, and am fairly inflexible about my likes and dislikes. I like my steak bloody, my drinks soft, and my quizzes pure. That is, for the most part, I like a quiz of straight questions without unnecessary gimmicks. Which begs the question, how was it that I set and hosted a quiz of multiple choice questions last week ?

Its not so hard to answer. If you’ve been with me for twelve months or more its just possible that you may recall me mentioning an annual charity quiz for the May Day in Melincryddan festival. This is actually a very special quiz to me because it was in the 1994 and 1995 May Day quizzes that I became a born again quizzer.

Without going into detail I began quizzing in 1988, the same academic year that I started teaching. Then in about 1991-2 my quizzing kind of all died the death. The league in Port Talbot packed in, my mates stopped going, and I lost heart. My then boss asked me if I'd put together a team of kids , and play with them in the May Day quiz in 1994. I did, and we won. I kept up appearences every couple of months at charity events locally. Next year, 1995, we lost by a point. I thought that I could either be miserable, and just go home, or I could go up and have a word and give my congratulations to the winners. Which I did. They were a little suspicious that just me with a group of 4 pupils had won one year, and come a close second the second, but when I told them a little of my experience in quizzing they asked me to join their team in the Neath Quiz League. Through the league team I became reacquainted with my old mate Alan Coombs, who was also putting together a team for the Morriston Hospitals League in Swansea, which I was duly drafted onto. So taking part in the Mayday quiz has led to very many happy experiences through quizzing.

After winning the quiz again last year the organisers asked me if I’d be prepared to set the questions and act as QM for the evening this year. How could I have refused ? Well, by saying – no thank you – would have been one way of doing it. But there was no way that I was going to. For one thing I am notoriously susceptible to the slightest bit of flattery, and two years ago they renamed the trophy after me because of the Mastermind thing.

I am approaching the point, albeit slowly. Lyndsay, who has been QM or the last few years, has always used a multiple choice format, and although its not my cup of tea, the punters like it, and so I made up my mind early on that I was going to adhere to this, in the spirit of ‘if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it’ . I have to say, I rather enjoyed putting it together, as I might from time to time use a couple of multiple choices in a quiz , but I’ve never written a whole quiz this way. What I found was that it does effect the way you choose your questions, since there are questions that lend themselves to multiple choice answers, and questions which don’t. I also think it makes a quiz easier and more accessible for non quizzers, which the majority of the teams were on Wednesday night. What I really enjoyed, though, were the couple of questions where you could supply a couple of silly answers as options. In the first round I offered,
“In literature , who rode a horse called Rosinante ?
a) Don Giovanni – b) Don Quixote - c) Don Estelle

Well, be fair, the majority of the people taking part were well over 40. I know its silly, but it got a laugh. Then when I asked : -
“What is the name of Keeley Hawes’ character in the TV series “Ashes to Ashes “ ?
a) Alex Drake - b) Vera Drake – “
one team shouted out “C) – Charlie Drake !” – which was my actual option C. Big laugh. Then in the last round I asked
“Who played Batman in the 1960s TV series –
a) John West b) Adam West , or C )

almost all the teams shouted out “Fred West ! “ Which of course was my last option. A little sick, but again, a huge laugh.

A successful evening ? Well, my friend Robert , who is a fine quizzer won, but only by a couple of points, and every team scored pretty well on the evening. I’ve also been asked back again next year, so that’s probably a good sign. So just maybe I need to reassess my attitude to the humble multiple choice question. I still like my steak rare, though.

Mastermind - Semi Final 4/6

This is the second time that this particular show has been available for viewing on the iplayer, and once again I would like to repeat my sincere apology to anyone whose enjoyment of this show was ruined by the fact that I mistakenly reviewed it back in April. If you missed the review then, here it is again : -

First to go was Valerie Roebuck. Valerie won heat 18 back in the middle of February, with 24, one of the more modest winning scores of the first round. Back then she answered on Tolkien, tonight it was a case of –and now for something completely different, as she answered on Sir Walter Raleigh. I’m still coming to terms with the 90 second round, so I’m not sure if 12 is just very good, or better than that. Whatever the case, this is what she managed to score to get the show off to a fine start.

Tonight’s high scoring runner up from the first round was my friend and compatriot from the 2007 SOBM, Les Morrell. Way, way back in September of last year we saw Les come runner up in Heat 3 to Ian Orris, who has yet to go in this stage of the competition. Les answered on Clement Atlee in September, while tonight he answered on the TV sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles. Its funny how some popular series stay in the memory, and some don’t. Even though it was extremely popular in its day, its somehow missed joining the ranks of classic, often repeated shows. Well, anyway, I quite often use the adjective virtuoso to describe performances on the show, but this round really deserved it. 15 points is a great total for a 2 minute round. For a 90 second round it’s a real hall of fame performance.

Michael McPartland we last saw a fortnight ago when he won the last heat of the first round. That night he answered questions on the Nuremburg trials. Continuing this commendable trend of picking completely different subjects tonight he took the Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell. Any fears that he might be daunted by having to follow Les Morrell’s quicksilver round were pretty quickly dispelled, and 13 put him well into contention, a highly commendable performance in its own right.

I expected Kevin Quinn, our next contender, to manage something similar in his own specialist round, going by the evidence of his first round performance. His victory in heat 21 back in the beginning of March was based on a superb specialist round on the career of Lester Piggott. Tonight his subject was british hit singles of the 1960s. My expectations turned to fear for him as he failed within the first couple of questions to identify Joe Meek as the producer of Telstar, by the Tornados. Yes, I know that you wouldn’t expect the average man in the street to know that, but the average man in the street wouldn’t take it as a specialist subject in Mastermind. I'm sorry to say it, but I thought several of the other questions he got wrong were gettable as well. I can't say why Mr. Quinn didn’t do as well as expected, whether it was nerves or something else, but I’m sure he’ll have been disappointed.

Andrew Warmington , like Les, has previous, having reached the semi finals back in 2004. When he won heat 7 , back in October, he answered on Ancient Greece, and impressed with 14 on both rounds. On paper, he was the most impressive qualifier for tonight’s semi. For his specialist subject tonight he offered us The Life and reign of Henry VIII. Like Les his answers were as brief as possible, and offered quickly. Or to put it another way, he answered like a good old hand. A couple of the questions that were more to do with the reign than the life caught him out, but once again, 13 was impressive.

Kevin Quinn returned to the chair, seeking redemption, and found it with a competent 10, to push his score up to 16. OK, so he only had a lead of 1 now, and he wasn’t going to win, but he had achieved respectability, and whatever else, he is a semi finalist, and you can never take that away from him. He was followed by Valerie Roebuck, who might well have been forgiven for thinking that her 12 on specialist would have put her higher than 4th at the halfway stage. She put on a good show in this round. Things change in the semis – it gets tougher, and 11 is not to be sniffed at. In my heart of hearts I felt sure that Les, Michael or Andrew would improve on her 23, but it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.

Michael was the first to have a try. He started confidently enough, but the going got tougher for him in the second minute, or that’s how it appeared, anyway. He got close, but didn’t quite manage to make it into double figures, and ended with 22. Andrew had scored 14 on GK in the heats, and something of this sort would really give him a chance of that coveted place in the grand final. He never looked convincing this time out, though. It can happen. Sometimes the questions just don’t run for you. I thought that all of the sets of GK were pretty much of the same level of difficulty tonight, but they just didn’t seem to suit. He scored 8 to finish with 21.

So the question remained – were we going to see Valerie Roebuck join Kathryn Johnson in the Grand Final ? Well, the odds looked against it as Les took his place in the chair, needing 8 and 1 pass, or better, to win the show. He never looked in any real difficulty, and put on the best GK performance of the night, scoring 12 and 1 pass to go through, with a fine score of 27.

Hard lines to all of the other contenders, but well played for making it to the semis. As for Les, I am absolutely delighted ! Les was very unfortunate in the 2007 SOBM to be in the same semi final as 2 contenders who had scored 30 or more in their heats, and another who won the semi with the second highest score of the whole series. Many, many congratulations, Les ! Good luck for the final !

The Details

Valerie Roebuck Sir Walter Raleigh12 - 011 - 323 – 3
Les MorrellThe TV series Ever Decreasing Circles15 – 112 – 1 27 – 2
Michael McPartlandThe Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell13 – 0 9 - 222 – 2
Kevin QuinnBritish chart hit singles of the 1960s6 - 210 - 316 – 3
Andrew WarmingtonThe Life and Reign of Henry VIII13 - 08 - 421 – 4

Saturday, 1 May 2010

What do I know ? More on Mickey : -

Regular LAM reader Brian Pendreigh sent me a lovely email today , adding more information about the whole Steamboat Willie v. Plane Crazy controversy. He writes,
"I know that Steamboat Willie is generally accepted among QMs as the first Mickey Mouse cartoon and of course all good quizzers know better and know that Plane Crazy was first (and a few may even know Gallopin' Gaucho was second).

But how do we know? And what do we mean first? Wikipedia certainly backs the idea that Plane Crazy was first, but also notes that Disney regards Steamboat Willie as Mickey's debut, which begs the question Why?

I dug out my encylcopaedic official history of the Disney studios, which contains a lot of detail on the history of Mickey, as you would expect. And yes, Plane Crazy was made first. But... Disney couldn't find a distributor for what was a prototype animated character in a silent short - at a time when everyone was buzzing about the arrival of the talkies. It did get what is described as a "preview" screening at an unnamed cinema on Sunset Blvd on May 15 1928. He did however get backing for Steamboat Willie which served as the first sound cartoon and effectively launched the series when it screened at the Colony Theater in NYC on November 18 1928.

The rule of thumb on dating films - as you will know - is that they are allocated the date of first public exhibition, not the date of production (with a few exceptions, such as Performance, where there is a major discrepancy). If you count that May preview, then it is Plane Crazy, but certainly these days a preview would not normally count. And on that basis Steamboat Willie would therefore qualify as the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Goucho subsequently had sound added."

So therefore I apologise to the setter of the quiz on Tuesday night - and if you're reading this, I really did enjoy it - since it seems that at best , Plane Crazy AND Steamboat Willie are acceptable answers, and there is a case for accepting just Steamboat Willie .


Good quiz again on Thursday night. Here was an interesting question -
Who was the only manager to win the European Cup ( when it was the European Cup, and before it became the Champion's League ) 3 times ?

Now, I say an interesting question rather than an interesting answer, since I'm not a football expert, but even I knew that Bob Paisely won it 3 times with Liverpool in 1977, 1978 and 1981. what I didn't know, though, was that he was the only manager to do it three times, and that's interesting to me, especially since you think of Real Madrid winning it on the trot all those times in the late 50s.