Monday, 20 September 2010

Only Connect - First Round

My blog can bear witness to the fact that I’ve been a fan of Only Connect ever since it first aired in September 2008. I did actually know about the show even before it aired. It was first brought to my attention by my quiz mate Barry. The production team were putting out a call for contestants about the same time as the original series of Battle of The Brains. Remember that ? It seems amazing to think this now, but around our way people seemed a bit more excited about applying for Battle of the Brains than they did about applying for Only Connect. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it. We knew we couldn’t get a team of 7 people together for the other show, but we did go as far as getting an application for OC. We started filling it in, but for some reason that escapes me now we never went through with finishing it and sending it off. For the second season the dates you needed to be available were right out for me, I’m afraid, so I declared myself unavailable and we didn’t even send off for an application form. By the time the third series came along, I had allied myself with Gary Grant and Lisa Hermann through the IQAGB forum, and this time not only did we send off an application , we were even offered an audition. Alas, though, the day we would have had to commit to filming our first round was impossible for both Gary and for myself, and so with a heavy heart we passed on the opportunity for an audition for the third series.

OK – all with me so far ? Good. Gary, Lisa and I all committed to giving it another go for the 4th series. However when the dates for filming came out, Lisa was unavailable. However I had been keeping my friend Neil Phillips up my sleeve in reserve, and I knew that Neil would give his eye teeth to get on a team for OC. Thankfully the lovely people at Presentable still seemed pretty keen to try us out, and we were offered another audition.

Mis Hermanos ! My boys – Gary and Neil


For me driving 30 miles down the road for an audition in Cardiff really was no hardship at all. Neil had a lot further to come, but managed to arrange matters so he could make it. Gary, however, is a GP in Bury, and simply couldn’t get to Cardiff at the allotted time. Thankfully Presentable allowed him to audition alone in Manchester. And well that he did. I had the uncomfortable feeling throughout the audition that while both Neil and I are veterans of previous TV quiz campaigns, and so had no problem allowing what personalities we possess to come through, the fact was that we weren’t pulling any trees up with our answers. Gary on the other hand by all accounts played a blinder in Manchester. Whatever the case within a week or two of the audition we received the news that we were in.


Gary is Scottish, and both Lisa and I have celtic roots,Cornish in Lisa's case, and Scottish in mine, so we were quite happy to work out a team connection on this theme. Neil, though is not, and so what had always been a relatively nebulous team connection was evaporating before our eyes.
It was Neil who came up with the idea that we could say that we were all devoted fans of the radio, which would enable us to call ourselves The Radio – Heads. You see what he did there ?! Actually the production team liked the connection ( although Gary is not strictly speaking all that much of a radio fan ) but not the pun, and asked us to change the team name to the radio addicts. Neil has not and will not forgive them for this !

Our dressing room. Neil still thinks this should have said “The Radio Heads”

If you’ve ever seen it you’ll be aware that Only Connect is a great show, but it is a BBC Four show, and I’m presuming that it has a BBC Four budget. Therefore they run a fairly tight schedule for filming. Actually this is true of most quiz shows I’ve ever been involved in. This is why we were quickly informed that we would be recording our first round show on the Saturday, and if we won, then we’d also be recording our quarter final later on the same day. Now, I have actually recorded two shows in the same day once before, in Are You An Egghead, and I have to admit that I was surprised how tired I was when it got to the second show. Part of this was the fact that there was such a long time, hours in fact, between the recording of my two shows. This isn’t why I lost, though. I lost because my friend Anne Hegerty played better than I did. Still I did think that it would be something that we had to prepare for. If we won the first round.
As I said with the audition, every time I’ve been on a broadcast quiz before, its necessitated a long journey at some stage of the process. Only Connect is filmed in the HTV studios in Culverhouse Cross on the outskirts of Cardiff, which meant that I could easily drive in on the morning of the show. Neil and Gary, on the other hand, were staying overnight in the a hotel close to the studio. We had planned to all meet up in the hotel on the Friday evening to discuss tactics, and generally engage in a little team bonding. Well, that was the plan, but Gary couldn’t leave work until the end of the day, and what with hold ups and traffic jams was never going to arrive much before midnight. I still drove to the hotel on the Friday night, though, and Neil and I spend a really good evening talking quizzes , each of us , I think, enjoying the company of someone else who shared a similar obsession with quizzes and quizzing.

Quote of the day – on first sight of the HTV studios in Cardiff, Gary said "It would look rather out of place in Florence, wouldn’t it !"

Call time for us was at 12:00. High noon. We arrived about 11:30, and were met by Jenny. Jenny auditioned all of us, and had been in regular contact since . In fact even before we sent off our application Jenny had asked if I’d be prepared to put out a contestant call on LAM for the series. Apparently she is a regular reader, which makes her a lady of wit and discretion, and an all round good egg to boot. Joking aside, she is absolutely lovely, and went out of her way to make sure that we had a good day and a very enjoyable experience. She succeeded.

I believe that you gain several advantages from appearing on different TV quizzes. For one thing you learn that there is a certain level of , for want of a better word, ‘faffing about’ which is absolutely necessary to the smooth running of the show, but which does nothing to help your nerves in the build up to the recording. I’m referring to the running through of the rules and appeals procedures in the dressing room, wardrobe checks, make up and so on and so forth. I think it makes a real difference when you know that this is all going to have to happen, and so you can take it all a lot more in your stride. Actually I have to say that this was all done very briskly and efficiently with the minimum of fuss, and it didn’t seem like a long time until we were being taken through to the canteen for lunch. So far so good.

By this time we’d learned that our opponents for the first round were the Taxonomists. They were Carol Scott, Judy Vernau and captain Liz Scott- Wilson. We first met them in make-up ( dahhlliiinnnggg, I simply can’t appear in front of the cameras without a bit of slap on ) No, we didn’t really know what Taxonomists were either. If I understand correctly, they organise and sequence information for various bodies and organisations. I can’t say anything at all about team connections, after all we were called the Radio-Addicts, when our captain doesn’t even own a radio. I on the other hand own about 50 of them, so I do make up his share, but I digress.

We had a serious issue about selection to deal with at this stage. No, not of team members, but of clothing. You see, both Gary and I have lucky shirts, and both of us wanted to wear them for this first round match. Which everyone was quite happy about apart from Neil. Neil thought we should keep the power of one of them back for the second round. Ah – we pointed out – yes, that would be all well and good, but what if one shirt alone wasn’t lucky enough to get us through to the next round ? Suffice to say that both lucky shirts made it onto the show, and less powerful items of clothing were left on the subs’ bench.

So, to recap so far, everything that had so far happened during the day met with my approval. Another sign of a quality show was the fact that we were given a proper rehearsal before recording started. Any doubts anyone might have had about the quality of the Taxonomists was soon dispelled, and it was pretty clear that we were going to have a game on our hands. One of the things you’ll have noticed about this series is that the Greek letters used to differentiate between the questions, instead of calling them A – B etc. have disappeared. Apparently someone wrote in with a comment that the use of greek letters could not be more pretentious, and so the decision was made to disprove this by using the far more pretentious Egyptian hieroglyphs. It took hours learning those symbols, mind you. Eye of Horus – Water – Lion – Two Reeds – Poison Viper and Twisted Flax. I did comment when we first saw the list of symbols that I was sure that this was actually a list of the bands who played the 1980 Donnington Park Monsters of Rock festival in 1981. From what I was told by the team working on the show, this was probably the 4th time that day one of the teams had made a similar crack.

On a show like, for example, the Weakest Link or 15 to 1 you absolutely don’t want to be the first person to leave the show, and in a knockout series you really don’t want to lose in the first round . The Taxonomists were not totally lacking in quiz experience, since their captain,Liz, had been in the winning team in University Challenge in New Zealand. Still I don’t think there’s much argument that we had the advantage over them in terms of our respective TV CVs.. Neil has played in both Mastermind and Brain of Britain. Gary reached the semi finals in both Mastermind and Are You An Egghead. I myself have been luckier than I would ever have imagined having been in my time a quarter finalist in Are You An Egghead, Runner Up ( joint ) in Brain of Britain and Mastermind Champion. Reputations by themselves don’t win matches, though. In every series there has been at least one surprise package who have knocked out a fancied team in the first round, and we were fully aware that this could be us if we didn’t perform.

Note the anxious look on Neil’s face – was he still worrying about Gary and me both wearing our lucky shirts in the first round ?

I will admit that even as soon as the very next day after the recording I found it difficult to recall exact details of the show. So what follows are my impressions, what I do remember, backed up by watching the actual show on the iplayer.

Gary won the toss, and we elected to go first. Our first set was vampire killers, which we nearly managed to mess up when I gave Gary demon killers/exorcists. Given a second bite of the cherry by Victoria he zagged the right way, and we had a useful two points to begin our campaign with. The Taxonomists were unlucky to get a set which neither side quite managed , addresses of cartoon characters.We had agreed before he show that we honestly did NOT want a music connection. Well, that’s exactly what we got. Fortunately we solved it, recognising Memories from Cats, and a song by The Pussycat Dolls for another 2 points. Relief all round. To make up for that the Taxonomists had the picture set. They took all 4, but recognised that the Eiffel Tower, the Seattle Space Needle and the Crystal Palace were all built for International Expos. Then we had our real Egg On The Face Moment . We could see that our set were words with two different pronunciations, but the fact that the pronunciation depended on whether or not they started with a capital letter escaped us completely. It was small consolation that it also escaped the Taxonomists. Finally the Taxonomists identified a set of shellfish dishes for a point. So at least we led by 4 to 2 into the second round.

We took all three clues before I despairingly said that a series of American fluid measurements would be completed by 2 pints=1 quart. I honestly didn’t believe that it could be so obvious. But that was the clever thing about the set. It was only obvious if you took all of the clues. The Taxonomists were then given The Finest Connection Of The Show. Given a Spinning Top, The Coliseum, another Spinning Top, they didn’t get it. Mind you, neither did we. The answer, so blindingly obvious when Victoria spelled it out, was they were all featured in You’re The Tops, so would be followed by The Louvre Museum. We didn’t exactly cover ourselves with glory by failing to see a set of cricket deliveries in our next set. Well, it is true – I couldn’t tell a Yorker from a googly, I’m afraid. No bonus to the Taxonomists. They threw caution to the winds with the next set, and after two – Murray and Willis – they leapt in for Australian rivers, going for Swan, I think. I’d already told Gary that I was sure we were dealing with TUC leaders. Thank heaven he knew that Barber would come after Monks. So we took our first bonus of the show. Our last connection was a fairly gentle lob with Scottish islands of increasing area. Gary being Scottish knew Harris pretty quickly, and we were very grateful to take the two points on offer. A lovely connection finished the round for the Taxonomists, when they were given a series of numbers and worked out that they would make different consecutive numbers if you turned them up the other way. 2 points bagged thank you very much.

So at the end of round 2, which I will be honest I often find the hardest round of the show, we had a lead of 9 points to 4.

The rules of the show are that if you go first in rounds one and two, then you go second in the connecting wall. So we were given instructions on how to use the board, and then taken away to a holding area for a while, during which time the Taxonomists had their go at their wall. Until I watched the show last night I only knew how many points they had scored. As it was, they solved their wall impressively quickly, sorting out sets of words which can be followed by Great, collective nouns for birds, types of tanks and things which have striped. Captain Liz explained with some relish that barbers have a striped pole which symbolizes bloody bandages, since barbers also used to be surgeons !

I think I can reveal that we had a slight disagreement over team tactics at this stage. Neil’s point was that if you got the first two lines on the wall quickly, then you should deliberately not put the last two in quickly, to give you more thinking time about what the connection actually was . Actually, I could see the logic in what he was saying. You can solve the wall, and still not know what the connection on the last line really is. However my feeling was that you just haven’t got the time to mess around, and you need first and foremost to find the four lines, and I think that Gary agreed with me. Our turn on the wall came, and I think I should stress that at this stage you have no idea how well or otherwise your opposition have done. We unravelled the wall, knowing three of the lines, namely characters from Madame Butterfly, spin off TV series, and types of ink, but on the fourth even though Victoria gave us a couple of bites of the cherry, we could not identify characters from the Mortal Kombat video game.

After an age , we started the last round, and finally Victoria confirmed what we had suspected. The Taxonomists had done brilliantly on their wall, and solved the whole thing. So that meant that 3 points of our lead had disappeared, and only 2 remained. 16 to us and 14 to the Taxonomists. Peter the producer made a point of telling us all that there would be about 2 and a half minutes of time for the missing vowels round. More than enough to overturn that lead. Now, in the rehearsal we had comfortably outbuzzed the taxonomists on this part of the game. In the show itself though they revealed a hitherto unexpected show of speed, especially on a set of psychological terms. We started brightly enough taking three points on businesswomen, but on the psychological terms they completely outbuzzed us. I knew a couple, but just was far too slow. In fact, I only got one correct buzz in the whole round, seeing I geta Kick Out of You in the Cole Porter songs. Still, thankfully Neil and Gary were a lot more on the ball. We took three out of these.Also the Taxonomists were playing catchup, which did see them buzz incorrectly once. By the time the round ended I was fairly sure that we had done enough to win, but I was mightily relieved when Victoria confirmed it. 23 to 18. A close game.

I was particularly delighted for Neil. He’d been on quizzes a number of times, and this was his first ever win in a show. Looking back, I’d twice played in TV team quizzes before, in Eggheads and Come and Have a Go if You Think You’re Smart Enough, and had not won either, so this was something special for me as well.

One of the things that makes appearing on TV quiz shows so enjoyable is the cameraderie that tends to develop between the contestants. I’m so lucky to have made a number of friends through appearing on various shows with them. Neil and I , for example, first met when we contested the same first round heat of Mastermind in 2006. We had a chance to have a chat with the Taxonomists straight after the match, and very nice they were too, wishing us good luck in the second round. But that, as they say, is another story for another day . . .


bj said...

Great read, Dave. And very well done. That psychological conditions round was traumatic. I mean, you would need a doctor in the team or something like that... Brian

Andrew B. said...

Well done on winning such a close-run episode.

untruth said...

Hi David

Really enjoyed reading that, although I think you rather overplayed my contribution. After the show, my wife said "I know you said you were quiet in the first one, but I didn't realise that you meant silent!"



IanJC said...

Great post David and well done, it's always interesting to get to know what goes on behind the scenes at a show like OC, especially your conundrum with the shirts!!

LisaH said...
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LisaH said...
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LisaH said...

One small correction Dave, my roots are Celtic but definitely not Scottish - Mum's from Newlyn in Cornwall

Londinius said...

Hi everyone

Thanks for all the kind words.

Brian, Gary did know them, but Liz was too quick on the buzzer - the delay meant that you didn't see how quick she did it.

Thanks Andrew - you know how much fun the show is - winning the first round show was the icing on the cake

Hi Neil

I still think you were narked about the name change and the shirts !

Hi IanJC

Thanks ! If people enjoy reading these posts, then that's great, and thank you for taking the time to say so.

Hi Lisa -

I'm so sorry, and I will change the post now - I must have got mixed up between going for a purely scottish conection, and a celtic one.



Jenny said...

Lovely post Dave -really enjoyed reading it, though I think you're rather too modest about your performance in the audition.
Will look forward to the next installment! x

Londinius said...

Hi Jenny !

Folks, for the record the last comment was left by the afore mentioned lovely Jenny from Presentable who make OC. Jenny, take a bow !

Thanks for making our time on OC so enjoyable.


tanya said...

Completely off the point, but was Lisa Hermann once Lisa Almond in the far-off days when I was Tanya Simpson? If so, greetings...

Londinius said...

Well, Lisa ? Over to you .

LisaH said...

Hi Tanya. Yes, that's me....what a small world!

Londinius said...

Who needs Friends Reunited when you've got LAM ? !

HughTube said...

Well done Dave.

Nancy said...

Just caught this on iPlayer - really well done! Though as a Cole Porter nut I was shouting 'Louvre Museum' at the tv, to no avail....

Do you know when the next round is airing?


isambardcat said...

Glad to see it's still as much fun as it was for us - lovely post brought it all back! Very well done, looks a high-quality field this series so expect some even tougher matches in later rounds.

It would have been nice to see what a symphony by Strauss looked like, but as it was this was another household where LOUVRE MUSEUM!!! was being yelled at the screen.

Londinius said...

Thanks Hugh, Nancy and Isambardcat.

Yes, it really was as much fun as I've made it out to be - in fact probably a lot more than has come across from the post.

Oh yes, definitely a How The Hell did we Miss That ? moment-

Never mind, still loved it, and thanks for kind words about the post.