The most important show to win of any series is actually probably your first. Whoever you are, and whatever you say about only taking part for the fun of it, and not worrying about how well you do, the fact is that you don’t want to be knocked out in the first game. After that, though I would say that the next most important to win is the 2nd round. In the previous series of Only Connect there had been no play off match for third place, but in this, the 4th series, there was definitely going to be one. So whatever happened, by winning a place in the semis we had guaranteed ourselves two more matches. We were there to the end of the series.
Now, this is the stage in any broadcast quiz competition that you know that you are going to come up against formidable opposition. I was lucky enough in both Mastermind and Brain of Britain that I avoided the semis in which other contenders or competitors put in frighteningly good performances, and therefore progressed through to the finals myself. In this case, though, on the first day of filming after talking to Mark and Chris of the Alesmen we had pretty much figured out that if we got to the semis, then they would be the team we were most likely to face. Of course there was an even more frightening thought, if such a thing was possible – maybe they had been beaten and we’d have to face a team good enough to beat them !
As it turned out this was something we needn’t have worried about. Chris and Mark, together with Graham Barker, a very nice chap whom I hadn’t met previously to the best of my knowledge, made up the Alesmen, and they were the team who stood between us and the final. You’ve seen their first and second round performances, and there you have the advantage over us, since we hadn’t at that time. Still, we knew for a fact that they had been picking off some five point answers from just one clue in at least one of their shows. We had been performing solidly , but hadn’t even come close to doing anything like that. If there was just one crumb of comfort it was in the fact that these guys looked like potential champions, and so if we lost, which seemed likely, then there would be no shame in it, and no recriminations. Providing we weren’t thrashed, that is.
The Alesmen – sartorially impeccable, and in rounds 1 and 2 unbeatable
Actually in rounds one and two it looked very like that was exactly what was going to happen. I’ve watched the show earlier today, and this is what happened. The Alesmen served notice of their intent by getting types of cloud from just two pictures in their first set – an anvil and a mackerel. First of all they had to figure out that it actually was a mackerel. Maybe we’d have got it from the third, the mare’s tail, and maybe we wouldn’t. We certainly didn’t get our own first set. Chrysippus – Orin Scrivello – The Bank Chairman in Mary Poppins, and A viewer of the Goodies escaped us completely. Mark and the Alesmen knew, they all died laughing. Gulp. A set of two geometric equations, and the word Giotto was enough to give the Alesmen that all of these made circles. At last we got our own points on the board, when we took a full set from Democracy – Whitman – Prose – Boccaccio – Ayrshire Burns and Avon Shakepeare. We might have gone for it after Burns, but you’ll appreciate that our confidence was not at an all time high at this point, and getting some points, any points was essential. The Alesmen’s third set escaped both of us. The Road – 1:17, Great Expectations 8:40, and so on were a set of works of fiction and the times at which clocks were stopped in them. We were close with film posters, but crucially not close enough. Here’s a good example of how meticulous the team are to ensure fairness. I’m fairly certain that in the interim between rounds they made sure to check the film posters of the above to make sure that the clocks and the times weren’t in the poster. We finished with a couple of points on the dreaded music connection. Flash Bang Wallop from Half a Sixpence – A kind of Magic – and Kiss Me gave us sixpence, although it wasn’t until Victoria explained that Brian May had used a sixpence as a plectrum that it really made any sense to us.Oh well, it was 6 – 3 to the Alesmen, but frankly it could have been worse. Still, that was just around the corner for us.
In the second round, the what comes fourth ? round, we just could not get with it at all. The Alesmen were brilliant, answering their own questions, and most of ours into the bargain as well. They knew that Norman Conquest begins – Stella Artois brewery founded, and Great Fire of London would give them 1066 – 1366 and 1666 – so it was a good bet that England winning the World Cup would come next. Nice set that one. Neither of us got a set of where the last 4 hosts finished in the medal tables of the summer Olympics – the last being China = 1st. Difficult but gettable. The Alesmen in a rare show of vulnerability didn’t know that the Humber would complete a set of Calder, Aire and Ouse – each of them flowing into the next. Unfortunately we didn’t get it either. Serious egg on face moment number 1. How did we not see the connection between Ares ( Mars ) , Gaia (Earth ), Aphrodite ( Venus ) and thus Hermes (Mercury ). We didn’t see it, and the Alesmen made no mistake. D’Oh ! The Alesmen completed a list of nuclear accidents with the correct answer Chernobyl. The explanation they gave for their reasoning might not have been right, but the answer was, and that’s what matters. Right, this brought on serious egg on face moment number 2. We knew that India, Victor and X-Ray were NATO phonetic alphabet. But I – V – X – what was that all about ? Again – how did we not see that it was Roman numerals ? I can only apologise . Quite rightly the Alesmen dispatched it to the boundary, taking their own score to 12, and leaving ours on a paltry 3.
In all honesty I don’t think that any of the three of us had a problem with the Alesmen playing so well. We just had a problem with us playing so badly. We were out with the washing, and looking like beginners. I think what made it worse was that our last two sets had been gettable, and we hadn’t even come close. It was a very, very sombre team who lined up to go first on the wall. The team who go first in rounds one and two go second on the wall. The team who go first on the wall have to be filmed walking forwards towards the wall. I say this, actually, but this is done through the magic of television, since the actual walking takes place well away from the wall.
Captain Gary hadn’t quite given up the ghost yet, and he applied a bit of tactical thinking to the choice of walls. Faced with the choice between Lion and Water, Gary chose Lion, working out that the ALESmen surely wouldn’t want to be left with water. Believe me, you’d have been clutching at straws in our position too. At first the wall was a bit of a disaster, and we took a long time to sort out any of them. Still, we were playing, as we saw it, for pride now, with no chance of snatching a victory from the jaws of abject defeat, and we did manage to unravel the whole thing . Unlike the quarter final wall, I think we had pretty much sorted out what the link between the sets was before we unravelled the wall. We had the Underground Railway Lines first. Gary knew the surfing terms. What we were left with was terms connected with left, or being left handed, and also film music composer, but which was which. Two attempts came and failed. Of course, thinking about it Mancini was fairly obvious – man maybe coming from latin manus – meaning hand. Still, the main thing was that we got it on the third go. From being candidates for the lowest score ever on OC, we now had a chance of respectability. We had scored a maximum 10. Too little too late, we felt.
Its fair to say that we were still a little despondent after this. If you go first on the wall then you’re taken out of the studio into a holding area while the other team take their turn. The only thought that provided at least some crumb of comfort was that at least the lead wouldn’t be increased.
When you return to the studio nobody gives you any clue as to how the opposition have done on the wall until Victoria announces it as the start to round four is filmed. So those expressions of surprise that you see are genuine. We were surprised that the Alesmen had dropped 5 points on the wall. Watching it since revealed just what terrible luck they had. They knew the 4 sets, but just couldn’t unravel more than the first one in the time. Very , very unfortunate for them. Realistically, though, they still had a substantial lead, and had anyone been running a book on the outcome they’d still have been short priced favourites at this stage , but at least it was now just about possible for us to give it a go. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.The hero of the hour was none other than Neil Phillips, whom Gary and I will always refer to as Legend forever more due to what transpired in the next couple of minutes.
Neil was awesome. The first set was Films named after songs. Neil took three of them . Believe me, with the transmission delay you can’t see just how quickly he was coming in for them, but it was brilliant. We knew that we were still behind. Equations next. Gary and Chris swapped one apiece, but that was as far as it went. Next – collective nouns. On the first one I made one of my few contributions to this show with A Company of Actors. I think Neil and Gary both weighed in. As Gary answered his last by my reckoning we were a point ahead, and then wonder of wonders the end music sounded, and the game was over. I almost couldn’t breathe for the time it took Victoria to confirm that I had got my sums correct, and we had squeaked through by a point.
Only Connect is a team game. You win as a team, and you get beaten as a team. However sometimes the action of one individual proves to be decisive, and for us, it was Neil. He didn’t get all of the missing vowels, but he got a substantial proportion of them, 5 out of our 8 correct answers, and closed the gap. I was getting nowhere with trying to answer the missing vowels.
I was so grateful to the Alesmen for getting this photo which makes it look as if I’m shoving my thumb up my nose before the start of the show. Neil looks confident – does he know what he’s about to do ?
A win is a win is a win, I suppose, and is certainly not to be sniffed at. However the commiserations we extended towards the Alesmen were genuine and heartfelt. The scoreboard at the end showed that we had won, but I think all six of us at least knew that they had been the better team. They are all great guys and damn good sports, and they will know that if it hadn’t been for dreadful bad luck on the wall we’d never have caught them. Its not much consolation, I’m sure. The truest thing I can say is that their sportsmanship is every bit as impressive as their knowledge.
As for us, we were in a little bit of a state of shock. On a personal level I had contributed next to nothing to our performance, and I wasn’t very happy about that. But as a team . . . well, as a team we were in the final ! Gary is Mr. Consistency and he had nothing to feel ashamed about in his own personal performance in this show. But as for Neil – well, I was just so pleased for him that he had produced this sublime match-winning performance. The rumour that Gary and I got down on our knees in the dressing room after the show and saluted him with a round of “We’re not worthy’s” is not a rumour - its true.
Those smiles are genuine – we’ve just qualified for the final. Myself – Captain Gary and The Legend himself.
For the first time since our adventure had begun, I really regretted not staying in the hotel with the boys. I’m not a drinker, but I might well have been prepared to make an exception on the night. On a personal note, though, it was a source of great satisfaction to me that I had reached the Grand Finals of Mastermind, Brain of Britain, and now Only Connect. Not that I'm the first to manage this, as Ian Bayley completed the hat trick of appearences in our Brain of Britain final last January. Well, if you can't beat them , join them.