Saturday, 31 July 2010

I'm not saying that this is necessarily a good thing -

- but the school holidays do give you the opportunity of watching television at 2pm on a weekday if you so choose. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am fully aware that there are many more fulfilling activities you can choose from than watching TV at such a time, but there are just a few shows for which I have to make an exception. 15 to 1 in particular.

I was idly flicking through the channels on Wednesday afternoon, and I came across the reruns of one of the series shown in 2003, I think, on Challenge TV. I only intended to watch it for a couple of minutes. Two consecutive shows later I arose from the Clark sofa, fully satisfied with a great hour’s viewing.

I know that I’m preaching to the converted here. I know that most people who love quizzes, especially TV quizzes, are fully aware of what a good show 15 to 1 was. But it really hammered it home to me that it wasn’t just good, it was a fantastic, a marvellous, wonderful, stupendous quiz show. The format so simple, and yet clever enough to develop more than enough intrigue to keep anyone going. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I love the way it kept up relentlessly with question after question after question, show after show. But I also found myself engrossed in the way that tactical thinking played a part in the show. On one of them last week I was fascinated to watch one very good lady quizzer cause carnage picking off other contenders one by one, then dropping a life when she was one of only 4 players left. The other three to a man – and they were all men – all picked mercilessly on her then to knock her out and progress to the final themselves. Compelling stuff to watch as the drama unfolded.

Then in the final round between the last three in each of the shows I watched last week there was always a compelling subtext. I asked myself each time - would contenders concentrate on knocking out the others, or would they take question after question to build a high enough score to get onto the leaders board for the Grand Final ? On one show I watched last week it was like a glorified game of pass the parcel, with both of the last two players continually nominating each other. When finally one was left, and he could at last start to really try to build a score, he got the first question wrong and that was that.

If the great William G. Stewart was ever going to revive the show, I kind of think he would have decided to do it before now, and so I don’t hold out any hope that it will ever happen. But I have to say that watching this handful of shows during this last week has made me even certain that of all the shows I regret never going on, 15 to 1 is at the top of the list, even above University Challenge. After all, how many quiz shows would you gladly sit through an hour of old reruns for ? I rest my case, m’lud.

Friday, 30 July 2010

What has quizzing ever done for us ?

My team in the rugby club for the Thursday night quiz are a pretty tolerant bunch, I have to say. They’re fully aware that I’m my own favourite subject, and they tend to tolerate my latest boastful episode with all good cheer. Last night it was my turn to do the quiz at the club, so I didn’t get that much of a chance to chat until after the quiz. When we did talk I told them about my interview on Jamie Miller’s website, which I mentioned in an earlier post this week. This moved on to a general discussion of the website itself. We were discussing the idea that some people can make a living from quizzing and as a result this question was put on the table –

- Have you ever got, won or achieved anything as a result of being a quizzer, which wasn’t a prize in a quiz ? –
If you’ve been a LAM reader for any length of time you’ll probably appreciate that this is the sort of question that I find irresistible.

Everyone around the table managed to come up with at least one example of impressing non-quizzing work colleagues or friends by producing some or other fact gleaned from quizzing at an appropriate moment. To be honest, though, most of what we came up with were actually really quiz prizes when you analysed it. For example, about the best I could come up with was when I won a pair of diadora trainers in a Mail on Sunday competition. This was back in about 1988, just after I started quizzing, and it involved naming the Olympic marathon champion, the world marathon champion, and the world record holder for the marathon at the time. Since hardly anyone had ever heard of the record holder at that time I thought I had a good chance. First prize was a holiday in Rome – so you can imagine that I was a little less pleased to win second prize than I might otherwise have been.

Thinking about it 20 years ago Mrs. Londinius used to subscribe to a magazine/newsletter which offered to help you win promotional competitions and the like. To be fair to the people who ran it, it was chock full of details of competitions which you might otherwise have missed. Did it make us any more successful ? Nope.

Mind you , they did have some funny criteria in some of these competitions, I’m sure. For example my oldest daughter is now 24 years old. When she was 18 months old we entered her in a national colouring competition, in conjunction with the well know “Where’s Spot ? “ books. Basically, she had to colour in an outline of Spot. Well, we sat her at the table, and put some crayons in her hand, and let her get on with it. Bearing in mind she was only 18 months old at the time, she did alright. I mean , some of the crayon did actually go on the paper rather than the table. The final result, though, would have done Jackson Pollack proud.

She was one of the winners !

Honestly, she received a set of the books, a cuddly Spot, and a very nice letter which praised her very original and individual use of colour !

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Mastermind Champion of Champions

When the series was first mooted it was suggested that the shows might make a good alternative to some of the world cup football matches. Well, the finals are over, and the world cup trophy is safely in Madrid, and there's been no sign of the shows yet. I'm pleased to announce that the Champion of Champions series will be shown across next week, starting on Monday 2nd August, on BBC2 at 7:30 pm. The other heats will be shown at the same time on BBC2 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It seems that the shows are being broadcast in the order in which they were recorded, since my show, which was recorded last of the heats, will be shown on the Thursday.The Final will be shown on the Friday, but at 8pm. Don't miss it !

Monday, 26 July 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

First Round Match 4 – Peterhouse Cambridge v. University of Exeter

There was a nice contrast between the colleges represented by tonight’s teams. Peterhouse , represented by Edward Tait, Ben Slingo, Captain Louise Howes and Christopher Stanton, is actually the oldest college of Cambridge University, formed in 1284, and has apparently only 260 undergraduates. Opponents Exeter, represented by James Williams, Finn Raven, Captain Tim Abbott and James Milnes is a bit younger, having become a university in 1955. Still, with alumni such as Peter and Zara Phillips, and J.K. Rowling they’ve made their mark. I have to admit I thought it was rather naughty of JP to chastise them for not putting a stamp onto the envelope containing their application form just before asking the first question.

Off we went, then. Not for the last time tonight Ben Slingo of Peterhouse correctly answered the first starter, and Peterhouse were given a set of Shakespeare quotes as bonuses for their pains, of which they took two out of three. Mr. Slingo found his range early tonight, as he correctly identified a set of clues to the names of London mainline railway stations for the second starter. This time Peterhouse took all 3 bonuses by identifying decades of the 20th century from a treaty signed in each. At this stage it seems the excellent captain Tim Abbott of Exeter decided it was time to get involved in the match, and took his team’s first starter by identifying Byron’s quote about a waltz. Once again this triggered a set of quotations for the bonuses, and Exeter took all of them. Game on.

The 4th starter was one of only a couple which were missed by both teams, as neither identified Little Dorrit. Tim Abbott took his second starter by identifying ‘L’il Folks’ as the original title of the Peanuts cartoon strip. So, not to be outdone, Mr. Slingo took the next starter, the picture starter, correctly identifying the logo of wikipedia. A good set of bonuses followed. The logo has 15 letters from 15 different writing systems, 3 of which they were asked to identify. 2 out of 3 bonuses were taken. Then we saw the night’s first incorrect interruption, with Abbott of Exeter failing to identify Jupiter’s Red Spot. Edward Tait of Peterhouse made no such mistake, and although they failed to answer any of the bonuses on architects, at the 10 minute mark Peterhouse had carved out a healthy lead of 70 points to 30.

Captain Louise Howes shook her head when she offered JP the answer Wall Street as the original home of the New York Stock Exchange. She should have had more faith, for it was right. This started off a spate of tit for tat exchanges, as first Abbott interrupted correctly to identify Cymbeline as the Shakespeare character who was king of the Catevellauni, and then Tait correctly answered a medicinal starter. As a rule, though, Peterhouse were answering more of their bonuses correctly than Exeter seemed to be managing. They had now pushed through the 100 point barrier. James Milnes hit back when he took the music starter, recognising Shirley Bassey singing Hey Big Spender. A set of bonuses on 3 welsh female vocalists, and it was nice to see Neath getting a name check as the birthplace of Katherine Jenkins. She didn’t go to my school, but I know people who did teach her in the school down the road. Mr. Slingo, who impressed tonight, then took the next starter identifying the word libido as a Freudian term derived from the latin for lust.

So just as Peterhouse were seemingly applying cruise control, things started to go just a tiny bit pear shaped. Mr. Slingo incorrectly interrupted with “2nd Punic Wars”, while if he’d waited he’d have known the answer required was “Hannibal”, as gratefully supplied by captain Abbott. A bit of a shame to see that nobody in the Exeter team had heard the old quiz chestnut about Giles Gilbert Scott designing the red telephone box, but if you don’t know it, you don’t know it. Edward Tait of Peterhouse then added fuel to the Exeter mini recovery by interrupting early on metal, not waiting long enough to be given the chemical symbol W which gave the impressive Tim Abbott tungsten. This was a good period for Exeter, as first Raven and then Abbott again took the next two starters. So at the 20 minute mark the score stood at 155 to 110. The advantage was with Peterhouse, but the momentum was with Exeter. A test of nerve, then.

James Milnes of Exeter took the next starter by correctly answering that Ukraine will be co-hosts of the next European Nations football championships along with Poland. This, however, was as close as Exeter were fated to get. Vince Slingo came storming back now, identifying dactyl. As part of a finger, and also a metrical foot in poetry. In the next couple of minutes he would answer another 2 starters. I was particularly impressed with his swift answer that the antonym of the word antonym is synonym. It does make sense, but you do have to think about it for a moment or two. Well, I did, anyway. He also knew that Iain Banks uses his initial M. to denote when he writes in a particular genre. Messrs Stanton and Tait also added starters in this period, as Exeter were left trailing in their wake, watching them disappear over the event horizon. In the last couple of minutes Abbott showed great buzzer speed by taking the simplest starter of the night, asking which European capital city is on the River Tagus. At this stage they couldn’t win, but a repechage score was still a possibility. There was no mercy from Ben Slingo, though, as he took the next. JP, by going 90 to the dozen slipped in another starter, which Mr. Abbott got, but that was it. At the gong Peterhouse had won comfortably by 265 to 165. Well done Peterhouse. That score certainly makes you look a decent bet for the second round. As for Exeter, last year 165 would have done, but as two runner up teams have already scored more highly than that this series I have to say it looks unlikely at this stage. Hard lines, but well played.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

A positive smorgasbord for the Paxman aficionado tonight, after the relative famine rations of the last few weeks. At the start he waxed almost poetical, offering us
“The rules are as constant as the northern star. “
Then in a set of quotations, the third one was correctly identified as being an example of the wit and wisdom of Paris Hilton, to which JP replied “Yeah, sad, isn’t it. “
When Ben Slingo gave his first incorrect buzz of the night on the punic wars and Hannibal, after Tm Abbott had given the right answer JP turned to Mr. Slingo and offered him
“Mr. Slingo, you’re answering more difficult questions !” MISTER Slingo ? An unexpected show of respect there. Finally, and best of all , a wonderful pause and funny look when Finn Raven offered El Greco as an answer to one of a set of picture bonuses on French painters, and a disdainful
“Its nothing like an El Greco ! Is it ? “

Interesting Fact Of The Week That I Didn’t Already Know

George Bernard Shaw described “Little Dorrit” as a more seditious text than Das Kapital. Not only that, but the Sunday teatime BBC classic serial of Das Kapital was crap, too.

I'm sorry to say that I'm no genius

I had an email last week from Jamie Miller. Jamie is the author of How to Be A Quizzing Genius. I have to admit that I haven’t yet read the book, and so am unable to comment on it on way or another. That’s by the by. In a pleasingly flattering email Jamie asked if I’d be prepared to answer a few interview questions for his new website. Well, dear readers, you know that I am congenitally incapable of passing up any opportunity to talk about myself, and so I answered them to the best of my ability.

The website is now up and running, and you can find it if you follow this link –
Quiz - Genius
My interview is there, but don’t worry, there’s also interviews with the lovely Daphne Fowler, and the equally lovely Shaun Wallace. Its pleasing and at the same time rather humbling to find myself included in that kind of company.

I think its early days for the site at the moment, so any of my comments have to be viewed in this light. Still it looks very good, very professional. I enjoyed reading the interviews with Shaun and Daphne, and there’s also links to several rather interesting articles elsewhere on the web. There’s also a plug at the bottom of the page for Jamie’s own book, but I don’t blame him for this. If I’d written a book you can bet your life I’d be plugging it in every post in LAM, and every reply to every comment about every post in LAM !

Jamie takes a tack with this website which is interesting. If I may him quote from the homepage –

“I have been earning a living from quizzing for many years now and created this site for people who want to do the same.
Whether you want to wow your friends at your local pub quiz, use the pub quiz-machines like ATMs or scoop a life-changing amount on a television game show, this site should point the way. “

I must bow to Jamie’s superior knowledge on this one, and if he’s making a living from quizzing, then I take my hat off to him, and he’s going to be worth reading. To be fair, if you read the three interviews, we have all been asked for learning and preparation tips, so its certainly about helping people to maximise their performance in a quiz. But making a living from quizzing ? Personally I know relatively few people who’ve ever made a living from quizzing, and even fewer if we discount those who have won £1 million on WWTBAM, or are part of the daily cast of a TV quiz show. If we take my question setting friend, for example, he’s been doing it for years, has built up his business over a long period of time, and frankly I doubt that he’s making a huge amount from it. So this is an aspect of the site I’m going to be watching with much interest. Jamie, if you can tell me how I can turn a certain amount of quiz chutzpah into hard cash, then I’m all ears !

Actually I’m going to watch the whole site with interest. Jamie has a nose for interesting articles, and if he gets more interviews as he plans to do, then I’ll be well pleased. Well worth a look.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Thanks for your support again.

Yes, here we are again, on the last Sunday in July, marking the anniversary of LAM. Alright, the date of the anniversary is Tuesday 27th July, but this is the corresponding Sunday, and on a Sunday evening it was that I made my first tentative posting. Please don't bother going back to read it, it really isn't worth the effort. Little has changed indeed. Still, as Sam Goldwyn said, we've all passed a lot of water since then, and its been quite a year for LAM. This second year has seen more posts - well over 200 - than the first 12 months. Highlights for me have been our first guest post, with Andrew's fascinating account of his team's appearences on Only Connect,being asked through the blog to check out Britvic J20's new quiz, and being asked if I'd put out a plug for the World's Biggest Quiz - happy to oblige, and also being asked to put out a contestant call for Only Connect,equally happy to oblige.

Above all else this has been a great year mainly because of the new friends who have become LAM regulars since this time last year, and the regulars who have been with us for even longer, and have stayed with us. Thanks to you all.

Friday, 23 July 2010

PC or Paper ?

Sorry, I could probably have mentioned this in the last post I made. During last night’s quiz in the Rugby Club, Brian asked me whether I could compile the quiz for next week, since he would prefer to do it himself in a fortnight. It’s the school holidays at the moment, and so I was never going to refuse.

Peter Tinniswood once said “Men are buggers for Geography . “ I’d like to add my corollary to that, inasmuch as we’re very fond of stationery too. I probably love preparing for the quiz as much as I enjoy the actual compiling of it, and the delivery of it on the night. There’s the selection and gathering of the sources you’re going to use. Then the equipment, pens, pad of paper, laptop etc. The dividing up the pieces of paper where I’m going to start jotting down questions and question ideas into different sections for different categories of question. Not to forget the most important detail of all, the ceremonial brewing of the First Cup Of Coffee.

When I began to compile my first quizzes for the rugby club 15 years ago I didn’t own a PC or a laptop. So when I compiled a quiz I’d do every step of the process with pen and paper until I was ready to produce the final copy of the quiz, when I’d type it out on my old Sharp electric typewriter. The PC’s and the internet came along, and once I really started to get to grips with IT they pretty much revolutionised the way I went about doing the quiz. For one thing, once you settled on the 80 questions you were going to use, and you were totally happy with the way that you’d phrased each of them, then it became much easier to move them around, and try out different combinations in different rounds. It drastically cut the length of time it took to compile a whole quiz, so that from first cup of coffee to printing off the finished quiz you could do the whole thing in one afternoon.

Just recently, though, I’ve started compiling the quiz on paper again, and only typing it out on the PC when its ready. I can’t even remember why I switched back in the first place. Still however it happened I found that I did actually enjoy putting it together the old fashioned way again. Maybe I’m reading something into this that wasn’t really there, but I could appreciate that when you do it all in one go on the PC, then it does become a little more of a production line job than it used to be. I don’t know if it came across in the quizzes themselves, but I could see that I’d become a little more blasé and less interested in the whole process, and maybe to some extent I was just going through the motions.

So whether I’m just over intellectualising it or not, I have my pens, paper, my first cup of coffee, and the first 6 books I’m going to use as sources in front of me, and I’m going to take as long as it needs to do next Thursday’s quiz for the club. Bliss.

Having said all of that, I shan’t be going back to doing the picture handouts the old fashioned way in a hurry. I don’t know if you ever put together a picture handout in the bad old days B.I. ( Before Interweb ) but blimey, it was a labourious and rather unrewarding process. Painstakingly going through two weeks worth of old Daily Telegraphs and my eldest daughter’s latest copy of Hello or OK magazine which I had , well, for want of a better word, stolen, snipping off heads from photos of people I’d never heard of, then laboriously sticking them down onto a piece of paper with a pritt stick which was pretty useless because someone had left the top off it a fortnight ago. Then finding out I’d have to go through the whole process all over again since I’d forgotten to write the answers down, and didn’t have a clue who half of the pictures were. The internet does have its uses after all.

I've Heard of Ask The Audience, but . . .

I feel I should report that I had a genuinely new experience at the Rugby Club quiz last night. Hey, stop that , you’re making up your own stories now. No, what happened was this. Question master for last night’s quiz was Reg. I’ve mentioned Reg in this blog before. He is an absolutely lovely guy who is what is commonly known as ‘a legend’ in the rugby club quiz. Not because he is particularly successful, and not because he is a brilliant quizmaster. In fact, its because he is NOT a brilliant quiz master that has made him so beloved , and his quizzes so eagerly anticipated.

Last night during the first round he asked
“What is the currency of Pakistan ? “
As soon as he’d asked all the ten questions in the round he came over to me and said words to the effect of –
“I’ve got a bit of a problem here. My answer is rupees, but Mike says that rupees are the currency of India. “ Well, it was easy enough to set his mind at rest on this score. Mike, scorer last night, was right in that rupees are the currency of India, but the Pakistan rupee is also the currency of Pakistan. Problem solved. The new experience was that as far as I can recall I can never remember a question master coming up to me during a quiz, and asking me to confirm one of his answers, especially while the quiz is going on.

In fact it happened again during the next round. Reg asked “Name the first four men in the Bible “ We all agreed on Adam, Cain, and Abel, but there was a disagreement over the fourth. Reg had the answer “Enoch” while everyone else in the room said it was “Seth”. Again, Reg came to ask me for confirmation, and all I could tell him was that Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve, and as far as I knew was probably born before Enoch, the son of Cain. Brian advised him to stick with his own answer since he was the question master, but , probably in the face of the overwhelming feeling for Seth gave that as the answer. I haven’t checked in the Book of Genesis, but it is always possible that Enoch may be mentioned before Seth is. Over to you, dear readers.

I’ve thought about what Reg did last night quite a bit since. Now, I’d LIKE to think that he came to ask me because I have a certain quiz reputation there due to Mastermind and other TV/radio appearances. However I can’t help thinking that it was just because I am unfortunately one of the most vocal critics whenever an obvious wrong’un rears its ugly head during the quiz. Which in a way makes it a rebuke wrapped up in the form of a compliment.

Not that Reg would ever criticise anyone like that , because unlike me he’s far too nice a guy. I am pleased to say that he didn’t let us down in another way last night. Reg is the guy who gave us The Solvent as the stretch of water between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, and Davy Rockett as the King of the Wild Frontier. Last night he was happy to inform us that Steven Spielberg’s epic film which began with a dramatisation of the storming of the Normandy Beaches was called “Saving Private Brown . “ I was delighted that a couple of the teams immediately took up an impromptu chorus of the music hall favourite , “Knees Up Mother Ryan “. God bless you , Reg – don’t ever change.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Fine Art of Keeping Your Gob Shut

Today is the first day of the school holidays for the County Borough of Neath and Port Talbot. I say this for two reasons. For one thing I can’t resist mentioning it because I know that it upsets my non-teaching friends whenever I mention our 5 plus weeks of summer holiday. However it also explains just how I was able to be walking in Kenfig Nature Reserve at 11:30 on a Thursday morning. No work, the sun high in the sky, and a walk during which I saw only my second peacock butterfly of the year. What could be better ? Well, all of the above and having won two quizzes this week rather than losing them by a combined total of 1 and ½ points would have been nice, but nobody can have everything.

I don’t mean to go on about this, but I know what I’m like, and if I don’t force myself to take some regular exercise during the holiday then I’ll be in trouble. I could laze for Britain. I have no problems with justifying this to my nearest and dearest, for example I could give you very good reasons why I DON’T CARE IF WE NEED TO GO SHOPPING, CAN’T YOU SEE THAT IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL THAT I FINISH READING “THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE” BY THIS EVENING !, for example. Yet I’ve resolved to not just sit on my backside for the whole holiday, and so an hour’s walk across the dunes and down to the beach was just what the doctor – or in my case the Practice Nurse – ordered. I’ve been doing this at the weekend ever since I was diagnosed, and I’ve no doubt that its done me some good. So much so that I now find that after 20 minutes walk I’m so comfortable that I’m on auto pilot , and the mind starts to wander off into some strange places.

Last night Mrs. L. and I were invited to a dinner party given by my colleagues and friends, Les and Gill. They are absolutely the perfect hosts, and to say that we all had a good evening would be an understatement. Why I mention this is that during the walk today I found my mind kept drifting back to one little anecdote my Head of Department told over the dinner table. You may already be aware that I’m rather fond of old teacher stories, and this one tickled my fancy . It concerns a student teacher. He was teaching “Macbeth” to a good class of 15 year olds. Now, as you know Shakespeare’s use of language is exceptionally rich, and at times can be quite confusing. The class were analysing the start of Act 1 Scene 3, where the witches are awaiting the arrival of Macbeth. The first witch is explaining how she has just been insulted by a sailor’s wife, and so she is going to take revenge on the woman’s husband, who is the master of a ship called “The Tiger”. This actually was a real life ship, whose disaster forms part of the narrative of Giles Milton’s excellent book “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg”, however, I digress. The witch explains how she will torture all the man on the ship, then says,
“Though his bark can not be lost
Yet it shall be tempest- toss’d”

Now, in Shakespeare’s day, a bark, or barque was a perfectly acceptable term for a type of ship. Unfortunately the student teacher didn’t seem to know this. All of which caused a problem when one of the kids asked what these last two lines meant. My Head of Department, who was observing the student’s lesson at the time, observed as a cloud passed across the student’s eyes. Then, his mind made up, he went for it –
“Well, she’s basically saying that she can’t kill the ship’s dog.”

I’m not saying this to take the mickey out of the student, who has gone on to be a very good and successful teacher. I just quote this because it tickled me, and also because it illustrates a point. If he’d just said – d’you know what, that’s a good question, and I’m afraid I don’t know the answer – then he’d have been a lot better off. Even English teachers don’t have to know everything. And isn’t that true of all of us as quizzers at different times ? Be honest, haven’t there been times when you’ve chipped in, and then defended an answer when really and truly you haven’t had an earthly ? Especially considering that one of your team mates has ended up being talked out of a right answer. Oh, the shame of it all. Knowing when to offer an answer, and when to defend your answer are important attributes, but sometimes, to be honest, there’s a lot to be said for knowing when to just shut the hell up.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Why no Paxman spoofs ?

Here’s a question which has just occurred to me after reading a recent post on Jenny Turner’s excellent Quizzlestick. Namely, considering there have been some excellent parodies of University Challenge during the latter days of the Bamber Gascoigne era, why have I never seen a parody of Jeremy Paxman’s University Challenge ?

Without even trying I can name three from Bamber’s days.

1) Firstly we have the Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch, H.M. Prison Challenge, where prisoners were asked to supply answers to unsolved crimes in order to secure remission rather than points ( er – was it Reggie ‘The Dog’ Trubshawe ? ) . Trust me, it was a lot funnier than I made it sound. This provided Griff Rhys Jones with his first opportunity to play Bamber, which he so memorably reprised in the second of our list .

2) The classic episode of The Young Ones, where our heroes from Scumbag College take on Messrs Fry , Laurie, Thompson and Elton – or to give them their characters names, Lord Monty, Lord Snot, Miss Money Sterling, and Kendal Mintcake – from Footlights College Oxbridge.(“Whose last words were “Lawks a Lordy, my bottom’s on fire ?” “Lenin ? “ “No, it was Joan of Ark. “ ) So much has already been written in different places about this episode that I can’t add anything original to it, and so will move on to the third.

3) The film “Starter for Ten” based on the novel by David Nicholls. OK, so this isn’t a parody. The episode of University Challenge is actually central to the plot of both film and book, and no attempt is made to parody or mock. In fact Mark Gatiss ( ahh, the League of Gentlemen ) makes rather a good job of playing dear old Bamber.

Well, alright, Bamber presented the show for 25 years, so there was certainly plenty of time for him to become a target for some gentle mockery. But be fair, Jeremy Paxman has actually been presenting the show for 16 years, unless I’m very much mistaken. If you’ve been a LAM regular for any length of time you’ll know how much of a fan of him I am, but even I can admit that he has a style which, lets be honest , would be fairly easy to send up. So why hasn’t anyone ? Unless, of course someone has and I have just missed it, in which case I look for some kind reader to help me out with this.

I should probably mention a couple of clips on YouTube. There’s a highly amusing one which has manipulated footage of the 2010 Grand Final to consider what might have happened if the great Alex Guttenplan hadn’t known so many answers. Also there’s a good clip from Armando Ianucci’s Time Trumpet. This looks like genuine footage from the show, over which different voices have been dubbed. I think that if you go to YouTube and search University Challenge spoof you should find both of these quite easily.


While on the subject of spoofs and send ups of quizzes, I recall that some time ago I posted about my favourite depictions of pub quizzes in sitcoms. I mention this because I caught part of another one a week or so ago. There's a BBC sitcom on a Saturday evening I think, called The Old Guys. Now, the fact that it was on a Saturday evening didn't fill me with any great hopes, and I'll be honest, considering it was created by the same people who created the excellent Peep show it didn't really do it for me. As for the quiz, well basically the two protagonists - Roger Lloyd Pack and CLive Swift want to improve on a dismal performance in their local pub quiz in order to impress Jane Asher, who is actually worse than they are. Cherie Lunghi came into it somewhere as a librarian, but I'm afraid that I was losing the will to live , and so I switched the set off and went and took my pleasures elsewhere.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

First Round Match 3 – Balliol College Oxford v. Queens’ College Cambridge

By my calculations we were overdue a one-sided match, and so I really wasn’t expecting another nailbiter like the first two shows of the series. Still, this was an Oxford v. Cambridge match up, and you can never tell how these particular matches will turn out. Going into bat for Oxford was venerable Balliol College, founded in 1263, and home to 600 students. Queens’ College Cambridge is a little less venerable than Balliol, but I was interested to hear that the position of its apostrophe is owed to the fact that it was founded twice, by two queens, no less. Enough of such things.

Balliol took first blood. Their team consisted of Ollie Murphy, Keiran Hodgson, Anne Marie Debray and captain Michael Slater who correctly identified various clues as pointing to the word little. They then took the second starter by identifying La Mancha as the home town of Don Quixote. Queens’ were represented by Mark Jackson, Simon Wallace, William Bellfield and captain Sam Gilbert. Mr. Jackson took Queens’ first starter by identifying a pair of homophones as air and heir, but still they only managed to take one of the bonuses. Neither side managed to identifying a self penned epitaph as belonging to Robert Frost. In this early period neither team were converting the majority of the bonuses into points.

Balliol began to pull ahead when captain Slater identified nitrus oxide as being a gas used once in dentistry, which brought the team two successful bonuses on cities. Ollie Murphy took the first picture starter by identifying an Olympic medal table which showed China at the top as belonging to Beijing of 2008. This was followed by 3 other tables from other olympics, for which 2 bonuses were taken. So at the ten minute mark Balliol had a useful lead of 70 to 15. Had they been a little less profligate with bonuses it might have been even greater.

At once Queens’ began to eat into the deficit. Simon Wallace correctly interrupted a starter to identify the subject of a definition as DNA. In fact, while we’re on the subject of Science questions I was thoroughly delighted with myself to get the answer to the next starter, which was which scientist, the last assistant of Tycho Brahe, formulated the laws of planetary motion – to which the answer was Keppler. However I have to say that I didn’t do quite so well with a set of bonuses on salad ingredients in literature. I did know that Peter Rabbit was warned not to eat the lettuce in Mr. MacGregor’s garden. Still, these two starter both went to Queens’ and they were pulling back the deficit steadily. The music starter followed, with a snatch of Great Balls Of Fire. Captain Gilbert of Queens’ correctly identified the singer as Jerry Lee Lewis. They failed on two of the other Sun Records artists – Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins, but correctly identified Elvis.

At this point in the game we saw the importance of judging when to buzz in on a starter. JP gave us a list of British Prime Ministers, and immediately Michael Slater of Balliol buzzed in and offered just that – Prime Ministers. Incorrect, and JP finished the question, asking which father and son were missing from the list. Mark Jackson gratefully accepted the windfall, and the Queens’ machine rumbled on. Not that it was completely one way traffic. Miss Debray of Balliol made a great interruption on explorers, enabling Balliol to eschew their former profligacy by taking all 3 bonuses. This was followed by my favourite starter of the show, a great question of the kind you only get on UC. If a = 1 and b=2 , and c=3, what is the total of the first 3 letters on a qwerty keyboard. Neither side got the answer - 44. Captain Gilbert kept up his side’s momentum by making a great interruption to identify a definition of quantative easing. Still, no bonuses were taken. Then, for the second time in the show poor captain Slater interrupted just a second or two too early. He correctly identified amongst others, The Rain It Raineth Every Day as being by Shakespeare, but they weren’t sonnets. 5 points lost. Given the rest of the question – these were all sung by Feste in which play ? Queens’ were very happy to take the points .

With a very pleasing symmetry, at the end of the second third of the competition the score stood at 100 points apiece. So another very close and exciting match. Neither team could answer the first starter, but Queens’ managed the next. However they were unable to pull far away since they failed to take any of the three bonuses on opera. The second picture starter saw William Bellfield correctly identify a photograph of Bobby Fischer. Three photographs of chess players followed, and they took all 3. Full marks to whoever thought of putting in a photo of the chess super computer Deep Blue.Momentum was now with Queens’ but captain Slater of Balliol was ready to stand up and be counted, and he correctly identified the description of a lagoon for the next starter. After the bonuses Balliol were still 30 points behind. Following his captain’s lead, Ollie Murphy correctly guessed that Jonson said that making dictionaries is dull work. Quite.

A few minutes to go, and it was nailbitingly close again. Neither side correctly explained what UNHCR stood for. Mr. Slater buzzed in very early to identify polio as the disease which the Salk vaccine gives protection against. This to huge cheers from the Balliol supporters in the audience, as it just nudged them into a slight lead. Three bonuses were taken by identifying the decade in which particular sets of players captained the England test cricket team.

Any chance of another tie-break this week ? Not this time. From here to the gong it was all Queens’. Both starters, and three bonuses between them pulled them away, and by the bell they had won by 190 – 155. Well played both teams. Yes, the margin was clear enough by the end, but everything was in doubt right up until the last two minutes. If I’m honest I think its very unlikely that 155 will quite be enough for Balliol to make the repechage. So bad luck, but well done anyway for playing your part in another terrific match. Congratulations Queens’ .

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Yeeesssss ! The Paxmeister is back in town. Alright, we only caught a glimpse tonight, but it was a good ‘un. When given a definition of the famous Portland Vase, William Bellfield of Queens’ offered “The Elgin Marbles”. JP gave him what I believe is commonly called an old-fashioned look, and replied, his voice dripping with disdain, “Lord ! No!”

Interesting Fact Of The Week I Didn’t Already Know

Excluding micro states and island nations, Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

There Are Times When I'm Happy to Admit That I'm Wrong -

- although its not something I’m ever likely to make a habit of, you understand. Admitting that I’m wrong, I mean. Oh yes, it would be lovely to give up being wrong , but that ain’t going to happen any time soon. However, I digress.

You’ll probably be aware that we are rapidly approaching the end of the school year. This Thursday just gone we took a number of pupils to Oakwood Park, which is a theme Park in West Wales, about 90 minutes drive from school. A good time was had by all. The trip marked the part of the school year where it has become traditional for the timetable to be suspended to make way for special activities which pupils can choose between. Friday was an activities day, and this coming Monday will be one as well. All day Monday I’ll be giving origami classes, and good fun it is too. However I did something different on Friday.

For the last two years I’ve run a school Mastermind competition at the end of term. I first did it 2 years ago, which was the year my final was broadcast, when I had half a mind that we’d get a photo in the paper and a bit of good publicity for the school from it. I’m glad to say that this was the case. Last year I did it again, mainly because it had been fun. Still, this year I decided to go with something a little different. So what I did was actually an Eggheads style quiz. I say Eggheads, although it probably owed a little more to the format of Are You An Egghead. In two semi finals, and then the final, two teams of 4 pupils battled it out over 4 categories of questions. Each time a team won a category, then they could select a teacher Egghead to help them out in the last round, which was of course General Knowledge. Each team member had to take on one of the specialist categories by themselves, but the General rounds were team rounds.

Why am I admitting that I am wrong ? Simply this. In this very blog I have gone on record as saying that children in general today do not have a good general knowledge, no matter how smart they are. Well, Friday went some way to proving me wrong on this one. I have to say, all of those pupils who played on Friday did brilliantly. Yes I wrote the questions for what I thought pupils between 12 and 15 might be able to answer, but even so the standard of the contestants was really impressive. So much so that only one question was answered incorrectly in the four individual rounds of the final, and the GK round in the final was actually won by 5 points out of 5 to the other team’s 4 points out of 5. It might not exactly have brought a tear to the eye of this particular wizened old quiz veteran, but I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t warm the cockles of my heart a bit.

Friday, 16 July 2010

When In A Hole -

I’m certainly not what you’d call a music specialist. Oh, I know my bits and pieces, and if the question is about anything between about 1976 and 1986 then I’m in with a shout of getting it right, I suppose. Still, it always comes as a pleasurable surprise when I get a music question right that nobody else in the team knows. Last night in the rugby club we were asked this question in the first round : -
From which song does this lyric come ? –
He always beat me at subbuteo , coz he flicked to kick and I didn’t know –
To say that we did not have a Scooby doo would be an understatement. However, just before we were being ordered to hand in for the last time, something stirred in the dark recesses of memory, that this might just be the sort of thing that was in “My Perfect Cousin “ by the brilliant Undertones. So it proved.

I mention this to prove that I don’t have any particular axe to grind against music questions per se, or indeed about last night’s question master. However the reason why I write is because of what happened when he asked a wrong’un last night. Let me tell you the question : -
Which band released an album entitled “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn “ ?
Now, you know it was Pink Floyd’s first album, and I know that. You also know that the title of the album was taken from within Kenneth Graham’s “The Wind In The Willows “. If you’re a fan of the mighty Floyd you also know that this is the album that showcased the mercurial but alas short-lived talents of Mr. Syd Barrett. Now, see if you can guess the answer that the question master gave. That’s right. Genesis.

Alright, I’m not writing this because he made a wrong’un. We all make them. If you read the piece I wrote about a quiz I did a few weeks ago you’ll know that I did just such a thing myself, giving Brecon rather than Snowdonia as the oldest National Park in Wales. Having said that, I only did it because that was the answer given in what I thought was a reputable reference book. I’m not sure exactly which reference would ever have given Genesis as the answer to this particular question, and can’t help wondering whether he just made up the question himself without checking his own answer. Still, that’s by the by, and in the normal course of events I wouldn’t have mentioned it. Had he fallen back on the traditional response of
“Well, Genesis is what I’ve got here, so I’m going to have to stick with it.” Nobody would have said any more about it, and it would all have been forgotten about in 5 minutes.

There is a certain saying which goes something along the lines of – when you’re in a hole, don’t keep digging. Good advice really. What our question master for the evening then proceeded to do was to tell us that Genesis are his favourite band he’s seen them live so we were all categorically wrong, as he has the album, was listening to it only earlier yesterday evening, and he would bring the album cover in next week to prove it. It reflects very badly upon me that I was looking forward to next week enormously until someone went up to him with a WAP phone and showed him the appropriate page from Google.

In case the question master or anyone else who was at the quiz is reading this, Id better put it on record now that this incident apart it was actually quite a good quiz, although I suspect it was a lot more enjoyable for those of us born between 1960 and 1970 than it was for people older or younger. Unfortunately most people who come to the quiz in the club are indeed older or younger. What the incident did, though, was to set me thinking about how long it takes you to learn as a quizzer that just because an answer pops into your head straightaway, just because you have always thought this answer to be right, and are convinced that it is right – sometimes even these answers are wrong. Accepting it gracefully, while hard to swallow, can save you a lot of embarrassment in the long run. And when I manage to start putting this advice into practice myself, you’ll be the first to know.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

First Round Match 2 – Cardiff University v. Oxford Brookes University

If you read last week’s review, and the comments readers were kind enough to contribute, you’ll have noticed the speculation that the BBC specifically picked last week’s match to open the series since it was dashed exciting. By implication, those that followed might be expected to be a little less nail biting. Well . . .

First to incur the full horror of the curse of the Clark sofa this year were the University of Cardiff. Founded in 1883, it apparently has 27,000 students, which I thought was remarkable. Cardiff being just half an hour down the road, I’m afraid they had to put up with my support tonight.

Oxford Brookes University has actually been going longer than Cardiff in one form or another, the previous being Oxford Polytechnic. JP mentioned a number of famous alumni, although he didn’t mention that lecturing in the University is Ian Bayley, the reigning champion of Brain of Britain. If Ian had any hand in preparing the team for the show, then they were going to be good.

The first starter involved identifying which African country has a thriving film industry nicknamed Nollywood. Greg Rees of Cardiff buzzed in with the first of many correct starters to offer Nigeria. Two out of three bonuses on TS Eliot – whose name is an anagram of toilets, incidentally – were taken by Cardiff. As were the next two starters. It was interesting to hear that Asquith described being the Chancellor as the easiest job in the Cabinet. Try telling that to George Osborne. After an incorrect interruption by Oxford Brookes, whom I will now abbreviate to Brookes, Cardiff led by 65 to – 5. However Austin Sherlaw-Johnson of Brookes stopped the rot, taking the next starter by identifying the burning bush as the plant through which God spoke to Moses.

The first picture starter invited the teams to correctly identify a type of pasta. It was the bow tie shaped ones, which are called farfalle – incidentally that comes from the Italian for butterfly. Rosie Howarth of Cardiff was the first in with that one, and they greedily slurped up the bonuses on other types of pasta. Greg Rees of Cardiff was certainly looking something of a star in this first part of the competition. Not only did he identify William Herschel as the astronomer who also fancied himself a bit as a conductor – orchestral rather than bus – but he also identified John Stuart Mill with a superb early buzz after being told hardly any more than that he was born in 1806. JP was rather impressed with that.

After ten minutes the score was 105 – 15 in Cardiff’s favour, and they looked to be in cruise control. In this next part of the show, though, Brookes as a whole and Sara Johnson in particular began to find buzzer form. Sherlaw-Johnson also showed impressive form after identifying a music starter as being by Bizet from what can’t have been more than a couple of bars. What I noticed about Brookes in this period was that when they got a starter, they tended to pick up more bonuses than Cardiff were picking up with theirs. Cardiff were still picking up starters, though, but not cleaning up on bonuses. I particularly enjoyed a set of questions where pairs of answers where only the first letter was different. Hence Geek and Leek. Incidentally I noticed that one of the definitions given of geek was someone interested in quizzes. Does he mean us ? What a bloomin’ liberty ! They are a cultured lot, this Brookes team, and Sara Johnson correctly identified a mythological character in a painting as Leda, hence the matching swan accessory. This starter took Brookes through the 100 point barrier, and cut Cardiff’s lead to 40 points. The lead lengthened again as Henry Pickup of Cardiff correctly identified the OVRA as a former secret police service of Italy. Good answer that. So at the 20 minute mark Cardiff were still comfortably in the driving seat, leading 170 – 110. Last year the 170 Cardiff had already scored would have guaranteed them a repechage spot at least.

The last few minutes saw the whole dynamic of the game change. Brookes needed starters, and they needed bonuses, and they got them too. Sara Johnson took the next two starters, and the team between them took all 6 bonuses. The gap was down to just 10 points, and for the first time since the first 5 minutes it really was anybody’s game. The next starter took them into the lead, and this was the cue for some rather unseemly raucous shouting from Brookes’ supporters. It was an exciting show, and I can understand it to some extent, but come on, guys. This is University Challenge ! Brookes took all 3 bonuses again. That man Greg Rees from Cardiff came galloping to the rescue, correctly defining a fathom as six feet. Story of the show – Cardiff failed to take bonuses. Cardiff, then, still 5 points behind. How much time was left? Just enough, apparently, as Rosie Howarth took the next starter, identifying the novel Emil and The Detectives from a brief description. Only 1 bonus was taken. Another starter, and Greg Rees again swooped in, identifying Louis XIV. Only 1 bonus on baseball was taken. Richard Williams of Brookes recognised a terawatt. As we headed towards the gong, Cardiff led by 10. The final starter was snapped up by Sara Johnson, recognising a definition of two anagrams as martial and marital – GONG !

So we’d reached tie break time early in the series this year. Neither team managed to get either of two tie break questions, but the third – often meeting in pubs to read their own work, Cs Lewis – was enough to see who else but Sara Johnson buzz in to correctly supply the answer – the Inklings. I don’t know about the teams, but I was shattered. Brilliant fight back by Oxford Brookes. Bonuses really do make the difference. Very hard luck Cardiff, 210 is an incredible score to get and not win with, but as JP said, surely you’ll be back. Well – more exciting than the first show? I think so. One thing strikes me, though. This is setting a hell of a standard for the rest of the series to live up to.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Again, it was best behaviour time for JP , just like it was last week. Still, he did get very excited and amused when Cardiff managed to correctly identify all those types of pasta. Maybe, too, there was just the tiniest hint of exasperation in his comment as he reached for the third tie break question “Come on! This is never ending !”Was he in a rush, for some reason ? Did he have a train to catch, or was he perhaps on a promise ? Answers on a postcard please.

Interesting Fact Of The Week That I Didn’t Already Know

Nigeria produces more films every year than any other country except India.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Stop Press - Some Good News

Just a quick bit of news that has come my way which I'd like to share with you. If you're a devotee of Weaver's week - and if you are not, then I can highly recommend it and I'll give you the link at the bottom of this post - you'll already have read that The Chase has been pulling in some highly impressive viewing figures. Well, this obviously has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be in ITV's hallowed halls since I have it on the very best authority that the show has been commissioned for another series. Yes, The Chase will definitely be coming back to our screens again once the current season has finished. Regular readers will know that I'm a fan, but then so are two of my daughters , who are not quizzers by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I've even caught Mrs. L. getting into the show on a couple of occasions, and believe me, that's praise indeed. So Anne, Mark, Shaun and Bradley and all the team, congratulations.

Oh yes, here's that link I promised you. If you enjoy LAM, then I can guarantee you'll love Weaver's Week, so just click on the link below, and then set it as one of your bookmarks/favourites : -

Weaver's Week

Saturday, 10 July 2010

101 Ways to Leave A Game Show -

You might well ask – why would someone who doesn’t have a lot of time for big game shows bother to watch and review something which is honest enough to call itself “101 Ways To Leave A Game Show “ ? You have a point. The fact is that watch it I did, and so I kind of feel that I ought to make some kind of comment. Now, I’ve already admitted that this is not really my kind of show, so by all means dismiss my comments as being biased. As always, feel free to disagree with anything I say.

101 Ways to Leave A Game Show does pretty much what it says on the tin. Round by round 8 contestants are whittled down to three, who contest the final round. Each round seems to consist of a single question. Only one person can be wrong each round right up until the final.

I’ll say a little more about the quiz element of the show a little later on. However it seems to me that the quiz element is very much the sideshow, considering the amount of time the show devotes to KICKING OFF THE LOSERS. Yes, you see the show takes place on a huge tower, and if you get a question wrong, then you are kicked off the tower in one of 101 different and allegedly entertaining ways. And by crikey, they don’t half linger over these. I’ll be honest, maybe I’m getting old. Actually, there’s no maybe about it, but I couldn’t help wondering about just how Health and Safety allows the show to do things like dropping a contestant on a 50 foot bungee into a pool, having another cycle off a huge drop into the same pool, knocking another off the tower with a gigantic padded hammer, and rolling another off in what looked suspiciously like a recycled atlas sphere from Gladiators . Amazingly, Mrs. Londinius put my thoughts into words after the bungee drop, saying that this made her distinctly uncomfortable since it made her think of The Late Late Breakfast Show, and the tragic death of Michael Lush. I know that the whole thing has been recorded, and so every one of the contestants is presumably perfectly alright, but even so it made me feel quite uncomfortable too.

Host Steve Jones didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable, though. I like to see a welsh boy getting on, and although he didn’t quite give us the full Huw Edwards I don’t think there’s any doubt who he’ll be supporting in the next 6 Nations. I must admit though , I didn’t particularly think that his full on belly laughs after contestant Vanda had to cycle off into the swimming pool was either use or ornament to the show. She had been actually shaking with fear before it happened. She was genuinely petrified.

Alright, let me be fair. The kicking off contestants, which is really the point of the show, is a big old, silly old game show, and as such my comments are probably irrelevant since its not aimed at me anyway. However, and I’m sorry if this shocks you, there is just the germ of a decent quiz idea in the question rounds of the show. Granted, it’s a very , very small germ, but its there. Each of the question rounds asked one list question. So for example, in the round of 8, a list of 8 names were given , 7 of which were real names of Blue Peter pets, and one of which wasn’t. Leila, obviously taken from Leila Williams, one of the original presenters of the show, was the odd one out. If two people pick the same answer, then they answer a buzzer question for the right to have it, and otherwise have to pick again, until all the answers are gone. As Alexander Orlov once said – simple.

Each of the questions asked was actually quite interesting. The second one gave a list of magazines, one of which does not exist. My Kent Wedding screamed ringer, but apparently it’s a magazine, unlike What Patio. I nipped out for a moment to answer the phone, and when I came back another contestant was disappearing down a big hole, and I don’t know what the question was. Still, the round of five asked this one – four of these won Wimbledon – one didn’t – Monica Seles – Martina Hingis – Lleyton Hewitt – Conchita Martinez – and another one I can’t remember but it doesn’t matter since you’ll have already worked out the ringer was Monica Seles. Someone with a bit of nous put these lists together. If you don’t know, you’re going to avoid Conchita Martinez, who rose without trace after her win. How about the next one ? Three countries of these four are on the equator, one isn’t – Indonesia – Colombia – Papua New Guinea – Uganda. 3 out of 4 went for Papua New Guinea – which of course is the only wrong answer, and the poor devil who won the buzzer question was out.

So to the final. The question in this case offered two wrong’uns, and only one right one. Only one of these singles went to number 1 – Wham ! with Last Christmas – Shakin’ Stevens with Merry Christmas Everyone – Wizzard with I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. Like I said, the list compiler is a smart cookie, since Last Christmas is renowned for being the biggest selling Christmas single never to get to number 1. In fact I have an inkling that it’s the biggest selling single at any time of year never to get to number 1. You see it had to contend with a little number composed by a Mr. Ure and a Mr. Geldof, whose title escapes me for the moment. However that did leave two singles you would have thought that both reached number 1. Forced to choose I guessed that Wizzard’s festive crowd pleaser was too obvious, and plumped correctly for Shaky’s . Googling later confirmed that Wizzard's song only ever reached number 4.

So lets sum up. There weren’t many questions in the show at all, but as I said there is just the germ of something just thought provoking enough to make a decent straight quiz show in there. Its interesting how the Beeb have shoehorned this show into the schedules. It comes after Total Wipeout, where contestants are given nicknames like Above Average Joe and James Who Amanda Fancies, showered in muck, and whacked about by lots of padded things, and just before In It To Win It, with dear old Dale, which has some more than half decent questions on, and wouldn’t give offence to your old spinster Aunt Margery. This probably explains the slightly schizophrenic feel of the show. Of course you know that I’m going to say that as a whole entity, its really not for me. But what do I know ? Maybe it will be a big hit. However I can’t help thinking that shows which try to fall between two stools, often just end up falling.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

TV Watch Supplementary - Antiques Master

I like antiques. In fact most of the kids at school think I am an antique, but then when I was 12 I thought 46 was ancient too, so I can’t complain. Still, as I said, I do like antiques and I do like antique shows, so when Antiques Master hove into view last night hot on the heels of UC I thought it looked worth a try.

From some of the write up in the listings pages I thought that this might have a little more of the straightforward quiz about it than it actually did. I’ll talk about the quiz aspect of it all a little later. What we had , actually , was all rather reminiscent of The Great Antiques Hunt of years gone by, except in place of Jilly Goolden we were offered Sandi Toksvig, the thinking man’s Sandy Toksvig, and Eric Knowles, the . . . well, Eric Knowles. Four contestants started, which was whittled down to three after round two, then two after round three, well, you get the drift. All bar the last round were rather parlour-gameish. The first round involved being given 5 objects, and asked to put them in order of age, oldest first. Then the second involved having to explain the purpose of a mystery object. The poor devil who lost the round was handed an object so obviously a stomach pump that he probably couldn’t believe the answer was so simple, and so went for completely the opposite, suggesting it was an apparatus for force feeding someone. Ah, those damned suffragettes and the Cat and Mouse Act.

For the next round each of the three remaining contestants had nominated a specialist subject. They had to look at five objects, one of which was a ringer, identify which it was, then say which was the oldest, which the most valuable, and how much it was. The nice lady who had been absolutely brilliant so far bombed out on this round. Maybe its just me, but I did think that it was a flippin’ tall order to identify the oldest object out of a set of art nouveau objects when there wasn’t much more than a decade between any of them.

At last we got to the quiz. Considering the level of expertise you needed to get this far in the show, I have to say that I thought that all bar one of the questions in the last round were actually rather easy, almost pub quiz level questions. If it’s a region of Japan with a type of porcelain named after it, then Satsuma has to be a pretty good guess even if you don’t know, hasn’t it ?

So alright, not quite what I wanted, but an inoffensive and diverting if somewhat genteel little half hour. However I have to say that I really didn’t need Disembodied Voice Woman to keep telling me
“Deidre has scored 10 points. That means she has 20 points. That is ten more than she had before she scored them. If she scores another ten points then she will have 30 points “ I half expected her to say "If Deidre can score 50 points in 20 minutes, how many points could 3 Deidres score in 10 minutes ? ". The arithmetic For Beginners aspect of the show I could well do without.

Maybe worth another look next week.

TV Watch - University Challenge

First Round Match 1 – St. Andrews v. Bristol

When all is said and done there are few more welcome sounds at this time of year than Roger Tilling announcing the start of a new season of University Challenge. JP announced at the top of the show that the average age of this year’s contestants – 22 – is a little younger than usual. Oh well, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.The most popular subject among this year’s contestants is English. Don’t blame them, either. First to be introduced were St. Andrews University, who amazingly haven’t won the title since 1982. I could be wrong about this, but I think St. Andrews teams are always given the choice of whether to wear their distinctive red robes, and tonight’s team chose not to. Opponents Bristol are the most oversubscribed University in the UK, and it was nice to see a nod in old-boy David Nicholls’ direction. If you haven’t read Starter for Ten – do.

First blood in this season went to Miss Critchley of Bristol, who identified the opening lines of “A Brief History of Time “. 2 bonuses were taken. St. Andrews hit back immediately. Another starter by Mr. Nakornchai put them into the lead, and they pushed this further by taking two out of three bonuses on English Dukedoms. Miss Malcolm of Bristol looked like she didn’t really believe her own answer when she said that the body part used as a description for a number of cities including Jerusalem was navel, but it was right, anyway. Three bonuses on incendiary devices were correctly taken, and this Bristol outfit were certainly working well as a team. All square at 45 apiece, and on with the picture starter. This was a picture of part of the periodic table , which led to a truly great set of bonuses of the sort UC does so well. Other parts of the table were shown, with an element missing. However getting the element wasn’t enough. From the element’s abbreviation, they had to say which British city this would be the postcode for. So for the first one, Ca for Calcium was missing, which gives the answer Carlisle. Thank you Sporcle, for I officially had My Finest Hour Ever With A Chemistry Question by identifying Hg for Harrogate, and s for Sheffield. Make the most of it, Dave – it’ll never happen again. The Bristol team missed out only on Sheffield.

At the ten minute mark Bristol were in the ascendancy, leading by 80 to 45. God knows where from, but I dragged up Thomas Love Peacock as the author of Headlong Hall. Neither team did, but on a Maths question Mr. Nakornchai managed another timely buzz in. However this did mean that they got a set of literature bonuses on Shakespeare’s collaborators. 1 was taken. Miss Polak of St. Andrews put them right back on terms by identifying Iphigenia as the character linking a series of different works. So naturally this was followed by a set of bonuses on the nicknames of African football teams. Again, one was taken. Still at this stage of the game St. A’s were buzzing Bristol out of the contest as they took the next starter, identifying a piece of music composed by Vaughan Williams. Captain Small knew two of the following pieces, which took his team into the lead. Neither team could identify which were the games of the 20th Olympiad – they were the 1972 games in Munich. Miss Critchley identified a culturally significant event in 1969 as the making of the Abbey Road cover shot, and Bristol had almost completely closed the gap that St. Andrew’s had worked so hard for. A set of bonuses on Anglish followed. Apparently Anglish seeks to replace words of latin origin with words of anglo saxon origin. Apparently Learnhall is the word they use for University. Learnbuggerhall is the name for my old school – no , I’m only joshing ! I loved the place really. Bristol pulled out another two starters, and a healthy sprinkling of bonuses to pull away again. Neither team could identify a picture of a water vole, so at the 20 minute mark Bristol led by 125 to 95. Still anybody’s game.

St. Andrews took the next starter, and then were given picture bonuses identifying a pine marten, a long eared bat and a harvest mouse. “Yeeeeessss ! “ yelled our Jeremy. “It IS a long eared bat !” He does get excited over the strangest things, sometimes. Still, with two starters and five out of 6 bonuses, St. Andrews were suddenly in the lead, and they took the following starter as well. Five minutes to go, and St. Andrews, on 160, had a 35 point lead. Bristol took the next, but then Captain Williams zigged with Alice in Wonderland when he should have zagged with Through The Looking Glass. St. Andrews gratefully accepted that one and bonuses, to take their score to 185.The skipper of Bristol easily redeemed himself, though, taking the next starter on fundamental particles. Again, Miss Cricthley provide a timely starter answer, identifying the word Bird as the link between the titles of works by Harper Lee and Maya Angelou, among others. Just over a minute to go, and Bristol were still behind.Mr. Williams identified the Arabic term for a prayer mat, and two bonuses were enough to edge Bristol ahead, by 190 to 185. One starter went unanswered, and the gong went before the next could be asked. What a great show. Bristol go through as of right, but JP hit the nail on the head saying that 185 should surely be enough to get St. Andrews into the repechage round – it certainly would have done last year. We all know what happened to one of the teams who lost in the first round last year – a certain Emmanuel College, don’t we ?

Welcome back UC – I’ve missed you !

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Nothing much to report at this early stage of the competition, as JP seems to have been taking his happy pills during the off season. Still, when asking a question which demanded the answer Petra, he did begin to wax lyrical after being given the right answer, adding,
“A Rose Red City, Half as old as Time”

Interesting Fact Of The Week That I didn’t Already Know

“The Lollipop Shoes “ is the sequel to “Chocolat” by Joanne Harris.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Top of The Form - The General Knowledge Curriculum

I can't even remember how the subject came up, but I was in the staffroom before registration a couple of days ago when my friend and colleague Michelle and I were discussing radio 4 quizzes, since Counterpoint just ended a couple of weeks ago, and out of the blue she asked me what the name of the radio show that used to pit teams of schoolchildren against each other. I replied that she probably meant Top of the Form. That was indeed what she meant, and then she went on to earn my huge jealousy by saying that she had been involved in preparing a team for the show when she was a teacher at Olchfa School in Swansea. She was a very young teacher at the time, I might add. She explained what an enjoyable experience it had been for everyone concerned.

Now, apart from wanting to record this fact for posterity, I would like to tell you where the conversation went next. Firstly to - isn't it a shame that there is nothing like Top of the Form for schools now ? - to which the answer is yes - from which it was but a short hop to - do you think that most school children have the same amount of general knowledge now as they did when Top of the Form ended in 1986 ? - to which the answer is no, to be honest. I have expounded on this subject before, so I won't go on too much about it, but my feeling, based on my experience as a teacher is this. The children in school today, and for the last 2 decades, are every bit as bright as my own school generation were, in fact there's a case for saying that they are actually quite a bit more intelligent than we were. However they don't pick up the same store of general knowledge that we did, a lot of which has to do with the way that we teach today, and the emphasis there has been for giving children skills, rather than a store of knowledge. I'm not saying that what we do is wrong, either, just making an observation.

Stone me if there wasn't an article in the news the very next day, with Education Minister Nick Gibbs moaning about the very thing we'd been talking about - the headline being "Pupils Must Learn About Miss Havisham , says Minister " Has the crafty sod bugged our staff room or something ? If you want to read the whole version from the Guardian Online, here's a link -
Pupils Must Learn About Miss Havisham, says Minister

Now, I don't know where you might stand politically, and I'm certainly not going to ram my political opinions down your throat. If you read the article there is some sense there, although the idea that knowledge equals understanding is a dangerous generalisation in my opinion. I know how an internal combustion engine works, but if my car conked out in the middle of nowhere I wouldn't have a cat in hell's chance of being able to fix it, for example. But what intrigues me about this is just WHO is going to decide what a child should know ( as opposed to the skills a child should have ) at the ages of 11, 14 and 16 ? When the National Curriculum began, the decree went out that all children must study Shakespeare. Now, I don't have a problem with children studying Shakespeare. To be honest, I LOVE teaching Shakespeare, but I would also love teaching many other great writers, and would prefer to be left the choice. The elevation of Shakespeare above any other writer in the English language, and the idea that when you've done Shakespeare then you've covered the basics in english Literature seemed then, as it still does, rather facile, and I worry that similar proscriptive and obvious choices would be made in terms of what General Knowledge should be taught when.

One deliciously naughty question comes into my head . Lets suppose there was, for the sake of argument, a National Curriculum General Knowledge test, to be sat by all 16 year olds as part of their public exams. How many adults would pass it ? If you've ever looked through the National Citizenship test, which did the rounds a few months ago and use that as an example, I think that the answer is that most of us wouldn't. Whatever the case, its an interesting issue, I think you'll agree.

Answers to June Quiz

OK - now its July I'll tell you the answers to last week's quiz : -


1) The Nizam
2) C. 750
3) Rubric
4) A portrait painter
5) Planting trees to offset deforestation
6) Lent term rowing races at Oxford
7) A duck
8) A Russian measurement of length – c. 3,500 ft.
9) A pioneer infant and baby doctor from New Zealand
10) Carey Street was the home of the Official Receiver

Set 2

1) A dam burst and the village was flooded
2) City of Destruction – Celestial City
3) The Lord preferred Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s
4) A triode
5) It is so called because it houses the cathedra – or bishop’s throne
6) Baronet is a title that can be inherited
7) A bascule bridge
8) A wild flower found on marshland
9) Pennines
10) The bittern

Set 3
1) F.R. Leavis
2) A square root that is not a whole number
3) Lancashire
4) Vasco da Gama
5) 1944
6) Edward Hopper
7) Beta – the rest are quarks
8) Caesar and Cleopatra
9) Titus Andronicus
10) Gone with the wind

Set 4

1) Burma
2) 4
3) Vietnam
4) The Poseidon Adventure
5) The Dead Sea Scrolls
6) Julio Iglesias
7) Canadian and Kayak
8) Away
9) North Sea and Baltic
10) Stolen from Westminster Abbey