Saturday, 9 February 2013

Brain of Britain - Discussion Point

If you listened to “Brain of Britain” this week, you’ll surely have noticed that one of the Brains in contention this week was none other than Egghead (and good egg) Barry Simmons. So before we start on the show it’s probably a convenient place to raise a discussion point. In the circles within which I move in my everyday life a lot of people tend to see me as a source of authority on all things quiz, due to having been on the telly a few times and having won a well known quiz show back in the day. So a colleague of mine who's a fan of Radio 4 in general and a regular listener to BoB asked me whether Barry Simmons who was on BoB on Monday was Barry Simmons from Eggheads. Indeed he is. His supplementary question was, “Well how is he allowed on the show then?”

I understand the question, without necessarily agreeing with the attitude behind it. I think that the argument probably goes that people tend to see Eggheads and Chasers as professional quizzers, while they see contests such as BoB and Mastermind as bastions of amateurism. People who hold this viewpoint probably think that it’s unfair to allow ‘professionals’ to take part against people who have to fit in their quizzing with the demands of a job. Like I say, I understand the argument, but there are problems with this viewpoint. I’ll try my best to explain my views here.

In the first place, I don’t know whether Eggheads and Chasers do make all of their living from their TV appearences. I have no idea how much they are paid, and I wouldn’t want to know. It is none of my business. But even if quizzing is their only ‘day job’ as it were, then what of it? For the fact is that they are not the only people to make a living from quizzing. I doubt the number of people who can do this is very large at all, and I doubt that it’s a bed of roses, and I doubt that anyone is ever going to make a fortune through doing it, but there are people who do it. Should they all be barred too? Let’s take it a step further. I know a question master who thinks that teachers, lecturers and other such professional knowledge brokers automatically have an unfair advantage in quizzing. He is, of course, wrong, but he’s not the only one who thinks it. So should people involved in education be barred? And so on.

Of course, each show has its own policy of whom they allow to appear, and reappear - Barry, as you may recall contested Geoff’s 2008/9 final. BoB is only being consistent by allowing Barry to appear. Back in 2005 Chris Hughes, already an Egghead, completed his Mastermind / BoB double. BoB are quite clear about this. They want the best quizzer in the series to win, and they don’t preclude people from entering because they might be too good. Compare this with something I heard during the semi finals of Mastermind 2006. Now, I stress, this is what I heard being said by a member of the production team. The team has changed since then, and what appeared to be the policy then may not be the policy now. But a member of the production team told me in 2006 that Daphne Fowler applied to take part, and was given an audition. She did as brilliantly as you would expect, but in the end the decision was made not to invite her to participate in that series. Why? That she didn’t explain, but reading between the lines, what else could it be? Now, if I have got the wrong end of the stick about this, I apologise unreservedly, especially since I’ve been told that Daphne is a fan of the blog. Now, if ever there was a glaring omission from the serried ranks of Mastermind champs, surely it’s Daphne.

For me it all comes down to this. Do we want these great shows to be contests of excellence, or not? If we do , then we don’t exclude anyone, be they Eggheads, Chasers, or anything else.

Of course, this is just my opinion, and as always, feel free to disagree.


Nic said...

I was also surprised to hear Barry on Brain of Britain. I have absolutely nothing against them, but I don't think "professional" quizzers, i.e. the Eggheads and the Chasers, should be allowed on other quiz shows. But I do see your point about where to draw the line. Who else should be banned from Mastermind - professional question writers, unemployed people with lots of time to quiz?

Ewan M said...

My view is that I'd like to see more top quality quizzers participating in tv and radio quiz shows. I'd like to see a show where the best quizzers participate against each other on a regular basis. We got a glimpse of this with the Mastermind Champion of Champions series. The top quizzers playing at the top of their game really is joy to behold. I wish that there was a University Challenge style buzzer quiz on tv featuring the top players and teams in the country. When we watch sport on tv we tend to enjoy watching the best compete against the best, the World Cup and Champions League being both the most prestigious and the most popular competitions. In the world of quizzing a more Corinthian spirit seems to prevail. It's clear that some shows discriminate against high quality quizzers. For some reason we're led to believe that the public would rather watch 'average joes' with barely above average general knowledge struggle to answer relatively easy questions on Face The Clock or The Weakest Link than watch the best players compete against each other. It would be great to see Pat Gibson, Kevin Ashman, Jesse Honey et al face each other rather than the normal tv format espoused by Eggheads or The Chase where they are invariably pitted against the plucky underdog. The paucity of decent quizzers appearing in The Chase for instance does tend to suggest that there is some kind of bias against them at the audition stage. There is a place for the average quizzer on broadcast quiz shows of course, but it's sad that not only are many quizzers excluded from participating in such shows because they are deemed 'too good' but that many people seem to think that this approach is entirely reasonable.

clonbron said...

Hi Dave - it's Pete Reilly
I agree with you. The term "professional" is something of a misnomer in that Mastermind has always been won by excellent quizzers. It's just that people like Barry, Daphne etc are more visible these days. Although I was someone who had not done so much as a pub quiz in the ten years prior to my appearances, I knew that the specialist round would help to level the playing field a bit, and in this respect I was right. You'll never see me on BoB or Only Connect because whilst I consider myself to be a very good quizzer, I'm not interested in doing the work required to be a spectacular one. Accordingly, if someone's prepared to do the work, then they deserve the opportunity and the resulting success. I recall Ian in his interview with John Humphreys saying that quizzing had been his hobby for years, so having only lost by 4 points,I'm still thrilled to have Ian as a benchmark to measure my performance against.One day with the right measure of luck, a non "professional" will go all the way. It's interesting to observe that there seems to be more "first-timers" this series than in recent times.

trevornh said...

I was surprised to hear Barry Simmons on BoB. I would have thought his contract with ‘Eggheads’ would have prevented him from appearing in other quizzes. Obviously not.

My understanding is that each Egghead gets £1,000 per show. I would have thought the Chasers earn a similar amount.

Interesting to read your comment re professional knowledge brokers. You can add librarians to that list. At our annual company quiz, we librarians, or Information Officers, as we grandly called ourselves, often finished in the top five and were outright winners on a couple of occasions.

I enjoy reading your blog.

jim360 said...

I suppose I can have some sympathy with those wanting "professional quizzers" on other shows, but then didn't Daphne Fowler, Simmons, et al., start off in the same place most quizzers did, and just happened to be better at it than most? I did hear Simmons on BoB and thought it odd, though in the long run I don't think there's any problem with top quizzers like him appearing on these sorts of show. Only real reason is that he is on another one as a regular.

But then I can't criticise people who want to exclude certain groups from quiz shows. In University Challenge I think there should be a maximum age for students playing - 25-30, say - and exclude mature students who possibly have had more time to gain the knowledge needed. It got to ridiculous heights in the 90's, apparently, when Open University featured teams made of of seasoned veteran quizzers. Not so much a problem now, but even so I think it should stay restricted to younger students.

chippy ned said...

I do find it strange eggheads are banned from mastermind, but BOB is fine.

jim360, what if as someone is say 33, but missed 4+ years of schooling due to health problems, would they be barred due to the advantage gained in those years?

While I'm here jim360, you're giving me the strong impression that either your team has won the whole thing, or that you were outstanding individually in any defeat/s in the rest of the series.

Londinius said...

Hi everyone, and thanks for your contributions to what is a very interesting debate.

People are going to have opinions about this, and there’s some justification for both viewpoints. I’ve made my own opinions as clear as I can in the post itself, but there are a couple of points I would like to pick up on.

Hi Nic – re: Mastermind ban. As I said, nobody actually mentioned the word ‘ban’ as such. But what I was told was that Daphne, following a great audition for 2006, was turned down for the series. I wasn’t told the reason why, but it is an obvious conclusion to draw. Now, that’s not exactly the same as a ban – it doesn’t mean for example that they would automatically turn down any of the Eggheads who haven’t already won Mastermind. I’d be interested to see whether they would accept any of them, though. As I said, the production team has changed. Also, on the same occasion I was told about how long they expected people to wait before reapplying, and these ‘rules’ if they were ever in place have been broken many times since.

Hi Pete – nice to hear from you. Indeed – getting within 4 points of Ian is a hell of an achievement. My lasting memory of the 2010 BoB final _ which I enjoyed immensely I might add – was the metaphorical sight of Ian’s fleeting figure disappearing over the event horizon within a very few rounds.

Hi trevornh – I’m delighted that you enjoy the blog. As regards what anyone gets paid per episode, well, as I said that’s not my business anyway, and to be honest I don’t really see that it’s all that pertinent to the issue. With regards to the professional knowledge brokers thing – I think the point that I was trying to make there was that some people think that some professions lend themselves more to being good at quizzing, but I don’t know. There is so much ‘stuff’ out there that you would only need to know as a quizzer – that you just wouldn’t encounter anywhere else than in quizzes, that I would still back a good quizzer against a non-quizzing teacher, or lecturer, or whatever most days of the week.

jim – a good point. Yes indeed, Daphne, Barry – and for that matter Kevin, Chris, Pat and Dave all started out the same as the rest of us. Don’t know enough about Judith’s quizzing background to comment on her.

ned – or may I call you chippy? You are quite entitled to speculation about however well or badly jim may have done in the current UC series. However if you’re a regular you’ll know that I ask people specifically not to give us spoilers about shows that they will be on. So while you are free to draw your own conclusions, all it is on your part is speculation, and jim knows that I would ask him and all other competitors in a given quiz series not to give away results in advance. After all, what I’d like to do if possible is to enhance people’s enjoyment of these shows – not to ruin them. I simply ask all contributors to respect this as well.

chippy ned said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chippy ned said...

Sorry David, I wasn't trying to elicit spoilers, just saying I felt Jim was inviting us to infer some and wished he wouldn't.

Maybe, jim360's rubbed me up the wrong way, and I'm being unfair or chippy. I didn't get that feeling from Gary Grant last year so I may well be.

Hopefully at the 3rd attempt I've expressed my points to my satisfaction, I won't try again even if I haven't.

jim360 said...

At this point it's basically impossible to respond to your speculation, of course, Ned. I mean, I hope that we win, and that I also make a good quizzing account of myself. But I can't confirm or deny either of those, and I only hope that what follows comes as a surprise to you whatever that is. If I have rubbed you up the wrong way I do apologise, though not quite sure how I have managed it.

The age in University Challenge "issue" is a matter of personal taste and I'm probably in a minority. As much as anything else it serves to show yet another example the different perspectives people can have on quiz shows and who should or should not take part.

Rob said...

I think some listeners make the mistake of thinking that there's an easy divide between TV quizzers/everyone else. You'll of course remember,as I do, the final Ian Bayley won :-) Ian is not a 'professional' quizzer but might as well be, for the amount of work he's put into it. It isn't the Egghead/Chaser vs man on the street situation some might mistake it to be. If we ban Eggheads then we might as well ban anyone who's ever tried to learn things *solely* for the purposes of doing well in quizzes.

chippy ned said...

Jim, I did say I was probably being unfair and I've now decided I was.

The suggestion of a blanket ban on mature students without reference to their reasons for being a 2nd class student annoyed me far more than is reasonable. If you're blocking advantages how far do you go though without being unfair?

Public school competitors surely have a real advantage over their state school rivals of the same age, should they be limited? I know Manchester have a coach, should they have a points deduction?

If measures are to be taken to address advantages it would be fairer and more interesting if, rather than just barring mature students, a team had a budget of points across the team, with points added for mature students, more for mature post-graduate students, some for ordinary postgraduate students and I would argue public school pupils.

A first year former state school pupil scoring a 0, a mature postgraduate student from a top public school maybe 5 with a budget of 7 across the team?

Probably IMO better to allow any students on barring OU students who there is good reason to suspect of Hawarding.

Ewan, an open buzzer contest with UC style questions pitting the big beasts of TV quizzing against each other would be great.

Dave Bill said...

I say let them compete - one and all.. To be honest, there are better quizzers out there than some of the TV Pros. You've mentioned Jesse already, i'd include David Stainer (who is likely to give Barry a good run in BoB this year), Olav Bjortomt, Scott Dawson, Mark Grant, Jamie Dodding off the top of my head (there are several others) who would be worthy of a place as a pro if based on knowledge alone.. I think we all know that this is not the only criteria that is considered.

With regards to their professional status, they aren't playing for the prize on Mastermind, BoB, Only Connect, UC etc. - it's the title they want. (Londinius, i'm sure you place more pride in being a MM winner than the lump of glass that goes with it). I think that letting them on BIG MONEY quiz shows would be a mistake, if there was such a thing nowadays.. Anything that looks remotely like giving a fair lump away is now almost exclusively for sub-par quizzers. eg. Last night on the Lottery IITWI, the Will Young lookalike who thought Athens was the capital of Egypt. *facepalm*

dxdtdemon said...

In response of some of the people who want to see a University Challenge-style pro-am show, one of UC's parent companies holds a bunch of international copywrights on certain aspects of gameplay, and they will force anything off the air that is even close to their show unless they deal with its production. If they did deal with the production, the show would exist at a lower difficulty than it should be. However, there are sometimes independent quizbowl tournaments that are similar to, but more difficult than, UC, which are not televised and therefore don't violate the copywright. There was an open quizbowl tournament last year that featured some of the Eggheads and Chasers, as well as some of Britain's top quizzers and some members of the University of Chicago and Harvard quizbowl teams. The results of that can be found here (note: bonuses were worth 30 points instead of 15):

If that link doesn't work, the University of Chicago's A team ended up winning the tournament over the team with Kevin Ashman and Pat Gibson.

Getting back to the original topic, as long as money isn't involved, I don't see a problem. When money is involved, as long as the Eggheads aren't affiliated with the company that writes the questions and therefore have no "insider knowledge", then it should be fine.

Paul Steeples said...

I was in the 2008/9 BoB final with Barry, and as I recall he was already an Egghead then - he felt he didn't perform as well as he could have done because he'd just finished a rather gruelling set of recordings for the programme. I'm actually more surprised that his Eggheads contract allows him to enter BoB than that the BBC allowed him in. But obviously it does, so good luck to him I say - he's a quality quizzer and fully deserves to be there.