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.