SPOILER WARNING - THIS POST GIVES AWAY THE RESULT OF THE SHOW
I have never known a production team of a show be quite so fussy and insistent about not discussing experiences on a show on social media, but I’ve kept my end of the bargain by not mentioning it apart from that one very small plug a couple of days ago, and so I thought I’d just tell about my appearance on Fifteen to One.
Firstly, on my application form I clearly wrote down dates I was unavailable for audition. So you can imagine my frustration when I received a phone call the day before my flight to Spain asking me for an audition in Cardiff the next day. I did actually consider cancelling my flight, but then it was my first proper holiday in two years, and so that was not going to happen. The researcher told me that there was a plan to do another block of auditions in Cardiff in September, and they’d be in touch.
– I’ll never hear from him again – I thought as I put the phone down.
I didn’t hear back from the production team either, and that would have been that for 2014. However – I’m not bragging about this, – I am a member of British Mensa. Mensa holds annual gatherings in a different British city each year. In 2014 it was the turn of Cardiff. I happened to be looking at the Mensa members’ website one day in September, and lo and behold, the Fifteen to One people were holding open auditions in the same hotel which was the centre of the Mensa gathering. In a bold spirit of – what have I got to lose – I decided that even though nobody had bothered to email me or call me back and let me know about it, I was going to give it a shot.
The auditions were scheduled from 12:00 until 18:00, so I reckoned that even leaving work at 4pm I should get there in plenty of time for one of the later slots. Bearing in mind that 6pm was the cut off time, when I parked in the open air NCP car park at 4:40 I paid for a slightly cheaper 2 hours, which I thought ought to be plenty. In the hotel there was an area of the lounge which had hastily erected – wait here for Fifteen to One auditions sign, so I sat down to do just that. Within mere minutes I was joined by Andrew, a guy against whom I’d played a couple of months earlier in the Brain of Mensa competition. This was all to the good as it meant that there was someone to chat to, and introduce me to other people , while we waited. And waited. Normally I really rather enjoy auditions in their own right, but the nagging thought at the back of my mind as quarter to six came and went was that this was starting to look tight for time for me to get back to my car before the ticket ran out – and the staff in that car park take no prisoners, I can tell you.
Finally we were taken upstairs. Now, the Fifteen to One people are very insistent that we respect their wishes to ‘keep the mystique of the show’. Fair enough. So I won’t go into detail about what went on in the audition. I’m sure you can work it out for yourself, anyway. Now, if you’ve never taken part in an audition for a quiz or game show before, perhaps I’d better tell you a few home truths.
· * Don’t expect you’re going to meet the presenter of the show in your audition. Auditions are carried out by a team from the show, and overseen by the casting director. Presenters only become involved at the filming stage.
· *Auditions don’t happen in the studio. Studio time is actually very expensive, so auditions tend to happen in the conference or meeting rooms of hotels. It’s a lot more cost effective. This means that the version of the games you’ll play will be rather cheap and cheerful – paper flipcharts instead of score boards – putting your hands up instead of buzzing in etc.
There were actually 7 of us playing in my audition, and technically I had won the audition run through. However to put this into context, the fact is that answering more questions correctly than anyone else in an audition – ‘winning’ the audition run through – is no guarantee that you’ll be invited onto a show. How ‘good’ you are is only one selection criterion, and in some cases not the most important either. Still, thus emboldened, and aware of the time I cheekily asked if I could be first to film my obligatory piece to camera. That seemed to go well enough.
The same couldn’t be said for my dash out of the studio to get to my car, though. Just as I was on my way out of the hotel I was stopped by a member of the production team, who wanted to thank me, and have a little chat about the audition, which was lovely, but time was fleeting, and I was going to have to sprint to get to my car in time. I made my excuses as politely as I could, and then legged it across the road, over the railway bridge and into the car park. By my calculation I was a minute late, but what the hell, I got away with it, and there was no nasty ticket on the car as I jammed the key into the ignition. when I had sufficiently calmed down I reflected that although you can never tell whether you’re going to get invited on a particular show, my gut reaction was that the audition had gone very well, and that I had a pretty good chance, if truth be told.
Some time later I received an email telling me that I had made the short list for the show. Well, that was nice to know, although strictly speaking it didn’t put me much further than I had been. But the phone call confirming I was on the show came a couple of days later. I was to travel on the Monday of the filming week, and if I got on the show, then hopefully film on the Tuesday, to return on Wednesday.
- Hang on a minute. Did the researcher from Fifteen to One just say IF I got on the show? –
Well, yes, I’m afraid he did. You see, the thing was that the team could have a good guess as to how many players it would need on any one day, but couldn’t guarantee it. This is quite common on any show where losers stay on for a second go, or in the case of Fifteen to One, another two goes to reach the final. The team make it quite clear that while they will make every effort to ensure that everyone gets on a show, they can’t guarantee it. Well, what the hell – I had come this far.
I didn’t get my travel details until the Saturday. Now, the last, indeed only time I’d been in Glasgow was for the filming of my Mastermind final. Back then I had been flown up to Glasgow. This time though I was to take the train, one from Port Talbot to Crewe and another from Crewe to Glasgow. Actually I was quite looking forward to this. All of the journey was in daylight, and the part of the journey through the Lake District took us through some stunning scenery.
What would have been nice, though, was to have maybe passed some sign to tell me when the train had actually crossed into Scotland, but then real life doesn’t work like that.
Some seven and a half hours after leaving Port Talbot we arrived in Glasgow Central Station. I had been booked into the Glasgow Thistle Hotel. The lady who’d sorted out my travel arrangements had suggested that I took a taxi from the station to the hotel, and then they’d pay me back. I checked out the route on the net before I left, and to be honest based on my prior knowledge of Glasgow it really didn’t look that much of a step, so I walked it. The fact is that I am perfectly capable of either getting the distances on a map wrong, or even getting the route completely wrong, but this time I didn’t. The walk can’t have been more than about 10 minutes, and after more than 7 hours sitting on a train it was a relief just to stretch my legs for a bit.
When you get booked into a hotel for a TV appearance, the hotels in which you stay are often perfectly adequate, but would hardly blow your socks off. This, though, was a cut above. My room was big enough to have played a decent game of tennis in. The bed – there were actually two doubles in the room to choose from – the bed felt comfortable and promised a good night’s sleep.
Before that, though, there was the small matter of an evening meal to take care of. I’d passed Sauchiehall Street on the way from the station, and had noticed a McDonalds, so decided to go for cheap if not cheerful. I have to say, and there’s no exaggeration in this, it was the worst McDonalds I’ve ever had. The fries were far too salty, and the chicken Mcnuggets barely lukewarm. Never mind, I guess it was my own fault for taking the soft option. The soft, lukewarm rather tasteless option.
Back to the hotel, then. The instructions stated that we all had to be in the lobby of the hotel ready to be picked up at 6:45. This didn’t bother me that much since I’ve always been an early riser any way, but nonetheless it seemed like a pretty early start. I think of myself as a bit of an old hand at TV quizzes by this stage, but for the first time it really began to dawn on me what a long day we might be in for. Now, when I had the audition I’d made a comment about my tactics being to take out the next strongest player in the final. When I came out with this I was told in no uncertain terms – well, if you get on the show then you won’t be able to do that because you won’t know anyone else on the show. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I did think back to the previous series when I’d actually seen a lot of quizzers I knew or knew of playing in the series, some against each other. Well, thinking back to this, looking around the lobby of the hotel at 6:45 I can’t say that I recognized anyone at all. Which actually was something of a relief, as I had the feeling that this might just complicate matters.
We were all taxied to the BBC Scotland studios in Glasgow. This another thing about making television. The show Fifteen to One is broadcast on Channel Four, yet it was being filmed in BBC studios. On the other hand I’ve filmed Mastermind show, which would be broadcast on BBC2, in both Yorkshire TV studios in Leeds, and Granada Studios in Manchester. Most quiz shows are made by independent production companies, which means they get filmed wherever is most available and most cost effective.
Once we had all been settled in the green room, one of the other contestants greeted me with “How are you, Mr. Clark?” To the best of my knowledge I had never met Andrew Lyman before, but I’d written about him. In 2011 Andrew had been a member of the Listeners team on Only Connect, who had reached the semi-finals. To be on the safe side I informed the production team about this tenuous connection between us. Now, thankfully my experience of other shows had prepared me for what was likely to happen, namely a lot of instructions, and a lot of waiting around. We were given a breakfast roll, then informed that three shows were going to be filmed during the day. Not all of us would be needed for each show, and while it was hoped that all of us would get in at least one show, it was by no means guaranteed.
They needed about 6 people for the first show, and when they announced who was needed, I wasn’t one of them. Fair enough. I spent the time writing a bit, and chatting with the other contestants in the green room.
· Taking part in a quiz show is a tremendous amount of fun. However there is a lot of waiting around involved. In most shows, several editions will be made on the same day, and if you’re not in the first, the best thing you can do is amuse yourself quietly, keep out of the way and not be a nuisance. Bide your time, for your time will come.
It must have been between midday and 1 o’clock when Andrew came back into the green room clutching his trophy. He’d had the perfect day really, getting on the first show, winning it, and being able to get off home at a decent hour.
Andrew with Trophy
The next half a dozen contestants needed were announced – and again I wasn’t one of them. No problem, back to the PC. After about an hour two of the team offered to take us outside for some fresh air, and I was able to take some shots of some of the stunning new buildings around the riverside, near the studios.
This actually really broke up the day, and when we did go back inside after an hour or so it meant that we only had about an hour or two to wait for the meal, after which the announcement would be made of the contestants for the last show.
I was on. In fact all of us who had arrived at the start of the day were on. That was all well and good. If I got to the final in this show, then I’d be on my way home first thing tomorrow. If I got to it in the first show on the next day, then I’d get home at a decent time. If I appeared in a third show, though, I’d be arriving home at stupid o’clock – if I managed to get away at all. I put this out of my mind – it would be a bridge to cross only if necessary.
Those of us who were making our first appearance were pretty much rushed through our meal, and into costume, then makeup. One of the other guys ventured the opinion that of all the shows to make a debut in, this one was the best, because it meant that presumably the two strongest players would have won the first and second shows, and we’d be left to play against the rest. Well, that was certainly one school of thought. I didn’t say this, but it also occurred to me that the people left were warmed up, having the benefit of already having played at least once, and those on their last of three shows would maybe have the edge that desperation gives you as well. Who knows? You can’t legislate for how other people are going to perform, anyway, all you can do is try to perform as well as you can yourself.
The positions on the podiums are drawn randomly, and I was on podium number 3. There was quite a lot of faffing around, filming shots for the start of the show, getting camera angles sorted, and we’d probably been standing at our podiums for a good twenty minutes or so before Sandi Toksvig, the host, arrived. Oh, at this point it reminds me that we had been told in the strictest terms that we weren’t allowed to take cameras or phones down into the studio with us. We had a photo of all of us with Sandi taken, but that was all. To this date I have not received a copy of the photo.
Finally we began. Now, the way that the game works is that for the first round, everyone is asked one question in turn. You have three green lights on your podium. Get your question wrong and one light goes red. This means you have lost a life. I got my first one right. Then you each get a second question, and again, if you get it wrong, a red light goes green. If you get both of these first two questions wrong, then you are out at that point. Now, it’s easy for me to say this, and you must make up your mind whether I’m exaggerating or not, but the fact is that I knew the answers to every question in round one, apart from my own second question. I didn’t know that Lyme’s Disease is named after a town in Connecticut. C’est la vie. A couple of people were knocked out, and we stopped for what would be an ad break. There were about 5 of us on two lives, with the rest on 6. Certainly no need to panic at this stage, but the task had become harder, no doubt about that.
In round two, another question goes to the player on podium 1. If he or she gets it right, then he or she gets to nominate the player to face the next question. When a player is nominated, if they get the question right, then they nominate who should face the next question. If they get it wrong, then they lose a life, and the player who nominated them can nominate again. It’s very brutal, can be compelling to watch, and is certainly compelling to play. For such a relatively simple game there is quite a bit of tactical thinking which comes into it. Or rather there should be. What happened was that after podium 1 nominated someone with 2 lives left, it all became a bit of a free for all. Some people nominated those with three lives left, some those with two. Yet nobody was knocking anyone else out! At least I wasn’t getting nominated – and then I was. Dave Tagg, a fine quiz player who was sitting pretty with his three lives left picked on me, and I got another one I didn’t know the answer to. Yet nobody finished me off at that point, and one or two more were knocked out. This took us as far as the second break. Now, my memory is that there might have been as many as nine of us left, and I was left with just one life.
I couldn’t see any way that I was going through to the final, so all I could think of was to be out as late as possible. There was no way that I was going to get into the last three, not with everyone else on either two or three lives. After the ten minutes or so of the break were over I felt sure that I would be nominated first. Had positions been reversed that’s certainly what I would have done. Yet I wasn’t. I think that a certain amount of jockeying for position was going on. I was nominated and asked the question about the arm of the Grand Union Canal which reaches into central London, and thankfully I knew this as the Regents Canal. I nominated someone else with one life. They got it wrong, and they were out. Everyone else left had two or three lives. So I nominated number 1. He got it wrong. I nominated him again and he was out. I nominated number 2. She got it wrong. I nominated her again and she was out. I nominated number 4. He got it wrong. I nominated him again and he was out. Number 5 had already gone. Number 6 had two lives. I nominated her – and she got it right. With a start I realized that there were only 4 of us left at this point. And Chris, number 6, would surely nominate me, and that would probably be that. Except that she didn’t. She nominated number 11, who had all of his lives intact. He got his question wrong, and so she nominated him again. He lost a second life. Now, this next bit was a bit of a blur. Either Chris nominated him again, he got it right and nominated me, or Chris nominated me. Whatever the case, the question came to me –
“Which is the world’s largest species of fish . . . “ Thank you! That’s one I could answer every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Whale shark. I nominated number 11, and that was that – he got it wrong and went out number 4.
I have no idea why Chris didn’t nominate me when she could have done, but I’m delighted that she didn’t. Win lose or draw I was going home first thing tomorrow morning. You can have up to three goes to reach the final, but once you reach the final of a show, that’s it.
Now, the final works differently again. You are given a point for each life you have left. You start the final with three lives. There are only 40 questions. You get ten points for each question you answer correctly, and lose a life for each you don’t. The first questions are asked on the buzzer. When one player has answered three buzzer questions correctly, then they get the choice to either answer a question, or nominate one of the other players to answer. When you’ve answered three incorrectly all your lives are gone, and you’re out. The winner is either the player with the highest total after all of the questions have been asked, or the last player to be out, or the only one left standing after all of the questions have been asked.
I’ll be honest, I slept on the blocks a little with the first question. With the next three though I blitzed them, and had the first choice, and the lead. My tactic, if you can call it that, was this. I reckoned that I’d probably need about 170 to guarantee a place in the grand final. So the idea was to keep nominating and try to knock out the others. If they were both out, or if we got down to about 15 questions remaining, then I’d go for home. It seemed pretty like we’d all decided on the same tactic. Every time I nominated Dave, who was the one I really wanted to get out as he was the danger man, he’d get it right. Then I got one I couldn’t answer. Chris also got one she couldn’t answer. At one stage I nominated Chris, and she got it wrong. With just one life left for her I nominated her again, and she was out.
We took a short break at this point, and I noticed that there were still over 20 questions left. The go was with me. I nominated Dave, and he got his right. He nominated me, and I was asked “what name is given to the Maori custom of rubbing noses?” Maybe I have heard it before, but I couldn’t remember it if I had, and that was that. Of course Dave nominated me again. Now, the first part of the question asked about the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant – which I knew was Calder Hall – but the second part of the question brought Sellafield. Ask me why I opted to say “Windscale” and I couldn’t tell you. But I did, it was wrong, and that was that.
Dave the Champ
Disappointed? Well, yes, of course. I’d have loved to have been bringing the trophy home. But it didn’t happen, and there’s no good crying over it. Dave went on to answer every remaining question, and to take a certain spot in the Grand Final. The two of us had been booked into the Premier Inn in Charing Cross, Glasgow for the evening, since the Thistle was full, and so we went out together for a meal, and then over to the Griffin pub for a single malt. He’s a good guy, and good company for an evening – and I was being 100% sincere when I told him that I hoped he’d go on to win the Grand Final.
The Two Daves - and this before going for a drink too!
Dave appeared in the Grand Final during the William G. Stewart years, so he’s an accomplished quizzer, and it was no shame to lose to him.
Overall, a great fun experience, and regardless of the outcome I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m delighted to have bagged the big four of appearances on Mastermind, Brain of Britain, Only COnnect and Fifteen to One now. What comes next? Who knows? Watch this space.