I must start with an apology to Les Morrell and Andrew Fraser, for missing the first heat. It’s still on the iplayer I think, so I will try to catch up if I can. This review though is of the second show. Our contestants were : -
Now, maybe the name Maya Davis rings a bell with you. Maya featured in the grand final of Mastermind back in Gary’s 2012 series. Prior to that, though, I actually met Maya back in 2009, when her first round heat of Brain of Britain was recorded on the same evening as mine. Then she was unfortunate to find herself in the same heat as Ian Bayley, who went on to win the whole series, and Brain of Brains, for that matter.
Well, Ted kicked off the first round. I didn’t know that RRS as in RSS Discovery, stood for Royal Research Ship. Ted didn’t know. Jonathan Frere offered Royal Research Society, but it wasn’t quite close enough. Maya didn’t know her first question, which country owns Robinson Crusoe Island. Now, I have never actually heard of ‘Robinson Crusoe Island’ , but the man on whom Crusoe was based, Alexander Selkirk, was wrecked on the Juan Fernandez Islands, and they belong to Chile. That was the right answer, but nobody had it. Jonathan Frere didn’t know that Beatrice and Sidney Webb, among others, founded the LSE, for me the easiest starter so far. Ted had a bonus from that. This left Vicky Smith to complete the round. She answered that the song John Brown’s Body refers to events which led to the start of the American Civil War, but nobody knew that the forest of Andred in Anglo Saxon times covered a large area of Southern England now known as the Weald. I did, simply because I studied a bit of Anglo Saxon history to provide background to the Anglo Saxon literature part of my degree.
Ted didn’t know that an exclamation mark is used to represent a number’s factorial. Vicky took a bonus on that and the lead. Maya, asked for the landmark overlooking Lake Ontario which opened in 1972, offered the CS Tower. Ah, on such small margins can matches be decided. Ted gave the correct answer of the CN Tower. I’m sorry for Maya, but at least it was nice to see that this answer wasn’t accepted on the rather arbitrary ‘close enough’ ruling which has been so infuriating in recent series. Jonathan Frere knew that Justin Welby was previously the bishop of Durham. He also knew that Argon was the first noble gas to be discovered to become the first contestant to answer two in a row. He didn’t know the original name of the pirate Barbarossa, though, and that gave Maya a bonus. For the second round running Vicky was given a rather gentle starter, asking which author created several of the characters from the Barchester chronicles, but missed out on a question about the Pentagon which gave Ted a third point, and meant that he and Vicky shared the lead.
Ted was given a burst of the World in Union, and asked about the name of the Essex village used in the title for when Holst’s original melody is used as a hymn. Phew. The answer is Thaxted anyway, but nobody had it. Maya’s next starter wasn’t easy, but it was gettable. When asked for the name given to the doctrine followed by the followers of Thomas Aquinas, she couldn’t quite dredge up Thomism. Neither could anyone else. Jonathan was given two more gentle questions, and then probably could have done better with the academic who delivered the lecture “Conditioned Reflexes”. Maya was the first in to supply the correct answer of Pavlov. This is probably just me, but again it seemed that for the third round in a row Vicky was given a gentle starter, asking about the crew of Apollo XIII. She knew that Marconi’s first transatlantic signal was the letter S, which wasn’t so easy. One of them might have known the Biblical phrase, from Dan to Beersheba, but none of them did. Nonetheless the two points were enough to give Vicky a lead of a point with 5.
Ted didn’t know that Worm’s Head is on the Gower peninsula. That’s not a huge distance from where I live. Maya took that bonus. Now, in his explanation, I think that Russell may have made a bit of a booboo. He said – “The Gower, that takes its name from an Old English word for Dragon.” Cobblers. Gower comes from the welsh Gŵyr. Worm, though comes from the Old English wyrm, which could mean dragon. I think he didn’t quite read his card carefully enough there. Maya had her music starter with Mary Hopkins singing – Those were the days. Now she was asked the old chestnut – that Paul McCartney had based the song on a folk song written in which language. If you’re a regular quizzer, chances are you’ve heard the question before, and you know it’s Russian. Maya didn’t, which gave Ted the bonus. Jonathan’s starter was tricky – asking who the second member of the Jewish faith to lead a British political party was – but it was gettable, being Michael Howard. Nobody had it. I’d argue that Vicky’s 4th starter was meat and drink to regular quizzer, asking her which Austrian formula 1 driver died in qualifying in the same grand prix as Ayrton Senna. She missed out for the first time on a starter, and nobody else had the bonus.
This was turning out to be an odd kind of show. I wouldn’t say that hardly any of the questions were gimmes, and the easier questions were only really easier if you really are a regular quizzer. This accounted for the fact that no contestant had put together more than 2 consecutive correct answers. I expect that all 4 contestants were glad for the Beat the Brains interval. The two questions were : - a) Which English placename contains a punctuation mark other than an apostrophe or a hyphen. They made a lot shorter work of this than most of the questions they’d already been asked, and well they should for it was the old chestnut Westward Ho!.
b) Which English place name contains Roman numerals when written correctly? That was a lot harder, and I didn’t know. I’ve never heard of Ruyton XI Towns, but Maya had it, although she allowed herself to be persuaded that it was actually IX towns.
Back to the tortuous business of the quiz. Ted Barr was given no more gentle a starter than he’d had all contest, asked which French seaside town PG Wodehouse had written of in especially critical terms. Vicky came in with the correct answer of Cannes. Good shout. Maya’s starter – asking the order of insects to which crickets and locusts belong wasn’t at all easy, being orthopteran. Nobody had that. Jonathan’s music starter played us a wee snatch of the Alan Parsons Project – good stuff too. Jonathan didn’t know it, and Ted took the bonus. Vicky was asked about a Paul Robeson song about Joe Hill as her starter. Nobody had it, and neither did I. Vicky still led by a point with 6.
Back to Ted, and yet again, no nice cushy starter. I haven’t heard of the biography “Bitter Fame” and although told it was about an American poet, none of us guessed Sylvia Plath. Maya, at last, got a gimme as a starter, asked for the better known sister of Stheno and Euryale, that being Medusa. Asked which Australian state had the famous rabbit fence, and the emu fence, everybody else had a go first before Jonathan gave the correct answer of Western Australia. For his own first question he was asked the name of the Royal Navy’s helicopter display team. Nobody knew the Black Cats. Neither did I. Vicky Smith’s music starter asked which royal occasion her piece of music had been composed for. I recognized it as belonging to the wedding of Prince William and Katherine Middleton. Jonathan’s bonus on this brought him level with Vicky on 6.
The start of the last round, then saw the contestants’ scores ranging from 4 to 6. As Russell said, anyone could win, but the omens going on the previous rounds weren’t that good that anyone would score more than a couple. Ted at last got an easy starter. He didn’t know that George Villiers was the Duke of Buckingham. That looked like his chances over. Maya took the bonus on that, and was one point behind with her starter to come. She knew ourobouros. She knew the mentalis wrinkles the chin. She didn’t know that William Jones came up with the Pi symnbol. I didn’t know that, but Vicky Smith came up with the bonus. That took her to 7. Jonathan knew that the green drake is a species of mayfly. That wasn’t easy. The McCarthy Perpetual challenge cup did for him. It’s hurling and nobody had it. Vicky then could wrap it all up. Needless to say her starter wasn’t easy, asking for the astronomical term aberration. Ironic that. Nobody had it. Which mean that Ted finished with 5 but all three of the others finished with 7.
Sudden death tie break time. Asked which gland secretes ADH, Jonathan was first in with pituitary – always a decent shout. It was right, and gave him the win.
If you’re a regular reader of my BoB reviews you won’t be surprised I have some observations to make. One good thing about this show was that in my opinion the adjudications were fair. I’m sorry, but allowing near misses, as had happened in recent series on some occasions, opens a whole can of worms, and at least on that score all contestants were playing on a level playing field.
In other series there have been shows when I’ ve been struck by the unevenness of the questions asked to different contenders. I think that if you look at this show as a whole, this tended to balance itself out.
However . . . taken as a whole the level of difficulty of these questions seemed higher than I can remember in any edition of BoB in recent years. Now – if this is a conscious decision, and other shows have the same level of difficulty throughout, then fair enough. This is meant to be a premier general knowledge competition. All of the contenders on this show showed some good knowledge, but all of them missed things which you’d expect someone good enough to challenge for the title to get. However, if this is just a rogue show, then it’s a bad thing, since I would say all of the contestants on this show were put in a position where it was going to be extremely difficult for them to post a score which might give them a sniff of a semi final repechage slot. Well, that’s an issue we’ll continue to look at as the series develops.
Ted Barr – 5
Maya Davis – 7
Jonathan Frere – 7 (8 AET)
Vicky Smith - 7