Friday 10 May 2024

News from LAM Towers

Hello. Look, I'm sorry it's been weeks since my last post. I have been going to the club and playing in the quiz, but that's really been about the length of it. 

You know I go on about being the last schoolteacher to win a series of Mastermind? Well, my career as a full time school teacher now officially has only a matter of weeks left. I've sent in my retirement letter and the magic date is 31st August. Although the last day in school this year is 19th July. Although I've been off work with depression since mid-March. Still, even if I do go back, that's a maximum of 25 teaching days even if I do go straight back as soon as the current paper medical certificate expires.

You know, 20 odd years ago when I was middle aged and stupid I would often say - when I finally retire I want to be going out to quizzes at least five nights a week. Well, that ain't going to happen now. But I must say that quizzing has helped keep me going at important times during my teaching career, and while I'm giving up teaching now, I can't see me ever completely giving up quizzing.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

University Challenge 2024 Grand Final: Imperial v. University College, London

The Teams

Imperial, London

Justin Lee

Adam Jones

Suraiya Haddad (capt.)

Sourajit Debnath

University College, London

James Hall

Ali Izzatdust

Tayana Sawh (Capt.)

Jacob Finlay

Here we are, ladies and gentlemen. After last week’s Mastermind Grand Final we have the University Challenge Grand Final, which really brings to an end the quizzy Mondays that have kept us going throughout the long autumn and winter months. Much to my delight as a Londoner by birth, and an alumnus of London University (Goldsmiths College), the final pitted the best two teams of the series against each other and both are from London. Imperial, independent from London University for some time now, I think, could look back on series wins in 1996, 2001, 2020 and 2022. No team had ever yet won five series. UCL had also been this way before, having lost the 2005 and 2012 series grand finals, but had not yet won a series. Now, to use a footballing analogy, conventional wisdom has it that two London teams in an FA Cup Final usually produces an underwhelming match – and my own attendance at the 1982 replay of Spurs v. QPR would certainly bear this out. But I had a feeling that we could expect better from these two.

So, who would be fastest on the buzzer? Well, Ali Izzatdust won the first buzzer race to identify methods of naming days of the week. The medieval Egyptian ruler Baybars gave us both a full house. Justin Lee came in too early on the next starter. It became obvious that the necessary answer would be an Italian city. James Hall played the percentages with Rome but ‘Ocean’s Nursling’ had suggested Venice to me, and that’s what it was. James Hall buzzed in too early for the next starter, and given the whole question Sourajit Debnath came in with the correct answer of urea, to get the Imperial juggernaut moving. A great set on artworks created through defacing existing artworks was despatched to the boundary by Adam Jones to level the scores at one penalty and one full house each. James Hall identified the artist Lubaina Himid for the next starter. Biological terms starting with chi brought me a lap of honour for getting chimera. Look, I’ll take them where I can get them. I could have waited for the third of the set because I knew chitin too. UCL took the same two bonuses. I’ll be honest, when I saw the picture starter quoting Chaucer and showing various sites of places visited by one of the pilgrims I nearly shouted Wife of Bath, but checked the text first. Just as well for it was clearly the Knight. Justin Lee took his first starter of the evening – it wouldn’t be an only child for long. More pilgrims followed – they had the more difficult ones but the character most famous for the number of pilgrimages she made, the aforementioned Wife of Bath, they missed. Justin Lee buzzed early to explain that St. Bartholomew and Jude were martyred in Armenia. To have one saint martyred in Armenia is misfortune, to have two martyred sounds a bit careless. One bonus on ocean habitats followed. Sourajit Debnath knew that Elia Kazan was the director who co-founded the Actors Studio. Video games that have won the BAFTA for best debut game were very much to Mr. Debnath’s liking and he took a full house in short order. We approached the 10-minute mark with Imperial just beginning to apply the afterburners, leading, as they did, by 80-40.

Sourajit Debnath doesn’t answer as many starters as Justn Lee, but most of the starters he answers are ones which seem to leave all 7 other players scratching their heads. For example the next starer, to which the answer was spline. (I’ll exspline later). Biogeographic regions of Australia sounded harder than they proved to be and Imperial took the two that they needed to put their score into triple figures. Ominous times for UCL, who could really have done with getting the next starter. Ali Izzatdust tried, but lost five for his pains allowing Justin Lee to identify the city of Maastricht. 18th century wars of succession mean that the answers were going to be the Polish, Spanish and Austrian, so it was a matter of getting them in the right order. Not a problem for Imperial – another full house. Jacob Finlay jumped early on the next starter, but lost five, allowing Adam Jones in with Thailand. The International Phonetic Alphabet opened up the puzzling world of plosives, and fricatives, velars and labials, yielded a single bonus, This led us to the music starter, and for once in this series, something I recognised – Faure’s Pavane. Justin Lee took that one. Other composers associated with the Paris Conservatoire brought Imperial one bonus. None of us knew Pierre Bourdieu (wasn’t he the author of perennial favourite ‘Ce n’est pas mon cochon, c’est ma Belle-mere’?). Tayana Sawh tried to break the stranglehold but gave an incorrect answer to the next starter, allowing Adam Jones in with Cryolite (either a 1980s Doctor Who monster, or a member of the R and B group who had a UK hit with the song ‘Have You Seen Her?’, take your pick.) The book “Mythologies” by Roland Barthes brought the points to stretch the Imperial lead to 150.UCL were looking to be in a right old Imperial leather and their plight was not helped when Justin Lee buzzed in incredibly quickly to identify Berengaria. Mythological paintings by Angelica Kauffmann brought the full house that Imperial needed to take their score to 200. Poor old UCL. They’re a great team, and Heaven knows they had tried hard to beat Imperial to the buzzer. There was nothing more that they could have done. The next starter on Bambara was a good demonstration of this. Ali Izzatdust buzzed incredibly quickly, but he was still beaten by Justin Lee, who knew that the language in question hailed from Mali. Sackings of Rome brought Imperial lashings of points, another full house. The lead had stretched to 200 points. I nearly awarded myself another lap of honour for knowing Fermi was the answer to the next starer, but I was just relieved that Ali Izzadust won the race. Two bonuses on philosophers meant that as we approached the 20 minute mark Imperial led by 225 – 40.

For the next starter Adam Jones identified a painting by Winslow Homer. 3 more paintings of fishermen, although these were by French artists, brought just five more points. Jacob Finlay recognised a description of the Andaman Sea for the next starter. Subatomic particles raised their ugly miniscule heads for the bonuses – I got two!! – bringing a full house to UCL. Ali Izzatdust came in extremely early to identify Ponta Delgada in the Azores. 2 bonuses on the American Civil War and their score was beginning to look more healthy. Not a score that looked high enough to challenge, mind you. Especially when Justin Lee took the next starter on the language of the Cherokee. Bonuses on international economics yielded nowt, but who cared? It wasn’t going to affect the result. Nobody knew about vitamin B1 thiamin curing beri beri. Justin Lee, who would end the evening with 8 starters and the series with a magnificent 36, recognised a description of a rondo. Architecture of the 30s brought us both just the one correct answer with the inevitable Frank Lloyd Wright. Gordon Comstock allowed Adam Jones to give the title ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying ‘ for the next starter and the novel The Princess of Cleves brought two correct answers to give Imperial just the chance of reaching the rarely achieved 300 point mark. Ali Izzatdust denied them on the next starter on the oryx. Composers brought two correct answers. Jacob Finlay denied them on a starter on the work the Strange Death of Liberal England. But that, as they say, was that. The gong struck, leaving Imperial the champions having won the match 285 – 120.

Many, many congratulations to Imperial. They become the first institution to win five series. I think that bearing in mind the quality of the UCL team, this must have been their finest performance of the whole series. For the record Imperial’s BCR was 62, while UCL’s was 78.

Full marks to Suraiya Haddad for praising first her team, then UCL when being presented with the trophy. Then we had the cutaway to a filmed presentation of the trophy by Sir Tom Stoppard. He’s apparently a huge fan of the show (although not enough of a fan to clear his schedule enough to allow him to attend the final on the day, so it would seem.) This happened of the roof of Imperial, which gave the whole thing a sort of Let it Be vibe.

Well, there we are, that was University Challenge 2024. Congratulations and thanks to all of the players, teams, and to the team who put the show together for us. Here’s looking forward to University Challenge 2025

Amol Watch

Amol, did you have to pick on Justin Lee for wearing his hoodie? It’s a measure of just how good this Imperial team were that Amol felt the need to offer encouragement to UCL on the fifteen-minute mark. Another example of Amol addressing contestants by their given names came when he admonished Suraiya Haddad with ‘ You should have listened to Sourajit.” Well, this is part of Amol’s relaxed style and I have to say that if you take the series as a whole, he really has taken to it like a mallard to water. It’s nice to see a question master who isn’t shy about showing just how much he has enjoyed each contest in the series. Very well done, Sir and keep it up.

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

Cryolite was obtained from a single mine in Greenland.

Baby Elephant Walk Moment

Meanings of which short term include, in a mechanical context, a ridge on a surface of a part usually used to prevent an otherwise circular part from turning and in mathematics, a function commonly used for interpolation and described by multiple polynomial equations, each one used only within a particular interval to produce a simpler description of a more complex curve or surface?

What do you mean you’ve never heard of a spline?!!!!!!! Dum de dumdum  dum dum dum dum dumdum.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

University Challenge 2024 Semi Final 2 - UCL v. Manchester

The Teams


James Hall

Ali Izzatdust

Tayana Sawh (Capt.)

Jacob Finlay


Bluma de Los Reyes-White

Ilya Kullman

Hiru Sanaheedhera (capt.)

Dan Grady

For me, little can beat the pleasure I get from watching a Mastermind Grand Final. Let me be honest though, a good UC semi-final comes close. Last week we saw Imperial University take out Trinity, Cambridge. Coincidentally before last night Imperial were the only team to have defeated Manchester in this series. UCL had an average of 195 going into this match – not as high as Imperial’s, but higher than Manchester’s 165. This was an interesting match, a team with 2 great buzzer slingers ably backed up by the other two team members – UCL – against a team where all 4 team members make good contributions on the starters - Manchester. The head said UCL, but it also reminded me that you’re never going to get rich betting against Manchester in UC.

Ali Izzatdust – one of UCL’s star buzzslingers, took a very early buzz on the first starter, recognising the work of WH Auden. The plays of Arthur Miller only yielded one bonus. A Maths starter followed, duly taken by Hiru Senehedheera on Goldbach. Wasn’t he the Trotskyesque bogeyman in 1984? No. Two bonuses on German architecture were taken to give them an early lead. A lead which was take back by Ali Izzatdust who recognised clues pointing to the artist Bridget Riley. Bonuses on Blaise Pascal brought two more correct answers. Ali Izzatdust took his third starter recognising that the Ragamuffin War occurred in the south of Brazil. A set on dentistry unsurprisingly yielded none of us anything. For the picture starter a 1947 map of India showing the so-called Princely States brought an incorrect answer from UCL – I too thought the state highlighted included Kashmir, which allowed Hiru Senehedheera in with Jammu and Kashmir. Three more of the larger princely states yielded nothing. James Hall took his first starter of the evening with the Wisconsin born mathematician Knuth. A full house on Italian film directors finally got things moving after a rather stuttering start. Dan Grady knew “The Wretched of the Earth” – I didn’t- . Three questions on the word red in other languages brought one correct answer. So just after the 10-minute mark, UCL led by 70-45. All to play for.

The next starter was about my 4x great uncle’s Russian pal, Pushkin. (Seriously, my four x great grandfather Henry Dawe’s brother, George Dawe was a highly successful portrait painter who was engaged by Tsar Alexander 1 to paint portraits of his victorious generals. There’s over 300 of them in the Hermitage. Pushkin even wrote a poem to him. Not the one in the question, mind you.) Dan Grady took a chance with Eugene Onegin without hearing the full question. Given the rest Ali Izzatdust and I both knew the Bronze Horseman. Hip hop production promised nowt but delivered me one for Pharrell Williams, while UCL took a full house. Hox genes. Prefer Levis or Wranglers myself. That gave Bluma De Los Reyes-White his first starter. African footballers brought two correct answers and rather amazingly gave me a full house. I had a note from my Mum excusing me from a lap of honour on this one. Dan Grady knew that the sequel novels – Phineas – and Rabbit are linked by the word Redux. Bonuses on St. Oswald did not fall Manchester’s way. On to the music round, and jazz. Niiiccceeee. Ali Izzatdust zigged with Sarah Vaughan, Hiru Sanehedheera zagged with Ella Fitzgerald and took the points. One music bonus was enough to narrow the gap between the teams to ten points. James Hall pushed it out to a full set again, recognising a description of astatine. Maths bouses saw me earn a lap of honour. The first asked for a Swiss mathematician, and so I took a punt with Bernoulli. A full house for UCL pushed the gap out again. Ali Izzatdust knew that Guwahati is in Assam. The Behistun Inscription in Iran (Darius woz ‘ere?) provide another full house, and the gap had stretched from 10 points to 60 in short order. Ali Izzatdust recognised Archduke Maximilian of the Hapsburg Austro Hungarian Empire, as did I, and we both answered Mexico. Not what was required, and that’s what can happen when you go early. Given the full questio it allowed Ilya Kullmann to give the answer wanted, namely that he was Emperor of said country. Places named in Beatles songs saw Dan Grady waxing lyrical, literally, His full house and the UCL penalty cut the lead in half. UCL came in too early for the next starter and lost a further five. Bluma de Los Reyes-White knew the answer to the starter was iron. French economists did not suit Manchester leading the captain to despairingly ask his team to make a French noise. Nonetheless the gap at the 20 minute mark had narrowed to fifteen as Manchester led by 135 to 120. Squeaky bum time.

UCL had first bite at the picture starter that followed, but it fell to Hiru Saneheedhera to identify the two anklebiters it showed as Romulus and Remus. Twins or figures that resemble each other failed to add to their score. Shame that they didn’t recognise the work of Sir John Tenniel – last year I tried to copy all 90+ illustrations Tenniel made for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books – check out my art blog if you’d like to see my copies. My Art Blog - John Tenniel

Only five points in it now. Ali Izzatdust did the business for UCL, as he had so many times in this series, identifying the first rulers of Flanders. Dungeons and Dragons saw them take a timely full house. With the gap at 30 a full house would not be enough to completely wipe out the gap for Manchester. Again, though, Manchester came back, Bluma De Los Reyes – White recognising nitric acid. Foods sharing the last letters of their names with the last letters of the names of African capital cities provided a fun UC special set which Manchester swallowed with relish. Five point game again. Nobody knew the word paean for the next starter but UCL took a five point penalty. With no more than a couple of minutes left, both teams were square. But again, the irrepressible Ali Izzatdust refused to be bested and came in early with his 7th starter on Billy Budd. Only one bonus on species and families of bats kept the gap down to fifteen – Manchester could still take the lead with one visit to the table. James Hall denied them the chance, recognising references to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. They needed one bonus on early fantasy to leave Manchester needing snookers. Which is exactly what they got. Was there enough time left? Ilya Kullman took the next starter on Swahili. Bonuses on words containing hertero – failed to add to their score. Was there time for the one full house that Manchester needed? It didn’t matter since Jacob Finlay took the next starter, knowing Inchon in South Korea. A full house on figures from Greek mythology mentioned in Handel operas put the seal on victory. The gong ended the match, and UCL had won by 210 to 165.

A great match, played in a fabulous spirit by both teams. UCL had a terrific BCR of 70, while Manchester’s off the same number of bonuses was 33 – and you need look no further than that for the difference between the teams. Very hard lines. The bonus gods were not with you, Manchester, yet you took it right to the last 2 minutes. Very well played UCL and yes, it makes an alumnus of another London University College (Goldsmiths in my case) feel very happy. An all-London final awaits.

Amol Watch

Did Amol have it written down that Descartes died in 1650 so he couldn’t be the right answer to a starter? If not it’s a very impressive display of knowledge. I liked his encouragement to Manchester on the St. Oswald set to ‘give yourself a chance’ – good advice, considering that you lose nothing for incorrect answers on bonuses. Later on he told them on the music bonuses – it looks like you’re having a good time but you are behind. – Kick a man while he’s down, why don’t you?

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

In Brazil there was an uprising known as the Ragamuffin War

Baby Elephant Walk Moment

This one was shaping up as a corker before Bluma De Los Reyes-White buzzed in to put me out of my misery –

What three letter abbreviation is given to a group of transcription factor genes found in most animal species and crucial in specifying regions along the -

Mastermind 2024 Grand Final Review (spoilers)

Let me start by reiterating that I will be discussing the results of last night’s grand final, so please don’t read further until you’ve watched it. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.

Okay, so if you read my preview and have watched the final you’ll know that my predictions were even worse than usual, and that’s saying something! In terms of prognostications I set the bar for myself remarkably low and consistently fail to live up to it.

Let’s get on to the show itself then. First up was Oli Hanson. Oli was answering on the Wimbledon Singles Championships from the year 2000 to the present day. The star turn in his filmed insert was a personal message from the great Sir Andy Murray. I cannot imagine the amount of work involved in learning about all the matches and personalities involved in 23 years of Wimbledon Singles – I only managed the one point. I mentioned in my preview that I was a little worried about Oli’s Specialist scores. He did well again but again left some room for other contenders to put daylight between themselves and him, scoring 8 and 3 passes.

Ruth Hart was the joint highest scoring of the finalists in her first round heat. Yet she was also the lowest scoring of the finalists in her semi-final. Ruth was answering on Francis Bacon (the painter), who was unable to ring her with encouragement having passed away in 1992. Ruth served up a textbook demonstration of how deal with a specialist round in the grand final. She was asked fifteen questions and she answered all of them correctly. It’s an absolutely dream scenario, and presented the nightmarish prospect to her fellow contenders that they needed to produce their absolute best to make sure they were still in the contest by the time that the GK came round.

Helen Lippell cheerfully revealed that she was on her third go at Mastermind. Now, here’s a point. Back in the good old days before Covid, at least one of the finalists would win the filmed insert lottery and get a trip abroad. Helen, surely, would have been sent off to Greece bearing in mind that she was answering on the Ancient Greek poet Sappho. Not this time. Those days seem to have gone now with far more emphasis on the contenders’ families. I’d have wished them good luck if they’re tried to do that with my lot in 2007. Coming back to the point, Helen’s round on Sappho served to illustrate just how great Ruth’s round had been. I thought Helen had a very good round, but Ruth’s round had rendered the merely good redundant. Helen’s score of 10 meant that she was still five behind.

So to the frist of Clark’s predicted podium finishers, Sarah Thornton. Sarah was answering on The Mercury Music Prize and her message of encouragement came from Lauren Laverne. Sarah had scored consistently well on specialist in both heat and semi, where she had achieved 12 in both. She would need all of that, and more to put herself into contention. Fair play to Sarah, she gave it a good old lash, but by the end of the round she fell just a tiny bit short of her best, ending on 10.

So to Thomas Nelson, the teacher whom I predicted would win to become my successor as the last schoolteacher to win a series of Mastermind. In Thomas’ filmed insert he spoke of his disappointment in losing his heat despite scoring 26, and his subsequent joy in being invited to take part in the semi finals as a replacement. He also spoke of his joy in teaching – ah, I remember those days, long ago in the past for myself, sadly. The Marquis de Lafayette was apparently unable to make a call despite being Thomas’ specialist. Maybe the battery on his phone was dead. Thomas’ best score on specialist was 12 in the heats. I reckoned that if he could just improve slightly on that then he’d be in with a chance. Well, he came close, scoring another 12. 3 points is a bit of a mountain to climb though.

Finally George Twigg, my dark horse. George had performed admirably on specialist in both heat and semi. George was answering on Clara Schumann and during his filmed insert he revealed that like Oli he was a University Challenge old boy. George fell just a couple of points short of his specialist best, scoring 10. Now, don’t get me wrong, in the current era of Mastermind a score of 10 is a good performance in a grand final. But being five points off the lead really isn’t where you’d like to be.

So, at the halfway stage it looked as if we were left with a two horse race. Yes, I know all 6 contenders could still theoretically do it, but you have to go back to 2017 for the last time any contender overturned a 3 point lead at half time to win. That was LAM reader Isabelle Heward. In the last five finals the leader at half time has gone on to win. Would that be the case last night?

Oli returned to the chair looking and sounding like a man in shock. He passed a bit more than I would have expected based on his previous 2 GK rounds, but he did seem to rally as the round went on. He finished having scored a battling 13. Oli, if by any chance you read this, you’re a young chap. You could easily have another final appearance in the future, and your GK is only going to keep improving. Give it a couple of years, and then give it another lash, that’s my advice.

Helen Lippell went next to provide a great demonstration of how experience in the Mastermind chair can really help you in the long run. Helen gave us a great GK round. She scored an excellent 15 to raise the target to 25. I thought that this was maybe just a couple of points down on a potentially winning total, but it was certainly enough to give everyone left some food for thought.

Sarah Thornton came close. Like Helen she started on 10. Fifteen would not actually have been enough to put her into the lead, bearing in mind she had passes from specialist while Helen had none. She provided an excellent round of her own, though, finishing with 24. She can be justifiably proud of her contribution to this year’s Mastermind.

George Twigg, like all of this year’s contenders, is a dedicated quizzer and he set off in his round meaning business. George knew that the best way to rack up a cricket score is to snap out your answer just as the last syllable of the question is dying on Clive’s lips, and he started off at a tremendous clip. During the round a couple of questions pulled him up short and he passed once as well. The 12 and one pass he ended with is a good score. But he’d needed something outstanding.

Which brings us to the outsider in our two-horse race. Thomas had to score 3 points more than Ruth to force a tie break. As I said earlier, that’s a mountain to climb. In my own final all those years ago I was lying in third at the turn around, two points behind the leader. I thought that this was too much of a gap and even when I’d scored my best GK round I did think I would be just a point short of a tie break. Thomas had scored 16 on GK in the heat, and 14 in the semi. Great scores, and so if he could match this level of performance then he had a chance. He tried, he certainly tried, and he came close to his best with another 14. When he returned to his chair a rueful expression passed briefly across his face. I think he knew that this was just a couple of points down on what he needed.

Let’s put Ruth’s task into perspective. She’d scored 14 on GK in the heats and 10 in the semi. 10 would not be enough this time out. Crucially though there is that little bit more time in the final. For the first half of the round the coin was in the air as she missed a couple. Ruth kept her head, though, and in the second half of the round any doubts evaporated. She scored a good 13, which was enough to hand her the title and the win, with 28 points. I liked the way that Clive didn’t bother telling her the score, just “you ARE the Mastermind champion!”

Many, many congratulations, Ruth. You played brilliantly and deserved to win. Enjoy!

Thomas, I once again apologise for tipping you and hope you’ll come back this way soon. Someone needs to be the next schoolteacher to win Mastermind. It could well be you.

Oli, Helen, Sarah and George, congratulations on acquitting yourselves admirably throughout this series. Thank you for the entertainment you and all the contenders have provided. I say this a lot, but it’s worth repeating, that without people willing to put themselves on the line and to give up their time to prepare specialist subjects, we don’t have a series. Congratulations as well to Clive and the production team for another highly enjoyable and successful series. Roll on the next!

The Details

Oli Hanson

The Wimbledon Singles Championships 2000 - Present







Ruth Hart

Francis Bacon







Helen Lippell








Sarah Thornton

The Mercury Music Prize







Thomas Nelson

The Marquis de Lafayette







George Twigg

Clara Schumann







Sunday 31 March 2024

Wot, no Mastermind?

 No, I don' intend to mention the M word again until after tomorrow's Grand Final. No, it's just that you may remember that I didn't post last week until this weekend because I was on holiday with the family in West Wales. Well, I thought it might be nice to share with you some of the ink drawings that I made on holiday.

This is Pembroke Castle, where the lad in the statue, Henry VII was born. Classic example of local boy makes good.

This is the Island Ranger Catamaran, which took us around Caldey and St. Margaret's Islands, where we saw seals, dolphins, guillemots, cormorants and puffins.

Tenby sketched from the beach while waiting for the Island Ranger

Pig in Folly Farm

Manorbier Castle - about 1 mile away from the airbnb in which we stayed. 

If you like my drawings and you'd like to look at others I've done and my other attempts at art work, the you could check out my art blog. Just click this link -

Dave Clark Art Blog

Ivory, Apes and Peacocks? Unlikely.

What, still burbling on about Mastermind, Dave? Yeah, ‘fraid so. I can’t help it and be fair, the Grand Final is tomorrow evening.

Now, contrary to popular belief, when I meet someone for the first time I don’t say “Hi, I’m Dave Clark and I won Mastermind in 2008.” Or something similar. But it happens sometimes that I might be with someone who points it out, or after I’ve known them for some time then it might come up in conversation. The person will almost invariably ask two questions. The first is always “What was your specialist subject?” Not subjects, you note. I always tell them my final subject. Then the next question is usually “What did you win?” I’ve built up a little monologue over the years, building up from if you’re beaten in the first round you get nothing, if you’re beaten in the semi final you get nothing, if you come sixth in the final you get nothing – and so on right up to, but if you win, not only do you become the Mastermind of the United Kingdom, you also get (imaginary drumroll followed by dramatic pause) – a glass bowl!

Of course, you get intangible things as well. So while you might not get ivory, apes and peacocks – well, there’s no might not about it – you probably do get a huge sense of satisfaction. In my case, relief as well. I knew I was a good quizzer by 2007, but I didn’t have a great deal to prove it. Three previous TV appearances had not gone well. The really great thing about winning Mastermind is that the show is still to some extent in the public consciousness. If you win Mastermind, then you don’t have to explain to people what it is all about. This sounds pathetic, but I had a burning desire in 2007 to do really well in the show, by which I mean to reach the Grand Final. When I won, though, it had a marvellously cleansing effect. Yes, I am still competitive. I still want to win every quiz I enter. But I haven’t had that unhealthy, burning need ever since. Yes, I entered both Brain of Britain and Only Connect, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the experiences despite being comfortably beaten in both finals. My MENSA membership has lapsed now, and so it’s unlikely that I’ll play in Brain of Mensa again, but I still enjoyed all the times I played in the competition, even though I only won it twice.

There are things which didn’t happen. I never expected to get any kind of media career out of it, and I didn’t. I never expected to get recognised in the street, and with 2 exceptions, I didn’t. I did expect to get some kind of recognition from my school and from my local education authority . . . but I didn’t. Mark “The Beast” Labbett, whom I’ve known for a long time, greeted me after the final was shown and said that he bet my local authority were over the moon and making a big fuss of me. He’d had a letter of commendation from South Gloucestershire just for appearing on Discovery Mastermind. Nope. Not even a congratulatory email from Neath and Port Talbot. Just as disappointing was that I didn’t receive any acknowledgement from my own school’s governing body. This was after 20 years’ good service, and a slew of positive publicity for the school in the local media following the win. I was invited to a reception in the Mayor’s Parlour, but the Mayor informed me that this was his own initiative and had nothing to do with the school or the authority. The Chairman of Governors turned up, and I’m glad I had the good grace not to mention the lack of acknowledgement from the Governing body he headed. Unfortunately, I’m gifted with the kind of memory that can’t forget these things. Thankfully this only cast the smallest of shadows over what was pretty much a king for a day kind of experience.

For there were things I never expected that did happen too. For example, being invited back to my old school in Ealing to make a speech and present some prizes. Getting invited to take part in the Get Connected charity quiz auction on a number of occasions. Being as my final subject was the History of London Bridge I was also invited to participate in the banquet for the 900th anniversary of Old London Bridge held in Fishmongers Hall in the presence of the Lord Mayor of London. For a Londiniophile (or whatever the term for a lover of London is) like me, this was the most fantastic experience. I’m sure tomorrow night’s winner will have opportunities they never expected too.

The Great Fred Housego (Fred, if you ever read this, my offer to take you out for a pint which I first made years ago still stands) once offered this advice to all future winners – ride the bus for all it’s worth because it doesn’t stop twice. Amen. I can’t really add a great deal to that other than, for tomorrow night’s champion, winning Mastermind is unlikely to change your life, but for a while at least it can certainly enhance it.

Pob lwc.

Why don't Schoolteachers win Mastermind any more? (Answers on a postcard please)

Yes, gentle reader, it’s time to return to a well trodden subject in these here parts, namely, teachers and Mastermind. Specifically schoolteachers and Mastermind.

I’ll tell you what brings this on. Yesterday I tipped Thomas Nelson to win tomorrow’s grand final. I never even stopped to think what his profession might be. A quick check on the iplayer this morning revealed that he is in fact a teacher. A schoolteacher. Thomas, if by any chance you ever read this, I apologise profusely for tipping you and I sincerely hope that you will strip me of the honour of being the last schoolteacher to win a series of Mastermind.

17 years ago, in 2007 (yeah, I know the records say that I won in 2008, but the final was filmed in June 2007) I never thought that I would be in the last year of my teaching career before another schoolteacher would win. Should Thomas not win tomorrow night then I will be retired before the next schoolteacher wins. Before the next anyone wins in 2005. I should point out that I am not the last educator to win a series -the great Ian Bayley and the great Clive Dunning, both MM and BOB double winners, come to mind immediately. But none of the champions since have been schoolteachers. Why should that be?

Well, of course, I do have my own ideas about that. If you know much about the history of Mastermind you’ll know that it’s first decade was pretty much dominated by schoolteachers and college lecturers. The first two years were won by college lecturers Nancy Wilkison and Patricia Owen, while the next two were won by schoolteachers Elizabeth Horrocks and John Hart. The next two years were won by civil servant Roger Pritchard and retired ambassador Sir David Hunt. Schoolteacher Rosemary James won in 78, student Philip Jenkins (who went on to become a university lecturer) in 79. The great Fred Housego won in 1980, but the following year schoolteacher Leslie Grout followed in 1981.

Even though the number of educator winners started to tail off in the 80s and 90s, we still saw schoolteacher Margaret Harris win in 1984, schoolteacher David Edwards win in 1990 and lecturer George Davidson win in 1994. Even after the first TV version ended, educators still kept winning with Robert Gibson and Stephen Fellows in 1998 and 2000 respectively. The first TV revival, 2001’s Discovery Mastermind was won by schoolteacher Michael Penrice.

The famine really came in with the revived BBC TV series, beginning in 2003. Retired lecturer Geoff Thomas won in 2006, schoolteacher me won in 2007/8, lecturers Ian Bayley in 2011 and Clive Dunning in 2014, then . . . well, I think that’s it.

Forgive me if I concentrate on schoolteachers now but that’s really my area of knowledge and experience. All of this begs the question – why don’t schoolteachers win Mastermind any more? As a body, are schoolteachers less intelligent than they were in the 70s/80s? Is everybody else smarter than they were back then? In both cases I don’t think so. I do think that more people have more access to university education now – it was between 10 and 20 percent through the 70s and 80s and something approaching forty percent by the 2020s.

Of course, you don’t need a university education to win Mastermind. So there’s probably other factors involved. Now, when I began my teaching career in 1987 a lot of the old guys and gals in the staffroom would often make the point that teaching had changed for the worst. Nowadays, when I’m not actually off school with depression and anxiety I often say the same thing. But in all honesty, I do not know how a schoolteacher now would find the time to prepare properly for a Mastermind campaign. Nor the energy. Then there’s the change in quizzing culture since the late 80s when I started, let alone the early 70s when Mastermind did. I don’t know how much of a quiz background any of tomorrow’s finalists have but I honestly believe that if you have at least a quiz league background then you have a big advantage over anyone who doesn’t. I would argue that there is far more opportunity to play regularly in high level quizzes now than there would have been in the 70s, for example. It’s not always the highest general knowledge scorer who wins the grand final, but it’s never the lowest.

Well, whatever the case, I wish all of our finalists the very best of luck, and especially I hope that Thomas can beat the curse of the Clark tip.