Saturday, 20 December 2008

On multiple contenders

As the traditional end of term malaise - and the far less traditional post - inspection malaise - set in, I found myself with a little unexpected time on my hands this week, hence the recent glut of posts in my blog. In the IQAGB discussion forum there's been an interesting discussion going on in the last couple of weeks regarding the BBC's policy as regards reappearences on Mastermind. For the record, the policy from 1972 until the start of the 1995 series was that once you have appeared on the show, then you were never allowed to have another go. This policy changed in time for the 1995 series, enabling Kevin Ashman, a former semi finalist, to win , and set the record score for the show. From then on the only people who weren't allowed to have another go were former champions.

Where the confusion arises is that its not entirely clear how long anyone has to wait between appearing, and reapplying. For those who get knocked out in the first round, you don't have to wait at all. I lost my first round match in 2006, but went on to win in the very next series. I did think that there was a policy of having to wait longer if you were a losing semi finalist, or even longer if your were a losing finalist - but that doesn't seem to be quite the case.

There is a body of opinion that allowing people to reapply weakens the purity of the show - and people who say this have every right to their opinion. Still, the policy is what it is, and I don't really want to carry on the debate here. So why am I writing this ? Well, when I started thinking abou tthe issue I found that what really interests me is the number of people who have made multiple appearences. I have been trawling through my records, and I must apologise that my figures and stats only include the various BBC Mastermind TV and Radio series. This is not to demean or belittle Discovery Mastermind in any way. Is simply because I haven't been able to get hold of any detailed records of who actually appeared in the Discovery series. I may be mistaken, but I do also think that the rounds format was a bit different from the conventional BBC heat - semi final - final arrangement too. So , going by the 1972 - 1997 Magnus Magnusson version - the Radio 4 Peter Snow version - and the John Humphrys BBCTV version, this is what I found. Apologies are extended to all concerned if these figures are inaccurate in any way - I have tried my best to be painstaking, but we are all only human.

I make it that 2 contenders - Hamish Cameron and Ann Kelly - have both appeared 5 times. Hamish also has an additional 3 semi final appearences, and you have to say that he was unlucky not to make the final in 2007. Hamish is one of a select band of contenders who have played in 3 semi finals - nobody so far has reached four semis.

Also in the select band of triple semi finalists are Isabelle Heward, Sheila Altree, Geoff Thomas, and Wendy Forrester. Isabelle and Sheila are quadruple contenders, and Geoff and Wendy triple contenders - although I am sure that Geoff was also a contender in Discovery Mastermind. I'll deal with Geoff in a moment, but Isabelle, Sheila and Wendy surely mark themselves out alongside Hamish as among the finest contenders never to reach a Mastermind final - so far. Sheila, of course, is one of my sparring partners from last year, when we met in the semi final. She has her own very special place in the history of Mastermind. She has three times earned her place in a semi final but only appeared in 2 semi finals. Her second appearence in the first round was before the lifting of the ban in 95, and so when she won her heat she was disqualified before the semi was filmed.

Geoff is the only multiple contender - for my purposes I define a multiple contender as one who has appeared in three or more series - to go on and win the title. His epic 2006 win saw him set a John Humphrys era record score of 36.

There is one other contender who twice reached a final. Roger Stein doesn't make our list of multiple contenders since he has only taken part in two series, but both times he did he made the final.

For the record , I make it that there are 2 quintuple contenders, 8 quadruple contenders, and no fewer than 23 triple contenders. Of these 33 multiple contenders, no fewer than 20 are women. Out of interest, 22 of our multiple contenders reached at least one semi final. Of these 22 - 12 are women. 8 of our multiple contenders have reached a final. Of these 8, 6 are men and 2 are women. I'm not trying to make some deep and meaningful point about the difference between the sexes.I just find it interesting that , bearing in mind that far fewer women take part in Mastermind than men, more women go on to become multiple contenders than men.

If we leave the gender issue aside, then we can say that proportionately more quadruple contenders make finals than quintuple or triple contenders.So, my rather tongue in cheek conclusions are that your best chance of appearing in a semi final, or a final, is to appear in four series. Then remembering what I've already said about specialist subjects in a previous blog, your best bet is to take something literary when you do appear, which will also increase your chances. However, unfortunately, the evidence such as it is suggests that once you go past your 4th series, your chances start to decline.

Actually, I never meant to get so bogged down with the stats when I started writing this. Really, it was just the fact that the discussion on the forum made me think about just how many people had made multiple appearences, and why you'd do it. I mean I say this, but if I hadn't won last year there's every good chance I would have gone on to become a multiple contender myself. Curiously enough, I think that if I had lost in the final, then that might have been enough, and I might have been satisfied enough to call it a day. If I had lost in the semis, then I'm sure I would have applied again.

As to why people make multiple appearences, I can only talk about what I actually know. Personally I have played against quadruple contender Sheila Altree, and triple contender Alastair Finch in the 2007 semi final, and quadruple contender Stewart Cross, and triple contender Derek Moody in the 2007 final. But I can't say that we really talked about why they all kept coming back for more. In Alastair's case, in his previous two appearences he'd lost in the first round, and been very unsatisfied with his own performance in General Knowledge in one of them, so I guess it was as much about proving a pint to himself as anything else. I did ask him after the show if he felt it was likely that he'd apply again or not, and he said that he probably wouldn't now. I had no idea about Sheila's chequered history with the show until months later when I read about her in Magnus Magnusson's "I've Started So I'll Finish " - the beautifully written history of the first 25 years of the show. When Alastair was telling us all about his previous appearences Sheila didn't share any of her own previous experiences. Stewart is interesting because he has appeared in all the different BBC versions of the show. He'd never made it as far as the semis in any of his previous appearences - perhaps there was an element of giving it one last shot there. As for Derek, in his previous appearence he'd been the highest scoring loser, and stand in for the final, so you can see that it really must have been a case of unfinished business for him.

Out of interest, there are currently 5 champions who appeared in at least one earlier series unsuccessfully. These are

Kevin Ashman - semi finalist 1987 - winner 1995
Robert Gibson - semi finalist 1993 - winner 1998
Christopher Carter - contender 1984 - winner 1999
Geoff Thomas - semi finalist 1994 - finalist 2003 - winner 2006
David Clark - contender 2006 - winner 2007

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