Saturday, 28 February 2009

I've finally seen "Slumdog Millionaire"

Warning - This may contain Spoilers

Well, I have finally found the time to go and see "Slumdog Millionaire". What can I say that hasn't already been said about the film, especially since its 8 oscar haul last week? Probably nothing original, but for what its worth, here's my two penn'orth.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, its about a quiz show, but actually it isn't about the show as much as you might think. What you're most interested in is what the film shows you about the hero, Jamal's life, which put him in a position to be able to answer the questions on the show itself. After what I'd heard and read about the film I found it interesting that possibly the biggest villain in the film is the question master. If you haven't seen the film I can promise you that this guy is VERY different from Chris Tarrant ! The last film I can remember with a crooked question master in a game show was Arnold Shwarzenegger's "The Running Man". Of course, that was set in the future, and the show itself doesn't exist in real life, thank God. Out of interest the host in "The Running Man" , Killian, was played by Richard Dawson, the real life presenter of "Family Feud" , the US original of "Family Fortunes". Small world.

I'll be honest, when I heard that the film was centered on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire ? " I really didn't want to go to see it. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I still feel a certain amount of shame at my own performance on Millionaire, and so the thought of the flashbacks that this might bring on made me think twice. However when my line manager at work explained to me a very rough outline of the first half of the film or so, then my interest was raised. I'm glad that I went. Yes, in the end the film is a fantasy, but its a fantasy with an attitude, and huge patches of dark as well as light.

Is it the best film ever made about a game show or a quiz show ? Well, it hasn't really had that much competition. After all, what have you got : -
The Running Man ( fictional murderous game show of the future )
Quiz Show - the story of the real life quiz show rigging scandal in the USA in the 1950s
Starter for Ten - based on David Nicholl's humourous novel about an appearence on University Challenge
Public Domain - I haven't seen this one myself, but my sources call it a black comedy where contestants win money for having the most pathetic life. The contestants don't even know they're playing - shades of "The Truman Show".

The success of the film moves me to ask whether we're going to be inundated by a glut of gameshow based movies. Just in case I have prepared some helpful titles: -

Fifteen to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
All About Eve-ry Second Counts
A Beautiful Mastermind

and of course

The Man With the Golden Shot.

You heard it here first.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Mastermind Heat 19 - Weekend Mini Quiz

Mastermind - First Round heat 19 of 24

Three newcomers this week, and a contender we last saw in 2006. For the second week running two female contenders featured in the same heat, and it was one of these, Paula Keaveney who had a go in 2006. I should probably come clean too that I know Mike Foden since we post on the same internet forum, which is not to say that he dropped any hints before the show about how he got on.

Perhaps the spotlight was on the women following the media fuss over Gail Trimble since Monday night's University Challenge Grand Final. They certainly appeared good value in their Specialist subjects. Anne Fallow kicked off with a round on John Wesley. These questions were no picnic, and 11 looked like a good score, although not enough to put her in pole position going into General Knowledge.

Paula Keaveney offered us this week's popular culture round on "Seinfeld". Before anyone suggests that this was a soft option, perhaps they might like to reflect on the fact that there were in fact something like 180 episodes of the series. 14 looked like a very good score, and even more so when you consider that back in 2006 she answered on the Rebus novels of Ian Rankin and scored 11.

Mike Foden was answering questions on Russian artist Kazemir Malevich. It is to my shame that I admit that I have never heard of him. This makes it difficult for me to judge how fair the questions were. Some of them seemed rather long-winded, but maybe that was just my imagination. Scoring 9, Mike had a bit of a mountain to climb in the General Knowledge round.

Last up was retired teacher Colin Clayton, who was answering on this week's 'good old History subject' - the Wars of the Roses. That's a broad subject, and in this reviewer's opinion he did well to score 11.

John Humphrys decided not to risk displaying his ignorance about Kazimir Malevich, and concentrated on Mike's work as a charge nurse. Mike's a good quizzer, and it showed in the GK round, which he took steadily and confidently, posting a very useful 12 to set the bar at 21, ven though he had to put up with John Humphrys telling him off for passing on the definition of a dormer window. Ann Fallow talked engagingly about John Wesley, and that is surely no easy task. She didn't quite manage to get into double figures on GK. She did answer some very good questions, but wasn't up on popular culture enough to recognise the guest list of the very last Parkinson TV show. Colin Clayton informed us that the term "The Wars of the Roses" was first used in a book by Sir Walter Scott, which is a new one on me, so I was glad for once that there's no tie break, which means we get the full amount of chat. Shame thought it is, Mr. Clayton seems to lose all of his concentration as he falls into a pass spiral in the middle of his round, and only manages to pull out of it in the last half a minute. John Humphrys seems to be something of a Seinfeld fan , and he compares the show favourably to Friends, about which he said "They're all horrible, aren't they ? " Paula Keavney doesn't have a long way to go, needing 8 points to win ouright, but she takes quite a long time to get there, confusing Road Runner with Wile E. Coyote and Ben Gunn with Long John Silver. She makes it with about half a minute to spare, and breaks into double figures as she finishes on 24.

Off the point, one of the General Knowledge questions tonight asked what was the name of the character Pete Beale's sister in Eastenders. The answer was Pauline Fowler, who was played by the late Wendy Richard, who sadly passed away earlier this week.

So, Paula Keaveney becomes the fifth woman to qualify for the semi finals this season. How far can she go ? Who knows ? However, the name Keaveney is not unknown in Mastermind circles. The 1986 champion was Jennifer Keaveney. Is this an omen ? Time alone will tell.

The Details
Ann Fallow John Wesley 11 - 3 9 - 3 20 - 6
Paula Keaveney Seinfeld 14 - 1 10 - 5 24 - 6
Mike Foden Kazimir Malevich 9 - 4 12 - 1 21 - 5
Colin Clayton The Wars of the Roses 11 - 2 8 - 4 19 - 6

Answers to the Weekend Mini Quiz

Round One - The Arks

1) From which wood were - a) Noah's Ark and - b) The Ark of the Covenant made ?
a) Gopher Wood - b) Acacia

2) How old was Noah when he died ?
950 years old

3) In the film "Raiders of the Lost Ark" , in which Egyptian city was the Ark of the Covenant found ?

4) Controversial writer Graham Hancock wrote a book called "The Sign and the Seal" which put forward his view that the Ark of the Covenant is being kept in a church in which country ?
Ethiopia - in the church o St. Mary of Sion in Axum

5) Which Apollo astronaut made high profile expeditions to Mount Ararat to search for the remains of the Ark ?
James Irwin

Round Two - General Knowledge

1) Two British world Middleweight boxing champions fought Sugar Ray Robinson during their careers. Randolph Turpin was one. Who was the other ?
Answer - Terry Downes - towards the end of Robinson's long career

2) Who once famously voiced Maggie in "The Simpsons" ?
Elizabeth Taylor

3) Which Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced VAT in the 1970s ?
Anthony Barber

4) Which disused London Underground station is maintained so that it can be used for filming etc. ?

5) Who or what is Restless D'Artaix ?
The horse that gave Tony McCoy his 3000th winner

Weekend Mini Quiz Five

Round One - Comics and Cartoons

1) What is widely reckoned to be the first ever comic cartoon strip in the UK ?

2) Which cartoon strip featured on the very first page of the very first ever Dandy ?

3) After the "Captain Marvel" comic strip was sued out of existence in the USA, he lived on in the UK in Britain in the 50s as 'Marvelman'. Instead of Shazam - what was Marvelman's word of power - and how was it derived ?

4) When The Perishers cartoon strip from the Daily Mirror was transferred to television, which very famous comic actor provided the voices ?

5) Who created the Flash Gordon cartoon strip, which led to the film serials, starring Buster Crabbe ?

Round Two - General Knowledge

1) If you went into a building in Wales which had the word "Dynion" upon it, what would you be entering ?

2) What does the 'C' in JCB stand for ?

3) Which is the only property on the Monopoly board which contains all the letters of the word Monopoly ?

4) Which was the new women's track event in Athletics that featured for the first time in the Beijing Olympics of 2008 ?

5) Leonard Nimoy's second autobiography was titled "I am Spock" - what was his first one called ?

Same as always - just for fun - answers will be posted next weekend - drop me a line if you can't wait till then.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Nobody told me there'd be days like these

Strange Days indeed

What an unusual day or two its been ! My last entry was a review of Monday's Grand Final of University Challenge. What a nice surprise to find an email in my inbox from Lauren Schwartzman of the victorious Corpus Christi team. She read the review, and took the time and trouble to drop me a line thanking me for my comments. Niceness as well as brilliance - that's a hell of a combination in one person !

If you're reading this blog then I'll lay odds that you either watched the Grand Final, or that you've noticed a lot of the media interest in the final, and in particular in the captain of Corpus Christi, Gail Trimble. My admiration for Gail Trimble as a quizzer is a matter of public record. Just read the blogs about the quarter finals and the semi finals and you'll see. But that's all I feel that I have any right to comment on. As for all of the other nonsense there's been in the media over the last couple of days, I would ask people to consider that the television is very much a mirror that distorts. When you watch a person competing in a show like University Challenge, or Mastermind, or Battle of the Brains, or Millionaire, or whatever, you are seeing one small part of what makes that person what he or she is, a small part that the magic box magnifies. You may see someone on the television, and think that you know them. You don't. The only people qualified to make any judgements about a contestant on a TV show, like Miss Trimble, or like me, for that matter, are people who actually know them, have met them, and spent some time with them.

I would imagine that people reading this blog are fully aware of this anyway. Still, the media have sniffed out a story. Maybe like me you tuned on BBC Breakfast News yesterday to see Gail Trimble being interviewed. The keynote to the interview wasn't - Hasn't your team done well ? - - but rather - Haven't there been some nasty things said about you personally on people's blogs ? - So I was surprised, but not totally flabbergasted, when a very nice journalist from none other than The Times rang me up yesterday, to ask me some questions about how my life has changed since winning Mastermind, as part of an article about what happens to you after you win on television. To which the answer is - it hasn't, not really, or not in any way that really matters. The feature appeared in the Times this morning, and it was lovely to see myself quoted amongst such distinctive company . Then later in the evening, I received an email and a phonecall from a journalist who works for The Sunday Telegraph ! As no article can possibly appear until this Sunday, I'm going to play my cards close to my chest on this one for the time being.


I actually watched the final in the bar of the Aberkenfig Social Club. I'd been asked to play for the club in Monday night's game, and we met up there before going on to the quiz itself. Oh dear.

The discontent started when we arrived at the opposition's pub at the same time as the opposition team did. The former chairman of the league recognised John. He has problems with his vision, so he didn't recognise me at all. However when I told him my name he remembered. Immediately the other team started to mutter amongst themselves, and we could hear comments about 'taking it all too seriously ' and 'win at all costs' being passed between them. I'm not saying that this wouldn't have happened if the fixture had just been a normal league match. However I am sure that what made it worse was the fact that this was the semi final of the cup competition.

Now, I didn't actually know that this was a cup game when I was asked to play. Probably to my discredit I am not sure that it would have made a lot of difference to me even if I had known. Still, when we were both teams seated, and the question master ready to start, the captain of the opposition decided to air his views. I didn't know this chap at the time, and I still don't, but his first words were,
"As vice-chairman of the league . . . " Oh dear. With a heavy heart I listened as he went on to say that he wanted it put on record that playing John and myself on this night went against the spirit of the league and was morally wrong, and he would be making it an issue in the committee's next meeting. Under the circumstances I didn't know whether to make a spirited defence of myself, or to withdraw gracefully from the team. In the event I did neither, which was probably the only really sensible course of action. I sat there, and didn't get involved.

We played the quiz. The outcome was a heavy win to us. I would be lying if I didn't say that I really enjoyed the quiz. That's not actually because of the animosity which John and I were shown from the other team, and its not because we won heavily. Its because it was a proper quiz competition. I've always enjoyed the quiz league format,and its been getting on for three years since I played in one. But the arguments started as soon as the quiz ended. There seems to have been some past history between John and the vice chairman, and this was all raked over again. John got quite hot under the collar, and I'm sorry to say, only one member of the opposition deigned to shake my hand.

The worst thing is I don't think anyone is going to come out of this as a winner. The Aberkenfig Social team are through to the final of the cup competition. However I can only guess that this is going to be the cause of some bad feeling between them and the other teams in the league, certainly between them and the team we defeated on Monday. The team we defeated came across as a group of sore losers, and they are out of the cup. John feels extremely annoyed, and being a man of dignity and integrity I can't see him playing for a League team again. Which is a shame, because it is an enjoyable quiz. As for me, well what I feel is this. I was surprised earlier in the year when two other good quiz friends of mine were both approached and asked to play for a team in the League. I was right there with them, and I wasn't asked. It has been said to me by someone quite close to the movers and shakers in the league that people don't want to have me playing in the league because of the Mastermind thing. After this I fear that I may never get a chance to play in the league again.

To some extent I can understand their point of view. As I have said before, Bridgend have managed to keep a quiz league going at a time when all the other local leagues seem to have been folding. Not only is the league going, it still has two divisions, which is rather wonderful in this day and age. I can accept that people wouldn't be happy if they thought that I was going to upset the balance of power within the league. I can see why the team we played on Monday night were as indignant as they were, although I don' t think that was any excuse for snubbing me afterwards as three of them did. I'm sure that many of us have had the experience of having to play against a team reinforced with 'ringers' in the past, and its not pleasant, especially since , in their eyes, it robbed them of any chance of making it through to the cup final.

Its such a shame though, because this was a good quiz, and if any team wanted me to play for them next season, I'd agree like a shot.


On a more positive note, my appeal for quiz show competitors to stand up and be recognised seems to be bearing fruit. I confidently expect to be able to post a new hero of the week within a couple of days, when two correspondents get back to me with a few details they have agreed to provide me with. Watch this space.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Stop Press - University Challenge Grand Final

University Challenge Grand Final - Monday 23rd February

Its been a marvellous series, with some terrific teams, and tonight it all finally came to a climax with the grand Final. And what a final it was ! Could Manchester University's all round excellence overcome the brilliant Gail Trimble and her Corpus Christi team ?

Well, for a long time it looked as if, yes, they could. The Manchester team's swiftness on the buzzer saw them race off to an early lead, converting bonuses into points as they went. It was a brilliant team effort, with the starters being shared around all the team, reminiscent of their victory over Lincoln, Oxford in the semi final, as they were comprehensively winning the buzzer race. Gail Trimble seemed to be suffering from an off night, and we were even treated to the incredibly rare sight of her buzzing in early with an incorrect answer to a starter.

Still, what we hadn't seen so far this series was how well the rest of the Corpus Christi team could perform when Gail Trimble was having an off night. The first fifteen minutes of the show answered the question. Miss Schwartzman particularly impressed with some particularly swift and timely starters at a time in the competition when Manchester were in danger of disappearing beyond the event horizon, but in all honesty it was by a team effort that Corpus Christi managed to haul themselves back into contention. They had one attempt to take the lead about ten minutes from the end, but failed to convert any of the bonuses.

Manchester didn't panic though, and when Paxman announced there were four minutes to go, there was still daylight between the teams. Then Gail Trimble found her form. Bang - bang - bang - the starters fell to her imperious buzzing, and suddenly it was Manchester who were watching Corpus Christi leaving them trailing. By the end, Corpus Christi won by a comfortable margin, 275 to 190, but all of this lead was achieved in an incredible sprint finish over the last few minutes. Yes, in the last few minutes Manchester, like all of Corpus Christi's opponents this year, were 'Trimbled', but have no doubt, it needed the rest of the team to put her in a position where this tremendous finishing burst could prove decisive.

Poet Wendy Cope, who presented the trophy to the magnificent Corpus Christi team, did say that up to the last few minutes she thought that Manchester had done it. So, I must admit, did I . Congratulations to Jeremy Paxman. People can easily underestimate the contribution that a question master makes to a quiz. Tonight he obviously enjoyed the Final as much as we viewers - one look at his face confirmed this.

So, commiserations to Manchester. They were a fabulous team, who gave Corpus Christi the fright of their lives, and I would say came within a couple of starters of achieving an unassailable lead going into the last few minutes of the contest. Huge congratulations to the Corpus Christi team. This series has been notable for the high quality of a large number of the teams, so to run out worthy winners, as they are, is an achievement indeed. Well done, and thanks to all the teams for all the pleasure you have given us this series.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Who you calling too serious ?

Yes, it IS only a game - but sometimes games matter

Let us begin, as we often do, with a quotation, in fact, lets begin with a couple.
"If winning isn't important, why do they keep score?"
Vince Lombardi said that. He, you may remember, was the semi legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, winners of the first two Superbowls. Then we have
"I am what I am and that's all I am. "
One of the great thinkers of our time said this one, none other than Popeye the Sailor Man.

While I'm on the subject of Popeye, you might be interested to know that Popeye was not always the star of the comic strip which came to bear his name. Created by Elzie Chrisler Segar, it was originally called Thimble Theatre - and Popeye wasn't even in it for the first few months. Olive Oyl's original boyfriend was a banana nosed cretin called Ham Gravy, who was the foil for her conman brother Castor Oyl. When Popeye first appeared, he didn't show any of his superpowers either, and it was only gradually that spinach came to be used as the explanation for his powers.

Why I mention Popeye's maxim is because I do think some of us probably do take our quizzes too seriously, but then that's just the way that we are, and there is precious little in the long run that you can do about it. Mastermind 2008 semi-finalist James Corcoran was kind enough to leave a comment on one of last week's entries,and one of the things he said was that he expected that when other people taking part in a pub quiz find out that I won Mastermind they probably want to give up and go home on the spot. Well, there are a couple of answers to this. Firstly, you don't go broadcasting the fact that you won Mastermind in an average pub quiz. Anyway,its sad to say, but Mastermind isn't as well established in the Nation's consciousness as once it was. Secondly, we don't always win ! Then even in those places where someone actually watched the final they're usually pretty nice about it.

With one exception. The Red Dragon pub in Litchard, near Bridgend, does a quiz every Sunday night. Although there's a prize its set for the benefit of non quizzers, and as a result its of limited interest to regular quizzers. However there's also a jackpot round of five questions. A few months ago John and I gave it a try, and scooped a pot of £150. That's a very nice payday for a Sunday evening. So a fortnight later we went back, and scooped another jackpot of £50. Just as we were leaving, the former chairman of the Bridgend Quiz League turned up. I had never met him before, but John knows him. As I introduced myself he fixed me in the eye with a hard stare, and said
"Oh, I know who you are. You're the feller from Port Talbot who won Mastermind."
and the tone he said it in was almost that of an accusation. I thought of reaching for my colt 45 and hissing "You better smile when you say that, pardner", but made do with just sort of grinning and mumbling in the affirmative.We left as soon as we could without being impolite. However two days later John was passed a message from the landlady, to the effect of - that's it, you've been rumbled by the ex-chairman, he's told me who you are, I'd appreciate it if you don't come back on a Sunday night. -

I have been banned from playing in a quiz once before, although this was before Mastermind. A pub in Neath, to which I have no intention of giving any free publicity, started displaying a banner outside advertising a Tuesday night quiz with a £100 first prize. This place really had never been on the map as far as pub quizzes were concerned. Still , John and I thought that it would be worth a go. When we got there, we played dumb, and acted as if we were only entering the quiz as a bit of a laugh. There was a catch to the quiz, though, since you had to score at least 50 out of 60 to scoop the money. We scored about 54. Two weeks later we went back and did the same thing. I went back two weeks after that, and was sent packing by the landlord. I don't blame him that much, but I did think his justification was a load of old toot. He said
"Listen, if a prize is there, as far as I'm concerned its there to be won, but I have a lot of regulars in here who know that you only ever come in here to win the money. This is a nice friendly quiz and they think you take it too seriously etc. etc.. . . "

I told him that there's no such thing as a friendly quiz when there's £100 at stake, but I was going out of the door as I said it.

So, returning to the issue in hand, it was the former Chairman of the Bridgend quiz league who exerted his influence to have us banned from playing in the Red Dragon quiz. Now, as I mentioned last week, John has been asked to guest for a team in the Bridgend League. He's played the last two Mondays, and he's playing again tomorrow night. And so am I. Apparently the team we're playing against is the team containing this same former chairman of the League. We've checked on League rules to make sure that we're eligible for the team, and yes, we both are. There used to be a rule that you could only play in the league if you lived in Bridgend, but that was scrapped years ago. As long as you haven't played for another team in the same season, you're eligible. I can't wait until we see his face when the two of us walk in tomorrow night. Don't misunderstand me, I enjoy playing in league quizzes anyway, but I have to say that this one tomorrow night is a little bit personal. This is serious.

Am I wrong ? Well, probably some people would think so. Yes, I do know that when people say to us - you shouldn't play because you take it too seriously - a lot of the time they really mean - I don't want you to play because you're very good and you'll probably beat me - , and in a way I suppose I should be flattered. But it can really rankle. Far from being some kind of narrow - eyed, win-at-all-costs quiz monster, I'd like to know who else would go so far out of their way to give other teams a more than fair chance. I'll try to explain what I mean -

* It would be easy to go to the same cash prize quiz every Sunday night, and win the majority of times. But we take care never to go to the same Sunday quiz two weeks in a row. That way there is a different winner apart from us every other week, and if we lose, then we only win one quiz in four. So at least half the quizzes in any given year are won by other teams. In reality its usually a bit more than half.

* We are prepared to go anywhere within about a 30 mile radius on a Sunday night, just to avoid hitting the same places too often.

* Many of the places we go we see teams cheating with phones, swapping answers with each other, even looking things up in books ! Yet we never make a fuss, and never even draw the question master's attention to it. We see ourselves as visitors rather than regulars, and as such we are always on our best behaviour.

* If we lose we always make a point of going up and offering our congratulations to the winning team, however we think their win might have been achieved. If they want, we always try and stop with a chat for them for a while.

* If we win we are always open for a chat with other teams, and we never rise to any barbed comments which may be made.

* Whenever we've been asked to supply a set of questions in any particular place, we've always done it with good grace, even though it means that one of us is sitting doing nothing that evening.

*We never go to a pub quiz mob-handed. Nine times out of ten its just John and me, and on rare occasions we are joined by my daughter Phillippa, who is not a quizzer. We usually play against teams of 5 or 6, and often against teams of as many as 8 or 9.Yet in many places the entry fee is per team, not per person, so we are paying proportionately more to play.

I've never been particularly gifted in terms of sporting ability. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love sport, but I've never been much good at it. In terms of rugby I was lucky to get into Goldsmith's College 2nd XV. In my day we weren't much good, and I think we only won one of our matches when I was playing. It didn't mean that we said that the other teams shouldn't be allowed to play because they were much better than we were. After all, it was for fun, we weren't playing for trophies or anything. In my jogging days I twice ran in the Swansea Bay 10k fun run. I didn't complain that Steve Brace and a team of Kenyan runners shouldn't be allowed to run because they were proper runners who could do it half an hour quicker than I could. Nor would I have expected them to slow down and let some of us amateurs win. For the life of me, I can't see what the difference is between this and what goes on in pub quizzes. If you enter any competition you do so in the implicit understanding that there is every good chance that someone else in the competition is better than you are.

Quizzing is a broad church. Its one of the few competitive games where the rank amateur can compete alongside the world class. I count myself as a serious quizzer, and if I am competing in a pub quiz I would expect to rarely be beaten. But then next month I will be playing in the quiz event at the Rhwbina Club in Cardiff. In the individual event I will be delighted if I manage a solid mid- table finish. Because that's my level as a quizzer, Mastermind win notwithstanding. It would be stupid for me to expect to come up to the standard of an Ashman, a Gibson, a Bytheway, or other quizzers of that level because I'm not at that level. But I can still play in the same quiz as these giants, and measure myself against them, and that's the point.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Weekend Mini Quiz Four

Weekend Mini Quiz Four

Round One - The Arks

1) From which wood were a) Noah's Ark and b) The Ark of the Covenant made ?

2) How old was Noah when he died ?

3) In the film "Raiders of the Lost Ark", in which Egyptian city was the Ark of the Covenant found ?

4) Controversial writer Graham Hancock wrote a book called "The Sign and the Seal " which put forward his view that the Ark of the Covenant is being kept in a church in which country ?

5) Which Apollo astronaut made high profile expeditions to Mount Ararat to search for remains of the Ark ?

Round Two - General Knowledge

1) Two British World Middleweight boxing champions fought Sugar Ray Robinson during their careers. Randolph Turpin was one. Who was the other ?

2) Who famously once voiced Maggie in "The Simpsons" ?

3) Who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who introduced VAT in the 1970s ?

4) Which disused London Underground station is maintained so that it can be used for filming etc. ?

5) Who or what is Restless D'Artaix ?

answers next weekend - as usual, drop me a line if you can't wait. Meanwhile, here's last week's -

Answers to Weekend Mini Quiz Three

Round One - Happy Valentines

1) Anthony Valentine played "Raffles" in the ITV Tv series, but who played his sidekick Bunny, and what was Bunny's surname ?
Answer - Christopher Strauli played Bunny Manders
2) Which Roman Emperor condemned St. Valentine to death ?
Answer - Claudius II
3) For what reason was St. Valentine executed ?
Answer - Getting married while in the roman army
4) Valentine was one of two what in Shakespeare ?
Answer - Gentlemen of Verona - Proteus was the other
5)Which Valentine played the Black Guardian in the Key to Time season of Dr. Who ?
Answer - Valentine Dyall - who also played the Man in Black on the radio

General Knowledge
1) Whose father was called Poopdeck ?
Answer - Popeye the Sailor Man
2) Which british butterfly has the scientific name inachis io ?
Answer - the Peacock Butterfly
3) Which element makes up between 15 and 20% of the alloy pewter ( and for a bonus, which element USED to make up 15 - 20 % of pewter ?
Answer - Now - Antimony - Previously - Lead
4) Fifty years ago, when the austin mini first went on the market, how much change would you have got out of £500 if you bought one ?
Answer - 10 pennies
5) Norse Mythology - what killed the God Baldur ?
Answer - mistletoe

Friday, 20 February 2009

TV Watch - Mastermind - Battle of the Brains

Mastermind - First Round Heat 18 of 24

A check on my list of past contenders reveals that once again we have four newcomers. Bearing in mind my piece earlier this week on the performance of women in Mastermind, and the fact that we are overdue another woman champion, it was interesting that there were two women in the heat this week.

First up was Anne South. Her interestingly different specialist subject was Chester Zoo. Apparently Chester Zoo was one of the first devoted to moving away from the concept of a zoo as being animals in cages. I thought that she had some nasty questions, in particular there was one where she had to take a deep breath before giving an answer which required her to use a quadruple-barrelled surname ! That's below the belt. So in the circumstances a score of 9 was something of a triumph over adversity.
Christopher Boote offered us a specialist subject that would not have looked out of place in any Mastermind series since 1972, the Father Brown stories of G.K. Chesterton. He too had a lot of long questions, but dealt with them well to score 12, so he was still very much in the running at the half way stage. Hugh Brady took on The Life and Career of Sir Edward Carson, and made a pretty good job of if too. This despite the fact that John Humphrys fell back into his annoying habit of repeating back some of the correct answer, instead of getting on with asking the next question.
Finishing off the first round, Caroline Fitzsimons gave us Tony Hancock, our popular culture subject for this week, albeit one more suitable for the over 50's than the under 40's. She maybe was expecting to be asked quite a bit more about his life, and less about nitpicking details of individual shows, and this was reflected in her score of 7.

So Caroline Fitzsimons returned to the chair first of all for General Knowledge. I don't think that our John can be much of a Hancock fan, since he spent his couple of minutes discussing the contender's profession as a District Nurse. Her progress through the round was slow, but steady, and she had some good answers. She reached the magical double figures, scoring a pretty decent 10 , for 17 overall.
Anne South was drawn by John Humphrys into a spirited defence of modern zoos, and forced from him the statement that old style zoos were horrible places. Her round too was a slow and steady one, but she reached the magical 10 as well, pushing the target up to 19. John Humphrys expressed the opinion that Father Brown was a rather unusual detective. I thought that was the point. Novels about very mundane, everyday detectives don't tend to sell that well. Apparently, he was based on father John O'Connor, a friend of Chesterton. After this revelation, unfortunately Christopher Boote fell in the middle of his round into a pass spiral, after starting quickly. He managed to pull out of the death dive in the last 30 seconds to score a respectable 9 for 21, but this didn't look like it was going to be enough.
So Hugh Brady brought the round to a close. It was interesting that in their talk about Sir Edward Carson, John Humphrys concentrated almost entirely on the salacious trial of Oscar Wilde, and avoided the still politically sensitive issue of Home Rule. Mr. Brady's general knowledge round was an interesting round. IMHO he had a lot of very hard questions right, but missed some points on what looked like easier questions. Still, he scored 11 to win with a little bit to spare, on 24.

Everybody please repeat after me - anything can happen in the semi finals -Still, I will be interested to watch Mr. Brady's progress. I think he can do better in his GK round, and you never know, with an even better specialist round he could , just could, mount a serious challenge in the semis.

The Details

Anne South Chester Zoo9 - 410 - 4 19 - 8
Christopher BooteThe Father Brown Stories of GK Chesterton12 - 49 - 421 - 8
Hugh Brady Sir Edward Carson13 - 111 - 424 - 5
Caroline FitzsimonsTony Hancock7 -510 - 317 - 8

Battle of the Brains - BBC 2 - 6pm - Monday - Friday

Maybe its just because I post on the same internet forum as the members of this week's top team, the Quizzee Rascals, but I did enjoy this week's shows. I don't think that's the only reason , though. If you read my post about the show last week you'll know that I outlined some of the criticisms which were made of the show's first series, and the ways in which some of these criticisms seemed to be addressed, giving the show a cautious endorsement. I'm pleased to say that I've continued to enjoy it this week, thanks in no small part to the presence of the Quizzee Rascals.

The Quizzee Rascals have a pedigree which matches that of the fine teams we saw in the first series. What's more, as well as being a first class quizzer, Will Jones is also a regular reader of this blog, which makes him a man of rare wit and discretion. Captain Craig, and Andrew are fine quizzers. Viewers of the series "Are You An Egghead ? " may remember both Rob and Danielle as contestants. As for my internet friend Andy Page - well he was none other than the first Mastermind champion of the John Humphrys era, in 2003. As for Darren, well, Darren was also a finalist in 2003, and in Discovery Mastermind in 2001 as well. So it came as a relief to see the team debut on Tuesday, after the two teams on Monday's show failed to make an impression.

Leaving out the guess the numbers round is a huge plus. I do agree with people who say that it still works out that one person on each team only has the chance to answer one question, but at least it is the Who Am I question, where you may actually get several bites of the cherry. What a pleasure to see the team win £7000 on Wednesday for their pains. I think its a good idea to let the money roll over, a la Eggheads. A thousand quid each seems like a decent payday for the team. Having said that, the questions in the money round did become noticeably harder on Thursday and Friday. Whether this was deliberate or not I wouldn't like to say, but it certainly appeared like a conscious decision to allow the team only the one pay day.

I may be wrong, but I don't think Nicky is shouting quite so much now, either. I'm also delighted to report that Rob of Quizzee Rascals has told me that the team felt they were treated very well, and so the legitimate complaints aired by some of last year's teams seem to have been addressed.

Finishing with Newport

Well, its been half term this week, and so I have had a little bit of extra time on my hands. Since Sunday I've played in 4 quizzes, with a record of 2 wins, one second place, and, shame though it is to admit it, a last place. Lets deal with that one first.

I've discussed the Monday night quiz in Newport in this blog on a few occasions before. If you've read any of these you'll know that my bugbear with this quiz is the fact that the QM uses handicaps to supposedly counteract the ability gap between the teams. For me this came to a head on Monday night. Firstly the QM changed his mind, and a good team who were capable of beating us without any handicap had their head start upgraded from 0 to 4 points. Everyone except for us was given a head start. What made it all so unpalatable was that the handicaps bore no relations to the standard of quiz that was actually asked. There are times when the standard of questions that are asked will give the best teams the possibility of overcoming those teams who are given a 15 - 20 point head start. Then there are times when he standard of questions gives you no chance. What gets me is that the QM seems to have no conception of this at all. Monday night's wasn't a good quiz, and in each round of 20 there were 16 or 17 questions so easy that all the teams would get them right, and 3 questions so difficult that if you managed to get one of them you were doing really well. So I've come to the decision that I'm going to give this quiz a miss for a while from now on. Every week I whinge about it all the way home now, and I'm still angry about it on a Tuesday, so its better off to leave well alone, I think. I've chatted to Barry and Alan about it, and laid my cards on the table, and I'm glad I went on Monday rather than leaving them in the lurch. At least now they've got time to make up their own minds what they want to do.

Sunday, then, was the Culverhouse Hotel. We'd never lost this quiz before Sunday night. As it was it couldn't have been much closer. We lost by 71 points to 72. To use the vernacular, I think we've been rumbled. We're not very good at picture quiz handouts. Up to now every handout has been a written one requiring some amount of knowledge, rather than facial recognition. In terms of team size, when it comes to picture quizzes bigger is very often better, and the two of us were beaten by a team of 8 or 9 people. I think we've made our mark though, as there was a massive cheer when it was announced that we'd been beaten. That's fair enough. If you didn't lose now and again, then you wouldn't get so much pleasure from winning. I just hope they don't realise that it was the pictures that proved our achilles heel. I wouldn't put it past the QM to use pictures every week from now on if he does.

Tuesday night was Cowbridge. I only go to this once in a blue moon, because its a bit of a journey, and its a little irresponsible for me to be doing more than one midweek quiz during term time. But then it is half term this week, and so that proved no obstacle. Its a good quiz, 40 questions and a bonus jackpot round. We messed up 2 questions on football managers in the lower division of the English League, and another two on other things, to score 43 - some of the questions carried more than one point. This score was matched by two other teams, so it was announced that there would be a tie break. I smiled, since I knew that my quiz partner, the mighty Davies, is the King of the Tie Break. My daughter Phillippa and I sat back , and left it to John.
"In which year was Coca Cola invented ? "
was the question. John immediately jotted down 1884, and strolled over to hand it to the QM. Actually, he was one year out, since its 1885, but it was still close enough, and we got another one to add to the win column.

On Wednesday I wanted to go to the cinema to see "Slumdog Millionaire". However my local cinema only had it on once a day , the late showing. Mary didn't want to come with me, neither did Phillippa. Now, if it had been earlier in the day, then I would have gone on my own anyway. But going alone to the late showing like Billy No-Mates just wasn't on. And I am fully aware that when its written down on the page that appears even more sad and pathetic than it felt at the time.

Yesterday brought a phonecall from Andrew Pugh, of the Neath Port Talbot Guardian. He's been reading the blog - so you see, you are in good company. They're thinking about doing a follow up article . So we had a very pleasant conversation for a while. One thing he'd picked up on was the entry I made about the tie break in a quiz in the Haywain a few weeks back . He was interested in the idea that there are facts - like the fact that there are 336 dimples on a golf ball - that the average person on the street wouldn't know, but a regular quizzer would, and he asked if I could send them some. So I sent him these five : -

) Which actor, who played the villain in a Bond film, was actually a cousin of Bond's creator, Ian Fleming ?
(Answer - Christopher Lee, who played Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun )

2) Which rank in the Royal Air Force is equivalent to a Major in the Army and a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy ?
(Answer - Squadron Leader )

3) In the Bible, who or what killed a quarter of the world's population ?
(Answer - Cain , who killed his brother Abel when there were only 4 human beings )

4) In which part of the UK are cars banned ?
(Answer - the Island of Sark , in the Channel Isles )

5) FA Cup. Sunderland did it in 1979. Villa did it in 1981. Who did it in 1980 ?
( Answer - ALAN Sunderland scored the winner in the final in 1979 - RICKY Villa did it in 1981 - so the answer is Trevor Brooking, who scored the winner in 1980 !)

Then yesterday evening was the quiz in Aberavon Rugby Club. I haven't lost a quiz there this year yet, although its bound to happen soon. The only 2 quizzes that my team has lost in 2009 were the ones where I was question master ! We looked to be in trouble since there were only three of us. Not only that but our main rivals, the Lemurs had both of their very good quizzers in their team last night. In my experience, if you have one very good all rounder in your team, and none of the others teams do, then you're favourites to win. Well, we had one in our team - yours truly ( arrogant, I know ) . However Lemurs had two - which made them the favourites. It was nip and tuck all evening, all square going into the last round, but we eked out 2 points more than Lemurs did. Even allowing for the fact that they got a point back on the picture handout, that still gave us a 1 point win.

That, thinking about it, is what its all about for me. We won a few bob for second place on Sunday, and a bit more for winning on Tuesday, but that meant nothing compared to the satisfaction of winning a good quiz, against a very good team.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

My Uncle Won A Crackerjack Pencil

TV Top of the Form - Celebrity Contestant finally Unearthed !

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I made an appeal for anyone who appeared as a contestant on TV Top of the Form , or Blockbusters, to get in contact by dropping me an email so that I could pay belated tribute to their appearences on said shows.

Well, I have to tell you now that I have thus far received no replies. The quest, as they say , continues. However I found this little site on the net earlier, and if you are interested on reading a few personal recollections of taking part in the show, and the international version - Transworld Top Team - then you might find it of interest -

However, according to wikipedia, we do have a celebrity contestant ! The informant who suggested to me that both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mother Theresa of Calcutta had appeared on the show in their younger days was, apparently, pulling my leg. However, we have unearthed a genuine celebrity contestant. Yes, none other than Hugh Grant made his first appearence in front of the cameras playing for Latymer Upper School ! Like all the other contestants, Hugh has not yet emailed me, but being that, like me, he is a good old West London boy, I'm sure its only a matter of time, and I await his recollections with interest.

Before we leave Top of the Form, I notice that one of my very favourite contemporary poets, Carol Ann Duffy, actually wrote a poem called
"The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form team "
If you'd like to read it, then follow this link
As far as I know this is purely imaginary - I don't believe that she ever appeared on the show herself. Certainly not in 1964 - she was too young at the time.

As for Blockbusters, as well as Stephen Merchant it appears that former Big Brother contestant and Brainiac Presenter Jon Tickle also appeared in the show, as one of the two contestant teams, rather than on his own. There is also a persistent rumour that Blue Peter's Konnie Huq - an Ealing girl ! - appeared as a contestant, but up to now I have found no corroborating evidence of this, so until such time as any is forthcoming we probably have to discount this. However, here I really need to make an apology. I have actually played against a successful Blockbusters contestant ! Yes, none other than Mastermind 2007 finalist Anna Torpey ! Like Jon Tickle she was one half of a team of two, and I believe that they won all 3 gold runs that you were entitled to at that time in the show's history.

Conversations with quiz friends have led me to broaden the challenge. So as well as "Top of the Form" and "Blockbusters", I'd also absolutely love to hear from anyone who ever appeared on "Ask The Family". My father , when he was sober, threatened a couple of times to apply for us to go on the show. Mum, me, and either of my brothers would have done alright, but he'd have really struggled unless they had a round of questions on Autumn Gold Cider and Old Holborn. However, I digress. I can't find any record of anyone going on to achieve fame after an early appearence on the show, but that really doesn't matter. If you ever appeared on "Ask The Family", please, please please drop me an email, and share your experience with me.

Actually, come to think of it, lets go even further. If you've ever appeared on any TV show - and you'd be prepared to answer a few question for me about it, then I will personally see to it that your achievement is publicly recognised in this blog.
You can contact me at
So in this bold spirit, let us pay tribute to our first

Hero of the Week

Yes, the first hero of the week is actually my uncle,

Dennis Joyce

who selflessly, and for the entertainment and amusement of others appeared in

Double or Drop - in - Crackerjack

Yes, back in the days of Eamonn Andrews, my uncle won a Crackerjack pencil. Now how many of you out there can make that proud boast ?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Will we have a woman champion ?

In my recent blog entry on Mastermind India I remarked upon the fact that three out of the five champions were women, and commented that its high time that Mastermind had another woman as champion. My contention was that there are enough good women quizzers out there.

Its an interesting question to ask - have women performed worse than men in the show since it returned to BBC TV ? I've been taking a look at the statistics since the return of the series to BBC TV, and this is what emerges. There are many points to make, many inferences you can draw. So here they are, in no particular order : -

* Women have made up between 17 % and 26% of the total number of competitors in each series. Lowest was 17% in my 2007 series, highest was 26% in the 2004 series. The BBC always stresses that they do their best to encourage women to apply to take part, and the number of women contenders each year is a pretty fair reflection of the proportion of applications for the show that are received from women.

* Women have been proportionately under-represented in each of the Grand Finals except 2007. In 2003,4 and 5 there were no women finalists. The first woman to reach a Humphrys era final is my friend and 2006 conqueror, Kath Drury. In 2007 there were 2 women, Sandra Piddock and Anna Torpey, who reached the finals. This meant that statistically in 2007 you were actually more likely to reach the final if you were a woman, since only 4.1 % of all men contenders reached the final. The best position achieved by a woman in a Humphrys final is 4th - Kath Drury in 2006, Sandra Piddock in 2007.

* Statistically women have been quite a bit more successful in winning their heats and reaching the semi final. You would expect 25% of all men, and 25% of all women to reach the semis. However, with the exception of 2004, in every year women have outperformed this by between 1 and 15%. In those same years, with the exception of 2004, less than 25% of all men have reached the semi finals, with the exception of 2003 where some losing contenders qualified for the semis through highest scores. Even in 2003 women were still proportionately more successful in reaching the semis.

* Figures suggest that although the proportion of women contenders is not growing, those women who do take part are becoming more successful. If the trends of 2006 and 2007 continue, then its reasonable to suggest that there could well be another woman champion within the next couple of years.

Its reasonable to suggest that sheer weight of numbers is one reason why men have dominated the finals since 2003. If you look at the actual performances of the women who have reached the semi finals since 2003, the majority, although not all, scored less in their semi specialist subject than they did in their first round heat. But then that's true of the majority of men as well.

What are the chances of a woman being the 2008 champion ? Well, with 7 shows still to go in the first round we have 4 women through to the semis so far. I think its reasonable to expect that we may get as many as another two women through to the semis . Of the four, Nancy Dickman had the most impressive General Knowledge, and currently has the joint highest GK score of the series so far with 14. Of course, if I was a betting man I would point to the fact that there are 2 previous finalists - Richard Heller and Mel Kinsey - who have already claimed their place in the semi final. Not only that, but there is a certain Dr. Ian Bayley lurking in the middle of the draw, and woe betide anyone who does not take his challenge seriously.

The Statistics

2003 Series

48 contenders overall.
10 women took part 20.8%
38 men took part 79%
4 women reached the semi final 25 % (40% of all women contenders reached the semi final )
12 men reached semi final 75% (31.5 % of all men reached the semi final )
No women reached the final
4 men reached the final 100% (10.5%)

2004 Series

96 contenders
25 women took part 26%
71 men took part 74%
5 women reached the semi final 20.8% (20% of all women contenders reached the semi final )
19 men reached the semi final 79% (26.7% of all men reached the semi final )
No women reached the final
6 men reached the final 100% (8.4% of all men reached the final )

2005 Series

96 contenders
23 women took part 24%
73 men took part 76%
6 women reached the semi final 25% (26% of all women contenders reached the semi final )
18 men reached the semi final 75% (24.6% of men reached the semi final )
No women reached the final
6 men reached the final 100% (8.2%)

2006 Series

96 contenders
23 women took part 24%
73 men took part 76%
9 women reached the semi final 37.5 %(39.1% of all women contenders reached the semi final)
15 men reached the final 62.5% ( 20.5% of men reached the semis )
1 woman reached the final 16% (4% of all women contenders reached the final )
5 men reached the final 83% (6.8 % of all men reached the final)

2007 Series

96 contenders
17 women took part 17.7%
79 men took part 82%
6 women reached the semi final 25% (35.2% of all women contenders reached the semi final )
18 men reached the semi final 75% (22.7% of all men reached the semi final )
2 women reached the final 33.3% (11.7% of all women reached the final )
4 men reached the final 66.6% (4.1% of all men reached the final )


(After 17 shows )

68 contenders
14 women 20.5%
54 men 79.5%
4 women reached semi final 23.5% (28.5% of all women reached semi final )
13 men reached semi final 76.5% (24% of all men reached the semi final )

University Challenge Semi Final 2 - Congratulations to Corpus Christi

University Challenge - Second Semi Final - Monday 16th February
St. John's College Cambridge v. Corpus Christi, Oxford

Such has been the imperious form shown by Corpus Christi throughout the series that they were red hot favourites going into this semi final. In the end they won comfortably enough, but St. John's can take heart from the fact that they restricted them to their lowest score, and their lowest winning margin.

Those who witnessed Corpus Christi's quarter final performance will remember that it was very much The Gail Trimble Show, the most impressive performance by an individual in the show that I have ever seen. Well, last night's was more of a team performance, with some good starter buzzes by the other members of the team as well. Gail Trimble still had more correct starters than any of them, and some of her buzzes showed exceptional reactions and anticipation.

What of St. John's ? They can take a lot of pride from their performance throughout the series, and also from their performance last night. For make no mistake, they made a real competition of this match. After seeming shellshocked for the first few minutes by Corpus Christi's customary blitz start, they fought back well. Mr. Dolan was particularly effective, and I should think he was the most successful buzzer for St. John's. They weren't quite as clinical on the bonuses as Corpus Christi, and they buzzed too early a couple of times, but even so they played very well, and kept their heads even though they must have been aware that the match was gently slipping away from them. The final score was
Corpus Christi - 260
St. John's - 150

So, what are Corpus Christi's chances in the final ? Well I tipped them to be champions after their quarter final win, and I see no reason to change now. There are a couple of points which I think will determine the outcome next week.

* Both Manchester and Corpus Christi have what seem to be 'star' players - Pertinez of Manchester, and Gail Trimble of Corpus Christi. We know from the semi final that Manchester don't need Pertinez to be absolutely on song to perform brilliantly. We don't know how well Corpus Christi could perform if Gail Trimble was not on top form.

* We don't honestly know who is faster on the buzzer. If I had to nail my colours to the mast I would say that Corpus Christi seem to buzz in a little faster on starters than Manchester do. But having said that, Manchester were able to destroy a very fine side in the semi finals by being consistently a fraction of a second quicker on the buzzer.

* Neither side have shown the slightest sign of nerves so far. But will the pressure of being in the final affect either of them ?

So I take Corpus Christi to win, by a margin of less than 100, but nothing would surprise me. Best of luck to both teams.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Mastermind India

I was very interested when John Humphrys asked this week's Mastermind heat winner Shrirang Raddi about his appearence in Mastermind India,so I've been ferreting around on the interweb the last couple of days to find out what I can about the show. Apologies if any of what follows is inaccurate.

The idea behind Mastermind India belonged to Siddhartha Basu. Siddhartha Basu began his television career in the late 70s as a documentary filmmaker, and he has a highly impressive list of credits as both a producer and presenter of quiz programmes . I may be wrong but I believe that he was the man behind the licensed Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire", which of course is at the heart of the smash hit film "Slumdog Millionaire"

Apparently, on a visit to his in-laws home in Surrey in 1985, Siddhartha Basu saw Mastermind for the first time. He liked the show and decided that he would try to bring it to India one day. Eventually this saw him collaborating with BBC World. In a neat little irony, BBC Mastermind India aired for exactly the same five years that Mastermind was taken off BBCTV in England , from 1998 - 2002 !

By all accounts the show was very faithful to its british original, with black chair and all. Like the Magnus Magnusson shows in the UK, Mastermind India travelled around the country and shows were presented from heritage sights. This was enough of an undertaking in the UK. In a country the size of India the mind boggles at the logistics that must have been involved in the staging of the show.

As with the 25 champions of the Magnus Magnusson shows, the 5 series champions of Mastermind India achieved a certain level of celebrity for their achievements. They were : -

1998 Dayita Dhatta
1999 Ajai Banerji
2000 K.E.Priyamvada
2001 Archana Garodia
2002 Ramanand Janardhanan

In 2002 there was also a tournament between the first four champions, which was won by Archana Garodia. Its food for thought that the first, 3rd and 4th champions were all women, the champion of champions was a woman, and the record score was set by a woman, K.E.Priyamvada, in 2000. All of which just points up the fact that is is high time that Mastermind in the UK had another woman champion. Believe me there are women quizzers out there who are good enough, given that little bit of luck that all successful contenders need.

The show was successful enough that it gave rise to several Mastermind India quizbooks, all compiled by Sidhartha Basu

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Weekend Mini Quiz - answers and Quiz Three

OK, here's the answer to weekend mini quiz number two : -

Round One- Water Water Everywhere

1) Name the famous lighthouse built off the coast of Tiree by Robert Louis Stevenson's uncle Alan Stevenson
- Skerryvore
2) In which British dockyard did Peter the great once work as a ship's carpenter ?
3) In which novel by Charles Dickens is a heroine the daughter of a man who drags dead bodies out of the River Thames for a living ?
Our Mututal Friend
4) Name the last British swimmer before Rebecca Adlington to win two gold medals in the same Olympics
Henry Taylor - who won 3 in 1908
5) Who played the scheming civil servant in the film "Water" ?
Leonard Rossiter

Round Two - General Knowledge

1) Who is the only person other than the 6 Pythons to receive a writing credit on an episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus " ?
Douglas Adams - 4th series
2) Name the writer behind "The Henry Root Letters "
William Donaldson
3) If its spelled with - er - then its too high , but if its spelled with an - o - then its too low. Which medical conditions am I referring to ? ( There's a couple of different acceptable answers to this one ) Hyper - hypo - eg High blood pressure - Hypertension - Low Blood Pressure - Hypotension
4) In which English town or city would you find the national Bagpipe museum ?
5) If William Stayley was the last, and William Wallace the first, what am I referring to ?
People whose heads were displayed on London Bridge

Now, here's the Weekend Mini Quiz Three

Round One - Happy Valentines

1) Anthony Valentine played "Raffles" in the ITV Tv series, but who played his sidekick Bunny, and what was Bunny's surname ?
2) Which Roman Emperor condemned St. Valentine to death ?
3) For what reason was St. Valentine executed ?
4) Valentine was one of two what in Shakespeare ?
5)Which Valentine played the Black Guardian in the Key to Time season of Dr. Who ?

General Knowledge
1) Whose father was called Poopdeck ?
2) Which british butterfly has the scientific name inachis io ?
3) Which element makes up between 15 and 20% of the alloy pewter ( and for a bonus, which element USED to make up 15 - 20 % of pewter ?
4) Fifty years ago, when the austin mini first went on the market, how much change would you have got out of £500 if you bought one ?
5) Norse Mythology - what killed the God Baldur ?

Answers to be posted next weekend - drop me a line if you can't wait.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Decisions Decisions - How We Came To Have A Go

Decisions, decisions

I think that it was probably Ursula the Sea Witch in Disney's "The Little Mermaid" who said "Life's full of tough decisions, ain't it."

Regular readers may have read past entries where I have mentioned the quiz at the Pill Harriers Rugby Club in Newport on a Monday Evening. Those who haven't may prefer to skip this part and go straight to "We Came - We Had A Go - We Weren't Smart Enough" the next section of this entry.

Right, now that they've gone, lets get to the heart of the matter. I like League quizzing. There we are, its out in the open. Time was, a little over a decade ago I was competing in three leagues each week - Neath on Tuesday - Morriston Hospitals League on Wednesdays - South Wales Echo League on Sundays. Alas, all three of these are no more. The Swansea Independent League still exists, so I'm told, but my sources tell me that is in sad decline - apologies to all concerned if I'm wrong. The only healthy quiz league between Swansea and Cardiff now is the Bridgend Quiz League. Matches are played on a Monday night. Last Sunday my friend John told me that he'd been invited to play for a team in the League for a friend who was going on holiday. I told him I was jealous - I meant it too.

The upshot of this was that John rang me on Tuesday evening. He'd played in the league match the night before, and really enjoyed it, and the team had asked him if there was anyone he knew who could play on this coming Monday. Would I like to ? To use the vernacular, not 'alf !
However -
The thing is , due to adverse weather conditions I haven't made the journey to Newport for the Pill Harriers quiz for the last 2 weeks. Now that is not the end of the world. However the fact is that I've already told my friends Alan and Barry that, barring unforeseen circumstances I'll go with them on Monday. Now, yes, they could go on their own without me. But its not as simple as that. You can go there as a group of three, and even if nobody else joins up with you on the evening you can still be competitive. But go there as just two of you, and you risk a most frustrating and unfruitful evening. Its quite possible that if I don't go, neither will they. So can I bear having it on my conscience that I have cost the boys an evening's quizzing ? On the other hand, is it fair to lay upon myself the power of having the ultimate say in whether the boys go out to the quiz or not ? I feel a little like the Lord High Executioner here, and its not a pleasant feeling. Which friend should I let down ? Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.

We Came - We Had A Go - We Weren't Smart Enough

Welcome back to all of you who have rejoined us at this point. If you read my entry earlier this week about the second series of "Battle of The Brains" you may have noticed that I mentioned in passing that I once appeared on "Come and Have A Go If You Think You're Smart Enough", Nicky Campbell's previous BBC quiz show.

This was my first ever appearence on television, and as such it has a special place in my heart. If you don't remember the show, it ran for two seasons, in 2004 and 2005, I think. My appearence was in the first series. Nicky Campbell either left, or was replaced, and the second series, called just "Come and Have A Go. . . " was fronted by Julian Clary. I have to admit that although Julian Clary is an alumnus of Goldsmiths College of the University of London, like myself, I didn't actually catch any of the second series.

The show had a unique ( or fairly unique ) selling point. As well as the four teams in the studio at the start of the show, teams across the length and breadth of the country could play along interactively at home, and by the magic of the interweb, their scores would be registered with the BBC. Teams answered multiple choice questions, and at the end of each round, one team was eliminated. When only one team was left in the studio, then there would be a break for the National Lottery, and after this the team in the studio would go head to head against the best team at home for a large cash prize. Usually the team at home would win, since there was no way of regulating the number of players in a home team.

A few things about the show stick out in my memory. Firstly , I remember thinking at the time that we were being well treated. Chauffeur driven limousines took us from Paddington to the very posh Kensington Hotel where we were staying. My subsequent experiences with the BBC would prove that this was very much out of the ordinary. As I hinted at in my previous entry, Nicky Campbell was extremely impressive in the way he remained calm and in control in the middle of it all. Don't ever think that Television presenters don't earn their money.

On a slightly less positive note, I was struck by the way that once you're on a show like that and you lose, then you are very much surplus to requirements. Both Come and Have A Go and Eggheads virtually gave us the bum's rush to get out of the studio as soon as the show was safely in the can. Actually with "Come and Have A Go" we were back in the hotel in time to watch the second half of the show !

Good old Mastermind,to be fair, does put on refreshments for contenders after the show. Mind you, that's a mixed blessing. For one thing they can shoot as many as four shows in a day, and if you're show isn't the last, then really and truly you are a little bit in the way when your show has finished. Its not just that though. When I lost on Mastermind I just wanted to get out and away from the studio, away from other people, and to start the long journey home. When I won on Mastermind - well, I just wanted to get out and away from the studio where I could enjoy my feelings of self satisfaction without coming across as a heartless git to the people who didn't win. Although the reception after the final was a different class, having said that. However, on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire ? " in 2006 it took a day to make a whole show. So after filming finished, between 9:30 and 10pm, it was everyone into the bar, and who was both buying and serving the drinks - Chris Tarrant. Believe me, in and out of the studio that man is a class act.

Coming back to "Come and Have A Go", even though we were narrowly beaten my main feeling on the train journey home on the Sunday was that it had all been tremendous fun. Believe it or not, appearing in a quiz or game show really is a lot of fun, and actually winning it is not the be all and end all. I loved appearing on "Come and Have A Go". Losing my first round heat of "Mastermind" in 2006 was a blow, but it was only a matter of days before the disappointment was replaced by a feeling of - well, that was fun, and I definitely want to do it again. Even "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire ? " Yes, I could have walked out of that studio at least £15,000 richer than I did, but it doesn't change the fact that up until my wrong answer I had just had one of the most amazing, fantastic days of my life. My "Eggheads" experience I don't look back on with quite such fond memories, but then that has nothing to do with what happened on the show, and everything to do with team politics in the bar of the hotel the evening before.

Its funny the way that I appeared on 7 TV shows in a space of just 3 years since, but in the 20 months since my last appearence, I haven't appeared on one. Partly that's due to the fact that I had given an undertaking not to appear in any other TV show until my final appearence on Mastermind was shown. However its been more than ten months since the final was broadcast.I fancied going on both "Only Connect" and "Battle of the Brains". Series 2 of "Only Connect" needs you to be able to commit to being available for filming three consecutive days, and I'm afraid that I just can't do that, since the three days in question do not coincide with my holidays at school. One of the pitfalls of our wonderful long teachers ' holidays is that you can't pick and choose when you take them. As for "Battle of the Brains", putting together a team of 7 people, many of whom will be working, for an audition is hard enough - but getting them to be able to commit to possibly being away for a couple of days or more until their involvement in the show is over is a nightmare. I've also applied for Terry Wogan's Perfect Recall, also a new Sky TV show that's in the pipeline, and I've asked if the Brain of Britain team will send me an application form when they start sending them out in the summer.

Mastermind Heat 17

Mastermind - First Round Heat 17/24 - Friday 13th February

Four more brand new contestants took to the chair this week, although, as John Humphrys was at pains to point out, Shrirang Raddi had actually taken part in Mastermind India. A little more on that in a moment.
Adrian Corbett kicked us off with this week's popular culture subject, Marillion. It seemed there were a lot of questions about venues where they played at one time or another, but it didn't phase Mr. Corbett, who posted a very good 13. John Sandalls followed, answering on atom spy Dr. Klaus Fuchs. A point of controversy occurred in this round. John Humphrys asked in which pub - etc. etc., and Mr. Sandalls looked confused. In his answer he said that it actually took place in two pubs, and named both. John Humprhys accepted this, but said that the second answer was right. Now - I am surprised that they didn't reshoot that question , rephrasing it perhaps to make it obvious that the second answer was the one required. Oh well, 11 was a good score, but you couldn't help thinking that this might not be enough tonight. Shrirang Raddi was answering on the Kashmir War. I know nothing about the subject so cannot possibly comment on the level of difficulty, but I know a perfect round when I see it, and this was one. Sixteen questions, sixteen correct answers. Follow that ! As it happened Sue Read made a perfectly decent fist of her round on Pushkin, but 11 points left her 5 behind, and that's a hell of a gap to have to bridge.
John Sandalls made a very spirited defence of nuclear power in his chat with John Humphrys, but made very heavy weather of his GK round. The question about the western TV show which featured the Cartwright family caused him all kinds of problems - he knew that they lived on the Ponderosa, but just couldn't dredge up the name of the show. He finished on 18. Sue Read pitched in with the best GK round of the night. As I've said before, double figures on GK is pretty respectable, and she scored 11, to match her specialist score. Adrian Corbett had a 2 point advantage over Sue Read at the halfway stage , but he couldn't make it count, and scored 8 to give him 21. So, finally Shrirang Raddi. John Humphrys probed him about his experiences on Mastermind India. Apparently contenders take, or took, it much more seriously than this show, because they were still revising in the last few minutes leading up to the show. Well, far be it from me to cast nasturtiums, but if you haven't completely learned your stuff by then, I don't see that any revision you do on the actual day is going to make the slightest bit of difference.Mr. Raddi showed a very likeable sense of humour when John Huprhys asked him how he did on Mastermind India, and he replied "Terribly" - saying that the subject of poisonous snakes proved very poisonous to him. Mr. Raddi only needed 7, but after a decent start he began to struggle, and seemed to be falling into a pass spiral. However he didn't panic, and therefore managed to answer the ones he knew, and scored 8 to give him just a tiny bit of daylight. Is he a potential finalist ? Well, anyone who reaches the semis is a potential finalist, but he'll need a better performance on GK to give him a halfway decent chance.

The Details

Adrian Corbett Marillion 13 -18 - 321 - 4
John Sandalls Life and Career of Klaus Fuchs 11 - 17 - 318 - 4
Shrirang Raddi Kashmir War 16 - 08 - 424 - 4
Sue ReadLife and Poetry of Alexander Pushkin 11 - 211 - 322 - 5

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

New Improved Battle of The Brains Mark Two

Battle of the Brains - Series Two

Would it be unkind if I were to start by saying "If at first you don't succeed . . . " ? Probably. Back in the misty past, in August just after I started this blog, the first series of "Battle of the Brains" aired to distinctly mixed reviews. By the end of the series many people, this reviewer included, felt that it had been something of an opportunity missed. To summarise some of the criticisms which were made of the show : -
*Paddy O'Connell, the presenter is a very witty man and an accomplished broadcaster, but he did not manage to project this on the show, and lacked charisma and personality
*Some of the individual head to head rounds were decided by one single question
*One of the sets of individual rounds would involve guessing numbers, plucking them from thin air almost.
*In the final round for the money every fourth or fifth question was so difficult that it was virtually impossible for anyone to win the money.
*Generally the pace of the show was too slow, with too few questions in a half hour.

So, now that we've seen the first few shows of the new, improved BOTB, how have these criticisms been addressed ?

*Nicky Campbell has replaced Paddy O'Connell. Nicky Campbell is an experienced game show hand. He fronted ITVs Wheel of Fortune and BBCs Come and have a Go If You Think You're Smart Enough. When I appeared on the latter I was impressed with his total command of the situation. Like Paddy he's a witty man as well. I do think as much as Paddy was guilty of underselling the show, Nicky needs to be careful that he doesn't oversell it. A little less shouting, a little less hyperbole, would do the trick.
* One of the individual rounds each day is still decided by a single question, although so far its always been a 'Going for Gold' style "Who Am I " question, along with multiple clues and freezing out after a wrong guess.
* Thank goodness the 'Name a Hairy Dog' number guess questions seem to have disappeared.
* In two out of the three shows so far the money questions have been much, much easier.
*The pace of the show could still be picked up more.

There are some other considerations. There's a clearly visible studio audience. I'm not sure how much this adds to the show in terms of atmosphere, but I certainly don't think its detrimental. The teams that we've seen so far haven't really matched the teams of the first series for quality. There has been talent in both of the winning teams so far, but spread thinly compared with many of the teams from the last series. But then considering the number of really great quizzers who took part in the first series, and didn't have the most enjoyable experience, then that's not really a surprise.

Its early days yet, so any judgement I pass has to be qualified. I do still think that 7 per team is too many, and I do still think that it doesn't deliver enough questions per show. I do still think that some of the question sets are unbalanced. But its good to see that some of the criticisms that I and others made of the first series do seem to have been taken on board. Its been a more promising start, and I shall continue to watch with interest.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Congratulations to Manchester

University Challenge Semi Final 1 : Monday 8pm BBC2
University of Manchester v. Lincoln College, Oxford

Matches aren't played on paper. On paper this would have been a contest that was too close to call. If you read my comments after the 4th quarter final last week you'll have seen how close the stats of these two teams were, with Lincoln College just having the edge between them. Looking at if from Lincoln's point of view, what went wrong ?

All seemed well at the start. Lincoln buzzed in to take the first starter along with bonuses. Then for the next ten minutes or so it was all Manchester. They were very assured on the buzzer, and very few bonuses slipped through their fingers. Last time we saw them it was Lincoln who were buzzing in to take almost all of the starters. Tonight, though, they were comprehensively beaten to the buzzer by a very good Manchester team. As time wore on, and Manchester's lead increased Lincoln College tried bravely to get back into the match, and thus found themselves having to jump the gun on the starters. As we have seen before, making a premature stab at a starter is a risky business, and it just didn't come off. Lincoln were actually better value tonight than their score suggests, and they are a better team than tonight's performance suggests. Chalk it down partly to the strength of the Manchester team, and partly to a bit of an off night, compared with their imperious performance in the quarters. Do not forget, this is a team that scored 335 in the quarter final, and beat St. John's Cambridge in the first round.

As for the final score, Manchester won by 345 to 30. In both the first and second round they were knocking on the door of 300 points with 285 and 280 respectively. Tonight they kicked that door wide open. This was all the more impressive for being achieved in a semi final.

So Manchester are through to the final. Should they face St. John's , then we have the interesting prospect of them playing a team who were beaten in the first round by the team that they have just beaten in the semis. Of course, the favourites to join them are Corpus Christi, Oxford. Its interesting to compare Manchester to Corpus Christi. In the quarters, Pertinez of Manchester dominated. Tonight he played his part, but you have to say that the rest of the team were all as good too. Tonight they looked the complete package. In their quarter final, Gail Trimble of Corpus Christi put on as good an individual performance as I've ever seen in UC. How will the rest of the Corpus Christi team perform if she has an off night ?

Well, we'll find out some more of the answers next week. Yes, I've tipped Corpus Christi and I'm happy to stick with them, but as tonight shows, past form is not necessarily any guide to what is going to happen. I can't wait.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A Question of Questions - Weekend Mini Quiz Two

Its my turn to set the quiz for this coming Thursday evening in the Aberavon Rugby Club. I probably enjoy setting the quiz and being the question master about as much as I enjoy playing in the quizzes, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I do face two concerns every time I compile a quiz.

Getting the Level right
Yes, you'd think that with 14 years experience I'd be able to pitch the quiz at the right level of difficulty. You don't pitch it for your best teams, and you don't pitch it for your worst teams - you aim for the middle. If in doubt, then make it easier. Yet every time I nearly always end up with a quiz that proves to be more difficult than I think it is. There's a team made up of mostly younger players who always struggle with my quiz, however easy I think I make it. They manage ok with any other question master.

Getting some new questions
Yes, one of the problems you may find as a question master is that you start to repeat yourself. I'm not talking about being like Reg, who just recycles pretty much the same quiz each time he does it. No, I'm just talking about the fact that there are certain questions which you just find yourself reusing, albeit three or four years down the line. If it strikes you as a good question to answer once, then it will probably strike you as a good one to ask again some time. So you consciously look for new questions, that you haven't ever used before, to enliven your quiz and make it a bit more interesting. But where do you find them ?

Well, obviously there's news and current affairs, and as a quizzer you really need to be keeping abreast of them anyway. However a few of these questions tend to do the rounds in almost every quiz you go to for a week or a fortnight, and then they're gone, probably forever, into the Well of Lost Questions.

Ok then - you can fall back to some extent on your own resources. You can use things you've heard, read, or seen to provide new questions, and if you're a quiz master you probably do this anyway. But these can sometimes be rare beasts , and there's no guarantee any will come along when you need them. Where then ?

There's always your quiz reference books, like Trevor Montague's brilliant " A to Z of Almost Everything" . I still quite like the "Pears Quiz Companion", and have been known to dip into "The Guinness Book of Answers ", although more than a decade has gone by since the latest edition was published. I use at least "The A to Z of almost Everything" every time I write a quiz. However even there I only use it sparingly. This is not because there are any flaws with the book , no. Its simply that once I get stuck into using it I tend to find I'm tempted into putting much harder questions into the quiz, and a very little of that goes a long way.

So we're left with quiz books. I'm sure that I'm no different from many many other quizzers when I say that I have a large collection of quiz books, and I'm always in the market for another , especially if it has something fresh on the menu. To this extent I was delighted when my wife, who works in a local charity shop, bought me a small collection of fairly recent quiz books for a very reasonable price when they were brought into the shop. Most of them were of the Collins series - Nick Holt's Quiz Master - Pub Quiz 1 and 2 - Quiz Night - Quiz Notes, and there was also David Pickering's Perfect Pub Quiz. I'm not writing this to be critical - well, not very critical, anyway. They all have a large enough number of questions, and I'm not saying that they haven't been put together with love and care, but I am saying that they're all uninspired. If you're a regular quizzer you'll have to look fairly hard to find any questions that you haven't already heard many, many times before.

I have a process I go through whenever I make a quiz. Don't worry , this isn't a digression, and I'll be coming back to quiz books again in a minute. So I have a process, and as the last stage of the process I usually take the finished quiz into work early in the week, and try out the questions on my colleagues on a lunchtime. They say they enjoy it, and it helps give me a good a idea whether I need to change the way that I have phrased a question, and whether I need to make any particular round a bit easier.( Its a fair bet that I won't have to make it any harder ) Its valuable feedback. Now, my Head of Department is always asking me why I don't write a quiz book. - There - I told you I'd get back to it in a moment or two. Especially after the final of Mastermind was shown on TV. And well, I have to say that the idea is not without appeal. But then again, why should any publishing firm want a quiz book off me ? Seriously its a competitive world out there, and there's tons of quiz books on the market. More to the point, though, I'm not 100% sure that I could find enough time to write a quiz book that is significantly different from others, that would have enough new questions to interest a proper quizzer. It wouldn't be a matter of just collecting together 20 or 30 of my last quizzes. For one thing, quite a few questions would end up being repeated. For another thing I'd have to replace the 'in the news' questions as well. Then after all that I'd maybe find that I'd written a book which was too difficult to appeal to a significant proportion of the quiz book buying public.

Out of interest, here's 2 lists. The first contains books that I've found useful when setting quizzes. The second contains books that I haven't necessarily used a lot when making up quizzes, but I've enjoyed working my way through.

A Few Useful Books for Making a Quiz

The A to Z of Almost Everything
The Prince of Wales Quiz Book
The Pears Quiz Companion
On the Tip of My Tongue ( David Gentle )
15 to 1 - 2000 for 2000 et al
The People's Quiz ( good for popular culture questions , but not a lot else )
Ask the Family quiz books 1 - 3 ( number puzzles always go down well )

Some quizbooks I've really enjoyed working through

The Prince of Wales Quiz Book
Magnus Magnusson's Quiz Book
Magnus Magnusson's Family Quiz Book
Bamber Gascoigne's Universally Challenging Quiz Book
The Round Britain Quiz book
The Brain of Britain Quiz book ( Ian Gillies )
University Challenge Quiz Book ( 1978 Arrow books )

I'll let you know how the quiz goes down later on in the week.

Weekend Mini Quiz One answers

Round One

1) Twenty One
2) Top of the World
3) Take Your Pick ( Double Your Money debuted a day or two later )
4) Joe West - 22 on specialist subject
5) Bob Johnson was the man who answered Turkey to several consecutive questions on "Family Fortunes "

Round Two

1) Eamonn Coghlan
2) Prince Henry - son of James I
3) London Underground Stations
4) The Wizard of Oz
5) Megalosaurus

Well, how did you do ? If you fancy another go, then I am pleased to announce : -

Weekend Mini Quiz Two

Round One- Water Water Everywhere

1) Name the famous lighthouse built off the coast of Tiree by Robert Louis Stevenson's uncle Alan Stevenson
2) In which British dockyard did Peter the great once work as a ship's carpenter ?
3) In which novel by Charles Dickens is a heroine the daughter of a man who drags dead bodies out of the River Thames for a living ?
4) Name the last British swimmer before Rebecca Adlington to win two gold medals in the same Olympics
5) Who played the scheming civil servant in the film "Water" ?

Round Two - General Knowledge

1) Who is the only person other than the 6 Pythons to receive a writing credit on an episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus " ?
2) Name the writer behind "The Henry Root Letters "
3) If its spelled with - er - then its too high , but if its spelled with an - o - then its too low. Which medical conditions am I referring to ? ( There's a couple of different acceptable answers to this one )
4) In which English town or city would you find the national Bagpipe museum ?
5) If William Stayley was the last, and William Wallace the first, what am I referring to ?

Answers will be posted next weekend. Best of luck.

Friday, 6 February 2009

TV Watch - Mastermind Heat 16 - Only Connect Two

Mastermind - Heat 16/24

Four more newcomers to Mastermind took to the black chair tonight. Chris Stuchfield described himself as a 'house husband', and before the GK round John Humphrys spent quite a bit of time going into this apparently simple concept. From which we must surmise that The Peninsular War is a subject which just doesn't light his candle. 11 seemed a pretty decent score in this subject. Next came Angela Rutledge. Judging from her accent I would guess that she is either American, or has spent a lot of time in the USA. Hers was probably the most obviously populist specialist subject, but as we have seen, popular culture subjects don't actually give you any undue advantage, and I thought that 14 looked like a good score. In the interval chat, John Humphrys came out with the interesting revelation that Morrisey is actually very big in Mexico. I somehow think that the researchers winkled this fact out of Ms. Rutledge beforehand for him. If Benjamin Skipps isn't the youngest contender in the series so far , he certainly looks like he is. He certainly knew his stuff on Chichester Cathedral to score 14 as well. Finally Gareth Kingston. I will confess that I do know Gareth through an internet forum, and I have exchanged messages on his appearence since the show aired a couple of hours ago. Gareth achieved a perfect 16 out of 16, with no wrong answers and no passes, which was certainly the pick of the specialist rounds, and one of the finest we've seen in this series so far.

So to the GK round. Chris Stuchfield went for accuracy rather than speed, and as such did spend a lot of the round hesitating. 8 scored for a total of 19 was nothing to be ashamed of, but to be honest this never looked like a winning total. Angela Rutledge started her round well, but lost her way after the first half a minute or so, and really rather struggled to the end of the round. 6 points gave her 20 and the lead, but it was a slender one that was unlikely to see her through. I do tend to think that it must be more difficult for someone in their teens or their early twenties to post a really good score in GK, and Benjamin Skipps found it so, scoring 5 to level out at 19. Gareth has told me that, without being arrogant, he knew that he pretty much had the job done when he sat in the chair, needing only 5 to win, and he feels that he probably relaxed too much during the round. Still he joint top scored in the GK round with 8, and progresses comfortably into the semis.

Maybe this is just me, but I felt John Humphrys was a little fussy tonight. It seemed to me that far more than normal he was wasting contenders' time by either repeating their correct answers, or expanding on them - eg - one question asked who began his monthly TV show in 1958 - etc. etc. - to which the contender answered
and John Humphrys felt it necessary to add
Correct - PATRICK Moore !
Well, to be honest , John, we didn't think he meant Demi Moore ! Or even Ilkley Moor for that matter.

Well, that's two thirds of the first round heats done now.

The Details
Chris Stuchfield The Peninsular War11 - 18 - 419 - 5
Angela RutledgeLife and solo career of Morrissey14 - 26 - 320 - 5
Benjamin SkippThe History of Chichester Cathedral14 -1 5 - 219 - 3
Gareth KingstonThe Great Fire of London16-08 - 024 - 0

Stop Press - Only Connect 2

Oh frabjous day ! An email message from David Bodycombe via the UK Gameshows Yahoo Group informs me that there will be a new series of Only Connect. What's more applications are currently invited, and if you're interested, they must be returned to the BBC no later than the 17th February - so you'll need to get your skates on.

Natural Born Quizzers

Top of the Form
Nature v. Nurture

I'll start by coming clean. Originally I was only going to look at the idea that quizzers can be divided up into 'born quizzers' and 'manufactured quizzers'. However when I chose the above title there was something in the back of my mind that rang a bell. So I googled it, and came up with the fact that this was also the title of episode 5 of Steve Coogan's 1995 TV comedy series "Coogan's Run".

You might not remember Coogan's Run, but it was a series of 6 half hour shows with the talented Mr. Coogan showcasing a different comedy character each week. Probably the best remembered is "Get Calf" where he reprised the dual role of twins Paul and Pauline Calf.

"Natural Born Quizzers" if I remember correctly told the story of two men who had been turned into psychopathic killers through a losing appearence on a TV quiz show for schoolkids - a thinly disguised version of "TV Top of the Form" I think. A brief examination of IMD and some fan sites reveals that it was probably the least popular episode of the whole series. Still, for our purposes thats neither here nor there really. What I find interesting, if not puzzling, is that despite the long run that "Top of The Form " had on TV, and the much longer run that it had on the radio, I can't name hardly a single person who appeared as a contestant on the show who ever became famous in later life.

Compare this to , say, "University Challenge". If you're reading this blog out of choice rather than by accident, then its a good safe bet that you could instantly name Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolyes, Clive James, Malcolm Rifkind and Sebastian Faulks all as former contestants. Granted , you'd expect a large group of student contestants, many from Oxbridge, to contain at least a few who would make their mark somehow, especially in the media. But surely one or two former Top of the Formers must have made it somehow. For heavens' sake, even "Blockbusters" could boast Stephen Merchant ( ahh, "The Office" - ahh, "Extras" ) as a former contestant.

You might recall me mentioning Marcus Berkmann's "Brain Men" a while ago. In the book Marcus Berkmann reckons that an appearence on "Top of the Form" was something that you'd want to keep quiet about, and maybe he's right, although I can't really see why. Personally I'd have loved to see my school take part in anything televised. Throughout my childhood years, I can't recall seeing a school in the London Borough of Ealing take part in any TV shows like "We Are the Champions" etc. - although I'm willing to concede that one of them might have made some kind of appearence when I wasn't actually looking. I do recall that there was a one off series of a show called "Hobby Horse", where a team from Ealing won the final. My friend Alfie appeared in an episode of "I, Claudius" playing the son of Sejanus. Sejanus, you recall, was played by Patrick Stewart in his pre-Picard days. My mum banned me from watching it when it was first on because it had some "naughty bits" . Another friend of mine auditioned to be part of the "Why Don't You" gang, but got turned down, probably when he told them that his hobbies and interests consisted of watching the telly and very little else.

Then there was another comprehensive school in the Borough which featured in a Panorama documentary. I'm not going to mention the name of the school because they were treated very unfairly in it. The headteacher was daft enough to allow the cameras in, and the producers did a real hatchet job on it. There was something of a mini national scandal about it at the time, and its notoriety lasted for quite a few years. I kid you not. Several years later when I moved to South Wales in 1986, and I was studying for my Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Swansea University, in one of the tutorials the tutor actually played us the video of this show as an example of how not to teach ! However I digress, and back to "Top of the Form".

If you're reading this, and you actually appeared on "Top of the Form" ( TV or Radio versions ) , you do have my respect, and so I'm going to ask you for a favour. Help me pay the show its belated dues.You don't have to be famous and/or successful either ( although I'm sure that you're the latter ). Just drop me a line to my email address

and tell me what you can about it, and then I will personally include you upon a role of honour for people who appeared on the show.
For younger readers, I'll do the same for "Blockbusters" if you do the same and drop me a line.

So then, nature versus nurture. School has been quite disrupted this week with the closure on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the small numbers of children attending for the rest of the week. So much so that we've had to mix and match a bit with classes, and leave some normal lessons to one side for the time being. This resulted me giving a lesson on memory techniques to several groups of children.

Don't worry, I am getting towards the point. One of the kids expressed a widely held view, saying something along the lines of
" Well, its just a matter of luck, isn't it ? You've either got a good memory, or an OK one, or a bad one. " Of course, I argued against it, and said that I think that potentially everyone has got a good memory, but some of us need to learn techniques to help us use our memories more effectively - God, I do sound like a teacher, don't I ? -

But it did set me to thinking. I don't agree that being a good quizzer is only about having a god memory, but I do think that memory is very important. I personally think about memory as being split into two different functions, retention and recall. Retention means the function of actually keeping facts,or if you like, its all about what you actually hold in your memory. Recall means the the function of bringing your handy fact to the forefront of your conscious mind. One without the other isn't any good. You may have fantastic recall, but if the answer you're looking for isn't held in your memory, either because you never knew it in the first place, or its gone from your memory, then you're not going to come up with the answer. Likewise, you may have the most fantastically well stocked store of knowledge, but if you can only dredge up a relevant fact after you've been given half an hour's prior warning, then that's no good either.

Of course, I do agree that there's more to winning quizzes than recalling facts that you have committed to memory. An essential skill is being able to use what you do know to help you figure out what you don't know. For example, you don't know which flower has the scientific name Helianthus. However you do remember that Helios was a greek God of the Sun. So its an educated guess to say that Helianthus might be a sunflower. However I don't think its unreasonable to say that most successful quizzers have an unusually large store of facts committed to their memories, which they can recall quickly when needed for an answer to a question.

OK - so far so good. How, though, do you reach this enhanced state of being ? Are some people just born with the ability to absorb, retain, and recall knowledge through a form of osmosis ? Can anyone make themselves into a great quizzer through hard work, and the acquisition of some effective memory techniques ? I can't help saying that I think the answer to both questions is probably in the affirmative.

If I'm honest, I admit that I myself am probably a lot closer to the osmosis end of the scale than I am to the hard work end of it. In fact, leaving aside Mastermind, I can only really remember 2 occasions in the 21 years of my quizzing career that I have been moved to sit down and formally learn a body of knowledge solely for use in quizzes. The first time was either in 1989 or 1990. The team from the Railway Club in Port Talbot, of whom I was a proud member, had won the local league and cup double for two years running. We were playing in an open quiz, and some of the team couldn't make it. There was a round on American state capital cities, unusual ones, and we blew the whole quiz on that one round, because our Geography expert wasn't there. I was so angry about the whole experience that I spent the best part of an evening committing all 50 of them to memory. Which I have to say that I have never regretted, since they have been a secure source of quiz points ever since.

On the other occasion, playing for Neath Workingmen's Club in the Neath Quiz League, we were taken to the wire by half a dozen questions on the scientific names of british birds. So, in case the team setting the questions tried this again, I learned about 60. I can't say that this has been anything like as fruitful a time investment as the state capitals, but they come in handy at odd times, and in odd places.

That's it really. Having said that you do pick up a hell of a lot from setting your own quizzes. By and large, as a natural born quizzer you often find answers coming to you from absolutely nowhere - and these are answer type three and type four in the Clark taxonomy of questions, which you may recall is as follows : -

Type 1 - The questions you know that you know
Type 2 - The questions you know that you don't know
Type 3 - The questions you don't know that you know
Type 4 - The questions you don't know that you don't know

it requires a lot of experience of yourself to be able to tell the difference.

Compare this with John. If you're new to the blog, John is my best quizzing mate, and in many ways my quiz mentor. John is very much a self made quizzer of the old school. Mnemonics ? You betcha. Lists ? All present and correct. John's success rate with questions that he answers is amazing. He nearly always knows when he knows something, and he almost always knows when he doesn't know something. However, its where he doesn't know something that the difference between us becomes more obvious. John rarely has a flash of intuition or inspiration which helps him pluck an answer out of the ether. This is one of the reasons why, as a team, we complement each other, and I have to say that we are more than the sum of our parts.

Could you, I wonder, take an ordinary member of the public with an ordinary amount of general knowledge, and in the space of a few weeks, work intensively to turn them into a self made quizzer, of a good enough standard to be competitive on, for the sake of argument, Mastermind ? I can't help thinking that this would be a highly interesting experiment, and would make a good "Faking It " style show.

Coming back to the Nature v. Nurture discussion, last night's quiz in the Aberavon Rugby Club was not an occasion where intuition was likely to prevail. Brian produced a good , old fashioned quiz, of the type he used to produce every time he made a quiz some ten years ago. I would say that there were 8 or 9 questions in each round of 10 that a good quizzer should have been confident of answering correctly. That's a hell of a lot of bread and butter. Somehow I can't help thinking that the 1 or 2 toughies in each round didn't really make that much difference to the final result. Last night was a night when certainty was needed, and any second guessing of ourselves could have led to disaster. All square going into the last round, there were 6 answers out of 10 we were certain of, and another 2 we thought were right, but at this late stage we weren't absolutely 100% certain. It required a cool head to lave the answers we first thought of, a decision which thankfully paid off as we scored 9 out of 10 to our rivals' 6. Out of interest, this was my first quiz since last Sunday. I think I'm suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Roll on Monday.