Sunday, 26 April 2009

Reading about Brain of Britain -

- Is actually harder than you might think .

I know that I haven't posted in a week. Forgive me father for I have sinned - it has been 8 days since my last blog entry. First week back at work , which has been extremely busy due to
a) Being the start of a new term which is always fraught
b) Being the week before the start of the KS3 exams, so only having a week to prepare
c) Being the week in which I had 9 pupils involved in the Crime Prevention initiative - which is good fun but needs a hell of a lot of organising
d) Being the week in which my year group had their parents evening , the organisation of which is my responsibility
Mitigating circumstances ? Well, its the best that I can come up with.

You may have noticed that there was no weekend mini quiz last week, and hasn't been one this week so far. To be honest, I'm finding it a bit of a chore to manage this punctually every week, so what I think I'll do, if you have no objections, is switch from ten questions once a week, to 40 questions once a month.

So how are things chez moi ? Good of you to ask. Well the quest for a new Sunday evening quiz to attend is not bearing fruit at the moment, I'm afraid. We're stuck with The Pheasant, and vice versa, and in the long run this is not going to do either us or them any good at all.

I have another confession to make. I am seriously considering going back to the Monday night quiz in Newport for a while, and seeing how it goes. There, I've said it. I would be overstating the case if I said that I've missed it, but now that the evenings are getting lighter - now that the coursework is long gone at work, I can't help admitting that the thought has crossed my mind that I wouldn't necessarily mind giving it a shot. My good friend Barry rang me up about the CIU quiz , and inadvertantly asked if I had changed my mind about Newport. Well, I wasn't interested last week, but then I had work to do, but tomorrow as they say is another day, and we've tentatively said that if either of us fancy it we'll ring the other and take it from there. At least I've proven that I can live without it, and if it pees me off too much, then I can always stop again.

Here's a point that you may or may not find interesting. Last week I read Robert Robinson's autobiography, "Skip All That" . Very good it is too. Robert Robinson is a dry old sort, and he writes in a similar fashion to the way that he talks, which makes for an entertaining, jolly read. However, why I mention this is the fact that he barely mentions Call My Bluff or Ask The Family, and doesn't even once mention Brain of Britain.

Is it a big deal ? No, not really. After all, they are his memoirs, and its only natural that he'd select and highlight what he most wants to share with readers like myself. Its a shame, though. After all, it can't be that he doesn't like the show, since he's been doing it for more than 30 years, and he wouldn't keep coming back to it after illnesses that have prevented him from hosting two series in the last decade.

I'm not complaining about Mr. Robinson. Its just that it highlights something I find rather strange, that is, the dearth of printed material written about Brain of Britain. A few months ago you may recall that I read "The Bandsman's Daughter", the autobiography of Irene Thomas, the 1962 Brain of Britain. Now, Irene Thomas had a very interesting life before she ever applied to go on Brain of Britain, I grant you. But what she actually tells you about her experiences on the show would fill slightly less than half of one page. She does go into considerably more detail about Round Britain Quiz, I grant you. Yet it strikes me as strange that she says so little about what it was that first propelled her into the national spotlight.

As far as I know there have been two Brain of Britain quizbooks, one written by the show's creator and original compiler of questions, John P. Wynn in 1972, and the other written by Ian Gillies - 'Mycroft' to devotees of the show in years gone by - in 1986. Both of these have forewords. The 1972 book has one written by John Fawcett Wilson, the show's second producer, and the 1986 book has a foreword by Joan Clark, ( no relation ) who was the first producer of the show, and also I believe John P. Wynn's widow. The 1986 book also had a very interesting introduction by Ian Gillies, concerning the methods he used to compile the sets of questions for the shows. Yet none of the information given in either foreword, or the introduction really goes beyond the general information you can find on, lets say, wikipedia's entry for the Brain of Britain - which probably took their information from just these same sources.

Lets take the other broadcast quizzes with a similar prestige to BOB. With "University Challenge", for instance, there is the book
"University Challenge - the first 40 years " by Peter Gwyn, published for the show's 40th anniversary in 2002. Its a good general overview of the history of the show, with plenty of anecdotes, even if it does cover very much of the same ground as a BBC documentary of around the same time.

With "Mastermind" there is Magnus Magnusson's excellent history of the 25 year first incarnation of the show - which tells you all you could possibly want to know, in a style that is affectionate and engaging. If that's not enough, there is also "And No Passes . . . " which is 1989 champion Mary - Elizabeth Raw's account of her successful appearences in the 1989 series, and what happened to her in the year that followed.

Even with the sadly missed 15 to 1, although I don't know of any book devoted specifically to the show, a good section of Marcus Berkman's excellent "Brain Men" describes in detail his two appearences in the show.

Yet I haven't found anything out there going into any kind of detail about BOB. Why not ? Is it just because its on the radio, rather than the television ? Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.

Coming back to the 2 quiz books, its interesting to see which shows spawn the most spin off books, and its not necessarily the shows you might think. I do collect TV and Radio tie-in quiz books, and here's an edited highlights guide to how many tie ins were/are associated with each show : -

Starting with the ones we've already mentioned

University Challenge -
I have 2 - the 1978 Arrow paperbacks book, and the 1995 BBC Books one. There may be another more recent one too, but this is rather elusive.

Mastermind -
3 paperbacks, Mastermind 1, 2 and 3 ( 1973, 1975, 1978 ) all collected as one hardback version ( 1984 ) and the Mastermind Winners Quiz book ( 1992 )

15 to 1 -
I have 6 books - 3 published by Boxtree 1989 - 91, 15 to 1, 15 to 1 Super Challenge , 15 to 1 the Ultimate Challenge, and then three published by Channel 4 books , 15 to 1 - 2000 for 2000, 2001 for 2001 and 2002 for 2002 .

Then selected others : -

The Weakest Link - 2 books
Winning Lines - 2 books
Ask the Family - 4 books
Blockbusters - 6 books, and there may well be more

then the granddaddy of them all : -

TV Top of the Form - 8 books !

Just out of interest, I also have in my collection a 1951 Top of the Form quiz book from the radio show. This book is actually remarkable in that it has questions you could hear being asked at any pub quiz you might go to, and then it also has questions so desperately un-PC you would never hear them asked anywhere - for example , it honestly asks
"Why do savages hold their ears to the ground ? "

You couldn't make it up.

No comments: