Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Ones That Didn't Get Away

Last week I posted an entry listing the question masters I would have loved to have been in a show with, but never got a chance. In response to the article, regular LAM reader Chris asked me where I would place the question masters that I have appeared with within this pantheon.

I'll admit, I did deliberately fight shy of this in the first post, but since I've been asked, I will try to answer this honestly, without fear or favour. Here we are : -

Nicky Campbell

I wouldn’t say that you really got to know him at all during “Come and Have A Go . . . “ What I will say is that the man struck me as a total professional. Throughout the whole thing , dress rehearsal and then the live show, he was in total control. I was also impressed with the way that he comfortably used a lot of four letter words during the rehearsal, but in the live show, when presumably he was getting instructions in his ear all the time, he never let one slip in at all.As for the show, it was a bit of a shame that once you were out you got the bum's rush back to your hotel, even though the show was still going on, so you didn't get to see him after the show. IMHO Nicky was one of the reasons that the second series of Battle of the Brains was a big improvement on the first.

Dermot Murnaghan

Dermot is a real gent. He is every bit as warm and nice and friendly off set as he is on set. I thoroughly enjoyed all of my AYAE appearences with him. As a presenter, I do wish he would sometimes just jettison the script a little more – don’t put all your eggheads in one basket was bloody annoying by the third time you heard it, let alone the thirty third. But he's a nice chap, who manages to keep the tone fairly light throughout his shows.

John Humphrys

Lets get the negatives out of the way first. In my four shows John never once came back to the green room while I was there, so I am afraid that I have never managed to hold a conversation with him when I wasn't sitting in the black chair. Mind you , if you did manage a wisecrack during the chat he was very generous with his laughter and response, even if these were inevitably cut out of the show before it went on air. Also, before the interround chats were binned you would spend a lot of time talking on the phone to a researcher about what areas of your subject and/or your life that John could explore with you. All for the sake of the most dispensible part of the show. On the positive side, John is a master on set. My final was filmed in Glasgow Caledonian University. Normally good old Ted Robbins is the warm up man. He and John have a very good rapport, and the banter between them is great. But for the final they had a local boy there, who went down like a lead balloon. So during the show, when there were any breaks in the filming, John ignored him completely , and instead entertained the audience himself, with funny stories about Celebrity Mastermind etc. All of us after the show spontaneously said what a brilliant job he did – and its true. On the day of the final he was fantastic – I think he enjoyed it as much as we did. If he didn’t, then he hid it well. Nobody could follow Magnus, but John does the best job anybody could do, in my opinion.

Chris Tarrant

Chris is a class act, on set and off it. The rehearsal for my Millionaire show was done by producer David Briggs, who said that Chris isn’t expected in the rehearsals. He still made a point of coming down, sitting among us, having a chat etc. I think that if you’re my age you’re naturally disposed towards Chris because of lingering warm memories of Tiswas and then OTT. You genuinely feel that he is being sincere with what he says to you in the chair. Then afterwards he is the first into the bar, and he buys everyone a drink. I think that in recent years Millionaire has probably suffered a little bit through familiarity in the eyes of the public. But be honest, isn’t one of the reasons why it became such a broadcasting phenomenon the fact that they picked exactly the right person to host the show in the first place ?

Russell Davies

Such a warm, witty and intelligent guy. I think I’ve already said this before, but the fact is that I found the radio show to be much more easy going and laid back than television, even though the show itself can be a bit of a mad gallop when you get started. I can’t really criticise him in any way. A lot of his asides are actually very funny, although you don’t realise quite how funny until you hear them at home. I also genuinely think that he possesses one of the very best voices in radio today. BoB is a very civilised show, and Russell, Paul and the team do come back to a green room for a little drink and a bite with the contestants after the show, although I was never there long myself due to the necessity of driving straight back to Wales.

So – where would I place them in the pantheon ? Well, I’m going to use my own criteria here to help me out a little. WWTBAM is a game show, and so Chris will not feature in my deliberations.

To be brutally honest, had I not been on their shows, I’m not sure that either Nicky or Dermot would have been on my list. This is not to decry the work they have done, nor does it diminish my admiration for Nicky’s professionalism, and Dermot’s all round nice, good-blokeishness.

If Robert Robinson does retire from BoB, and Russell takes it over on a more permanent basis, then yes, 100% he would deserve his place among the pantheon.

John is a difficult one. I don’t say that he has made the show his own in quite the same way that JP has made UC his own. I’m not sure that the format would allow him to do it anyway. Had I never been on the show, though, I would be absolutely desperate to do so. So of course I would include him in the pantheon- even though I do wish he would get out of the habit of repeating a correct answer when he’s given one sometimes.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Mastermind - First Round - Heat 16/24

This is turning out to be quite a special Mastermind season. While for me nothing will beat the 2007 SOBM, the fact is that this season continues to surprise, shock, delight and entertain me. Tonight’s show certainly showed a thing or two about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

What joy ! David Buckle started us off with The Work of Gerry Anderson. According to Mr. Buckle there’s never been anything to match Thunderbirds , and I’m afraid that I have to say that the little part of me that will always be 8 years old agrees with this 100%. Not that the questions were all, or even mostly about Thunderbirds. I mean, you do have to be a really die hard fan to have even heard of Torchy the Battery Boy. Some interesting facts came out in this round too. Did you know that Troy Tempest’s appearance was based on James Garner ? I didn’t, but I can see it now. 13 seemed a good return on this set of questions, and I send a special thank you to David Buckle for picking it.

Well well well. It’s a small world. My friend Untruth did give me the head’s up a while ago that one subject for tonight might be a bit familiar. Andy Crane’s specialist subject tonight was the Olympic Games 1968 - 1988 When I first dipped my toe in the Mastermind waters in 2006 I also offered the Summer Olympic Games. Only I offered all of them – 1896 to 2004, anyway – they never suggested I might like to narrow the field a little. Still, to be fair, I think the narrow timescale did allow them to ask some quite obscure stuff. Actually the round was a real mixture of stinkers, fair ones and gimmes, so I can confidently say that Mr. Crane’s 14 was a very good performance. Ah – did he beat my Olympic score , you ask ? Yes, he did. I scored 14 and 2 passes in 2006.

Sally Wardle followed with The Life and Work of Sir John Everett Millais. Now, this would probably have been a good time for me to forget that I had ever watched – and enjoyed – the TV series “Desperate Romantics”. ‘Life and work’ subjects are always trickier than they sound . After all, what if you’ve concentrated on the Life, and there are more questions about the Work, or vice versa ? Well, Sally Wardle convinced me that she’d done her homework on both, when she scored a commendable 12.

Somebody has to go last in the first round, but it really does put the pressure on the poor devil who has to do it. Tonight the pressure fell on Kajen Thuraaisingham. Mr. Thuraaisingham was answering questions on the Life of Mustafa ‘Ataturk’ Kemal, one of the most remarkable European statesmen of the 1920s, and a key figure in Turkey’s successful defence of the Dardanelles during the first world war. Unfortunately Mr. Thuraasingham seemed to be badly affected by nerves. He scored 4.

Being last to go in the first round, and first to go in the last round meant that Mr. Thuraaisingham really had no time to recover his composure. For once, maybe the inter round chat might actually have been a good idea here – although if it comes to a choice I would vote to keep things the way they are now every time. I am very sorry to have to say that he managed to take his score to five – and there’s no way for me to sweeten the pill here – which is the lowest combined total in Mastermind to date. A word here. Before anyone decides to make any negative comment about this, then they should have to take their own turn in the chair. And anyone who’s ever been in the chair should not dream of making a negative comment.

Sally Wardle followed with a battling 9 to take her score to 21. She got a little annoyed with herself for not being able to recall the Falangists as the party of Franco and Primo de Rivera. Still, she allowed herself a wry smile as John portentously read out a couple of lines for her to identify as belonging to “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go “ by Wham. All together now- anything over 20 is a good score.

David Buckle, I am happy to be able to say, did not live up to his surname, but rather stood firm before the rapid fire barrage that a good GK round should be, and posted a very useful twelve. Just the one pass gave him a total of 25 and 1, which would place him at number 5 on the runner-up board. However, this was only if Andy Crane could manage 12 himself. 11 would bring a tie break, and anything less would mean that he was out. His technique in the first round had been , on a number of questions, to wait for a couple of seconds if the answer didn’t come to him straightaway. This proved to be a good tactic, since he had invariably dredged up the right answer. It didn’t work so well in his GK round. Within the first half minute you began to feel that he was falling behind on the clock, and after the first pass a tie break became out of the question. Oh, this was by no means a bad round, but the points just weren’t coming quickly enough. By the buzzer he had scored 9, to take him to 23.

A compelling and exciting show, and one which means that we are now two thirds of the way through the first round.

The Details

David Buckle The Work of Gerry Anderson 13 – 0 12 – 1 25 – 1
Andy Crane Summer Olympics 1968 – 1988 14 – 1 9 – 2 23 – 3
Sally Wardle The Life and work of sir John Everett Millais 12 – 1 9 – 1 21 – 2
Kajen Thuraaisingham The Life of Mustafa ‘Ataturk’ Kemal 4 – 4 1 – 7 5 – 11

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

John Cooper29 – 3
Ian Scott Massie26 – 2
Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
Peter Cowans25 - 2
William de'Ath25 - 4

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Ones That Got Away : -

This is a rather self indulgent posting. Well, they all are, but this one possibly more so than normal. I say this so that you have the opportunity to quit reading before I go any further if you want to.

Right, now that they’ve gone, lets get to the point. I made the comment last week that Russell Davies has been such a terrific question master on this year’s Brain of Britain that I haven’t been disappointed that I didn’t get to meet Robert Robinson, of whom I’ve been a fan since he presented Ask the Family in the 70s when I was a kid. This has sparked off a train of thought which leads to this post, where I share with you my list of the greatest question masters that I never got to meet. For the record, these are the broadcast question masters whose shows I have participated in.: -
Nicky Campbell – Come and Have A Go If You Think You’re Smart Enough
Dermot Murnaghan – Eggheads / Are You An Egghead
John Humphrys – Mastermind
Chris Tarrant – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
Russell Davies – Brain of Britain

By virtue of which they are, of necessity , excluded from the list. All set then ? Lets go.

1) Magnus Magnusson

Would Mastermind ever have taken off without the masterly Magnus at the helm ? Possibly so, although I doubt it would have become the broadcasting institution that it did without him. Magnus got the tone absolutely right with the gravitas that his proud , educated scots inflected English gave to the proceedings . Actually, despite his assumption of the role of the quiz ‘interrogator’, everyone I know who appeared on Magnus’ shows has said that he was a delightful man, very interested in all of his contenders, whatever the level of their performance. Sadly the great man passed away in the January of 2007, but it was a great thrill for me to be presented with the trophy for Mastermind 2007 by his daughter, broadcaster Sally Magnusson.

2) Bamber Gascoigne

There is a whole generation of University Challenge fans who have never seen a Bamber Gascoigne presented show. To coin a phrase, Bamber, as he was invariably known, was chalk to Jeremy Paxman’s cheese. Always smiling, Bamber continually gave the impression that he knew the answer to every single question. He later explained his was because all the questions were sent to him in advance, and he worked extremely hard so as not to be flummoxed if he was given an answer that diverged from the answer on the card, but might be actually right. If you never saw Bamber in action, I say to you , think of the air of comfortable intellectual superiority, without arrogance of a Stephen Fry. Like Magnus, Bamber had the distinction of becoming a personality who was instantly recognisable by his first name. He was actually asked to be question master when the show returned in 1994, but politely declined, thinking that his previous 25 years of the show were enough. Still, we can be grateful for this, since if he had accepted we might never have had the third on my list –

3) Jeremy Paxman

Say what you like about this one. I think genuine originals like Jeremy Paxman are to be treasured. Yes, I’d love to be in a quiz chaired by the man – and he could ridicule me for obvious answers , and bully me into hurrying up as much as he liked. Actually I’m sorry if this destroys anyone’s illusions, but people I know who have appeared on UC often say that he is perfectly charming behind the scenes. I have a very well known quizzing friend, who is also a supply teacher. A couple of years ago we were hatching a plan to try to get him into my school for a day’s supply cover so that we could apply together for a series of University Challenge – the Professionals. Sadly this series seems to have been killed off now, so it will probably never happen. Shame.

4) Robert Robinson

If you’re under about 35 you’ll probably never have watched Robert Robinson presenting Ask the Family. It’s a real shame , since there’s been nothing like it since it ended in 1984, and that includes the two revivals with Alan Titchmarsh and Dick and Dom. Make no bones about it, Robert Robinson is a dry old, droll old soul. It was a great pleasure to rediscover him a few years ago on Brain of Britain. You came to realise just how good he was when you listened to Peter Snow presenting the series in 2007. Sadly Robert Robinson’s health has suffered in the last few years. In both 2007, and the present series poor health meant he was unable to present the series, although this year we were fortunate to have Russell Davies take the helm. To be fair he is in his 80s, and so if he were to take a deserved full retirement we should not begrudge him it.

5) William G. Stewart

William G. Stewart has he distinction of being involved in probably the best TV quiz ever, and one of the worst of recent years. William G. Stewart was both presenter and producer of the sadly lamented 15 to 1. In this show he had the supposedly simple knack of what we in the trade call – ‘getting the hell on with it ‘. Then along with some excellent quizzers, he was one of the few good or genuine things in the unlamented “People’s Quiz “ of 2007. Whichever way you look at it, 15 to 1 ensures Mr. Stewart a prominent position in the quizzing hall of fame, if ever someone has the bright idea of erecting such an edifice.

6) Gordon Burns

I started off with a love-hate relationship with the Krypton Factor. You have to accept that I was about 13 years old when it first started, and I used to get a bit annoyed that they called it Television’s toughest Quiz, and then they went and put a physical challenge, the assault course, in it. As I looked on it , with my childish understanding, putting a physical challenge into it just wasn’t cricket. You were either good at sport, or you were good academically. You wouldn’t expect to be both – that would be cheating ! Thankfully I grew up , and when I got into the school rugby team late in the day then I could start to actually enjoy the show. Although the revival of the show has been pretty faithful, I just can’t get used to it without the calm, Caledonian authority of Gordon Burns, though. Like William G., Gordon was a master of the supposedly simple art of getting on with the show. His great secret was that he didn’t try to be the star of the show himself, instead he realised that the show itself was the star.

7) Geoffrey Wheeler

God, I’m making myself feel old through doing this. I’ve just noticed that many of my choices had their heyday in the 70s and 8s. Geoffrey wheeler was possibly best known for taking over Winner Takes All from Jimmy Tarbuck. He was always in the show, originally as the voice of the questions, but he produced the show as well. Still he was also a long time presenter of Top of the Form in the radio, and TV Top of the Form as well. He had a wonderfully warm yet unflappable manner about him. He was sort of the Mr. Chips of broadcast quizzing of years gone by, the nice school master that all of the boys liked. Going back to Top of The Form , I do wonder if it would ever be possible to do such a show today. Case in point. I taught a class of very intelligent 12 year olds today. In all seriousness they are as bright and intelligent a class of children as I have ever taught. Yet not a one of them had ever heard of the proverb “A Stitch in time saves nine. “ I rest my case.

How could I miss out - ?

I’m sure that you have a few of your own favourites you may be surprised to see me omit from my list. Well, I did set myself a few boundaries when choosing my list – partly for simplification, and partly because I just like rules . These are : -

Nobody who only really presented game shows, even if they were at least partly quizzes too. Hence no Hughie Greene, Michael Miles, Tarby etc. who probably wouldn’t have made my list anyway , and no place for a guy I actually really would have liked to meet , Bob Monkhouse.

Nobody who only really presented celebrity quizzes/panel games. Hence no Stephen fry, who would otherwise be very prominently on the list.

And finally –

There’s one glaring omission from the list in the person of Victoria Coren. This is simply because I sincerely hope that there will be another series of Only Connect, and I will certainly be applying to take part with Gary and Lisa. Fingers Crossed.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

TV Watch - Only Connect

Only Connect – Round One Match 4 – Philosophers v. Hitchhikers

You know you’re getting old when quiz teams on TV are looking younger. Well I am getting old, but actually the teams did look a lot younger tonight. Only Connect has been very successful in attracting teams of younger players for this series, and the Philosophers, a team of Philosophy students – well I never – were certainly such a team. They consisted of Ben Walpole, and Cosmo Grant, who combine philosophy with Maths, and captain Peter Berry, who combines philosophy with German. That’s life I suppose. I said they looked young, and I was right, since they are all first year students at Merton College Oxford. Victoria Coren wickedly asked them, since they all studied philosophy, then who would answer the sports questions. The Hitchhikers too were a young team, of two students, Chris White and Fiona Constantine, and a web and video designer, captain Tom Scott.A positively diverse bunch compared with the opposition, you would say. The Hitchhikers apparently don’t hitchhike, but instead all met up in the Douglas Adams society while students at York. I get it now. Being as I am a lover of Adams’ oeuvre, they got lumbered with support from the C.S.

Round One – what’s the Connection ?

The Philosophers’ first connection saw them given Aqua Fortis, then Aqua Regia. It sounded like they were barking up the wrong tree when they started talking about roman names for cities. Cosmo Grant was right that Aquae Sulis is the roman name for Bath, but if you tried to have a bath in any of the 4 clues you’d be in for a shock, since they were all old names for acids. Bonus to the Hitchhikers. They picked up a point on their own connection, just in the nick of time getting the architects who designed the parliament buildings of various countries, while at one time they looked like they might be going for cathedrals.The Typewriter, the Minute Waltz, By the Sleepy Lagoon and Barwick Green might have been a music connection. It wasn’t , and it foxed both teams. Yes, it may be an old chestnut to those of us of a certain age, but if you haven’t heard it before you wouldn’t know that they are themes to radio 4 shows – the last two being Desert Island Discs and the Archers. Tom Scott showed brilliance in getting red book from audio cds and the budget, but also took This is Your Life to be sure. That’s a great connection again. Now , with the picture connection, the Philosophers put some points on the board, identifying rainbows, shooting stars, dandelions and wishbones as things to make a wish on. So with only one left , the Hitchhikers were landed with the sound round. South Pacific, Beautiful South and South Park gave them a point. They led with 5 to 1.

Round Two – what comes fourth ?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t work out that Fear – Surprise – Ruthless Efficiency would be followed by devotion to the pope. It’s the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch ! I didn’t know it, to my shame, but the Hitchhikers did. Good connection again. Then they seemed to be foxed by the letters g – then j – then p. They guessed – a - wrongly , and the Philosophers guessed - s- also wrongly. I wouldn’t have had it. The answer was q, because in the English alphabet it would be the next letter with a small descender. Its absolutely correct, and makes perfect sense when you know it. Just given ‘undo’ the Philosophers had the connection at once, but waited for Cut to be certain. The sequence, from control and different letters for computer word processor functions would go on to copy and then paste. 3 points for a fine answer. The Hitchhikers were given Observation – and jokingly suggested rounds on the Krypton factor. Good thinking ! This was followed by Statement – Hypothesis – which as the Hitchhikers worked out were all stages of the Scientific method, and would be followed by testing or Experiment. Good answer. The philosophers were certainly in the ball park on their next set, following capital and architrave with pediment. Too far down, I’m afraid. Had they gone up they would have found the cornice at the top of the column. Which actually was a question on my first Are You An Egghead show, which that nice Mr. Ashman answered for me. A set of pictures gave the Hitchhikers a blue circle, a yellow circle then a black one. They considered and rejected Olympic rings – then considered them again. They knew the other had to be red or green, but went wrongly for red, giving the point to the Philosophers. The Philosophers then had slightly the better of the round, but the Hitchhikers still led, by 8 points to 5.

Round Three – The Connections Walls

The Hitchhikers went first , and I’m afraid they didn’t find any of the sets. It was a tough wall, but no tougher than last week’s I would say. I had spotted bar – lemon – 7 and bell as terms from a one armed bandit, and when the grid was resolved so did they. They didn’t see a group of words with a silent letter. Neither did I. They had spotted that there would be a set of graphs in there, but never got the right combination. They were also defeated by a set of cartoonists.
The Philosophers rose to the challenge, finding a group of theories in mere seconds. Of the two walls I would have preferred theirs, and had the sets worked out before the end. The team themselves got rather bogged down. Its hard, and when you can’t see them, you just can’t see them. They got points for theories, and also for terms used for judging wine, but missed out on words that go with second. Still, they had won the round, and edged closer to the Hitchhikers, who now led by just 10 points to 8.

Round Four – Missing Vowels

This has been the decisive round for the last three weeks, and it looked like it was going to be so again. We began with a set of endangered mammals. This set seesawed back and fore, but poor Peter Berry of the Philosophers was penalised for giving us Bacterian camel – a correct if rather harsh call since he meant bactrian. As Victoria said, every vowel is sacred. Ooops – I’ve gone a little Monty Python there. Hitchhikers thus now led by 13 to 8. The next set was rulers who abdicated. Both teams weren’t bad at this, and scored 2 apiece. Next category was Hello in different languages. An early incorrect buzz from the Philosophers undid some good work, and by the end of the round the Hitchhikers led by 18 to 10. The next category was Literary works set during wars. .It was pretty much one way traffic until the last of this set. Neither team got The Iliad, but the Hitchhikers did enough to raise their score to an unassailable 20. We moved on to major south American Rivers. Both teams should have rushed to the buzzer on RNC for Orinoco, but they seemed to just sit there for a moment. The rest of them were nothing like as easy. Still, by the end of the round and the end of the contest, the Hitchhikers had won by 21 points to 11.

You have to applaud the producers for getting the younger teams on. The Philosophers never really looked like winning, and alright, the Hitchhikers missed a few, but they also came up with some good answers. Having young teams come and do well on a serious show like this shows people that quizzing is not just the preserve of the forty-and fifty-and sixty-somethings, and if it encourages more young players to take part in quizzing at whatever level, well, in the long term that’s got to be good for the game.

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – Quarter Final stage match 4 – Jesus College Oxford v. Emmanuel College Cambridge

Look , my friends, it doesn’t get a lot better than this, does it ? Only Connect follows at 8:30, while on University Challenge we have a quarter final match-up between Oxford and Cambridge. Jesus v. Emmanuel. Here’s an interesting question. In this match up, who’s the underdogs ? It’s a serious question. After all, taking an aggregate of first round match and second matches only, then Jesus look clearly better. Yet if you forget about the first round match that Emmanuel lost to Regents Park, then Emmanuel have hugely impressive figures for their last two matches, right up there with the best of the series. Well, back in December my four picks to do well in the quarters were St. John’s, Imperial, Manchester – who all won their first match – and Emmanuel. Was the curse of the Clark sofa finally to bite back, or would it be a clean sweep of the first set of matches ?

At first it looked like maybe the curse was going to take effect, as the first starter went to Mr. Speller of Jesus. He correctly interrupted spotting that Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, and a seventeenth century parliament were linked by the word Long. Mr. Speller was a bit of a star in the first round, and with the excellent Alex Guttenplan leading Emmanuel it looked like we could be in for something of a classic buzzer shoot out. Mr. Speller took the second starter as well, identifying PG Wodehouse as the british resident of Le Touquet who made an infamous broadcast during world war II, which almost certainly prevented him eventually receiving a knighthood. However for the next starter Alex Guttenplan identified Ethel as the girl’s name originating from the anglo saxon word for noble. Game on. The next starter was impressive. After a long preamble, as soon as the words ‘hardest known substance’ began to pass JPs lips, Guttenplan’s buzzer rang out. Correctly too, as he identified diamond. At this stage we had a real contest, as Jesus came back to win a third starter, recognising Kaiser Willhelm II, but failing to recognise three other rulers from 1900. They fell into the error of mistaking Tsar Nicholas II for his first cousin King George V.

We reached the ten minute mark with Jesus leading by 60 points to 40. At this stage it was anybody’s game. However Alex Guttenplan was beginning to build up a head of steam, and in fact the whole of the Emmanuel team were looking sharp. At one point I thought that Alex Guttenplan was giving us a Jimmy Shand impression when he gave three rhyming answers – Spruce, Truce, Juice. No, I’m not explaining that reference to anyone under fifty. You’ll just have to take my word for it that its hilarious. Jenny Harris, Emmanuel’s literature expert, started weighing in with some good buzzes during the second third of the competition as well. Mr. Scott, also weighed in with an impressive interruption on geology as well.

As an aside, it was interesting to hear a question about Frank Loesser’s song “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”. There was a question about that in my BoB semi final – which we all got wrong !. Then we had a question about the Clarke orbit. Hang about ! This question was recycled from an earlier show. This was one of my original “Interesting Fact I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week” s. Yes, it was asked back in September, when St. Hugh’s just beat Magdalene ! So I got it right this time !

Well, it had been a good ten minutes for Emmanuel by the 20 minute mark. Jesus still languished on 40, but Emmanuel now had a whopping 180. The contest looked over, although funnily enough when we moved into the last third of the contest at least Jesus began to emerge from their straitjacket. From now until the gong the teams pretty much swapped starters. However, while Jesus were nudging themselves past 100, Emmanuel were striking out towards 300. At the gong, Emmanuel had won by 280 points to Jesus’ 125 points. Another highly impressive performance. Don’t be fooled, this Jesus team are a good outfit, but Emmanuel go from strength to strength. Alex Guttenplan put in another stellar performance, but he was well supported by his team too. They could – just could, mind you – go a long way.

I’ve made up my mind – I really like the new format. Still, it will be very hard lines for any of the four winners we have so far who don’t make it to the semis. Time will tell.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Jeremy was almost all charm tonight. I feel strangely cheated. Oh, he had a nice dig in the set of questions about monarchs from 1900,
“That was Victor Emmanuel of Italy, who believed that all you needed to be king was to be able to ride a horse and to sign your own signature.”
When Alex Guttenplan buzzed in for a starter, and then apologised for having no answer, JP, who had every reason for being as shocked as the rest of us, replied in a manner that was all honey and syrup
“ Ooh , bad luck, I thought you’d got it. “ What on earth has got into him ?

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

In Germany a mobile phone is a handy !

Radio Listen -Brain of Britain

Brain of Britain - Semi Final 4/4

Well, if you read last week's review you'll probably have worked out that I was actually sitting in the audience for this show. By the time it began, I have to say that I was still shaking like a leaf. Its wierd - winning a quiz has never affected me like this before, but I was so worked up, I suppose. Silly really, but there we are. Still, on with the show.

On paper this was a very serious competition. Jim Cook is a Mastermind finalist. David Edwards has a huge list of achievements, not least winning Mastermind in 1990, and being the first Mastermind winner to win the top prize on WWTBAM. Anne Hegerty who I believe is a previous semi finalist on Brain of Britain, and also a Masterminder, is the same Anne who beat me in the quarter final of “Are You An Egghead ? “ Interestingly , Anne lost to David in the semi final. A chance for revenge here perhaps? Not if Simon Pitfield, who had the joint highest runner up score of the first round had anything to say about it.

What happened next was highly impressive. Make no mistake about it, there were 4 good quizzers competing in this show, but pretty much from the start Anne took a vice-like grip on the contest, and never once looked like relinquishing it. This was a most assured performance, and you enevr thought that the other three were ever going o find their way back into the contest. Having said that, it was interesting that Anne didn’t know that Tom Jones’ second and last number 1 was “The Green Green Grass of Home”. Alright, I only mention this because every time I hear that song I can’t help thinking of the episode of “Only Fools and Horses” where Del Boy asked a singer with a speech impediment to sing “The Gween Gween Gwass of home”. Little things please little minds I suppose. Having said that many of Anne’s answers were outstanding – in successive answers identifying the creator of the swiss army knife, and then the year food rationing ended in Britain , for example.

At the break for the listener’s question Anne already had a huge lead. Simon Pitfield had three, David Edwards and Jim Cook both had 5, but Anne had 15.
The listener’s questions in the break were quickly dispatched to the boundary. Princess Drina was identified as Queen Victoria, and a list of girl’s names were identified as having been invented by writers. As a point of interest it didn’t give Rowena - up until last week's University Challenge I had always thought that it was a made up name from Ivanhoe.

In any quiz show there is an element of luck. When it comes to BoB it may well be that there are only 7 questions asked in the whole of one show that you don’t know the answer to. However, if these seven are the seven first questions in each of your sets of five, then you are going to be living off scraps from bonuses. OK, that’s an extreme example, but it does give you an idea of what can happen to even the best quizzers on BoB. Throughout most of the contest Jim and David found that they would get a start in their rounds, and then the bouncer would come in. Simon too was fighting a rearguard action. Anne, though, was a different class in this show. Not just on her own questions either. I didn’t keep a tally, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find that she snapped up more bonuses than the other two. She finished with 24, the highest score of the semi finals.

The Details

Jim Cook – 9
David Edwards – 12
Anne Hegerty – 24
Simon Pitfield - 9

So only the final awaits. I feel myself incredibly lucky to have got that far, and to see my name bracketed with the three other finalists, who are all great quizzers, is an honour. For the record, next week's final is contested between : -
Ian Bayley
David Clark
Rob Hannah
Anne Hegerty.

I hope that you can join us.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

January Aberavon Rugby Club Quiz

Ok - here's the first 40 questions that I asked in the club last Thursday. As a rough guide, the highest scoring team in this first half of the quiz scored 34.

1) In Annan in Scotland last week, a statue of which hero has finally been installed 150 year after it was commissioned ?

2) Events of the 21st century – in which year did the Columbia space shuttle disaster occur ?

3) What nickname was given to the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, due to the stripes on the uniform ?

4) 2 – 17 – 3 – 19 – what number comes next ?

5) In which country would you find Mount Cotopaxi ?

6) Business – what does MB as in MB, one of the world’s biggest toy manufacturers, actually stand for ?

7) If you had little swords in your garden, what would actually be growing there ?

8) In TVs Gavin and Stacey, what is the name of Nessa and Smithy’s son ?

9) Which song did the X Factor finalists take to number 1 in November 2009

10) Name the controversial third umpire in the final test against south Africa, who allegedly did not have the volume up on his TV set .

11) Last week, which comedian , actor and writer publically quit twitter after using it for just 6 weeks, branding it as a pointless opportunity for celebrities to show off.

12) In the 1991 gulf war, what were the names of a) The missiles fired by Iraq into Israel, and b) the American missiles used to counter the Iraqi one.

13) True or false – the cake on the front cover of the Rolling stones Let it Bleed LP was actually baked for them by Jane Asher ?

14) Weybridge in Surrey was home to the world’s first ever purpose built racing circuit. What was its name

15) Porto Novo is the capital of which west African country ?

16) Which is the birthstone for January – is it garnet – amethyst or bloodstone

17) Which Yann Martel novel won the Booker Prize in 2002 ?

18) The meerkat is actually a species of which mammal ?

19) Which film about the Beatles days in Hamburg starred Ewan Macgregor as fifth Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe ?

20) Michael Schumacher is set to return to formula 1 this year. Driving for which team ?

21) Which premiership manager was last week charged with two counts of tax evasion ?

22) Marion Barry the black American politician arrested and dismissed from office for drug offences, was the mayor of which major US city ?

23) In a novel by H. Rider Haggard, who was Ayesha ?

24) Tokay wine comes from which country ?

25) In which city was a plaster figure called the goddess of democracy controversially raised in May 1989 ?

26) True or false – the hula hula dance was developed from the activity of surf boarding ?

27) What type of creature is a galliwasp – a lizard – a bird – a mammal – an insect

28) Leo McKern, Patrick Cargill, Peter Wyngarde and george Baker were among the actors who played number 2 in which cult TV series ?

29) In the 2009 animated film Disney’s A Christmas Carol, who voiced the character Scrooge ?

30) In the 1970s, Brian Clough succeeded Don Revie as manager of Leeds United, and only lasted 44 days. Who took over from Clough, and took Leeds to the final of the European Cup ?

31) Last week who announced that they plan to quit China ?

32) Which ancient people, traditional enemies of the Israelites, have given their name to people who are thought to be uncultured or uncivilised ?

33) Between 1970 and 1975, which asian country was called the Khmer Republic ?

34) Which classical composer composed the St. Matthew Passion ?

35) Who or what is a zoetrope ?

36) Malachite is a main ore of which metal ?

37) In which decade of the 20th century was sliced bread introduced ?

38) Whose toy stories TV series in 2009 saw him create , amongst other things, a full size airfix spitfire, and a full size house made from lego ?

39) Which 90s song beings with the line “Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur “

40) Who was the first ever british boxer to win world titles at more than one weight, in the 20th century – (excluding Bob Fitzsimmons – 2 of his three titles Middleweight and heavyweight – were won during the 19th century, only his light heavyweight title was won in the 20th.)

Friday, 22 January 2010

Mastermind - First Round Heat 15/24

The continuity announcer invited us to take a place in a nice comfortable chair as she introduced the show, the implication being that the black chair itself is anything but. Actually I can vouch for the fact that it is perfectly comfortable. If you feel uncomfortable during your rounds, believe me, its not the chair’s fault. Right, that’s my rant about the BBC's blatant display of furniturism over with, and lets get on with the show.

Chris Askew, the first of another four newcomers to Mastermind, kicked off the show with a popular culture offering, in the shape of the Life and Music of Lou Reed. Lou Reed - just think – Walk on the Wild Side, think , er , that Perfect Day song the BBC used for its own adverts a few years ago. Actually I do know that there’s quite a bit more to Lou Reed than this. Chris Askew kicked off pretty well, and was 6 questions in before his first pass. He seemed to slow down a little , and he didn’t get all the rest of them right, but he kept the round going right to the end, and 11 points is certainly not to be sniffed at.

Our second contender, Nathan Jones was burdened with the support from the Clark sofa tonight. Well, he is from Swansea, which is literally just down the road from me. His specialist subject was the Finnish nationalist and statesman Karl Gustaf Mannerheim. Mr. Jones mused , in his filmed insert, what Europe would be like today, in fact what Britain would be like today if there had been no Mannerheim. No idea about that myself. However Mr. Jones himself did me proud tonight, with a fine 14 on what looked like a tricky subject.

Dining hall manager Gerard McHugh picked a very traditional Mastermind subject in the shape of Classical Greek Mythology. I take no great pleasure in the fact that I said to myself as he went to begin his round that Mr. McHugh had picked a really nasty subject, on which it would be very easy to come a cropper. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I love greek mythology, and when I was a kid in the 70s, planning my future assault on the black chair, I always intended that I would take this as a subject. The problem is this, though. They aren’t going to ask you stuff you might be asked in a normal quiz when it’s a specialist subject on Mastermind. Knowing, for example, the name of the mortal gorgon, or the vulnerable part of Achilles, isn’t enough. On this subject, they are going to ask you some really difficult things. So you’ve got to really know your stuff, and alas, tonight Gerard McHugh fell somewhat short. He scored 4.

Gina Jolliffe finished the specialist round off, with a set of questions about Martin Nadaud. I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of him, although I felt slightly better when, in her filmed insert, Gina Jolliffe at least described him as an ‘obscure’ politician. So I cannot possibly say how easy, fair or difficult the questions on this round were, compared to those of the previous round. A score of 7 suggests that these probably were more on the difficult side.

Gerard McHugh at first seemed to be on a very good run at the start of his general knowledge round. The first 5 questions in a row were correctly taken, and they weren’t all easy by any stretch of the imagination either. Unfortunately a long pause before a pass seemed to knock the metaphorical wind out of him, and he only managed to raise his score to 10 by the end of the round. Its a shame. The first part of his round shows that he is better than this.
Gina Jolliffe’s general round took its time to ignite. Once she really got into her stride from about the minute mark onwards she began to push her score nicely upwards, but too much time had been wasted at the start of the round to give her a realistic crack at a surprise win. She scored 9. It must be said that all of our contenders tonight showed some nerves by the time we got to the general knowledge rounds. They showed commendable reluctance to pass, but did waste a lot of hesitation time. Chris Askew failed to convince with 8 points, and you have to say he looked very relieved when the buzzer went. Maybe this contributed to him failing to identify the Beatles’ song “From Me To You” from its first line.

So with only 6 points needed for a win , my boy Nathan Jones looked good for the win. As far as I know I haven’t met Mr. Jones at a quiz before, and you have to say that his GK round was a very nervous affair compared with his confident romp through the specialist questions. He cautiously nudged up to the target, and then through it, as he scored 7 to take the win. Well, Nathan Jones, a win is a win, and whatever happens in the semis, and nothing is impossible, you will always be a Mastermind semi finalist, and very many congratulations to you for that.

The Details

Chris Askew The Life and Music of Lou Reed 11 – 2 8 – 2 19 - 4
Nathan Jones Karl Gustaf Mannerheim 14 – 1 7 – 4 21 - 5
Gerard McHugh Classical Greek Mythology 4 – 4 6 – 1 10 - 5
Gina Jolliffe The Life and Times of Martin Nadaud 7 – 1 9 – 0 16 – 1

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

John Cooper29 – 3
Ian Scott Massie26 – 2
Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
Peter Cowans25 - 2
William de'Ath25 - 4

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

TV Watch - Only Connect

Only Connect – First round match 3 – Choir Boys v. Brasenose Postgrads

Match three of series 3 pitted the Choirs Boys against the Brasenose Postgrads. The Choir Boys consisted of Peter Lawson, Guy Painton, and captain Anthony Pritchard. In a quiz dedicated to connections, the connection between the three is that they are all members of the Brighton and Hove Gay Men’s Choir. Great comment from Anthony Pritchard to Victoria in the introductory spiel –
“Our music is crossover, which isn’t the way we dress, as some people thought.”
As for the Brasenose Postgrads, they are Amy Koenig, Chris Lustri, and captain Chris Tudor.A transcontinental team as it happens, since Amy Koenig is from the USA, Chris Lustri is from Australia, and Chris Tudor is from exotic Orpington.

Round One – What’s the Connection ?

Brasenose went first, and landed the dreaded music question lurking under alpha. Alas I think they were just too young to recognise songs like “Blue Eyes “ “Ebony eyes” and “Don’t it Make My Brown eyes Blue. “ So a bonus went to the Choir Boys. I thought that a tougher set went to the Choir Boys. They probably thought so too, since they didn’t get a set of military punishments. Neither did their opponents, and neither did I for that matter. Brasenose completted the double by getting the pictures on their next set. They scored their first point recognising things with French in their names. I was sorry not to see Dawn French complete the set, but that would have been frivolous, I suppose. The Choir Boys got another really hard set in the rules of conkers –with terms like windmills, stamps etc. No, never heard of them either. They got a bonus, identifying a set of supposedly cursed things. Finally the Choir Boys were asked a set of questions which ended with a character from the classic bad film “Escape to Victory”. Couple this with a french character from the film "Elizabeth", and you know that the roles mentioned in each film were all played by footballers. Unfortunately they failed to see this. So despite a failure to decipher any of their own sets, the Choir Boys led by 2 to 1 at the end of the round.

Round Two – What comes 4th in the sequence ?

Neither team spotted a great connection in the first set. We had – market – home – roast beef . You get it, the 4th would be– none . Just think little piggies, and you'll see. Again, Choir Boys got a nasty one on levels of security for British documents. I’m afraid that Brasenose fell into a trap with carat weight of gold. The 4th on the list , so the answer was actually 22ct , and not 24ct , which would have been 5th, which the Choir Boys knew. Hooray – at last the Choir Boys managed one of their own on Scottish mountains ! They were begin to take a hold on the contest, but Brasenose managed to see a list of deaths in Hamlet, and pick Hamlet correctly as the next. The Choir Boys were cooking on gas by now though. They got a beautiful connection, picking out that the last letter of the word NATO, in the NATO phonetic alphabet, would be oscar. Absolutely full marks to whoever wrote that one, its as aesthetically pleasing a connection as you will ever get. By the end of the round, the Choir Boys led by 7 points to 3.

Round Three – The Connections Wall

A tough wall flummoxed the Choir Boys. They spotted famous Gordons, but didn’t find a set of words preceded by straw. To be fair I haven’t heard of a straw mushroom either. General knowledge let them down when they failed to recognise the lateran as the name of a palace, still, when put with Lambeth et al they saw the connection, and finally failed to see Bennett, Pole, Dean and Winter as former football referees. Gotta say it – tough wall.
Brasenose Got two connections in short order. They could also see that the next connection was probably Normans, but couldn’t find them all. The grid was frozen after three tries, but at least they had found two sets, and saw three of the connections, but not a set of famous photographers. I thought it was the easier wall, but its all down to the luck of the draw. At the end, the Choir Boys still led by a reduced margin of 10 to 8.

Round Four - Missing Vowels

We’ve seen before that there are often simply oodles of points available on this round. So it was anybody’s game. Whichever team had the better wordsmiths would probably come out on top. Was it me, or did there not seem to be quite so many words this week as in the previous two weeks ? Well, anyway it was a lot closer than the previous two weeks, but you sensed that Amy Koenig and Chris Lustri were shading the buzzer war for Brasenose. Was it enough, though ? Yes it was, but only by a point, with 15 to the Choir Boys’ 14. OK, so maybe these weren’t the most impressive teams we’ve seen so far this series, but it was a good match, and an exciting show. Well done to both,.

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – Quarter Final stage match 3 – Imperial College London v. Edinburgh University

Checking through my form guide I see that Imperial beat St. Hugh’s Oxford in the second round by a massive 200 points, and their accumulated score, not including special case Emmanuel College, is the second highest behind St. John’s. They scored an average of 68% of all the points in their first two matches, which is a measure of significant dominance. Edinburgh on the other hand scored 170 in both of their matches so far, but to be fair they did manage to beat Regents’ Park Oxford in the second round. Regent’s Park, you remember beat the excellent Emmanuel team in their first match. They averaged 53% of the points in their first two matches, but then as any schoolboy can tell you, you only need 51% to come out on top. Any schoolboy with a calculator phone that is. Enough of such things. Whatever the stats may suggest, there are no soft matches at this stage.

Imperial took the first starter, and two out of three bonuses on quotations about King Charles I. The next two starters fell to them in quick succession as well. Still, they were a little profligate with the bonuses, and only had a fifty point lead as Edinburgh scored their first starter. By the end of those bonuses the lead had shrunk to 30. Still, Imperial gladly snapped up a full set on the final stages of world cup tournaments. Mr. Healy certainly knows his international football.

Edinburgh snapped up another starter, but Imperial seemed to be picking several sets to every one of Edinburgh’s, and were through the 100 point barrier not long after the ten minute mark. On a music starter I amazed myself with recognising that an aria was from Madame Butterfly , hence written by Puccini. Mr. Good of Imperial knew this too, and the bonuses it brought his team gave them a 100 point lead, and more. Twice Mr. Matheson of Edinburgh showed commendable fight by gambling on early buzzes, but these did not come off unfortunately. His third one did, and he got a very rare stamp of approval from our Jeremy for doing it. Well said sir.

If I was amazed that I got a classical music question right, I was even more flabbergasted that I guessed that plasmodium cells in the blood indicated malaria . That’s a science question ! Sorry, and back to the review. This Imperial team continued to be good value for their lead. It didn’t make a lot of difference what the subject for the starters was, they tended to either buzz in correctly, or let Edinburgh have a shout and then supply the answer after. They shared the answers around too, which is always a sign of a team that is more than the sum of its parts. The contest was over before the gong, and you have to say that Imperial looked pretty much as good value for their win as Manchester and St. John’s had looked for theirs. They had some terrific answers, for example knowing that Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world – that’s a quizzer’s question. At the gong they had won by 240 to 110.

As regards Edinburgh, Jeremy Paxman put his finger on it exactly when he said that they’d broken 100, which is perfectly respectable. Yes it is. The starters didn’t completely suit them, but if they get a run of questions that do suit they can do better than this. They may be down, but they’re certainly not out. Congratulations to Imperial though, who look a very good team.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

He was in a strange mood tonight, Jeremy. A lot of what he said about both teams’ performances was almost sagelike in its brevity and appropriateness. Then, while not exactly conciliatory, he did offer to Edinburgh when they managed their first starter , this verbose little gem,
“You’re not bereft any more. “
To Mr. Matheson of Edinburgh , when he buzzed in correctly after two incorrect buzzes, he offered even some words of encouragement,
“You’re doing the right thing, and keep going for it. “
Not that he’s gone totally soft. When being told that Gladstone had been Prime Minister the most times, a most exasperated JP replied,
“Yes of course ! I can’t believe it took you such a long time. “

Interesting Fact I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week

The name Rowena was not actually invented by sir Walter Scott for his novel “Ivanhoe”, but actually appears in the works of 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Brain of Britain - My Semi Final

Here's my recollections of the semi final, which I wrote within a couple of days of it being recorded : -

The quiz world, or rather the serious quiz world, is quite an incestuous one. After you’ve been on the circuit for a little while, and after you’ve appeared in a few of the more highbrow quiz shows, you’ll find the same faces popping up, and you get to know each other. I make no bones about the fact that 2009 was the year when getting to appear on Brain of Britain was my biggest quiz based ambition, but I don’t pretend that it was the only quiz that I applied for during the year.

Back in April, about the same time that I first sent off my BoB application, I was asked by a TV company to apply to appear on a show called “Are You An Egghead” and duly took part in the series, where I reached the quarter finals. I was knocked out by a very fine quizzer called Anne Hegerty. Anne and I both belong to the same internet forum, so we exchanged messages on the day that our show was broadcast. This happened to be a couple of weeks after the first round of BoB was recorded. One of the things that Anne mentioned was that she believed that we would be in the same Brain of Britain semi final. This betrayed a surprising amount of knowledge on Anne’s part, since she knew that I’d won my heat, and she also knew that I was scheduled to play again on the same day that she was. She mentioned another couple of names she thought would be on the same day. Suffice it to say that the other names were fearsome enough to put any thoughts of progression to the finals out of my mind.

In addition to this, I had the knowledge that I had only managed to score 16 in my first round heat. Now, OK, a win is a win. If you go back ( as I often do ) to mastermind 2007, my first round score was not one of the highest, and I only just scraped into the top 10. However, my score had still been pretty good. 16 seemed rather on the modest side, especially since in the heat before mine, Ian Bayley had scored 33 ! The other shows which had been broadcast so far had all been won by some fine competitors too.

I could tell you that I did no extra revision for my semi final, but that would be an utter lie. I learned the 1986 “Brain of Britain” quiz book, written by Mycroft himself, Ian Gillies, pretty much from cover to cover. I did make some rather ineffectual efforts to improve my worst BoB subjects – classical music and Science – yes, Science, all of it ! However I think any benefit I derived from this was purely psychological.

This time I made sure that my mum and step dad were put onto the guest list, and so we decided to leave the house at 4pm, and this time take the tube to Piccadilly Circus so we could walk up Regent Street and look at the Christmas Lights. So we did, and they were rotten. So that meant that we had to skulk into a coffee shop for about an hour, before arriving at Broadcasting House.

Last time, for the first round the contestants’ guests could stay with them, but they were taken off this time. All of which gave me time to check out the opposition. Just as Anne had predicted, David Edwards was all present and correct. If the name seems familiar to you, well that’s no surprise. To name just a few of his achievements David won Mastermind in 1990. He was the first Mastermind winner to win £1million on WWTBAM. In 2009, he was the losing finalist on “Are You An Egghead ? “ Before I go any further I have to state that David, as well as being one of the very best quizzers around, is also one of the very nicest, a true gentleman, and very good company. So it was no hardship to pass a few minutes in his company, even if the prospect of having to face him in the semi final was not one I viewed with any degree of relish. However David was able to put my mind at rest on one score. He explained that the Mighty Doctor Ian had actually played the night before. So whatever happened we wouldn’t be facing him.

Anne arrived, and we were eventually taken through into the Radio Theatre. I noticed the 4 names in the desk panel – and mine wasn’t there. This meant that my semi would be the first of the two, since they rehearsed the second show first, and then this would mean that the first show contestants could stay in their seats after the rehearsal. One other thing was obvious. Anne and David were both in the second semi final. Whoever I was facing, it wouldn’t be either of them, and it wouldn’t be Ian Bayley. So maybe the day was already starting to look up.

Brain of Britain 2009 – Semi Final number 3
Left to Right – Martin Boult – David Clark –Host Russell Davies - Jane Ann Liston – Anthony Payne

So the line up or my semi final, as you can see from the photo, was
Martin Boult,
David Clark
Jane Ann Liston
Anthony Payne.

My first thought, and its an unworthy one, I admit, was a certain amount of relief that I didn’t seem to have been placed in a semi with any of the real quizzing stars of the series. Both Martin Boult and Anthony Payne had won their heats, but its fair to say that they were not names I knew from the world of quizzing. Martin had won, I think, the last of the heats, which had yet to be broadcast, and so I didn’t know his score, and how well he had done. It would have given me food for thought had I known that he had gone through with the lowest winning score in the first round. However, to do this he had beaten reigning Mastermind champion Nancy Dickmann ! On reflection I’m glad that I didn’t know this at the time. Jane-Ann Liston I had not met before, but I knew of her through her appearance in my 2007 series of Mastermind . ( I’m sorry, but I cannot help but think of the 2007 series as MY series – although at a push I will refer to it as the 2007 SOBM ( Series of Blessed Memory ) . Jane Ann reached the semi finals , where she eventually lost to series runner-up Derek Moody. My recollection of her General knowledge performances was that they were good but steady rather than spectacular. Still, coming through as a highest scoring runner up commanded respect. As for Anthony Payne, he , like me, had managed a score of 16 in the first round, and so on paper he had at least as much chance as I did.

So, Russell kindly allowed me to have a photograph with the team before the start of the rehearsal. Then we were off. And what a rehearsal it was. I had my five in a row, and a ton of bonuses ! So much so that I scored 10 in the rehearsal alone. Which actually scared the pants off me, since something that starts so well can only get worse. On the face of it, though, at least it seemed to show that I was seemingly significantly sharper on the buzzer than my fellow contestants. A good omen, or so I thought.

On with the show then.

By the end of the first round it seemed pretty clear that my main competition was going to come from the competitor on my right, Martin Boult. He got a good string of three or four answers, more than I did. I had a couple of buzzes for bonuses to keep in touch, but it wasn’t enough to give me any great degree of comfort. This guy was a good quizzer. In the next round, he even started beating me to the buzzer, which surprised the hell out of me. He’d obviously been keeping his powder dry during the rehearsal round. Still, I started to get the measure with a good set of answers in round three.

It took a little longer to figure out why I was being beaten on the buzzer too. In the instructions before the start of the show we had all been told not to buzz in if we heard a wrong answer, until Russell said it was wrong. If we didn’t observe this, then we would be frozen out of the buzzing, and told off for it. Well, in the second round I came in so quickly after he said “Wrong” on one question, yet still got beaten to the buzzer, that the only way that Martin could have beaten me to the buzzer was if he had jumped the gun. So that , I thought, gave me carte blanche to do so as well. He hadn’t been told off for it, so I reckoned that if he could do it, so could I , and on a level playing field I would back myself to be quicker on the draw. For the rest of the show that was pretty much the way it turned out.

I forget exactly the exact wording of the two reader’s questions, but it was something along the lines of – when Lord Haw Haw announced on german propaganda radio that HMS – ( I forget the name ) had been sunk, how was this impossible. I didn’t have a clue, but Anthony and Martin knew that it had been a land installation, a ‘stone ship’ . The second question concerned Maurice Flitcroft – a man who set the record highest round in The Open golf championship ( Jane Anne gave me a reprimand for calling it the British Open ) after which stringent qualifying standards were applied to stop it ever happening again.

Round Four was where the tide turned appreciably. With a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, I got a run of five. In one of the middle questions I was asked,
“Who was the last PM born in the 19th century ? “ Now it just so happens that my team became welsh CIU champions in 2009, through correctly answering that Alec Douglas-Home was the first PM born in the 20th century. So with a quick bit of calculation I worked out that it had to be Harold Macmillan. It was. Then the fifth question asked what generic name was given to the shanty towns created by out of work Americans during the great depression of the 1930s. Thank you Dr. Who – since I remember a dalek episode a couple of years ago taking place in Hoovertown. Or was it Hooverville ? I answered Hoovertown – there was no reaction from Russell, so I had another stab, and so I changed it to Hooverville – and it was accepted. Blimey, that was a close one. 6 points – my first ever run of five, and a significant lead. Add that to a couple of buzzer bonuses, and I was well into the driving seat.

With a couple of rounds left I had the kind of lead I could have only dreamt of. Mathematically Anthony and Jane Ann were out of it, and the gap between Martin and me stayed at about 7 points.

There was an interesting cock-up which you won't have heard in the penultimate round. Anthony Payne was asked to identify the love theme from the film "Spartacus". Only this wasn't what was played in the theatre. Instead they put the on the famous piece of Katchaturian's Spartacus , later used for the Onedin Line. Not the same piece of music at all ! I noticed that they had put the right one on for today's broadcast. At last the final round ended, and I had scored 20. Instant delerium. I literally could not stop shaking. For the record, the final scores were : -
Martin Boult - 13
David Clark - 20
Jane Ann Liston - 8
Anthony Payne - 6

If anything, Mum and Tony seemed as delighted as I was. With forgiveable hyperbole Tony slapped me on the back and announced that I had ‘wiped the floor’ with the others. His words , not mine, and not the most tactful thing to say when we should have been commiserating with the other contestants. Still, it was a great pleasure to be able to sit down and watch the second semi, with my friends David and Anne going head to head with Jim Cook and Simon Pitfield.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

In Praise of Easy

There comes a time, I think, in every quizzer’s year, where you just long to be asked a set of simple, everyday questions again.

Prior to last Thursday, the last time that I played in a proper, non-specialist pub quiz would have been Monday 14th December. While I love Christmas and the holiday season, there’s always a time during the festivities when I find myself pining for an honest, no – nonsense pub quiz . Obviously most pubs either suspended their quizzes in the week leading up to Christmas, or those that went ahead tended to be Christmas themed. Then even when they started up again, the first quiz of the year tended to be a look back on the events of the previous 12 months. Our first quiz in the Aberavon Rugby Club on Thursday 7th, was an example of such.

Now, this is not a criticism of that quiz – it was a very good quiz, and had clearly taken a lot of time and effort to put together. But be honest, don’t you find yourself pining for a return to normality after a while ? For me this feeling usually sets in by about the 30th December. So you can imagine that by this last Thursday all I wanted was to play in a bog-standard ordinary quiz. A quiz where you’d be asked stuff like –
“Male is the capital city of where ? *“ and
“ Who was the lead singer of 80s group T’Pau ? **“ and stuff like that. Not particularly difficult, and nothing that different from what you’d find on the menu in a hundred other pub quizzes, but an ordinary, decent pub quiz.

Yes, most of the time you want to be tested. You want to be shown that you know things that you didn’t think you knew. You want to pit your wits against at least one team who have the ability to beat you if all goes well for them. On Thursday, though, I just wanted to answer some questions correctly. It had been a hectic week, as I mentioned in a previous post, and I wanted an easy night and an easy win. Is that so wrong ? Possibly. If I was a better person I would be far more corinthian about it, and be able to say that the playing of the game was far more important than who won or lost.

This coming Thursday its my turn to set the questions and act as question master in the club. Now this is no chore. Oh, there’s a few hours work involved, but it’s a labour of love. The questions and the handout are already prepared, only, well, its about this time that doubt begins to set in. If you set a quiz regularly for members of the general public and casual punters, rather than serious or semi serious quizzers, then you’ll know that if you think a quiz is too hard for them, you are almost certainly going to be right. The problem is how far you go in making it easier. I have never once had a complaint that my quiz is too easy for the participants on the night. I have had complaints that my quizzes are too hard, not often, but then they’re not the complaining sort in the club. So basically there is nothing holding me back from stripping back the level of difficulty further and further and further. Except for one mental hurdle. I have a nagging fear that one day another team will score 100% in one of my quizzes. In fact twice during the last 12 months I have been convinced, as I embark on the first round, that this is going to happen. So much so that I almost succumbed to the temptation to just alter the wording of a couple of questions. I didn’t, and rightly not, since the wording of a question is for me the most neglected aspect of the question master’s craft.

I’ll post the first half of the quiz on the blog on Friday, or sometime over the next weekend, when I’ll also be able to tell you how it went down at the quiz. You can let me know what you think about the level of difficulty. My gut feeling about this one is that there is no realistic chance of any team getting 100%, and I may even tone it down a bit before Thursday.

* Male is the capital of the Maldives
** Carol Decker was the lead singer of T'Pau

Friday, 15 January 2010

Mastermind - First Round Heat 14/24

At the end of a very hectic and enjoyable week, what better than to kick back with the double bill of Mastermind and Q.I. ? We’ve reached show 14, which means there’s still ten more to go after this. So, that’s elementary arithmetic out of the way. Now let’s get on with the show.

When Stuart Maclagan applied to come on the show, I’ll lay odds that he was a dead cert to get in from the moment that the production team read what he wanted to do for his first specialist subject , none other than The History of the Eurovision Song Contest. I’m not going to lie, I love the Eurovision. If you’re interested yourself I can heartily recommend Tim Moore’s book “Nul Points”. So a great subject . It was interesting that Stuart Maclagan proved to be a mine of obscure Eurovision trivia, and yet he had to really struggle to dredge up the name of Jahn Teigen, famously the first ever nul points man. Still , Mr. Maclagan himself did considerably better than the great Teigen, scoring an impressive quinze points himself.

Tonight’s first Traditional Mastermind Subject came by way of Peter Cowan, who offered us Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Considering the importance they have had in the history of Rome, they only lasted a relatively short time, from 58 – 50 BC . In his filmed insert he explained that the results gave Caesar wealth, an army and power . That’s all very well, but was he happy ? Probably was actually. So should Peter Cowan have been with his 13 . He looked extremely nervous, but this was a tricky round he negotiated with skill.

Matthew Platts gave us the Russian born American writer Ayn Rand. In his filmed insert he put forward his view that Ayn Rand “ might almost be described as an American Thatcher “ . That’s an American version of the former British Prime Minister, and not someone from New York who makes roofs out of grass. Cards on the table, all I knew about Ayn Rand is that she wrote “Atlas Shrugged”, and I only know that because this book put the police chief off reading for life in the first series of “South Park”. And you thought that South Park wasn’t cultural ! 12 put Matthew Platts in third place, but not so far behind the lead as not to be in contention.

Traditional Mastermind Subject Two tonight came in the shape of Florence in the Renaissance 1400 – 1550 . Aline Griffiths explained her deep interest in the period during her filmed insert. Deep interest is as good a reason for taking a particular subject as any, but I have to say that I feared for her chances, simply because with such a catch all subject it can be very difficult to cover all the bases. Questions were perhaps a little long winded, and I think that maybe she might have done better to have nominated either the politics of the time, or the art . Still , double figures is never to be sniffed at.

When she returned quickly to the chair I though that Aline Griffiths produced some good answers in her GK round, and I was a little surprised that she didn’t score more than 9. I can only suggest that she was perhaps just a little slow in her answers. 19 was not going to put her through, unfortunately. Matthew Platts answered his first half dozen answers confidently, quickly and well. After this correct answers proved a little harder to come by, and he levelled out at 10 , for a final total of 22. That’s not a winning score, but it’s a perfectly respectable one.

Peter Cowans then layed down the gauntlet. He managed to produce the best general knowledge round of the night, scoring 12 to end on 25. Considering how nervous he still appeared to be, I thought he had some good answers, and although Andrew Maclagan only needed 10 to draw and 11 to win, it was enough to put him within the corridor of doubt, as you might say. Stuart Maclagan certainly didn’t make short work of the score, but he kept ticking along. With three questions to go he had scored 10, but the rest of the round ended without another point. Would we have a tie break, then ? I did wonder, since John made a point of stressing the tie break rules halfway through the show. But no. Peter Cowan had only scored 2 passes, but Andrew Maclagan had done even better, with just one. By this slender margin he claimed the automatic semi final place. Still, 25 and 2 was also enough to put Peter Cowan onto the highest runners-up board, and so you never know. Well played gents.

The Details

Stuart Maclagan History of the Eurovision Song Contest 15 – 1 10 – 0 25 – 1
Peter Cowan Caesar’s Gallic Wars 13- 0 12 – 2 25 – 2
Matthew Platts The Life and works of Ayn Rand 12 – 2 10 – 2 22 - 4
Aline Griffiths Florence in the Renaissance 1400 – 1550 10 – 2 9 –1 19 – 3

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

John Cooper29 – 3
Ian Scott Massie26 – 2
Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
Peter Cowans25 - 2
William de'Ath25 - 4

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Whatever Happened to . . .

Yes, whatever happened to the Consolation Prize ? You may have seen my recent post about Sky TV’s Show Me The Answer the other day, and there was this nagging question in the back of my mind. The two poor contestants, who had their chance of the cash snatched away from them, had to leave the stage with nothing at all. Now, this is perfectly natural now – it’s the way of the world now. But time was when a losing contestant in a show like this would be presented with something in the nature of a consolation prize. Nobody should have to walk away from a show like that with absolutely nothing to show for it. How did we ever get to this state of affairs ?

I freely admit that, at the more serious end of the quiz show spectrum, consolation prizes were never the order of the day. Mastermind, University Challenge, Fifteen to One, just never had ‘em. But at the game show end of the continuum there were, once upon a time, more consolation gewgaws than you could shake a proverbial stick at. To mention just a few of the more well remembered game show consolation prizes : -
3 – 2 – 1 had a ceramic dusty bin. Ted Rogers always used to say “You Know How Much They’re worth !” Actually I didn’t then, and I don’t now.
Bullseye had the famous Bendy Bully, and also a tankard and a set of darts.
Blankety Blank – the chequebook and pen
The Crystal Maze – I’ve cracked the Crystal Maze crystals.
Blockbusters - dictionary
and so on. My Mother in Law once had a little rose bowl which was the consolation prize for “Three Little Words”, come to think of it. No, I have no intention of making any jokes or rude comments about my mother in law. She’s far too computer literate for me to take the risk.

I’ll be honest now. I look at the quiz show spectrum, and off the top of my head I can hardly think of any show that offers a consolation prize. Why not ? There are a couple of theories that occur to me, namely : -

1)We’ve grown up as an audience, and grown out of the Lewis Carroll Dodo-esque idea that everyone must have a prize.

- The problem of this theory is, if we’ve grown up and become more sophisticated as a TV audience, then how do you explain BBC1’s Hole In The Wall ?

2) People are perhaps, as a rule, more affluent, so couldn’t give a stuff about being given a carriage clock or a canteen of cutlery to go away with as a consolation prize.

- Possibly true, but then lots of consolation prizes were of the useless memento variety, which you couldn’t actually buy for yourself, even if you wanted to.

3) Many shows are made by independent production companies, who don’t really want to shell out any more than is absolutely necessary.

Probably an element of truth in this one.

Personally, I can’t help wondering whether its all part of the TV quiz and game show culture that was ushered in by the amazing success of Millionaire. After all, lets be honest, apart from a tiny number of people, if you got through the fastest finger, then you were definitely going home with more money than you came. In such circumstances, then, who needs a consolation prize. So Millionaire doesn’t have consolation prizes – so why should any of the shows that followed it ? The Weakest Link makes a positive virtue of it, one of its main catchphrases being – You Leave With Nothing.

Do we actually want to see consolation prizes, anyway ? Well, all I can tell you is what I feel about it. Cards on the table, I am very lucky because I won Mastermind, which means I have a lovely Dennis Mann Caithness Glass Rose Bowl as a souvenir. But apart from that, I have nothing tangible to show for any of the other shows that I’ve been on. Come and Have A Go If You Think You’re Smart Enough was a lot of fun, but it would be lovely to have just a little something I could show and tell about it. Would it hurt 12 Yard Productions to, lets say, give each member of the challenger’s team on Eggheads a souvenir eggcup, perhaps emblazoned with the slogan ‘don’t Put All Your Eggheads In One Basket ‘ that Dermot is so fond of. Mind you, it would have to be a big eggcup to get that on. Alright, I messed up Millionaire and only went away with £1000. Well, I have to say that the money is long gone. Couldn’t they give you a chrome plated cheque, with the symbolic figure of £1 million pounds on it ?

Mind you, now I come to think about it, perhaps there is another reason why production companies don’t tend to give out consolation prizes any more. So here it is : -

4) Ebay

TV Watch - Only Connect

Only Connect – Polymaths v. Strategists

The Polymaths consisted of Andy Kelly, Nicola Morgan, and husband and captain Alan Morgan. I believe that Alan is the fine quizzer who won the People’s Quiz Wildcard shows of 2007, and thus took a place in the final. I stand willing to be corrected on this one. The team said that they felt that the name polymath fits the show better, than the more appropriate Jacks of All Trades But Masters of None.
The Strategists consisted of Chris Cummins, Sarah Higgins, and Michael Dnes. On first glance the Strategists looked young enough to be the surprise package of this year’s contest, like last year’s Mathematicians. Time would tell.

Round One – what’s the connection ?

The Polymaths managed to pick out the unloved music connection, but proved more than equal to the task, picking out rivers as a connection or two points. As if to make up the Strategists picked out the picture question straightaway. I thought that they showed excellent thinking to work out that Pegasus, Toucan and Pelican are all types of road crossing. 2 points apiece.The Polymaths would have benefited from taking the 4th clue for their next set, rather than answering on the third, as they missed out on seeing that Medina etc. were where religious founders died. The Strategists gratefully took the bonus, but then they also obliged by failing on their next set, though. The Polymaths redeemed themselves with 2 points on names of Seas on the Moon. The Strategists also managed to get a couple on phrases originally from Shakespeare since reused for other things, eg book titles. As the round ended they led by 5 to 4

Round Two – what comes last ?

The Polymaths struck back quickly by getting a good answer on imperial measures. They did even better by picking up a bonus, predicting that Wellington would indeed be the last on a list of the world’s most southerly capitals.Then they got the next connection on 2 clues, prompting Victoria to tell them they were too good. Well, they were impressing me ! Mind you , both teams will be kicking themselves for not seeing a list of longest ever reigning queens, and picking Victoria to complete the list. Full marks to the Strategists for seeing that Income Tax and VAT both come from the lyrics to the theme of Only Fools and Horses, so the 4th would be guarantee. The Strategists picked up the little bit of ground lost at the start of the round, and honours were evenly shared. The scores at the end of the round were just as close at the end as they had been at the start, and the strategists led by 9 points to 8.

Round Three – The Connecting Walls

The Strategists went first, and found the Dad’s Army connection in double quick time. In fact, the whole of the wall was solved in impressively short order, as the team had a good minute to go as the music told us that it was done. So all the pressure was on the Polymaths. My goodness, these teams were sharp tonight. They’d hardly looked at the wall before they solved the first set of shades of green. The last two sets defeated them, though, and I have to say that I couldn’t see them either. Sometimes you just can’t see them for looking , as it proved with words which could be followed by maid. D'Oh ! Still, the last 4 were nasty. All were famous violinists, the only one of which I knew was Kennedy, as in Nigel. I guess I might have gone for it, since I couldn’t think of anything else Kennedy might be, other than assassinated, which had gone already, or US Presidents, which clearly was wrong. Oh well, at last there was daylight between the teams, as the Strategists now led by 19 to 12.

Final Round – Missing Vowels

Last week we saw two well matched teams go into the last round, which well and truly sorted them out once and for good. The result in the end was pretty clear cut this week too. The younger team proved tonight to be a little sharper on this round, although the Polymaths gave it a good old lash. It didn’t make a difference, but they just failed to get out the name “Eva Braun “ in time as one of a set of mistresses, meaning that they lost a point, and handed it over to the opposition. As I said, it made no difference. In the end, the Polymaths scored a praiseworthy 15, but the Strategists managed a whopping 31. Good show

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – Quarter Final Match 2 – St. Andrews v. Manchester

Yes, it’s the return of St. Andrews and Manchester. St. Andrews, according to JP know everything about world war II fighter planes, and nothing about feminist theory. Their opponents, Manchester, containing our own Rach Cherryade, who I have to say looked fantastic with hair dyed to match her dress last night, were one of the most dominant teams in the first two rounds. On paper, though, these were two well matched teams. So how would this go ?

St. Andrews took first blood, with Mr. Flaherty, who’d impressed mightily last time out buzzing in before Manchester. Still, Mr. Whitfield from Manchester buzzed in to identify a definition of the word chimera for the second starter. This was followed by starters from Mr. Whyman, and captain Whitfield again. I’d love to say that I got a lot of their bonuses right myself, but it would be an utter lie, considering that I think I was away from school the day we did Science. Manchester were on a really good run, though. It was all pretty much one way traffic , so much so that St. Andrews still hadn’t managed to get in with their second starter by the halfway stage. With Manchester leading by 100 points it wasn’t exactly time to panic, but St. Andrews needed to get their skates on. Mr. Flaherty buzzed in to earn a set of music bonuses on the Five Russian composers.

Nick Daunt steadied the Manchester ship with the next starter, a very good early interruption , in my opinion. Captain Whitfield, as he had been doing all show, buzzed in correctly to take the next starter, and push St. Andrews a little closer to the brink of defeat. Mr. Flaherty buzzed in to suggest that Queen Charlotte, a royal consort for 57 years, had been the wife of Charles II. Worth a try, but wrong, and the situation for St. Andrews was becoming acute. They knew that they had to try to get quick points, so you can’t blame them for a couple of reckless interruptions. 5 minutes to go, though, and the game was over as a contest. Manchester made a forgiveable error suggesting that Pilsner lager takes its name from a city in Czechoslovakia. Right, but wrong, since the answer required was Czech Republic. It didn’t matter. At the end Manchester won by a thumping 195 to 50.

I must make my apologies to Manchester. Not for supporting them, I hasten to add, since they have proven themselves more than capable of overcoming the enormous drag effect of receiving support from the Clark sofa. No, I must apologise for thinking in my heart of hearts that they wouldn’t necessarily dominate St. Andrews in the same way that they dominated their first two opponents. Stunning performance, and you have one foot in the semis now. Well done. As for St. Andrews – nil desperandum. You can still do it.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Last week he called the new rules “Byzantine”, but this time he seems to have mellowed a bit, calling them “almost comprehensible”.
While Manchester were grappling with a phone number bonus, he sat back with his arms crossed, and said “My producer wants me to hurry you up, but I’m enjoying it too much !”
When Rachael suggested that orthopaedics is directly concerned with the treatment of children, she was ignored by the skipper, who offered “lepers”. “Should have listened to Miss Neiman !” sniffed our Jeremy.

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

Its not a fact as such, but I have to say, on which other show would you get asked a question about spelling out word using a mobile phone keyboard ? This is just one example of what we love UC for.

Radio Listen - Brain of Britain

Brain of Britain – Semi Final 2/4

Semi final 2, on paper, looked to be a very heavyweight contest between

Ian Bayley
Bernard Fyles,
Chris Quinn
Martin Wyatt

To put this into perspective, Ian, Chris and Bernard were the top three scorers in the first round heats – all in the same semi final. Not that I’m complaining, mark you. Still, it was always going to be hardlines on two of these superb quizzers to have found themselves in this particular contest.

In round two, when Bernard Fyles correctly answered that the first provisional leader of the Nationalist state of china in 1912 was Sun Yat Sen, Russell Davies replied that he’d always found Sun Yat Sen useful for completing crossword puzzles ! A very wide ranging round this, it contained a music question, asking the contenders to identify the group who performed the first song that gave rise to the phrase Cool Britannia. No, I didn’t know it. The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band was the answer.

For the first two rounds Chris Quinn was making all the running, with good answers on his own questions, and great work on the buzzer. In round three the old Carol Hersey chestnut made its annual appearance, and was duly dispatched to the boundaries by Bernard Fyles. Ian Bayley started to make an impressive charge during the third round, and caught, although didn’t pass, Chris Quinn.

Listener’s Question. Firstly can you think of a modern writer whose middle name was Staples ? Secondly , what does the P in L P Hartley stand for ? Personally I though he was the nice old geezer who wanted a copy of fly fishing, but there you go. The team knew both, and so it was on with the show.

In round four poor Bernard Fyles couldn’t quite remember the name of the chap the film A Beautiful Mind was all about. Chris Quinn though knew it was Mr. Doggett who created the race for the famous coat and badge. However he failed on a Shakespeare question, then correctly remembered the SS Normandie.

It was all desperately close . Ian Bayley really upped the stakes, getting 4 in a row, but just missing out on identifying Susan Hampshire as the actress who played Fleur in the Forsyte Saga. Then Bernard Fyles chipped in his highest run so far, just missing out on five himself, failing to identify Blefescu from Gulliver’s Travels. Chris didn’t have any great luck on his set of question, and with Ian Bayley proving indefatigable on the buzzer, there was now daylight between them.

In the next round there was much amusement over Mark Twain’s definition of the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector – apparently a taxidermist at least leaves you your skin. As a contrast to the previous round , nobody scored brilliantly, to allow Ian a significant advantage going into the final round. Ian missed his first question ! A shock – could either Bernard or Chris snatch it at the death ? Bernard rattled off a few, but not the full set. Chris took a bonus before his own set. 1, 2, 3, 4 questions correct, but alas, not the fifth. So Ian Bayley, highest scorer in the first round, goes forward to the final, and wins a contest good enough to have been a final. Well done !

The Details

Ian Bayley 19
Bernard Fyles 18
Chris Quinn 17
Martin Wyatt 6

Sunday, 10 January 2010

TV Watch Extra - Sell Me The Answer

I’ve been meaning to catch this one for some time. I first heard about it last year when they were advertising for contestants, and it did cross my mind to try for it. Still, I doubt whether I’d have got on, and as it was I had applications for a couple of other shows to worry about at the time.

This has been a bit difficult to find, actually. There are certain Sky shows that they tend to shove on ad nauseam, and repeat a lot. This isn’t one of them. In fact it tends to be on in the afternoon a lot, which isn’t really all that convenient for me. Come to think of it, maybe the fact that Sky’s support for the show seems lukewarm at best should have told me something. Still, at last I managed to catch it on Sunday lunchtime.

Now, this is a quiz, but its also a game show, and it needs to be viewed in this light if its going to have a fair hearing. What intrigued me about the show is the fact that it is all based on having a group of people, the traders, who are prepared to sell each contestant the answers to a series of questions. This is done through a short but furious round of trading. If you’ve never seen the show, yet this sounds familiar, then there may be a reason for this. It started life as a gameshow on local radio in Manchester. However you might think its familiar because something similar was one of the unique selling points of ITVs The Vault of a few years back.

Each contestant is asked up to 10 questions, for which they win rising amounts of cash if they get a correct answer. If they give a wrong answer, then they leave with nothing, to coin a phrase. If they don’t know an answer, then they must shout “Sell Me The Answer”, and the 60 traders will each hold up a paddle with their unique number on it, and scream at the top of their voices to be picked. The contestant picks two numbers. Each person picked gets a few seconds to make a pitch to the contestant, who then picks one to come and trade. 30 seconds of horse trading follows, when they must agree on an amount of the prize pot earned so far for the questions. If they don’t agree, then the contestant has to answer on their own. If they do agree, then the trader must answer. However, even if they know the answer, they don’t have to give a correct one. At this stage the trader can turn round and say that they were bluffing even, and that they don’t have an answer.

If a contestant answers the 10th question correctly, then they have the options of either taking the money, whatever’s left, or going for the jackpot. I think a figure of £25,000 was mentioned.

That’s basically it. Now, I would imagine that if you are one of the traders, who I believe carry on from show to show, then it’s a hell of a lot of fun. As a viewer, though, its no great shakes. For a straight question and answer guy like me, the pace of the show questions-wise is absolutely funereal. One carry over contestant from the previous show was asked 4 questions, and the next contestant was asked 8 questions. 12 questions in an hour long show doesn’t cut if for me.

However it is a game show, and its not made for people like me. One suspects its for a considerably younger demographic – certainly both contestants seemed to be drawn from this group. You see the point of the show isn’t really the questions, it’s the trading. So if you start putting on contestants who need no help answering the first 8 or 9 questions, then you’re cutting out the traders far too much. Which leads you to make a choice. Either have some hard questions, or make sure you get people who don’t have a great general knowledge. On the basis of admittedly just the one show, I’d say that the producers have plumped for the latter.

Host Gethin Jones is likeable enough, if a little bland. Bearing in mind this is a game show, and not a real quiz as such , you couldn’t actually say it was bad, even though it really isn’t my cup of tea. Yet on the negative side, I did find that, while not as bad as Shafted, this show does to some extent seem to make a virtue of mean spiritedness. Our first contestant today was asked, for his 10th question, what the Christian name of Scott of the Antarctic was. He asked the traders, and picked one who looked him straight in the eye , and told him he knew the answer 100%, then proceeded to trade him out of a couple of thousand pounds of prize money. Then he had the cheek to say, well, what I think is the answer, what I THINK I remember, is that its William. The contestant didn’t have an answer of his own, gave William, and lost what remained of the wedge. All of which paled into insignificance against what happened to the next contestant. On her last question she was asked,
“Which French film actress and sex symbol became heavily involved with animal welfare and animal rights ? “ Now, if you went into the street and asked 100 people to name a French actress and sex symbol, even now, decades after she retired the majority of people would give the right answer. Our contestant didn’t know it. Instead she plumped for a trader who promised she was a journalist who worked for an animal rights group. The trader bullied her out of £1800, and then had the cheek to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have a clue. “ The poor contestant, who to be fair to her was out with the washing, offered “Marie Antoinette. “ Thank you and goodnight. I’m sure you get the picture. It seems to me that there’s a big, hard lump of coal where the show’s heart should be, and regardless of issues over the dearth of questions, overly easy questions, or poor contestants, the lack of heart is the reason why I probably won’t be watching again.