Thursday, 5 August 2010

Mastermind Champion of Champions - Heat 4

Well, you’ve seen the show for yourselves now. What follows is taken from the journal of my involvement in the series. It was all written pretty much as soon as I returned home from Manchester, although I did use the broadcast of the show tonight to check on the exact scores, and did check on the net to find out what Pat, Leslie and Patricia’s subjects were in their championship years. So here it is : -

What a day ! Experience from 2007 told me that I’m actually much happier driving to Manchester and back in the day, so that’s what we did. No hold ups on the road, and we were comfortably there by our allotted arrival time of 1:30. Not that there would have been any huge problem if we’d been later, since we weren’t due to film before 5:30, and we weren’t due to move from the green room for at least 2 hours.

The Granada studios car park, with me trying but failing to point at the Beetham Tower, the tallest building in the UK outside of London.

My daughter Zara was my guest for the day. Unfortunately my son Michael had to work on the day, so I was really glad to have Zara with me. However she wasn’t quite so pleased when she realized that she would have to fulfill two roles on the day – testing me on my specialist subject in the car, and then being my official photographer when we got to the green room.

When we arrived at reception, who should arrive behind me but Pat Gibson and his lovely wife. No problem with that, since Pat is the nicest quizzer you could ever hope to meet, and damn good company to boot. However, the rumour I’d heard was that neither Pat nor Kevin Ashman was taking part in the series. When Pat confirmed that he was in the last heat of the day it was like being told - You’re going to be executed, but I’ll give you the choice of whether you want to be shot or hanged - Oh well, I reminded myself that my absolute priority wasn’t to win, only to have a lot of fun.

We were escorted up to the Green Room, and the first person I saw as we walked in was Jesse Honey. Jesse Honey won the current series of Mastermind – only the fact was that the Grand Final wasn’t due to be shown on telly until the next day ! Mind you, a friend of mine who knows these things dropped a VERY heavy hint to me 6 months ago that Jesse was the latest champion, so it didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Jesse, and indeed all of the other 15 champions taking part in the shows were all lovely, and all of them agreed to pose with me for a photograph. The only ones I didn’t get were my friends David Edwards and Andy Page, and that’s only because the only time that I saw them during the whole day was in passing in a corridor.

So, on and off I spent parts of the next hour or so working the room, and getting photographs taken. For me meeting other champions was a big thrill. If there is such a thing as a Mastermind groupie, then I won’t lie to you, I’m it. Before the show I’d already met a few of the champs –
Kevin Ashman
Chris Hughes
David Edwards
Geoff Thomas
and although I hadn’t met them in person I’d also become acquainted with some others through the internet : -
Andy Page
Nancy Dickmann
Jesse Honey
So in one day , I got to take my total of other champs I’ve met up from 4 to 16. Of course there were some disappointments. Not in any of the champs I met. Some of them I didn’t exchange more than a few words with, but they all seemed like thoroughly delightful, modest , warm and friendly people. However it would have been lovely to have met some of the other champs who weren’t there. I’ve never met Fred Housego, for instance, and I’d love to do that, if only to tell him how much his 1980 triumph meant in the Clark household. Its not just Fred, though. I’d love to meet all of them. I know that I can’t, for instance I’m fairly certain that Nancy Wilkinson and Sir David Hunt have both passed away. Still, lets not be greedy.

Within an hour or so I had learned who was going to provide the opposition in the last show. Pat I already knew would be favourite for my show. With the two of us, though, would be Patricia Owen, the 1973 champion, and Leslie Grout, the 1981 champion. What lovely people. One of my party pieces I used as an opening conversational gambit a lot when first introducing myself to other champs during the day was to say the year they were champion, and if possible what their specialist subjects were. I think they must all have felt me a bit odd for doing so. Patricia was the most senior champion, having won the second series in 1973. It might be 38 years since she won her series, but all day I found her to be as sharp as a tack. She endeared herself to me when we played a little game. The research assistant left her run down of which contender in which heat was taking which subject lying around, and so I circulated it, and asked the others to pick one subject to answer, other than their own, which they would have to answer cold, with no study. Patricia announced she’d pick mine , the Bayeux Tapestry. When Patricia won in 1973 her subjects were Byzantine Art for the first round and final, and Grand Opera for the semi final. Yes, didn’t they have wide subjects in those early days ! For the show she opted to take a brand new subject in the shape of Benjamin Britten.

Leslie, like me, was a teacher when he became champion in 1981. He is from Windsor , which isn’t so very far away from my hometown of Ealing, and I was interested to see him reverting to one of his old subjects, The Burial Grounds of London. Leslie took this as his semi final subject, and St. George’s Chapel Windsor in the first round and the final. Leslie has a lively wit, and it was very interesting talking to both him and Patricia on the differences between the Magnus era, and our own.

Eventually we were called to wardrobe, made up, and asked to change into Outfit Number One for the filmed insert. While Pat and I were waiting alone to be filmed I had a very interesting chat with him about Eggheads, filming, and the differences between TV and radio. When Pat won the series in 2005, his specialist subjects were the films of Quentin Tarantino, the Culture Novels of Iain M. Banks, and Father Ted. For the show Pat was taking the Pixar animated films.

With regards to my specialist subject I really felt that I should take something new. In 2006 I took the Modern Summer Olympic Games , and then in 2007 I took Henry Ford, the Prince Regent, and the History of London Bridge in the final. It’s a matter of some pride to me that I always performed pretty well in this diverse set of subjects, and to be honest I thought I’d get more out of myself if I had to learn a brand new subject, rather then going back over ground I’d already trodden before. I first saw the Bayeux Tapestry when accompanying a party of children from the school on a trip to Normandy back in the mid 90s, and I was absolutely bowled over by it. Then a couple of years ago I read both Andrew Bridgeford’s and Carola Hicks’ superb books on the subjects, and I always thought that if the opportunity to take another specialist subject ever presented itself, that would be the one.

I went first to film my insert, and I don’t really remember what I said. What did strike me was that it was actually surprisingly difficult to obey two simple instructions. Lizzie Foster, who was conducting the interview, asked me to remember to pause before answering, and then to try to work the question into the answer, so that it looked more like stream of consciousness narrative than a response to a question. Well, that was over, and it looked as if the time for the show was drawing ever closer.

We were taken into the studio at last. Patricia was unable to walk very much, and so the studios kindly provided her with a wheelchair. Granted, the tyres were flat, but it was the thought that counts, I suppose. At last we were wired up, then asked to do a short piece to camera for the website just before we went on. The order for the show was me, then Patricia, then Leslie, then Pat. This was shades of 2007, where I was first to go in my first round show. Was that an omen ?

Lets pause for a minute. Suppose I could have had a wish list for the show, what would have been on it ? Well, firstly that I would win. That was dependent on how well my fellow contenders did, so there was nothing I could do about that. Number two would have been for me to break my highest total score of 30. Number three on the list would have been to set a really good specialist score. You see, I’d never yet produced an outstanding score on specialist. Oh, in 4 previous rounds I’d scored 14, 14, 15 and 15, so I’d always managed a good score. But these are just good. Deep down, I wanted great. So, called to the chair, and away we go. Technically my round wasn’t as good as my 2007 semi final round, where I had no passes, and only 1 wrong to score 15. But I got in the zone early. If anything, I was going too fast, for when I came up against one question I knew the answer to, when it didn’t pop into my head at once I passed needlessly. Still, it was a real Devil’s Gallop of a round, and I was so much in the zone I was flabbergasted when John said that I’d scored 17. The only problem was that I’d broken my cardinal rule about never passing . It happened like this. I was asked an innocuous question – in the border underneath the Lady Aelfgyfa what is depicted ? What happened next was like driving fast , and seeing a problem develop immediately ahead of you. You put your foot down to get you out of trouble, and nothing happens, there is no gas there at all. I was answering faster than I’d ever managed before, and suddenly the answer, which I should have known – which I DID know – did not pop into my head on order. I panicked and passed straightaway. Still, even allowing for the pass, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t return to my seat with a huge sense of pleasure and relief.

You see, even though none of us have anything to prove, the fact is that you do not want to be shown up. Going in for this tournament has been a sheer joy, but it does mean that there are the odd occasional moments when the Doubt Demon pops up on your shoulder and starts whispering,
“ You’re going to get found out. People are going to see that your win was just a fluke. You’re going to be exposed.”
Alright, I admit that I didn’t have many of these moments, but I had a couple. Now, with 17 points safely in the bank, even my worst ever GK score of 10 would bring me a total of 27, which would be perfectly respectable. Whatever happened now, I had scored my highest ever on Specialist. Mind you, with the work I’d done on the subject I damn well should have done, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

Leslie helped Patricia into the chair, and she began her round on Benjamin Britten. 11 is a perfectly respectable score, and I honestly don’t think she minded whatever happened. I think she was strictly in it for the fun of it, and quite right too. She never seemed he slightest bit nervous, and never lost her good humour throughout the whole day. So whatever else happened I wouldn’t be the first to go in the GK round.

Leslie was taking the Burial Grounds of London as his specialist. This had been his second subject in 1981, before he returned to St. George’s Chapel Windsor for his final. He still knew his subject very well, scoring 15. Before today I’d never scored better than that myself. Still, it meant that I would be one of the last two to go in the GK round. However, one of the most formidable champions in the whole series was yet to come. Pat was answering on the Pixar animated films. I had a chat about this with Pat, and believe me this is not some subject he just plucked out of thin air. Pat loves these films, and is deeply, deeply knowledgeable about them. To the extent of watching parts of them frame by frame to verify facts. Pat produced a fine round, but even so I was surprised that he scored 16, and left me in the lead at the halfway stage. Being a great competitor, even when he didn’t necessarily get totally into the groove with the round he still scored brilliantly, and made sure that he avoided passing.

This necessitated a little bit of a reappraisal of my chances at half time, and didn’t leave me a lot of time to do it. For some reason the half time break was a hell of a lot shorter than it had been in any of my previous shows. There wasn’t even time for lovely old Ted Robbins to do a little spiel with the audience. As we had walked in to take our seats at the start of the show, my thinking had been like this. Both Patricia and Leslie were rather unknown quantities, but I doubted that either of them were as serious about their quizzing as even I am, and I doubted that they had taken part in any kind of high pressure quiz for many years. As such I felt that they might well do well, and even manage a lead on specialist, but would not be able to match me on GK. Arrogant of me to think so ? Probably, but I do feel that you should always be realistic about your chances, good or bad. Pat, on the other hand, has won it all over the last few years, is the reigning World Champion, and is correctly seen as one of the world’s very finest quizzers. So before the start of the show I confidently expected him to take a lead after specialist, and go on to carry all before him in GK. Alright, I only had a one point lead going into GK, but that was a hell of a lot more than I expected. Whatever happened now I would be last to go in the show. My top score ever in GK was 15. So theoretically anything up to 32 was possible for me. Alright, it was quite possible that Pat would set the target well beyond me at 33 or more, but if not, well, all things were possible.

Patricia added another 8 to her score. She knew a number of the questions she didn’t answer , but just couldn’t get the answers out. Leslie came next. I think that he managed to get into double figures, and ended with 25. Pat , I fully expected to see fireworks from. It didn’t quite happen as I expected. There were a number of uncharacteristic pauses in his round. Even so, he added 14 with no passes to take his total to 30. To put that into perspective, Pat’s total , 30 and no passes, was equal to my best ever performance, in the 2007 final. To win, I needed 14 on GK. Actually that was possible. I achieved 14 on GK in the first round of 2007, and 15 in the final. Having said that though this always felt like it was going to be a bit of a tall order. I don’t know really how I can explain it, other than to say that in both of those rounds everything had flowed, and I was ‘seeing’ the answers before the question had finished being asked. This felt more like the semi final GK round, where I had stumbled my way through a ropey old round to get 13. That was enough then.

My tactic, if you can call it that, for the round was this. I already had one careless pass from the Specialist round. So it made no difference whatsoever how many other passes I took. Pat had none at all, so even if I didn’t pass in GK, then I was still behind on passes. So I just made up my mind to bomb through them, and if the answer didn’t come quickly, then I’d pass. So I picked up 3 passes. I had no idea whether I’d done it or not as the round ended. John looked up, and from the way he began to speak I had a feeling that I hadn’t. 13 brought me 30 points, and my passes meant that Pat went through.

No regrets ? Not a one. Pat is a far better player than I am. He did not produce his best form, whereas I produced very close to my best, and it still wasn’t enough. The better man won fair and square. Yes, I was gutted I hadn’t made it to the final, but I was very proud of the fact that I had managed to score in the 30s for a second time, and scored my highest ever specialist score. However the day wasn’t just about that. You know me by now, and how much I love the show. So for much of the day I was a bit like a kid in a sweetshop – a bit of an ironic analogy, come to think of it- since being diagnosed with diabetes a visit to the sweetshop is very unlikely to happen any time soon for me – but you know what I mean. I got to meet 15 other champions, some of whom I already knew, many of whom I knew from the internet but had never met in person, and some of whom I had only read about. In particular it was a delight to meet the other contenders in our show, the lovely Patricia Owen and the equally lovely Leslie Grout.

Champions All – Leslie Grout, Patricia Owen, Me, Pat Gibson

We’re Going Home, we’re going home ! Satisfied with my performance, and happy with a great day ! Here I am , demonstrating my new found ability to grow flagpoles out of my head.

The Details

David Clark The Bayeux Tapestry 17 – 1 13 – 3 30 – 4
Patricia Owen Benjamin Britten 11- 3 8 - 5 19 -6
Leslie Grout The Burial Grounds of London 15 - 0 8 - 0 23 - 0
Pat Gibson Pixar Animated Films 16 – 0 14 – 0 30 – 0

Postscript :
- A week or two after the recording of the heats, I received an email from lovely Laura of the Mastermind Production team, informing me that I was the highest scoring runner-up of the series, and asking if I would be prepared to act as stand-in , in the extremely unlikely event that one of the finalists was unable to make it. Of course I jumped at the chance, fully aware that there was next to no chance of this actually happening. Still, it meant that I would get to come to the Final, and see behind the scenes, and support 4 friends.


Will Jones said...

Unlucky David, a shame it couldn't be a >4 player final! A real achievement to tie with Pat.

Gruff said...

A great effort David. In the past I have got the impression from your writing that despite having won MM you somehow don't see yourself on a par with other winners. Well tonight you proved that you are more than worthy of rubbing shoulders with the best. A classy performance!

Londinius said...

Thanks Will !

No complaints from me at all. I'm delighted to have done as well as I did, and I really did have a fantastic time ont he day, and also on the day of the Final


Londinius said...

Hi Gareth, and thanks for your very kind words !

There's something about Mastermind which seems to bring out the best in me as a quizzer, and enables me to punch above my weight. Thanks for saying what you've said - it means a lot to me.


HughTube said...

Very well done. Unlucky to be in the same heat as Pat, but I guess they're all great in this version of the show. Great series so far, just Fred Housego and Kevin Ashman away from being perfect in my eyes, and a particularly good episode this evening. I was excited on your behalf knowing how much you'd have enjoyed it.

Anyway, both congratulations and commiserations are in order.

Londinius said...

Hugh, you've really hit the nail ont he head. Anyone who really knows me at all knows how much I love quizzes and quizzing, and nothing is more exciting than being in the thick of a big prestigious event like this.

Unfortunately Kevin is an exceptionally busy man, whose schedule is absolutely chock a block, and he had unbreakable commitments when C of C was being filmed.

I don't know what the story was with Fred Housego. It stretches credibility that they wouldn't have asked him, so again, maybe he was committed elsewhere. Shame.

One other shame was that neither Michael Penrice of Discovery Mastermind, or any of the 3 radio 4 champions were there. I know that it was on the table originally, since Laura mentioned that they might have them when she first rang me about the show.

I can promise you all a brilliant final tonight !


Ros said...

Well done David! We were all cheering you on last night and those last few general knowledge questions were nailbiting to watch. A superb performance - many congratulations on achieving your highest specialist subject score! It's obvious from what you have written about this event(and from the rest of your blog entries) what a great sport you are and how fair you are in your analyses. You're a great role model for your pupils - hope they were all glued to the screen yesterday!

Londinius said...

Hello Ros

Believe it or not I was actually blushing as I read your comments ! But I love you for saying them. I can't add anything more to what I've already said, so thank you for your support, and your wonderful comments.