In the Autumn of 2008 , 12 Yard Productions launched a spin off to their popular "Eggheads" called "Are You An Egghead ? ". The premise behind the show was that some of the finest quiz brains in Britain - their words - would battle it out for the prize of becoming the newest Egghead. This is actually a seriously worthwhile prize to have. To be paid for doing something you love, you can surely see the appeal. As it was I never applied to take part in the first series, mainly because I thought it was neither fair nor wise to ask for time off from work for quizzing for the third year running. Come to think of it, I nearly never applied for the second series either.
“Are You An Egghead” is a spin off series to “Eggheads”, which series has its own page elsewhere on this site. The premise behind the series is that 32 players take part in a knockout tournament to decide who will join the Eggheads team. Each show has five ournds of multiple choice questions on set categories. Winning a round allows a player to choose one of the Eggheads to help him in the final round. In the final round 5 General Knowledge questions are asked to each player. Each player may use each Egghead they have won once to help answer a question. If there is a tie after 5 questions, then the sudden death rule comes into play. Players are posed questions without multiple choice answers. When one fails, and the other answers the question correctly, then that player is declared the winner. The winner of the first series was the fine Mr. Barry Simmons. I took part in the second series.
“Are You An Egghead?” was the first TV show I’d applied for since winning Mastermind. I wasn’t going to apply for it at all, but 12 Yard, the Production company , contacted the mastermind Production team and asked if they could have my details. They said no, but that they would let me know that 12 Yard would like to speak to me. So I contacted 12 Yard. The upshot was that they really wanted me to take part in the show. They asked me to apply , so I did, then do a phone audition, and I wasn’t certain I wanted to, but what the hell. Then they asked me to an audition in Bristol. Extracting a promise from them that attending he audition wouldn’t actually commit me to anything, I gave it a shot. That was interesting, since there were two other auditioness at the same time. One lady I didn’t know, although she knows my friend Mark Labbett well. She’d been at the CIU final a couple of days earlier, and we were talking about that and she said
“Did you know that the winning team had a Mastermind winner with them ? “ No, I’m far too egotistical to not have explained that this was me. Also being auditioned was 1990 Krypton Factor champion Duncan Heryett. It seemed to go OK. I decided on the way home that the audition had been fun, and if I was going to get back on TV again, then this was as good a show as any . I also thought that I must have a pretty good chance of getting on, since 12 Yard had chased me, rather than vice versa. I was right.
The series was filmed back in the end of May 2009, and its funny how you forget some of what actually happened on the shows. The abiding memory that I have of the first show is of what a nice guy Peter Ediss, my opponent, is. We met in the foyer of TV Centre in Shepherd’s Bush before the start of the show, and although we’d never met before we had a number of quiz friends and acquaintances in common.
Well, onto the show. I won the first round on TV, which is usually one of my stronger subjects, and I’m not totally daft, so picked Kevin. Then Peter rightfully won the Art and Books, and the Sport rounds, bringing him Barry and Daphne. That’s a serious thing to consider when you play in the show. You have to reckon that Barry and Daphne will both bring you correct answers in the final round. Then, amazingly, I won rounds on Music and Science, probably two of my least favourite rounds of all. Lucky questions brought me the Music, and lucky guesses on the third option brought me the Science.
In the final round first Kevin and then CJ dug me out of holes, contributing 2 of my 4 answers. Poor Peter was forced to use Barry for a horrible distance question, easily the hardest question of the final round. This left him to have to guess in which London thoroughfare the Ritz hotel is situated. He correctly whittled it down to 50/50, but went the wrong way. So I won without Judith by 4 points to 2, but believe me it was a lot closer than it looked on the small screen.
My 2nd round match was scheduled for a Monday, and the call time to arrive at TVC – Television Centre for the uninitiated – was 07:00. You’ll appreciate that this made an overnight stay in a hotel necessary the night before. So the afternoon before, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far I drove almost the entire length of the M4, to the Holiday Inn Express in Park Royal, where 12 Yard had booked me in for the night.
This wasn’t without its own problem. I’d stayed in the hotel the night before my first round match, and had a bit of a problem at reception. The guy behind the counter said, yes, my room had been paid for, but he still expected me to pay a £30 deposit upfront. I played along so far, offering him my debit card, but he wasn’t having it. Actually, I could have paid him cash, but I was damned if I was going to. So I refused, and stood my ground. He backed down, with rather poor grace if truth were told. A small victory.
Accomodation, as you can see, was basic but functional. The two best hotels I’ve ever been put up in for a quiz show were the Palace Hotel in Manchester for my Mastermind semi final, and a wonderful hotel in Kensington just around the corner from the Royal Albert Hall, for Come and Have A Go If You Think You’re Smart Enough. That was a two night stay as well, which made it even better. However, I digress .
I drove into TVC by 7 am the next morning. Once I was picked up in the foyer of TVC Rebecca, the production assistant took me to my dressing room. If you’ve never taken part in a TV show before, then I can tell you that the bit between your arrival and actually going on set is usually very tedious, and is mostly concerned with checking what you are going to wear – avoid lines, checks , white or pale colours – and then getting you down to makeup. However I hadn’t been in there long before Rebecca brought in my opponent to meet me – Olav Bjortomt.
Now, in the interests of truth I will admit a couple of things here. Firstly that a friend of mine who was in the know had actually told me beforehand that Olav would be my opponent – I’m sorry Twelve Yard, but you have a security leak somewhere in your organisation. Secondly, as soon as I heard that Olav was going to be my opponent I pretty much felt – Oh well, that’s as far as I go, then. – I wasn’t being pessimistic. The simple fact of the matter is that Olav is a much better quizzer than I am. There’s no shame in that. He’s a much better quizzer than most people. Yes, if I’m honest I did have it in the back of my mind what had happened in last year’s series, when Shaun Wallace had upset the odds to beat him, and in the People’s Quiz where he had been by far the most impressive qualifier, yet didn't win the series, but lightning doesn’t keep on striking in the same place.
So in a perverse way the pressure was off me in the match. I had no pretensions about being good enough to win the series. I really hadn’t wanted to be knocked out in the first round, and thankfully I hadn’t been. If I had to lose, then better that I lose to a star, rather than someone without such a quizzing pedigree and background.
Thank heavens for the iplayer, for I could remember very little about the match itself before I watched it back. Research told me that Olav had won 3 Eggheads to 2 in his first round match of 2008, and then 4 Eggheads to Shaun’s 1 in the second round match. It wouldn’t have done my confidence any more good if I’d known that in his first round match against Gill Woon this year he’d won 4 Eggheads to one. I’m a believer in the theory that the more times that you take part in a particular TV quiz, the better you get at coping with its demands and using a strategy designed to bring out the best in yourself.
Sport was the first round. Olav claimed that this was a dodgy round for him. A nice first question, and a lucky second question brought me the round, and Kevin. Film and TV theoretically should be a good game for me. Well, the TV part of it anyway. Luck ran out with the second question , which was well overdue. At least we went to sudden death. Olav, though, was too good, and took Barry. Science, along with Food and Drink probably my least favourite round, came next. 3 guesses, two of which were at least partly educated, and one which was a wild stab in the dark brought me a round which I never have any right to win. Music followed – and I think I had a lucky set of questions to even get me as far as sudden death. As an English teacher, Arts and Books is always guaranteed to prove a major stumbling block !
So moving into the final round I had Kevin and Chris, while Olav had Barry, Judith and CJ. At that stage I was just delighted that I hadn’t been totally outclassed. As long as I wasn’t beaten 3 – 0, then I wouldn’t have been too unhappy. I was lucky to get a straight English question first. Olav was served up a bouncer on dactylology , and lost Cj and the point. However I was served up a bouncer, and lost Kevin and the next point. Fair is fair, and Olav had a decent question on test cricket, which he dispatched over the pavilion roof. I had to gamble a little on the next question, but at least I got it right, and kept Chris. Olav used Barry to correctly answer the next. Chris then told me that the Punta del’Este is in Uruguay. A 3 – 2 lead. Then Olav was bowled two bouncers in succession – a butt and ben – apparently a two roomed cottage, and in town and country planning, which type of property is classed as A1 – shops.
I’ll be honest, I was gobsmacked, and had never expected to win. Hence the shocked expression on my face. I meant what I said about Olav – he’s a much better quizzer than me, and if it hadn’t have been me playing against him, but merely watching it on the telly at home, then I would have definitely felt that he got the short straw with the questions he was asked in the final round.
I hope that I don’t shatter too many people’s illusions if I tell you that the three shows were actually shot over a relatively short period of time. In fact my matches with Olav and Anne were actually shot on the same day. I don’t offer this by way of an excuse – there’s no point in me even trying to do that because if you watched the match you’ll know that Anne beat me by the simple expedient of being better than I was. I believe that they went on to film both the semi finals and the final the very next day. So its all rather hectic.
My match against Olav was first up in the morning, while my quarter final with Anne was scheduled for the late afternoon. So this gave me quite a bit of time to kill, in which, in the nicest possible way, the production team really didn’t want me cluttering up the place. So I went for some lunch in the new Westfield Centre, which is literally over the road from TV Centre. I was, in all honesty, in a little bit of a state of shock. After all, if you enter a show like AYAE you know that sooner of later you are going to come up against a star. If I’m honest I had hoped that it wouldn’t be a second round show, but there we are. I was prepared to take my beating like a man, and bow out of the show as gracefully as I could. Then I beat Olav.
I wasn’t really sure how to handle it, and was in a bit of a daze as I wandered through the Westfield. In the end I got a bite to eat, and bought the second volume of Bobby Charlton’s autobiography. Then back to the dressing room to read for a couple of hours. Incidentally, I’ve included a picture of the dressing room here. Nice, isn’t it ? I have to say that these are the nicest dressing rooms I’ve ever been in. I had been in them before for both “Come and Have A Go “ and “ Eggheads”, but then I was part of a team on both occasions. The changing rooms for WWTBAM are not as big or as nice – but then the Mastermind dressing rooms are non-existent, so I should worry.
Anne is a valued LAM reader now, but to the best of my knowledge we had never met before we shared adjacent chairs in the makeup room. So there was a lot of catching up on who we’d played in which rounds. I have to take my hat off to Anne – if she was at all phased by the fact that I’d fluked my way past Olav in the previous round she didn’t show it. In fact she came out of the blocks at a blistering pace, and it seemed to me that I’d hardly so much as blinked before she was 2 Eggheads to 0 up. Not just any Eggheads either, but Kevin and Daphne. The fightback saw me take the next two rounds on sudden death, to claim Barry and then Chris, which at least gave me some kind of chance. If you watched the show you’ll know I was whitewashed on Science. I’ll go further than that. I was lucky to get zero. So Judith joined Anne for the final round.
What a rollercoaster the final round was. I was given a just about guessable one for the first question. Anne was given a bouncer, and used Kevin. All square, and all square in Eggheads, with Kevin now out of the game. A nice second question, and Anne used Judith for hers. Now , if you were watching, you might have thought that I had the whip hand. I would be lying if I told you that it didn’t cross my mind at the time. However with my next question one of my many weaknesses was exposed. I don’t know who the various ministers for this that and the other are. A serious quizzer probably should know this, but I’m just too damn lazy. I got it right, but I asked the wrong Egghead. Chris didn’t know, so I needed to ask Barry as well. So the seesaw swung back, since Anne still had Daphne. The next question , when Desmond Tutu won the nobel peace prize I have no excuses for . I ought to have got it right. I didn’t. That’s why Anne won. Not because I got a question wrong, but because she didn’t make a mistake. She kept her nerve, backed her excellent knowledge, and reaped her just reward. It was a very fine performance.
One other compliment I have to pay to Anne. She is a great and gracious winner. I thought she said some lovely things about me at the end of the show, and I’m really grateful for that.
Twelve Yard seemed a bit dithery about arranging a taxi back to the hotel for Anne, and since I was passing it on my way back to Wales I offered her a lift. Away from the studio we could both relax a bit, and it was a great pleasure to start to get to know her. I hope that we’ll meet again at a quiz some time in the not too distant future.