Or to put it another way, how DO you actually prepare for a show like Brain of Britain ? With Mastermind, for example, its fairly clear cut. You MUST learn your specialist subject. There’s no option. You might have between 5 and 10 weeks to learn it, and you need all of that time to do it properly. So that means gathering your sources, and then working through them in whichever way you think is most effective.
Or alternatively you can just rely on the fact that you already know everything you could ever want to know on a subject, and trust to luck on the day. I take my hat off to anyone who has the nerve to do this, even if it does mean that the vast majority who do this end up with egg on their faces.
BoB, though, is all general knowledge. That makes it very tricky. Lets work it out. There are 6 rounds. The maximum number of questions you can be asked is 5 of your own per round, and one bonus for each of your competitors. That’s 48 questions. When you think of the tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of questions that there are out there, the chances of you picking out anything that might come up look rather less enticing than the odds against finding a needle in a haystack. . . in the dark . . . with mittens on.
And yet . . . and yet for all that, there’s the whole psychological benefit of revision to take into account. If you find yourself in a match with one or more opponents who are streets ahead of you , then there’s nothing you can do. More often than not though you’ll be quite closely matched, and it will all come down to who is the most composed, and can access what they do actually know most quickly and efficiently. If you feel that you’re going to do well because you’ve put a lot of work in, it can actually mean that you do well, even if none of the questions you’ve learned actually come up.
One of the things that distinguishes radio’s finest and most prestigious quiz from those of television is the remarkable lack of fuss and bother you have to go through as a contestant. Lets compare. With ‘Mastermind’, for instance, when I took part in the 2007 series :
First of all I had to fill in an online application form. Now this wasn’t really so onerous a chore, especially since I had done it before. However as part of the Mastermind application you do have to offer details of four specialist subjects you might like to do. This means giving details of the subject, and also of the sources you’ve used to get information from. Personally I think that this is just to deter timewasters.
Within a week or two of sending off my application I had a phone call , offering to give me a phone audition. They knew me from the previous year, but still wanted to audition me. The Mastermind auditions are fun, but quite involved. You have to sell yourself, and also show you do know a bit with your subjects. Then there are the 20 General Knowledge questions to answer. They ask you the questions, but never tell you whether your answers are right or wrong, or how well you’ve done overall. I thought I did ok on the second audition, but not as well as the first, still, the interviewer was moved to make the comment that I obviously had a very good general knowledge.
Once you were accepted to appear on the show, you had a contract to sign. This ran to a couple of pages of quite small print and legalese. Included with this we were also asked to supply a reading list for each of the specialist subjects. This is actually a good idea for the contenders, since it at least allows the setters to know what you consider to be the parameters of your subject. You also get a list of rules and instructions about what you can and can’t wear, etc.
In the couple of weeks leading up to the show you could be sure that you’d get a phone call from a researcher, which would mean a long conversation about your specialist subject so that John Humphrys would have enough to talk to you about during the inter round chat before the General Knowledge round. This may possibly have been a sneaky and surreptitious way of checking whether you’d been doing your revision or not. This chat has gone in the 2009 series, but still the contenders have to film a short piece to camera, talking about their subject.
Even when you arrived at the studio on the day of the show there was still a lot to do. First of all your researcher would have to check that it was actually you. Then you’d also be taken through the special subject areas John Humphrys might want to talk about. Then would come the wardrobe check. Then makeup. Then detailed instructions about how to walk to your chair without destroying the set. Then being miked up. Then being given instructions about which camera to look at while you were being introduced by John Humphrys at the start of the show. Then, eventually, the show.
Ok – now that’s TV. Radio is different. There was 1 application form to fill in, which was pretty standard as these things go. I had a phonecall a few weeks later, asking if we could do an audition over the phone. This really just consisted of checking a few of the details on my form, and then answering some general knowledge questions. I don’t think I did very well on these, although one question,
“Who coined the phrase – ‘There Are Lies, damned lies and statistics”” was a very naughty question, since there are two answers which I’ve seen given to the question – Disraeli and Mark Twain. I explained this. And was asked to plump for one of the two. I went for the earlier one , Disraeli, to be told that it was Mark Twain.
Thankfully I was still accepted for the show. I received one letter explaining the details of when and where it was to be recorded, and then one contract, which didn’t need to be returned, and an email to be replied to in order to confirm that I was going through with it, and then that was it until the actual day of the show. A touching show of faith in the contenders that we would actually turn up.
I had stayed the night before the show at my Mum’s in Tottenham. So I took the tube from Wood Green to Oxford Circus.
Despite tube problems at Finsbury Park I was the second to arrive, and one by one all the rest of us trooped in. I say all of us, because they record two heats in one go. So, one by one eight of us appeared in the reception of Broadcasting House in London. A show like Brain of Britain somehow could only be recorded in Broadcasting House. Its such an iconic, and reassuringly art deco confection of a building that to look at it is almost to believe that , if you could find your way to the roof without setting off a major terrorist scare, you might still find Arthur Askey and Dickie ‘Stinker’ Murdoch camped out there. ( For anyone under . . . well, basically for anyone still alive, in an old radio variety show of the 1940’s , called Bandwagon, Arthur Askey and Dickie Murdoch supposedly lived in a tent on the roof of Broadcasting House ). Doubtless the ghosts of Tommy Handley, Jack de Manio, et al flit through its corridors at night.
Broadcasting House in the late October Sunshine
To compare Broadcasting House to Television Centre, when I appeared in “Are You An Egghead” back in May, I found that the foyer of TVC was in many ways very similar to a departure hall in an airport terminal. Security was almost as obvious as well. Lots of people were moving around in a very busy and businesslike fashion, and the ladies at reception had the air that they were very much doing you a favour by acknowledging your presence. Whereas the foyer of Broadcasting House was a lot smaller and more intimate, and rather more reminiscent of a provincial 3 Star hotel, and the atmosphere a lot more friendly, and less impersonal.
I will make a confession here. The fact is that I had actually once been in Broadcasting House about a quarter of a century before. When I was a student I worked for a couple of temp agencies in Ealing Broadway, one of whom supplied casual staff for most of the BBC canteens in various establishments dotted around West and Central London. In my student years I washed up in the canteens of the TV Rehearsal Rooms in East Acton, Television Centre in White City, Lime Grove in Shepherd’s Bush, and Greater London Radio just off Baker Street. I also spent one day in late1983 washing up in the Broadcasting House canteen. Not that I could remember hardly anything from that day itself as I presented myself to the reception, and was asked to take a seat and wait.
The first surprise of the day was when Dave Roberts from Newport walked in about five minutes after I had. I’d played against Dave in both the Dynevor Arms Sunday Night quiz, and the Pill Harriers Rugby Club Monday night quiz on many occasions. Dave wasn’t a novice by any stretch of the imagination. I knew for a fact that he’d played in at least one broadcast quiz before, when his team reached the second round in the first ever series of BBC4’s wonderful and tough team quiz “Only Connect”. Now, the fact was that I had actually lost my letter with all of the details of the show in the scrum I’d had to fight my way through outside Oxford Circus tube station, so I couldn’t check whether I was in the same show, heat number 10, as Dave. I couldn’t help thinking it was likely, though, especially since Brain of Britain always used to be run in regional heats.
I certainly hoped that this was the case as I watched Dr. Ian Bayley arrive. Ian had come runner up in the 2008 series of Mastermind, but I think I can safely say that he was by far the most accomplished quizzer who took part in either of the night’s heats. Nationally ranked in the top 10 of quizzers in the UK, in the two Quiz Grand Prix I had taken part in, Ian had achieved scores that were simply outstanding. Its easy to say this now with the benefit of hindsight, but anyone of us in Ian’s heat was playing for second place.
One more quizzer I knew arrived shortly after Ian. Stuart Davies from Swansea was a quizzer I knew, liked and respected. Back in the early noughties, my friend Rob Merrill had invited me to play in the Independent Swansea Quiz League with a pub called the Dillwyn in Pontardawe. We had a good team, and for the three years I played we were always contending for the league title with Stuart’s team, from the Reverend James in Gorseinon. We won a couple of times, and they won a couple of times. Stuart was the team captain, and I had always reckoned him to be probably the strongest player in a very good team. This was more weight to the argument that the heats must be organised on a regional basis, which gave me more of an opportunity to avoid meeting – and losing to - Ian Bayley at this stage. However, as reassuring as that thought might be, the fact was that Stuart was very serious opposition, and Dave R. was not to be lightly dismissed. Who was the fourth going to be, though ?
By 6:20 pm one of the production team, who sadly didn’t introduce himself, arrived, and took us through into the radio theatre. No makeup, no fuss about wardrobe, just straight into the theatre. He gave us a few minutes of talk and instructions, and then it was into the chairs for a brief rehearsal.
The system they have for the rehearsal is a good one. The contestants who are recording the evening’s second show have the first rehearsal. Then the contestants in the evening’s first show have their turn, and this means that they can stay in their seats, and get straight on with the show proper as soon as the audience come in.It turned out that yes, my show was going to be the welsh regional heat, and this was show 10. Ian’s show was designated show 9. So our show was to be rehearsed first.The other contestant for my show was Dr. Jason Bray from Blaenavon. He modestly described himself as a quiz newbie, and so stupidly I tended to mentally dismiss his challenge. Based on my knowledge and experience of the other three guys I arrogantly mentally made myself favourite, and installed Stuart as the main opposition, Dave R. as the dark horse, and Jason as the outsider. Certainly the rehearsal suggested this to be the case as both Stuart and I scored 5 in a row for a bonus, and I managed to snaffle up a couple of bonuses. If the show itself went as well, then I wouldn’t be complaining.
Of course, there was Ian’s show to take place first. Just before the audience came in we were informed that the 4 highest scoring runners up would be invited back for a place in the semi finals, and currently it was looking as if a score of at least 14 would be needed. I have to say that William, Maya and Chris, the charming and intelligent opposition to Ian in the first heat had little chance of reaching that target without getting a full set of five answers for one of their question sets. Ian was awesome, awesome on his own questions, and awesome on the buzzer for everyone else’s, reaching a ridiculous total of something like 33 ! If you’ve listened to that particular show you’ll have heard the way that he blew away the opposition, with a string of five pointers, and an eagle eye for the bonus. Having said that you won’t have heard the way that he was told off at one point for being just a little too eager on the buzzer, but nonetheless this looked to me like the performance of a champion in waiting.
So it was our turn.
In all my broadcast quiz experiences I can truly say that most of them passed by more quickly than you can possibly imagine. In fact the only one where I can remember really making a conscious effort to stop and smell the roses and enjoy it as it happened was the Grand Final of Mastermind. And I only managed that because at half time I had rationalised that I was highly unlikely to win being two points behind the leader at the time, and so I might as well enjoy myself.
So , my recollections of this show are a little bit patchy, I’m afraid. Jason answered several of his first set of questions. I only managed a couple of mine, and Dave and Stuart only one each of theirs. However, I did have the advantage of knowing from the rehearsal that I could be very quick on the buzzer, and so was only a point or two behind Jason.
I kept on pressing the life out of the buzzer every time one of my fellows was either wrong or ran out of time, and this slowly built me a small lead. I wish that I could have put up a better showing on my own questions, but it didn’t happen. I think that I had one string of 3, but that was it. However, until the final round, neither could anyone else. The fact was that it was the old, old story of wishing you’d had everyone else’s questions. At least this gave me enough buzzer opportunities, and truly it was this which brought me a lead going into the last round. Quick mental calculations told me that the only way either Dave or Stuart could beat me would be for either of them to have a five point and bonus, and answer everyone else’s first question. Jason was the only one really in the position to do it. When he failed his first question, and I buzzed in correctly, then I was nearly home and dry. Nearly. Again, a couple of questions, and then the third one did for me, but even if Stuart had a five question run I thought he was still too far behind. So what did he do ? He had a five question and bonus. Dave failed his first question, which none of us were able to answer, and that was it. A win, but only by a couple of points.
Looking back I wish that I could have had a five point set, and I’m not that delighted with my performance on my own questions. Still, my buzzing in won the show for me, and for that I take a little pride.
Who am I kidding ? I was delighted to have won.
I absolutely loved playing on the show. It was different from Mastermind in many ways. Apart from the other differences between the shows, it was also different because I couldn’t help having a different mind-set towards it. It works like this : -
When I took part in Mastermind in 2007 I had never won anything on TV. Yes, I had won through the fastest finger on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and taken home £1000, but the fact was that I had got as far as £16,000, and got the £32,000 question wrong. It was my biggest ever solo prize in a quiz, and yet it felt like a defeat, which to all intents and purposes it was. I had even been in Mastermind in 2006, and lost to the excellent Kath Drury in the first round. So as much as I knew that I was certainly a good quizzer, the fact was that I had no broadcast pedigree at all to speak of. If I had lost in the first round again, well, so what ? Who was expecting any more of me than me ?
Now, though, it was different. Now I was a Mastermind winner, and although it shouldn’t make any difference, at the back of your mind you can’t help worrying about what people will say if you get knocked out in the first round. After I won Mastermind I read Magnus Magnusson’s “I’ve Started So I’ll Finish” which is the official history of the first 25 years of Mastermind, and what worried me is that so many of the winners also went on to get to the final of Brain of Britain. To be Mastermind Winner , but knocked out in Round One of Brain of Britain was not a particularly appealing prospect. All the worst things you wouldn’t like to think about yourself – eg – that you only did so well in Mastermind by a pure fluke, and your name didn’t belong up there with the other champions would seem to be confirmed. Yet to be Mastermind Winner and Brain of Britain semi finalist sounded so much better.
BoB is one of the most convivial shows that I have been on. Top of the tree is “Millionaire”, where we were treated royally all day, and then given pretty much a party in the bar afterwards, with Chris Tarrant standing the drinks for all for the first round. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s a class act. Next would be “Come and Have A Go “, where at least we were given two nights in a good hotel, and very well treated until we lost, when we were given the bum’s rush. Mastermind do make an effort but it can be a little strained. Even if you’re a stand in, they really don’t want you hanging around in the audience for more than one show of Mastermind on any given day, and unless your show is the last one of the day, when you get back to the green room after your own show you are a little bit in the way .
DC With Russell Davies, the Host with the Most
Its not like that with BoB. You all stay in the radio theatre until both shows are in the can, then its contestants, the team who make the show, and the guests all back to the green room for a wee drinkie. As it was I couldn’t stay long, but long enough to get my picture taken with masterful Russell Davies. As for the semi , well, I couldn’t wait.
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
So the line up or my semi final, as you can see from the photo, was
Jane Ann Liston
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. At last the final round ended, and I had scored 20. Instant delerium. I literally could not stop shaking.
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.
Brain of Britain 2009 – Semi Final 4 – Left to Right – Jim Cook – David Edwards – Anne Hegerty – Simon Pitfield
Going back to the start of the evening, Paul the producer had told all 8 of us that the two semi finals the previous evening had been very close. I won by a margin of 7 points, but I have to say that I couldn’t help thinking that this, the 4th semi final of the evening would turn out to be a bit closer. How wrong could I be ? Anne took a vice like grip on the contest in the first round, and never once looked like relinquishing it. In any quiz show there is an element of luck. 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. 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.
After the two semi finals were recorded Paul Bajoria, the producer, announced the line up for the final. The four semi-final winners were: -
Ian Bayley -David Clark (me) - Rob Hannah - Anne Hegerty
This was quite some food for thought. The only thing I had with which to make a comparison was my Mastermind Final. Then, though, I didn’t know who else was in the final until the actual day of the final itself. Then when I did meet them, I didn’t actually already know any of them before.
This time, I already knew of my three fellow finalists, and more than that, I had met all of them before, and started to get to know each of them to a greater or lesser extent. More than that, I knew about each of them by reputation as well. And believe me, each of them needed to be taken seriously, and not just because they had reached this final, either.
Rob I knew because we posted on the same internet forum, and we had met at the Cardiff Grand Prix. He tended to sell himself short , because he’s younger, and has less experience than the rest of us. Still, he is , in my opinion, one of the top young quizzers in the country, and he sets some wonderful quizzes himself. Rob had won two terrific if close victories in his first round and his semi final, In the heat he had won on a tie break, buzzing in like lightning to take the win by a point. Then in the semi he had been behind the opposition throughout the whole contest, although never trailing by more than one or two points, but a super last round gave him the win by a short head.
Ian I knew by reputation before I ever met him in the flesh. A top 5 ranked quizzer nationally, he had appeared in the first series of “Are You An Egghead ?” and been a key member of the Crossworders, the first ever winners of BBC’s fiendish quiz “Only Connect”. He had been a previous finalist on Brain of Britain, and in 2009 was the runner up in the Grand Final of Mastermind. His Brain of Britain first round heat had been recorded before mine, and he had scored an incredible 33 points. His semi final had been closer. For reasons best known to themselves the production team had put the next two highest scorers in the first round into Ian’s semi final, and although he led for pretty much all of the way, he only won by a point.
Anne I first met when she beat me in the quarter final of “Are You An Egghead ? “ She had been on the circuit for a while, having reached the semi finals of BoB before, and also having appeared in Mastermind, but this year had very much been a breakthrough season for her, which had seen her achieve great results in Grand Prix meetings, and reach the semi final of “Are You An Egghead ? “ Anne had a comfortable win in her first round match, and then in her semi final she had scored the highest in the semis, beating the much fancied David Edwards, the man who had beaten her in the semi final of “Are You An Egghead ? “ Small world.
As for me, I’m probably more of a pub quizzer, and much less of a Grand Prix regular than the other three. I often play in up to 3 pub quizzes a week, and at the time of writing I’ve only ever taken part in 2 Grands Prix. My greatest quiz achievement was winning Mastermind in 2007/8. I won my first heat by a couple of points, and my semi final a bit more comfortably, with the second highest score of the semis.
We had 5 or 6 weeks between semi and final, and I would like to say that I worked hard to prepare for the final. I did do some quiz book work, but I’m afraid I didn’t obsess over it as I had with Mastermind. I tried to do some work on my weakest areas, but there are too many of these to cover in a few weeks in anything but the most cursory fashion.
I’m very good at taking an ostrich like , head in the sand approach to a big event like the final of Brain of Britain. I manage to put it into a corner of my mind that is dusty and neglected, and almost forget about it until the time comes. Well, the time came on the night before the final, as I drove to London. Not that I didn’t have some other things on my mind as well. The snow had started to fall the week after my semi was recorded, and now, several weeks later, it was still falling, and although the road was clear for this out journey, there was no guarantee that I was going to be able to make it home again the night after. Still, much as worrying about this proved a useful sidetrack, my thoughts kept coming back to what I expected, and what I wanted of myself.
Winning would be amazing. But the way I looked on it was that my Mastermind win had been so miraculous, well, it was to me anyway, that to expect anything like it to ever happen again was just being downright greedy. Probably a little unrealistic as well. As I drove down I was well aware that up to that time only 5 people had won both Mastermind and Brain of Britain, although many had tried, and some had come close. So while I would love to win, I’d settle for fourth, and that was probably a lot more likely than winning. In my heart of hearts, though, I did have a target. I have two good quizzing friends who both made it to the final of Brain of Britain in the past, and both of them ended up as runner up. So if I could at least equal their achievement, then at least I could derive some satisfaction from that achievement even if I couldn’t win the whole thing.
In each of the three rounds we were all asked to present ourselves at Broadcasting House for 6:15. As usual, we were a bit early, Mum, Tony and me, and as usual I wasn’t the first competitor there. Rob Hannah had already arrived, complete with winter cold, and so we chatted for a while. In fairly short order Ann and Ian arrived too, and so we waited in the foyer. And waited. For some reason we were kept waiting a bit longer than usual, but eventually we were met, and guided in to the radio theatre.
I really like the radio theatre. Its big enough to get a good sized audience in it, yet it still feels like a cosy and rather intimate venue. As we were being walked down, we warned that Paul, the producer, would probably ask us if we’d mind doing the warm up in front of the audience, instead of before they came in, so that they could get a bit more value for their money. I know what he meant, but then again, I thought the tickets were free anyway ! so as soon as we entered the auditorium I asked Paul,
“I’ve got a suggestion – would you like us to do the warm up in front of the audience ? “ Well, it raised a small laugh, all gratefully received on the build up to a big event like this.
Before the audience were shown in I did take a close look at the prize. The winner of Brain of Britain each year gets a handsome silver salver , engraved with the words Brain of Britain champion – and the year. Very nice it was too. Deep in my hearts of hearts I had a kind of certainty that I wouldn’t be getting a chance to have that close a look at it later, since while one of the others might have an off day, the chances of all three having a very bad day, and me having a very good day were frankly laughable. In the Mastermind Final we were never given a glimpse of the trophy until the contest was over.
Paul went over the rules again, then invited us to take our places on stage as the audience came in. What an audience it was too. There weren’t many empty seats in the heats or semis, but for the final every seat in the house was taken, and this included the balcony, which had never been needed for any of the other shows in the series. Introductions were made, and the warm up began.
You will have to forgive me for this, but the whole show went by so quickly that my impressions are incomplete, and some of the way I remember it even now, just a couple of days later, may be inaccurate. So, having said that, this is what I can recall. Firstly, that Ian was fearsome in the warm up , on his own questions, and on the buzzer too. I think I may actually have had two or three in a row on my own. Alas, I didn’t manage this at any other time during the show. Rob seemed a bit under the weather, and Anne looked to be on good form too.
In the first couple of rounds Ian blazed off to a lead, with Anne in hot pursuit Rob and I trailing. Round after round I could answer my first question easily enough, only to be stopped dead in my tracks by the second. Even when I knew the answer to other people’s questions it wasn’t much more than a couple of times that I managed to beat Ian to the buzzer.
By the interval for the listener’s questions Rob was trailing, I only had a point more, Anne was ahead of the pair of us, and Ian already had one hand on the trophy. The listener’s questions were set by reigning champion Geoff Thomas.
In the second half Rob and I started clawing our way back towards Anne, with Ian sailing blithely on, taking at least two full sets of 5 and bonuses. Ian was unstoppable , and was never going to be beaten in this show. Its one of the features of Brain of Britain that there can be nights when you’re out with the washing on your own questions, but you know you would have done better with the set that’s just gone. So it was in the final. I wouldn’t have won with Ian’s questions, but at least my score would have been quite a bit higher. But that’s the nature of the game. Luck tends to balance itself out throughout a series. Questions fell for me in the semis, and they didn’t in the final.
Because of the speed with which we whipped through the rounds, it was actually decided to put an extra round in. It made no difference to the destination of the title, since Ian couldn’t be caught. However, Anne was only a point ahead of me, and two or three points in front of Rob. Had the contest ended there she would have been outright runner up. This actually made me perk up a bit for the first time in the contests. I pulled myself up level with her, and then Rob, on a last buzzer question, pulled himself level with the pair of us ! So the final scores, in the Final of Brain of Britain 2010, was Ian Bayley 31, and myself, Rob and Anne all tied on 9.
Many, many congratulations to Ian. If you think of his incredible performance in the first round, and the fact that he won the toughest of the semi finals, then you have to concede that he is a most worthy champion, and was the player of the series. You cannot argue with class like that.