Dave Clark - Quiz Pages

Only Connect

Why Only Connect ?

In many ways, Only Connect represented thelast great challenge available to me in the world of quiz shows. Well, serious quiz shows anyway. Granted that  shows out there that I have never been on, but in terms of serious quizzes, Only Connect, Mastermind, University Challenge and Brain of Britain stand supreme. I can't see any way that I'll ever get on University Challenge, but by the time the contestant call went out for series 4 of Only Connect I'd already chanced my arm at both Mastermind and Brain of Britain. One last great challenge was still out there.

Round One

My blog can bear witness to the fact that I’ve been a fan of Only Connect ever since it first aired in September 2008. I did actually know about the show even before it aired. It was first brought to my attention by my quiz mate Barry. The production team were putting out a call for contestants about the same time as the original series of Battle of The Brains. Remember that ? It seems amazing to think this now, but around our way people seemed a bit more excited about applying for Battle of the Brains than they did about applying for Only Connect. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it. We knew we couldn’t get a team of 7 people together for the other show, but we did go as far as getting an application for OC. We started filling it in, but for some reason that escapes me now we never went through with finishing it and sending it off.

For the second season the dates you needed to be available were right out for me, I’m afraid, so I declared myself unavailable and we didn’t even send off for an application form. By the time the third series came along, I had allied myself with Gary Grant and Lisa Hermann through the IQAGB forum, and this time not only did we send off an application , we were even offered an audition. Alas, though, the day we would have had to commit to filming our first round was impossible for both Gary and for myself, and so with a heavy heart we passed on the opportunity for an audition for the third series. 

OK – all with me so far ? Good. Gary, Lisa and I all committed to giving it another go for the 4th series. However when the dates for filming came out, Lisa was unavailable. However I had been keeping my friend Neil Phillips up my sleeve in reserve, and I knew that Neil would give his eye teeth to get on a team for OC. Thankfully the lovely people at Presentable still seemed pretty keen to try us out, and we were offered another audition.

 

 Mis Hermanos ! My boys – Gary and Neil

 Problem.

For me driving 30 miles down the road for an audition in Cardiff really was no hardship at all. Neil had a lot further to come, but managed to arrange matters so he could make it. Gary, however, is a GP in Bury, and simply couldn’t get to Cardiff at the allotted time. Thankfully Presentable allowed him to audition alone in Manchester. And well that he did. I had the uncomfortable feeling throughout the audition that while both Neil and I are veterans of previous TV quiz campaigns, and so had no problem allowing what personalities we possess to come through, the fact was that we weren’t pulling any trees up with our answers. Gary on the other hand by all accounts played a blinder in Manchester. Whatever the case within a week or two of the audition we received the news that we were in.  

Problem 

Gary is Scottish, and both Lisa and I have celtic roots, so we were quite happy to work out a team connection on this theme. Neil, though is not, and so what had always been a relatively nebulous team connection was evaporating before our eyes.

It was Neil who came up with the idea that we could say that we were all devoted fans of the radio, which would enable us to call ourselves The Radio – Heads. You see what he did there ?! Actually the production team liked the connection ( although Gary is not strictly speaking all that much of a radio fan ) but not the pun, and asked us to change the team name to the radio addicts. Neil has not and will not forgive them for this !

 

 Our dressing room. Neil still thinks this should have said “The Radio Heads” 

If you’ve ever seen it you’ll be aware that Only Connect is a great show, but it is a BBC  Four show, and I’m presuming that it has a BBC Four budget. Therefore they run a fairly tight schedule for filming. Actually this is true of most quiz shows I’ve ever been involved in. This is why we were quickly informed that we would be recording our first round show on the Saturday, and if we won, then we’d also be recording our quarter final later on the same day. Now, I have actually recorded two shows in the same day once before, in Are You An Egghead, and I have to admit that I was surprised how tired I was when it got to the second show. Part of this was the fact that there was such a long time, hours in fact, between the recording of my two shows. This isn’t why I lost, though. I lost because my friend Anne Hegerty played better than I did. Still I did think that it would be something that we had to prepare for. If we won the first round.

As I said with the audition, every time I’ve been on a broadcast quiz before, its necessitated a long journey at some stage of the process. Only Connect is filmed in the HTV studios in Culverhouse Cross on the outskirts of Cardiff, which meant that I could easily drive in on the morning of the show. Neil and Gary, on the other hand, were staying overnight in the a hotel close to the studio. We had planned to all meet up in the hotel on the Friday evening to discuss tactics, and generally engage in a little team bonding. Well, that was the plan, but Gary couldn’t leave work until the end of the day, and what with hold ups and traffic jams was never going to arrive much before midnight. I still drove to the hotel on the Friday night, though, and Neil and I spend a really good evening talking quizzes , each of us , I think, enjoying the company of someone else who shared a similar obsession with quizzes and quizzing.

 

 Quote of the day – on first sight of the HTV studios in Cardiff, Gary said “It would look rather out of place in Florence, wouldn’t it !”

 Call time for us was at 12:00. High noon. We arrived about 11:30, and were met by Jenny. Jenny auditioned all of us, and had been in regular contact since . In fact even before we sent off our application Jenny had asked if I’d be prepared to put out a contestant call on LAM for the series. Apparently she is a regular reader, which makes her a lady of wit and discretion, and an all round good egg to boot. Joking aside, she is absolutely lovely, and went out of her way to make sure that we had a good day and a very enjoyable experience. She succeeded.   

I believe that you gain several advantages from appearing on different TV quizzes. For one thing you learn that there is a certain level of , for want of a better word, ‘faffing about’ which is absolutely necessary to the smooth running of the show, but which does nothing to help your nerves in the build up to the recording. I’m referring to the running through of the rules and appeals procedures in the dressing room, wardrobe checks, make up and so on and so forth. I think it makes a real difference when you know that this is all going to have to happen, and so you can take it all a lot more in your stride. Actually I have to say that this was all done very briskly and efficiently with the minimum of fuss, and it didn’t seem like a long time until we were being taken through to the canteen for lunch. So far so good.  

By this time we’d learned that our opponents for the first round were the Taxonomists. They were Carol Scott, Judy Vernau and captain Liz Scott- Wilson. We first met them in make-up ( dahhlliiinnnggg, I simply can’t appear in front of the cameras without a bit of slap on ) No, we didn’t really know what Taxonomists were either. If I understand correctly, they organise and sequence information for various bodies and organisations. I can’t say anything at all about team connections, after all we were called the Radio-Addicts, when our captain doesn’t even own a radio. I on the other hand own about 50 of them, so I do make up his share, but I digress.

 We had a serious issue about selection to deal with at this stage. No, not of team members, but of clothing. You see, both Gary and I have lucky shirts, and both of us wanted to wear them for this first round match. Which everyone was quite happy about apart from Neil. Neil thought we should keep the power of one of them back for the second round. Ah – we pointed out – yes, that would be all well and good, but what if one shirt alone wasn’t lucky enough to get us through to the next round ? Suffice to say that both lucky shirts made it onto the show, and less powerful items of clothing were left on the subs’ bench.  

So, to recap so far, everything that had so far happened during the day met with my approval. Another sign of a quality show was the fact that we were given a proper rehearsal before recording started. Any doubts anyone might have had about the quality of the Taxonomists was soon dispelled, and it was pretty clear that we were going to have a game on our hands. One of the things you’ll have noticed about this series is that the Greek letters used to differentiate between the questions, instead of calling them A – B etc. have disappeared. Apparently someone wrote in with a comment that the use of greek letters could not be more pretentious, and so the decision was made to disprove this by using the far more pretentious Egyptian hieroglyphs. It took hours learning those symbols, mind you. Eye of Horus – Water – Lion – Two Reeds – Poison Viper and Twisted Flax. I did comment when we first saw the list of symbols that I was sure that this was actually a list of the bands who played the 1980 Donnington Park Monsters of Rock festival in 1981. From what I was told by the team working on the show, this was probably the 4th time that day one of the teams had made a similar crack.  

On a show like, for example, the Weakest Link of 15 to 1 you absolutely don’t want to be the first person to leave the show, and in a knockout series you really don’t want to lose in the first round . The Taxonomists were not totally lacking in quiz experience, since their captain, had been in the winning team in University Challenge in New Zealand. Still I don’t think there’s much argument that we had the advantage over them in terms of our respective TV CVs.. Neil has played in both Mastermind and Brain of Britain. Gary reached the semi finals in both Mastermind and Are You An Egghead. I myself have been luckier than I would ever have imagined having been in my time a quarter finalist in Are You An Egghead, Runner Up ( joint ) in Brain of Britain and Mastermind Champion.  Reputations by themselves don’t win matches, though. In every series there has been at least one surprise package who have knocked out a fancied team in the first round, and we were fully aware that this could be us if we didn’t perform.

 

 

Note the anxious look on Neil’s face – was he still worrying about Gary and me both wearing our lucky shirts in the first round ? 

I will admit that even as soon as the very next day after the recording I found it difficult to recall exact details of the show. So what follows are my impressions, what I do remember, backed up by watching the actual show on the iplayer.  

Gary won the toss, and we elected to go first. Our first set was vampire killers, which we nearly managed to mess up when I gave Gary demon killers/exorcists. Given a second bite of the cherry by Victoria he zagged the right way, and we had a useful two points to begin our campaign with. The Taxonomists were unlucky to get a set which neither side quite managed , addresses of cartoon characters.We had agreed before he show that we honestly did NOT want a music connection. Well, that’s exactly what we got. Fortunately we solved it, recognising Memories from Cats, and a song by The Pussycat Dolls for another 2 points. Relief all round. To make up for that the Taxonomists had the picture set. They took all 4, but recognised that the Eiffel Tower, the Seattle Space Needle and the Crystal Palace were all built for International Expos. Then we had our real Egg On The Face Moment . We could see that our set were words with two different pronunciations, but the fact that the pronunciation depended on whether or not they started with a capital letter escaped us completely. It was small consolation that it also escaped the Taxonomists. Finally the Taxonomists identified a set of shellfish dishes for a point. So at least we led by 4 to 2 into the second round. 

We took all three clues before I despairingly said that a series of American fluid measurements would be completed by 2 pints=1 quart. I honestly didn’t believe that it could be so obvious. But that was the clever thing about the set. It was only obvious if you took all of the clues. The Taxonomists were then given The Finest Connection Of The Show. Given a Spinning Top, The Coliseum, another Spinning Top, they didn’t get it. Mind you, neither did we. The answer, so blindingly obvious when Victoria spelled it out, was they were all featured in You’re The Tops, so would be followed by The Louvre Museum. We didn’t exactly cover ourselves with glory by failing to see a set of cricket deliveries in our next set. Well, it is true – I couldn’t tell a Yorker from a googly, I’m afraid. No bonus to the Taxonomists. They threw caution to the winds with the next set, and after two – Murray and Willis – they leapt in for Australian rivers, going for Swan, I think. I’d already told Gary that I was sure we were dealing with TUC leaders. Thank heaven he knew that Barber would come after Monks. So we took our first bonus of the show. Our last connection was a fairly gentle lob with Scottish islands of increasing area. Gary being Scottish knew Harris pretty quickly, and we were very grateful to take the two points on offer. A lovely connection finished the round for the Taxonomists, when they were given a series of numbers and worked out that they would make different consecutive number if you turned them up the other way. 2 points bagged thank you very much. 

So at the end of round 2, which I will be honest I often find the hardest round of the show, we had a lead of 9 points to 4.  

The rules of the show are that if you go first in rounds one and two, then you go second in the connecting wall. So we were given instructions on how to use the board, and then taken away to a holding area for a while, during which time the Taxonomists had their go at their wall. Until I watched the show last night I only knew how many points they had scored. As it was, they solved their wall impressively quickly, sorting out sets of words which can be followed by Great, collective nouns for birds, types of tanks and things which have striped. Captain Liz explained with some relish that barbers have a striped pole which symbolizes bloody bandages, since barbers also used to be surgeons ! 

I think I can reveal that we had a slight disagreement over team tactics at this stage. Neil’s point was that if you got the first two lines on the wall quickly, then you should deliberately not put the last two in quickly, to give you more thinking time about what the connection actually was . Actually, I could see the logic in what he was saying. You can solve the wall, and still not know what the connection on the last line really is. However my feeling was that you just haven’t got the time to mess around, and you need first and foremost to find the four lines, and I think that Gary agreed with me. Our turn on the wall came, and I think I should stress that at this stage you have no idea how well or otherwise your opposition have done. We unravelled the wall, knowing three of the lines, namely characters from Madame Butterfly, spin off TV series, and types of ink, but on the fourth even though Victoria gave us a couple of bites of the cherry, we could not identify characters from the Mortal Kombat video game.  

After an age , we started the last round, and finally Victoria confirmed what we had suspected. The Taxonomists had done brilliantly on their wall, and solved the whole thing. So that meant that 3 points of our lead had disappeared, and only 2 remained. 16 to us and 14 to the Taxonomists. Peter the producer made a point of telling us all that there would be about 2 and a half minutes of time for the missing vowels round. More than enough to overturn that lead. Now, in the rehearsal we had comfortably outbuzzed the taxonomists on this part of the game. In the show itself though they revealed a hitherto unexpected show of speed, especially on a set of psychological terms. We started brightly enough taking three points on businesswomen, but on the psychological terms they completely outbuzzed us. I knew a couple, but just was far too slow. In fact, I only got one correct buzz in the whole round, seeing I geta Kick Out of You  in the Cole Porter songs. Still, thankfully Neil and Gary were a lot more on the ball. We took three out of these.Also the Taxonomists were playing catchup, which did see them buzz incorrectly once. By the time the round ended I was fairly sure that we had done enough to win, but I was mightily relieved when Victoria confirmed it. 23 to 18. A close game. 

I was particularly delighted for Neil. He’d been on quizzes a number of times, and this was his first ever win in a show. Looking back, I’d twice played in TV team quizzes before, in Eggheads and Come and Have a Go if You Think You’re Smart Enough, and had not won either, so this was something special for me as well. 

One of the things that makes appearing on TV quiz shows so enjoyable is the camaraderie that tends to develop between the contestants. I’m so lucky to have made a number of friends through appearing on various shows with them. Neil and I , for example, first met when we contested the same first round heat of Mastermind in 2006. We had a chance to have a chat with the Taxonomists straight after the match, and very nice they were too, wishing us good luck in the second round.

Round Two / Quarter Final 

I’m sorry if this shatters anyone’s illusions, but despite every on screen indication that there’s a decent length of time between the recording of the various rounds, in our case the interval between recording our first round, and our second round shows was all told about an hour.

 Now, I need to make a little digression here. Before the start of the first round match Neil had made a point about the fact that both Gary and I had elected to wear our lucky quizzing shirts for the first round match. I say lucky quizzing shirt, although the fact is that I had only ever worn my pink lucky shirt on 3 previous occasions. I bought it for the Mastermind Final, hoping desperately that the production team would reject it, since it was actually a wee bit too small for me then. They much preferred it to my other options, and so I was forced to go with it. Then I won the final, and so , as I thought at the time, I gladly retired the shirt from active service after one wearing. Then I was invited to audition for “Are You An Egghead ?”, and when I was offered a place in the first round, I couldn’t resist seeing if the shirt could work its magic for a second time. It could, and it did. So then when the Mastermind Champions series came round, there was only really one option for me. I wore the shirt. It didn’t bring me a win, but what it did do was enable me to get my best ever performance in a specialist subject, and the highest of all the runner up scores, which saw me invited to the final as a stand in. Gary’s lucky shirt has similar provenance and powers. Anyone who’s ever been on a TV series which has involved more than one appearance will know that TV companies insist upon you wearing a different top for each subsequent appearance. Neil’s point was that once we’d both worn our lucky shirts, then they were out of the series, and wasn’t it a bit wasteful to use two of them on the same show ? My feeling was that if you don’t get through the first round it makes no difference whether your lucky shirt is waiting to be used in the next round or not. Still, the fact was that we now had a second round match starting within the hour, and both Gary and I had played our lucky shirt cards. Neil didn’t have a lucky shirt. Maybe the top he wore for the first round will now be the lucky top.

 After we had been given a bite to eat, changed our tops, and been touched up – sadly only our make up – we met the opposing team in the holding area outside the studio. They were the Britpoppers, - William Higham, Chris Roberts, and skipper Andy Ross - three friends who had all been involved in the music business in one form or another. I didn’t recognise any of them, so once again we were up against an unknown quantity. One thing I did know about them was that they had won a first round match, so had to be taken seriously. They did mention that they had done pretty well in every round apart from the wall, which they found particularly galling since they always did well on the wall when watching at home.

 Gary lost the toss, which left us to go second. While we were waiting , Andy the skipper made the same crack I made in the previous round about the names of the hieroglyphs sounding like 70s Heavy Metal bands. Great minds think alike. Off we went.

 The ‘Poppers found the music connection , and guessed correctly that the Praggue Symphony, An American in Paris, and Vienna by Ultravox were all connected by European capital cities. We were all flummoxed by Rachael Stevens, Newfoundland Dog, Joseph Stalin and Donald Duck. All were born with webbed feet. The next one passed us both by as well, when Coade stone – Damascus Steel – Greek Fire and Egyptian Pyramids were revealed. The answer was that the method for making all of them have been lost. Gary leapt in with our first points with our second connection. Faced with Narrative – Open and Industrial Disease he knew without question that these were all verdicts which can be recorded in a Coroner’s Inquest. A chance to take the lead was presented to us when the Poppers were presented with a set of stamps. They plumped for stamps from countries which have held the world cup, but the clue really was the last one, a very famous stamp with an airplane printed upside down on it. Bonus gratefully accepted. Egg on Face Moment Number 1 occurred when we were presented with Chogi =30, Go =361 , Reversi = 4. We knew it was board games, but plumped for tiles, or some other such nonsense. Given Draughts = 7 the Poppers couldn’t get it, but far too late I knew it was possible opening moves in those games. Oh well. The connections did seem a little tougher than they had in our first round heat. We were still playing a bit cautiously, but happy to take the points on offer, and had a very small lead at the end of the round.

 In round two our wheels came off a bit, and I have to say that it was my fault. Firstly though, the Poppers took a good set, getting a picture of a Starling, then Marty Feldman who was staring. Working out a letter off each time, that would give either Sting or Tring. Good set. We were offered a sequence starting with Patroclus. Gary, bless him, became confused with Patronus from Harry Potter, I knew that it was the Trojan War. The next clue gave us Hector. I explained that Hector killed Patroclus, so Achilles killed Hector, and the last in the list would be Paris. We played cautious , and took the next clue, which was indeed Achilles. Good sequence, but a point dropped we could have had. The Poppers had a nice set on adjectives working their way around the compass – so if you start with Boreal, you end with occidental. Right – Egg On Face Moment 2. Bearing in mind that we could have had more points on the previous set, on the next sequence – Alexandra of Denmark – Mary of Teck, I dived in , and thinking that these were the wives of successive kings, which they were, I predicted next would be Wallis Simpson, and the last Elizabeth Bowes Lyon. Wrong ! The last clue was given to the Britpoppers – Lady Diana Spencer, and it became clear to me. Too late. The last answer would have been Camilla Parker-Bowles, since they were a sequence of wives of the Prince of Wales. The Britpoppers were a little profligate, failing to get this one.On the next  they didn’t getGoogolplex – Google – 100. Now I know that its all to do with the number of noughts. There are a google noughts in a googleplex, and a hundred in a google. So there are 2 in 100. Know it now didn’t then. Neither did anyone else. Our last set passed both teams by as well – Granule – sand – silt – saw us offer mud , but that’s not the sme thing as clay unfortunately. So, having seen a 3 – 1 lead become a 6 – 5 deficit we had some serious thinking to do going into the wall now.

 Cometh the hour, cometh the man. We went first on the wall, and solved two lines. Pollux, Vega, Betelgeuse and Altair gave us stars, while Martin Bell, Tony Manero, Marty Hopkirk and Stanley Stratton were all men in white suits – as opposed to men in white coats.However time was running out, and we didn’t have a clue about the last two. Acting on my advice to hit and hope, Gary did just that, and lo and behold, he was right ! Given the half a minute or so it took to explain the first two lines was enough time to figure out the last two. I was particularly proud of the fact that I earned Victoria’s approval for noticing that one of the clues – Mark twain – did not have a capital letter, and therefore must refer to the call from the Mississippi riverboats from which  Samuel Clemens took his pen name. We identified Number – 10 – Tense and Pitch as all things which can follow the word Perfect, and then Mart twain – 365.76 cm – 4yds and snooker table as all being equivalent to 12 feet. Well, with the kind of luck we’d otherwise have associated with the last round’s lucky shirts, we took a maximum of ten. So whatever happened, we could only be a maximum of one point behind going into the last round.

 During our wait in the holding area, Jenny told us that the Britpoppers thought that we were awesome. I really don’t know if she was just being nice - to be fair we’d hardly done much to justify that opinion. I was fairly relaxed and not exactly confident, but I felt very happy that we’d managed to score a maximum on at least one of our walls. I was also happy that I felt good and alert, and the adrenaline was starting to flow.

 Back in the studio nobody was giving anything away about how well they’d done on the wall. You just don’t know until the scores are announced. Peter the producer came in and told us that we had 90 seconds only for the missing vowels round. We had gone close to the wire time wise, but the evidence was that the Britpoppers had done so as well. When Victoria announced the scores, though, I had to suppress a gasp. From being one point behind, we had gone to being 6 points in the lead. The Britpoppers must have had an absolute ‘mare of a wall was all we could surmise. I’ve watched the show since, and I must admit I do think we probably had the easier of the two walls, but they did struggle. They unravelled Elton John songs in the shape of Passengers – Nikita – Blue Eyes ( a personal favourite ) and The One, but that was it when the other lines were revealed they could see that Stalk – Skewer – Petrol – Miner are all the names of birds when spelled differently. However they failed to see that Blood – Tyre – Iron and Shotgun can all be pumped. Tricky that one, certainly. Finally they didn’t get that Sacrifice – Pin – Fork and Discovered Attack are all chess tactics.   

Believe me, you are under pressure doing the walls, and I certainly felt for the Poppers watching the show back. Well, that time for sympathy would come later. First there was a crucial missing vowels round to contend with. I had not been very happy with my performance, or rather lack of it, during our previous missing vowels round. This time I wanted to be a little more use to the team. Concentrating fiercely, as soon as Victoria announced the category “International Stock Exchange Share Indices “ or something like, immediately I ran through a few in my mind – Hang Seng – Nikkei – etc. First one was Hang Seng. Bang, thank you very much. Gary had Nikkei. The skipper of the Britpoppers was unlucky to just fail on Dow Jones Industrial Average, and nether team got the third. Then we had nicknames of Kings. Silly Billy – bang, and I had already done twice as well as in the first show. Farmer George followed to us, and then Andy took one back for Brandy Nan. Good shout that. When we moved on to things MPs had claimed expenses for I was delighted to get Adult Films and Duck Island. To cut a long story short we had a very good round, and the Britpoppers, who were in the position of having to play catch up, found our buzzer form too hot. The Final score may have been 24 – 8, but believe me it felt a lot tougher than that score suggests to you.

The only previous time I had played in two shows in one day was in “Are You An Egghead ?” That day I’d had mixed fortunes winning the first match, but losing the ensuing quarter final. As I drove off from the HTV studios to pick up my daughter from her work, I couldn’t help reflecting that I had twice played before in semi finals,  in Mastermind and Brain of Britain. The thing which made being in the semis of “Only Connect “ even better was that for this series, if you got to the semis, then you were going to be there to the end. We had already been informed that, as had happened in series 2, there would be a play off for third place. So we were guaranteed two more shows. We didn’t really have time to chat to the Britpoppers after the show. I think that they’d probably had to film two shows on the same day as well, and although a great day, it had been a long one. But they were all nice guys, and good players-  it was a pleasure to meet them.

Semi Final

The most important show to win of any series is actually probably your first. Whoever you are, and whatever you say about only taking part for the fun of it, and not worrying about how well you do, the fact is that you don’t want to be knocked out in the first game. After that, though I would say that the next most important to win is the 2nd round. In the previous series of Only Connect there had been no play off match for third place, but in this, the 4th series, there was definitely going to be one. So whatever happened, by winning a place in the semis we had guaranteed ourselves two more matches. We were there to the end of the series.

Now, this is the stage in any broadcast quiz competition that you know that you are going to come up against formidable opposition. I was lucky enough in both Mastermind and Brain of Britain that I avoided the semis in which other contenders or competitors put in frighteningly good performances, and therefore progressed through to the finals myself. In this case, though, on the first day of filming after talking to Mark and Chris of the Alesmen we had pretty much figured out that if we got to the semis, then they would be the team we were most likely to face. Of course there was an even more frightening thought, if such a thing was possible – maybe they had been beaten and we’d have to face a team good enough to beat them !

As it turned out this was something we needn’t have worried about. Chris and Mark, together with Graham Barker, a very nice chap whom I hadn’t met previously to the best of my knowledge, made up the Alesmen, and they were the team who stood between us and the final. You’ve seen their first and second round performances, and there you have the advantage over us, since we hadn’t at that time. Still, we knew for a fact that they had been picking off some five point answers from just one clue in at least one of their shows. We had been performing solidly , but hadn’t even come close to doing anything like that. If there was just one crumb of comfort it was in the fact that these guys looked like potential champions, and so if we lost, which seemed likely, then there would be no shame in it, and no recriminations. Providing we weren’t thrashed, that is.


The Alesmen – sartorially impeccable, and in rounds 1 and 2 unbeatable

Actually in rounds one and two it looked very like that was exactly what was going to happen. I’ve watched the show earlier today, and this is what happened. The Alesmen served notice of their intent by getting types of cloud from just two pictures in their first set – an anvil and a mackerel. First of all they had to figure out that it actually was a mackerel. Maybe we’d have got it from the third, the mare’s tail, and maybe we wouldn’t. We certainly didn’t get our own first set. Chrysippus – Orin Scrivello – The Bank Chairman in Mary Poppins, and A viewer of the Goodies escaped us completely. Mark and the Alesmen knew, they all died laughing. Gulp. A set of two geometric equations, and the word Giotto was enough to give the Alesmen that all of these made circles. At last we got our own points on the board, when we took a full set from Democracy – Whitman – Prose – Boccaccio – Ayrshire Burns and Avon Shakepeare. We might have gone for it after Burns, but you’ll appreciate that our confidence was not at an all time high at this point, and getting some points, any points was essential. The Alesmen’s third set escaped both of us. The Road – 1:17, Great Expectations 8:40, and so on were a set of works of fiction and the times at which clocks were stopped in them. We were close with film posters, but crucially not close enough. Here’s a good example of how meticulous the team are to ensure fairness. I’m fairly certain that in the interim between rounds they made sure to check the film posters of the above to make sure that the clocks and the times weren’t in the poster. We finished with a couple of points on the dreaded music connection. Flash Bang Wallop from Half a Sixpence – A kind of Magic – and Kiss Me gave us sixpence, although it wasn’t until Victoria explained that Brian May had used a sixpence as a plectrum that it really made any sense to us.Oh well, it was 6 – 3 to the Alesmen, but frankly it could have been worse. Still, that was just around the corner for us.

In the second round, the what comes fourth ? round, we just could not get with it at all. The Alesmen were brilliant, answering their own questions, and most of ours into the bargain as well. They knew that Norman Conquest begins – Stella Artois brewery founded, and Great Fire of London would give them 1066 – 1366 and 1666 – so it was a good bet that England winning the World Cup would come next. Nice set that one. Neither of us got a set of where the last 4 hosts finished in the medal tables of the summer Olympics – the last being China = 1st. Difficult but gettable. The Alesmen in a rare show of vulnerability didn’t know that the Humber would complete a set of Calder, Aire and Ouse – each of them flowing into the next. Unfortunately we didn’t get it either. Serious egg on face moment number 1. How did we not see the connection between Ares ( Mars ) , Gaia (Earth ), Aphrodite ( Venus ) and thus Hermes (Mercury ). We didn’t see it, and the Alesmen made no mistake. D’Oh ! The Alesmen completed a list of nuclear accidents with the correct answer Chernobyl. The explanation they gave for their reasoning might not have been right, but the answer was, and that’s what matters. Right, this brought on serious egg on face moment number 2. We knew that India, Victor and X-Ray were NATO phonetic alphabet. But I – V – X – what was that all about ? Again – how did we not see that it was Roman numerals ? I can only apologise . Quite rightly the Alesmen dispatched it to the boundary, taking their own score to 12, and leaving ours on a paltry 3.

In all honesty I don’t think that any of the three of us had a problem with the Alesmen playing so well. We just had a problem with us playing so badly. We were out with the washing, and looking like beginners. I think what made it worse was that our last two sets had been gettable, and we hadn’t even come close. It was a very, very sombre team who lined up to go first on the wall. The team who go first in rounds one and two go second on the wall. The team who go first on the wall have to be filmed walking forwards towards the wall. I say this, actually, but this is done through the magic of television, since the actual walking takes place well away from the wall.
Captain Gary hadn’t quite given up the ghost yet, and he applied a bit of tactical thinking to the choice of walls. Faced with the choice between Lion and Water, Gary chose Lion, working out that the ALESmen surely wouldn’t want to be left with water. Believe me, you’d have been clutching at straws in our position too. At first the wall was a bit of a disaster, and we took a long time to sort out any of them. Still, we were playing, as we saw it, for pride now, with no chance of snatching a victory from the jaws of abject defeat, and we did manage to unravel the whole thing . Unlike the quarter final wall, I think we had pretty much sorted out what the link between the sets was before we unravelled the wall. We had the Underground Railway Lines first. Gary knew the surfing terms. What we were left with was terms connected with left, or being left handed, and also film music composer, but which was which. Two attempts came and failed. Of course, thinking about it Mancini was fairly obvious – man maybe coming from latin manus – meaning hand. Still, the main thing was that we got it on the third go. From being candidates for the lowest score ever on OC, we now had a chance of respectability. We had scored a maximum 10. Too little too late, we felt.

Its fair to say that we were still a little despondent after this. If you go first on the wall then you’re taken out of the studio into a holding area while the other team take their turn. The only thought that provided at least some crumb of comfort was that at least the lead wouldn’t be increased.

When you return to the studio nobody gives you any clue as to how the opposition have done on the wall until Victoria announces it as the start to round four is filmed. So those expressions of surprise that you see are genuine. We were surprised that the Alesmen had dropped 5 points on the wall. Watching it since revealed just what terrible luck they had. They knew the 4 sets, but just couldn’t unravel more than the first one in the time. Very , very unfortunate for them. Realistically, though, they still had a substantial lead, and had anyone been running a book on the outcome they’d still have been short priced favourites at this stage , but at least it was now just about possible for us to give it a go. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.The hero of the hour was none other than Neil Phillips, whom Gary and I will always refer to as Legend forever more due to what transpired in the next couple of minutes.

Neil was awesome. The first set was Films named after songs. Neil took three of them . Believe me, with the transmission delay you can’t see just how quickly he was coming in for them, but it was brilliant. We knew that we were still behind. Equations next. Gary and Chris swapped one apiece, but that was as far as it went. Next – collective nouns. On the first one I made one of my few contributions to this show with A Company of Actors. I think Neil and Gary both weighed in. As Gary answered his last by my reckoning we were a point ahead, and then wonder of wonders the end music sounded, and the game was over. I almost couldn’t breathe for the time it took Victoria to confirm that I had got my sums correct, and we had squeaked through by a point.

Only Connect is a team game. You win as a team, and you get beaten as a team. However sometimes the action of one individual proves to be decisive, and for us, it was Neil. He didn’t get all of the missing vowels, but he got a substantial proportion of them, 5 out of our 8 correct answers, and closed the gap. I was getting nowhere with trying to answer the missing vowels.


I was so grateful to the Alesmen for getting this photo which makes it look as if I’m shoving my thumb up my nose before the start of the show. Neil looks confident – does he know what he’s about to do ?

A win is a win is a win, I suppose, and is certainly not to be sniffed at. However the commiserations we extended towards the Alesmen were genuine and heartfelt. The scoreboard at the end showed that we had won, but I think all six of us at least knew that they had been the better team. They are all great guys and damn good sports, and they will know that if it hadn’t been for dreadful bad luck on the wall we’d never have caught them. Its not much consolation, I’m sure. The truest thing I can say is that their sportsmanship is every bit as impressive as their knowledge.

As for us, we were in a little bit of a state of shock. On a personal level I had contributed next to nothing to our performance, and I wasn’t very happy about that. But as a team . . . well, as a team we were in the final ! Gary is Mr. Consistency and he had nothing to feel ashamed about in his own personal performance in this show. But as for Neil – well, I was just so pleased for him that he had produced this sublime match-winning performance. The rumour that Gary and I got down on our knees in the dressing room after the show and saluted him with a round of “We’re not worthy’s” is not a rumour - its true.



Those smiles are genuine – we’ve just qualified for the final. Myself – Captain Gary and The Legend himself.

For the first time since our adventure had begun, I really regretted not staying in the hotel with the boys. I’m not a drinker, but I might well have been prepared to make an exception on the night. On a personal note, though, it was a source of great satisfaction to me that I had reached the Grand Finals of Mastermind, Brain of Britain, and now Only Connect. Not that I'm the first to manage this, as Ian Bayley completed the hat trick of appearences in our Brain of Britain final last January. Well, if you can't beat them , join them.

The Final

 

In a mere few days Gary , Neil and I had come through 3 matches, none of which had been a foregone conclusion. As I arrived at the studios on the very next day after the semis, I was confronted by Neil and Gary and a problem. The winners of the final were due to stay on for an extra day to play a match against the series 3 winners, our friends The Gamblers. This would not be a problem for me, or for Neil, but it would be a huge problem for Gary, who simply could not have any more time from the practice where he was working as a locum GP. Now at this stage I have to stress that ‘throwing’ the match so that we didn’t win was NEVER going to be an option. None of us would ever have done it. We couldn’t, we’re far too competitive for that. Not only that, but I know for a fact that the team who make the show would have no truck with such a thing either. Still, without being able to get an extra day for Gary , we were faced with a problem.

 

At best our chances of being needed for the next day – that is, by winning the final – were 50/50. Still, understandably Jenny wanted the problem dealt with ASAP, and didn’t want to leave it until after the final. The most obvious solution was to whistle up a reserves player who could take Gary’s place for the next day. Neil’s suggestion was that we asked Kath Drury. Kath had beaten the pair of us in our first Mastermind appearance in 2006, so this was incredibly appealing. However we were unable to raise her by phone. Likewise the couple of good quizzing mates I suggested. Running out of options rapidly, we had to accept that this problem was never going to be sorted out until after the final itself had been played.

 

As early as the Saturday morning, we had heard rumours of a fantastic score in the first round by a team called The Epicureans. We had to reckon that they were likely to be our opposition. Jenny soon confirmed that this was so. Before our match there were a couple of other matches to be filmed. The play off between the Alesmen and the other semi finalists, the Wrights was by all accounts another nailbiting affair. However the team were also making another special show to be shown for Comic Relief. The winners of the first series, the Crossworders, who had also defeated series 2 champions The Rugby Boys were now to take on a team consisting of three of the magnificent University Challenge winning team from Emanuel Cambridge. This was a great thrill to me, since I already knew Jenny Harris of the team through my blog, and it meant that I also got to meet Josh Scott and the famous Alex Guttenplan. Inroducing myself I was pleased as punch to be greeted by the immortal words – “Ah, you’re the blog man !”

A quick excursion into the corridor revealed two dressing rooms, with the team names on them. All of which confirmed my suspicions. We were indeed to play the frighteningly good Epicureans.

 Since it was the final we made a late decision to all go with collars and ties. Unfortunately the Legend had the former but not the latter. Still a quick shopping trip to marks and Sparks which was just down the road took care of that. Then the team fed us, made us up, and we finally got to meet each other formally as we were all miked up ready for the show.

I had never actually met any of the Epicureans before the show, but its fair to say that I knew of each of them. David Brewis has amongst many quiz appearences been a finalist on University Challenge, and a winner of Masterteam, incidentally with Crossworders David Stainer and Ian Bayley. Captain Katie Bramall-Stainer has an even closer connection with my friend David Stainer, being married to him ! Family honour to uphold there, then. Katie was also a semi finalist in the 2007 Mastermind series of blessed memory. As for Aaron Bell, well Aaron Bell won a show which you may just have heard of, called The Krypton Factor in 2009 ! When we chatted he informed me that he had originally been a member of the Lapsed Psychologists, the finalists in the first series, but had to drop out before the start of the series.  

On paper our credentials weren’t that bad either, but not quite as impressive. Still, there’s absolutely no point thinking about that sort of thing as you’re going in to begin the show. I’m glad to say that the Epicureans were lovely , not too serious, not too intense, just nice decent guys. That and excellent players – but then you can’t have everything. Without being asked I decided to give my team mates the benefit of my experience just before we went in. I told them to enjoy the experience, and to try to find a point during the show to just stop and smell the roses a little. Grand finals don’t come along all that often during a quizzing career, and its as well to remember that winning them isn’t everything. Mind you , I admit that I did stare a little at the trophy when we were finally sat down.

Things were actually a lot closer during most of the first couple of rounds. Neither team managed to really impose their authority on the other, and indeed I think we had a slight lead going into round two. Towards the end of round two it was just pure bad luck that the Epicureans were given the only connection in the show which I would have had a chance of getting decent points on. They took the well deserved points, and this ensured that they would carry a very useful lead into the walls. We were due to go second, so it was out to the holding area we went, and win the post mortem that followed we rationalised that we had actually played quite a bit better than we ‘d played at this stage in the semis. Still, we all knew deep down that lightning rarely strikes in the same place twice.

When it came to the wall we really were out with the washing. I should have seen the London buildings, but didn’t. I should have seen the Spanish words but didn’t. We figured out what the connections were once they were revealed, but you have to say that we had the opportunity to pull back some points on the Epicureans, but didn’t. As it was, we were lucky that they only scored 5 , the same as we did.

So to the Missing Vowels. We knew that they’d be very sharp, and to be fair, they were. We ought a decent rearguard action, and I was pleased on a personal level to buzz in on some of the scat singers, but there was no doubt that they’d had the better of the round, and were worthy and comfortable winners in the end.

There’s not a lot more to say than that. I made a point of telling Victoria after the show that she looked absolutely stunning – and she did in the Final too, no exaggeration necessary there. Thanks and farewells were said to all the team, and then that was it. What more can I say ? Well, simply that my involvement with the show has been an utter joy from start to finish. I’ve never had so much fun on a team TV quiz, and never been treated better in any show. It’s a great show, and I hope it continues for many, many years to come.

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