Last night (14th September) I travelled up to Salford to visit BBC TV’s studio to take part in Mastermind, but as it has just been broadcast (25th January 2013) and I have now seen it for the very first time, I can blog about it.
It was a really enjoyable experience, despite the nerves of appearing in that ominous black chair. Most of my nerves were focused on the travelling arrangements as I had a wedding to conduct back in Plymouth the following day. The meant rushing away from the studios in a taxi and getting a train from Manchester to Bristol, arriving about midnight there and staying in a Holiday Inn overnight, before getting a morning train back home. This is where I sit typing this. I got back home on time, and the Wedding was lovely.
Plymouth is a long way from anywhere, and train travel is expensive: £133 Advance Single from Plymouth to Manchester! I left at a reasonable time and got into Manchester for lunch, at the excellent BarBurrito in Picadilly Gardens- cheap eats and tasty food.
The best way to get to MediaCity is via the Tram. I really like the Manchester Tram system, and as that city continues to grow and regenerate, it is a lovely trip, through the Salford Quays and into the bright and shiny future that is TV production in the North. A lot of BBC production has moved up to Salford: Radio, Sport, Children’s and a number of shows, including Mastermind.
It turns out we were one of four quizzes to be filmed that day, and they were ahead of schedule. There was an audience for it, and apparently, there is a waiting list to see the show. Once we got into the studio, I could see that there was quite a diversity of people in the audience, and certainly not people just filling up an afternoon: the unemployed or the elderly; and on reflection, I could see that this would be a good afternoon’s entertainment.
The first thing that strikes me about TV production is simply how young the production team are: young women in their early 20’s: they look like they have stepped straight out of University and into the TV studio. They all appear disconcertingly to be the age of my children. Almost immediately, we were whisked down to the ‘green room’ (now there is only a green wall to remind us of the origins of a soothing room to rest the eyes from the lime-lit theatre lights) where we have a run through the rules, and we check not only our details for the captions and, perhaps surprisingly, the next round’s subject. For tonight, the caption will read
Reverend Simon Rundell, Church of England Vicar, Monty Python.
I make a decision internally to name myself as without the Reverend bit, and let the caption handle that, but as I am dressed in my best black suit and a clerical collar, it’s pretty obvious isn’t it?
The other contestants and I shake hands and meet: instantly we all agree that this was a really stupid idea. There is Kate, a student from Somerset, but who is ironically studying International Relations at Plymouth Uni; Mark, a bookseller from Cambridge and Robert, a writer from… somewhere. Robert is the experienced quiz hound: he’s done Mastermind before, and also the Weakest Link. We swop specialist subjects, and as usual mine causes much hilarity. My story also has to be prefaced with the story of my failed subject: Viz Magazine, as everyone makes the connection to a Vicar answering questions on Buster Gonad and his Unfeisably Large Testicles. However, Python it is. Kate is on Horatio Nelson, Mark on the TinTin books of Hergé and Robert on “the big five of Africa”. “Big Five what of Africa?” I ask… Countries, Buses, Lakes… it turns out it means Big Game Animals. Mark thanks me for asking, as he didn’t know either, and I’m as usual the one who asks the bleedin’ obvious.
They check our wardrobes. The black suit is fine. The letter said “don’t wear all black” but I told the producer and he was happy. No qualms from the man in charge, who is more concerned with Mark’s fine herringbone collar on his jumper.
Make up, not surprisingly has to deal with my shiny bald head. Good job I shaved it properly last night.
They put radio mics on us, which I am jealous of, and I end up in conversation with the sound engineer on the subject. These beauties are Sennheiser’s top models, and I have the utter opposite end of the Sennheiser scale.
Led inside, we are instructed by the floor manager where to sit, and which cameras to look at in the opening shots. A warm-up man is keeping the audience jolly. He is an accomplished comedian and has been on TV himself, but this is like club work. Of course, he starts making jokes at the expense of me, but not unkindly – you get used to any joke being referred back to you “Sorry about this one, Rev…”
As we get told where to walk to get to the chair, I am hit by nerves. Luckily I remember the little black plastic rosary in my top pocket. I hold onto this now for the rest of the filming. It really is true: hold on to the Cross. It helps.
I am first.
John Humphries comes on, and is very nice, especially in the pauses between bits. However, the thing is over really so quickly…
I am called up, walk to that chair. I introduce myself as just “Simon Rundell” and the Python questions begin. I know most of them. At this point, however, I only recall a few of the questions, I know I answer one question about a Michael Palin character as EL Gumby, but which later I anxiously recall it could have been JP Gumby – I think both names were used. I passed on the name of the original director, which I knew, but my mind went blank on- it was John Howard Davies. Grrr. As I’m first up, I have no idea if this is good or not. I get the last one wrong – the award they gave themselves I said was the Golden Stoat, but it was the Zinc Stoat of Budapest – I knew that! Did I get any others wrong or passed? I have no idea… two minutes went in a blur.
I held onto and fiddled with my rosary throughout.
Other contestants next: Kate answered loads, and yet surprisingly only got 5. Strange, it seemed more than that. Mark really knew his stuff. We agreed that as we had no idea what the questions would be about, we hoped that our enthusiasm for the subject would pull us through. For both him and me, it did. He got 13. Robert came on with what I might have imagined to be a bit of an experienced swagger. He got 11. I’m second.
Between each of us, there is a little pause as questions are checked. It didn’t happen after my first round, but did after the General Knowledge. That’s quite nerve-wracking… why? Will this benefit or hurt my score? John Humphreys chats to the contestants, and comes over as quite nice.
Round two: General Knowledge. Now two-and-a-half minutes. It’s in reverse order of scores, so Kate comes up and does well to raise her score to 15. Robert comes up to 23 and then it’s me…
I get loads of questions wrong. I pass on five – yes, five! Some were questions I knew or should have known – the author of Morse- Colin Dexter’s name just went straight out of my head. The 2.5 mins takes forever, but I am enjoying answering the questions. The big challenge is not to interrupt the question if you know it. It helps though as you know for a fraction of a second you have it nailed, a moment’s reprieve. Listening is hard, and sometimes the first part of the question is zoned out, as you reflect on the previous one.
I get 13. Total of 25. Not bad, really.
Mark does just as well. He ends up with 26. I have come second. Respectable.
We then have to reshoot some bits: Kate’s walk to the chair, and my walk and introduction, as they will now take Reverend off my titles. I suppose the collar makes it obvious. My plan could have been seen to backfire, but as I said, I really don’t deserve reverence.
I walk up, sit down… and cock it up. Back again. I joke about having to talk in public for a living, and the warm-up man comments that I should do more TV- yes please. I get it right next time.
Into a debrief room. They have booked and paid for a cab. We are well on time, so I am not stressed. It would appear that the 6 highest scoring runners up also get through, so I might still be in the next round. I didn’t know this. I didn’t make the highest runners up, so that was the end of my Mastermind and TV career. Mark is going to do the Pixies, (the band, not the mythical creatures) next. Well done to him.
Manchester Picadilly, a quick bite of sushi but there is not much on the trolly, so I get 4 cans of Stella for my journey to Bristol. The Stella goes down really well, and by Midnight I am in Bristol. Overnight in a hotel in Bristol and now back on the train to Plymouth in time for the wedding.
Lou and I speak and she says how proud of me they are: at least I didn’t embarrass myself. Second is respectable. Getting to this point is an achievement, and meant passing two tests and an interview, so four and a half minutes on the telly is a fair reward. I’ll have to update my CV.
Did I enjoy it? Strangely, yes. Would I do other quizzes? I don’t know. I like pub quizzes but I don’t take them seriously – I enjoy them as fun and the opportunity to work the room as the local Vicar. TV quizzes for cash? I don’t think I’d like the pressure. It was a lot of fun, a great adventure and an experience.
We’ll just have to see how it looks on the telly…
…and here it is!
Are you a Pass Master?
This only shows your General Knowledge Passes, consequently, I sound really dumb… http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0144w4y