On Monday 9th of June I went for a trial on 15-1. Ten minutes ago I got an invitation to the programme...
It had been a very long time in coming, as I had applied last September, but I must have just missed the last series. That had been a nerve-racking week quiz-wise in that I had a Mastermind game on the Thursday. The 15-1 trial was at some hotel in Leeds where about 100 or more people turned up in the early afternoon. Mark Kerr, a previous 15-1er (and last year's Mastermind runner up) had been dead good with his advice. He told me to sit near the front, on the end so I could get in first and have an early finish, so I did and I did and I did and I did (respectively). Once we had all registered we were invited up, and I got on position number one in a 15-1 trial game. With the trials they are much more generous than in the game. A dead posh bloke asks the questions and is kind of in charge. He points out prior to the games that educated guesses are good and basically endorses my thoughts that the only bad answer is 'I don't know'. You have to hold a number in front of you indicating the number of lives you have left (starting with three) and if you get a question wrong you lose the life.
My first question was "What name is given to the front bench on the government side of the house of commons?". I was 70% sure that my answer "Cabinet" would be right, but it wasn't. The questions tend to get passed along until somebody gets it, and it was the fourth contestant who correctly said "Treasury". By amazing coincidence this is a question which James Webb, my University Challenge captain got when he was actually on the programme. He also said "Cabinet".
Damn, I got my first three questions wrong, but in the trials you don't get knocked out and I think I then went on to get four right. I liked the last one "Name the thief released by Pontius Pilate instead of Jesus" which enabled me to shout "BARRABAS". Despite the bad start I still felt happy and five days later got the letter. Good work guys. I don't think this page will change until Thursday 4th September, the day after my game.
I was invited to the studios in Wandsworth for round 32 of this season on Wednesday 3rd September
To lose and complain could be cited as being bitchy - so be it. My criticism of 15:1 has always been that good players can be eliminated at an early stage. I got two questions, uttered five syllables in total and got blown away as both answers were wrong. Am I a good player? I got 18 points on Mastermind (indicating I'm at least reasonable) and have beaten some notable quizzers at buzzer quiz so perhaps 'good' might be a perfect adjective. Not brilliant, nevertheless, slightly better than average. Before I go further, put yourself in my frame and see how you would have done with the questions. It would be reassuring to know that you would have failed on them and fascinating to know if you could have got them both.
I pulled out position number one, so I was the first to be asked a question which was along the lines of;
William G Stewart (WGS): "Stephen - The royal naval college in Dartmouth has what name?"
Me: "err.. Exeter?"
Next time round I was informed it was on the cabinet. As I know every member I thought this might be a gettable one.
WGS: "What two letters follow each member of the cabinet's name?"
Me: "err.. M.P.?"
and that was me, out.
The answers were
1. Britannia 2. PC (for Privy Councillor)
I had applied nearly one year ago to be on. After months of revision, a trip to Leeds for the trial, the trip to London for the game, giving up a night's work (I'm self employed), taping and/or watching about 30 shows, James Webb buying me the 15:1 book and my kids asking me questions to and from everywhere, James Webb coming to see me in London and an inordinate amount of attention and focus on the occasion I got two questions which, so far, nobody has been able to answer for me. Doubtless there are those who might have got them, but it would be interesting to see that of the 1,000 contestants this season how many would have got through if they had been asked these.
Regarding my first question, it was one of those things. Naturally anything which you can't answer is 'tough', one of my fellow competitors kindly told me he had been to the college and didn't know it was called Britannia! Graham Deere at Darrington Golf club went there and he didn't know!!!. You expect questions like that on 15:1 and I suppose if the answer had been Bolton Abbey, The National Railway Museum, or even Sandhurst I might not be in such an agitated state now!
But the second question.. A google search for any of the cabinet (for instance 'Tessa Jowell') and 'PC' or 'P.C.' invariably yields pages in which PC either means Per Cent, Personal Computer or Police Constable. A search for any of the cabinet with 'PC', (for instance 'Baroness Amos PC') yields no references (OK, Burke's peerage do give 'Alistair Darling PC'). One hit.
The 'about the Privy council' page on the government's own site makes no reference to the letters and adds "Appointment to the Privy Council is for life". On the Members of Parliament home page no mention is made of PC on the lists, and on the home pages for the members (For instance Hilary Armstrong's) there is no mention of PC.
If you were asked that question and had unlimited time and a google search available you would struggle to answer the question posed. I perceive that the question and its required answer are, in reality, apocryphal to 15:1 and that the letters PC are rarely or never used after a Minister's name. I would concede that a case can be made for the question and answer, but that it is at, the very best, archaic, rare and tenuous.
WGS, who was a perfect gentleman prior to filming, told us "Don't forget, it's only a game". Unfortunately for me, it was no more of a game than a single throw of a dice, which was totally unsatisfying and, dare I say, unfair. It encapsulates some of what is wrong with quizzing in that arguably the best quiz show on telly in the UK can do this to people.
On the positive side, the game is well organised, the expenses generous, the staff kind and helpful and the fellow competitors were cheerful enough. I am sure the nature of the game might contribute to my feelings of 'I really should be networking here' prior to the game, but I believe networking should lead to a common good, not the good of a few at the expense of others. I struck a deal with a couple of others, but I did feel somehow less gregarious than during other game shows which depend on performance rather than preference.
Incidently the winner of the show went to the top of the finals board and if any of the competitors contact me I can give them a mention here. Jonathan Mallory, from York had a site which appears to have dissapeared and was kind enough to mail me and join the exclusive "Blown Out of the Water Club"
So, what is my advice on 15:1? I would imagine that a trip to play 15:1 is best performed as part of something else, e.g. stay the night and watch a show or something like that. I always had a 1 in 7 chance of going out the first round, so I knew what I was letting myself in for. It still hurts. And 15:1, sadly, is no more anyhoo.
More importantly, I met Mike Abbott, but that is a whole nuther story
People who have been knocked out of a show without getting an answer right
*Not sure about these two, but Trevor seems to think they might be. Please let me know if this is wrong.