Outside Edge: Jim White on the man who'll have you fighting over pieces of plastic pie this Christmas

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The Independent Culture
ACCORDING to Brian Highley, 1993 has been a bit of a non-year.

'John Major didn't have an affair, Captain Brown didn't start the Grand National and Norman Lamont didn't buy cigarettes from Thresher,' says the 50-year-old Highley from his newsprint-strewn lair in Newton Poppleford, Dorset. 'Which makes it a brilliant year for trivia.'

Like Messrs Major, Brown and Lamont, Highley is responsible for much knitting of brows in this country. He is the man who writes the questions for Trivial Pursuit; every one, on every subject, by the thousand.

'I try to write four or five questions a day,' said Highley. 'Each new edition of the game has 250 cards, each with six questions. I'm not very good at maths, but that works out at about five a day, doesn't it?'

A former school-teacher, local newspaperman and script-writer, Highley happened upon his latest profession in the manner you would expect from a game tailor-made for bar bores: 'I met the right man in the right pub at the right time.'

Since when he has spent nine years buried in a rain-forest of print, seeking out and retaining information that the rest of us would prefer to forget. The Highley day begins with the newspapers. He cuts stories from everywhere: 'from the Times up to the Beano' and spends 'most of the household budget buying new book-shelves'.

For his annual edition, Highley looks for three types of questions: those only the anally retentive will know; those that have an educational value; and those that are 'plain funny'. This last category is an option not open to other Triv compilers, apparently.

'I know the guy who writes the German edition and he's frustrated,' said Highley. 'They take it very seriously, and there might well be stabbings over the plastic pies if the answers were in any way, well, trivial.'

Highley himself, meanwhile, has only played the game twice, and lost on both occasions.

'And down the pub,' he adds, 'they think it's a great joke that I'm absolutely crap on the quiz machine.'

(Photograph omitted)