The secret passion of the chattering classes: a pub quiz

Showing off for charity is all the rage.

IT IS Sunday night in the River Cafe in Hammersmith and sleek waitresses are handing round plates of glorious Tuscan food. Ruth Rogers looks on, surprisingly benign for a chef whose dishes are receiving far less attention than a plate of chopped up and melting chocolate bars with numbered flags stuck into them.

Tom Stoppard stares at a piece of chocolate. His ex-wife Dr Miriam dissects another with scientific rigour, and they confer in a whisper. The director Richard Eyre nibbles thoughtfully before scribbling down a verdict. Peter Mandelson sits silent - he does not do chocolate. Nick Hornby, having just published a best-seller featuring a small boy, might be expected to know a thing or two about sweets. But like Jeremy Irons and Doris Saatchi, he is stumped by the fifth sample.

The blind tasting is one of the more unpredictable questions thought up by Gill Hornby and her team for an event that is rapidly overtaking charity gala dinners and auctions in the social calendar.

This is the pub quiz for the chattering classes, the perfect opportunity to show off your knowledge and raise money for charity. But the high calibre of contestants and their naturally competitive streak introduced an edge of desperation quite out of place at an amateur event.

The standard is suitably high for an event at which Jeremy Paxman asks the questions and Jon Snow gives the vote of thanks. Before we got to the taste test, we had identified the first and last doges of Venice, pinned down snatches of political speeches and shipping areas on maps, decoded long-forgotten chemical formulae, remembered (or not) the number of stomachs in a cow. My husband earned his stripes by informing us that "Bob's your uncle" first came into common parlance when Arthur Balfour became a minister under Lord Salisbury, aka his uncle, Robert Cecil.

The elegant Ms Hornby whisks around, switching on archive recordings and presiding over the final court of appeal. "What is the name for people from Newcastle-upon-Tyne?" asks the question master, Jeremy Paxman. "I'm not accepting `Geordies'," says Gill. (Novocastrians, since you ask.)

The quiz was started three years ago by the author John Mortimer and his wife Penny, to raise money for deprived children, and now the pounds 100 a head tickets for the evening - this time in aid of Treehouse, a charity that provides schooling for autistic children - are snapped up.

For a too brief while, our table, which includes John Venning, head of English at St Paul's School, and Joyce Hytner from the Royal Court Theatre, remains in contention, sustained by history, politics and literature. Then disaster strikes, with the law round.

Our collapse continues with the science questions. Then all hope is dashed by the comedy round. "Don't worry," says my neighbour, "No one here watches television." The questions that stump the whole gathering are instructive: last year, no one knew the basic rate of income tax.

But it turns out that some contestants do know the name of Raquel Trotter's daughter in Only Fools and Horses. A really crack team would never leave such a vital flank open. Publisher Neil Mendoza appears so bent on victory that you wonder whether, like the England squad, he gave up sex and baked beans to achieve it.

Behind the social babble rage violent competitive passions. Mendoza's team features his business partner William Sieghart, the drama critic and Renaissance man John Gross and the Spectator TV critic James Delingpole. They won the first quiz three years ago and lost last year to a team featuring Robert Harris, the novelist and husband of Gill Hornby.

Gross felt that the combination on one team of the question setter's spouse and her brother raised questions of quiz insider-trading. Rivalry is still intense. This year, Mendoza's team beat a Harris, Hornby and Mandelson into third place.

"We were so excited that having to stop for dinner was a real blow," says Mendoza. "The adrenaline and bile directed at us throughout the evening were incredible." To make themselves even more unpopular, in the interval the team worked on another, postal quiz to keep their momentum going.

The thoroughly English, more-important-to-take-part-than-win attitude of the contestants on such occasions rebels against those who treat an amateur pastime as though it were a professional matter.

It seems strange that people who spend their working life striving for prominence in pressurised, competitive situations are gagging to spend a summer Sunday night doing exactly the same thing. Or maybe not.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links