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
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada