At first Barry Simmons seemed like just another plucky quiz contestant: a retired IT consultant whose bookish fastidiousness and towering intellect had guided him to the final of Radio 4’s Brain of Britain.
But tonight the BBC was forced to defend their selection criteria after it transpired that Mr Simmons is far from an amateur intellectual. The 67-year-old has made thousands of pounds as a “professional quizzer” and is one of five experts on Eggheads, the BBC2 general knowledge quiz co-hosted by Jeremy Vine and Dermot Murnaghan.
Mr Simmons, who is due to take part in the Brain of Britain final this week, boasts an illustrious back catalogue of quiz show appearances. He competed on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, netting £64,000 in prize money, and was a semi-finalist on Mastermind. Nor is he a stranger to Brain of Britain, the nationwide general knowledge quiz involving 48 listeners from around the UK, reaching the semi-final four years ago.
From 2006, Mr Simmons spent two years working for “Any Question Answered”, a text messaging service which claims to be able to answer any question from members of the public. He was also a member of Scotland’s national quiz team.
Last night, following complaints about Mr Simmons’ appearance, the BBC said: “There is no rule banning Eggheads from appearing on Brain of Britain - the only rule is that former champions are not allowed to return.”
It added: “Brain of Britain is a very unpredictable quiz and it is quite possible a well-known quizzer like Barry could be beaten.”
Mr Simmons, who lives in Leeds with his wife, Janet, a retired teacher, has defended his appearance, saying it would be “strange” if he was prevented from taking part. He wrote on Twitter: “My appearances on Brain of Britain appear to have caused a minor stir. Let me remind everyone the program is called Brain of Britain!”
He added: “If a show is attempting to find the Brain of Britain then it would be strange to exclude people who can contend for that title.”