I've started it, now you can finish it ...
Wednesday 10 September 1997
Or anyone else, for that matter?
Now, to get back to the more weighty matter of Mastermind, the one question that I have never seen answered is this: Did any contestant on Mastermind ever catch out the question-setter? In other words, was there ever a moment when the contestant felt convinced he had got the answer right and Magnus Magnusson had got it wrong ?
Clearly this is something we would never have seen on television, because if such a thing ever occurred it would be edited out of the programme. I did once meet a man who told me that he had been present at a Mastermind recording session where it did actually happen. A contestant was answering questions on philately and was not happy when his answer was turned down by Magnus Magnusson. He said he thought he was right. Magnusson said he was wrong. The man said he was sorry, but he was right. Magnusson said he was sorry, but he ... This could have gone on all day were it not that one of the cameramen (according to my informant) then intervened and said that HE was sorry but he was a stamp collector himself and he thought Magnus Magnusson was wrong ... So they skipped the question.
I am not sure that this story is true, and would not even have suggested it was, were it not that it is exactly the sort of thing that we all wish did happen. Wouldn't it be wonderful if sometimes a quizmaster got it wrong?
Well, sometimes he does. I have twice in my life heard a question asked - on air - that was clearly not matched to the answer, and as I don't suppose I shall ever hear it a third time, I ought to chronicle these two while the going is good.
The first occasion was many years ago when Hughie Green was alive and well and inflicting fairly simple questions on fairly simple people. I can remember him once asking a family of four people to name four Shakespeare plays in a minute. They made it with only seconds to spare ...
But the Hughie Green moment I remember best is when he said to a young man: "Now, in which country is the police force called the Surete?"
Written down, that looks fine. But Hughie Green had not checked the pronunciation beforehand and what he said was "Soorett". "In which country is the national police force called the Soorett?" For a moment the world stood still. Sitting at home, I was momentarily baffled and then tumbled to the fact that he was trying to say Surete. In the studio, there was blankness. Then the young man made a wild guess. "France?" he said. "Right," said Hughie and the gaffe went unnoticed.
Let us leap forward 20 years to last month when, over in America, my wife and I found ourselves in a taxi near Burlington, Vermont. The car radio was on. It was broadcasting a local radio quiz show called Slingshot on which listeners had to answer five questions correctly in a row to get a prize. Here are some of the questions I noted down, to give you the flavour.
"What is the capital of Scotland?" (Toronto, guessed the listener. The taxi driver hooted with laughter.)
"The island of Sri Lanka is 20 miles off the coast of which country?" (He got India, after a bit of thought.)
"Which body is at the centre of the solar system?" (Er, the sun?)
"He wrote The Grapes of Wrath. His initials are JS. Who is he?" (No idea.)
"Which American state has a name which uses only three different letters?" (Could you say that again?)
The last question was a good one. My wife toyed with Mississippi, I kept thinking of Utah, but the taxi driver got there first with Ohio ...
"Which poet had the middle name Beisch?" said the quizmaster.
Beisch? That was what it sounded like. It rhymed with the German word "Fleisch", anyway. Beisch ... Beisch ...
Sudden flash of insight. Percy Bysshe Shelley! It was the Hughie Green trap! Nobody had reminded him how to pronounce Bysshe, which is not a common American name at the best of times.
Well, that's it. Two quiz errors in a lifetime. Not a lot, really, I suppose. But if anyone has any other instances, I would be pleased to pass them on to the readership.
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