Miles Kington: It's odd how your mind freezes during pub quizzes

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The Independent Online

All my life I have tried to avoid taking part in quizzes, because I know nothing about TV soaps and top 20 hits and TV commercials and Oscar winners. What I do know is that all quizzes, in or out of pubs, depend on an intimate knowledge of those dreary subjects.

I have changed my mind now. Or rather, I changed it 10 days ago, when I was blackmailed into joining a team for the Bradford-on-Avon Music and Arts Festival grand quiz. They are quite a quirky lot at Bradford, come Festival time. Last year, they turfed over the whole of Market Street, banned traffic and put sheep in there instead.

This year, they spread two tons of sand on the riverside space in front of the library and made a beach, with a genuine helter skelter, candy floss stall, etc, which they rechristened Bradford-on-Sea for the day. Thank goodness it was sunny.

Every year they also have a grand quiz on music and arts which, true to my anti-quiz principles, I have so far avoided. But a friend of mine this year was short of a member for his team, and begged me to have a go, so what the hell, I thought...

We gathered in one of the many ancient stone barns with which Bradford is littered, licked our pencils and received delivery of the first round of questions.

I cheered up when I saw the subject. It wasn't Coronation Street. It wasn't Carry On films. It was trains. And being an arty quiz, it was not about trains as such, but about works of art with railway connections. Who wrote Stamboul Train? Who starred in the 1964 film The Train? Who wrote By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept? In what country was the film Closely Observed Trains set? Who wrote The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By? That sort of thing. (Graham Greene, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Smart, Czechoslovakia and Simenon, as if you didn't know.)

Well, yes, I suppose that's all run-of-the-mill showbiz/arty general knowledge, but there was a round coming up which showed me how quiz questions could get imaginative, one called Siblings. To each question in this round there were two answers, both famous people with the same surname, and you had to give the surname and both first names. If, for instance, the question had been: "One gave us Paddy Clarke and the other gave us the Stockbroker's Clerk", then the answer would have been Doyle, because one refers to a novel by Roddy Doyle and the other a story by Conan Doyle. Of course, then there would be irate people saying Doyle's surname was "Conan Doyle", and the answer was, therefore, a cheat, so it was just as well that that is an inferior question made up by me, and not one of Jim's.

Jim Wolland runs the excellent independent bookshop in Bradford-on-Avon called Ex Libris, a place where they can get you a copy of any book you care to name faster than any Waterstone's you care to name. He is also a quiz fiend, trudging with his team from pub to pub through ice and snow, seeking questions good enough to stump them. I reckon if you do quizzes often enough, you get an urge to set your own questions, just as actors end up by directing other actors, and that is what Jim does every year for the Festival Quiz.

One of Jim's easier pairings in this Sibling round was: "An East Anglian admiral and a country and western singer". Horatio Nelson, of course, is the admiral from Norfolk. The singer of the same name? Willie Nelson.

Like a few more from the same round? Here they are.

Member of the Carry On team and a novelist who died in 1916.

A British motor racing champion and a member of the Pre-Raphaelites.

A star from Round the Horne and a playwright who died in 1983.

A double Oscar winner and an athletics commentator.

It's odd how your mind freezes at moments like this. The only athletics commentator any of our team could think of was David Coleman. But an Oscar winner called Coleman? We put down Ronald, desperately. It was, of course, wrong. So who was it?

Answers, and more of Jim's gems, tomorrow.