The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Why Paxman, when I have all the answers?

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The Independent Online
I AM an inveterate aficionado of the light-hearted general knowledge quiz, as well as being something of a dab hand at the crossword puzzle. My many close friends - who, incidentally, stretch right across the political divide, taking in supporters of Major as well as supporters of Portillo - often tease me mercilessly, saying that my command of general knowledge is second to none.

What was the date of the Battle of Bosworth? Which ex-Chairman of British Rail first found fame playing third trombone with The Glenn Miller Orchestra? What type of savoury pancake gained its name from a leading light of the Conservative Movement? How much should one tip Princess Margaret? What is the connection between Mark Thatcher, Saddam Hussein, the Carlton Towers' cocktail bar, three handshakes, a chequebook and a brand new house in Belgravia? Why did Lord Archer once pay pounds 2,000 to a lady he had quite obviously never met before? Which famous Duke lent his name to the Wellington Boot?

The above selection represents the merest smattering of questions to which I have been able to provide ready answers, as I have demonstrated time and again on many a Home Service topical news quiz. And I need hardly remind you that over the years I have twice had the honour to be a semi-finalist on Mr Magnusson's Mastermind contest, scoring full marks in my specialist subjects, 'The wit and wisdom of Sir Norman Fowler 1979-83' and 'The Early Musical Comedies of Peter Carter-Ruck'. I was also a regular panellist on that most charming of diversions, BBC2's Face the Music, once famously duetting with Joseph Cooper on the 'dummy keyboard'. So why - if I may come to the point - why why why why why, when my command of general knowledge is acknowledged to be second to none, why why why did the powers-that-be in the so-called British Broadcasting Corporation last week award the chairmanship of University Challenge to the loathsome Paxman?

Everything seemed to have been chugging along quite smoothly: my old friend and quaffing partner Enoch Powell had dutifully signed my sponsorship form, and my audition had gone swimmingly. The students of my old Alma Mater, New College, Oxford, nicely turned-out and with good, strong handshakes, had been up against the 'students' - if one may call them that] - of Essex University, all hair and teeth and (between these four walls]) conspicuous chips-on-shoulders.

Nevertheless, I was as fair as only a much-loved Chairman can be. 'New College, Oxford,' I began, 'your starter for 10: Buckingham Palace is the London residence of which famous living monarch called Elizabeth? You may confer.' As luck would have it, New College pressed their buzzers within seconds, and I was proud to award them the full 10 points.

'New College, Oxford,' I continued, but at that moment I was interrupted by the voice of the producer blaring at me down my ear-phone.

'It's Essex University's turn,' he butted in.

'Very well then,' I sighed, and turned my face in the general direction of the dirty fingernail brigade on the opposite side.

'Essex University,' I muttered, 'your starter for one. To the nearest five decimal points, what is the square root of . . .' with utter fairness, I snatched a figure out of the air '. . . three thousand seven hundred and sixty three and a half? You have five seconds. No conferring.'

It became perfectly clear that mathematics is far from being Essex University's strongest suit (]]). After listening to their stutters, I returned to my young friends from New College. 'Fingers on buzzers, gentlemen please,' I said. 'For 20 points, what was the year of the Great Exhibition of 1851?'

Sure enough, my young pals from Oxford answered straight away, and, after the great unwashed from Essex University had singularly failed to come up with the exact scientific format for the construction of the atom bomb, I had no hesitation in cancelling the rest of the competition and awarding the magnificent trophy, without further ado to New College. Breeding, as I always maintain, will out. But that is something that the dread class warrior Paxman will never understand, not in a million years.

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