THE SANS PAREIL MYSTERY
After five weeks of editing, revisions and tinkering, I'm finally satisfied with the manuscript of The Sans Pareil Mystery.' I am about to press that button to send it to my publishers on the next stage of its journey. Five of my closest author friends from the Hysterical Fictionistas have read it and sent me invaluable constructive criticism. Now it is time for my latest baby to venture out into the colder, more critical world. Wish it luck.
The six of us stood nervously in the foyer of the Glasgow hotel at an unearthly time in the morning, waiting for the taxi that would take us to BBC Scotland. It was dark and the pavements outside glistened with ice. I could see the tension on the pale faces of the other as we pondered the next few hours. Would we face glory or public humiliation?
None of us had slept particularly well in our strange beds in that alien city. Glasgow city centre is full of noise at night; apart from the lively revelers there are also the wailing police sirens and whirling police helicopter blades to cope with. I had also spent the evening swatting up on food & drink questions and answers until my eyeballs ached. As I fidgeted nervously in the foyer, I realised that several of my team were probably thinking the same thing as me: What the bloody hell have we done?
It was about a year ago when Sam, a fellow member of my Tuesday night quiz team at ‘The Ship’ in Marske, came up with the crazy notion that we should apply to the BBC to go on TV and take on the eggheads – allegedly the best quiz team in the UK. I had never watched the program before that point but I knew it was a British institution with a massive following of fans. I blithely agreed when he asked if I wanted to be part of the team. To be honest, I never thought that it would come off. But it was only seven months since the death of my husband and I was still automatically accepting every invitation I received, which I think is what widows are supposed to do.
So when Sam came back to us all a few weeks later and said that we had been invited to an audition in Leeds, I was quite surprised. Giggling, I went home and knocked on my seventeen year-old son’s bedroom door.
‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ I said.
‘I might be going on 'Eggheads'.’
‘Why can’t you be ruddy normal?’ he groaned.
The audition in Leeds at the Queen’s Hotel was great fun and we had a fabulous day out. We had to answer some questions and let them film us talking about ourselves. Then we went head to head in a short quiz against a group of men in hats from Lincolnshire. I think the hats were their trademark and something to try and get the producers of the show to remember them. I have no idea if it worked because we never saw these guys again. But when we got the ‘Dress Rules’ from the BBC a few months later, I noticed that hats were completely prohibited on ‘Eggheads.’ That little ruse may have backfired on them.
A month later we got the call; we were on. The BBC invited us to Glasgow on Tuesday 4th March to participate in the show. I gulped. What had previously been a laugh and a pipe-dream of Sam’s, was now suddenly very, very real. We were about to take on the best quiz team in Britain – on a TV show which has a regular audience of over one million people. I felt nervous, excited and woefully inadequate.
We had a lovely supper around at John and Sue’s prior to the show, were we played the box-set game of ‘Eggheads’ for a laugh. Despite the copious quality of alcohol we consumed, we also started formulating a plan; our much vaunted ‘strategy.’ John, Peter and Woody were all cool guys and very clever and we decided that we would try to get the three of them into the final.
Sam and I agreed to be the sacrificial lambs. We would take on the rounds which the others didn’t want, especially sport and food and drink. I began to feel more comfortable with the idea of going onto the show and less worried about making a complete idiot of myself; at least if I failed to answer any questions at all – then I could always tell folks that this was the plan.
When we arrived at BBC Glasgow for the filming, the production assistants did their absolute best to put us all at ease and they gave us coffee and breakfast. They never left us alone in the building for a moment. We were even accompanied to the toilet. I was also kidnapped by makeup/hairdressing for over an hour. I have never experienced so much backcombing, curling and tweaking on my hair in my life. She didn’t say much but I think I was her challenge for the week. It wasn’t until we started getting a string of assistants turning up at the door asking if they could ‘have Karen back’ that I realised that the woman was on a mission. Fortunately, I liked the finished result.
I also picked up quite a bit of gossip while I was in make-up. The unpopularity of egghead C J with viewers, the production crew and the other eggheads was the main topic. We also learned that there had often been fights in the Green Room amongst the competitors about who was going to appear on the show and who was going to be the ‘reserve’ and stay back stage. Each team had to bring a backup contestant in case someone was taken ill or had an appalling attack of stage fright. Luckily, Judith, Peter’s mum-in-law, had so happily agreed to take on this role for us several weeks ago; so there was no squabbling amongst our team.
Walking into the studio and taking our seats was awesome. They fitted us up with microphones and gave us more instructions. Then the eggheads and Jeremy Vine arrived and we all shook hands. Nobody actually said: “Lights, Camera, Action!” but it was happening; I was being filmed for ‘Eggheads.’ My nerves returned and a rigid smile fixed itself across my face.
The choice of subjects for the rounds on ‘Eggheads’ is random; you never know what is going to come up. But to be honest we couldn’t have asked for a better selection. Peter’s best subject was geography and that round came up immediately. He won and got into the final round with John. Sam did a sterling job with the sports round but was sadly knocked out in the sudden death challenge. Next up was arts & literature which was Woody’s best subject. He and Sam very graciously tried to make me take it, but I remembered our strategy and I insisted Woody took those questions. He too won the head-to-head challenge and ended up in the final.
It had worked. I could feel myself relaxing. We had got John, Woody and Peter into the final. All that was left now was for me to pick up the last remaining round, whatever it was.
It was music. As they led me away to the private room to be filmed in my head-to-head with the Egghead called Dave, I remember laughing and saying to him: ‘Well, I think this will be a quick round for you, Dave - I know bugger all about any music except Abba!’
As it turned out, I knew more about music than I thought I did and successfully answered questions about ‘Men at Work’ and Verdi. But I came unstuck though on a question about Billy Elliot and was knocked out. My brother said kindly that I was ‘robbed’ but I know differently. I was lucky to have been able to answer those first two questions correctly.
My time in ‘Eggheads’ was now over and all Sam and I could do was sit back and watch the other three guys face the eggheads in the final. It didn’t take them long to win. Seventy four year-old Woody was amazing. Who else in the world knows the name of all three Gorgons?
Yes, we won £4,000 pounds. Divided up between the six of us came to £666 each. I opted to treat myself to a rose gold dress ring form Harrods to permanently remind me of this fantastic experience. Utter extravagance of course, but I don't regret it one bit.
What I remember most about ‘Eggheads’ was not the filming, but the fun I had with the others both before and after the show. Even the long train journey was a laugh. They really are a great bunch of people.
Would I do it again? Probably not. My children, including my ungracious son, said today they were really proud of me after the show was aired on TV last night but I’m not one to push my luck. I’m not that clever – I was just lucky enough to be part of a fantastic team.
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