I make no secret of the fact that I am to appear on Celebrity Mastermind this Christmas, an ambition I’ve held for a long time, as quite a few people I know – comedians, mostly – have had the call-up in previous series (and done very well indeed, actually, which only added to the pressure).
I realise that in being on a programme with “Celebrity” in the title, I am now part of the problem, whereby “Celebrity” is a term so elastic as to be almost meaningless. I don’t feel much like a “celebrity” on a day to day basis. When I get recognised at all, it is usually by people who think I am comedian Mark Steel. (We do look alike. I sometimes see him on television and, for a split second, think I’m on.)
Anyway, I’m afraid I must make a secret of how I did, and what my specialist subject was. We filmed my edition on Tuesday, at the BBC’s smart new MediaCity home in Salford Quays, Manchester. I was terrified beforehand, I don’t mind admitting. The nerves actually receded the closer I got to the darkened studio, so familiar from years of watching the show on TV.
There is something entirely surreal about sitting in the iconic black leather chair and facing John Humphrys. But I survived, and you can see how well or otherwise I fared when it’s on over Christmas and New Year on BBC1. (You will be alerted nearer the time to the precise air date.)
I don’t mind admitting that my chosen specialist subject was cinematic in nature. No surprise, really. In fact, it’s a subject I have been interested in – and, at times, obsessed by – for many years.
Although I am quite well versed in the sort of trivia required to be tested upon my subject, and have a fairly good recall for things that – in the broader scheme of things – don’t matter, the experience of “revising” it in order to be tested on television, under a spotlight, and after that doomy, portentous theme music has resonated around the studio, was another matter indeed.
I love quizzes, and I love being quizzed, and yes, I demanded testing at home on a daily basis in the weeks leading up to D-Day. But there is a point at which a subject you love becomes something far more academic and arid.
It becomes an endless list of names – names of cast members, names of directors, names of characters, names of fictional companies – and numbers – total Oscar nominations, years of release. A subject I loved turned into a way of life for me for about three weeks.
But it’s over now. I did my best. I exercised my brain in inhuman conditions, in front of a studio audience, and this will be broadcast to a much larger audience at home. It’s bracing, I’ll say that. And as the film editor of a magazine as loyally held to the bosom as Radio Times, I felt a particular pressure to hold my own. For you.
Did I do well? You’re not going to trick me into telling you like that.
By the way, in the picture above, you can see me posing with John Humphrys when it was all over, in the Mastermind hospitality suite, with fellow contestant and old showbiz pal, comedian and Phoenix Nights star Justin Moorhouse. All three of us look relaxed and happy. Because it’s all over.