It wasn’t a disaster, but now that my edition of Celebrity Mastermind has aired, I am free to talk about it without having to tiptoe around the show’s Official Secrets Act.
The programme was recorded, in Manchester, in the middle of November, and I’ve had to keep my score and my ranking under my hat ever since. (I didn’t even tell my mum and dad.)
I won’t assume you saw it – and if you’ve yet to watch it on BBC iPlayer and don’t wish to know the final score, LOOK AWAY NOW! – but I scored 23 points, which put me in second place behind Midsomer Murders’s DCI Barnaby, actor Neil Dudgeon, who scored a romping 29 points and was, frankly, unassailable.
I know a couple of people who’ve been on Mastermind, and I can confirm that it is nerve-wracking to be sat in the iconic black chair – which is remarkably comfortable and supportive, actually.
However, doing the programme is not half as terrifying as watching it go out on BBC1. A number of family members insisted on coming round to watch it with me on the night, so we got the curries and alcohol in and made an evening of it.
Only my wife and I knew the result in advance, although I had reassured anyone who knows me that I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself. (If I had done, I wouldn’t have advertised the fact that I was going to be on the show, hoping that nobody would notice. This series, we saw chef Michel Roux Jr go to pieces, passing on the first question of his specialist subject round – so it can happen to anyone.)
The close-up camera angles are rather unforgiving. It’s weird to see your own face, side-on and at a three-quarter angle, bigger than it is in real life on a flat-screen. It’s not natural. I’m just glad that the lighting is such that a shadow is cast over your teeth. There’s no need for the nation to see those in high definition!
Neil Dudgeon, as avuncular and charming in real life as Midsomer fans would hope, seemed to recall the information by scrunching his face up, and I felt sorry for him when the camera lingered on his expressions. Hey, not too sorry for him, though – he won by a mile and got to hold up the blue glass trophy at the end, much to the concealed envy of myself and fellow losers, pop legend Sandie Shaw and Canadian comedian Stewart Francis. The technique clearly works.
Some backstage gossip? I can tell you that David Gest, the self-promoting promoter, was due to appear on this edition but fell ill the night before. Stewart Francis, who’d already appeared in the chair for a Children in Need special, was on the subs’ bench and got the emergency call at midnight. With this in mind, he did brilliantly, especially on his specialist subject of the Toronto Blue Jays, some sports team or other.
As for my specialist subject, 1970s disaster movies, I was, I must admit, caught out by a couple of the questions. I’d been given a list of the films the question-setters considered part of the canon, so it wasn’t that I didn’t know to revise David Cronenberg’s Scanners or The Andromeda Strain – neither of which is a traditional disaster movie, but can arguably be categorised that way – I just guessed that the more obvious titles would dominate. This was an error.
I got a question wrong about The Medusa Touch – another left-field choice – but only because I called up the name of the director when the name of the novelist was required. Jack Gold, I said; Peter Van Greenaway, I should have said.
I’m happy to have come second, and to have scored a respectable eight for disaster movies (although I will be kicking myself in my grave for saying The Towering Inferno to a question whose answer was The Poseidon Adventure, my favourite film of all time). Inspector Barnaby deserved the trophy. And even if I’d said Peter Van Greenaway – or, indeed, Everest in the general knowledge round rather than the incorrect Snowdon – I still wouldn’t have caught him up.
And yes, Sandie Shaw is as eccentric in real life as she appeared on the telly. And no, I was not distracted by her long legs and short skirt, as some unkind people suggested on Twitter. In the heat of the studio lights, waiting to go on, you wouldn’t notice if the person sitting next to you had three legs, I promise you.