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The Eggheads come to Croydon – reflection by best selling author of the A to Z series and host for the evening, Trevor Montague

FRIDAY, 3 DECEMBER 2010
Trevor’s Blog (he likes to write A LOT!)

BBC Eggheads Came to Croydon

Sometimes you feel there are defining moments in your life, pivotal times when your hopes and aspirations have the propensity to be dashed beyond recall and only God’s grace can save the day – last evening was such an occasion.

To satisfy the module requirements of the Diploma in IT, a new schools initiative which combines A-Level theory with real world practice, seven local students from Archbishop Tenison school had spent most of the Autumn school term meticulously planning a quiz night at the Croydon Park Hotel in aid of Children in Crisis and the local Purley Cross Centre.

Being an old family friend through church of Ruth Benjamin, the school’s diploma line lead, I was recruited as part of the steering committee and during our first meeting Miss Benjamin suggested the idea of a quiz event and I subsequently had the idea of getting the famous BBC Eggheads on board. We had no idea what a journey it would be – especially for the kids – gaining many wonderful experiences (spiritual as well as physical) along the way. Miss Benjamin wrote one of the schemes of work for a Diploma practical (enterprise, team work and event management) unit which includes all the things we did along the way. The IT used was significant and the business skills developed quite amazing for 16-year-old children – children who I witnessed growth into young adulthood as the weeks went by.

After several planning meetings at the school over the course of the past few months we felt we had catered for all eventualities and there was a real buzz of excitement as D-Day approached. What could possibly go wrong? The Magnificent Seven and their equally splendid IT teachers, Ruth had managed to sell a room full of tables, persuade me to front the event and also book (free of charge) the famous BBC Egghead team as the guests of honours. Lucy Porter, the events organiser for Children In Crisis, had gifted us some spectacular raffle prizes and we also had a damned good quiz using some intricate powerpoint technology in line with the course description.

HOWEVER, to quote Robert Burns (one of the answers in the quiz) the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry – and who would have thought that Wednesday 1st December 2010 would experience the worst weather conditions ever seen on the first day of December in living memory!

On the morning of the event the Seven and their teachers arrived at the hotel bright and early to make their final preparations and were immediately hit with the bombshell that Daphne Fowler could simply not get out of Weston-super-Mare due to heavy snow falls and so now we were an Egghead down and morale was definitely low. Everything was set and in place. The tables were laid out immaculately and the raffle prizes filled a whole room. Grahame Harding, the co-founder of CiC had kindly donated a night at the famous London Ritz for two people; the Duchess of York, Grahame’s co-founder, had donated two brand new Dolce and Gabbana dresses from her own collection; there were golfing breaks and paintball experiences; solid silver bracelets, Egghead memorabilia (including one of CJ’s more colourful shirts worn on the show), books signed by myself, William Hartston (the former British chess champion who now writes for the Express in the guise of Beachcomber) and Paul Donnelley, a very well respected reference book writer of numerous trivia books – and too many more great prizes to list here.

Reports came through about the worsening conditions. I set out from my Crawley home mid morning and arrived at the venue just after 1pm and as I left my car who should I see walking towards the hotel but my dear old friend Chris Hughes. My spirits are always lifted when I see Chris and more so on this occasion when I considered that he had managed to travel down from Crewe that morning. Chris and I settled down in the bar area with Andrew Tringham, the head of IT at Tenison’s, while awaiting Chris’s room to be availed and although news began to filter through of a table cancellation due to the ever-worsening weather, we were again heartened when Kev Ashman wandered in after having an horrendous journey from Paris causing him to miss a crucial match in the Quiz League of London the night before.

News of two more table cancellations came through before the earlier than expected arrival of Mr CJ De Mooi looking as fresh-faced and vibrant as ever. CJ had cut short some filming to accommodate the students and had driven from Wales in blissful ignorance of the severe weather in the south east region. When I spoke with him the night before he was full of cold and with a three-month-solid schedule ahead beginning next week with panto rehearsals for his starring role as the all-knowing Emperor in Aladdin at the Princes Theatre, Clacton-on-Sea, and ending with some film work in New York, I didn’t think it prudent to discuss the weather – very un-British of us!

Pat Gibson arrived next – he had travelled down from Wigan and although it was difficult for him to find a train running south initially, he eventually had a fairly uneventful journey. Pat and I chilled for a while in his room as I had not seen much of him since his extraordinary run of quiz successes in recent years culminating in him becoming the first legitimate claimant to Kevin’s crown as the world’s best quiz player. Pat won this year’s world quizzing championship by a staggering eleven points and to use a snooker analogy is catching Kev in the same way that Ronnie O’Sullivan is eating away at Stephen Hendry’s record tally of century breaks.
Although I have been close friends with Kev for many years and love and respect him like a brother I think it is probably healthy that he no longer dominates the world of quiz in the fashion he once did and if anyone was ever going to rival him I must admit I am over the moon it is an Irish man – so no more Irish jokes please!

So now we were all feeling slightly more relieved that at least 80 per cent of the ‘talent’ had arrived and Barry had messaged through that although he had managed to make the trek from Leeds he was running late and would not be arriving until approximately 6pm, which was cutting things fine.

We were all a little panicky at this point as John Ruskin College, Norbury Manor School, and Croydon College, all wonderful institutions that pioneer vocational learning and prioritise enterprise and dynamic learning, and all of which had bought and paid for tables, were forced to abandon ship as the roads were hardly navigable by now. I know the students and organisers were grateful for their support and I’m sure there will be mutual support of any upcoming collaborative events. A huge thank you to them for supporting this important event and I’m so sorry they couldn’t be there!

I know it seems bizarre that the Eggheads managed to make the trek from all parts of the country whilst locals in Croydon struggled but in severe weather conditions the most difficult part of your journey is often escaping the street where you live.

Only three tables had actually confirmed at this juncture and as the meals were all pre-booked the ever-ingenious team were conjuring up all sorts of contingency ideas. The hotel would not let us approach their guests however and there just wasn’t anyone around on the streets we could usher in to offer a free meal, although I understand Andrew Tringham managed to coerce a family member or two along – good man!

Grahame Harding arrived now with his delightful partner, Paula. It was an absolute joy to see them as they are the kind of people that go about their business in a very unassuming manner forever doing good deeds and yet are at the very top of their profession, hence unbelievably busy and focused. Grahame’s company First City Care is responsible for the security of the Bank of England and he himself was responsible for the security of Diana, Princess of Wales in the latter part of her life. I know the children and staff would like to thank Grahame for his very generous raffle gift of a night at the Ritz for two and also for his and Paula’s general support.

By now there was no more time for contingencies as 6.30 approached and the reception was due to begin and there was still no sign of Barry Simmons. I now did what I always do before any situation where I feel helpless and a little apprehensive – I prayed. Not that I hadn’t been praying in church prior to the event and indeed on several occasions during the day but this was just my little special prayer to ask God to take away any glory that might be inadvertently directed towards me as the front man as I was only too aware that my input was negligible in comparison to Ruth and Preya’s and totally insignificant compared to the efforts of Alice, Alistair, Geewai, Matt, Omar, Roddard and Tevin, our Magnificent Seven.

And so we began. I had already spoken to Bill Hartston earlier but we exchanged a few words now. Bill was a huge star in the world of chess in bygone days and had a very popular television series introducing chess for beginners. Bill is the radical thinking Beachcomber in the Daily Express and his latest project of developing his Wakkipedia website has already proven popular with the school students. Although Bill was an old friend I first met at the Mind Sports Olympiads over a decade ago, Paul Donnelley was someone I only knew through our mutual friend, the late great Jeremy Beadle and it was a delight to meet the man that Jeremy ranked so highly in the world of reference books. My final words were in the company of Chris Hughes and Miss Benjamin’s parents, Chris and Monica before I took the short walk into the hall to ask everyone to take their seats.

Now was the moment of truth as I did a Brian Hanrahan and counted them all out as they entered the room. Once I had counted one hundred I breathed a sigh of relief. The weather that had done its best to defeat us, had lost.

I introduced the Eggheads individually and before introducing CJ I told the story of how the Eggheads came about as a result of a project called the Dream Team that I took part in the year before the series started. I remarked that when they were looking to replace me for the Eggheads gig the producers were looking for another multiple quiz show champion who was a member of Mensa and also incredibly good looking and I suggested as this was impossible they were forced to settle for CJ. Although this received the ironic laughter I had planned the truth is of course CJ is a member of Mensa and a multiple quiz show champion like myself and I have to very reluctantly admit that some might find him a little more aesthetically pleasing on the eye than myself – but please don’t tell him so.

At this point I was informed that Barry was waiting in the wings and so a hurried introduction as the winner of the 2008 series of Are You An Egghead? was made followed by the observation that as Barry had danced with Diana Ross and alongside Princess Anne in the past perhaps we might catch him on ‘Strictly’ next year! Anyone working on the show take note!

Before commencement of the quiz Roddard gave a short inspirational speech and then CJ, who really was most helpful throughout the evening, and at this point the worst nightmare of an MC occurred, the microphones began to die creating that all too familar Norman Collier staccato sound where only every other word is heard – which can be tricky when asking quiz questions. Jeremy Beadle had always taught me to check the mikes before the event and I used to take considerable time in doing so for him but I’m fairly sure the problem was with the direction of the two speakers and the raised platform in between them creating a feedback effect. However we soldiered on manfully, refusing to let this diminish the proceedings in any way and a great time was had by all.

The Eggheads were briefly headed by Harding’s Heroes after Round 2 but by the end of proceedings normal service was resumed although the last Wipeout round meant the Heroes, who won the main quiz proper, could have defeated the Eggheads with a full house but alas took one chance too many and blew out at the final hurdle. Archbishop Tenison’s resident genius – Richard Jenkins – was on the celebrity table and there were a number of comments about how much he knew!

There are so many people to thank for ensuring the evening was such a splendid success, not least of which are the seven children who worked so tirelessly all evening to supply my every demand and producing facts and figures as if by magic. In alphabetical order the Seven are: Alice who did the entire design for the raffles, all the packing, organisation, selling, lifted spirits, maintained order with the boys, didn’t sit down for a second, worked so hard and had to leave early so received no on-night praise. Alice is quiet, consistent, reliable and positive. Alistair is a technical genius. He created a number of templates from flyer to quiz PowerPoint better than many professionals could ever hope to do. He integrated the music with PowerPoint, ran the entire quiz at the helm, flawlessly, didn’t even stop to eat (stuffed a sandwich down his throat during the main meal) and is one of the most talented IT people on the planet! Geewai did the entire scoring spreadsheet system that worked beautifully, transferred scores precisely and meticulously. He is a mathematician, is persistent – he got Centrale on board for sponsorship – and modest. Matt is confident, calm, positive and organised. He drew up the guest lists, liaising with hotel staff, organised the tables, rooms, music, and sorted out all the technicalities. He was always willing to do anything, is helpful and always cheery. Omar is an excellent communicator. He gave a moving speech at half time, and is generally dogged and determined. He is a good motivator, positive, hard working and inspirational. Rodard gave a great opening speech. He was the lead negotiator, organiser, motivator, communicator and sales person. He exudes an air of calm authority and is very mature for his young years. Rodard made such an impressive pitch to a company (during a sales round) that he was offered a part-time job (which he took!) The company staff apparently booked a table but were unable to make it due to the snow unfortunately. I even spied Rodard selling raffle tickets on the night. Tevin lifted people’s spirits on the evening. He is a creative wonder and created the promo video that was better than any professional promos I’ve seen and even Lucy at CiC admitted he produced something that she would find difficult to match. Tevin produced a lot of the technical stuff for the quiz and spent many hours downloading music and clipping them for integration. He worked tirelessly.

Another integral part of the team was Ms Mary Dalman who offered great support in the last week when numbers *due to snow threats* were dwindling. Mary checked the quiz, proofed it, prepared contingency plan when four tables cancelled, did the scoring, marking and didn’t stop all evening and was completely invaluable and amazing. I had total confidence in her ability and I can tell you, having undertaken marking duties myself in years gone by, it is one of the most demanding jobs of all as the time pressure is enormous. Miss Preya Syal worked tirelessly all evening – walking for miles to get there from Sanderstead in the first place- and ensuring every detail was being looked after – from speeches to raffles – to collecting money and scoring. Wendy Nodding and Pam Bryan from Purley Cross Centre worked closely with the students and encouraged and supported them from start to finish. Although our paths never crossed during the run-up to the big day I had met them both several years ago when I attended my first Alpha Course at their church. What a small world it is. I’m very pleased to say that Pam won the Night at the Ritz – yippee. Robin Walker is the Croydon TV director. In a meeting with him at his South Norwood offices prior to the event I was most impressed with his set-up. The small but very functional recording studio annexing the office was particularly impressive and was complete with travelling matte, probably better known to most of you as a ‘blue screen’ although if memory serves me Robin’s back drop screen which can create almost any image you desire, was green. Robin is keen to encourage enterprise and collaboration between schools and schools and businesses. Robin gave a short talk on the evening and I must apologise on behalf of the hotel for his microphone dying on him midway through his speech. Of course we can watch back their edit of the night on Croydon TV when it is out and hopefully some of the mike problems will be magically eradicated. Jim Parrish is head of sixth form and gave a short conclusion at the end. Good to have him there and supporting his talented sixth formers. Joy Langley the Deputy Head Mistress who walked for miles to the venue, generally supported and even made phonecalls herself at the last minute in an effort to retrieve the situation when we had four tables cancel in rapid succession! Miss Langley motivated staff and students all the way through and was ever present. So important I feel for members of Senior Leadership to support students in innovation and enterprise – and this was done magnificently.

I understand Richard Parrish – the headmaster -was stuck in Three Bridges but his support was very much appreciated.

I’d also like to thank on behalf of the school Alan Potter – Director for Education who was a great example by braving the conditions to support such a wonderful schools initiative. He was on a table with other Croydon Council employees – notably Paula Dunkley and Mike Smith (consultants in the 14-19 group) who were involved in providing support and inspiration for the Diplomas through 2009-10. Their help was invaluable and again, the fact they were there was amazing.

I know I’ve mentioned Lucy Porter previously but Lucy arrived early and was always encouraging and helpful before during and after the event and had to brave the elements to travel to the Oval immediately after the quiz.

Another lady I have already mentioned in passing but feel I have to give a special thank you to is Ruth Benjamin for being involved in every aspect of the planning of the event, being encouraging, inspirational and hard working well above and beyond the call of duty. This lady, who I know will not thank me for singing her praises.

And of course I must not forget the Eggheads themselves who always made themselves available for photographs and travelled vast differences in ridiculous and obscene conditions (and CJ for one had extreme difficulties getting home after his car had to be towed off the M4 at considerable cost to himself). I know each one of them sacrificed a lot to attend but it is a mark of the importance people like them attach to education that made me know that they would want to be involved. A huge thank you to Chris, Barry, CJ, Pat and Kevin. I hope they all managed to arrive home safely today as they are in the middle of a long winning streak at present : ) It is just a shame we didn’t have more time as Chris was going to entertain us with a song as he is a thrice weekly attendant at his local karaoke (you really don’t know half the stuff these megabrains get up to) and I had organised a surprise game of table tennis between Pat Gibson, who was the captain of his university team and Ritchie Venner, the national vets champion who was part of the winning Harding’s Heroes team. Having watched Ritchie play on innumerable occasions I had planned to make a killing on the fixed odds betting. It would have been such pleasant payback for all the times Pat pummels him on the Grand Prix circuit.

So that’s about it. I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone but I would just like to add a few words of my own regarding the evening. I have lost count many moons ago at how many quizzes I have hosted and co-hosted with the likes of dear-departed greats such as Jeremy Beadle and Magnus Magnusson. Things have not always gone smoothly even with those class acts and on the only other occasion I personally had microphone problems I was heckled mercilessly and the comedian I had booked for the auction refused to go on and it ended in a near riot. I immediately had flashbacks when the unthinkable occurred but I needn’t have worried as every single person in that room was so kind, focused and giving I can honestly say it was the most satisfying evening I have ever experienced in so many respects. To share the evening with old friends who I love and respect was reward enough but to make so many new friends on the night is something I don’t usually experience at such gatherings so from a personal point of view I would like to thank all those at Archbishop Tenison who made this an event worthy of its name.

God Bless you all

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December 3, 2010 - Posted by | General

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