Only Connect

A thing that I did.

Every young gay man has his own preferred set of female iconography growing up. Kylie Minogue, Joan Crawford, Jet from Gladiators, (in the case of one of my friends) Connie from the AOL adverts. All figures whose pain we shared and whose triumphs we revelled in. The brightest star in my own personal firmament was Amy Godell.

Amy Godell was a regular contestant on 15-1. Either a psychotherapist or a physiotherapist from Oxford – smart, dry, mildly overweight and to my adolescent eyes, beautiful. I think I first got hooked on 15-1 when off school with pneumonia at the age of 10. In that slow period of the afternoon before my brother would get home from school, and by which point my nan was bored of looking after me, I’d sit and watch William G Stewart probe 15 social inadequates about the atomic number of calcium and get enthralled. Because 15-1 truly was the greatest quiz tv has ever seen – the perfect mix of medium-hard questions, high emotion, low stakes, and rabid inter-personal bitchery. If people think modern reality shows get heated then they’re not familiar with watching a 52-year-old bookmaker from Surrey viciously saying “NOMINATE TWELVE!” about six times in a row to knock off some poor sad-eyed middle-aged unemployed type who clearly can’t dress himself without the aid of a random number generator sequence.

And of all the returning contestants (one of whom being current Eggheads Smug-Old-Lady-Droid Daphne), Amy was my favourite. And of course, all gay icons let their fans down in the end. Kylie renounced SAW for the Manic Street Preachers, Jet allowed her patrician athletic facade to be punctured by a spell hobbling around behind Neil Buchanan on Finders Keepers, Joan Crawford did Trog, and Amy Godell got a terrifyingly easy question about Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat wrong (and seriously, we’re talking “In Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, who has an Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat?” levels here). Her infallibility was shattered, but I was left with a quizzing bug for the rest of my life.

And up until my tv appearance, it was only really adolescent fumblings with quizzing that I indulged in. Yelling at University Challenge, a school quiz team challenge where we were beaten three times in a row by the same school in the final, then won the following year, only to be disqualified because Mr Swales hadn’t read the eligibility rules properly, an audition for Mastermind aborted due to rampant stomach problems, a weekly pub quiz curtailed after we spent 5 minutes getting heckled by everyone in the pub because it took that long to point out to the marker that Lawrence of Arabia and Lawrence Olivier weren’t in fact the same person.

So what was it about Only Connect that tipped me over?

I’d be lying if I wasn’t saying that Victoria Coren wasn’t a substantial part of it. Really she was the only reason for me wandering into BBC Four in the first place. I’ve always liked Victoria Coren – in fact I once copped off with my friend Doug whilst he was dressed as Victoria Coren during the Durham LGBT Poker League Annual “Ladies of Poker” Drag Night. (I was Kathy Liebert, so it’s not a terribly erotic image whichever way you slice it). I liked her on Late Night Poker, I liked her on Celebrity Poker Club, I like her on Only Connect, and I liked her when I met her.

(That I’m so awkwardly effusive is mostly because half the people I’ve told about the show had a pretty Marmitey reaction to her. My mother’s response after watching my show for the first time (the first she’d watched the show at all) was “has she always been like that?”. So I just thought I’d get on record by opinion that she is in fact “not a cow”.)

Thus drawn in by Victoria Coren and that slow period after University Challenge that’s always filled by personality led-cookery shows (in which case if it’s not Nigella I’m not interested), I grew to appreciate Only Connect. Just like 15-1, the questions are medium-hard (despite the show’s endearing protestations that it is in fact the hardest thing since a Viagra-powered erection. The Missing Vowels round in particular is about the level of an Evening Standard Codeword (which is probably why it’s my best round)). Just like 15-1, it’s personality-led, but not to the extent that people go on it to show off their fabulous exciting personalities. But enough that you can pick up “favourite contestants”, like my own personal favourites the flirtily assertive Simon Spiro and the batshit domineering Min Lacey.

And just like 15-1, it’s for pretty much no prize whatsoever, except for the joy of grinding in your oppontents faces just how much smarter you are than them. Although at least on 15-1 you got an Etruscan vase if you won, rather than something knocked up by the props department in 5 minutes on a lunchbreak from working out what the hell they’re going to faff around with on Strictly Come Dancing next.

Which is all to say that all that (combined with the slow leaning amongst some of my blog-readers to write lurid sexual fantasies about me based on writing which could only be dispelled by them actually seeing me in live-action) tipped me over the edge to becoming a person who appeared on the telly, during a mildly boozy conversation with my boyfriend at a friend’s birthday party. We drafted in Ruth, who along with the pair of us had been badgered repeatedly by the show’s Question-Setter and all-round nag, David Bodycombe, and away we went. Oh yeah, we were scouted, that’s how engaging and exciting we are.

From deciding it was a fairly easy process to get on the show. There was an online application form and practice quiz (filled in via Google Chat as I was watching Apprentice Babies, wondering if Zoe Plummer would consider just sitting in my living room and pulling truculent faces at me forever), an on-camera audition at offices in London (on the same day as England were booted out of the World Cup, if you’re interested in that sort of detail), and various awkward phone-conversations about hobbies and interests (carried out by one of the show’s researchers as I went “buhhhhhhhh”. Being asked your hobbies and interests is like being asked to tell a joke. You inevitably can’t think of ones unless they’re too rude). All of which went fairly smoothly, although obviously with a fair amount of squealing and dancing when we were told that we were through each stage, as well as about 15 different test and practice papers and extensive rules lists (do not swear, do not wear stripes, do not look Victoria directly in the eye or offer her sandwiches) and such like, just to clue us in on how the show worked, as though we hadn’t mapped out fantasy Only Connect tournaments in our heads using soft toys and condiments.

Well, I had anyway. Chris Tudor was a cuddly Yoshi and all of the Rugby Boys were Pepper Cellars.

Much waiting followed, until the day of filming. A day which came just as my boyfriend and I were moving in together for the first time. Moving in together it turned out, to a flat without a working boiler. Or an oven. Or a lock on the front door. To say this was not a great time in our lives to be plunged into the situation of, say, trying to remember the order of characters in Romeo & Juliet by first lines, is something of an understatement. Ruth seemed to be not so harried by life, until she got stuck behind a freight train leaving Sheffield, leading her to a minor panic attack over not even getting to be on the show, followed by a £200 taxi ride from Birmingham to the studios in Cardiff. Then when we got to the studio, we found out we were playing Mensans.

(To be fair, we were told very excitedly on arrival that family teams were debuting this year, and we only overheard team designations in the corridor as we were waiting to play, so I actually briefly, in my move-addled state, thought we were playing Mansons.)

To say this meant we were prepared to lose from the off would be an undeniable truth. To make matters worse, we then sat around and conversed with and humanised the Mensans. They had been on quiz shows before. They had a strategy. They were MENSANS. They were also, sadly, not insufferable smug bastards, so even that impetus to win was removed. The one silver lining was their getting key details of the history of Big Brother utterly wrong (Brian Belo won series 8, not series 7, a WA HA HA) and that was little comfort. (As it turns out there was a question about reality tv. Obviously they got it, and got it right as we sat there gnashing our teeth in frustration). The producer sat us all down and told us we weren’t to throw our chairs at the opposing team mid-quiz, Victoria Coren wafted around somewhere in the background, being utterly intimidating in the act of ordering coffee (or tea, or a hot chocolate, I don’t know. I have no insight into the workings of her mind, despite now having met her once), and then the quizzing began.

Television studios are a funny thing. The Only Connect studio is by turns huge and tiny, really really dark and really really bright, noisy and at the same time very quiet, and hot whilst also being…actually it’s just hot. The make-up lady had to storm the set to reapply the make-up dripping off my face in particular every 5 minutes, and I’m not sure she was that fond of me to start off with. The ever expanding sweat-patches under my arms forced me to adopt a posture similar to one of the Cybernauts from The Avengers. The little glasses of water you see on the show were depleted before even the first question was announced. The taunting of questions about temperate, mild, pleasant European countries was just unnecessary.

It’s WARM, is what I’m saying.

The first two rounds went badly. They’re not my favourite round, but normally I do better than I did on the day (I found a blog post the other day saying that of the quarter finallists we put in by far the weakest performance on the first two rounds. I’m not surprised). To a certain extent there was a level of “if we had their questions, we would have been fine” about it, but overall…not good. We took a little break before The Wall, and we went out to sit in the canteen, more assured of our defeat than ever. We’re usually good at the Wall, but it’s actually much less user-friendly than it appears on tv. Years of being the quick-answer buzzer person on a secondary school quiz-team had left me a button pounder, and let me say, these were not buttons that could be pounded. They needed to be caressed. Loved. Appreciated. Respected. And I am not a respecter of buttons. And whilst Missing Vowels is always a boon, in the short practice run before the show to try the equipment, both teams had come out fairly even.

So basically we were already wondering if we’d get home in time for The Simpsons.

And then we did the Wall, and got 10. Which was a small confidence boost. And then, back in the studio, over the great divide between the teams, we shouted across to the other team, asking how they did. They’d got 7. Something to do with mathematical sequences. So when we went out, we could at least say that we beat them in one round. That was enough of a victory really. And then came Missing Vowels, when I was apprently posessed by Pazuzu.

I have to say, watching it on tv was a bit of a cold comedown. In the studio, I felt like I was answering every single question, at the speed of light, my trigger finger firing off answers with aplomb and good diction to an awe-struck audience. On my screen, I apprently answer somewhere about one-in-three, with a big pause before each one (edited in I think to give people at home a chance, robbing me of my glory), with my hair flopping everywhere, breaking Ruth’s fingers as I ham-fistedly shunted the buzzer (which is a bit like a computer mouse circa 1997).

And then we’d won. We had conquered the Mensans, in a glorious underdog victory, which I’m sure was in no way set up to happen by the producers.

From there, abject defeat to the Wright Family (who were very nice when we sat around with them, mostly discussing which past contestants we’d fancied), because we were at that point more mentally exhausted than the James Franco character in that new film where he eats his own arm off or what have you, wasn’t quite as awful as it might have been. We had done something right. We had beaten Mensans. We were not disqualified. The spirit of Amy Godell was avenged. I could wash this thick layer of foundation off my face. I flirted mildly with Victoria Coren. Someone on twitter slagged me off, saying that I looked like I wanted to suck my own dick (to be fair, not entirely untrue). The experience was complete. I need never appear on television again.

Unless I can get an Eggheads team together.


31 thoughts on “Only Connect

  1. kat

    Hiya I thought you did well (although I did get the places and seas) connection at home (on the last clue) and was willing for you guys to know it. You look pretty normal to me so the guy on the internet doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It wasn’t abject defeat you held your own on the wall.

    1. monkseal Post author

      To be fair, I did write this before the second episode aired, so I was going on my faulty memory. We beat them in the second round as well. Not that I’m desperately holding onto any shred of positivity or anything.

  2. kat

    BTW – I would offer to be on your Eggheads team but I suspect apart from History knowledge areas are too much of an overlap and you’ve got it covered. No one I know except my brother and dad know anything about sport.

  3. Poppy

    I thought you did really well. I’m always delighted if I manage to get even one of those first two round connections right. This time it was the “Mascot Ascot Scot Cot” one that I was shouting at the telly. And right after you mentioned the colours being something to do with it, I got the bit about the seas, but I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t mentioned the colours first. I wouldn’t have got any of the wall right at all, and was in awe that you got them all (and who would have got that final connection? Bizarre.).

    Anyway, the thing is, you actually had the courage to do it, which I never would, so well done. And I think you’re kind of good looking, but I mean that in a nice, detached kind of way. Not at all a weird internet stalky kind of way. Honest.

    1. monkseal Post author

      I really think I should have been louder when talking about the Wall, cause half the Internet on twitter were yelling “COCKS!” at us, when we knew that – we were just waiting and trying to work out the other one. Either that or…they were just shouting “COCKS!” at us.

      1. Poppy

        Maybe they just have Tweetettes Syndrome…the random Tweeting of inappropriate words. It’s quite common, I’ve heard.

        I knew why you were waiting…I thought it was a good strategy to try to work out the last connection while you had the time. One of you actually said ‘dinara, isn’t that money?’…ah the sweet irony. My recorder turned off before I heard what the other lot’s final score was, but it can’t have been too far ahead of you guys. Seriously, well done.

  4. Verns

    I’ve loved Victoria Coren for years, and her column is always the first thing I read in The Observer every Sunday. Why didn’t the BBC recommission Balderdash and Piffle? I liked that programme.

    I kind of vaguely knew she liked poker (she does mention it a lot in her column) without it really registering just how highly regarded she is in poker circles. At least I only found that out when my son (a poker fan) was incredulous that I’d even heard of her, since he didn’t know she was a journalist and TV presenter.

    Oh, and many congratulations on beating the Mensans – they really weren’t the smug, supercilious bastards you’d kind of expect them to be, were they?

    1. monkseal Post author

      In retrospect, I’m glad we played Mensans, because if there’s one way to get instant sympathy from lay-people, it’s to be the team that aren’t Mensa members. (My old teacher made me take the Mensa test. I passed (I do think it was just a pre-test) but didn’t go any further, because he was mildly creepy about it, and I didn’t really want to anyway)

  5. Andrea

    I want to like Victoria Coren, she’s smart, funny and has a great figure but I just can’t warm to her, she always seems mildly snide. I don’t think she’s a cow exactly but I bet she’d bring you down a peg or two if you ever crossed her.

    I used to love 15 to 1, was not pleased when it was axed. Anyway, well done, would love to have a go at something like that myself but I don’t have the guts or any like minded friends. Oh and I agree with Poppy, you’re a nice looking guy.

    1. monkseal Post author

      Someone after watching it said that she thought she was quite rude to us. I can honestly say that there wasn’t even the hint of any of us feeling like that. To be fair, I was so numb with nerves she probably could have jabbed a safety pin in my eye and I wouldn’t have flinched, but I think it might just be something you get from only seeing the televised bits. *shrug* As I said, I liked her. (*talking about her like she’s not in the metaphorical room*)

    1. Rad

      Not just us and the Wrights, the production team were all over it. Simon Spiro was a hot favourite, though I believe someone or other confessed to a David Steiner crush.

  6. Pingback: It’s only a gameshow « Radical Departures

  7. Victoria Coren

    Hurray! Not a cow! It may not be “She walks in beauty like the night”, but I’ll take it. Thanks very much. Mind you, if you have a weakness for “smart, dry and mildly overweight”, no wonder I’m your girl.

    And sorry Andrea – quite understandable but what can I tell you; like I said on the show tonight, I’m not snide IN MY HEAD. It must just come out sounding like that, like the old Rob Newman character who was afflicted with a sarcastic tone of voice. Inside it’s all warm and fluffy, I promise. Now that sounds sarcastic. But it isn’t. In its head, Marmite probably thinks it’s strawberry jam.

    Well done Bloggers for a great performance (great chat & humour as well as good quizzing) and thanks for coming on the programme.

    But… dressed as Victoria Coren? What in God’s name was he wearing?

    VC x

    1. monkseal Post author

      To be fair, if you’d come here and found me spouting off Byronic poetry in your honour, I’d imagine the comment would have been much shorter. And Doug is a lovely guy, but it wasn’t exactly a flashbulb memory, old tyme cameras not being at their best when doused in Tia Maria & Coke. I think it was your usual long blonde wig, falsies, boots lazy-drag combination. I do dimly remember that he brought some sort of sex toy in reference to your nascent career as a pornographer.

      Also I hate strawberry jam.

  8. Old Applejack

    Oh cripes, I have to follow VC herself??

    Unlucky Monkseal. Though you got some stinking questions in the first couple of rounds yesterday, which put you on the back foot. Congrats on blitzing the wall almost single handed though.

    I felt moved to write, not only by your excellent blogging and write-up, but also as I feel partially responsible for unleashing Amy Godel on an unsuspecting quizzing public.

    Back in 1997, she handed me two royal twattings on Countdown. Actually, that’s not quite right, the first time she beat me by a millisecond on the conundrum. Had I sent her packing at that point, who knows if we would have seen her again??

    However, we met up again in the quarter final and she really did give me a good shellacking. I can’t bear to give the final score – it’s on the internet if you look hard enough.

    Then she went onto further glory on 15-1 and 100%, in both of which I crashed and burned. Not on the same show as our hypnotherapist/maths teacher from Oxfordshire though. I may have considered harrassment charges had that been the case.

    I don’t think we’ve been on the same shows since, although I do look over my shoulder at any auditions I do. I last saw her trying and failing to become an Egghead. Be good to see her again though, I remember her being nice and fun company.

    I also have Amy to thank for getting me into cryptic crosswords, something we discussed in the canteen, or somewhere at Yorkshire TV. So began 13 years of solving, occasional setting and getting-nowhere-in-online-clue-writing-competitions.

    So, while I may not share the total infatuation you had Monkseal, I too salute Amy Godel.

    1. monkseal Post author

      100%! She was on that as well! To be honest, all I remember about 100% is that man who said “Yes! I Will!” for 50 episodes in a row like he was auditioning to be Mr Bean and that the host turned out to look a bit like Bamber Boozler. And to fair, my total infatuation doesn’t appear to encompass getting either her name or profession correct. But then, what are boys like at that age?

    1. monkseal Post author

      Only in the best possible way, Only Connect Legend Min Lacey. (Every time I see Viz Magazine I still think “it’s not that sort of comic”)

  9. Amy Godel

    I must say that this is the first time I have been outed as a gay icon and I find it rather gratifying.

  10. Amy Godel

    And so we come full circle….partially inspired by your comprehensive karmic trouncing of the mensans ,and only six years later, I find myself appearing on only connect. It was a blast. Thank you.


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