One of the most unexpected developments that has emerged from Lockdown 2020 is the widespread proliferation of the Zoom Quiz. Did anyone else think it was possible to take part in this many general knowledge quizzes? I don’t know about you I somehow managed to get involved in three different quizzes one Friday night – and didn’t manage to win any of them! That didn’t even include the devilish weekly HeyUGuys movie quiz that Scott J Davis has been skillfully compèring of late.
On the surface of it, these Zoom quizzes (other multi-participation platforms are available, I assume) are a welcome means of keeping in contact with our friends and loved ones, but in the absence of live sport, they have also helped to slake the nation’s thirst for heated competition.
Our obsession with general knowledge has reached something of a fever pitch this year. The recent final of University Challenge created a kind of Mensa pin-up hero in the shape of Brandon Blackwell. As I write this, BBC Radio 2’s Ken Bruce is chairing an all-day marathon of Popmaster, a music quiz that according to new empirical evidence, effectively shuts down half the country into a collective tea-break at 10.30 every weekday morning.
What is it about quizzes that commands such widespread fascination? In Quiz, Stephen Frears’s recent smash hit for ITV which is out on DVD today, producer Paul Smith (played by the dependably outstanding actor Mark Bonnar) puts his fingers on it, when he explains that pub quizzes combine the two things British people love doing more than anything else: ‘Drinking and being right.’
Featuring superb performances from Matthew Macfadyen, Sian Clifford and Michael Sheen, the story of Charles Ingram (the infamous “coughing major” who might have cheated his way to the big win on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Quiz brilliantly investigated our obsession with quiz shows and the surprising lengths to which some people will go to be able to publicly show off their capacity for retaining vast quantities of seemingly useless trivia.
A huge hit for ITV – the most watched drama of the year so far – Quiz was not the first time that a game show has played its part in an unfolding cinematic tale. Sometimes a catalyst for action, occasionally the hero’s goal or just an interesting backdrop, the quiz show has proved itself over the years to be quite a valuable device in the scriptwriter’s arsenal.
I’m going to stick to actual quiz shows here, rather than the broader category ‘game show’ which would have granted room for films like The Running Man and The Hunger Games but, like I’ve been hearing a lot on Zoom quizzes recently, “I’ve got to be a bit strict on this one…”
Oh, and there’s a short quiz here too. Find the answers after the article.
1. STARTER FOR TEN (2006)
For many, the ultimate University Challenge experience was to be found not in cinemas but on the BBC, when The Young Ones found themselves up against Footlights College in the seminal episode ‘Bambi.’ Those of us of a certain age will have no trouble reciting whole passages involving Toxteth O’Grady and the world’s stickiest bogey. Some of us still think the bit when Vyvyan kicks Mr Kendall-Mintcake in the head is one of the funniest things they’ve ever seen.
Tom Vaughan’s film adaptation of David Nicholls’ book, while sadly lacking a head-butting puppet hamster, is a charming and romantic coming of age story set around Bristol University’s quiz team to win University Challenge in 1985. As well as being an affectionate memory-postcard to the past, it boasted a highly impressive cast of ‘Stars of The Future’, such as James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper, Alice Eve, and Benedict Cumberbatch who is perfectly insufferable as the victory-obsessed team captain who, like Mr Kendall-Mintcake, takes several blows to the face.
Q. What is Newton’s third law of motion?
2. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION (1985)
The much-beleaguered Griswald family are hoping to win an all-expenses paid trip to Europe by appearing on the entirely fictitious quiz show, Pig in A Poke hosted by the demonstrably pervy Kent Winkdale. Sadly, they are up against the Froegers, precisely the kind kind of super-intelligent, supercilious Ivy-League stuffed-shirts that have always borne the brunt of National Lampoon’s ire.
At first, Clark (Chevy Chase) seems to blow his chances by incorrectly guessing that the Pyramidal Tracts are a housing development outside Cairo. However, in his hubristic haste, Mr Froeger confuses his lower with his upper motor neurons and the game is levelled. In a controversial development, Clark’s wife wins by accidentally identifying US explorer Second Lieutenant William Clark – much to the fury of the Froegers. Thanks to this one misunderstanding, the Griswalds head over to Europe and trash it, country by country.
Q. What are the Pyramidal Tracts?
3. QUIZ SHOW (1994)
Quiz Show was profoundly unlucky to have been released in 1994 – the year of Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption – when all the big awards ended up being showered elsewhere. Robert Redford’s film, in its elegant, mature and understated way was no less a critical heavyweight.
Telling the true story of the scandal that engulfed the 1950s US quiz show ‘Twenty-One’, long time champion Herbert Stempel – “Now there’s a face for radio” – is forced by producers to take a fall, so that he can be replaced by the dashing, telegenic, Columbia University professor Charles Van Doren. In amongst all the personal angst as Van Doren’s duplicity tears his self-worth to shreds, Redford exposes the dark (rather anti-Semitic) reality that television glossed over to keep the comforting illusion of the American Dream going.
Q. Which 1955 movie won the Best Picture Oscar at the 1956 Oscars Ceremony?
4. MAGNOLIA (1999)
Quiz shows, for anyone who grew up watching 3-2-1 in the 1980s, aren’t always a barrel of laughs. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic interconnecting ensemble drama, a popular child-centric quiz show ‘What Do Kids Know?’ lies at the epicentre of a chaotic world, touching the lives of everyone involved in relentlessly tragic ways.
Watching the show from across a bar is Donnie Smith, a former contestant and child prodigy whose life has since disappeared down the toilet. The current young champion, Stanley Spector is being excessively tiger-fathered by his vile dad, who denies him a bathroom break with humiliating consequences, and the host, Jimmy Gator is dying of cancer and trying to reconnect with an estranged daughter upon whom he has inflicted unspeakable sins.
This never happened on Blockbusters.
Q What is the common element in the following group? a.) Pencil lead. b.) Coal. c.) Diamond.
5. MONTY PYTHON LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL (1982)
As quizmaster of this article, I claim the right to insert this scene into the list on the grounds that the film in question did have a theatrical release and therefore counts as a movie. Surely I can’t be the only one out there who has introduced their Zoom quiz with “…and the first question is for you, Karl Marx: ‘The Hammers’ is the nickname of what football team?” – to widespread confusion from the online contestants?
For anyone who hasn’t seen or heard Monty Python’s World Forum sketch, a treat awaits you. In their unique way, they highlighted the superficial nature of TV quiz shows by transforming an austere discussion between the foremost Communist leaders of the 20th Century into a quiz show centred largely around early 1970s English football teams. One thing I’ve never understood: why does Karl Marx get to play for the lounge suite when the only one who gets a question right is Mao Tse-tung!
Q Who won the FA Cup in 1949?
6. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008)
The Quiz Show Movie reached its apotheosis here in Danny Boyle’s highly kinetic Oscar-winning sensation, which saw Dev Patel giving a star-making turn as a Mumbai street-kid who ends up as a successful contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
To the increasingly aroused suspicions of the show’s producers and presenter, Jamal Malik has correctly answered all his questions, seemingly out of nowhere. After an initial thrashing from the police – I’ll bet Charles Ingram winced watching that scene – Jamal calmly explains the background for each of his correct answers in an unforgettable story of overcome adversity that combines the exuberance of a Bollywood musical with the unflinching social critique of Dickens at his most livid.
Q. In Alexandre Dumas’s book, The Three Musketeers, two of the musketeers are called Athos and Porthos. What is the name of the third musketeer?
B. Cardinal Richelieu
- Reaction is equal and opposite to action.
- Pyramidal tracts are upper motor neurons that originate in the cerebral cortex and terminate in the spinal cord. They are responsible for the voluntary control of the musculature of the body and face. (NB. Lower motor neurons is an incorrect answer. Please be specific.)
- Wolverhampton Wanderers (who beat Leicester City 3–1)