625 - Andrew Wiseman's Television Room
Fifteen to One

What's it like to be asked tough questions on the top-rated quiz show? A report by the man with the answers:

Graham P Jackson

Created  Sa 9-Aug-97
Main Content Last Revised  Mo 30-Nov-98


William G. Stewart has a lot to answer for. He was largely responsible for bringing Price Is Right to British screens, he warmed up the audience and chose the contestants who would "Come On Down". Critics said it pandered to the worst aspects of human nature. But ITV were happy - it topped the ratings. He is also reported to be the man who saved Channel 4's Don't Forget Your Toothbrush. The show just didn't work - an amazing six pilots were recorded. Mr S. helped get it on air, and once there it was Channel 4's most watched show.

These days, you can see the former Butlin's redcoat in front of the camera, hosting Fifteen To One. This is a daily quiz show, which he helped develop, for people who take their quizzes seriously. Fifteen contestants each have three lives; every time they get a question wrong they lose a life. It's a simple format, devised by John M. Lewis, and another ratings success for William G. Stewart.

Graham P Jackson decided he was up to the challenge. Here he describes his adventure on Britain's toughest quiz show.

 

You know how it is. You're watching a quiz show. You narrowly avoid scoring a conversion with a full cup of tea as your fist pounds into the arm of the chair. How could he possibly not know the answer to that simple question? Even Laa Laa the Teletubby would have known that!!

And so, by a mixture of "I could do that!" and "Put up or shut up!" you find yourself standing looking grimly into the blackness at the back of a TV studio, blinded by two dazzling spotlights, whilst that nice Mr. Stewart asks Jackie the first question. It's about an Irish film actor I don't know, but she does. Not a confidence-booster. The questioning moves relentlessly on towards me at number 9. Thank goodness I know most of them. Now my voice has at least half a chance of working when he gets to me.

"Television, Graham." Oh, no! It could be Brookside. Please don't let it be a soap or a game show host. But it's Rab C Nesbitt the "ranting Glaswegian street philosopher" as William G Stewart extravagantly describes him. Phew!! In the relief I don't even hear Tony's question on my left. Pull yourself together, Graham. Listen to every question. Keep warmed up by answering them in your mind until it's your turn again. The Council of Europe? Careful. Don't rush at it. Use your 10 seconds. Not Brussels - too obvious. Must be with the Parliament in Strasbourg. YES!!!
Ooer - I thought I'd followed the General Election quite closely, but I've got myself into a bit of a muddle over the notice period. But what's this? I remember the definition of the old Imperial Gallon (10 pounds of water if you're interested) from my primary school book of useful facts. Saved!! And Mr. S remarks that I said it with great confidence. Great relief more like!

Can't quite see how near we are to eliminating all but the final 3 contestants which will end the round. Anyway, got to concentrate; the questioning might come flying my way at any moment if I'm nominated. But no! After two right answers - they're good, these remaining people - one face goes blank and suddenly Mr. S is turning to the camera and telling people he thinks it should be worth their while staying for the final round after the break.

Fifteen contestants face William G Stewart (5K)
As I wander out from the set the crew are already pushing the 3-person podium into position for the final round. With the fascination of a small boy in an engine shed I watch enthralled as they plug in the cables connecting its lights, buzzers and score panels. My reverie is broken by Laura who does the voice-overs, looking just as stunning as when she presents the trophies. We sit down together and draft my pen-portrait, which introduces the final round. Given the opportunity, I get in as much as I can about Canterbury, Christian Aid Week and the St. Augustine 597AD celebrations. As it turns out there isn't time to use any of this and it's all edited out.

After all the gizmos have been tested Margaret, Peter and I take up our positions and, for the benefit of the sound man, again say what we had for breakfast. The two makeup ladies Pat and Di flit about dabbing at anything that glistens - it's a very hot darkness under all those lights. Just in front of us stands Mr S, being preened and fluffed himself. One of the perks of his job, he observes, is that every day he has his hair titivated by young Jade. It's not stardom that counts in this business, he muses, as the powder puff dabs around, it's survival. He's been in TV 40 years, but remains curiously reticent on quite where. Is it true he bears the heavy responsibility of bringing us 'The Price Is Right'? If he does he's not saying.

Opening Titles: Introduced by William G Stewart (6K) And then we're into it. "Fingers on the buzzers and we'll make a start." Peter is good. Very good. He had his 3 lives intact from Rounds 1&2 and keeps his record to the end. Mr. S thinks this is a first. If I nominate him I'll just increase his score. I nominate Margaret. She's good too. In the blackness in front of us is an illuminated orange scoreboard, including a readout of how many of the 40 questions are left. My position on it looks shaky. I nominate Margaret again only to find I've given away my perfect question on the speed of light. This riles me. OK, as a librarian Margaret doesn't get it and loses a life. But there's the danger that any moment now Peter will start taking questions.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I elect to take a question. The inventor of Poker? Wasn't there an old Phil Harris comic song with that in? Mentally I run through the words and reach the name before my 10 seconds are up. YES!! That does it. I've got two lives in hand so I'll risk it and take another question. Success. A grim exhilaration takes hold of me. It's rather like careering downhill on a soapbox cart with no brakes. It's too late to stop now.

23 consecutive questions later and it's all over! Did I really get them all? Peter immediately and very sportingly says "Well done", albeit rather wanly. It must have been hard for him to be shut out like that. Margaret is very sweet and the rest of the 15 come up and wish me good luck in the Grand Final.

The Grand Final? It appears that my answers, plus my 2 intact lives have rocketed me to number 3 on the Finals Board, where I remain until all 965 contestants in this 64 show series have had their big moments.

As I totter out into the pale daylight to walk to the station it all seems unreal. After 15 minutes my pulse rate is back down to twice normal. So, we do it all again at the Grand Final, eh?

Close-Up: William G. Stewart (4K)

Pictures by Rob Sedgebeer  With thanks to Mike Brown
Fifteen To One Developed by Regent Productions from a format by John M. Lewis
Repeats of the early series are now being shown on Challenge TV
© Channel Four Television Corporation

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