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THE BLACK CHAIR

12-10-2006

Ever fancied sitting in the black chair and facing John Humphrys in Mastermind? No me neither. But for some bizarre reason, it appealed to local actor and comedian Laurence Inman. When the chance came, he should have said "pass".

Last year I went on Mastermind.

I did this for three reasons. First, I thought it would be fun. Second, I like to think of myself as a knowledgeable sort of cove and I'm very keen that others should think so too. Third, it was a nice day out for my aged Mom.

As it turned out, one out of three was a fair result.

We got to Manchester two hours early. I always arrive at places early; I can't stand having to rush. I like having a wander about, pop into the bookshops, buy a CD or two, sit on a bench with my M&S sandwich and gaze at the locals passing by. And I like Manchester especially because I spent a happy few years there playing snooker and drinking beer in the very pleasant surroundings of the University. I think.

I was quite content with the prospect of ambling and meandering the mile and a half down to the TV studios, but it didn't appeal to the Aged P.

'Come on!' I said, encouragingly. 'You'll be all right. Eighty isn't old these days.'

But she was having none of it. Her TWO suitcases were heavy, she said. So it was every true Brummie's nightmare: a taxi. I know what you're thinking - why two cases ? I mean, I didn't even bring a razor! But my Mom has to be prepared for anything. Also, a night in a hotel (paid for by the BBC) is her idea of heaven and she meant to make the most of it. We might have a meal after the show, in the hotel restaurant, and that needed a change of clothes or two.

As it turned out, we didn't have to consider it, because both before and after the recording of the show, at 8 pm, the Beeb supplied plentiful amounts of food and drink. And I mean proper food. Every twenty minutes or so a fresh table-load of comestibles arrived. And it wasn't warm pizzas and sausage rolls still in their cellophane packets. No, this was the real deal, cooked by real cooks somewhere - exotic Thai things in sauces, delicately seasoned Italian concoctions - sorry to be a bit vague, but food had never been a big thing with me….until that night.

And what with the wine, meeting Ted Robbins the warm-up man, having a chat with the wonderfully affable John Humphrys, the A.P. was in splendid spirits as we all gathered in the studio for the recording.

In the first round, for the specialist subject, I sat down in the famous black chair as the fourth contestant. My subject was Shakespeare's History Plays. I would have gone for the tragedies, but when I did my audition at the Mailbox about a year previously the two nice young researchers and I couldn't agree on what the tragedies were.

'Couldn't I just have the four big ones ?'

'Mmmm. A bit narrow.'

So what else ? You'd have to include Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet and what about Richard III and Timon of Athens, Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus…..

It was making my head hurt.

Anyway, I knew about the Histories. It's only ten plays! Hadn't I acted in Henry V ? And I was sure I'd read Henry Fourth Part One relatively recently. Well, the late seventies at the latest.

Even so, I realised after the first three questions that I should have given the others a glance-over at least, because as it turned out I knew next to nothing about the bloody Histories. I got seven points after the first round and was in fourth position. The leader, on sixteen, was an ex-Brain of Britain and had answered questions on a French writer no one had remotely heard of, and even then had narrowed the field down to two of his short stories.

Being last, I had to go up again first, a few seconds after I'd just sat down!

I had a nice jokey chat with John H and managed a reasonable twelve points on General Knowledge, bringing me up to nineteen. I was joint third.

I had managed to avoid total humiliation and to look pretty cool under pressure as well.

But I won't be rushing to do it again.

I've been on the telly a few times. It always promises such excitement, glamour even, and usually turns out to be so humdrum. ‘All that effort, for so little,' you think on the train home.

But hang on! I've read this over and a thought has just occurred to me for the first time: why does Mastermind need a warm-up man?

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