Back in in about 2007/2008 I was something of a ‘flavour of the month’ comedian for ambitious tv producers who would set up meetings to ask me what my comedic plans were. They wanted to know if they could distill my ‘gay asian doctor’ schtick into something that might work on television. The problem is that I can’t act, I can’t do voices, I lack the sharp spontaneity that lends itself to the cut and thrust of tv panel shows. What I can do is stand at a microphone telling jokes and stories which I have lovingly written. But stand up comedians only appear on television if they are in Off the Kerb’s books or good books. And I have never been that fortunate.
“What about a documentary ?” producers would wearily ask, realising their dreams of a sitcom about a GP called Sanjay Sodomite were disappearing.
“Yes. Have you ever heard of a guy called Kevin Ashman ?” I would always reply. And they would look at me blankly.
To those who only know what they see on television (of whom there appear to be hundreds of thousands), Kevin Ashman is the slightly dour/ dryly witty (delete as appropriate) Egghead who is unbeatable on history. To those of us in the know, it is just possible that Kevin is simply the most knowledgable human being who has ever walked the planet. His high score of 41 on the way to winning Mastermind will never be beaten. His high score of 38 in winning Brain of Britain has similar status. He is the many times British, European and World champion. He first appeared on my radar during the golden years of Fifteen-to one. How is it possible that such a modest and self effacing man could be so utterly encyclopaedic? I wanted to make a TV documentary to find out what makes him tick. Unfortunately nobody else did, and my fledgling television career was left floundering.
At this stage I had not dipped my toes into the murky waters of competitive quizzing. Years later I am shoulder deep in it. I haven’t just met my idol, I have competed with him and against him many, many times with predictable results. And even more pleasingly I have got drunk with him. In the written grand prixs which form the basis of our national quiz rankings, he is operating on a quite different plane to me. In the cut and thrust of the annual Brain of London tournament, I have been edging tantalisingly closer.
Organised by the wonderful Quiz League of London, the Brain of London has a brutal format of unseeded four person knock out matches in which it is perfectly possible to play against three British/European/World champions in your first round match. In theory you cannot win without a huge dollop of luck. Kevin Ashman has won 12 times.
Two years ago I blundered away my chance to knock him out in the semi finals. He went on to win. Last year I reached the final, but he was simply much too good. This year I am proud to say that I am in the final again. Again, quizzing’s foremost titan stands in the way and will start favourite.
Also in the final is Dr. Ian Bayley. 2009 Brain of Britain champion, 2011 Mastermind Champion, he is a giant of academic buzzer quizzing, plays for legendary unbeaten Only Connect team the Crossworders and is Kevin’s teammate in the England A team.
Trying to land some kind of blow in this august company is me. And my mate Peter Ediss. Both first round losers on Mastermind, both first round losers on Are you an Egghead. Peter is not only a very good mate, and teammate in our team the Gray Monks, he is essentially my quiz husband. Since I met him in 2008, we have spent hours and hours helping each other to improve. I owe him a hell of a lot, and I could not be more delighted that his brilliance has been rewarded with a place in the final.
The final is tonight. The world’s most knowledgable man in history, his England A teammate, and two bessie mates hoping for the best. Apparently you can watch it on some new fangled thing called periscope. https://twitter.com/@QuizLgLondon
There is every chance that I will finish a distant fourth. I don’t care to be honest. I spent many years idolising Kevin Ashman, now he is both a friend and (sort of) rival. To be competing in this kind of company I am already living a weird, geeky dream.