I’m always being asked about how I first became a contestant on a quiz show.
It all started in 1975 when I retrained as a secretary under the government’s Training Opportunities Scheme. With five young children and a husband who was never in the best of health, I needed to have a steady job to help out our finances. I was offered a job as a secretary to one of the local NatWest managers, which is where it all began.
Once a year all the local branches and departments in the Bristol area of NatWest took part in a competition known as the Brainbank of Bristol. I was asked by the Branch Accountant to make up the team as “you can spell, can’t you?” and that was all that was expected of me. When the team gave me the answers, I could make sure they were spelled correctly. To my surprise, it was me answering most of the questions and we did well in the competition. I had always been a voracious reader and obviously most of what I read seemed to stick. I was then asked to join a quiz team called the Quidnuncs, which took part in a monthly quiz for charity and thoroughly enjoyed it as I had suddenly discovered something that I seemed to be better at than other people.
However, it wasn’t until 1979 that my television quiz career started. I was watching “Winner Takes All” with Jimmy Tarbuck one evening with my three youngest boys and was answering all the questions that the contestants didn’t seem to know. The boys suggested I applied to go on the show, but I was too busy to write, so they did it themselves! A few days later, along came an application form, which I was nagged into completing and then an invitation arrived to attend an audition in Bristol.
Not knowing what to expect, I turned up and found out that the first thing I had to do was pass a general knowledge test which I did and was then interviewed by a researcher. She put me at my ease straightaway, telling me that when they got the boys’ letter, they knew they had to see me as in it the boys had said “Our Mum ought to be on your show, because she knows everything!”
Later on the year, I was invited to go on Winner Takes All, which was filmed in Leeds. I absolutely loved the experience, staying at a five star hotel, being made up by an expert and being the centre of attention, and I found out that when the cameras rolled, I wasn’t a bit nervous, which I now know is a gift – how many contestants have you seen on 15-1 who absolutely froze with nerves when asked to give an answer in 10 seconds! I like to tell you that I won my very first quiz show but I didn’t – I came a very good second against a very clever chap called Arthur Naylor who I later heard on Radio 4’s Brain of Britain – but if I’d only known at the time that Arthur Conan Doyle had written The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard, it could have been a very different story. Of course in 1979, video recorders were still very new contraptions and we didn’t have one but in the 1990’s I was asked to appear on a Clive James programme about television quizzes and game shows as “the contestant” and they managed to get a copy of the programme and sent it to me as a souvenir.