Quiz Night Blues

Still looks the same from the outside

Visiting the Otherworlds exhibition over the weekend has joggled loose an old memory of the Crown & Anchor Quiz Team, back in the mid-Eighties, the night we won the Quiz league in our debut season.

The Crown‘s still there on Port Street, in the centre of Manchester, five minutes walk from Piccadilly Gardens, but its plastic and chrome make it a far cry from the pub I used to know and love. In it’s heyday, the Crown was a real, old-fashioned, spit-and-sawdust, wooden-floor-with-gaps-in-the-planking Real Ale pub, and you would always find me there on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

I was already familiar with it from a couple of the Bi-Annual Booze-ups that finished there, handy for buses home. There was the time Steve, Ken and I got there mid-Friday night and decided not to bother strolling on, and Steve was drinking double whiskeys and I was putting ‘Love will tear us apart’ on on the jukebox, every time I went to the loo. Then there was another night, when John was with us, and despite being pissed to the max, I took him on on the pool table and was on the point of seven-balling him (and I’d never seven-balled anyone before). Only the shot on the black wasn’t easy, and I had an attack of the sensibles and played for safety, and he ended up snookering me out of it and winning.

I started going down there on Thursday nights by invitation. John Mottershead, who worked at Manchester’s Comics Shop, Compendium Books, on John Dalton Street, just down from the Free Trade Hall. Thursdays was the regular night for MAD, Manchester and District SF Fans, so I started going down to that, then added Tuesdays and it became a regular thing for several years.

The Crown had a pool team, made up of workers from the nearby Postal Sorting Office, until the then-Landlord, Dave Glass, offended them and they went somewhere else. John Mott and I were among those swept up into the new pool team – well, they needed someone with a car for away matches – and whilst my win-loss ratio never got more than a fraction above 50/50, I did pull off the odd sterling victory.

I don’t know who first heard about the Pub Quiz Team League, but they were on the lookout for new pubs, and we decided to give it a go. There was me and John Mott, John Manning who was a peripheral part of our group, and Barry, something of a loner, who became our captain (which meant that when two of us were arguing over the right answer, he decided what to go with).

With our entry, there were eight teams, mostly scattered around central Manchester, but including the Bleeding Wolf in Hale, who were not just geographically removed from the rest of the teams, but were ‘a cut above’ the rest of us, and well aware of it. Apparently, they were the ‘cock team’, who usually won the League every season.

We were a competitive bunch of bastards and we set out to cut them down to size. We lost at their place, our only defeat of the season, but gained the advantage in a week where they were surprisingly beaten but we pulled a point out of a tie, mainly thanks to John Mott. Everyone was stumped on the next line to ‘Though I’ve beaten you and flayed you, through the gold you are that made you…’ and we were on the point of being counted out when John just shrugged his shoulders, ofered up the semi-random line, ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’, and nicked the precious point.

Last match of the season was at home to the Bleeding Wolf in a winner-takes-all tie.

The Quiz format involved eight rounds, each of four paired questions. Round 1, 2 and 4 were team rounds, round 3 an individual round, each team offering their players as 1, 2, 3 and 4. I was the anchorman, at 4. Before the Quiz, the captains tossed a coin for A or B questions, the winning team answering the A set.

After four rounds, there was a drinks break, after which the format was repeated, but this time with the sets of questions reversed, so that after we’d answered the A questions in the first half, we would have the B questions after the break.

The flashpoint came before the break. Question three in whichever round this was came to us: What is the third planet from the sun? We hardly needed to huddle, it was so obvious: the Earth. Wrong, said the question-master, it’s Mars.

We exploded in fury and bemusement. Our answer was right: Earth was, is, always had been, always would be barring some colossal SF disaster, the third planet from the Sun. Even Jimi Hendrix had said so. But the answer, no matter how incorrectly, was Mars, and despite the blatant error, we had to go with that. The Bleeding Wolf team did not cover them in glory: had the roles been reversed, we all agreed that we would have said let them have the point, they were right, but they – already behind – were staying out of it: rules are rules, the answer is the answer.

But it was so wrong, and we continued to protest, to the point that the questionmaster, with the Wolf‘s clearly reluctant consent, agreed to give us one of the questions off the tie-breaker list. We accepted the solution, but when the question was read out, I was so furious that it was of an incredibly specialised nature and far far harder than our original question had been: ‘What standards are the Innes Institute responsible for maintaining?’

I swiveled in my seat and hurled my official Quiz Team pencil into the corner of the room in disgust. Only to hear Barry say, ‘Hang on a minute’ and, after a few pregnant seconds of thought, answer ‘fertilizer’. And he was only bloody well right!

That was probably the moment we won it, because win it we did, taking a lead into the final round that secured us the title with four questions left to be answered, which we celebrated with great enthusiasm.

But that’s not the punchline to the story. Remember that our questions were paired so, after the debacle around our third planet from the Sun, the Wolf‘s return question was, what is the ninth planet from the Sun? Their answer was, of course, Pluto (its demotion to a dwarf planet was some twenty years away at that time).

That was what we’d have said, and it was what the answer said, so it was a regulation point for them. The irony is that, unbeknownst to all of us at the time, that answer was also wrong! After the Quiz, explaining the debacle to Dave Copley-Mackie, a very erudite man who ended up going to live in Japan, doing TEFL, he pointed out that Pluto actually has an eccentric orbit that, at certain times, takes it within the orbit of Neptune, as indeed was the case at the time. That meant that it was currently the eighth planet from the Sun, and the correct answer was actually Neptune!