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Mastermind

I ADMIRE anyone who can go onto a quiz show like Mastermind and keep smiling.

It's bad enough being tested on your general knowledge without it happening in front of a couple of hundred spectators, TV cameras, a watching audience of millions and three other people who are keen to outpoint you – and that's without mentioning John Humphrys, the daunting inquisitor from the Today programme, sitting behind a desk and firing questions at you as the clock ticks inexorably down.

Years ago, I vaguely knew someone – the colleague of a friend of a friend – who went onto the programme. As far as I can remember he did reasonably well, but he found the experience an intimidating one.

He came to mind last week as I read about John Savage, from Stirlingshire, who went onto Mastermind and won, getting 11 answers right out of 14 on his specialist subject, Celtic FC. He also did pretty well on the general knowledge questions, finishing on 25 points. His rivals' specialist subjects were Ian Dury, the Red Army 1941-1945, and the life and work of Gerald Durrell.

While too much of an active coward to even consider going on the show, I did a straw poll yesterday to find out what colleagues' specialist subjects would be. They give an interesting insight into their intellectual interests. Elton John, said one, before changing his mind and opting for Stanley Baxter. Doctor Who, volunteered a second. Modern Scottish football. The films of Quentin Tarantino. Sex and the City. The Drones Club stories by PG Wodehouse. Newcastle, said one colleague. The football club, I asked, seeking clarification? The city, he said.

Other subjects: the recorded output of ZTT Records, 1983-1986. The Dark Souls computer game. The Ryder Cup. Rangers in the 1970s. The music of Frank Zappa. Bismarck and the German Empire, 1871-1914. Early Bob Dylan. The world's capitals. Several people looked nonplussed and said they couldn't think of a specialist subject. One pondered for a few seconds and said her subject would be naughtiness, upon which she tantalisingly declined to elaborate. The best suggestion came from a colleague who said food and agricultural production in the Soviet Union and Russia. For good measure he authoritatively added 1986 to 1999. He seemed so knowledgeable I have no doubt he'd win Mastermind. If only we can get him on it.

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