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In Good Company: The Quiz Ordeal

Enid Blackburn wrote this article years ago after she and her family had appeared on a well-known TV quiz programme.

About a third of what actually takes place during a show eventually arrives on your television screen.

Blank pauses seemed to play a large part when my family and I appeared on ‘Family Fortunes.’ The computer needs time to fill in the answers, and of course empty, adverts have to be slotted in; mistakes occur – Bob may leave out vital clues for technicians that could involve a replay. It is all highly confusing for weak-kneed amateurs.

Three shows were recorded consecutively the night we performed. Just enough time in between for producer to assemble the next families and Bob Monkhouse to change into another immaculate outfit. No need to mention the part played by the live audience – could hardly be a dead one – but you could be forgiven for thinking this, what with all the instruction to ‘Applaud.’ ‘Laugh,’ ‘Silence,’ etc.

All afternoon is spent rehearsing. Before we took our positions on the set for a mock trial, we were each given a name badge and genned up on how to be perfect contestants by director Bill.

Smart Alecs are not encouraged. ‘Leave the jokes to Bob, dears. The idea is to just be yourselves.’ Sounds good advice, but difficult when your face won’t stop melting and your legs feel like five penn’orth of boiled tripe. After the salutary bit, ‘Any Questions?’ son surprisingly raises a hand and quivers, ‘Any toilets?’

An ever-quipping Bob Monkhouse nurses the first two families through their ordeal. Once he has been introduced to us he disappears, and director Bill takes over our game. We cannot quite master the art of smiling at our opponents. An ear-phoned technician pulls faces behind his camera, but it’s no good, my lips are twitching so violently all I manage is a Humphrey Bogart leer.

Meanwhile the rest of the family win a thousand make-believe pounds. This is only pretend but my confidence is such that I heartily attack half-an-inch of roast beef from the superb free cold buffet at teatime. We take our director’s advice: ‘The camera is very revealing,’ and limit ourselves to one glass of the free wine. A girl staggering under a large bag visits every table and doles out travel expenses to husbands, who visibly relax. I break all records for toilet visits until 7.15 – time to dress.

The dressing rooms have reached monsoon heat in our absence. While others change into see-through lightweights, I don my winter sports that seemed a good idea 10,000 years ago. Time drags cruelly at this point. Mirrors everywhere, nothing to do but study our defects. While daughter works on her sixth hairstyle, son and me compare spots, his are larger and closer together, mine are all by my nose, nurtured beautifully by the dehydrating temperatures.

Son-in-law nonchalantly unaware of price tag still on back pocket plays shove halfpenny.

I am just beginning to have second thoughts about my Fleetwood market earrings when Duncan arrives and trots us down to make-up.

Husband’s nose and ears come in for a lot of powdering. Monitor above mirror busily recording our pre-contestants, who have already started on their ordeal. Son emerges spotless but looking as if his face has been whitewashed. Any other time I would have laughed.

Suddenly it’s all happening – the lights, the applause, the mole on Bob Monkhouses’ upper lip – the strained faces waiting for me to think of a World War II leader and, B-L-E-E-P, it’s all over. Naturally I knew the answer was ‘Monty.’ I just wanted to see my husband’s nervous tic every time he hears this name, and make a fool of myself in front of millions!

That’s showbiz!

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Footnote by Enid's husband, Bill.

It was a nail-biting finish. After the five rounds of questions both teams were level and a tie-break round was played. They were asked to name three famous World War II leaders. I pressed the buzzer first and named Winston Churchill, which was the top answer and won our team the right to name the other two. Enid was stuck, didn’t give an answer and was bleeped. Son, Howard said Hitler, which was also bleeped, that left one more chance. Son-in-law, Michael said Roosevelt, which was correct. I was convinced the final name was Montgomery but dare not whisper, because if you are caught cheating you are thrown out of the game. Final contestant, daughter Heather, said Stalin that earned her a bleep. It was then thrown open to the other team to discuss among themselves. Lo and behold they said ‘Montgomery’ and the game was lost.

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