Contestants on Brain of Britain are finding it more difficult to get five questions in a row correct than they did in the past, even though the show has become no harder, the quiz show’s host has said.
Presenter Russell Davies said writers on the longstanding and notoriously difficult BBC Radio 4 quiz were often asked by producers to simplify submissions.
Ahead of the 69th season beginning later this week, Davies told the Radio Times: “The only gimmick is that if you get five questions in a row correct, you get an extra point. That bonus is happening more and more rarely – last year it happened only about five times in the whole series.”
One of the show’s regular question setters, Elissa Mattinson, who writes 300 questions a series as well as contributing to shows including Mastermind and University Challenge, said the reason for this may be the breadth of topics featured, including popular culture and those targeted at a younger audience.
“With all the different streaming platforms and social media, there’s just so much more knowledge out there to keep up with. It’s not just BBC One and BBC Two now. Contestants are expected to be aware of Tiger King, Squid Game and Succession as well as Shakespeare and classical music,” she said.
Davies added: “Back in the 50s and 60s, science questions were more or less banned because it was thought nobody would understand them.”
Mattinson said she often responded to producers’ requests for easier questions by including clues. “For example, if it’s about a poet, I might go, ‘Which early 20th-century poet’ or something like that.”
She said it was important that the questions be challenging because “people listening at home have got to be impressed, and think: ‘Wow, they’re bright.’ They’ve got to be the elite of the population.” She added that the show was a “celebration of knowledge” rather than being about “trying to catch anyone out or make the contestant look stupid”.
Asked by the Radio Times how the Conservative leadership candidates would perform on the show, Davies said it would be “literally point-less in some cases.” “Some of them were having trouble enough performing at all, let alone answering questions that are deliberately made to be slightly out of the way,” he said.
But despite the broadening of subject-matter, Davies said he “regularly imagines” that Brain of Britain is perceived by BBC commissioners as too old-fashioned, middle-aged and elitist and may one day be cut. “I wouldn’t be surprised. But I would be sorry.”
Jack Waley-Cohen, question editor for the BBC quiz show Only Connect and a contributor to several other shows, agreed that there had been a “definite evolution” in quiz shows in recent years to improve diversity and representation.
“We want to make sure that balance is given to people from all walks of life and different backgrounds, and not just ‘white male quiz history’, as it were. We’re just being a bit more creative,” he said.
For example, he said, there are now more questions on black history and women’s sport, and hosts make clear whether they are talking about the men’s football World Cup rather than the women’s.
He added that he had noticed through his work running pub and corporate quiz nights that people were getting better at quizzes thanks to the “wealth of information in our pockets”, including obscure trivia in online videos and memes. “A challenging question 10 to twenty years ago is something that many people know now,” he said.
Three questions from Brain of Britain’s new season
The term “gibbous moon” refers to the lunar phases when the moon appears between half and full, either while waxing or waning. “Gibbous” derives from a Latin word meaning what?
Although best known these days as a playwright, Samuel Beckett wrote a number of novels. They include a trilogy published in the 1950s which consists of the books with the English titles Molloy, Malone Dies, and which other?
US states are usually divided into counties, but which of the states consists of 64 divisions known instead as parishes?