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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 13:44 GMT
Not just a trivia matter
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Noel Edmonds
The dispute arose over a quiz answer involving Noel Edmonds
A row over a pub quiz question has resulted in a 17,500 legal fight. But why does answering trivia questions over a pint ignite such passion?

It started with Noel Edmonds and ended in Luton County Court.

A row over a pub quiz question has resulted in a quizmaster successfully suing a contestant for defamation after he accused him of "cheating" over a question about hosts of the National Lottery draw. He won 5,000 in damages and estimated costs of 12,500.

It may only be a quiz where people rarely win more than the cash to cover the cost of their pork scratchings and a taxi home, but the pub quiz can bring out the worst in normally sane people.

The transformation of contestants from when they walk into the pub to when they leave is marked. They usually enter civilised and good humoured and leave bitter, irrational and extremely hostile - sometimes even in the back of a police van.

I took two American friends to a quiz once and they thought it was some sort of registered insanity, they just didn't get it at all
Author Marcus Berkmann
"I once attended a pub quiz in Bristol where a dispute over an answer resulted in a wild west-style brawl and the police had to be called," says publishing executive Helen Lanwell.

"Arrests were made, including the quizmaster. The competition was so fierce the questions were taken to the police cells and the quiz continued behind bars. The lone member of my team who was arrested didn't manage to win the contest for us. They were all released without charge later."

So desperate is the need to win that some people will go to any lengths. One homeowner bribed a tenant with free board to be on his pub quiz team after spotting her penchant for trivia.

According to Marcus Berkmann, author of quiz culture book Brain Men, the pub quiz is mostly a British phenomenon and a relatively recent one. While some pubs have held quizzes for many years, the idea really caught on after the success in the mid-1980s of Trivial Pursuit.

He believes quizzing is good for the British, allowing the nation to drop its stiff upper lip, loosen up and behave like sulky eight-year-olds.

"If you're not a sporting person there are few places where a grown up can play and show off, a good pub quiz can be liberating and thrilling," he says.

Fact lovers

This thrill does not translate to non Brits. Berkmann says few countries outside the UK have such quizzes.

"I did come across a pub quiz night in Swaziland during my research but it was run by and full of ex-pats. I took two American friends to a quiz once and they thought it was some sort of registered insanity, they just didn't get it at all."

Times columnist Robert Crampton attends his local pub quiz every week, detailing his trials and tribulations in his column.

He says the obsession with pub quizzes could come down to our love of facts.

"The French say the British like facts and displaying information rather than theorising like themselves. Maybe there's some truth in that and it can explain the phenomenon of the pub quiz."


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

We used to do a pub quiz a few years ago at our local until we noticed that the same team seemed to be winning each week. We found out from the bar staff that one team member would go to another pub earlier in the week where the quiz master would do the same quiz, and keep a copy of the answers... The prize was only a half bottle (between the whole team)
Alan, Glasgow, Scotland

I hope the quizmaster and contestant's legal people were limited to teams of four.
Mark Mitchell, Aberdeen

My local's pub quiz has become an essential part of the week-end for both my close friends and I. I do agree with everything the article has highlighted. Emotions surface very quickly during the pub quiz, superstition is employed and friendships of over 20 years are often on the line. At times there is genuine hatred for other teams we know are cheating, by using blue chip mobile phones or popping around to their houses to jump on the internet. Forgive me but I found myself avoiding a bloke in the supermarket last, whom I would usually chat to, because my mate found him on his mobile checking an answer, during a visit to the loo. Sorry for being so sad.
Peter Barrett, Birmingham, UK

Mobile phones have killed the pub quiz for me. It's now just a test of who can text their brainy mates the quickest.
Colin, London, UK

Pub Quizzes are also popular in Australia - at least in Sydney, and not just among ex-pats. On a Wednesday night there are at least three within a five minute walk, and it's one of the busiest nights in the week. It helps to know your rugby and cricket if you want to win though!
Richard Bradley, Paisley, UK

We had a very similar situation happen last night. The question was, Which part of the body has a crown and root. To which just about everybody in the pub answered, head. But no, the correct answer given by the quizmaster was teeth! Now call me picky but crowns aren't an original part of your anatomy so shouldn't be given as part of an answer. Much arguing ensued but to no avail the quizmaster wouldn't move. I feel it's all part of the fun.
Matt Wright, York

I went to a pub quiz with several friends each thursday at Uni, and this one week ther prize was 150. We were joint first with another team and just before the last round, the team marking our paper left the pub. We were therefore left to mark our own paper, and surprise surprise we got full marks. one of team, however, didn't see the brighter side of our cheating, and refused her share of the prize money. We haven't spoken to her since.
Ed, Crewe

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