Friday, March 10, 2006

(170) Who (still) Wants To Be A Millionaire?

I sent a copy of Coincidences to a magazine called Weekend Chess.
A withering review said that it was difficult to say a serious word about it and that I, who clearly did want to be a millionaire, would do better to try getting back on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as I was unlikely to achieve such status from sales of my book.

That appeared in December 2000.
In the interim between their receiving the book in October and the review appearing, most of the following events occurred.

Perhaps another seventy to eighty times I rang in over the ten months following my appearance on WWTBAM?, but with no joy.

When in Mondariz, Spain in early September 2000 I chanced upon the last few minutes of the Spanish edition of the show on my hotel TV.
One of the earliest questions that a contestant was answering had the correct answer of "Coincidence".

In September 2000 I decided to make a tranche of calls, and, after making over a hundred more, on September 19th I received the call back telling me that I was again through to the last hundred, this time for a show to be recorded on September 27th.
The message said that I had until 5 p.m. on September 25th to ring back for the final qualifying question.

After our previous experience, Fiona suggested that I gen up on certain tables of facts and figures, including, naturally, the dates of English monarchs.
The next day they rang asking for me, but my wife stalled them.

I was still revising, you see.

They rang again on the 21st and she said that I was out but that I would definitely be in at 3 p.m. on the 23rd.
With only an hour or two to go before the fateful call, I was still trying to memorise such things as the number of feet in a mile (she repeatedly tested me on that, for I had told her that in an article on the show which I had read in a newspaper the previous year it was mentioned as one such qualifying question that had been asked asked).

At 2:35 my wife and child left the house, so that I might be undisturbed on the phone.
Fiona had also several times stressed that I ought to know the dates of Queen Elizabeth 1st, as she was, after Victoria, the longest reigning monarch, and I had already been asked about Victoria (see Entry 164).
I had been studying a list of the English Kings and Queens, but then I had the misconception that I was studying not the dates of their reigns, but of their lives, and, of course, that would have been incorrect data.

So at 2:40 I went to check Good Queen Bess’s dates in my copy of the 1975 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

As I rummaged to reach it I came across a mislaid library book: Jung, Synchronicity, and Human Destiny: C.G. Jung's Theory of Meaningful Coincidence by Ira Progoff.

I soon gathered that the initial dates that I had were the correct ones.

The call came through... and Fiona’s antennae were proved to be functioning, just not quite tuned in.

The question was
"How long, in feet, was the Queen Elizabeth liner, one of the longest ships ever built?"

I cursed under my breath... and ventured "One thousand and forty feet."

It took just a few frantic calls to establish that the right answer was 1032 feet. My guess was the closest, and so I once again got on to the show.

Studio 9 at Elstree... familiar territory.

At rehearsal, where I was of course recognised, I won two of the three practice Fastest Finger First competitions, and also got the answer to the third one correct. I noted that the design of the consoles had been amended.

In contrast to my earlier appearance, this time shortly before recording I was approached by a gentleman who introduced himself as responsible for publicity.

Great expectations,,.

It began with a roll-over contestant in the chair. She had reached £1000 on the previous show. Mr Tarrant told us that the Fastest Finger round question with which she had been presented was to place the four Harry Potter novels in the sequence of their being published. She had been able to do this as she had seen them all lined up on her grandson’s bookshelf. He also mentioned that she needed £8000 for a replacement hip operation, which she would then be able to have the very next day.
She reached £8,000 and received a congratulatory hug from the host. She then answered the 9th question correctly, to take her to £16,000, and still with two lifelines intact.

The £32,000 question was

"For which U.S. President did Dan Quayle serve as Vice President?"

The answer is George Bush.
Before the four alternatives appeared on screen she said that she was confident that it was Ronald Reagan. Reagan was one of the four names to come up, and she reaffirmed that it was he. Tarrant drew her attention to the existence of her fifty-fifty lifeline.
After pondering for a moment she elected to use that option... and was left with Ronald Reagan and George Bush as possibilities.
This seemed the last reassurance she needed and , having seen her options reduce from forty-two to four to two, affirmed that it was Ronald Reagan.

Poor Tarrant!
A wrong answer here would see her plummet to winnings of a mere £1000; insufficient for the operation.
Giving a splendid impression of a man trying hard not to appear as though he were telling the contestant that she was supplying the wrong answer, he reminded her that she still had her phone a friend lifeline.

After some deliberation she decided to use it. At the start of the show Tarrant had mentioned that at the show before, which was their one hundredth, they had had a party for previous winners. There the lady had met Peter Lee, who until then was the show’s biggest winner (see Entry 164).
He had offered his services as a friend to be phoned, and had been accepted. It was to him that she now turned.

Lee supplied the right answer.
As his thirty seconds of telephone time ran out he said "Oh! The lights have all gone out here!"
She gave Lee´s answer and thus moved on to the crucial £32,000 milestone. There was great relief in the studio, and Tarrant gave her a huge hug.

The eleventh question she failed to answer successfully, and so left. Fastest Finger time again.
The task was now

"Put these four Coronation Street marriages in the order in which they occurred".

I never watch the soap.
But the chap who won, taking only about four seconds, also did not know the answer, but he had the presence of mind to just guess! He declined to answer the tenth question, and left with £16,000.
The show was then halted for about twenty minutes whilst a studio light that had stopped working was replaced.

Then came the next Fastest Finger task:

"Starting with the earliest, put England, Spain, Brazil and USA in the order in which they hosted the soccer World Cup."

I did not know that Brazil had ever hosted it, but even that is no excuse for not figuring out, in under twenty seconds, that they must have come before the sequence England (1966), Spain (1982) and U.S.A. (1994).
I failed again.
Peter Hughes was the only person who got it right, in twelve seconds.
He won £32,000.

One might have possibly expected a third shot at getting into the chair, but the failed light problem, plus the additional time spent by the lady in the chair, had eaten into the available recording time, and so it all ended with Mr Hughes.

Once again the door of opportunity shut on me, and with the seven other sad also-rans I tumbled out of the studio into the cold night.

I left a copy of Coincidences with an assistant for her to pass on to Tarrant, and a late train brought me back in the small hours to my disappointed wife.

None the richer, I snuck into bed beside her.

This edition of the show was broadcast at 8 p.m. on Oct 2nd.
As it began Elstree studios rang my home and asked me if I might please return a shirt that they had loaned me when I was there.

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