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British Expat Newsletter:
17 May 2006

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Trivia
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

Are you a trivia addict?

Trivia quizzes seem to have exploded in popularity in the last twenty-odd years. Of course, radio and TV quizzes were around long before the 1980s – remember Robert Robinson, with “Brain of Britain” and “Ask The Family”? – but the people who took part in all these programmes were generally considered somewhat swottish, or even geeky. (One TV comedy sketch show did a spoof of “Ask The Family” where the entire family, even the kids, were quantity surveyors.) It wasn’t even as if you could do anything very practical with the knowledge – it was just facts you were taught at school and which some people seemed to retain better than others.

But when “Trivial Pursuit” was launched on the world in 1982 it captured the imagination of a whole generation. Not that it was suddenly cool to know obscure stuff. But the things that were being asked weren’t just the usual dry “What is the capital of Ethiopia?” type of thing any more – there was far more about the kind of thing that the players grew up with. OK, it might not be useful in itself to know which golfer was known as “Ohio Fats” (Jack Nicklaus) or which planet Mork (of “Mork and Mindy”) came from (it was the planet Ork). But it could win you another piece of pie and get you to the middle of the board more quickly, and you could get embroiled in all kinds of arguments about the answers on the cards too. (And yes, some of them were wrong.) And, as if to prove that trivia was no longer just for boffins and schoolmasters, the 1980 “Mastermind” competition was taxi-driver Fred Housego.

So by the late 1980s the ground was prepared for trivia to enter the pub. Helping it on the way was the increasing sophistication of integrated circuits. Now that thousands of quiz questions could be stored on a few silicon chips, you could have a quiz machine in every pub. So not only were trivia a way of passing the time, you could win prizes too – and without having to hope that the BBC or ITV picked you to take part on one of their shows. In the early days people could even make tidy amounts of money by familiarising themselves with the answers for a certain model of quiz machine (say, the “Give Us A Break” machine – remember them?) and then travelling round the country to “milk” them. (It’s doubtful whether that’s possible these days; the question banks are so much bigger.)

Pub landlords quickly cottoned on to the fact that a lot of people seemed to enjoy answering quiz questions, especially if they got something for getting them right. So at about the same time as they barred the machine milkers, they also started holding pub quizzes. That way they could keep the size of the payout under control AND draw in a big drinking crowd at the same time. The pub quiz was an overnight success, although it’s had its dark side too. Alcohol, competition, disputed facts, prizes (and pride) at stake… any wonder if there’s the occasional scrap? A far cry from Bamber Gascoigne and “University Challenge”.

The big leap came in 1998, with the launch of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” in the UK. This was to the National Lottery what the quiz machine was to the fruit machine. OK, to a certain extent you were still throwing your money in and hoping your number would come up – the questions asked when you first phoned (at premium rate) to apply to take part weren’t massively challenging. But at least you felt you were relying on yourself a bit rather than purely on blind chance. The game’s been very popular worldwide, with something like 70 national or regional variants. Inevitably, with so much money at stake there’s been some shenanigans – Major Charles Ingram, who “won” in September 2001, was convicted of “procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception” (in essence, fraud) after he was found to have been prompted by coughing signals from fellow-contestant Tecwen Whittock.

Interestingly, although “WWTBA Millionaire” has been so popular, the same can’t be said of quizzes generally. There are two (or even three) thriving quiz leagues near where we live, but they’re all British-dominated, with very little participation from other nationalities (I can think of one American question-master and one St Vincentian who takes part – I’m struggling to come up with others.) The German contingent around here don’t even seem to understand the concept. Perhaps it’s because there’s no money involved – after all, why return yourself to the classroom for two hours otherwise?

On which subject, one place where trivia is very popular internationally is in English-language teaching. Apparently it’s a very useful tool to teach how to phrase questions, and also how to listen to them and understand. Traditional language-learning questions – “What is your name?”, “What is the weather like today?”, “What time is it?” and so on – only get you so far, and they’re rather boring. Besides being fun, trivia quiz language learning gives you a wider vocabulary and a better grasp of grammar, and you learn stuff along the way too.

Who said trivia was just useless knowledge?

Do you have anything to say about this topic, or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us about it?

Virtual Snacks

“Private Eye” magazine has a regular feature, “Dumb Britain”, which reproduces some of the sillier answers given to quiz questions up and down the country. Some of them really make you cringe!
Private Eye: Dumb Britain

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Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • chicken fox seed
  • prince henry the navegator
  • charily dimmocki
  • script the blandest thing on the menu sketch
  • previous man city mascots against man united
  • christian chastity belts store
  • why are people rude on transport
  • selling your permanet resident
  • blackberries annihilation
  • noughties no originality
  • lenny bruce introduced yiddish slang
  • turkey penis sex

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

British Expat Magazine


“A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation.”

“Saki” (Hector Hugo Munro), author (1870-1916)


A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements: religion, royalty, sex, and mystery. The prize-winning essay read:

“My God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did it?”

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