Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Frontline Club

Last night my friend Marcus Berkmann, the Spectator columnist and quiz master from the Prince of Wales Highgate pub quiz (the toughest one in London), held a quiz at The Frontline Club in Paddington. I've been wanting to go to this journalist's private club for a while, for they have interesting events, talks and film showings. 
Opposite St. Mary's hospital, the club is upstairs from the restaurant. Entering a room with tall windows and red leather sofas, Marcus found a place for me on a team led by Jonathan Foreman, a literary PR. Jonathan immediately demanded £20. Taken aback, I asked why.
"for a bottle of wine" he replied jauntily
"but I will only drink a glass. I'm driving." I managed to respond, feeling wrong-footed. I'm old fashioned enough to expect to be bought a drink by a gentleman.
That was the right response.
He back-tracked "oh I suppose you can buy a glass then."
A glass of Chardonnay was £4 and very nice too.
I sat down with the team. Foreman demanded £5 for the quiz. Suspicious of him now I said "but I am Marcus' guest".
"Doesn't matter" he insisted and pocketed the fiver. 
The rest of the team 'The foremen' ( I quipped that we should be called 'The foreskin' but they didn't go for it. Maybe I'm a little rough for this club) consisted of a woman and 3 men. The woman, Helen Castor, was pretty and smart. She is writing a book on medieval queen's tentatively entitled 'She-wolves' which will include Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor. Elizabeth 1st is technically an 'early Modern' era Queen and will not be in the book. I hope she finishes soon, this is exactly the sort of book that I love. I mentioned the historic British tolerance of female leadership and the 'salic law' in France, which did not allow a female to become Queen in her own right.
"Oh they just made that up, the French. They had a choice between a 4 year old girl, direct line to the throne, and an older man who was already running the country and they just made up this law, pretending it had been around forever" said Helen.
The men in the team were Jonathan and two of his stable of writers whose names I have unfortunately forgotten. They were older and one of them, very charming, looked just like Australian cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson.
Writing a quiz is an art.
"A good quiz" says Marcus "is when anybody feels they have a shot at answering the questions. At the Prince of Wales I aim for the lowest score to be about 40% and the highest 80%"
"Do you change the quiz depending on the audience?"
"Yes. I knew the teams here would be well-travelled and well read. The range of scores here is between 50% and 85%"
Our team won by one point. It was hard for me to be taken seriously at first by the rest of the team. They didn't know me, plus I look younger than my age, which can sometimes be a disadvantage. Older men assume I'm a young flippertygibbet! Helen was shit hot, particularly at the 'books of films and their authors' round. Sir Les Patterson also managed to pull a few great answers out of the bag. I excelled at the French 'text speak' round, a lucky one for me, as I have spent so many years in France. The perfect quiz team, one that can answer general knowledge, is gender balanced with a wide age range. You could say it's a practical exercise in democracy.
Our prize was a book on the Middle East and a drink each. I ordered a Baileys. When I went to collect it from our table it had been drunk. The team told me that Jonathan had handed it around to others. I asked him and he denied it.
Marcus bought me a replacement.


  1. I would like to invite you to join my group in facebook in battling the cheaters in pub quizzes using their phones. It's a little unfair that if you've got the money to own one, that you can cheat and receive all the glory of winning your local pub quiz.

    Let's get united to Stop Pub Quiz Rascals

  2. A worthy cause. I will join. Although I have been known to cheat in the past I am now reformed.


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