Some eight months after I travelled down to Elstree Studios in Boreham Wood to appear in an episode of The Chase, the final recording was somewhat belatedly transmitted on Tuesday evening.
During the intervening time, any sense of genuine excitement or anticipation had long since disappeared, but as the seemingly interminable wait drew to a close, it was still a decidedly nervous viewer that settled down to watch his fifteen minutes (or so) of proverbial “fame”.
The show is recorded in small chunks with numerous on-set breaks, and a fair amount of recorded interaction is edited out of the final broadcast. So, as well as having forgotten quite a lot of the questions and conversation, I had no idea how the completed episode would be constructed – how I would be portrayed … and perceived.
It is often said that television “adds a few pounds”, so I was at least semi-prepared for the chubby face with the strangely recognisable voice that introduced himself as Richard from Middlesbrough. My fellow contestants were Liz, Ash and Jessica … I’ve stayed in touch with Jess, but that morning in the studio was the first and presumably last time I will meet the other two.
Liz was first to face the Chaser. She did well in her cash builder (£6,000), but then told Bradley Walsh (who is every bit as nice as he appears by the way) that she was quite keen to face Jenny Ryan because she was the “easiest to beat”.
Statistically, the “Vixen” is actually one of the hardest to beat … but much as the mock confrontation might make “good television”, I was cringing inside. Paul Sinha appeared – decent bloke … clever bloke – and duly dispatched his opponent after Liz contrived to throw away a three-step lead when she needed just one more correct answer to progress through to the Final Chase.
Her last question effectively asked about the length of reign of King George III. I happened to know he’d been on the throne for 60 years, and to my slight embarrassment, the camera picked me up mouthing the answer to Ash – after Liz had already given her response I hasten to add. Bradley must have seen (or been told) because as Liz’s fate was revealed, he looked over and said: “You knew that didn’t you, Rich?” and asked me for the dates in question.
“1760 to 1820.”
The face gave away nothing at all, but I was ever so smug inside..!
As Liz exited stage right (or left if you were the Chaser), Bradley introduced me as “King Richard”; and it was time for my cash builder. Interestingly, whilst I clearly remembered the two answers I got wrong (and the one pass), I could only recall a couple of the seven I managed to answer correctly. One was about the 1980s kids’ toy My Little Pony, and I had no memory at all of Bradley asking how I knew something so random….
“My Saturday hobby,” came my reply. Quite funny (well the Brad laughed), but I honestly couldn’t remember saying it.
My approach to both host and Chaser was always going to be totally respectful; and Paul actually had some very kind words as he took his seat. Beforehand, I had decided that I’d go for the higher offer if my cash builder was under £5,000 and stick if it was more. I therefore went for the £7,000, and Paul said I might regret it as I was, in his words, a “very, very good player”. I certainly didn’t see myself that way; I was also very nervous … oh, and a born coward.
I knew the answer to my first question, but nearly pressed the wrong button – firstly because the buttons are really small (like on a computer keyboard); and secondly because my hand was shaking so much. After that, it was basically a string of semi-educated guesses. Luck was certainly on my side as Paul got one wrong that I guessed correctly, but watching the show back, I couldn’t recall what I’d pressed and actually got the question wrong at home!
When I was one from home and four clear … the gift of quality guesswork suddenly deserted me. Within moments, the gap had been halved, but I was absolutely sure I knew the answer to the next question (which was about Dante’s “Divine Comedy”). I was all set to press B … until the third answer appeared and it sounded equally convincing.
Get it wrong, and I would be only one question away from being caught … after being four in front … on national television. I tried to look calm, but my heart was racing.
Bradley laughed after noticing me go to press and sharply pull back. In the end I forced myself to go with my gut instinct (and sadly, it looked like quite a large gut). B was correct, I was “home” and now I would be able to enjoy the full Chase experience. It was a good feeling.
Ash got back with an impressive £8,000 despite confidently stating that Penny Lane (as in The Beatles song) was in London, not Liverpool – there was quite a backlash on Twitter too … all a bit unnecessary, but thankfully it diverted attention away from a particularly poor choice I made to a question about ice cream flavours.
Jess duly boosted the imaginary pot by a further £5,000, and after Ash picked out ping-pong ball “B” (representing a set of questions) from a purple bag, the three of us got ready for the final instalment of the show. If one of us knew an answer, then fine, but our strategy was to go “one, two, press” and then pass or guess at any questions that weren’t immediately obvious, to waste as little time as possible.
The questions felt quite tricky … and the pressure of being against the clock, under lights, in front of television cameras all have a sudden and frustrating effect on your memory. But we got 19 – one short of the nominal target we had set ourselves.
It seemed competitive. The “Sinnerman” thought so too … before rattling off a virtually faultless round that saw us caught with fully 20 seconds remaining.
Paul only got two questions wrong – which we (or rather Ash and Jess) got right, so we couldn’t have done any more. On the day we probably needed another four correct answers (or Liz plus another three answers). Basically, however well we had done (and Paul was generous in victory), we had been hammered; but I’d rather have lost by a distance than been pipped with a second to go.
And that was that. A farewell handshake from Bradley Walsh and the adventure was over. It was a good experience, but too regimented to be totally enjoyable – no chance of any photos … in fact you don’t even get to meet the Chaser. Even on the tightest schedule, it would have taken two minutes to make the day really “special”. Thankfully, courtesy of my laptop’s snipping tool, I now have a couple of pictures to remember my brief foray into the world of television quiz shows … the day I won absolutely nothing, but also the day I was crowned “King Richard”.
all pictures copyright ITV