People worry me. People who drop litter. People who don’t bother to vote. People crossing roads who stare at their mobile phones instead of at me when I am haring towards them on my bike. People who don’t have their money ready when getting on a bus when they’ve had at least ten minutes at the bus stop in which to fumble for their change. People who think train doors open automatically and just stand there. People who use outdoor voices in restaurants and invariably pick the table next to mine. People who pronounce nuclear nucular. People who say like all the time.
But the people who worry me most are those who appear on television quiz shows. Now I’m retired I get to watch a lot of daytime and early evening telly, and so I’m getting to be quite an expert on dim Britain. In fact, it could almost be my specialist subject on Mastermind.
It worries me that someone thinks that the answer to the question ‘Name a country ending in two consonants’ might be Paris. Or that that a fully grown adult thinks the American War of Independence took place in the fourteenth century. Or that someone believes that a monosyllabic word has three syllables or that Wuthering Heights was written by Jane Eyre. All of which I have cringingly witnessed from my sofa.
What really worried me was when a woman’s response to ‘Which biblical character was crucified on a hill called Calvary?’ was a fully confident ‘Ah, I know this one. Joan of Arc!’ The questioner remained admirably implacable. What is even more worrying is that these people often turn out to be teachers. Goodness me, what knowledge are they imparting to our children? When the deputy head of a primary school admits that geography is not their best subject and then proves it by declaring that the only one of the Channel Islands that has a railway is the United Kingdom, to tell you the truth I feel mighty relieved that I don’t actually have any kids.
I daresay it’s partly rabbit in the headlights syndrome. Being in front of an audience in a television studio and having random questions fired at you is undoubtedly daunting. As an actor who was notorious for forgetting my lines, even when I had written the script myself, I would, like a recent contestant, probably be the first to answer that a romantic poet beginning with B was Benjamin Britten. I nearly found out once as I was shortlisted for Deal or No Deal. Mind you, that one is really a glorified raffle and a contestant’s a main skill would be keeping up the pretence that one has a game plan and that one found the presenter not at all annoying. And being an actor, I could have done that easy peasy and won a fortune.
But the phone call never came.