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Interview with Kevin Ashman 2009, World and European champion

-with additional help from former European Champion Nico Pattyn, and bronze medalist Harald Aastorp (for national teams, and bronze in the recent Nordic Championships

Congratulations with yet another title, Kevin!

-Thank you.

We’ll start with a rumour: Rumour has it that you supposedly stopped reading up on new subjects. Is this true?

-No, not at all.

So you have no intention of retiring any time soon?

-No, I still enjoy coming to the competitions, so I’ll still be reading.

So how did you become this good? Did you at some point decide to be the best?

-No, it was more of a gradual process, always reading up on stuff since I was a kid, through natural curiosity. But there was a point when I was in my early twenties, on a train trip from [to ] … where I just realised that there were a lot of subjects I just didn’t know much about. So after that, I decided to do something about it. And I started reading up.

This was about…. 25 years ago?

-Something like that.

And when did you enter your first pubquiz?

-Oh, it was probably when I was a teenager, a local pub in Winchester.

And now, you’re in a quiz league?

-Yes the London Quiz League.

Can you tell us a little about that?

-It’s a league, a series of matches where teams meet each other.

So it is not like a pub quiz, where everyone meets each other simultaneously?

-No, the format is duels, two teams at a time.

But not like in the EQC?

-No, it’s quite different. Each player on both teams must take turns in answering questions, without conferring. If he or she gets it right, the team receives two points. But if he or she is not sure about the answer, it is possible to defer to another person on the team, for one point.

Defer, but not to the entire team?

-No, only one person may answer.

And how is it decided who that person should be?

-We use hand signals. A fist is held up if one player is certain of the answer. A wobbly gesture if maybe he knows it, and another gesture if perhaps they know it, but is very uncertain.

Do all teams use such signals?

-Yes, they may have different signals. It isn’t formalised in any way.

How old is this league?

-Oh, about ten years I believe.

And now you’re a regular member of the quiz-series Eggheads, teaming up with a number of other fine quizzers. This is a program which is on just about every day, where you meet a new challenger each time. What kind of teams do you meet?

-All sorts of people. Teams typically find each other through work or they are friends, or sometimes celebrity teams.

And how is it played?

-It is played in 5 rounds, with teams of five players. The challenging team must choose a category, and one member must choose which one of us they want to duel with in that category. Them both players leave the studio and enter the «question room», where they answer three multiple choice questions. If no winner emerges, sudden death questions are used, without multiple choice. The winner will be allowed to play in the final round, while the loser is not. So in theory, a team can be down to one player in the final round.

And so if you lose, what do the winning team receive?

-That depends on our winning streak. If we’ve won the past 49 matches, they will win 50.000 pounds.

That’s not bad. And how often do you win the matches?

-We win about 97-98% of the matches I reckon. Maybe more.

You used to be in the civil service, working for the Culture, Media and Sport department, but can you make a living off the Eggheads series?

-Oh, yes, definitely.

Input from Harald: And is it a good job?

-Yes. I mean, the days when we do the recording of the shows can get quite long, 13-14 hours, as we normally do 5 shows a day during the season, but I quite enjoy it.

You didn’t attend the first World Championships, back in 2003?

-No, that was the time when we first started taping the Eggheads-series, it coincided with the WQC, so I was unable to go.

But since then you’ve entered every championships, both WQC and EQC. How did all this come about? We know a British team met a Belgian team for a duel back in 2004, and were thoroughly trounced.

-Yes indeed, their knowledge was quite different from ours, they had perhaps a deeper knowledge of history and fine arts subjects, whereas we came from a more pop culture oriented quizzing environment so to speak. We never had a chance! But we had to learn from the experience to be able to compete with them.

Nico, how did all this come about, the international quizzing, do you remember? [Nico Pattyn, European Champion 2007)

Nico: It was Stephen, he made some contacts in the UK, I think it was with Trevor Montague, and they set it up.

And the duelling format, who came up with that?

Nico: That was also Stephen, he invented it.

That’s brilliant. A really well thought out concept. Very crowd-pleasing.
Kevin, in addition to Eggheads, you’ve also been on Mastermind?

-Yes, back in 1987. I did not win then, but entered again and won it 1995.

As far as I know, you set a record then. 41 correct answers in 60 seconds. Has that been beaten?

-No, it still stands.

Readers, as you may well know, Mastermind is a long running British quiz show, where the contestants answer questions of general knowledge, and also in a subject of their own choosing. What was your special subject?

-The first time [citation needed] and then in the later final, I chose the Zulu wars.

This year you will compete in the pairs tournament with Mark Bytheway. When did you first meet Mark?

-Oh, about ten years ago.

You’ve been pairing up for quite some time then?

-Yes. We haven’t won it yet, which may in part be because we have a lot of overlap in knowledge, but we’ll try again.

(Note: Ashman/Bytheway came in third this year, incidentally for the third time.)

Harald: Do you ever fear not remembering the things you know, in competition?

-No, never. I don’t think about that at all. I mean I sometimes, before a Championships put in a little effort to brush up on basic stuff, like capitals, which would be embarassing to miss, but other than that, I don’t fear that.

It certainly doesn’t seem to inhibit you. Kevin Ashman, thank you for talking to us!

For interviews with other quizzers, see here: News Archive