In the first part of our new series looking at Lancaster City Quiz League as it marks its 50th anniversary this year, CHERRY CANOVAN examines the early days of the league and how it works
The world is set to celebrate a huge anniversary in 2019, marking 50 years since the Moon Landings.
But while Neil Armstrong’s small step was captivating mankind, something momentous was happening in our small city.
Yes, 50 years ago witnessed the birth of a local institution – the Lancaster City Quiz League.
One of the oldest continuously-running quiz leagues in the country, it takes place on Monday nights in pubs across the city, as well as Morecambe and the villages of the Lune Valley.
Over the years some 100,000 questions have been asked to teams throughout the area from Galgate to Silverdale, on subjects ranging from quiz staples such as sports, music and films to more abstruse topics including trams and embroidery.
The league has seen some illustrious players, including 1991 Mastermind champion Stephen Allen who played first for the Moorlands A and then for the Gregson B.
Stephen told the Guardian that the quiz league had helped him towards his victory by providing valuable quizzing practice, but that its beneficial effects went beyond that.
“What I always loved about playing competition team quizzing on a Monday night went well beyond simple winning or losing,” said Stephen.
“What made it buzz was the catch up with teammates who had become friends and conjuring up a good craic with the other side, as hosts or guests.
“Enjoying the unforced interaction, humour and spirit makes for a good social night out at pubs and clubs in and around Lancaster, Morecambe and Carnforth.”
Members have also featured more recently on TV quiz shows including Diane Howe, who won on The Chase, and Roger Moorhouse who appeared on BBC One show Impossible.
The Lancaster Guardian will be featuring interviews with Diane and Roger in coming weeks.
The league has seen its share of drama. In 2007, the entire league’s weekly subs were stolen from the Lord Ashton pub, together with the envelopes they were in – which also contained the results of that week’s quiz.
Organisers were left frantically ringing round the teams to find out what the scores had been. The incident led to weekly payments being replaced with an annual subscription.
City quizzers have been immortalised in print; Ian Marchant’s book The Longest Crawl devotes nearly a whole chapter to the league and the author’s experiences playing in it. LCQL was also an inspiration for 1979 TV play The Quiz Kid, starring Helen Mirren!
The quiz works differently to a typical pub quiz, with every quizzer having their own question in each round.
A correct answer gathers three points; if the player cannot answer the question passes to their own team for one point, and finally to the other team for one point.
There is no verbal conferring; instead team members indicate how sure they are that they know the answer by holding up between one and five fingers.
Teams of four take it in turns to play at their ‘home’ pub or ‘away’ – visiting someone else’s bar, meaning that players experience a wide range of local hostelries while flexing their trivia muscles. The home team provides a quiz master who reads the questions.
There are eight rounds per quiz, and it is surprisingly rare for players to get all eight of their own questions right, known as a ‘run-through’; those that do are recorded in a ‘Hall of Fame’ on the league’s website.
Although records from the past are patchy, what is believed to be the highest ever individual score of 43 was recorded in the 2016-17 season by Richard Marshall, then captain of the Apothecary team (now the Brown Cow).
The following year Richard’s teammate Bob Brown performed another unique feat, getting a run-through one week but scoring a fat zero on another occasion during the season.
The 2016-17 season also saw the Boot and Shoe B, one of the league’s most consistent current performers, rack up a record team score of 101 in the process of defeating Halton Social Club.
Unlike some quizzes which buy in lists of questions, the Lancaster trivia tests are all home-grown, with teams taking it in turns to have a week off from playing to set the quiz.
The league currently has 34 teams across three divisions, although at its high point there were a huge total of 107 teams and seven divisions.
Although the lower number of teams reflects the fact that numbers of pubs are in decline – more than a quarter of pubs across the UK have closed since 2001 – organisers are keen to attract new players and teams to join.
Quizzing has brought joy to many Lancastrians over the years. Married couple Barry and Lesley Guise, currently of the Eagle’s Head team in Over Kellet, have played in a succession of pubs since the 1970s.
They said: “It’s always a good excuse to get out in convivial company on a Monday night - especially after a dismal start to the working week.
“We’ve made lots of friends among all sorts of people we’d never have otherwise met.”
Paul Legon, chair of the league’s committee and captain of the Hest Bank B team, has played for a variety of teams since 1988.
He said: “The league has been a large part of my life for many years and it is a great asset to the Lancaster area.”
To celebrate the league’s 50th anniversary, the Lancaster Guardian will be running a series of articles over the next few months, including profiles of local teams, interviews with players who have had TV quizzing success, and a series of quiz questions to get you puzzling.
Putting the IQ in liquor since 1968
The league was founded by the Licensed Victualler’s Association – AKA pub landlords – to address very low takings on Monday nights.
The idea was that hosting quizzes would provide a new income stream on a night when people otherwise tended to stay at home.
To add a further enticement, landlords decided to provide food to teams during the half-time break, a tradition that continues in many pubs to this day. Recent favourites among players have been roast beef and turkey sandwiches at the Silverdale Hotel, and pizzas at the Palatine.
Barry Maguire’s team has been based at the Dog and Partridge for 20 years.
He said: “We’ve seen at least seven landlords come and go and I have to say we have always been exceptionally well looked after by them all. The fantastic half time hospitality at the Dog has always been a talking point amongst visiting teams and I think we have all gained a few pounds from our late evening suppers.”
Fifty years on, the league is still providing valuable trade to participating bars on a quiet night; players estimate that as many as half a million pints and soft drinks may have been bought by quizzers over the years, meaning that it has been a great boost to the city’s pubs.
All of which makes the league’s motto of ‘drinkers and thinkers’ very apt!
How can I get involved?
Are you a trivia fiend who is looking for something a bit more competitive than the table quiz at your local, or do you just fancy a regular night out and the opportunity to make some new friends?
Lancaster City Quiz League offers new players of any ability a warm welcome – although it does count some top-flight quizzers among its numbers, there are plenty of recreational players as well.
There are two ways to join:
*Join an existing team. Pubs including the Gregson B team and more are currently looking for new players to join them, or we can put you in touch with a team based in a pub near you;
*Start a new team at your favourite pub. Just get a group of friends together and approach the landlord to see if they can reserve some space for you on a Monday night. Don’t worry if your chosen pub already has a team, as many have two squads on the go. There will be an opportunity for new teams to join the league later on in the season.
If you’re interested in joining, please get in touch with committee member Jo Hardman on info@lanccityquizleague and he will help you find a team or a venue. Pub landlords who are interested in hosting a team are also very welcome to contact Jo.