An aunt had submitted the family’s names on a form, without telling them, and they got accepted for a quiz show on the condition that the elder son got rid of the beard. The show was for teams of two parents and two children and they’d never had a nineteen-year-old child before, not to mind one with a beard.
On the day, it became clear the two other families had seen the previous week’s episode, which formed the basis of the practice round. The elder son had not, which caused him to get very worried at the thought that they might make a show of themselves. Darkness fell and at teatime in the station canteen he was unable to eat. They were relying on him and he kept thinking they were going to look like fools.
Three pretty hostesses each had a family to mind. Theirs was a very slim redhead with her hair cut short and a Canadian accent. She was a part-time model. He said very little, hoping his parents and aunt wouldn’t strain their necks looking at the personalities or point their fingers at them. More relatives arrived but he was barely able to acknowledge their presence. He felt sick.
The dad of the family that had won the rehearsal then went and changed from one expensive suit to another, before the real thing, like it was just going to be a lap of honour. Behind the black drapes in the wings of the studio stood the show’s host, Mike Murphy, otherwise Ireland’s king of the candid camera. He was completely blasé with an affable smirk but, as he explained, he did this all the time.
He then kept them waiting while he talked sh*t interminably to the studio audience. Still hidden, they had to be careful not to trip over cables and loose lengths of timber. Old cameras hung from the ceiling and the elder son could hear his mother cursing under her breath.
In the real thing, though, the other families weren’t quite as sharp or clever as when they knew the questions in advance, while the scare meant our crew had their fingers firmly at the buttons at all times. Once they got going at all, the elder son felt like ice. They won, in terms of money and prizes and knocking out the other families, but the prizes varied in quality, with the worst being a generous five tins of paint. Contrary to Dungarvan lore, though, one prize that was not carried off was the sun roof for the family’s Volkswagen Beetle.
Then there was the matter of the shoot-out. The grand prize was a car. To get it, one person from the family had to move to a black leather chair in a spotlight and answer a series of questions. He could only afford to miss one out of six. The first asked him the year of the American Bicentennial. 1976. The second asked the name of the Biblical character who dreamed of a ladder going up to heaven. The film Jacob’s Ladder wouldn’t be made for years yet so he hadn’t a clue. He could afford no more misses. The third concerned the author of Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky. The fourth asked the language of Panama. Spanish.
He fell at the fifth. Not watching enough television had diminished his general knowledge of rum, sodomy and the lash (i.e. the Royal Navy). Nelson’s Victory had been in the news, not that he knew that or remembered the ship’s name.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
“Ah, I’m so sorry, you were very good,” said Mike.
He closed the show and the audience started to clap as the technicians came on to clear up. The question setter then told the boy in the hot seat what the last question would have been. It was something about Thomas Bowdler and 1616. The date would have given him the answer. Shakespeare.
The car was worth eight thousand at the time, which would have paid for both sons’ education, but that much just wasn’t meant to be. The episode lies preserved on one or two old video cassettes on which the car’s lights can be seen blinking in the background. They are still blinking, like Christine.