Each Spring Alex takes a mischievous glee in descending upon Conway Hall in Bloomsbury - the home of the world’s oldest Ethical Society - bringing with him a selection of the most unethical types imaginable: bankers, brokers, fund managers, financial PRs and lawyers, to compete for the Masterley Trophy in the Alex City Quiz.

The Quiz came into being at the onset of the Global Financial Crisis. Like Quantitative Easing or Zero Interest Rates, it was designed to bring short-term relief to the financial community and smooth things over until the global economy recovered. Needless to say, almost ten years later, it’s still in place.

So it was that on the evening of May 8th 2018 fifteen teams of corporate hopefuls gathered to take part in the 9th annual (we may missed one along the way) Alex City Quiz. The occasion was hosted, as ever by Alex writer and luncher Russell Taylor, and Marcus Berkmann, journalist, author and Round Britain Quiz panelist - the John Julius Norwich de nos jours

Alex himself sent apologies for his absence with the excuse that he had to attend a Mifid II symposium. As the country was experiencing a mini heatwave it was more likely that he was to be found, like most right-minded folk, enjoying a Pimm’s in a riverside pub. A few other reasons for non-attendance were received. Damian Beeley from Haggie Partners, normally a die-hard at this event, had bowed out due the fact that it was his 50th birthday, an excuse adjudged by the assembled quizzers to be feeble. 

Among the teams who had shown up there was a nice selection of former winners, perennial hopefuls and a few newbies. There was a surprising smattering of young people (young in quizzing terms = under 50) and even several women. 

Amid the ranks of the previous winners were Barney Rabble, The Dodgy Briefs and the loquaciously named I’m not the Quizmaster, I’m a Very Naughty Boy.

The ever-hopefuls included The Drones from Buck’s Club (Bertie Wooster’s Drones Club in the Jeeves novels was based on Buck’s - as any reputable quizzer will know) and Hope Dies Last, who in their very choice of name had already set themselves up for failure.

New faces included The Old Hoares (before anyone starts tweeting #metoo they are all ex-Hoare Govett brokers) and Oonagh Paloma Blanca, who despite being tyros had obviously done some assiduous research and discovered that Russell has a six-year-old daughter called Una whose favourite song is (natch) Una Paloma Blanca. The weak point in their plan was that Una was in bed back home and not in any position to influence the marking of their papers. 

The Drones had even made the unorthodox attempt to bribe Eleanor Tomkins - the sculptor of the Masterley Trophy - by inviting her to dinner at Buck’s. She accepted their offer but felt obliged to point out that she had simply created the trophy and held no sway over who it would be awarded to. 

This year’s charitable cause was the Good Grief Project, a charity set up by Jimmy Edmonds and Jane Harris to provide help for bereaved families especially those mourning the loss of a child. Jimmy and Jane duly even gamely fielded a team at the quiz.

Obviously anyone associated with such a beacon of moral virtue as Alex would never countenance cheating, but all the same the quizmasters had to remind participants to switch off their mobile phones before the quiz started. Both their work phones and their personal ones, that is. Oh, and also the secret pay-as-you-go one in their inside pocket that their spouses and compliance officers don’t know about.

A few teams elected to play their Joker (which doubles the points scored) on Round One. There is a certain logic to this: the first round of a quiz tends to be easy and also once you’ve played your Joker your team is spared having to waste time in endless arguments about which round to play it on. Plus, if things go well you have the psychological advantage of taking an early lead. Round One actually proved to be a little tricky, but this did not deter Oonagh Paloma Blanca who scored full marks (20 points doubled up to 40 with the Joker) and went into an immediate lead from which, it must be said, they never looked back. 

Rounds Two and Three were connections rounds. In “Come What May” all the answers were words which go with the word “May“ (Brian, Theresa, pole, flower etc). In “Elementary” the answers were all names of chemical elements. (eg Which London theatre built in 1910 has hosted the Royal Variety Show a record 41 times, most recently last year? A: The Palladium.). Most teams cottoned onto the link very quickly. This gave the quizmasters the chance to finish off the round with (what would otherwise be) a fiendishly difficult question: What was the third single released by Nirvana off their seminal album Nevermind in 1992? A: Lithium.  

At the halfway point the scores were impressively high in a quiz which Marcus had warned was “hard” (and that’s hard from the viewpoint of a Round Britain Quizzer.. ). A break for dinner was taken (sandwiches and quiches - which might have further explained Alex’s absence). Over their meal the quizzers pondered “Ton Up” The Picture Round. This involved identifying famous people who were born 100 years ago and featured Leonard Bernstein, Spike Milligan, Rita Hayworth et al. The most satisfying inclusion was actor Roger Delgado, famous for playing the original Master in Dr Who. Any bloke aged over 50 in the room recognised him instantly. No one else had a clue. Russell and Marcus had devised this round - as they had the entire quiz - as ever over a few beers in the Famous Royal Oak in Muswell Hill back in January. At the time their clever supplemental question on the Picture Round was to have been: Which of these people will actually celebrate their 100th birthday this year? Uncooperatively Billy Graham (the answer) went and died in February at the age of ninety-nine and a half, thus selfishly depriving teams of the chance to earn a bonus point. 

After dinner Harry the Piano took to the old joanna to perform the live music round. This is a way of rooting out any cheating based on under-the-table use of Shazam.  Artificial intelligence can instantaneously identify any piece of music ever recorded, but is utterly incapable of recognising songs even as well known as Baker Street or the Harry Potter theme tune, when improvised by Harry on a slightly out-of-tune upright piano with a dodgy G key in the treble. The Round was entitled Nine to Five and featured songs with jobs in the title (Son of a Preacher Man, I Shot the Sheriff etc). In devising the round Russell and Harry had flouted one of the fundamental tenets of pub quiz music rounds - namely that “music” began in 1955 - and had controversially included a couple of pieces of classical music (The Barber of Seville and the G&S staple A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One). However it seems that teams were not deterred by this quizzing heresy and many scored full marks on the round.

It remained only to complete the final round of general knowledge questions. The result of the quiz was already looking like a formality. Oonagh Paloma Blanca had only got one question wrong the whole evening and they proceeded to score full marks on the final round and romped home Manchester-City-style. Harry the Piano’s team, Barney Rabble, came second by six points. There would have had to be a serious Stewards’ Enquiry if they’d won the quiz for a second year.

It only remained to draw the Snowball Round. Earlier in the evening the quizzers had been invited to place their business card (those of them that still possessed such things in this digital age) attached to a £20 note into a bowl: something that no doubt is gross defiance of GDPR and will be halted by the regulators next year. One of the cards would be drawn out at random and the mobile number dialled. The person whose phone rang would have to answer a simple question about Alex to win the day’s signed, framed original cartoon. The first card drawn out contained only a landline number. Russell demurred at the idea of leaving a voicemail and waiting for the person to call back the next day to answer their question and claim their prize. Or perhaps the quizzer in question was just trying to show off that he had gone back to the office to do some work. In the event a second card was drawn. The assembled quizzers were invited to switch their mobiles back on (as if they had ever really switched them off) and the number was duly dialled. Many of the more seasoned participants simultaneously dialled their own mobile numbers from a friend’s phone and tried to pretend that they were the selected one. Amid a cacophony of diversionary ringtones, the correct mobile was finally answered. This belonged to Alastair Macaulay - a member of Oonagh Paloma Blanca, the team who had already won the quiz. In view of this Russell (rather uncharitably on this charitable occasion) hoped that Alistair wouldn’t know the answer the the question. Sadly, it turned out that despite claiming only a sketchy knowledge of the Alex cartoon, he managed to guess that the media company which disapproves of suit-wearing bankers and whose flotation Alex had recently worked on was the Soho House.  Oonagh Paloma Blanca duly went home laden with all the spoils of the evening. And they hadn’t even needed to make use of that influence with the quizmaster. 

The booby prize (a copy of The Prince of Wales (Highgate) Quiz Book - edited by Marcus Berkmann) went to the team from the charity - Good Grief. They were not seasoned quizzers and were very happy to suffer the ignominy and shame of getting the wooden spoon in return for also receiving the proceeds of the evening, which came to £5,526. 

With formal proceedings now concluded the quizzers repaired to various local pubs, where more sensible people had been sitting drinking and enjoying the unseasonably balmy weather all evening. 

Quiz illustration