Edinburgh's best known quiz-master and 2020 Mastermind champion Dave McBryan has all the answers

WHEN Fred Housego won the BBC television quiz Mastermind in 1980, it changed his life.

By Liam Rudden
Monday, 11th May 2020, 4:33 pm
Updated Monday, 11th May 2020, 4:44 pm
Mastermind 2020 Champion and Edinburgh Quiz-master Dave McBryan
Mastermind 2020 Champion and Edinburgh Quiz-master Dave McBryan

The Scot who was driving a London black cab for a living at the time, quickly became a television and radio personality.

Someone who knows how it feels to win the prestigious competition is Edinburgh quiz-master Dave McBryan, who was crowned the 2020 Mastermind earlier this month. Dave, who before lockdown hosted quizzes in pubs around the Capital (including The Southsider, The Pear Tree and Dagda Bar, had found himself competing against 95 other contenders to reach the final of the long-running show.

Making the last six, he chose the ‘View Askewniverse films by Kevin Smith’ as his specialist subject for the final and admits that, unlike most, he was more nervous answering questions on his specialist subject than those in the general knowledge round.

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Mastermind 2020 Champion Dave McBryan hosts his quiz at The Southsider, Edinburgh

“A lot of contestants do fret about general knowledge but for me it was kind of the other way round because general knowledge is what I do. Okay, there will always be a couple of answers you don’t getbut, barring an absolute disaster, I know I’ll do reasonably well. The thing about specialist rounds is that you never know how deep the questions are going to go. As it turned out, they weren’t too bad.”

With a winning 23 points Dave claimed the coveted title after breathing a massive sigh of relief.

“It was very nerve wracking, I thought I hadn’t set a big enough target,” he explains. When I sat down after my questions, I thought the most likely outcome was that I was going to lose by a point or two because I’d made a couple of silly errors. I thought, ‘If I lose by a point or two I’m going to be regretting those mistakes for years’.”

Originally from Dublin, Dave came to the Capital in the 90s to go to university and “just fell in love with the city and never left”. And it was while at university that he also fell into the world of quizzing, quite by accident.

Mastermind winner Dave McBryan with presenter John Humphrys

He recalls, “I’ve been immersed in quizzing for donkeys and have been writing pub quizzes for more than 25 years now, but it all came about by accident when I was a student. The students’ society I was involved in was putting on some events to get people in and came up with the idea of a pub quiz. I got roped in to do some questions. It was a success so we did it again... it ended up becoming a weekly thing.”

That first quiz was in what was then The Junction Bar, on West Preston Street. “By the time I’d graduated, I’d written thousands of questions and thought I might as well start making some money out of them and so began doing paid pub quizzes. I’ve been doing them ever since.”

It’s safe to say that quizzing has become Dave’s life - he even met his wife Lindsay at a pub quiz. “She was a regular at my quiz at the Dagda Bar,” reveals the 46-year-old, who also competes on the national and international quiz circuit.

Despite having years of pub quizzes behind him, however, Dave only really began to get involved in the competitive quiz scene in 2013. Consequently when he won Channel 4’s popular quiz show Fifteen to One six years ago, he was still very much an unknown.

“When they first brought it back, I was on the first Sandi Toksvig series,” he says. "I was lucky enough to win but in many ways it was a bit of an upset because I was a lot less known on the quiz scene then. As it was the first series for 11 years, all these people who had missed out on the William G Stewart years had applied for it, so it was stacked with top quizzers. That final included Mastermind winners, Brain of Britain winners, University Challenge winners, the lot, so it was very much an upset that I won.”

Right now, of course, lockdown mean that Dave’s Edinburgh quizzes are all on hold. That said, with 19 years under his belt at The Southsider and 23 years as quiz master at The Pear Tree, he is nevertheless managing to keep himself busy. He reveals, “I’m actually doing some writing for the next series of Mastermind. I’m following the same path that I did when I won Fifteen To One - a year after that I got a job writing for them too. I am also the editor for the Quiz League in London now, it really is my job and my main hobby.”

The secret of being a good quiz master is knowing your audience and ensuring that you don’t make the questions too hard, he reveals.

“The mistake everybody makes when writing their first quiz is to make it too hard. The questions people like the most are the ones on the fringes of their knowledge, the ones that they can just about get and be proud of getting, or miss and think, ‘Aw, I should have got that.’ It’s perfect if you can hit that sweet-spot, but if you put every question at the edges of your knowledge, on average it’s going to work out too hard. So for your first quiz, my advice is think about how easy you were going to make it... then make it a couple of levels easier.”

With all his experience, Dave admits that there’s still a thrill when he discovers a little nugget of information that is new to him.

“It’s brilliant because that does become a challenge, particularly when you’ve got people who have been coming to one of your quizzes for years, it does become difficult to keep coming up with new stuff for them.”

For those missing their weekly pub quiz, he promises, “As soon as the pub trade is back to normal, the pub quizzes will be back.”

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