In 1988 I had already published my first Quiz Book with the Eastern Evening News (copy available on Ebay). Later in the same year I produced this Quiz Book for a publisher in Peterborough. Whereas my first book had included a mixture of general and local questions this one concentrated on East Anglian trivia, as the title implies. It sold out quite quickly and produced a modest profit for the author. Besides this interview with Radio Norfolk I also did one with Radio Cambridgeshire at Peterborough. I went the 75 miles each way by bus; not a coach, just an ordinary double-decker, which I found something of an ordeal.
Extract from a transcript of an interview on RADIO NORFOLK, 13 Sept 1988;
The DINNERTIME SHOW, with KEITH SKIPPER & NICK GARDNER.
Nick Gardner: … Mr Joe Mason.
Keith Skipper: I thought you said Jem Mace, because he’s my other hero. Joe Mason, the man who sets all the quiz questions in the Eastern Evening News. I believe this is his second book of quiz questions, a great way of spending a dull old evening is to get a quiz book out and good old go at it. Everybody is playing Trivial Pursuit and what have you, and knowledge, especially local knowledge, is always a priceless commodity. Nice to have you with us, Joe, giving the game away on certain things like that. Where do you get you questions from?
Joe Mason: Well, it’s the answers really that I am more worried about than the questions. I find if I start with the answer I normally get the question right.
K.S. You work backwards do you?
J.M. Always backwards, yes, it’s the only way.
K.S. So if I said to you ‘Boadicea’ you’d then think of a question to go with it would you?
J.M. Well yes, I might think of a question where the answer was Boadicea, yes.
N.G. Why do you concentrate on local questions?
J.M. I was really my idea when I first started doing the quiz in the Evening News that it would probably be more interesting to people if it had a local slant. Local history has always been a particular interest of mine, and I thought it would be natural to put in things like that. In the end it has become quite difficult to put something both fresh and local to put in.
K.S. When will Bracondale go under the bulldozer I suppose will go in the next one.
J.M. I want to know when they are going to re-open Earlham Road.
K.S. They call this the ‘holey’ city you know.
[The bus had gone down the hole in Earlham Road in March of 1988 –see my blog of October 2013. Apparently in September the road had still not been repaired.]
N.G. When you are setting questions for the Evening News do you think ‘I’ll have one from this category, one from that and one from another category’?
J.M. Yes going through making them up really I go by subjects, otherwise it’s difficult to get a train of thought going. I go to one of my reference books and get something on Natural History and then something else and then shuffle them all up so they don’t all come out the same.
N.G. Are you a good quiz man yourself? I mean are you good at question and answer games like Trivial Pursuit?
J.M. Well I’m a bit slow; I think of the answer five minutes after I should have done.
K.S. You’d be no good on one of these television jobs then?
J.M. My brain works too slow for that.
K.S. You sound like a typical candidate for the BBC. How did you first become interested in setting questions for other people? Have you always been a rather inquisitive person?
J.M. I have, I’ve always collected reference books, always asked myself questions and always try to find things out.
K.S. Do get people who write to you and say ‘That ain’t right’?
J.M. Yes, occasionally, and normally they are right.
K.S. Throw a couple of local ones at me at me and see if I’m any good.
J.M. Well I’ll try this one, it’s fairly topical; ‘Where did the Norfolk Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell die in distressing circumstances?’
K.S. I didn’t know that was in your book or I would have saved myself all that trouble mentioning it earlier in the show. His memorial is at Cockthorpe isn’t it?
J.M. Why isn’t it called Co’thorpe?
N.G. Here’s one for you; what was the colour of the locomotives of the M&GN Railway?
K.S. That’s before my time!
N.G. You must remember it.
K.S. The Muddle and Get Nowhere? I don’t remember what kind of colour they were, a mucky kind of colour under all that steam; black or grey? No, they obviously had a proper colour. You’re looking it up aren’t you?
N.G. Yes, M&GN engines were yellow.
K.S. I knew that, I just wondered if you could find it in time.
J.M. If you want the background to this they were said be yellow after the colour of the gorse flowers on the North Norfolk heaths, and it was the favourite colour of Mrs Marriott, the wife of the Chief Engineer.
K.S. And Thorpe Marriott is named in his memory.
N.G. Do you ever feel you’d like to give a little more information rather than just saying ‘yellow’?
J.M. The thing is to make the answers shorter than the questions – you could easily make them three times as long.
K.S. You could write an essay on each one; yellow because it reminded them of the beautiful gorse on the North Norfolk coast – and all the rest. But people do like quiz questions. We can a local quiz for a few weeks some time back and there was an enormous response from people who like to show, I think, that they take close interest in local personalities. Nelson, Kett, Thomas Browne; perhaps some of the more obscure ones would be more fun.
J.M. Well I’ve picked up some facts that are far too obscure to put in a quiz.
N.G. What sort of things?
J.M. For example the old name for Surrey Street was Great Newgate Street. [The Radio Norfolk studio was then in Norfolk Tower in Surrey Street.]
N.G. Is there any reason behind that?
J.M. I’m sure there was, but I don’t know; New Gate means ‘the new street’. Or that Christopher Wren’s uncle was bishop of Norwich from 1635 until 1638? Matthew Wren.
K.S. Matthew Wren? I didn’t know that.
J.M. Or the brother of the poet William Wordsworth was rector of Ashby?
J.M. You knew that? Or that William Coke (is it cook or coke?) of Holkham invented the bowler hat in 1850…
K.S. What sort of people do you think are going for quiz books?
J.M. Well I hope it will be people who generally like East Anglia books, and having got the knowledge they want to show it off.