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20th Century Pub pubs

When did pub quizzes become a thing?

We had a vague idea that the pub quiz was a product of the 1980s or 90s and so were surprised to come across the headline above in a newspaper from the early 1960s.

Here’s the opening of the story which appeared in the Daily Mirror for 7 July 1961:

BIG Jim Traynor, a pint of beer at his elbow, settled down in a corner of a Liverpool tap-room, opened a packet of crisps, and began to study an encyclopaedia. Across the table, Charlie Vipond, from the local gasworks, eagerly flicked through the pages of Whitaker’s Almanack. ‘Hey, mate,’ he shouted, ‘what year did Henry VIII lop off Anne Boleyn’s head?’ No one batted an eyelid. It was just part of the latest pub craze… QUIZ MANIA.

The article mentions ‘J. Robinson’ as one of the organiser of the Merseyside quiz league and mentions a ‘big hotel in Bootle’ as a nexus of quizzing activity.

Another piece from a little later (Liverpool Echo, 30 October 1963) provides more detail, including pinpointing the year of origin to 1959:

There’s no business on Merseyside, it would seem, quite like quiz business… For since it all started in a public house in Bootle four years ago there are estimated to be at least 4,000 people involved in the Merseyside Quiz Leagues… These consist of four leagues organising general knowledge quizzes in pubs, clubs and factory canteens.

‘It’s a jolly good way of enjoying yourself – and learning at the same time,’ said one of the men who has been on the Merseyside quiz scene since it started – Mr Jack Robinson [of] 108 Galsworthy Avenue, Bootle… ‘We’ve been on television,’ he told me proudly, ‘and radio too.’

It all started because of a chance remark, he says, made by a Mr. Eric Powell, 106 Gloucester Road, Bootle, one night at the Mount Hotel, Bootle… ‘We had been having a lot of friendly quizzes among ourselves,’ said Mr Robinson, ‘but when Mr. Powell suggested that it could be operated on a wider scale everyone seemed to think it was a good idea.’

So the first Merseyside Quiz League was formed, and a list of rules compiled. It was not long before there were four leagues – ‘stretching from Southport to Speke’.

It also gives us the names of some key personnel: Bill Brady, licensee of The Mount, was the quiz league’s chairman; Jim Howard was the quizmaster, also of Bootle; and the secretary was Harry Jackson, ‘an administrative railway officer from Garston’.

Now, this could just be a case of people, probably quite innocently, taking credit for a spontaneously emerging phenomenon, so we won’t quite go as far as to say Eric Powell invented the pub quiz, or that the Mount Hotel was where it was born.

But, still, all the earliest mentions in the newspapers do point to Merseyside/Lancashire and, in lieu of any other claims, let’s say this is the best origin story we have for the moment.

Arthur Taylor, author of the essential reference on pub games, Played at the Pub, seems to agree with the idea that Bootle was ground zero.

He also suggests that the emergence of pub quizzes was tied to the increasing popularity of TV, and especially American-inspired commercial television. He points out that both Double Your Money and Take Your Pick first aired on ITV in 1955.

An additional twist, though, is that among the small trickle of 1960s television programmes that sought to evoke the spirit of the pub there was one inspired by pub quizzing specifically.

Quiz Time Gentlemen Please first aired in March 1968, with a team from The St. Helier’s Arms, Carshalton battling against a crew from The Elm Park Hotel, Hornchurch.

It was hosted by Keith Fordyce, and featured a mix of darts and quiz questions – so, Bullseye, basically, 20 years before Bully was a twinkle in Jim Bowen’s eye.

It goes without saying that if you’re related to any of the Bootle blokes mentioned above and can tell us more about the origins of the pub quiz, we’d love to hear from you. Or if you have memories of pub quizzing from the 1960s or 70s.