Of flerd and frask

Tuesday 19th April 2011

CALL My Scientific Bluff occupies much of my mind at this time of year. The festival brochure is out, tickets are being sold, and I’m still faffing around trying to choose between ‘nelumbiaceous and ‘hoddidod’.

The main problem, however, is the panel. Not only do they have solar-system-sized brains, capable of serpentine trickery and lie-detector accuracy, but they also zealously want to win.

Then again, so do I – but using different data.

Good fortune led me to write scripts-in-progress for the BBC. I chose to wait for a friend to finish a phone conversation, even though it meant missing the bus.

“Marcus, you know lots of writers. Can you think of anyone who’d like to work for Call My Bluff?”

“Er… me?”

I did nine years. The first word I had to tackle was ‘acangen’. I went for a) grappling-hook; b) tooth decay; c) to lose one marbles. My final contribution was ‘wahala’ – a) palaver or inconvenience; b) a walrus tusk; c) a Tibetan plateau*.

Several participants memorised what I wrote; others embellished; some altered remorselessly. Alan Coren and Sandi Toksvig might use a phrase or two, but always came up with impressive improvements.

The show closed in July 2005, a few months short of its fortieth anniversary. Its demise followed that of the much-loved Pebble Mill studios. There were mutterings about ratings and a wish to attract younger daytime viewers. Mum was well hacked off.

The idea of a science-based version was sold to the directors of the Cheltenham Science Festival by promising them lasting fame, untold wealth and a chance to make fools of themselves – only one of which was true. This June will be our eighth meshugaas.

I get to ding the bell. Once it starts, I experience a gratifying peace of mind, knowing my words are in good hands. The panellists debate, deny, bicker and banter. I keep score, caring not who emerges triumphant. Invariably, however, they hold up more TRUE than BLUFF cards. The panel wins, I lose.

Maybe this year will be my turn.

* c) and a)

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