The Quiz Kid (ITV Drama, Helen Mirren, Michael Elphick)

One off comedy drama The Quiz Kid saw a pub quiz league gets out of hand when one of the teams brings in a young knowledgeable student.

The Sunday Mirror (Sunday 11 February 1979) featured a short preview: Helen Mirren stars as a barmaid in a Northern pub where the regulars are equally devoted to the darts team, the barmaid, and the quiz team—a popular feature in many Northern pubs. Friction mounts when University lad Trevor (Martin C. Thurley) is recruited to strengthen the quizzers—and tries to score points with the barmaid, too.

A preview in the Lichfield Mercury (Friday 9 Feb 1979) also focused on the fact that this a different kind of role for Mirren: Renowned as a fine classical actress and a leading exponent of Shakespeare’s works in particular, Helen Mirren stoops to conquer a vastly different role in Tuesday’s play The Quiz Kid – that of a barmaid in a Northern pub. The King Edward is a pub with three main attractions – the darts team, the quiz team and a barmaid called Joanne (Helen Mirren).

John Nickson reviewed the play in the Aberdeen Press and Journal (Saturday 17 February 1979) and wasn’t overly impressed: And a show I regretted watching was “The Quit Kid”. ITV’s Tuesday drama set in another place of grave moral danger – a public house. Futile and empty is a fair description of the play. The only highlight was Helen Mirren’s performance as a seductive barmaid. But I was left wondering why on earth one of Britain’s top classical actresses should have taken part In such a mediocre tlme-filler. Great chunks of the play were taken up with a boring quiz. It became such a yawn that even the contestants came close to nodding off. The pub was full of cardboard characters: an old codger cadging drinks on the strength his war exploits; earnest students trying to put the world to rights; people who couldn’t bear losing at darts: and a tempting barmaid. Presumably, Helen Mirren took the barmaid’s role as a complete change from Shakespearian parts, but she Is worth better scripts than that.

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In contrast Hazel Holt, reviewing in The Stage Thursday 22 Feb 1979, found much to enjoy: This neat little comedy dealt with that strange phenomenon the inter-pub quiz and the co-opting of a research student from the local university to strengthen the team, with all the complications that such a juxtaposition might bring. It was entertainment pure and simple, not very strong on plot, but full of sly observation and chock-full of Characters, which gave splendid acting opportunities for a strong cast.

There was the impeccable John Woodvine. authentic Geordie accent well to the fore, as the landlord, and Sheila Staefel bringing that touch of the bizarre to what would have been in other hands the perfectly ordinary part of his wife. Helen Mirren is not anyone’s immediate choice for a blonde barmaid, but her subtly comic performance was a small masterpiece – you could almost see the bird-witted Joanne’s mind slowly moving. Michael Elphick, slickly brilliantined, as the local bully-boy had precisely the right physical stance for the darts expert and Peter Jeffrey exactly caught the self-importance of the quiz-master, flourishing the word “committee” like a sword of office. As the young sociologist studying “popular culture in a frame of social interaction”, i.e. people in pubs. Martin C. Thurley had the innocent charm of a young Candide. Mr Wilsher writes a well-turned line and can create an affectionately accurate atmosphere, helped here by Bill Hays’s sympathetic direction and, especially, by the well-chosen costumes by Dava Irwin, which were a social comment in themselves.

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Cast: John Woodvine (Dennis), Sheila Steafel (Brenda), Robin Parkinson (Tommy), Bruce Purchase (Wally), John Sharp (Stan), Helen Mirren (Joanne), Michael Elphick (Jack), Tariq Yunus (Mal), Peter Jeffrey (Rigby), Martin C. Thurley (Trevor), Ian Sharp (Mick), Judy Buxton (Sandra), Marlene Sidaway (Veronica), Judith Anthony (Maureen), Alan Starkey (Wilf), Tommy Wright (Victor), Stephen Bill (Barry), Jamie Foreman (Andy), Ashley Barker (Chris), Richard Wallis (Steve), John Barrett (Old Man)

Writer: J.C. Wilsher / Producer: Colin Rogers / Production Design: Bryan Holgate / Executive Producer: David Reid / Director: Bill Hays

UK / ITV Network – ATV / 1×60 minutes / 13 February 1979

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.