When Sandi Toksvig complimented me on my German

2017 all 15 to 1 screenshot

I was on TV…again! Last year I went on the TV quiz show Fifteen to One, presented by the marvellous Sandi Toksvig (read all about it here, if you must :). Not long after, they asked me if I wanted another go – hell, yes! I love Fifteen to One! And so I set off again to the Glasgow studios, ready for another day of quiz-filled fun and banter in the green room. My make-up artist also does Amy MacDonald’s make-up,  and when I was done, I looked… sadly, nothing like Amy MacDonald, but like same old me with half a ton of make-up on my face. Ah well. Then, bizarrely, on my show one question after another was German-related! Questions come up randomly, so it was all one weird coincidence, and, unfortunately, I didn’t get any of them (I mean I wasn’t asked the question, not that I didn’t know the answer :).

2017 last round no trophy

Eins: What name, derived from the German word for bone, is usually given to any of the inter-phalangeal joints of the hand?

Zwei: In 1985, at the age of 17, which Tennis player became the first unseeded player in the open era, and also the first German to win the men’s single title at Wimbledon?

Drei: The Head of the German government is known as the Bundeskanzler, or Bundeskanzlerin. This term is usually translated into English as what?

After a while Sandi stopped and turned to me:

“I don’t know if it’s you being on the programme Heike, but this is about the fourth time I’ve said the word German on the show today“. Then –  there was another!

Vier: What name that translates from German as ‘Foam of the Sea’ is given to the soft, white, clay-like mineral, sometimes known as sepialite, that has been used since the 18th century to make smoking pipes, often carved into elaborate shapes?*

Cut – everyone in stitches!

Then I had a question about the phrase in The Shining that Jack Nicholson types out on his typewriter over and over again.

“Incidentally”, Sandi reads off her all-knowing iPad type thing, ”this has been replaced in the German version with the saying what you can do today, don’t wait until tomorrow to do. Would you know what that is?”

Silence. All eyes on me. All I can think of is the mickey-take version which says exactly the opposite: If you can do it today – wait until tomorrow to do it. Then it comes to me:

Was du heute kannst besorgen das verschiebe nicht auf morgen!

2017 last round 3 with Sandi

“That was lovely”, gushes Sandi. “Absolutely lovely! I love languages!”

Aww! Now whilst in the past I’ve occasionally received nice comments about my English, never in my life have I been congratulated on my German before. But there’s a first for everything and I’m being complimented on my German by Sandi Toksvig (unfortunately that bit was lost on the cutting floor – maybe they thought they already had enough German for one show!). Nothing could top this experience, and from that moment on everything else turned into a bit of a blur. Apparently I went on to win the show, but if I didn’t have a trophy sitting on my mantlepiece, I really couldn’t be too sure about that.

 “It was kind of your show, really,” says Sandi to me at the end.

“They should call this one The German Show!”

Indeed! And Sandi can’t know what happened earlier, when my fellow contestants and I lined up in the corridor ready to walk on set. One of us 15 hopefuls remarked that

“This is a bit like lining up to be shot”, and then added,

“Where’s the German?!”

“Don’t know what I should have to do with that”, I grumbled.

And that should have been the end of that one. But the reply came:

“Because you would be the one shooting us!”

Before I could say anything back, it was lights, camera, action. I tried to concentrate on the show, which was a surreal enough experience even without me trying to process the fact that someone had just said a stupid, unfunny and, yes, offensive thing to me. In my previous, very happy almost three decades of living in the UK, nothing like this had ever happened to me, which means so much more than this one-off questionable incident – but, still… And then, in the most bizarre turn of events, The German Show happened, and the person in question knocked out of the game quite early on. Everybody else was extremely lovely and fun, as was the all-over experience. And the rest – is history!

2017 PhD  2017 leaderboard

*answers on a postcard – or: watch the show (26 April 2017) on catch-up –  sponsored, classily,  by Earex Earwax drops – yes, it’s an afternoon show!

When Sandi Toksvig asked me about my PhD


Can’t think of any character from Scooby doo. Not even Scooby doo.

Missing your regular dose of TV quizzing now that University Challenge is done for the season?!  No need to mope – Fifteen to One’s back on, hoorah!

I love this show – so much so that I seem to make a habit of exposing my lack of general knowledge publicly by appearing on it every ten years or so.  So against better judgement I did it again for the third time – and these days you get to go on three shows in a row!


I think we need some more makeup

Contestants were sworn to secrecy about anything to do with the casting and recording until the show you’re on has aired. Well it has, and the gagging order’s been lifted!  After a whittling-down process involving pen and paper tests and onscreen auditions, eventually whoever was left standing was invited to the BBC studios in Glasgow in October last year – yes I know it’s a Channel 4 show, but that’s where it was.  Extremely lucky for me, as Glasgow’s practically my second home!  Presenter Sandi Toksvig was hilarious and made a point of having a little individual chat with everyone.  “So, Heikie, what’s your PhD in?”  Now we’d been briefed that if Sandi asks you something, give a bit of detail.  So I droned on about my PhD until she could take no more – needless to say, that bit never made it onto the show.  But I’ll never forget the moment when Sandi put an end to my monologue with a desperate “that’s really interesting” and turned to the next person: “So, Vicky, I hear you breed bunny rabbits?”

If you really must, you can watch me on catchup for the next few weeks (13/14/15th April episodes).


The Glasgow Fifteen, with Sandi