Colman Getty PEN Quiz 2009

On 23 November 2009 London’s literary glitterati sharpened their pens for what many claimed to be the best Colman Getty PEN Quiz so far. Guests described it as “a delightful event” (Poet in the City) and “my favourite night of the year” (Penguin) where “everyone had an amazing time” (Faber and Faber). The great and the good of the publishing and media world – 24 tables in total – came together to lock horns under the regime of professional quiz writer, Marcus Berkmann, who set the questions for those who were brave enough to return to the ring this year. The combined force of Berkmann’s questions and comedian David Mitchell as Quizmaster proved to be a winner; add to that the fine food and wine laid on in the glamorous dining room at the Royal Institute of British Architects in the West End and you have the perfect conditions for the scholarly and well-read of London to battle it out in style.

The Quiz is English PEN’s main annual fundraising event and the proceeds support the important work of the charity providing much needed funds for projects including campaigning on behalf of persecuted writers, defending freedom of expression and promoting literature and literacy amongst a wide range of groups including refugees and schools.

The night began with words of welcome from English PEN’s president Lisa Appignanesi, who was impressed with the turn out in what she described as “austere times”.

Mitchell then took the stage and the evening’s proceedings commenced amidst a flurry of dry wit from Mitchell and sharp intakes of breath from the participants as the questioning began.

While few teams were able to identify the four words that were voted by Classic Television magazine as the funniest moment in the history of British television (with many teams guessing that it was “Don’t mention the war” rather than “Don’t tell him, Pike”), it was reassuring that they were all suitably familiar with the diet of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

People began to sweat when a three-way tie breaker involved a stand-off between representatives from The Times, The Guardian and Harper-Collins. The Times took the crown when their nominated representative Olav Bjortomt identified the Mona Lisa as being the painting that a French King bought to put in his bathroom.

The evening culminated in the drawing of a raffle by Kathy Lette, doyenne of the chick-lit novel, who charmed the audience with her trademark mouthy banter and endless punning, which had all the more impact for being delivered from within a fire engine red, sequined mini-dress – the mini-dress being another of Lette’s trademarks.

The teams included the Association of Authors’ Agents (last year’s winners), Bloomberg, Colman Getty, Faber and Faber, The Guardian, Hachette, HW Fisher, HarperCollins, The Literary Consultancy, Little, Brown, London Book Fair, The Observer, Orion, Penguin, Poet in the City, Prospect/Political Quarterly, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Times.

You can view photos from this event on Flickr

Report by Anika Morshead

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