Saturday, June 27, 2020

"How One Man Created The Biggest Virtual Pub Quiz In The World"

Opportunity is everywhere.
From Esquire, June 16:
When Jay Flynn was homeless, he packed up his worldly belongings every morning so that London tourists wouldn't see his plight. Now he's being watched by millions across the world, and raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity in the process. This is how he did it.

When Jay Flynn gave the keys to The Crown pub on Redearth Road in Darwen back to the brewery who owned it on 3 March, it was with regret. For 11 months Flynn and his business partner had tried to resuscitate the flagging community watering hole, which had been dormant for two weeks before they took it over in 2019. “There was no social media presence. All the regulars had disappeared to other venues. We basically just started off with a shell of a pub and no customers,” he admits.
Flynn and his partner had put blood, sweat and tears into the pub – literally. The publican impaled his hand between his thumb and first finger with a pair of scissors while trying to do some wiring on an abandoned function room they planned to turn into an escape room to draw in customers. The blade severed a nerve, resulting in a trip to A&E and a scar that still shows today. Having to hand back ownership was a double-blow, because Flynn had long wanted to run his own pub. He’d helped out at one owned by his wife’s cousin, managing it for six months. “I love working in pubs,” he says, “because you never know what day you’re going to get and who’s going to walk through the door.”

In those 11 months, Flynn had managed to bring back some of those who had abandoned The Crown in its dormant phase, and introduced new regulars too with a weekly pub quiz, held on a Thursday night. There’d be a core of 10 teams who competed for the prize – not just the bog-standard gallon of ale, but the opportunity to gamble it and win money in a Deal or No Deal-style game. The quiz, too, wasn’t normal: there were bingo rounds and other innovations Flynn introduced to separate himself from the competition.
But by early March, Flynn had lost his pub, and soon the country would lose them too. When Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown in late March, pubs were closed by fiat. Initially they weren’t shut outright, but their patrons were told not to visit. Eventually, a prime minister famed for trying to shirk tough decisions realised he would have to formally close them. The pub quiz could have gone with it – were it not for Britons’ love of answering pointless trivia questions.

The first pub quizzes were established in the post-war years of the 1940s and 50s, organised by Mother’s Unions and Women’s Institutes in rotary clubs and civic centres to try and distract men scarred by war from drinking away their sorrows. Participants were quizzed on their knowledge of local history. “It was wholesome subject matter in wholesome places,” says Alan Connor, author of The Joy of Quiz, a book on Britain’s history with quizzing.

Soon, the men taking part realised they could transplant the bit they enjoyed – testing their general knowledge – away from the bit they didn’t: the overly Methodist surroundings. The pub quiz was born. However, it took another half a century for the pub quiz to become a cultural phenomenon, exploding in the 1980s and 90s thanks to an enterprising publican called Sharon Burns who standardised the production of pub quiz materials. Her packs, containing publicity documents, league tables and quizzes that had verified questions and answers, were an easy way for pub owners to fill their establishments in the quiet weekday evenings. (Burns ended up retiring and owning a drive-thru fast food outlet, another thing we’re missing in the coronavirus era.)

Brits lapped up quizzes, in part because of the friendly, semi-joking rivalries between peers within the community and the opportunity to congregate together. We also enjoyed the ability to look smart and be tested on information we’ve held in our heads since our schooldays. And even though the pubs were shut, it seems we’ve been unable to shake the need to be tested on our knowledge of late 1980s one-hit wonders. People have taken to Zoom to host their own digital pub quizzes, trying to recapture some semblance of a morose Tuesday evening stood queueing at the bar for a lukewarm pint of bitter. Yet the most popular digital pub quiz steers away from Zoom entirely. Instead, it’s held twice-weekly on YouTube, where 180,000 people take part simultaneously. It’s had questions submitted to it by Boris Johnson, and questions posed by Stephen Fry. Gary Barlow has provided the half-time entertainment. And it’s run by Jay Flynn out of the front room of his home in Darwen, Lancashire.

The idea came the day after Britain shut its pubs down. Flynn had left his pub behind three weeks earlier, but still wanted to provide something for the dedicated teams who turned up every Thursday night to The Crown. He created an event on Facebook for a digital pub quiz he planned to hold on a Saturday, and went about his weekend. Little did he know he had configured the event incorrectly, meaning that it wasn’t just Flynn’s friends who could see and join the event, but the entire world....

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