In 1967, by conducting India’s first open quiz, Neil O’Brien became the venerable godfather of this mind game, a fact acknowledged, appropriately, by that invaluable resource for quizzers, the ‘Limca Book of Records’. His sons Barry, Andy and—most famously—Derek followed him into quizzing, first as hobbyists and then as professionals; Barry and Derek have both hosted successful television quizzes, and Derek has built his brand into a veritable quizzing empire, roving the country with his unique combination of information and entertainment.
No hobbyist: Derek O’Brien
“When we were students, the atmosphere at home was one that encouraged reading and asking questions—there was no television in those days,” says Derek. “We certainly weren’t the geeky family though. I think seeing my father research questions and conduct quizzes (albeit never on television) was a tremendous influence.”
Derek remembers well what Saranya Jayakumar calls Kolkata’s “Quiz Wars” of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and he cites five reasons that made Kolkata the hub of quizzing at the time. “Fantastic school quiz teams, a strong college circuit, over half a dozen open quizzes a year, top quizmasters and the advantage of being the pioneering city,” he says. Unfortunately for the city, however, “currently, only points 4 and 5 remain. As far as participation goes at the college, corporate and open level, Chennai is the quiz capital of India.”
On the few occasions in the Landmark Quiz’s 17-year history that Navin Jayakumar has been unable to play host, the quiz has looked inevitably to Derek. “Mrs Jayakumar, as I have said before, is the Mother of Quizzing in India,” he says. “Navin is a friend whom I respect and admire, both as an eye surgeon and a quizmaster.”
Like Navin, Derek was only a part-time quizmaster until the early 1990s, balancing a copywriting career with his love for quizzing. “Everyone looked at quizzing as a hobby, but in January 1992, I decided to turn a hobby into a profession,” he says. “It was a risky decision for the time, but things worked out well. For people like Neil O’Brien and the Jayakumars, it is still a hobby—I am humbled by the love, respect and admiration they generously give.”