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Guest Tim

Quiz Man Ron's Photographic Memory

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Guest Tim



Professor Ron Goldman, mastermind for Australia's television quiz shows, knows that when he states a fact, hundreds of thousands of dollars rest on him being correct.


The clock ticks on.... contestants screw up their faces, tap their fingers, go tight-lipped and recall just in time that the mythical creature on Wales’s flag is the red dragon. Or that Edward Jenner discovered a method of vaccination against smallpox in 1796.


If they're right, the prize can be a car or a quarter of a million dollars. Wrong and they get a trinket and told to come back sometime in the distant future.


Manchester-born Ron has been the brains behind Australian television quiz-shows like 'Sale of the Century', 'Ford Superquiz' and 'Crossfire' for the past eight years. As a child he was told he was incompetent. What happened?


'I was an inquisitive, late developer; born into poverty and living in a Manchester slum. (It pours out, like his "Who Am I?" questions).


'My Mother was totally deaf and I had an absentee father. When we were chasing Dad, we ran out of money and ended up in the poor house for six months.'


At eight, because of an undiagnosed astigmatism, he had been sent to the back of the class where he had difficulty reading the blackboard. 'I got hit over the head because I couldn't answer the questions.' He did so badly at school that he failed the Eleven Plus and 'ended up in the dustbin of education, the secondary modern.'


Then a remarkable thing happened to the 13-year-old who had escaped school to become an errand boy, milk boy and then shoe-cleaner at Rossall public school, near Blackpool. His skill in table-tennis took him to a church youth club and changed his life.


'I had no stimulation until I was a teenager and got pebble glasses. My reflexes were good and I became skilled at table-tennis. The Minister at the youth club was an Oxford don and he encouraged me to extend my conversation, to read books and to turn again to education. I began to absorb information like a sponge; went to a small public library and read my way right through it; novels, non-fiction, research books.'


Ron discovered he had a photographic memory. 'I trained myself to read and absorb all four of The Times leaders in five minutes.' He won a place at university and began an education programme that took him into psychology, divinity and American television. He probably has more Masters, Doctorates and Bachelors degrees than anybody else in Who's Who, but doesn't care to discuss them.


What he will talk about is his latest book 1000 Quiz Questions (Penguin, $12.95) and the near-miss for one of his television shows.


Television's long-running quiz show, 'Sale of the Century', he revealed to me, went dangerously close to being hit by a scandal like the one that rocked America. Professor Ron, having concocted the questions for the show for years, says a middle-aged woman came on and tried to cheat.


'She had been on one series of shows and got to within five points of winning more than $200,000. She failed the next questions and was left with nothing. Then, like all contestants, she signed a contract that forbade her appearing on the show again for four years.


'Three years later, we were taping another series and a woman contestant got through to the fourth night. She had accumulated $200,000. I noticed, during the taping, that she'd had a face-lift, wore tinted glasses and had on a coloured wig. Her name didn't mean anything.


'But at almost the same time that I started to wonder, host Tony Barber, who has a splendid memory for faces, said to me: "There's something familiar about that woman."' The contestant was taken aside and challenged and admitted she was the same woman who had been defeated three years before. 'She broke down and confessed,' said Ron Coleman. 'She got no money of course; she was close to criminal prosecution. It cost the Grundy Organisation $250,000 to re-tape four shows and bring back everybody who had failed, so as to be absolutely fair to them. They had been knocked out by a cheat.'


Ron Coleman said he told the story 'to emphasise the fairness and honesty' of Australian quiz shows. "The Grundy Organisation always pointed to the American scandal, of which a movie, "Quiz Show", was made, as an example of what could happen if the shows were not honest.'


He said from his Mudgeeraba, Queensland, home: 'My photographic memory enables me to remember where to find a fact in a book and how far down the page it is written.'


His book of 1,000 quiz questions range from the easy to hard. They are tailored for quiz nights at schools, fund-raisers and for long winter evenings. He says his wife doesn't regard him as a 'know-all' because he gets things right: she is also an intellectual. "I am afraid I would find it difficult being married to someone who was intellectually inferior."


He is a golf hacker, never having had a handicap below 26 and if he puts a new doorknob on a door it falls off again. "I am just no good with my hands."


Question to the Quizmaster: Who won the last British Open?


Prof.Goldman: "Um...er..I don't know. I don't read the sports pages."

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