Game shows have been a staple of British culture for generations. Smiling hosts, puzzled contestants, fiendish questions. It’s often the case that the questions are just taken for granted with little consideration to how they were written. In an attempt to find out more about the world of writing questions I talked to Daniel Peake, who has written for shows such as “impossible” and “Only Connect”.


Daniel’s first venture into the world of TV quizzes was with “Only Connect”. It all started when he “was bored. When I was at university, I was studying metrology, which is studying weather, and it was okay but it wasn’t quite doing it for me”. So he decided to try and do something about it. He found the email address of the “Only Connect” question editor and “sent off a batch of about 10 questions”. The editor liked the questions and offered to give him a training session. “They gave me a shot and not everyone is willing to give a shot in the TV industry because it’s a very competitive industry. Luckily this person was.”


Since then Daniel has written many questions and puzzles for shows, newspapers and books so he was able to explain what makes a good question. “It makes you go ‘ah’. It makes you go ‘that’s interesting’. It’s whether you care about the facts after the question has been aired.” He continued to explain “The number of times of seen a question like ‘C is the chemical element for what?’ I’ve seen that a million times but if you can phrase it in a very interesting or different way then that’s what makes a good question”. The intrigue of the question isn't the only factor that has to be considered in writing a good question: many other things have to be taken into account as well. “It’s really surprising how you can write a question and actually it turns out to have two answers”. This forces question writers to strike a balance between specificity and being concise.


Writing the questions takes a large amount of time in contrast the amount of time the questions actually take up in the show. “normally, for a series of say 20 or 30, daytime shows it takes a couple of months for a team of you”. A big reason for this is the large amount of questions that have to get discarded. “You’ll probably write somewhere between double and triple what you need, you write quite a lot more because then you only take the best ones”. This is also a precautionary step for when the verifiers “try and tear the questions apart”. This step tries to eliminate any questions that are incorrect or have alternative answers.


When writing, most shows will “crew up” this generally means getting about six writers together. Then “they would come and work in the same place, either London or Glasgow or somewhere like that for a couple of months”. However “Only Connect” has a different approach to question writing. There are 2 question editors and then around 30 other writers. “It’s a lot, normally, as I say about five and this has got 30 because you need that breadth for Only Connect”. The two question editors are responsible for half of the questions while the other 30 are responsible for the rest.


Question writing, while often overlooked, is a highly interesting industry. Without it every quiz show would lose its very purpose. So perhaps the next time you indulge in a terrific concoction of trivia, wits and intelligence you’ll give a thought to the true masterminds behind the questions.