John Lloyd is a TV producer, director, writer, and commercials director.
Years ago, he came up with the idea for ‘The News Quiz’ on Radio 4.
The show is still running forty years later.
John went on to work on the radio series ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’.
Then the TV series ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’.
Then he originated, wrote and produced the seminal TV series ‘Spitting Image’.
If you weren’t there at the time, it’s impossible to exaggerate how revolutionary and daring this was.
Like all the very best bits of Private Eye.
So that’s enough for a normal lifetime right?
John then went on to make ‘Blackadder’.
Which must be some of the best written comedy ever.
So that’s probably enough achievements for two lifetimes now, right?
Well again, not quite.
Like most truly creative people, John had to keep creating.
He can’t stop having ideas.
Suddenly he had an idea that really, really excited him.
A TV quiz show between a team of upper-class chaps and a team of working- class blokes.
Clever toffs like Stephen Fry and David Mitchell on one team.
Bright oiks like Paul Merton and Danny Baker on the other team.
John sold the pilot to the BBC.
But John knew it all depended on the choice of quizmaster.
He was convinced the ideal person would have to be neither posh nor working class.
He knew the perfect person: Michael Palin.
He was everyone’s idea of an Englishman at his best: urbane, charming, witty, friendly.
John was convinced he was the perfect midway point between the classes.
So he took him out to lunch to sell him the idea.
But Michael Palin said no.
John stopped dead, he’d never considered this.
John couldn’t believe it.
The whole show depended on Michael Palin.
He tried everything he could think of to talk him into it.
Finally, Michael Palin said “Look John, thanks very much for asking me but, no, I don’t want to do it, and that’s that.”
John was devastated.
Everything hung on the quizmaster.
Palin was the perfect quizmaster.
But Palin wouldn’t do it.
That was the end of the show.
John left the lunch depressed, but he still had to deliver the pilot to the BBC.
So he needed someone to help him out in the short term.
In desperation he asked Stephen Fry.
Stephen said “No, sorry, I’m far too competitive. I don’t want to be asking the questions, I want to be answering them.”
Thinking quickly, John said “Couldn’t you be a quizmaster that knows more than any of the panellists?”
Stephen Fry thought about it.
John Lloyd said “Please Stephen, just for the pilot.”
So Stephen agreed to do the pilot.
And he took to it like a duck to water.
And the rest is history.
That pilot became the television series ‘QI’.
It’s been running seven years now.
It runs on BBC 1 with repeats on BBC 2.
In fact, older shows run every night on Dave, and Dave+1.
Even the repeats get a higher audience than any of the other shows.
You can find QI playing around twenty times a week somewhere on TV.
And every year, John puts together a book of the previous series.
And each book sells a million copies.
In fact, right now, QI has 3 books in Amazon’s top ten.
And the box sets of old shows are amongst Amazon’s biggest selling DVDs.
Basically, QI is a bigger hit than anything John’s ever done.
And one of the things that makes it such a massive hit is Stephen Fry.
You can’t imagine QI being nearly so good with Michael Palin as quizmaster.
And it certainly wouldn’t have been nearly so big.
There’s an old Buddhist saying:
“Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you is not getting what you want.”