Confessions of a Smart Arse – My Brilliant (Game Show) Career: Episode 1 – (It’s) Academic Inspiration, You Gave Me None – Strangways, Here We Come

1975 – The introduction of colour television to Australia coincided with me being in Third Year, which as every High School swot knew, was It’s Academic year. I had set myself for a spot on the Elizabeth High School team; my head was full of useless facts well before the mass recognition of “trivia” as a pursuit in the early 80s.

I was a smartarse.

I’m not sure now how the selection process worked, but I was so full of myself that I risked non-selection by missing a practice/selection session for the more important commitment of a lunchtime 5-a-side soccer game (the comp was run by Hellas left back and PE teacher Barry Reynolds and it was keenly contested by the Big Match watching population of ten pound Poms and their locally born classmates ).

After a stern talking to by teacher Jim Wilson, I fronted at the next rehearsal in Rex North’s replica TV studio in D Block, and must have done enough to prove my worthiness to the selectors.

So along with team members (Mary Catherine) Elizabeth O’Driscoll (C) and Val Solowij, plus a hired Transway busload of Elizabethan urchins, we made our way to the Strangways Terrace studios of ADS-7 proudly sporting our maroon and gold EHS colours. At least we did on our visible-on-TV top halves – EHS uniforms were only worn at school in First and Second Year, so, it was burgundy on top, Ron Burgundy down below as we had long discarded our grey trousers or checked winter skirts for jeans during the school week.

Hosting It’s Academic in Adelaide 1975 was a cherubic Sandy Roberts, whose enthusiasm surpassed his diction. Our opponents for the evening were two country schools, Glossop High and Yankalilla Area School. For some reason the Riverlanders were making their second appearance for the year, perhaps they had protested at a lack of citrus fruit in the green room the previous time, but they were back. Their captain was a rather imposing girl of Mediterranean lineage, with a permanent scowl that spoke “we’re not gonna take any sh*t from you Adelaide snobs” – an early lesson in class relativity I supposed.

Each team started with 100 points, Glossop selected “packet number 7 please sir” (crawlers) and we were off. And boy, were we off. At some stage in round 2 our score was hovering around zero. I was equally culpable. I can only remember one question from the early rounds, “With which part of the body do you associate the clavicle?” There was no “sub cruce lumen”, only blinding studio lights. I could not see future gynaecologist Roy Watson in the audience tapping his collar-bone, so my incorrect stab of “Ear?” took us towards freezing point on the Celsius scoreboard.

The Fleurieu kids weren’t having a big night either and as they probably had to be up in the morning to milk dad’s cows, seemed to lose interest. Glossop were way out in front, putting the “S into mug” at the final break.

We regrouped and in the final “fast money” round, EHS stormed home like Dulcify at his first start (and at similar odds). I like to believe that I had a fair bit to do with this, but unless the episode surfaces on YouTube, we’ll never know. All that I remember is that with scores level, Lucindale’s finest export mumbled the final question “With which rig do you associate the word pimpernel”.

As Liz, Val and I looked at each other blankly, the Glossop captain, her ear attuned to Sandy’s tortured vocal styling, buzzed, blurted “scarlet” and the game was theirs.

We all heard “rig”, Glossop heard “red”, we saw red, turned red and slunk off back to where we came from (but I was used to doing this after each Centrals away game anyway).

We were Stavros Pipposed on the post, a tale that would become familiar in my subsequent TV appearances.

As Sandy came past to commiserate with us, I whispered to him “Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Dick Cock”. He didn’t know what to make of that, but one day, the penny (or was that Leanne?) would drop.

A few weeks after the taping, I relived the ordeal at my grandparents home in leafy Elizabeth Vale on their Rank Arena 22” (our black and white Thorn 3-in-1 had not yet been upgraded) when the show was telecast to the world.

I’m just about over it.

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Swish- loved the journey back to the middle distance. It’s Academic was compulsory viewing, although I remember Alec Macaskill more vividly than other hosts. Was there an Australian home with a TV that was not a Rank Arena? Did its logo feature a muscular gent clanging a gong? My paternal grandmother lived up the hill on the road behind us, and as she had a colour TV before us, I was allowed to head up there on Friday nights to watch the original Star Trek. Surely, it, too, was a Rank Arena! Of course Strangways, Here We Come fits perfectly with your final line and its Morrissey-like young man trauma. Great stuff.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Very enjoyable Swish a amusing tale and I remember the show well and have vivid memories of both hosts Thanks Swish you bought a smile to my dial

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Burgundy on top, Ron Burgundy down below-great line!

  4. Now you just have to get over your Wheel of Fourtune, Rockwiz and Hot Seat losses and we’ll be a happier family …

  5. Love it

    Remember the show well, and the dirty looks the host (not Sandy) would give if a “Number 7 please” wasn’t followed by a “Sir”

    So, you’re to blame for the great Sandy Roberts cock-up later on


  6. Chris Rees says

    This was before my time, and I feel youthful and refreshed just being able to type that. We had ‘Quiz Quest’ in Tasmania (presented by Jim Cox, future MLA and target of a Robin-Gray-related bribery attempt) Both my sisters were tapped on the shoulder to represent Burnie High but I missed out. Which is a shame for myself, Burnie High, and the viewers at home because even Jacki and Sally would say I could general knowledge them into a cocked hat.

    Loved your retelling of it. You Adelaide snobs at Elizabeth got what was coming!

  7. A great yarn thanks Swish. In addition to butchering the English lsnguage Sandy Roberts was also a pig farmer I believe. Not sure which came first.

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