© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

British Pubs Are Closed. British Pub Trivia Continues


Tens of thousands of British pubs may be shut down because of the coronavirus, but they have found a way to keep one part of the pub tradition going online - pub quiz, or what we Americans know as bar trivia. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

HANNAH DAVIS: Welcome to The Free Trade Inn quiz, everybody. Yay.


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hannah Davis serves as a quizmaster at the Free Trade, a 160-year-old pub in Newcastle in the north of England.

DAVIS: We do the quiz every Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Obviously, since people started self-isolating and now we're officially in lockdown, we didn't want to stop doing the quiz, so we took it online.

LANGFITT: In normal times, the quiz at The Free Trade draws a standing room crowd of more than 40.

MAGISTRALI: How many teams are we at now?

DAVIS: Hundred and fifty.

LANGFITT: Teams from as far away as Stockholm and France. Another quizmaster, Amelia Magistrali from Connecticut, dives into the questions.

MAGISTRALI: For the music round, I am going to play 10 clips of 10 different songs.


LANGFITT: Some are pretty easy; other questions are wonderfully esoteric.

DAVIS: Michael Flatley of "Riverdance" holds the record for the world's highest paid dancer. How much were his legs insured for - in dollars because I don't want to change it to pounds?

LANGFITT: The answer - $44.7 million. The quiz is a way to keep The Free Trade's community together and keep the pub relevant at a time when many are under threat. Mick Potts manages The Free Trade. He says the pub can support staff financially for weeks, maybe months.

MICK POTTS: The big unknown over here about the shutdown is we don't know how long. Every business runs dry eventually.

LANGFITT: British pubs have been closing for years because of rising costs, changing habits and the price of real estate. Tom Stainer runs the Campaign for Real Ale, which supports British pubs.

TOM STAINER: This is going to have an absolutely devastating effect on many, many pubs. This may be the endgame for them and they have to close their doors for good. And once a pub closes, it's very rare that it reopens. And I also suspect that if pub properties close down, they're going to be snapped up by developers looking to make a quick profit on converting them into flats or housing.

LANGFITT: Back at The Free Trade's virtual quiz, players take a break while the quizmasters calculate scores.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Bring the pets up. That's a great cat.


JAMES MCKEITH: Hey, Schnozzle (ph). There you go, Schnozzie (ph). Wave to...

LANGFITT: Schnozzle is a small dog. James McKeith (ph), once a Free Trade regular, is playing from France, where he works as an English teacher. Between rounds, he shares this exchange with Pippa Adams (ph), a doctor in Newcastle.

MCKEITH: Well, my respect goes out to everybody who's just on their own at the minute because I've been under quarantine now for eight days.

PIPPA ADAMS: Yeah. How are you spending your days?

MCKEITH: I'm lucky that I can work from home. So I get some communication. I go to the bakery every day, which is nice, so I can see a human.

LANGFITT: McKeith says playing the pub quiz makes him feel like he's back home.

MCKEITH: You know, all nice people. We all have the same objective - just having some fun, feeling like we're together.

LANGFITT: About an hour and a half after the start of the quiz, there's a winner.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yay, blue team (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Thanks for having me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: It was really fun.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Singing) Imagine all the people.


LANGFITT: The next morning, I reached out to, Pippa, the doctor. I asked what she thought the virtual pub quiz signified.

ADAMS: The world that we're in right now, it just doesn't feel normal. It feels like we're in a dream or something like that. And I think that can be really, really unsettling. Doing things that make you feel normal keeps people grounded, keeps people connected and keeps you sane.

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News.


Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.