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Chronicles of the Last Quizmaster in the Age of Big Trivia

A behind-the-scenes showdown at the traditional English pub.
Paul Partridge

Paul Partridge

Photography: Muir Vidler for Bloomberg Businessweek

On a Sunday afternoon last fall, a man who, in his three-decade career on the fringes of show business, has gone by Paul Smash and Paul Partridge but is in fact named Paul Dixon, entered a pub called the White Hart. The establishment, which stands in New Cross, 4 miles southeast of the British Parliament, embodies the changing face of South London. Once gritty, it now features baskets of petunias above its tiled frontage and a vending machine dispensing craft beers with names like Northern Monk Vague.

Dixon, who wore a button-down shirt and had a rumpled demeanor befitting a career pub quizmaster, set up the portable PA system he hauls from venue to venue. The Paul Partridge Quiz Experience was about to begin. “Two pounds a player to join in,” he announced. At stake would be £60 ($75) in bar vouchers and a bottle of wine. As teams picked up stapled answer sheets, he played the opening bars of Beautiful Noise by Neil Diamond, then demanded “Shh.” A certain amount of faffing carried on. “Order! Order!” Dixon said, in the manner of the speaker of the House of Commons.