Neil O' Brien

‘Father of quizzing’ passes away

Print edition : July 22, 2016

Neil O' Brien. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

NEIL O’ BRIEN, widely acknowledged as the “Father of Quizzing” in India, passed away on June 24 at the age of 82. For quiz-crazy Kolkata, this was truly the end of an era, for O’ Brien dominated the quizzing scene for nearly 50 years since 1967 when he conducted the first “open quiz” in Calcutta (now Kolkata) at Christ the King Church Parish Hall. Over the years, thanks to his enormous popularity as a quiz master and his well-loved quiz columns in newspapers and magazines, the name Neil O’ Brien became synonymous with quizzing.

With his unique style of conducting a quiz contest, O’ Brien single-handedly popularised quizzing and inspired several generations to become quizzers.

“Neil O’ Brien, in a way, democratised quizzing and made it engaging for the non-specialists. His greatest contribution lies in inspiring students in schools and colleges to take active interest in this mind sport, and I guess he is more responsible than anyone else in architecting Kolkata’s quiz culture. The best part of his quizzes was the craftsmanship in formulating a question,” Charanpreet Singh, a teacher and well-known quiz master, told Frontline.

O’ Brien was also an eminent educationist and was the chairman of the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) from 1993 to 2011. In his condolence message, Gerry Arathoon, chief executive and secretary, CISCE, wrote: “His wide-ranging interest in education played a role in the development of schools affiliated to the Council and helped in the expansion of education in our country. Under his chairmanship, the Council pioneered a number of academic initiatives, which established the Council as an exemplary National Examination Board.”

Born on May 10, 1934, in Calcutta to Amos Peter O’ Brien and Edna, Neil grew up to become one of the pillars of the Anglo-Indian community. He was a nominated member of the West Bengal Assembly from 1977 to 1991 and was also elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996. O’ Brien also had a successful career in publishing; he joined Oxford University Press as Calcutta Manager in 1965 and retired in 1996 as its chairman and managing director.

There was one talent of his which most people were not aware of. Another Anglo-Indian icon of Kolkata, jazz legend Carlton Kitto remembers Neil as a very musical person. “He loved to sing songs of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and others. In the early days he would sometimes sing a few songs with my group on stage at the Dalhousie Institute (a club in Kolkata). He had a very nice, soothing voice, a voice that suited jazz,” Kitto told Frontline. O’ Brien is survived by his wife Joyce, whom he had married in 1959, and three sons, Andy, Barry and Derek.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay