Obituary: Max Thomson - City transport executive and family man renowned as a genial quiz champion
Born: 24 May, 1962, in Edinburgh. Died: 18 January, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 49
MAX Thomson could not only name the Father of Quantum Physics, he could also reel off the names of all of Deirdre Barlow’s husbands.
He was an unassuming man, a “gentle giant”, who worked as a transport planner in Edinburgh for most of his adult life. He never sought the limelight, but he attained a measure of local celebrity as a key member of one of the most successful quiz teams in Scotland.
Max’s team won countless pub quizzes and then the Belhaven regional championship at the end of last year. But more significantly they are believed to be the only team ever to win three different television quiz shows.
They set a record score on Postcode Challenge on STV. They beat a touring all-star team and 15 other teams on Quiz Trippers on Channel 4. And finally they joined the elite group who have beaten the Eggheads, BBC2’s resident team of full-time quiz experts, including several Mastermind champions.
Membership of our team varied slightly, but in the three TV shows and the Belhaven tournament heats and final Max was always there, along with Mark Gaffney and me.
Born in Edinburgh in 1962, Maxwell James Thomson was the elder of two children of Jim, an office clerk, and Netta, a teacher. His grandfather was a bus inspector in Glasgow and Max enjoyed visiting his father’s workplace and helping check buses in and out of the bus station. It was the beginning of a lifelong interest in transport, particularly buses and planes.
He was educated at Trinity Primary, Trinity Academy and Edinburgh University, where he took a degree in geography.
He worked for Tayside Regional Council for a couple of years, and then returned to Edinburgh, working for Lothian Regional Council and then, after reorganisation, Edinburgh City Council, where he was public transport and accessibility manager. He was not directly involved in the trams, but was responsible for bus diversions.
Max enjoyed reading, television, photography, travel and attending air shows. But latterly his main interest, beyond work and family, was possibly quizzes. He quizzed at Spiers Bar in Goldenacre, Edinburgh, for several years. I quizzed at the Starbank just down the road. Mark Gaffney quizzed in both teams.
We all knew each other through St Serf’s Tennis Club, where Max’s sister Laura was president and we combined forces a few years ago when we began to think about applying for Eggheads.
We started quizzing all over north and central Edinburgh, week in, week out, and I got to know Max better. Max was not the sort of guy to strike up a conversation with strangers or start an argument with the quizmaster over a dodgy answer.
But with people he knew he was easy company, ready to chat about television or football or recount some incident from an earlier quiz with that distinctive chuckle that he had.
He virtually never missed a quiz. He was totally reliable. If he said he would be there, he was there.
He enjoyed being part of a team. He enjoyed a pint and the craic and the challenge of the quiz. He had his areas of special interest, but his great strength was his general knowledge. He was part of the bedrock on which the team was built.
Max was also quietly competitive. I think he enjoyed not only being part of a team, but part of a winning team. We did dozens and dozens of pub quizzes and we won most of them.
Niall Pringle, one of the best pub quizzers in Edinburgh, joined us and in recent months we often quizzed as a three and went on winning.
Following Max’s death I received dozens of messages of condolence from others in the quizzing community in Edinburgh and farther afield, including Eggheads Kevin Ashman and Barry Simmons and the show’s producer Rob Dean.
He said: “Max was a great contestant and part of an excellent team. Hopefully the thought of him doing something he loved, with a bunch of his mates, and beating the Eggheads, will be a memory that Netta and Laura can cherish forever. Take care, Rob and all the Eggheads.”
Max was not a particularly emotional guy, but at the end of Eggheads he and teammate David Gow embrace in some sort of strange bear hug. And then they compose themselves and give a more manly thumbs-up.
We recorded Eggheads in January of last year, but it was not shown until a year later. Max came round to my house, with his mother and sister, to watch it with my wife and me on the evening of Monday, 16 January.
Virtually the last thing he said to me was that he would see me for the regular quiz at the Harbour Inn in Newhaven on the Wednesday night.
It was late Wednesday afternoon and I had the A to Z of Almost Everything open on my desk when I got a call to say he had taken his own life. For some questions we have no answer. BRIAN PENDREIGH
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