Life
20 Jul 2016 12:55pm

A lot on his mind

Alan Heath tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how the discipline of accountancy helped him become Mastermind champion and run a busy private practice simultaneously

Many’s the client who hopes their accountant has all the answers, but Alan Heath really does: he’s the current Mastermind champion.

And the 56-year-old sole practitioner landed the prestigious BBC title thanks to his literally FAB knowledge – of cult children’s TV show Thunderbirds.

“It’s a wonderful honour,” he says. “This is my 10th television quiz show but this is still the one with all the kudos. Being Mastermind champion is special.”

Heath triumphed on a tiebreak after choosing Gerry Anderson’s classic puppet series as his specialist subject. “I grew up in the 1960s and it was simply the best thing on television,” he says. “Mastermind is like studying for an exam. I thought that if I was going to immerse myself in something for two months before the final, it should be something I really enjoy.”

He also had to fit it around running AH Accounting, the private practice he has managed in Buckingham for nearly three decades following an early career at first Hacker Young in the City of London and then Peat Marwick Mitchell in Milton Keynes. “I really enjoyed advising and working with small businesses,” he says. “But I was aware I had no experience of knowing what they were going through. So I decided to set up on my own in 1989 and gave myself 12 months to make a go of it. Fortunately that was just before the crash, and when the crash happened I had a base of clients. I’ve never looked back.”

And through it all he has been passionate about his hobby – answering general knowledge questions – and even met his wife Heather, an optician, at a quiz night. Indeed, trying to recall facts has become a family affair. Not only do the couple compete for the same local quiz team – called Badgers – but they took on television brainboxes the Eggheads and then, with daughter Victoria, 27, appeared on Only Connect.

All of which made Heather the ideal partner when Heath won his first Mastermind (specialist subject: I, Claudius) and semi-final (British Olympic champions) and had to study for the final.

“Heather really supported me,” says Heath, who has also appeared on Radio 4’s Brain of Britain and Channel 4 show Fifteen To One. “I’m not sure how many other wives would let their husbands watch all 32 Thunderbirds episodes over and over again!”

But, he says, his accounting experience helped him to focus. “It’s a very methodical process,” he says. “I’d watch TV with my notebook, breaking shows down into characters, plots, writers, directors, where the incidents take place. I was very organised, which is a skill I picked up in accountancy training all those years ago.”

But once the title was in the bag, Alan faced another challenge – keeping it secret. “I won in November but the show didn’t go out until April. That was very hard.” In fact, his friends found out only when he invited them to watch the final at his house in Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire. He did give them a clue. “There were about 20 of us and they knew I was going to be on but they didn’t know the result. Although maybe the theme of the party gave it away – it was Thunderbirds!”

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