Saturday, February 11, 2012

When I played Monopoly on top of a nuclear pile cap

Today's From the Guardian Archive feature reprints a story from 1977:
Think of a likely venue for the British Monopoly championships on September 6 and 7. Yes, right first time. A nuclear power station. And not in the works canteen, either. Around 240 Monopoly enthusiasts will play the game of their lives on the nuclear pile cap of the Central Electricity Generating Board's power station at Oldbury-on-Severn, 19 miles north of Bristol. 
John Waddington of Leeds, which has held the UK licence for Monopoly for over 40 years, started negotiations with the CEGB last summer. In 1975 the championships had been held on a platform at Fenchurch Street station in London and a new gimmick was plainly needed this year. A live-wire public relations man glanced at the Monopoly board, alighted upon the Electric Company and made the short step to the nuclear power station. 
The CEGB, keen to prove to the public that their nine nuclear stations are safe, cheap and reliable, found the prospect of 240 people playing the most popular family board game on top of nuclear fuel irresistible. The game will be held in on a vast working floor, 100ft in diameter and 80ft high. Nuclear fuels are loaded and unloaded in the circular, futuristic hall which is directly above the reactor. 
Competitors will be subject to stringent security and safety precautions. They will need passes, white clothing and gloves. And no eating, drinking or smoking will be allowed while play is in progress. Film badges will be worn so that technicians can monitor radiation levels, and players must pass through decontamination chambers before and after the game. Last night the CEGB stressed that all possible precautions to ensure competitors' safety would be taken.
The report went on to say that the Oldbury championship "should see merchant bankers rubbing shoulders with bricklayers and schoolboys" and that its winner would represent Britain at the World Monopoly championships to be held in a Monaco casino the following.

As I have mentioned before, I was one of those schoolboys. I don't recall any bricklayers or merchant bankers, but I do recall that I won a couple of games and got through to the second day of the event and the last dozen or so competitors.

I had built several houses on Mayfair and Park Lane and my great rival was heading for them fast. I had visions of making the final that afternoon and then a trip to Monaco.

But my opponent went to gaol before he got to my properties and went on to win the game. But at least I got a couple of day off school.


Frank Little said...

I wondered whether that live-wire might have been Terry Pratchett, but it seems he didn't start work for CEGB until 1980:

Charlieman said...

I visited Calder Hall in 1983 on a university project. We went around all of the control rooms recording temperatures and pressures over a couple of days so that we could calculate the plant's thermal efficiency. The top of the nuclear pile was the tolerated smoking area at that time and a worker was designated to clean up fag ends each day in case there was a spot inspection by the regulators.

1983, of course, was the time of a major radioactive waste leak into the Irish Sea. The monitoring badges that we wore when visiting the plant would probably have been more useful if we had worn them when playing football on Seascale beach.

Oxford steve said...

I also played in that tournament at the oldbury site. I went out on day one but still remember the white suits and putting my hands in a geiger counter. The competition for places was run by mars and you had to collect letters from wrappers. So as a 15yr old i got a place as a first reserve and travelled from manchester to bristol by coach. An overnight stay and a screening of viva knievil at a local hotel. I remember a large white tent outside for the losers to meet in. I am looking for archive pictures as their must be some

Jonathan Calder said...

I don't have any pictures, but you have reminded that I was originally a reserve too. I caught the coach from Birmingham.

My mother used to do a lot of trade competitions, so that's probably how I came to enter the Mars one.

I remember falling in with a couple of slightly younger lads on the evening of the first day. You may have been one of them. Good to meet you again.

Unknown said...

I played in the Oldbury Monopoly match. I think I was the first to get knocked out. I still don't really know how to play it. I remember they showed us Evel Knievel's movie the night before. Was Gyles Brandreth one of the competitors that year?

Jonathan Calder said...

Yes, I remember watching Viva Knievel! that evening. I don't remember Gyles Brandreth being around - was he a thing in those days?

The only other competitor I can recall is Mike Yeo, who was a strong chess player.