Books: Obey the Old Norse code

Name: Susan Jeffreys. Occupation: writer. Subject: Magnus's memoirs; I've Started So I'll Finish: the story of Mastermind by Magnus Magnusson, Little, Brown, pounds 16.99

Third in the pub quiz this week. If only we hadn't let ourselves be persuaded that the Last Emperor had come out in 1991, not 1987. True, the other teams were in tearing form. The Gypsey Giros had their star player back and the mysteriously named Side Show Bob were firing on all cylinders, but we still threw away a chance of gold.

It's serious stuff out there in the quiz world. I've never thought that Magnus Magnusson, despite his air of gravitas, has ever quite understood that. His gaffes, his lack of precision, his mangling of French that put any specialist in matters Gallic at a terrible disadvantage, grated on the nerves of quiz buffs for the 25 years that he was Mastermind inquisitor. But he looked right.

Broad-browed, granite-featured, he fitted perfectly into the nightmare set. It was, literally, that. The BBC had been casting around for a rival to ITV's University Challenge. Racked by dreams of his wartime experience with the Gestapo, producer Bill Wright came up with the idea of an isolated contender and a remorseless interrogator. The chair, a customised executive model, and the music, "Approaching Menace" by Neil Richardson (remember that, it could come up in a quiz), helped pile on the doomy feel.

Contestants groped towards the pool of light and the terrible chair. Mastermind started with an audience of 1.5 million, which grew to 6.5 million. A change in scheduling put it on peak-time Thursdays. and its audience shot up to 12 million.

I'm quoting Magnus on these figures, and he can be a bit slapdash on this sort of thing. I noticed my brother's name in the text spelt just about as wrong as it could be, which cheered me up but is not what you expect from a quizmaster supreme. The ex-most famous Icelander is pretty upfront about his mistakes, remembering those terrible moments when he called Ho Chi Minh Chinese or turned Polonius into Hamlet's father. He assures us that contestants took these things in good heart, but that's not what I've heard. Those who sat through the recordings spoke of the bum-numbing boredom of endless re-takes.

What with crass punctuation (lots of exclamation marks!) and chapter headings such as "The Team Spirit" and "Winners All", this book is like one of those school histories by an amiable retired headmaster. But the Old Norse does have a real affection for the old boys and old girls. There are some strange stories lurking here: Christopher Hughes the underground driver, who tried to do a Fred Housego and launch himself onto the choppy seas of a media career; Ian Meadows, a hospital driver with a Trinity degree obsessed with doing a thesis on the History of Smoking. There are contenders who triumphed over crippling illnesses, the highly strung and the highly dedicated.

Arfor Wyn Hughes, an art teacher, made a terrible mess on his specialist art round, scoring five to become Mastermind's lowest ever scorer. He toughed it out by holding a party at his house, which his wife filled with helium balloons with the word PASS on them.

It is an obsessive business, and Magnusson does catch that: the nights spent in the reference library, the tape-recording of questions to speed up reflexes. I had a lodger who was a Mastermind semi-finalist, and a high scorer. Contestants are allowed tickets for family and friends, but my lodger lost to a man who had no family to cheer him on. He gave up quizzes not long after that and went on a world tour. I wish he'd come back, though; he'd be handy this Tuesday against Side Show Bob and the Gypsey Giros.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas