Dear Mastermind

There are rumours that the flagship BBC quiz programme may be under threat. A fan urges Magnus Magnusson not to give up

So Magnus Magnusson wants to finish what he started, and another cornerstone of our culture is wobbling out of place. For more than 20 years the nation's general knowledge boffins have pitted their wits against Magnusson, his buzzer and the occupants of the black leather chair. Ratings slipped to 5.6 million for last year's final. But it's worth reminding ourselves why more than 20 million were drawn to Mastermind in its heyday.

Drama and tragedy were essential components. The excitement of the general knowledge round was all the greater because you, the viewer, could hurl answers at your favourite. The programme was not without pain, shame even. A string of contestants crumbled beneath the glare of the lights able only to murmur "pass" in answer to Magnus's relentless assault. Imagine what it must have been like for desperately shy people. After years studying their speciality they summoned up the courage to put themselves forward as one of the 4,500 entrants. They won through the tortuous pre-filming competitions to become one of the 48 to sit in the black chair. Their families were gathered in the great, draughty hall at some far-flung university, only to see their beloved super-swots flop to a public humiliation.

But in the main the programme was the triumph of the shy, retiring, obscure and eccentric over the shallow and glamorous. Mastermind was a revelation because it exposed not only knowledge but passion, the passion that drove someone to find out all they could about Jane Austen, the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Western Railway. It was a route to celebrity for all hard-working, uncomplaining, unambitious civil servants and teachers, retired bank managers and librarians whose interior intellectual lives one imagined to be as rich and diverse as their social lives were drab and predictable.

Mastermind sprang from the BBC's Reithian traditions. At the height of its popularity, when it was broadcast at peak times on a Sunday evening, there was a sense that the entire country was sitting down to pit its wits against some officially sanctioned body of knowledge that was stored in the vaults of the BBC and poured forth through Magnus Magnusson.It was a forerunner of the national curriculum. The questions were not so difficult that ordinary viewers were excluded but were difficult enough to make you feel tested.

Magnusson's authority was vital. When he delivered the score it was more than just a calculation, it was a verdict on someone's preparation and dedication, almost a moral judgement. His calm assurance created the illusion that he probably knew most of the answers. He was living proof that it was possible to have answers to everything if only we took the time to find them.

It's no surprise that in a world of mounting uncertainty, not to mention competition, that Mastermind should attract a smaller audience. But to give up now would be to betray all those people burrowing away with piles of books in the unfashionable pursuit of knowledge. It's understandable Magnus would want to retire after 25 years. But Desert Island Discs survived the departure of its inventor, surely Mastermind can do the same.

JOHN PLUMMER

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific