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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

    £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

    Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

    Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

    £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower