There are rumours that the flagship BBC quiz programme may be under threat. A fan urges Magnus Magnusson not to give up
Monday 11 September 1995
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.
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
The battle for control of Stieg Larsson's £30m legacy
Life & Style blogs
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 2 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 3 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 4 Cycle death inquest: Boyfriend hugs driver of 32 tonne tipper truck that killed his girlfriend
- 5 Burglar steals video tapes of child abuse, hands them into police
£25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: PHP Deve...
£40000 - £55000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: This Big 4 giant is seeking ...
£35000 - £50000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have personal tax exp...
£22000 - £37000 per annum: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: This se...