Almanack: There's a kind of hush

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The Independent Online
RUGBY league fans can get an extra fix of their sport on BBC 1 tonight when John Wilson takes the Mastermind chair. John, a 35-year-old St Helens fan from Liverpool, has chosen The History of Rugby League in Britain as his specialist subject in the first round of the competition. Almanack gave him a ring. Is John a lifelong devotee of the game? 'Not really', he said. 'My real sport is cricket, but so many people do cricket that you're in with a better chance of getting on well if you choose something a little more obscure.'

The show was taped some time ago, but for obvious reasons John is sworn to secrecy about the result. What sort of questions had Magnus fired at him? 'What you're looking at is milestones,' John revealed. 'It's probably fair to say that most of the things I answered were things I'd learnt in the last three months' study leading up to the programme.'

The black leather chair, the spotlight, the deadly hush . . . had he been nervous? 'I enjoyed the experience,' John said. 'It wasn't as nerve-racking as I thought it would be. I think my opponents were a lot less relaxed than I was.'

What is the secret of his composure? Breathing exercises? Yoga? Simply experience, it seems. 'I'd done more television than them,' John reflected, 'even though Mastermind is a completely different set-up to the things I've done before, like Busman's Holiday and University Challenge.'

But experience is no substitute for knowledge once the lights go down. Will John remember who captained the first Great Britain touring side in 1910? (Lomas of Salford). Or who was the first Regal Trophy final man of the match award winner? (Bruce Burton of Halifax). Tune in to BBC 1 at 9.50 this evening to find out.