Miles Kington: 'Mastermind' – it's a piece of bliss

'It was a pathetic display of knowledge but a perfect display of ignorance. And that is what I was there for'
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The Independent Online

There is a fascinating case going on in the High Court at the moment, in which a man is suing the TV quiz programme 'Mastermind' for thousands of pounds' worth of damages. He claims that when he appeared on the programme he got all the answers right, but was given no points at all by Magnus Magnusson. In support of this sensational accusation he points out that... but perhaps a brief extract from the proceedings will explain better than I could.

Counsel: Now, Mr Blender, you claim that you appeared on Mastermind in late 1996?

Plaintiff: That is correct. You get one point for that.

Counsel: Mr Blender, this is not a TV quiz game now. This is a serious case of law.

Plaintiff: I am sorry. You do not get any points for that. Carry on.

Counsel: When you appeared on Mastermind, what was your special subject on which you wished to be asked questions?

Plaintiff: Ignorance.

Counsel: Any special kind of ignorance? Congenital ignorance? Ignorance of history? Ignorance of sport?

Plaintiff: No, just plain ignorance.

Counsel: What was the first question that you were asked by Mr Magnusson?

Plaintiff: The first question I got on my chosen subject was: "When 'tis folly to be wise, what is ignorance?"

Counsel: And what did you say to that?

Plaintiff: I don't know.

Counsel: Do you mean that you don't know what you said, or that you said "I don't know".

Plaintiff: I said "I don't know".

Counsel: In the programme itself? Or just now?

Plaintiff: Both. I certainly told Mr Magnusson that I didn't know.

Counsel: Did you in fact know?

Plaintiff: Know what?

Counsel: That ignorance is bliss?

Plaintiff: Is it?

Counsel: According to Thomas Gray that's what it is.

Plaintiff: Who?

Counsel: Thomas Gray wrote in his poem "On a Distant Prospect of Eton College" that where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.

Plaintiff: He may well have written it. However, that proves nothing. A poet's opinion is only an opinion. Frequently a poet's opinion is highly suspect and coloured by language. Was it not HL Mencken who said that poetry consisted of giving exquisite expression to a series of propositions that were at best doubtful and most commonly downright lies?

Counsel: Was it?

Plaintiff: I don't know.

Counsel: I see... Now, what was the second question that Mr Magnusson put to you on your special subject of ignorance?

Plaintiff: It was another quotation. At least, it sounded like a quotation. Mr Magnusson asked me from which play came the well-known lines: "I count religion but a childish toy/ And hold there is no sin but ignorance." Well, they were not well-known lines to me.

Counsel: So presumably you said that you didn't know.

Plaintiff: I did.

Counsel: Did you know that they came from The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe?

Plaintiff: Do they? Well done! Have another point!

Counsel: Would I be correct in saying that you answered every other question in the same way, saying "I don't know"?

Plaintiff: I think I may have varied my response a little, alternating between "I don't know" and "I'm sorry, I don't know", with the occasional "Pass" thrown in.

Counsel: It was, in fact, a pathetic display of knowledge.

Plaintiff: Yes, it was. But it was a perfect display of ignorance. And that, after all, was what I was there to demonstrate. Therefore I should have got maximum points. That is why I am suing Mastermind.

Counsel: Not so fast! You were not called upon to demonstrate ignorance! You were there to demonstrate a knowledge of ignorance! Yet you seemed to know nothing about ignorance at all!

Plaintiff: Oh, I don't know...

More of this engrossing court case will follow tomorrow...