The BBC’s Mastermind programme is a cultural institution. First aired in 1972, it’s now approaching one thousand episodes, and announced yesterday that Clive Myrie would be taking over as quizmaster, only the fifth host in the show’s history.
As a former contestant, I have a deep and abiding affection for the show, and was delighted to see yesterday’s news. Approaching my thirtieth birthday some years ago, I put together a list of things I wanted to do that scared me, including a TV quiz show. I put in an application to Mastermind, then promptly forgot about it. Eighteen months later, following a series of phone and video auditions, including a memorable general knowledge test I completed with the BBC while in a bar in Vietnam, I found myself sitting in the famous black Eames chair in a studio in Salford, praying that I wouldn’t challenge for the lowest score record on the show. The filming itself was a bit of a blur, and I was somewhat stunned to win my heat and return for the semi-finals.
On his appointment as host, Myrie said that he wanted to change “little things” on the programme but promised that the fundamental format and basic structure of the show would remain the same. Part of the joy of Mastermind is its familiarity – the chair, the foreboding theme music (which is actually entitled ‘Approaching Menace’) and the opportunity to poke fun at the niche interests of members of the British public. However, there are a couple of things I would like to see change as the programme nears its fiftieth year.
The show would certainly benefit from more diversity in its casting, something which the producers have been working to improve for several years now. I was the only woman in my heat and one of two in my semi-final, and all contestants in both were white. The stereotype of a trivia nerd is often an older white man and increasing diversity in the show would both reflect modern Britain better and hopefully lead to a broader range of specialist subjects. Aligned to this, a greater focus on more modern popular culture may help to attract younger viewers. One of my abiding memories of my experience was being gently ridiculed by John Humphrys in a break in filming after my general knowledge round for failing to name Northern Irish comedian Frank Carson, much of whose success dated to before I was born.
It will be exciting to see what Myrie does with his time as host. In the meantime, I’ve been quietly encouraging SEC Newgate UK colleagues to put in applications for the upcoming series, and, once the pandemic allows, planning our grand return to pub quizzes!