BBC One, last night
Bold choice, Clive! The newsreader last night took the question master’s chair on Mastermind (BBC1) and signalled the beginning of a more flamboyant era as the show approaches its half-century.
John Humphrys, who stepped down earlier this year, favoured forbidding suits of midnight blue or black. The show’s original host, Magnus Magnusson, preferred the traditional uniform of bank managers – pale grey, with a pastel shirt.
But Clive Myrie arrived in a purple jacket with a lilac silk tie, as though he intended to step out on to the neon-lit circular stage and throw a few disco shapes.
Clive Myrie arrived in a purple jacket with a lilac silk tie. John Humphrys, who stepped down earlier this year, favoured forbidding suits of midnight blue or black
The show has a reputation to maintain, of course. The BBC loves to dub it ‘the toughest quiz on television’, which it certainly was when it launched in 1972
The real test, of course, is in the rapid delivery of those convoluted questions. Because Mastermind is played against the clock, and contestants wait for the questions to be completed before answering, the job combines crystal diction and tongue-twisting pace.
Here, Myrie excelled. He has the sort of baritone voice that makes smooth listening, with no awkward sibilance or stutters. Even the longest questions spooled out in a long fusillade and on a single breath.
Try saying this in one go without turning blue in the face: ‘In the 1960s Roger Moore played the crime fighter Simon Templar in the television series The Saint and one episode entitled The Ex-King of Diamonds featuring a Texan adventurer named Rod Houston is now recognised as the forerunner of what 1970s series also starring Moore?’ (Contestant Eleanor got that one right – it is The Persuaders.)
Magnusson was famous for his Presbyterian growl as he pronounced an answer ‘correct’. Humphrys favoured a smart ‘yep’ or ‘yes’. Myrie chose to drawl his verdict each time, dragging out the word until it was almost three syllables: ‘Heeye-ess.’ That slowed things down.
For us at home, any delay was welcome. Half the time, I was still puzzling over the question before, unwittingly playing by Two Ronnies rules (remember that classic sketch in which Ronnie Corbett gave the answer to the question before last?)
I thought I might have a shot at one specialist round, on the life and career of Bruce Springsteen.
But though I’ve been a fan for decades, I got just one right – and that was sheer luck, because by the end I was simply answering with the first thing that came into my head.
With the Roger Moore questions, I fared slightly better, scoring four. But I got none right on Tsar Nicholas II and his family, and only one on the geography of Switzerland – again, a guess.
Tom, the Alpine geographer, was looking like a sure winner, but went to pieces in the general knowledge round – easily done in that inquisitorial spotlight.
That enabled Ranvir Singh Kalare, a software engineer who is blind, to edge to victory.
The show has a reputation to maintain, of course. The BBC loves to dub it ‘the toughest quiz on television’, which it certainly was when it launched in 1972.
Since then, many have tried to take its crown – most recently, Jon Snow’s Very Hard Questions on More4, which should have been titled Jon Snow’s Instantly Forgotten Quiz.
University Challenge, which has been running even longer than Mastermind, since 1962, is too often stymied by the youth of its contestants. The students display an extraordinary grasp of academic subjects, often alongside huge gaps in general knowledge. Many argue that Only Connect, presented by Victoria Coren Mitchell, is the toughest of all – though it’s really a test of lateral thinking more than deep learning.
Mastermind remains the true test of both specialist knowledge and broad intelligence. Myrie knows that, and he also knows his Mastermind history. ‘It’s all about the stark set, the lighting, the aggressive music,’ he says. ‘It’s the idea that you are being interrogated.’ He cites the legend that the show’s creator, BBC producer Bill Wright, was an RAF gunner shot down and captured over Germany during the Second World War – and that the infamous Mastermind spotlight was inspired by Gestapo techniques. And he adds a new insight: ‘They asked him “Name, rank and number” and that’s where he got “Name, occupation, specialist subject” from.’
Don’t be fooled by the party suit, then. Clive Myrie intends to be deadly serious.
Now test yourself on some of last night’s questions
1 The Bank of England £1 note, which ceased to be legal tender in 1988, featured a portrait of which English scientist?
2 Chisinau is the capital city of which eastern European country?
3 In the British Royal Family, what is the first name of the older sister of Princess Eugenie?
4 The kirpan is a type of ceremonial sword or dagger worn by followers of which religion?
5 Which chess piece can move diagonally only?
6 The singer Mary Wilson, who died in 2021, was the founding member of which 1960s chart-topping Motown pop group?
7 In yoga what name is given to the position in which a person sits cross legged with each foot placed on the opposite thigh?
8 What is the name of the smoke-dried ripe jalapeno chilli pepper used primarily in Mexican and Mexican inspired cuisine?
9 In American football the Super Bowl is played on which day of the week?
10 Which Portuguese explorer was killed after becoming involved in a battle on Mactan Island in the Philippines in 1521?
1 Sir Isaac Newton. 2 Moldova. 3 Beatrice.
4 Sikhism. 5 Bishop. 6 The Supremes.
7 Lotus. 8 Chipotle. 9 Sunday. 10 Ferdinand Magellan.