Mastermind (television)

Mastermind is one of the most highly regarded British quiz shows, well-known for its challenging questions, intimidating setting, and air of seriousness. Devised by Bill Wright, the basic format of Mastermind has never altered — four contestants face two rounds, one on a specialised subject of the contestant's choice, the other a general knowledge round. Wright drew inspiration from his experiences of interrogation in World War II.

Mastermind's ominous theme music is particularly famous — its name is Approaching Menace and it is composed by Neil Richardson.


Versions of Mastermind

Mastermind has appeared in five versions:

  • The seminal BBC version hosted between 1972 and 1997 by Magnus Magnusson. At points this was one of the most-watched shows on British television. Magnusson was famous for his catchphrase "I've started so I'll finish" which was also the title of his history of the show (by far the most authoritative work on the show — ISBN 0751525855). The original series was also noted for the variety of venues where filming took place — often including academic and ecclesiastical buildings. The original series also spawned an International Edition between 1979 and 1983.
  • A version on Discovery Channel hosted by Clive Anderson in 2001. This version shortened the amount of time available for the answering of questions and lasted just one series.
  • A new BBC Two version hosted by John Humphrys, beginning in 2003. Whereas the original series kept talk to a minimum, asking contestants only their name, occupation and specialist subject, the new show includes some conversational elements with contestants between rounds. It is also distinguished from the original BBC TV series by the fact that many more contestants' specialist subjects come from popular culture, which probably reflects cultural changes in the British middle classes in recent years.
  • Junior Mastermind, also hosted by John Humphrys, is a children's version of the quiz programme and has the same format, the difference being that the contestants are only ten and eleven years old. The programme aired across six nights on BBC One, ending on 4 September 2004. The winner was Daniel Parker, whose specialist subjects were the Volkswagen Beetle (heat) and James Bond villains (final).


The highest Mastermind score is 41 points, set by Kevin Ashman in 1995.

The lowest score record of 8 points, set by Jill Perry in an edition broadcast on September 13, 2004. Scores of 9 points have been recorded by Armando Margiotta, Sally Copeland and a community worker from Warwickshire who wishes to remain anonymous.

Perhaps the most famous Mastermind winner was garrulous London taxi driver Fred Housego, who won in 1980.

Some "Specialised Subjects"

The Life and Works of Gilbert & Sullivan

The Moomin saga by Tove Jansson

The History of Lancashire County Cricket Club

The Life-cycle and Habits of the Honey-bee

The Buddhist sage Nichiren

A special episode of Mastermind called Doctor Who Mastermind was broadcast on 19 March 2005, in which all four contestants had the specialist subject Doctor Who. The prize was awarded to the winner by the current Doctor, actor Christopher Eccleston.


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