My Mastermind Experience

Mastermind 2
Picture Credit: BBC

The first episode of the latest series of Mastermind featured a very foolish person taking part on it: me.

Taking part under my real name of Ian Dunn, I was answering questions on the specialist subject of the BBC Radio 4 Dickensian sitcom Bleak Expectations. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it on the iPlayer first. If you have already seen it, you will know that while I was leading after my specialist subject, but I somewhat fell in the general knowledge round and came joint third. There are various reasons I could give for not winning: I might have revised the wrong things, or I could blame the pressure of sitting in the Black Chair, but personally I prefer to blame the fact that among my fellow contenders two of them had appeared on Mastermind before. Fortunately, the other contender did not appear on Mastermind – unfortunately, he had won the last series of Only Connect.

The experience of applying and taking part on Mastermind has been a fun one. There was one strange thing that came up during the application process. As you may know, much of the Mastermind was inspired by the inventor Bill Wright’s experiences of being interrogated by the Gestapo, who always asked POWs their name, rank and number – hence why contenders are asked their name, occupation and specialist subject. This Nazi legacy seems to have accidentally continued, because when you are accepted as a contender you have to fill in a form detailing the sources of your specialist subjects. However, in the computer file name they abbreviated the form’s name, so unfortunately the file name reads: “Mastermind SS Form”. You really think someone would have spotted that.

The recording itself took place in MediaCityUK in Salford, which as places go, is perhaps a bit too big. There were countless studios dotted around the place, and various networks share the studios. For example, the studios where BBC Two’s Mastermind are recorded are also used by CBBC and ITV. As a result the same building also records Newsround, Blue Peter and, oddly, The Jeremy Kyle Show. One other pleasant thing about the recording that I didn’t know before hand is that Mastermind has its own warm-up man: the comedian Ted Robbins (Phoenix Nights), who was great at entertaining the audience.

While sitting in the Black Chair, I had a very clear strategy for what I was going to do: not to look at anything. That is why I had my eyes shut while I was being quizzed: to help concentrate purely on the questions that were being asked. The other aspect I am particularly fond of is that what with Bleak Expectations being a rather surreal comedy, about 19th century industrialist Sir Philip Bin, the inventor of the bin, foiling the schemes of his ironically named twice undead evil ex-guardian Mr. Gently Benevolent, there was that pleasing satisfaction of hearing host John Humphrys reading out some strange questions. It is safe to say that no-one else will be tackling questions on dogs called Countdown that can only understand anagrams, or civil wars in Russia about the spelling of the word Tsar/Czar.

The one other thought I have been able to take away is this: I didn’t know it at the time, but having talking to the producers of the shows I’ve since discovered that the term “highest scoring runners-up” is slightly euphemistic. It doesn’t just go to people who came second. People who came third have also gone through to the semi-finals, and indeed this happened to someone last year. Thus, I could still go through to the next round, as I happen to know that they are recording the final heats this week. I know at least two people who failed to win scored 26 points or more, because they were on the same show as me. If only three people or fewer score more than this I could get through, as could the other person I tied with. In fact, my heat could be the first time that all four contenders from one episode manage to qualify. That heat has a small chance of becoming TV history, depending on the other results.

One last thing – I have no idea who decided to put that slight music sting at the end of player’s turn. We didn’t have this sound on during the recording and I have no idea whose bright idea it was to add it.

Mastermind is on the BBC iPlayer. New episodes currently go out on Wednesdays at 20.00, until going back to their normal Friday transmissions as of 5th August.