Here we go again -
Mastermind I see has once more attracted the wrong kind of headlines. You may remember the non-story back in January which was prompted by the comments of celebrity ? Victoria Derbyshire ( who ? ) over her offer of a ‘crib sheet’ – her words, not mine – if she would agree to take part in Celebrity Mastermind. Well both today’s Mail and Telegraph carried a story this morning trying, so it seems, to generate a similar amount of controversy.
If you haven’t seen the story, here it is in a nutshell.
Gareth Kingston won heat 16 of the current series which was shown on the 6th February.Gareth had opted to answer questions on Northampton Town FC as his specialist subject in the semi final.
The BBC uses 21st Century Quiz to set the questions for the series. 2003 champion Andy Page works for 21st Century, and he was asked to research the questions for this round. Knowing a particular book to be a very good source, Andy tried to get hold of a copy of it. Andy had no idea that it was Gareth who was answering the questions. The two know each other through the quiz circuit, and so Andy, knowing that Gareth is a fan and hugely knowledgable about Northampton Town, contacted Gareth to ask him if he had the book. Gareth informed Andy that he was actually the contender taking the subject, and that was where communication between them ended. More than that, both Andy and Gareth independently informed the BBC production team right away.
Please tell me , if you can, who has not acted 100% honourably , openly and honestly in this incident. Andy and Gareth have acted with great integrity. 21st Century Quiz are a hugely respected outfit, who set the questions for quite a number of quizzes on television, and certainly have acted in a way that is beyond reproach.
So why on earth are the newspapers writing about this ? Especially when you consider that all of this must have happened months ago. Well, if you read the reports, its fairly clear that the writers’ real intentions were to resurrect the old chestnut about whether the show is dumbing down or not. All of this seems to have been a pretext to allow them to throw their hands up in mock horror at he thought of anyone daring to take a humble football team for their specialist subject. If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that we’ve considered the question of specialist subjects in more depth and detail than practically anyone else has, and will have seen my conclusions, that the show is most definitely not dumbing down, and that supposedly ‘soft’ subjects are in fact no easier than any other are backed up by statistical analysis.
Some of the comments about the story on the Mail’s website do show that unfortunately the slurs against the show may be hitting home. More than one contributor suggested that subjects today are too easy. If I could have one Easter wish come true, it would be for everyone who ever makes a comment such as this to actually try a so-called ‘soft’ specialist subject on Mastermind for themselves.
Why does a section of the national press have it in for Mastermind ? Who knows ? I do have one suggestion, however. If you’ve never read Marcus Berkman’s book “Brain Men” ( updated version – “A Matter of Facts”) , then I can heartily recommend it. In the book, the author makes the point that in Britain, we are the only country where you are ever likely to be called “Too Clever By Half”. Or put it another way, nobody likes a swot. For whatever reason we have become a society where conspicuous displays of logic or intelligence arouse deep suspicion and hostility among a significant proportion of the population. Don’t take my word for it. Google the names of the Eggheads, for instance, and just read some of the comments about them on internet forums. You might not like the show, which is of course your prerogative as the viewer, but some of the personal comments about the 6 Eggheads are positively vitriolic, and all I am sure by people who have never actually met them. Or, if you want another example closer to home, go to your local pub quiz, and see what happens if the same team wins it four or five times in a row, and the kind of comments that people make about them.
As my good friend Robert once said,
“ You might play in a football match against a man whom you foul deliberately, whom you kick in the shins, the ankles, and even the privates, whose family and parentage you openly and loudly criticise, and after the match in all probability you’ll forget all about it, shake hands, and have a couple of pints. But if you make someone feel stupid . . . “