This is a rather self indulgent posting. Well, they all are, but this one possibly more so than normal. I say this so that you have the opportunity to quit reading before I go any further if you want to.
Right, now that they’ve gone, lets get to the point. I made the comment last week that Russell Davies has been such a terrific question master on this year’s Brain of Britain that I haven’t been disappointed that I didn’t get to meet Robert Robinson, of whom I’ve been a fan since he presented Ask the Family in the 70s when I was a kid. This has sparked off a train of thought which leads to this post, where I share with you my list of the greatest question masters that I never got to meet. For the record, these are the broadcast question masters whose shows I have participated in.: -
Nicky Campbell – Come and Have A Go If You Think You’re Smart Enough
Dermot Murnaghan – Eggheads / Are You An Egghead
John Humphrys – Mastermind
Chris Tarrant – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
Russell Davies – Brain of Britain
By virtue of which they are, of necessity , excluded from the list. All set then ? Lets go.
1) Magnus Magnusson
Would Mastermind ever have taken off without the masterly Magnus at the helm ? Possibly so, although I doubt it would have become the broadcasting institution that it did without him. Magnus got the tone absolutely right with the gravitas that his proud , educated scots inflected English gave to the proceedings . Actually, despite his assumption of the role of the quiz ‘interrogator’, everyone I know who appeared on Magnus’ shows has said that he was a delightful man, very interested in all of his contenders, whatever the level of their performance. Sadly the great man passed away in the January of 2007, but it was a great thrill for me to be presented with the trophy for Mastermind 2007 by his daughter, broadcaster Sally Magnusson.
2) Bamber Gascoigne
There is a whole generation of University Challenge fans who have never seen a Bamber Gascoigne presented show. To coin a phrase, Bamber, as he was invariably known, was chalk to Jeremy Paxman’s cheese. Always smiling, Bamber continually gave the impression that he knew the answer to every single question. He later explained his was because all the questions were sent to him in advance, and he worked extremely hard so as not to be flummoxed if he was given an answer that diverged from the answer on the card, but might be actually right. If you never saw Bamber in action, I say to you , think of the air of comfortable intellectual superiority, without arrogance of a Stephen Fry. Like Magnus, Bamber had the distinction of becoming a personality who was instantly recognisable by his first name. He was actually asked to be question master when the show returned in 1994, but politely declined, thinking that his previous 25 years of the show were enough. Still, we can be grateful for this, since if he had accepted we might never have had the third on my list –
3) Jeremy Paxman
Say what you like about this one. I think genuine originals like Jeremy Paxman are to be treasured. Yes, I’d love to be in a quiz chaired by the man – and he could ridicule me for obvious answers , and bully me into hurrying up as much as he liked. Actually I’m sorry if this destroys anyone’s illusions, but people I know who have appeared on UC often say that he is perfectly charming behind the scenes. I have a very well known quizzing friend, who is also a supply teacher. A couple of years ago we were hatching a plan to try to get him into my school for a day’s supply cover so that we could apply together for a series of University Challenge – the Professionals. Sadly this series seems to have been killed off now, so it will probably never happen. Shame.
4) Robert Robinson
If you’re under about 35 you’ll probably never have watched Robert Robinson presenting Ask the Family. It’s a real shame , since there’s been nothing like it since it ended in 1984, and that includes the two revivals with Alan Titchmarsh and Dick and Dom. Make no bones about it, Robert Robinson is a dry old, droll old soul. It was a great pleasure to rediscover him a few years ago on Brain of Britain. You came to realise just how good he was when you listened to Peter Snow presenting the series in 2007. Sadly Robert Robinson’s health has suffered in the last few years. In both 2007, and the present series poor health meant he was unable to present the series, although this year we were fortunate to have Russell Davies take the helm. To be fair he is in his 80s, and so if he were to take a deserved full retirement we should not begrudge him it.
5) William G. Stewart
William G. Stewart has he distinction of being involved in probably the best TV quiz ever, and one of the worst of recent years. William G. Stewart was both presenter and producer of the sadly lamented 15 to 1. In this show he had the supposedly simple knack of what we in the trade call – ‘getting the hell on with it ‘. Then along with some excellent quizzers, he was one of the few good or genuine things in the unlamented “People’s Quiz “ of 2007. Whichever way you look at it, 15 to 1 ensures Mr. Stewart a prominent position in the quizzing hall of fame, if ever someone has the bright idea of erecting such an edifice.
6) Gordon Burns
I started off with a love-hate relationship with the Krypton Factor. You have to accept that I was about 13 years old when it first started, and I used to get a bit annoyed that they called it Television’s toughest Quiz, and then they went and put a physical challenge, the assault course, in it. As I looked on it , with my childish understanding, putting a physical challenge into it just wasn’t cricket. You were either good at sport, or you were good academically. You wouldn’t expect to be both – that would be cheating ! Thankfully I grew up , and when I got into the school rugby team late in the day then I could start to actually enjoy the show. Although the revival of the show has been pretty faithful, I just can’t get used to it without the calm, Caledonian authority of Gordon Burns, though. Like William G., Gordon was a master of the supposedly simple art of getting on with the show. His great secret was that he didn’t try to be the star of the show himself, instead he realised that the show itself was the star.
7) Geoffrey Wheeler
God, I’m making myself feel old through doing this. I’ve just noticed that many of my choices had their heyday in the 70s and 8s. Geoffrey wheeler was possibly best known for taking over Winner Takes All from Jimmy Tarbuck. He was always in the show, originally as the voice of the questions, but he produced the show as well. Still he was also a long time presenter of Top of the Form in the radio, and TV Top of the Form as well. He had a wonderfully warm yet unflappable manner about him. He was sort of the Mr. Chips of broadcast quizzing of years gone by, the nice school master that all of the boys liked. Going back to Top of The Form , I do wonder if it would ever be possible to do such a show today. Case in point. I taught a class of very intelligent 12 year olds today. In all seriousness they are as bright and intelligent a class of children as I have ever taught. Yet not a one of them had ever heard of the proverb “A Stitch in time saves nine. “ I rest my case.
How could I miss out - ?
I’m sure that you have a few of your own favourites you may be surprised to see me omit from my list. Well, I did set myself a few boundaries when choosing my list – partly for simplification, and partly because I just like rules . These are : -
Nobody who only really presented game shows, even if they were at least partly quizzes too. Hence no Hughie Greene, Michael Miles, Tarby etc. who probably wouldn’t have made my list anyway , and no place for a guy I actually really would have liked to meet , Bob Monkhouse.
Nobody who only really presented celebrity quizzes/panel games. Hence no Stephen fry, who would otherwise be very prominently on the list.
And finally –
There’s one glaring omission from the list in the person of Victoria Coren. This is simply because I sincerely hope that there will be another series of Only Connect, and I will certainly be applying to take part with Gary and Lisa. Fingers Crossed.