For the first round, the questioner invites the first contestant to begin. He or she walks over to a black chair and sits down. The contestant is then given a set period of time, usually two minutes (one minute and a half in semi-finals, similarly hereinafter), to answer questions on a specialised subject which he or she has chosen (see examples below). The questioner announces the start of the time period, and then reads out a question. If the contestant gives the correct answer, he or she scores one point, and the questioner then reads out the next question. The contestant may pass (by simply saying "pass") if he or she doesn't know the answer, or prefers not to spend time trying to remember the answer: the questioner does not begin to read the next question until the contestant has given an answer or said "pass". If a question is answered incorrectly, the questioner will give the correct answer before reading out the next question; this uses some of the contestant's remaining time. However, if the contestant passes, the questioner moves straight on to the next question: the answer is not read out until the end of the round.
After the two minutes are up a buzzer is sounded, which is made up of four beeps. If, when the buzzer sounds, the questioner has already started to read out a question, but has not finished doing so, he or she reads out the rest of the question, and the contestant is then given a short period of time to answer. This convention leads to the show's famous catchphrase, "I've started so I'll finish." If a question has been read out in full when the buzzer sounds, but the contestant has not yet given an answer, the questioner allows a short period of time for an answer to be given. Starting from the 2016-2017 series, home viewers can realise that the round is coming to a close when the frame of the score starts to turn blue when there's 10 seconds remaining on the clock. After this, the contestant is told how many points he or she has scored, and answers to any passes are given. The next contestant then takes his or her place in the black chair, and the procedure is repeated. This continues until every contestant has had one turn.
After the contestants have answered the specialised questions, they are given general knowledge questions. The procedure is very similar to that used in the first round, except that the contestants usually have two-and-a-half minutes each, rather than two (but two minutes in the semi-finals). As originally aired, the contestants would return for the second round in the same order as for their specialised subject. The contestants are now recalled in reverse order of number of points scored in the first round.
The winner is the contestant with the most points. If two or more contestants have an identical number of points, then the contestant with the fewer (or fewest) passes is the winner. The possibility of passing leads to tactical play as passing uses less time allowing more questions to be answered; but may count against the contestant at the end in the event of a tie.
Should the top two or more contestants have the same score and same number of passes at the end of the contest then a tie-breaker is employed, in which the contenders are each asked the same five questions (one contender answers questions, while the others must leave the studio so that they may not able to hear). It is not clear what would happen should this fail to produce a clear winner, though it is implied that the process would simply be repeated as many times as necessary (and probably unsuccessful tie-breakers would be edited out of the programme, to save time). It is, however, very rare for the tie-break to be required. In the version of the show hosted by John Humphrys (2003 to present), it has appeared only five times in the main series and once in the Junior Mastermind spin-off, the latter being in the final broadcast on 26 February 2006. In 2016, the grand final went to a tie break for the first time in the show's history, and also for the first time in the following series, there was a three-way tie finish.
The winner goes through to the next round, where he or she must choose a different specialised subject. The winner of the final of the BBC version is declared "Mastermind" for that year and is the only contestant to receive a prize, in the form of a cut-glass engraved bowl. During the era of Magnus Magnusson's presentation the trophy was specially manufactured by Caithness Glass. A special guest would always be invited to present the trophy to the winner, with the exception of the final edition in 1997, where host Magnus Magnusson presented the trophy to the new winner.
Mastermind first aired on BBC 1 version in 1972 and lasted until 1997. It was presented by Magnus Magnusson. It was originally broadcast late on a Sunday night and was not expected to receive a huge audience. In 1973 it was moved to a prime-time slot as an emergency replacement for a Leslie Phillips sitcom, Casanova '73, which had been moved to a later time following complaints about its risqué content. The quiz subsequently became 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 0-7515-2585-5). The original series was also noted for the variety of venues where filming took place—often including academic and ecclesiastical buildings. The last programme of the original series was filmed at St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney.
The original series also spawned many specials. Supermind was an annual playoff between either the first four champions of Mastermind or champions of other TV quiz shows (inc. Mastermind) from 1976 or 1977. It ran for three years between 1976 and 1978. Cup Final Mastermind was an annual playoff between experts and supporters from the FA Cup Finalist teams they are supporting. It ran from 1978 and 1980. Mastermind International was an annual playoff between winners of various international versions of the show (or the nearest equivalents in some countries) and ran for five years between 1979 and 1983. Mastermind Champions was a 1982 3-part competition where the first ten champions of the show compete to become the Mastermind Champion of Champions.
After being dropped by BBC 1 in 1997, it was picked up by on BBC Radio 4 and ran between 1998 and 2000. It was hosted by Peter Snow.
Mastermind then moved to Discovery Channel hosted by Clive Anderson in 2001. With Discovery Channel having commercials, this shortened the amount of time available for the answering of questions and lasted just one series. This was also the first to go 'interactive'. By using the red button viewers could play the general knowledge section throughout the series. These questions had been written specifically to afford both standard and multiple-choice format in presentation. There was a one-off competition between the four highest scoring viewers.
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, at first the new run included some conversational elements with contestants between rounds, although these have been dropped since the 2011 series. 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. Unlike the original version, this version is studio-based. It is now made in MediaCity in Salford (although, due to asbestos being found at Granada's Manchester studios, parts of the 2006 series were filmed at Yorkshire Television's Leeds studios). It came back in 2008 as a 10-part competition this time entitled Sport Mastermind. Mastermind Champion of Champions was a 2010 5-part competition that featured previous Mastermind champions.
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). There was another series in 2005 (subjects included Black Holes and the Star Wars trilogy), which was won by Robin Geddes, whose specialist subjects were The Vicar of Dibley and A Series of Unfortunate Events, with a third series airing in 2006, won by Domnhall Ryan, and featuring subjects such as Harry Potter and Chelsea Football Club, and a fourth series in 2007 won by Robert Stutter and a fifth series later that year won by David Verghese. The Junior version was cancelled after the two 2007 series.
In the United States, the game show 2 Minute Drill on sports network ESPN had its roots in Mastermind. Contestants faced questions fired at them by a panel of four sports and entertainment celebrities for two minutes; like Mastermind, there were two rounds of questions, however slightly different: The 1st round had each panelist's questions representing a different sports category pertaining to their area of expertise, and the 2nd round had no categories and the contestant could not control who asked the questions; they were fired at random. The contestant with the highest score after two rounds would win a cash prize, and would have a chance to double those winnings by correctly answering the "Question of Great Significance," as host Kenny Mayne called it, from a specialty category chosen by the winner (usually a particular athlete or sports team from the past). In each series, winners advanced in a bracket-style playoff format, with cash prizes increasing from $5,000 in the first round to $50,000 (doubling to $100,000 by answering the final question) in the final round. Prizes such as trips to the Super Bowl or ESPY Awards were also given, known as "ESPN Experiences". The show had three series over a 15-month period, from September 2000 to December 2001. Like Mastermind, 2 Minute Drill featured a leather chair, dramatic lighting and sound effects. Willy Gibson of Columbus, Ohio, was the grand champion of the first two series; he was defeated in the second round of the third and final series. Unlike Mastermind presenters, Mayne had a very dry, quirky and sometimes sarcastic sense of humour, but did a very good job of keeping the game going; he would quickly jump in if one of the celebrity panelists was tardy in posing their question, so as not to penalise the contestant.
The highest overall Mastermind score is 41 points, set by Kevin Ashman in 1995, his specialist subject being "The Life of Martin Luther King". Ashman would go on to become five times IQA world champion. In addition he holds the record for the highest ever score on Brain of Britain and has been a member of the Eggheads since that series debut.
In August 2010 during an edition of Mastermind Champion of Champions, the 2010 series champion, Jesse Honey, scored 23 out of 23 on "Flags of the World" in the specialist subject round, an all-time record. He finished as runner-up with a combined score of 36 points, losing out to Pat Gibson by having two more passes. Honey's score was equalled by Iwan Thomas, who scored a record 23 (in two-and-half minutes) in the general knowledge round in 2010.
On Junior Mastermind in February 2007, an 11-year-old schoolboy called Callum scored 19 points on his specialist subject, cricketer Andrew Flintoff. However he did not win, being beaten by one point after achieving a final score of 32.
The current record for the lowest score in the specialist subject round is held by Simon Curtis, who only scored 1 point when answering questions on the films of Jim Carrey.
The current record for the overall lowest score is 3 points, set on 21 December 2016 in a Celebrity edition by parasport athlete Kadeena Cox, scoring all 3 points on her specialist subject of Arsenal F.C and is currently the only ever contestant to not score any points in a round.
The previous record for the overall lowest score is 5 points, set on 29 January 2010 by software analyst Kajen Thuraaisingham, scoring 4 points for his specialist subject of the life of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Previous to this, the lowest attained score had been 7 points which was first set by Colin Kidd in 2005. His specialist subject was "The World Chess Championships". The score was equalled in November 2009 by gas fitter Michael Burton; he only scored 2 for his specialist subject, Angels.
The following is a sample of specialist subjects:History and genealogy of European royalty.
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.
The Female Agents of the Special Operations Executive.
A special episode of Mastermind called Doctor Who Mastermind was broadcast on 19 March 2005 as part of Doctor Who Night on BBC Two, to celebrate the return of the science fiction series to BBC One, in which all four contestants had the specialist subject Doctor Who. The prize was awarded to the winner by the current Doctor at the time, actor Christopher Eccleston.
Some specialist subjects are considered not suitable to be used. The following are examples of rejected specialist subjects:Routes to anywhere in mainland Britain by road from Letchworth.
Cremation practice and law in Britain.
The banana industry.
Orthopaedic bone cement in total hip replacement.
Perfect squares from 992= 9801.
Until 1992, finalists of Mastermind were allowed to use their original first round subjects in the grand final. In 1992, the new rule of which each finalist would choose a third subject of their choice was introduced and has been used since then.
The following is a list of Mastermind champions since 1972.
The most famous icon of the show is the black leather chair in which the contestants sit, lit by a solitary spotlight in an otherwise dark studio. The inspiration for this was the interrogations faced by the show's creator, Bill Wright, as a POW in World War II. The original black chair was given to Magnus Magnusson as a souvenir when he retired from the show. On one occasion the original black chair was "kidnapped" by a group of students during the BBC crew's evening meal break, and held to ransom to raise money for charity. This prank delayed the recording of two programmes. The BBC subsequently commissioned a duplicate chair which was kept locked in the scenery truck at every recording to thwart similar ransom demands. The duplicate chair was never used on air, except in the title sequence, which was recorded in London while the main chair was on the road. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
The current chair is an Eames Soft Pad Lounge Chair designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1969. Today these chairs are made under licence by Vitra.
The programme has been the target for many television spoofs, most memorably the Two Ronnies sketch written by David Renwick in 1980, featuring Ronnie Barker as Magnus Magnusson and Ronnie Corbett as a contestant named Charlie Smithers, whose specialist subject was "answering the question before last". This continually led to humorous and often rude answers. A similar sketch featured Monty Python alumni Michael Palin as Magnússon and Terry Gilliam as a contestant whose speciality was "questions to which the answer is two."
The 2003-onwards version has been spoofed by the Dead Ringers team, with Jon Culshaw playing John Humphrys. In one send-up, which appeared on the television edition of Dead Ringers, the contestant offered to answer questions on Mary Queen of Scots, but when an answer was given, John Humphrys was shown saying "Yes, but you sexed that answer up". The sketch was a reference to the controversy caused by the aftermath of the Iraq War. One episode included Mastermind: The Opera.
Another spoof was featured in Armando Iannucci's 2004: The Stupid Version, where a contestant's specialist subject was "The television series Thunderbirds and Lady Penelope's Cockney chauffeur".
Also in 2004, Johnny Vaughan's BBC Three show Live at Johnny's featured a version called Mastermind Rejects—the premise being that the specialist subjects were too ludicrously obscure even for Mastermind. In the final show of the series, Magnus Magnusson took over as the quizmaster – it was the last time he would utter the catchphrase "I've started so I'll finish" on any form of Mastermind. The specialist subject was The History of the Home Video Recorder, 1972 to 1984.
On their 2005 Christmas Special, comedy duo French & Saunders parodied the show with Jennifer Saunders playing Abigail Wilson, a pensioner whose special subject is ceramic teapots. She passes on all but one question, which she answers incorrectly anyway.
In 2005, the show was spoofed on BBC Radio 4's The Now Show where the specialist subject was "Britishness", relating to the proposed test immigrants may have to take, to prove they can fit in with British society.
In 1974, Morecambe and Wise performed a sketch based on Mastermind, which featured Magnússon and the black chair. The format was different, however, with Wise, then Morecambe, being asked 10 questions each.
In 1975 The Goodies featured Mastermind in the episode "Frankenfido" when a dog (Bill Oddie in a suit) appeared on the show and managed to correctly answer questions asked of it as they all had answers that could be represented by growls, such as 'bark' and 'ruff'.
In the late 1970s, Noel Edmonds' radio Sunday lunchtime show used to feature a send-up called "Musty Mind" where a phone-in contestant would be asked ludicrous questions on a parody of a serious subject, such as the "Toad Racing" or, on another occasion, "The Cultural and Social History of Rockall" – Rockall being a bald lump of uninhabited rock in the eastern Atlantic.
Benny Hill parodied Mastermind on The Benny Hill Show on at least two separate occasions. In one of the parodies the show was called "Masterbrane". In each, Benny played the role of Magnússon while Jackie Wright played the hapless contestant.
Spitting Image used the Mastermind format in a sketch where a Magnus Magnusson puppet asked questions of a Jeffrey Archer puppet whose specialist subject was himself. The twist was that Archer's puppet, being incapable of answering questions about himself without exaggeration or evasion, ends the round with zero points.
The BBC's satirical current affairs quiz show Have I Got News for You has parodied the show several times, by turning the lights down – except for spotlights above select chairs – and playing the theme tune, before subjecting at least one of the panel to some rigorous questioning. The first occasion happened on the 1995 video special, where only regular captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton were asked questions; Ian on (as he put it) "The Life and Lies of Jeffrey Archer", and Paul was asked questions on "Absurd Newspaper Stories Between 1990 and 1995". The second occasion was in 1998, when Magnus Magnusson appeared as a guest. All four panellists were asked questions on this occasion, Paul's being the Starr Report, Ian's being the life and times of Rupert Murdoch, while Magnus had Mastermind, which also included a moment on Quizball when he confused playwright Arthur Miller with the name of the surgeon who had once operated on his mother's kidneys. After Magnusson's questioning, the spotlight then turned onto the other guest, John Simpson, who was informed that his "specialist subject" was Christmas cracker jokes, which he received help from Ian throughout.
On another occasion, Have I Got News for You turned the Mastermind spotlight on one of its favourite guests, Boris Johnson, when he appeared in 2001. He was told his specialist subject was then-Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith "whether you like it or not". The programme's final Mastermind moment to date came when John Humphrys guest-hosted an edition in 2003, shortly after taking over as Mastermind presenter. After the opening round, HIGNFY regular Ian Hislop mentioned that in accordance with a long-running theme of Humphrys' other well-known role as anchor of BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, he was about to spring a surprise on him. Hislop then asked Humphrys several questions about quotes said by him or about him, including the revelation that Iain Duncan Smith had once remarked about his "nicely balanced package".
In his early routines Bill Bailey would often parody the Mastermind music, finding it very sinister. He would then play the music on keyboard with an over-the-top hellish sounding climax. In the last episode of "Is It Bill Bailey?" he followed on from this performance with a sketch where he was a contestant on Mastermind, and it was implied that his specialist subject was the microwave cooking instructions on supermarket ready meals. As the camera panned out it became evident that the chair itself was on a platter, slowly turning in a giant microwave oven.
The programme Balls of Steel parodied Mastermind with its sketch The Alex Zane Cleverness Game, in which experts were quizzed on their specialist subjects (included were "The Life of Anne Frank", "Eurovision Song Contest Winners", and "Hercule Poirot"). Unknowingly to the experts, the show was a complete hoax, and blatantly incorrect answers were included in order to frustrate them whenever they supplied the correct answer.
The comedy show Snuff Box had the two main characters Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry both appear on Mastermind. Berry chose his specialist subject as Alton Towers and only scored 3 points before a blackout, in which he apparently shoots the host after being told to sit down. Fulcher chooses 'Anglo-Saxon architecture', though displays no knowledge of the subject and makes up answers such as 'Toto from The Wizard Of Oz' and 'Elvis', and scoring no points.
In 2011, The Chris Moyles Show on BBC Radio 1 parodied the show with a feature called 'Disastermind'. Using the back-up chair from the Mastermind studio, each team member chose a specialist subject, only to have them swapped before being questioned in the chair on their randomly selected subject and general knowledge. The specialist subjects were The World of Glee; UK Dialling Codes; U2; Husky Dogs and Back to the Future.
In 2013, Mastermind featured on the ITV show Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, as part of an Ant Vs Dec segment where Ant and Dec had to answer questions based around a school challenge they took part in. Ant won.An Australian version of Mastermind was broadcast by the ABC from 1978 to 1984, hosted by Huw Evans.
A New Zealand version was broadcast in the 1980s, hosted by Peter Sinclair and was revived for 2016 with Peter Williams as host.
In 1998–2002, an Indian version of the show aired on BBC India known as Mastermind India. It was revived in 2013 on Disney Channel India and called Disney Q Family Mastermind.
In 2006 and 2007, a Welsh language version of the show aired on S4C known as Mastermind Cymru with a junior version airing on the same channel in 2008 and 2009.
In 2012 an Irish version of the show aired on TV3 known as Mastermind Ireland.
In 2013 a Turkish version of the show aired on NTV known as Mastermind Türkiye, hosted by Altan Erkekli.