When I heard that Magnus Magnusson had died I was in the kitchen. I switched on the radio. It was Radio Five Live and they were discussing how much better Magnus Magnusson was at hosting Mastermind than Rubbish John Humphrys. (I didn’t realise at first why they were discussing this; I worked it out later.)
It’s all true. This actually struck me recently when I caught a glimpse of a Celebrity Mastermind Christmas special. I’ve not watched much of Mastermind since it came back in its Rubbish John Humphrys incarnation. But I remember Mr Magnusson’s Mastermind well. I was young; how could I forget? It had possibly the scariest title sequence ever, on a par with ITV Schools.
The other thing that struck me about the programme back then was how seriously Magnus Magnusson clearly took the whole thing. I could tell that he had thought long and hard about how he should present Mastermind.
The thing that amazed me most was how quickly he would start his first question immediately after saying, “And your time starts… now.” The pause between the words ‘starts’ and ‘now’ was long. Mr Magnusson had to take a deep breath because the first question came so soon that ‘now’ sounded like the first word of the question, welded on at the start.
And it wasn’t just the first question. Magnus Magnusson would also very definitely say “correct” if the contestant got the answer right. But he said it so quickly that it was more like “c’rect”. And it was straight onto the next question without any pauses.
If you listen to Rubbish John Humphrys do it, it is almost as though he has taken a swig of water between saying “and your time starts now” and the first question. And he doesn’t say “correct” every time a contestant gets an answer right. Rubbish!
Magnus Magnusson is better-known, though, for his catchphrase, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.” (Cheap jokes all round now that he’s dead.) He achieved a tricky balancing act. He had a catchphrase that was so well-loved that it was a household name (if a catchphrase can be a household name).
But it wasn’t a cheap catchphrase like, say, a Bruce Forsyth catchphrase. It was on a serious programme, so it couldn’t be. But being serious doesn’t make your catchphrase any good. Even Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge only has a hectoring “come on!” But Mr Magnusson said his catchphrase with authority and integrity.
He only ever said it when he needed to; if there was some ambiguity as to whether the *b-bee-bee-bee-bee-beep* had interrputed the question mid-flow. If he had said half of the question, it was obvious that he had started the question, so there was no need for him to say, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.” The phrase would be used if he had only completed, say, the first syllable of the question.
On the edition of Celebrity Mastermind that I saw, Rubbish John Humphrys did the complete opposite! He said, “I started so I’ll finish” when he had already completed half of the question. And then didn’t say it when he had completed only one word. Rubbish!
But John Humphrys got something right, in his tribute to Magnus Magnusson:
“You can’t waltz into the programme as the new boy, like I was, and after a few years say ‘oh it’s my programme’. The fact is it will always be Magnus Magnusson’s Mastermind.”