He’s been doing it for 18 years, amazingly. Not that he’s amazing, it’s just that it’s amazing his bosses have spent 18 long years thinking they couldn’t do any better; though we may have to see who they do find as a replacement before we can say there is better out there for sure. Even in my most generous mood I haven’t ever had a lot of time for John Humphreys. I can imagine just the kind of people for whom he is a broadcasting hero, but he’s definitely no hero of mine. Most of the time I just see a sneering, pompous old ballsack who takes some form of delight in being considered a semi-retired public attack dog. What a badge to bear. On Radio 4’s Today programme he spent most of his time interrupting others before they could finish a sentence, and while he was open about the things he didn’t know he also made it fairly clear that he considered most of those things not much worth knowing anyway – hardly the most enlightened way to approach a job like his. At least on ‘Today’ he crippled a politician’s ego once in a while (though often in service of his own) whereas on ‘Mastermind’, the show he is set to quit fairly soon, he was beyond unbearable. How did he ever get the job, other than by being able to string together a coherent sentence? Oh, silly me, that’s why he got the job. In that sense alone he is a dying breed.
Admittedly I doubt I could do a better job, but then that’s not the point (this man is paid an awful, awful lot of money). I remember ‘Mastermind’ being quite the competition in my youth. It was a challenge, like ‘University Challenge’ still is (in that some of the questions may as well be asked Russian), and the winner at the end of the season had some real brainpower about them. Now it has been dumbed down somewhat: the specialist round has been shortened considerably and some of the questions in the general knowledge round have become distinctly lowbrow (or am I starting to sound like Humphreys?). The whole thing has just drifted towards the realms of other, more populist, quiz shows like ‘Pointless’ (which is no bad thing on one level) to the extent that there seem to be as many celebrity editions as there are normal ones, these days. Perhaps I’m out of touch. Regardless, I have never warmed to John Humphreys and his growly, faint memory of a Welsh burr. The more he speaks the duller he seems to get, and this is particularly a problem on ‘Mastermind’ because the shows’ creators have decided to allow contestants only the slimmest of chances to accumulate a decent score by deliberately and needlessly making the questions unbearably convoluted – and therefore adding more Humphrey drone time.
Here is an example of the kind of question you might find being asked on Mastermind these days; it is only a slight exaggeration:
“At the beginning of one of the famed detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes arrives with Doctor Watson at a Chinese opium house where they have been called upon to investigate the death of a notorious Viscount who had accumulated considerable gambling debts. Suspecting that the growing influence of the murky German high command might be involved via a sinister subplot involving The Royal Tailors’ Guild, Holmes turns to Watson and casually asks his opinion as to the cause of death. “I suspect that the Viscount may have been the victim of foul play” suggests Watson. “How so, my dear friend?” asks Holmes. “Well, I see that he has had his head chopped off with some pinking shears and, without wishing to be crude Holmes, his thus severed bonce has been rather creatively shoved up his own arse and his buttocks decorated with sauerkraut; therefore it must be the work of The League Of German Scissor Sisters!”. “Splendid work my observant chum, remember that when one removes all other possibilities whatever is left, no matter how fucking illogical, must be the solution” laughs Sherlock, “now let’s go score some opium and get it down us before my landlady brings us afternoon tea with a buttered scone”. What is the name of Sherlock Holmes’ landlady?”
Just watch and you’ll see what I mean, sometimes it sounds more like an anecdote than a question. And when people try to interrupt with an answer guess what happens? That’s right: Humphreys just keeps talking over them. If this trend continues then the famed phrase “I’ve started so I’ll finish” will have to be incorporated into the first question of every round just to tackle the possibility that there will be time only to ask one question in the first place. A man of John Humphrey’s self-assumed cranial prowess would have pointed this out years ago and insisted that in the spirit of competition the questions be short, sharp and to the point -eg- “What is the name of Sherlock Holmes’ landlady?” or “name the twat reading this question”, but he has not, and surely there can be only one reason for this – John Humphreys likes nothing more than the sound of his own voice and so ‘Mastermind’ has essentially become a vessel for his vast, grey, haggard ego and a regular opportunity to achieve tumescence from his own superiority. Perhaps then he is letting go of this particular bone because even he is getting sick of his own patronising, know-it-all voice. But it’s a long shot because he’ll surely be back in one form or another; dogs like him tend to take a while to finish off.
G B Hewitt. 24.02.2021