TV: Mastermind host Clive Myrie on pressures of the role and handling racist abuse

BBC journalist Clive Myrie reveals the pressure he felt taking on the role and his experience of being in the public eye and receiving racist abuse.

When he’s not on screen delivering the news, you’re likely to find Clive Myrie listening to opera, going to the cinema or visiting a gallery to unwind.

And his varied off-screen interests – combined with a mass of general knowledge gleaned from his many years reporting and presenting news – are like to be handy for his upcoming role as the new host of BBC Two’s Mastermind.

“I like listening to opera. We go to the opera festival in Verona every year in northern Italy, which is great,” Myrie says when we speak ahead of him appearing on screen for Mastermind.

“I haven’t been for the last couple of years because of Covid obviously,” he adds. “(But) I love going to the cinema, and I love going to galleries and concerts. So those are the things that take my mind off of the day-to-day grind of news.”

The 56-year-old, a respected figure in news circles and beyond, is replacing John Humphrys at the helm of the long-running BBC quiz show this month.

His appointment followed news in February this year that veteran journalist Humphrys was stepping down after 18 years as question master, making Myrie the fifth host of the programme, which marks its 50th anniversary next year.

A regular presenter of BBC News At Six and Ten since 2010, Myrie has previously also worked as the broadcaster’s correspondent in Asia, Africa, Washington, Paris and Brussels.

“I’ve already filmed 28 shows, that’s six months of television already in the can,” he reveals.

“The first show goes out on August 23, and I’m really excited about the whole thing. It’s amazing meeting these contenders, who are vying for the magnificent glass bowl as the nation’s Mastermind. And it’s really, really good.”

On taking over from Humphrys he says frankly: “I hope that I do the show proud, as he has done over so many years. And so, there’s a level of trepidation there as well. At the same time, I’m excited to see how the public reacts, and I hope it’s a positive reaction.”

In April this year, Jonathan Gibson, a student from Glasgow, not only won Mastermind but, aged 24, became the youngest winner in the competition’s history.

Gibson won by four points in the grand final – scoring a perfect 11/11 in his specialist subject on comedy song writing duo Flanders and Swann.

So what would Myrie’s specialist subjects or topics be if he were to be in the hot seat?

He says: “One of the heats, I think there were a few questions on American politics and I’m fairly knowledgeable about the United States, and particularly the presidency. So that’s something that I could hold my own on, I think.

“I love opera, so the operas of Puccini might be something that I could wax lyrical on. (I’m a) big fan of Manchester City Football Club as well. I’m the sort of typical journalist in that I know a little about a lot of subjects.”

Since Mastermind first broadcast in 1972, contestants have been grilled on almost every imaginable subject by its four former presenters – Magnus Magnusson, Peter Snow, Clive Anderson and Humphrys.

Following the broadcast of Humphrys’ last episodes in April, Myrie then began filming the new series in Belfast in July.

He hasn’t yet spoken to Humphrys to get any sage advice for the gig.

“I’ve known him for a long time. We first met in the 90s when I was a reporter on the Today programme. But no, I haven’t spoken to John since the appointment, but I suspect that I’m just as excited as he was when he got the job back in the early noughties,” he says.

Myrie is also understandably keen to put his own stamp on the show and make it his own, outside of the standard format of the chair, spotlight and ticking clock.

He says: “I’m going to be tough but, fundamentally, I’m going to be fair, and that means that I’m not the person you need to worry about – you need to worry about handling the nerves and handling the questions. I think that’s important. I am not some kind of torturer.”

He has previously spoken about the racist abuse and death threats he’s received during his career.

Asked if he had any concerns that he may see a repeat of that doing a primetime show like Mastermind, he says matter-of-factly: “It could well be that I end up getting more abuse, I suppose, as a result of Mastermind. I got very little after the announcement actually. Everything was positive, absolutely everything.

“And you know, this is not something that happens every day. Every now and again someone will send an email or send a letter or a card or whatever, making their racist views known. By and large, my days of getting angry are over.

“I’m way too long in the tooth for that – or getting upset, rather. Now, I just have nothing but pity for these people, that they can be so energised and exercised by the fact that someone might have a little bit more melanin in their skin than they do, that that somehow forces them to be abusive or horrible or whatever.

“So, I have nothing but pity for these people. Surely there are more important things in life than taking the time to send an email or to send a letter.”

Clive Myrie’s debut as host of Mastermind will air at 7.30pm tomorrow on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992