In Depth

Mastermind contestants stopped from choosing Harry Potter and Fawlty Towers

Blackadder and Roald Dahl also no longer allowed because researchers have run out of questions

Prospective Mastermind contestants have been banned from choosing certain specialist subjects because researchers have run out of questions.

Since Mastermind and its famous black chair was launched in 1972, “it has become renowned as one of the toughest quiz shows in Britain, with contenders answering questions on a chosen subject before a general knowledge round,” explains The Guardian.

Mark Helsby, Mastermind’s producer, has revealed to the Radio Times that some subjects are so popular that they have been “exhausted” for new questions.

“Number one is Harry Potter, which was requested by 262 people last year, while other popular literary choices are the Chronicles of Narnia and Roald Dahl,” says the Daily Mirror.

A specialist subject cannot be used in consecutive series, which “hugely limits the number of contestants who can actually choose the JK Rowling franchise on the quiz show,” adds the paper.

“Thirty-two people wanted to do Fawlty Towers last year,” Helsby told the Radio Times, explaining why some subjects would no longer be an option. “Nineteen wanted Blackadder and 22 wanted Father Ted. Some of the very popular literary subjects such as the Chronicles of Narnia or Roald Dahl probably wouldn’t be agreed to for the same reason.”

Helsby said some topics were too narrow, such as Romeo and Juliet, or too broad, such as the entire works of Shakespeare.

“You can do any subject you want – within reason. They have to be suitable for broadcast on BBC Two on a Friday night, but pretty much everything is doable, provided there’s sufficient source material to refer to,” he said.

The Sun notes Helsby’s interview comes just two weeks “after Irish model Vogue Williams, 32, picked Kim Kardashian as her specialist subject”.

But the Mastermind supremo rejected concerns that the show was dumbing down by allowing contestants to answer questions on modern television when a rival is addressing a historical subject.

“People have been accused of taking the easy option by choosing a comedy like Friends or Frasier but they have over 200 episodes each, so that’s still a lot of research,” Helsby said.

“There’s sometimes a debate on Twitter about whether it is fair to have a ‘classic’ Mastermind specialist subject in the same programme as someone doing a sitcom, but we treat equally and it’s the skill of the question writers, verifiers and the team putting the questions together in the office to make sure that they are comparable tests of knowledge.”

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