Exclusive – Mastermind alumni on who should replace John Humphrys as host

Esteemed Mastermind alumni – from Jenny Ryan to Lucy Porter – tell RadioTimes.com who they think should be the new host of the long-running BBC quiz.

Mastermind host John Humphrys

At the weekend, long-time Mastermind host John Humphrys announced he’d be stepping down from the show after almost 20 years at the helm.

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The BBC show, which turns 50 next year, has seen four different presenters throughout its time – from Magnus Magnusson and Peter Snow, to Clive Anderson.

While rumours regarding who’ll be replacing Humphrys are spreading like wildfire across social media, RadioTimes.com spoke to some of the quiz show’s best-known contestants to ask who they thought would be the best fit to take charge.

Jenny Ryan – 2003 contestant

The star of ITV’s The Chase appeared on Mastermind in 2003, choosing Buffy the Vampire Slayer as her specialist topic. In terms of her picks for John Humphrys’ replacement, Ryan suggests a couple of names from the broadcast journalism world.

“From a news broadcast background, I think [Times Radio presenter] Aasmah Mir would be great, as would Samira Ahmed – they both have a great balance of warmth and authority. [Journalist] Betsan Powys is already in charge on Mastermind Cymru, so she could easily step in.

“There are dozens of brilliant and well-qualified women I can think of off the top of my head – people who are not only great hosts but have a genuine passion for quizzing and knowledge. I think that’s what is the key to finding the right replacement.”

Gareth Kingston – 2014 semi-finalist

The three-time Mastermind semi-finalist says BBC broadcaster Samira Ahmed should take over from Humphrys. “She has been a contender and understands that side of things,” he says. “She is a fine presenter, more than capable of reading complex sentences at speed.”

Reverend Richard Coles  – 2014 Celebrity Mastermind champion

“I have faced John Humphrys twice in the famous black chair,” Richard Coles tells RadioTimes.com. “It can be an unnerving experience, as anyone who has faced the Welsh Interrogator in the Mastermind or Today studios will testify. I survived, and actually won on both occasions, but my palms were sweating and my heart pounding. Maybe that makes me unusually qualified to consider potential replacements.

“Obviously the ideal candidate would have the wisdom of Solomon, the sang froid of 007, the persistence of George Smiley, and the diction of Charlotte Green,” Coles adds. “That’s an unusual skill set, but there is someone I have worked with, known, and admired who possesses all these attributes and more: Samira Ahmed.”

Marga Scott-Johnson – 2020 finalist

Experienced Mastermind contestant Marga Scott-Johnson also threw Samira Ahmed’s name in the ring as well as BBC News presenter Mishal Husain, saying: “Samira Ahmed would be a good choice, as would Mishal Husain. Both are intelligent and have lovely speaking voices.”

Samira Ahmed
Samira Ahmed
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Mark Labbett – 1999 & 2000 contestant

The Chase’s Mark Labbett has appeared on Mastermind twice in his quizzing career – first in 1999 with the specialist topic of the Olympic Games, and a second the following year to be tested on his Simpsons knowledge. As for his top pick for Mastermind’s presenter replacement, he says his colleague Shaun Wallace should take on the role.

“I think Shaun Wallace would be a superb choice,” he says. “The only Black winner of Mastermind, he is a beloved national figure seen by millions every week who is renowned for his intelligence, education and charm.”

Shaun Wallace
Shaun Wallace
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Graham Barker – 2015 semi-finalist

Mastermind semi-finalist Graham Barker put forward Broadcasting House presenter Paddy O’Connell as the next host of the BBC quiz show.

“We’ve had a Scotsman and a Welshman, how about an Irishman (at least with an Irish sounding name)? Paddy O’Connell. He did a good job on the early Beat the Brains and is an articulate and intelligent broadcaster.”

Chris Payne – 2010 contestant

Mastermind contestant Chris Payne, who was tested on his knowledge of John Betjeman’s literary works, suggests David Mitchell as the next host. “He is so articulate,” he adds.

Martin Roberts – 2020 Celebrity Mastermind contestant

TV presenter and Celebrity Mastermind alumni Martin Roberts suggests former BBC political editor Andrew Marr as Humphrys’ replacement.

“Obviously John Humphrys came from the world of hard journalism. When he wasn’t doing Mastermind, he was doing the Today show on [BBC] Radio 4, so it needs to be somebody of a pretty serious calibre. So, Andrew Marr would be probably quite a good choice.”

He adds that he’d also like to see Antique Roadshow host Fiona Bruce take over, saying: “It’d be good to have a lady doing it. I’d like to see a Naga Munchetty maybe. There’s all sorts, potentially. But it has to have gravitas.

“You know, it’s almost like a Trevor McDonald-type character. There’s a BBC newsreader called Clive Myrie – who did some fantastic reporting during COVID. He has a really good presence about him. And so I think it sort of has to be somebody from that newsy background, really. I think Natasha Kaplinksy would work.”

Martin Roberts makes regular videos on his YouTube channel Martin Roberts Property Titbits and works with Sadsville in support of Childline.

Amit De – 2019 semi-finalist

Semi-finalist Amit De, who impressed viewers with his knowledge of Albert Einstein in 2019, suggests The Chase host Bradley Walsh as Mastermind’s next presenter, saying that he is an “excellent reader and will expand the audience manifold”.

Maya Davis – 2012 finalist

Maya Davis, who was quizzed on the life and works of Gerard Hoffnung and British Owls in 2012, suggests BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner. “Maybe slightly left-field, but how about Frank Gardner? Excellent clear diction and able to keep calm under pressure,” she says.

Les Morrell – 2010 finalist

Mastermind finalist Les Morrell says comedian David Mitchell should take over as the show’s host. “He is articulate, intelligent, seems warm and crucially has excellent and fast pronunciation.”

David Mitchell
David Mitchell
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Eric Kilby – 2002 finalist

Eric Kilby, who made it to the 2002 finals, says former host Clive Anderson should return to present the show now it’s back on the BBC. “I thought Clive Anderson did a very good job on Discovery Mastermind,” he says.

Ian Fennell – 2017 semi-finalist

Semi-finalist Ian Fennell, who competed on the show in 2017, suggests Welsh journalist Betsan Powys: “Betsan Powys already does a great job on Mastermind Cymru. I’m convinced anyway, although I can’t speak Welsh!”

George Ferzoco – 2012 semi-finalist

2012 semi-finalist George Ferzoco says Gavin & Stacy star Rob Brydon should be Mastermind’s next presenter.

“He’s fully capable of doing the job without comic overtures, he’s a good reader, and he’d bring in a greater audience than most any member of the newsreaders’ guild,” he adds.

Sally Budd – 2016 contestant

Mastermind alumni Sally Budd also believes Rob Brydon would be a great option, adding: “That is a brilliant suggestion. He could do a great job.”

Rhys Derwydd – Welsh Mastermind Champion

Rhys Derwydd, a champion of Mastermind’s welsh version, has also tipped Betsan Powys for the presenting role, as well as Samira Ahmed. “Ex-Panorama journalist Betsan Powys does the BBC Cymru version of Mastermind and has a proven track record… but personally yes, Samira Ahmed for me too.”

Lucy Porter – 2009 Celebrity Mastermind Champion

Comedian and actress Lucy Porter, who won 2009’s series of Celebrity Mastermind, proposes the likes of Anne Robinson and Jenny Ryan to take over from Humphrys.

“Humphrys always came across as a slightly grumpy headmaster, although he was an absolute sweetie when the cameras were off. If they’re going for the same vibe, then Anne Robinson has proved with The Weakest Link that she can give good grump.

“Alternatively, all the Chasers from ITV’s The Chase are used to being a bit intimidating to contestants. I would particularly recommend my friend Jenny Ryan as she’s great, and it would be refreshing to have someone with a Bolton accent in the role rather than another RP/Home Counties voice.”

Porter adds that, while she doesn’t think Mastermind will go for a comedian host, “Susan Calman and Zoe Lyons have proven quiz hosting abilities and Tim Vine would be great fun”.

“I reckon that the job will go to an eminent journalist or broadcaster. I’d love to see Samira Ahmed (herself a Mastermind champion), Aasmah Mir, Matthew Sweet, Naga Munchetty or Reverend Richard Coles in the chair,” she adds. “Kirsty Wark was fantastic when she hosted a special University Challenge for Comic Relief. Someone in my Twitter feed suggested Sally Magnusson. She’s a great newsreader, and it would be a little nod to Mastermind tradition if they gave her the job.”

Beat the Chasers Jenny Ryan

Mel Kinsey – 1995 finalist

Two-time Mastermind Contestant Mel Kinsey suggests broadcaster and writer Sally Magnusson to be the show’s next host, adding: “Good presenter and what a pedigree.”

Susan Leng – 1997 contestant

Former contestant Susan Leng also puts forward Sally Magnusson, saying she would be “a classic choice” and would bring in viewers. Leng goes on to suggest Bill Turnbull as a second choice.

Stewart Cross – 2010 contestant

Contestant Stewart Cross says Bill Turnbill would be a great choice. “Bill Turnbull if his health is up to it or, and this is really left-field, Jim Moir [Vic Reeves] who seems to welcome new challenges as he ages,” he says. “Both seem to me to have a good speaking voice and an ability to not let their own personalities dominate.”

David Findlay – 2020 semi-finalist

Semifinalist David Findlay backs Sally Magnusson. “I’d certainly suggest Sally Magnusson. She’s already a fine, experienced broadcaster,” he says.

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