Mastermind Club History

The Mastermind Club was formed in 1978 and was the brainchild of one Charles Key a contender in the 1973 series of Mastermind.

The idea for the Mastermind Club came to him whilst experiencing a typical London rush hour on the M4. He thought of other dangerous pursuits like parachute jumping or the ordeal of sitting in the Black Chair on Mastermind.

He remembered that parachutists had "The Caterpillar Club" which one could only join if their lives had been saved by a parachute. The members were unique and proudly wore the club tie and had frequent reunion meetings. Then why not a club for "Masterminders" who had braved the black chair and would also wear the tie with equal pride.

In late 1977, Charles attended a recording of Mastermind to discuss the idea of a club with the show's producer Bill Wright. Bill together with presenter Magnus Magnusson gave the idea enthusiastic support, with formal approval by the BBC soon following. Early in 1978, Charles wrote to all 288 people who had appeared on the show up to that time. He received replies from 165, of whom 160 were in favour. A meeting was arranged for 8th April 1978 at the Bloomsbury Centre Hotel with 80 potential members from all parts of the United Kingdom attending. A resolution was passed unanimously.

"That a club to be called the 'Mastermind Club' be, and hereby formed, the membership of which is to be limited to those who have appeared as contestants on the BBC TV programme Mastermind and those actively engaged in its production."

The Mastermind Club was born............

The Early Years First Committee and Function

Following the official formation of the club, officers were elected.

Naturally Charles Key was appointed as Founder-President. A baker from Dudley and contender in 1976, John Palmer Barnes was elected Vice-President with another 1976 contender, Maggie Garrett, a hospital dietician as the first secretary.

A committee was formed, its members representing the eight regions of The United Kingdom into which Mastermind recordings were divided.

This committee was charged with drawing up a constitution, designing a club logo, identifying suitable charities and organising the first club reunion.

They also set a first subscription fee of £2 per annum.

The first committee meetings were held in Charles Key’s rambling, book lined house in East London

On 2nd September 1978, the fledgling club held an Inaugural dinner in the rather grand surroundings of The Café Royal on Regent Street.

The following day the Daily Telegraph reported on the event saying “the Mastermind Club is open to all those who have taken part in the ordeal and have survived with their sanity intact.”

The Early Years - The Club Struggles

The fledgling club held its first annual function and AGM in September 1979. The venue being the BBC Television centre.

John George, a 1978 contender was elected Vice-President with Bob Hesketh (1977) taking on the duties of treasurer.

Despite the enthusiasm of its beginning, the Club was already showing signs of stress. Charles Key was unable to attend, due to illness and Bill Wright was struggling against terminal illness . Charles Key died in August 1980, Bill Wright in September of the same year.

The second AGM and annual function was set for September 1980 in Bath. As only sixteen members and seven guests had booked and the Clubs quorum was forty, the event was cancelled at the last minute.

An attempt to hold the 1980 AGM in November, also in Bath, was scrapped when there was insufficient interest from members

The Early Years - Crisis

The Club was now in dire straits. The committee did not meet between September 1980 and July 1981.

The Club's administration was creaking badly. New members were not being issued with membership cards, or receipts for their subscriptions. Members not renewing were still receiving copies of PASS, which had shrunk to ten pages.

In June 1981, John George as Acting President called a special committee meeting to try to get things back on an even keel.

Sheila Ramsden (1977) agreed to take on the editorship of PASS. Treasurer Bob Hesketh reported on the Club's accounts, which had never been audited and were in a perilous state.

The annual subscription was raised from £2 to £5 to help keep the Club afloat

Club Secretary Maggie Garrett was unable to attend. Margery Elliott, a 1973 semi-finalist, taking over as Acting Secretary.

Margery took on the task of sorting out the membership records and correspondence, got the membership list in order and persuaded dozens of lapsed members to re-join.

All now depended on the 1981 AGM and annual function, to be held at Television Centre in September.

The Early Years - Better Days

The 1981 AGM proved to be a turning point for the Club.

A new President was elected, Lance Haward, a 1976 contender, and a new Vice President, Gerald MacKenzie, from the 1974 series.

Lance was very upbeat about the Club's prospects and there was a genuine feeling that it could go forward with confidence.

The Club seemed to be over the worst. Thanks to the efforts of Margery Elliott, now confirmed as Secretary, all was positive.

A slight hiccup, when the Treasurer, went missing, but not with the funds, was overcome and Margery stepped in as acting Treasurer, until the appointment of John Witherington assisted by Tony Dart, both contenders in 1981.

In 1983, Tony Dart took over as Treasurer, a pivotal moment in the Club’s history. Over the next seven years, until he was elected as President, Tony turned around the Club's finances and fortunes in dramatic ways.

Gerald MacKenzie succeeded Lance Haward as President in 1984, and for the next six years, the Club enjoyed an unparalleled period of stability.

Membership was growing, finances were in order and the annual functions were now very well attended, and making money.

In 1986, Margery Elliott was succeeded as Secretary by John Widdowson, a 1977 contender.

When Tony Dart was elected President at the 1990 AGM in Edinburgh. Membership stood at an all time high of 319 “Masterminders” Thanks to Tony’s stewardship, the accounts showed a cash balance in excess of £3,000. As the Club entered the 1990’s it was almost unrecognisable from the ailing organisation it had been at the start of the decade.

The Club Prospers

Under Tony Dart’s steady chairmanship, the Club, continued to prosper.

Phillida Grantham, a dual contender in 1981 and 1995, took over a Secretary in 1991, bringing a meticulous organising ability to the post.

In 1989, Paul Henderson (1987) was appointed Treasurer and by 1997, when the programme ended, the Club’s assets had risen to almost £10,000.

With membership standing at a record 455 in 1992, Peter Chitty was appointed as Membership Secretary, a job he carried out with great enthusiasm and pride, not forgetting his meticulous system, until his death in 2011.

With the demise of the programme from television screens in 1997 serious thought was given as to whether the Club should continue. It was decided to do so, a decision vindicated when Mastermind returned, firstly on radio, then the Discovery Channel and finally back on BBC2, enabling a steady stream of new blood to replace those lost to the grim reaper or for other reasons.

In 1999 Gavin Fuller, at that time Mastermind’s youngest-ever winner, succeeded Phillida Grantham as Secretary and discovered an organisational flair he didn’t know he had to help steer the Club into the new Millennium.

After a record 14 years as President Tony Dart stepped down in 2004, to be succeeded by Craig Scott (1981) whose term was sadly cut short by cancer, to be succeeded in his turn by founder member Alan Blackburn (1975).

Paul Henderson took the drastic step of emigrating to New Zealand in 2005 to pass on the Treasurership, and Susan Leng (1997) stepped into his shoes as an able mistress of the finances.

Alan stepped down as President in 2018, with Gavin succeeding him; Ken Emond (1992) replacing Gavin as Secretary.

Still going strong in its fifth decade, with membership currently around 310, the Club is a unique testament to one of the ultimate quizzing experiences.