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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 January 2007, 21:24 GMT
Obituary: Magnus Magnusson
Magnus Magnusson
Magnus Magnusson: Mastermind's erudite inquistor
Magnus Magnusson, who has died aged 77, had a long and successful career as a journalist, author and broadcaster before launching Mastermind.

That programme was to become inextricably linked to his name and the phrase: "I've started, so I'll finish."

Magnus Magnusson was born in Iceland in 1929. His family moved to Scotland when he was a baby, when his father was appointed European manager of the Icelandic Co-Op. His father subsequently became Iceland's consul-general in Scotland, and the family settled there.

Magnus Magnusson was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Jesus College, Oxford, before joining the Scottish Daily Express as a reporter.

He rose to become the paper's assistant editor and went on to join to The Scotsman, where he was also assistant editor. At the same time, he began to take on occasional work on radio and television.

After joining the BBC, as a presenter on the Tonight programme in 1964, Magnus Magnusson fronted many other programmes, mainly associated with his interest in history, archaeology and the environment.

They included Chronicle, The Archaeology of the Bible Lands, Vikings! and Birds for All Seasons.

The black chair which featured in Mastermind
Nemesis: Mastermind's iconic black chair
His interest in ornithology went back to his schooldays, when, at 14, he won a gold medal from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for an essay on the mating habits of the blackbird.

More than 40 years later he was to become president of that society.

He presented his first Mastermind programme in 1972, and went on to host it for 25 years.

Its millions of viewers were fascinated by the programme's doom-laden signature tune, the contestants' black chair, facing Magnus Magnusson.

But it is perhaps the presenter's decisive words: "I've started, so I'll finish" that will be most remembered.

Those appearing on the programme chose an eclectic range of specialist subject, from "London's sewer system" to "the life cycle of the honey bee".

Such was the popularity of the show that it returned to the BBC in 2002 for a celebrity special and 2003 saw the first full new series with a new quizmaster John Humphrys.

Magnus Magnusson was a prolific author, with books on the Vikings, archaeology, Ireland and Scotland and translations of early Icelandic literature.

He never took British nationality but his enthusiasm for his adopted country was recognised with his appointment as chairman of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.

His work for Scotland brought him an honorary knighthood in 1989 and, in 2002, he became Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University.

He is survived by his wife Mamie, to whom he was married for 52 years, and his four surviving children, Sally, Margaret, Anna and Jon. His elder son Siggy died in 1973.

Magnus Magnusson's daughter, Sally, became a television celebrity in her own right, presenting, among others, Breakfast Time and Songs of Praise.

Highlights from Magnus Magnusson's career


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