Banburyshire man's knowledge is tested in tonight's (Monday) semi-final of Mastermind - will he reach the final?

The extensive knowledge of a man from Chipping Warden is tested this evening when he appears on the prime time BBC quiz show Mastermind.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 4:05 pm
Updated Monday, 19th April 2021, 4:42 pm
Mark Rowbotham sits in the Mastermind chair answering John Humphrys' questions

Mark Robotham appears on one of tonight's two semi-finals. There are six semi-finals featuring winners of 24 heats. Mr Robotham, who travelled to Belfast for the filming of both programmes, is forbidden to give any hint about how well he did, or whether he wins a place in the final.

His specialist subject this evening (BBC 2 at 8.30pm) is the Grand National - a sporting fixture that has entranced him since he was a child. His specialist subject in his first round was the 70s prog-rock band, King Crimson. You can see this round here"I'm looking forward to seeing this evening's programme because the recording went so quickly it was a bit of a blur," said Mr Robotham, a retired product manager who lives in Hogg End.

"I got involved after an intensive audition process. I applied and got a phone call and discussed it with them. Because of lockdown we had an online round on general knowledge questions. "They didn't tell me how I'd done but it was under Mastermind conditions. Then after a short while I got a call to to say I'd been chosen to be on the show but because of lockdown, it was several months before the recording happened and that was in Belfast," he said.

Quizmaster John Humphrys poses questions on the prog rock band King Crimson to Chipping Warden's Mark Rowbotham

The production company, Hat Trick, had to re-schedule the spring recording to September when the contestants were flown, under Covid protocol, to Belfast and put up in an hotel. Lockdown had been eased and the contestants were able to do some sight seeing.

"The semi-final in November was a different kettle of fish but I'd already planned to go on the ferry from Stranraer and make a week's holiday of it. I got a special letter from the BBC to say I had special dispensation because it was 'essential travel'. My wife Claire came with me to help me revise on both trips," said Mr Robotham.

Mr Robotham said the longevity of Mastermind and the popularity of some subjects made it difficult for contestants to choose a specialist subject.

"They've run out of questions for popular subjects like Fawlty Towers and Harry Potter so half the battle is finding a subject that isn't too specialised or done many times," he said.

The Mastermind chair ready for the contestants

"King Crimson was a progressive rock band formed in 69. I really got into the band as a teenager and so I chose this for my first heat in September. I think I got a bit of a rough deal as I was asked ten questions and some were asked more, giving them the possibility of a higher score.

"But I got nine of those questions right and I knew when I went out for my general knowledge round that I only needed five to at least tie for first place so when I went past five I was able to relax as I knew I had won. I don't know how many general knowledge questions I was asked but I got 12 right making a final score of 21."

For tonight's semi-final Mr Robotham had to find another specialist subject.

"Subjects like the films of Monty Python weren't allowed - too many people have done them. It can't be too simple or too obscure so there was a lot of batting around for a subject we were both were satisfied with. I had a fascination with the Grand National when I was a kid and so I chose this - the history of the Grand National back to 1839."

The contestants in Mark Rowbotham's first round of Mastermind

"It was a strange atmosphere for that recording which was done in December because we were in the middle of lockdown. Even the hotel bar wasn't open; you could barely leave the hotel which appeared to be open only for the people of Mastermind.

"When you're in there it goes very quickly. I shall be as surprised to see it as anyone else. I was glad to have Claire there. England was in lockdown but Scotland wasn't so we were able to have a couple of days in Scotland on either side.

"The studios were right behind the hotel and they were very strict. In September, even though lockdown had been eased, people were being extremely cautious. The contestant who did her questions before me took a nasty fall on the way back from the chair and no one dared to go and help her. She was fine and they re-recorded the walk back."