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Magnússon, Magnús 1929-2007

Magnússon, Magnús 1929-2007


See index for CA sketch: Born October 12, 1929, in Reykjavik, Iceland; died of cancer, January 7, 2007. Broadcaster, journalist, and author. A respected journalist, translator, and host of history documentaries, Magnússon was best remembered as the longtime host of the quiz show Mastermind. He moved from his native Iceland to Scotland as a student and attended the Edinburgh Academy. He then studied at Jesus College, Oxford, where he earned a B.A. in English and attended graduate courses in Old Norse literature for two years. Before completing a second degree, however, Magnússon decided to take a reporting job with the Scottish Daily Express in 1953. He remained there until 1961, when he joined the Scotsman as chief feature writer and assistant editor. By the late 1960s, Magnússon was becoming fascinated with television. He hosted a number of documentary programs with the British Broadcasting Corp., most notably for the program Chronicle. Magnússon would consider his work for Chronicle on such topics as Norse and biblical history to be his best work. However, he was even better known as the dignified and fair host of the quiz show Mastermind, on which he appeared from 1972 until 1997. A formal affair in which contestants sat in a black leather chair and had a spotlight shone on them while Magnússon gave them two minutes to answer questions, Mastermind proved tremendously popular through much of its run. Repeated changes in scheduling caused ratings to decline in its final years. After he left the show, Magnússon organized reunions of the Mastermind Club; he also published a history of the show, I've Started, So I'll Finish: The Story of Mastermind (1997), the main title stemming from his famous catch phrase on the program. Magnússon's legacy does not hinge on his game show alone, however. He was a respected scholar of his native Iceland, as well as a translator. In addition, he was critically praised for his writings about Scotland, the land he adopted. He came to love Scotland, and Magnússon served as chair of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland from 1981 to 1989 and of the Scottish Natural Heritage during the 1990s. A fellow of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, he was also a rector of Edinburgh University from 1975 to 1978 and, beginning in 2000, chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University. Among his many books are Viking Expansion Westwards (1973), Iceland (1979), Iceland Saga (1987), and Scotland: The Story of a Nation (2000). Also an active birder who was a former president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Magnússon was appointed an honorary Knight of the British Empire in 1989. His scholarly accomplishments were further recognized in 1978, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh University, and again in 1981 when York University presented him with a second doctorate.



Times (London, England), January 9, 2007, p. 47.

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