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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Magnús Magnússon
Born 12 October 1929(1929-10-12)
Reykjavík, Iceland
Died 7 January 2007 (aged 77)
Balmore, Dunbartonshire, Scotland
Cause of death Pancreatic cancer
Occupation Television presenter, journalist, translator and writer
Known for Mastermind presenter, translation work
Children Sally Magnusson

Magnús Magnússon KBE (IPA: [ˈmaknus ˈmaknuˌsɔn], 12 October 1929 – 7 January 2007) was a television presenter, journalist, translator and writer. He was born in Iceland but lived in Scotland for nearly all of his life, although he never took British citizenship. He came to fame as presenter of the BBC television quiz programme Mastermind, which he hosted for 25 years.


Early life

Magnússon was born in Reykjavík but grew up in Edinburgh, where his father, Sigursteinn Magnússon, was the Icelandic consul. Under Icelandic naming conventions, his name would have been Magnús Sigursteinsson (Magnús, son of Sigursteinn), but his family adopted British naming conventions and used his father's patronymic. He was schooled at the Edinburgh Academy.




After graduating from Jesus College, Oxford, Magnússon became a reporter with the Scottish Daily Express and The Scotsman. He went freelance in 1967, then joined the BBC, presenting programmes on history and archeology as well as appearing in news programmes. He was Lord Rector of Edinburgh University from 1975 to 1978, and later became Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University.


Magnússon presented the long-running quiz show Mastermind from 1972 to 1997. The popularity of the show made him one of the best-known faces of the BBC. His famous catchphrase, which the current presenter John Humphrys has continued to use, was "I've started so I'll finish".

Magnússon made a one-off cameo appearance as himself, hosting Mastermind in the children's series Dizzy Heights.


Magnússon translated a variety of books from modern Icelandic and Old Norse into English. Among these are several works by Halldór Laxness, the Nobel prize-winning novelist from Iceland, and a number of Norse sagas which he co-translated (with Hermann Pálsson) for the Penguin Classics series: Njal's Saga (1960), The Vinland Sagas (1965), King Harald's Saga (1966) and Laxdaela Saga (1969). Magnússon was also the author of a popular history of the Viking era, called The Vikings (revised edition, 2000).

Awards & charity positions

Magnússon was awarded an honorary knighthood (Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1989, and was elected President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for a five-year period, at their 94th AGM in October 1995, succeeding Max Nicholson. He also became the founder Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage upon its inception in 1992.

In 2002 he became Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University.

Later life

In the early years of the 21st century, Magnússon also wrote for the New Statesman.[1]

On 12 October 2006, his 77th birthday, Magnússon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Magnússon mordantly noted that "this has to be one of my worst birthdays ever". His condition meant he was forced to cancel a string of public appearances. He died on 7 January 2007.[2][3][4]


Magnús Magnússon was married to Mamie Baird. Their eldest son, Siggi, died in a traffic accident in 1973.

Other children:

  1. Daughter Sally Magnusson is a television presenter, mainly in Scotland, although in the 1980s she worked for BBC South East News; she is also a regular presenter of Songs of Praise
  2. Jón Magnússon is a television comedy producer.
  3. Margaret Magnússon is a television executive
  4. Anna Magnússon is a senior Scottish radio producer and broadcaster on religious affairs


Magnússon was noted as being one of the very few television presenters to keep their private address and phone number listed in the public telephone directory. He was also noted as a keen supporter of Manchester United F.C.


  • Fakers, Forgers and Phoneys: Famous Scams and Scamps (2005), ISBN 978-1845961909
  • Scotland: The Story of a Nation (2000), ISBN 978-0006531913
  • The Vikings (1980), ISBN 978-0752426990
  • Iceland Saga (2005), ISBN 978-0752433424
  • Lindisfarne (2004), ISBN 978-0752432274
  • Keeping Your Words: An Anthology of Quotations (2005), ISBN 978-0340862643
  • Scotland Since Prehistory: Natural Change and Human Impact (1993), ISBN 978-1898218036
  • I've Started So I'll Finish (1998), ISBN 978-0751525854
  • Viking Expansion Westwards (1973), ISBN 978-0809835294
  • BC The Archaeology of the Bible Lands (1977), ISBN 978-0671240103
  • The Clacken and the Slate" (1974), ISBN 0-00-411170-2


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Gordon Brown
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Anthony Ross
Media offices
New creation Host of Mastermind
Succeeded by
John Humphrys


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Magnús Magnússon (1929 – 2007), UK-resident Icelandic journalist, translator and TV presenter, most famous for hosting the BBC quiz show Mastermind between 1972 and 1997.


  • I've started, so I'll finish.
    • Catchphrase from Mastermind.
  • I still get taxi drivers who say, "aha - starter for ten!". And I have to say, "wrong bloody programme".
    • Referring to a catchphrase more correctly associated with Bamber Gascoigne, host of "University Challenge", 40 Years of University Challenge, 2002.

External links

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