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quiz master Mastermind host Clive Myrie would rather 'face the Taliban' than sit in the famous black chair

The veteran journalist says he loved filming in Belfast,

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Clive Myrie

Clive Myrie

Clive Myrie

Clive Myrie says he'd prefer to face the Taliban than sit in the Mastermind chair.

The BBC news veteran made his first appearance as the new host of the iconic quiz this week in a job he describes as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

He hopes the role will show viewers his lighter side as he grills contenders on their specialist subjects and general knowledge.

But Clive, who's been to more than 80 countries and reported from conflicts in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, says he'd never have the nerve to take on the quiz.

"I would rather face the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's forces, which is what I have done, than sit in the chair," he says.

"Those contenders are heroines and heroes.

"To put themselves under that pressure in the spotlight with potentially millions of people watching them is heroic and I think incredible. I would wilt at the first question."

He's been in Belfast for months making the quiz after production companies Hat Trick and Hindsight won the contract for it and moved filming from Salford to BBC's Blackstaff Studios in Belfast.

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Clive Myrie (BBC/PA)

Clive Myrie (BBC/PA)

Clive Myrie (BBC/PA)

It's given the newsman a chance to catch up with pals and his in-laws - wife Catherine's family are Irish.

"We have already filmed 26 shows. Six months' worth of television has already been filmed in Belfast, which is fantastic," says Clive.

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"My first visit to Belfast was during the Troubles, in the late eighties, early nineties, when I along with other journalists ended up in the Europa Hotel, which is just across the road from where I'm filming Mastermind.

"I love Ireland and I love Northern Ireland and I've got some good friends there I was able to meet up with while I was filming back at the beginning of July.

"My wife's family are from Tipperary, so there's a big old connection between me and the Irish."

Despite a career on the front line, the 56-year-old felt ready to take on another challenge when John Humphrys announced last year he was moving on from Mastermind.

Clive watched the show with his family growing up in Bolton when Magnus Magnusson was the host - and the formula, including the black chair and instantly recognisable music, has been unchanged since.

He believes its continued appeal after 49 years is that it's still the hardest quiz on television, and he intends to stick to 'I've started so I'll finish' to give contestants a fighting chance at their final question.

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Clive Myrie (Matt Alexander/PA)

Clive Myrie (Matt Alexander/PA)

Clive Myrie (Matt Alexander/PA)

"Its fundamental simplicity is the reason it's managed to endure and become a staple of British television," he says.

"It sorts the men from the boys, the girls from the women and I think it's TV's toughest quiz. It's simple and it's straightforward and it's a spectacle for the viewing public.

"They can learn things, there is stuff they can pick up, but it's also entertaining when you see two or three people really battling it out, and you also see people struggle because of the atmosphere.

"They know the answers.

"Usually these people are professional quizzers but it's the stress, the pressure, the chair, the lights, the spotlight that can scramble your brain and while that might be painful for the competitor, for the viewer that can be interesting to watch."

Clive hopes Mastermind will show viewers his softer side, and he's already appeared on Have I Got News For You and Would I Lie to You, but he'll keep up his news role.

"There is another side to me and it's lovely to get a bit of an opportunity to get out of that news presenting straitjacket and show other facets to who I am," he says.

As the BBC's correspondent in Asia, Europe and the US, he's reported on Bill Clinton's impeachment, the Rohingya crisis from Bangladesh, visited Guantanamo Bay as well as the Afghan capital Kabul many times, and found himself in dangerous locations.

"There have been hairy situations, lots of them, like being encircled by Saddam Hussein's forces when I was embedded with 40 Commando Royal Marines in the middle of Ramadan," he says.

"Ramadan is when a lot of people - when they've got guns - get very tetchy because they haven't eaten for a while. I've been the subject of an attempted attack by a driver in Libya who was tetchy because he missed a turning, and we raised the point that he should have paid attention and he came after me with a knife.

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Clive Myrie (BBC/PA)

Clive Myrie (BBC/PA)

Clive Myrie (BBC/PA)

"Conflict situations present their own challenges, and you can find yourself in difficult situations, like being fired at by the Taliban.

"I remember being with Kurdish forces in Erbil in Northern Iraq and seeing an Islamic State party heading straight towards our position. You could see the black flags billowing in the midday heat as they approached us."

Clive, who was named TV Journalist of the Year and Network Presenter of the Year by the Royal Television Society in April, says the experiences have shown him the best and worst of society.

But filming closer to home during the Covid crisis has also hit him hard.

With Belfast cameraman and friend David McIlveen he interviewed staff at the Royal London Hospital as they dealt with the pandemic, in accounts of Covid that were harrowing.

"To report on those stories in your own backyard is difficult and I hope that our work was enough of a window on the Covid crisis in the United Kingdom to show people just how bad it was."

For the presenter it drove home the importance of masks and vaccine uptake and he doesn't mince his words about the precautions.

"I'm fine if you decide not to wear a mask, I'm fine if you decide not to vaccinate - that's your choice - although, one, you're being selfish in my humble opinion and, two, you need to know what the consequences could be," he says.

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