Obituary: Hamish Cameron, serial Mastermind contestand and acccomplished runner

Hamish Cameron poses for a picture in the famous black chair with then Mastermind host Magnus Magnusson in 1990
Hamish Cameron poses for a picture in the famous black chair with then Mastermind host Magnus Magnusson in 1990
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Hamish Cameron, quizzer and runner. Born: 27 January, 1947 in Cromarty. Died: 6 June, 2019 in Aberdeen, aged 72

Hamish Cameron had always been a very good club runner and when it came to quizzes he was good enough to win local events single-handed. But he was well into his sixties when he really made his mark on a bigger stage.

He reached the final of Mastermind in 2013 after no fewer than six previous attempts and he pulled off a remarkable double, winning international honours both as a quizzer and a cross-country runner.

Cameron went on to reach a second Mastermind final, which was broadcast on June 14. It was one last posthumous appearance on the programme that had been such a significant part of his life for three decades.

His funeral took place the same day and the BBC considered postponing the show. But Cameron knew he was ill when the final was recorded in November and told his family he wanted the broadcast to go ahead no matter what. He died of cancer the week before the show went out.

He holds the record for the most appearances on Mastermind by anyone ever, beginning back in 1990, when Magnus Magnusson was quizmaster. As well as 17 appearances on the TV show, he appeared on the short-lived radio version, with Peter Snow, in 1999.

Cameron’s philosophy for quizzing, running and life was simple – “just get on with it”. And he did. He swatted up on a string of specialist subjects from the history of the world up to the birth of Christ to the American artist Mary Cassatt, his chosen subject for his last appearance.

He was also modest about his own achievements. In a filmed insert in his final show he said: “I look back on my quiz career and if I thought I would make the final of Mastermind twice I would have said ‘Don’t be silly’.”

Although he did not fulfil the dream of winning the title, the BBC dedicated the programme to him. It ended with a screen that read simply: “In memory of Hamish William Cameron, 27.01.1947- 06.06.2019, A True Mastermind.”

His story began far from any international spotlight. The eldest of four children, he was born in Cromarty on the Black Isle in 1947 and spent his early years on a remote farm in Strathspey.

He had to walk a mile and a half to school every morning and if he wanted to watch television he had to run across the fields to a neighbouring farm, which he did every Saturday night, not to watch any quizzes, but to watch The Lone Ranger.

At the age of seven he was driving his father’s tractor, while his father pulled the neeps. When he was 11 the family moved to a larger farm outside Forres. He cycled to Forres Academy and began his long association with Forres Harriers. He studied Maths at Aberdeen University and worked in computers with British Steel in Glasgow

In 1981 he became computer manager at Johnstons of Elgin, the woollen mill and spent the rest of his working life there. He rejoined Forres Harriers and was club secretary for 30 years. He was also secretary of the North District Cross Country League.

He and his wife Edna were both keen bridge players and he was treasurer of Moray Bridge Club for more than 30 years.

Although he was teetotal, he enjoyed pub quizzes. And on a whim he applied for Mastermind and was surprised when he made it to the semi-final. He was passionately interested in history and good at remembering dates, though his memory was not perfect and he got his younger daughter’s middle name wrong when he went to register the birth, so she became Isla Samantha instead of Isla Suzanne.

The original Mastermind programme, with Magnus Magnusson as question-master, ran on BBC television from 1972 to 1997. Originally contestants were allowed to appear on the show only once, but the BBC changed the rules in the 1990s, enabling Cameron to make Mastermind a regular feature in his life. Mastermind was revived on the Discovery Channel for a single series, with Clive Anderson, in 2001-2002. Finally it came back to BBC TV in 2003, with John Humphrys. There was also the radio version and it seems unlikely that anyone else ever appeared on all four incarnations of the show, with the four different presenters.

Contestants answer questions on a specialist subject of their choosing and then a second round of general knowledge. For his first final in 2013 Cameron chose Scottish Lighthouses as his specialist subject.

The production team take each of the finalists to an appropriate location to talk about their chosen subject for a short film insert before answering questions on their specialism. Other contestants went to Italy, Germany and Massachusetts, but Cameron got only a short trip up the road to Fraserburgh.

With no weekly pub quizzes in recent times in Elgin, he would travel down to Edinburgh. Sometimes on weekend trips he would begin the day with a 5 kilometre “parkrun” race at Cramond, followed by quizzing in the Voodoo Rooms in the afternoon and then an overnight visit to his daughter Mairi and her family in Dalkeith.

He was part of the Scotland squad that won the Celtic Nations Championship a few years ago and was a member of the Dude Abides quiz team that won the Max Thomson Cup, the Scottish team championship, two years running in the early 2010s.

He won an instalment of Fifteen to One and also appeared on The Chase and several times on the radio show Brain of Britain, though he never won a penny from quizzing.

He was well known and popular both in running and quizzing circles in Scotland and farther afield. He was a medal-winner in the Five Nations Masters International Cross-Country event in Belfast in 2012 and Dublin in 2015 and ran more than 250 parkruns. He was still coming first in his age category in the Elgin parkrun right up until last November.

He is survived by his wife Edna, three children, Mairi, Niall and Isla and three grandchildren. Niall is an international table-tennis player and they all run.

BRIAN PENDREIGH