Ken Bruce

(and various stand-ins including Mark Goodier, Richard Allinson, Stuart Maconie, Alex Lester, Dermot O'Leary, Charles Nove, etc.)


BBC Radio 2 (as part of The Ken Bruce Show), 1996 to present


Long-running Ken Bruce pop music quiz on Radio 2, and easily the best thing on in daytime on that station.

Two contestants face ten questions each, highest score on the day wins. The scoring was originally 3 points for a correct answer and 1 for a partially-correct answer; later a "bonus" question was introduced whereby the contestant chose a number from 1 to 10 and when that question came up it was worth double points.

Relaunched as "New Popmaster" in 2002(?) with a new "specialist subjects" twist whereby three of the questions are on a subject selected from a choice of two (originally three) and worth double points. In the early days there were often quite specific subjects (on a particular artist or genre) in the selection; nowadays these are rarer and the subjects tend to be pretty wide-ranging, like songs with colours in the title, "female singers" (so that'll be about half of all solo artists ever, then) and the much-hated "Name the Year".

The quiz was run in two parts (at 10.25 and 11.15) for several years but is now back to its original all-in-one form (indeed, practically a show within a show) at around 10.30. The last major tweak (in January 2005) was to have the two contestants on air simultaneously, answering alternate questions, with unanswered questions passed over to the other contestant for a bonus, which only lasted a week or two before being given up as A Really Bad Idea. (This format was briefly revived for the Children In Need Celebrity Popmaster week in November 2006.)

Winners go through to endgame Three In Ten, naming three hits by a given group or artist in ten seconds. This is very much pot luck - sometimes it'll be someone like the Rolling Stones or Status Quo, but sometimes it's a real stinker like Shalamar or Go West, where you think "have they even had three hits?". Top prize is a DAB radio worth about £100, which isn't bad for a daily phone-in, winners who don't name three in ten get a "flip-up radio" (which replaced the mysterious "space radio" in May 2007). Occasionally someone still asks for an inflatable chair, even though that particular consolation prize hasn't been given away in years.

The year's top scorers come back in December for Champions League Popmaster, with some posh hi-fi equipment for the overall champ.

Key moments

The infamous April Fool's Day edition, when fellow R2 jocks Richard Allinson and Lynn Parsons tricked Ken by posing as genuine contestants, made ridiculous "guesses" and ended up locked in a never-ending tie-break.

The incredibly cheesy jingle that for a while was played when players successfully completed Three In Ten. We miss that.

During a period beginning July 2007 when all BBC phone-in quizzes were suspended due to mismanagement and defrauding the public, Popmaster was played using celebrity contestants. The first (and to date, only) celeb to score maximum points was Richard Drummie from the aforementioned Go West.


The music bed for the quiz lasts seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds.


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