Twenty Questions



Stewart MacPherson (original host)

Gilbert Harding

Kenneth Horne (1960?-67?)

Peter Jones (TV version, 1960-61)

David Franklin (1970?-72?)

Peter Jones (1974)

Terry Wogan (1975-6?)


Panellists: Jack Train, Anona Winn, Richard Dimbleby, Daphne Padel, Joy Adamson. In later years, 'mystery voice' Norman Hackforth was a regular.

Some 'mystery voices':
1947?-62?: Norman Hackforth
1965: Dame Flora Robson
1967: John Snagge
1974: Colin Welland
1975: Gretta Gouriet


BBC Radio, 28 February 1947 to 1976

BBC-tv, specials 1947, 1948, series 1956-7

Associated Rediffusion for ITV, 1960-1


Before that 20Q gadget came on the market, there was Gilbert Harding haranging a panel of celebrities who had to identify a mystery object within twenty questions.

A typical set of mystery objects was: Bugs Bunny; malt whisky; a connoisseur; a female weightlifter; the Mystery voice; a riddle; the Complete Works of Shakespeare; a wooden leg; a Scilly Island; top brass; Jeeves. On one occasion, the object was "the person next to me", which caused all sorts of confusion as the enquiry "Is this person female?" was correct one moment then not the next.


Supposedly invented by Lord Palmerston, who played it with Queen Victoria. We educate as well as entertain, you see.


On one occasion, Richard Dimbleby forgot to turn up. Producer Ian Messiter, thinking quickly, decided to recruit someone from the audience and make a publicity stunt out of the adversity. Unfortunately, the only man to volunteer was a bit tipsy, but thankfully not too many people noticed.

Ian Messiter was reprimanded by the BBC for including "sporran" and "fig leaf" as consecutive objects on the same programme.

Messiter had to sack Gilbert Harding when he was drunk on the show. Harding bought Messiter a triple gin and tonic to 'loosen him up' before recording. Messiter refused the offer, so Harding drank the lot - probably on top of what he had already consumed. During the next 30 minutes he managed to insult Richard Dimbleby as "the BBC's sacred cow", Joy Adamson ("Joy by name, but not by nature") and failed to recognise that the panel had correctly identified "a peony" after question seven and went on to announce the answer - to much commotion - after twenty questions. Harding barked back: "Serves them right - they shouldn't take this silly game so seriously. Let's get on with the next object." He closed the programme three minutes early with the diatribe: "I'm fed up with this idiotic game; as for the score, if you've been listening you won't need it; if you haven't, you won't want it. I'm going home."

The series inspired a 1950 movie, The Twenty Questions Murder Mystery. According to, "the killer sends the four players clues which are read on the air. Fortunately, two clever reporters solve the mystery and then use the players to catch the killer." Host Stewart MacPherson, "mystery voice" Norman Hackforth and panellists Jack Train, Daphne Padel, Jeanne De Casalis and Richard Dimbleby all appeared as themselves.

See also

Guess What?


A 1947 panel comprising, l-r, Kathleen Ryan, Daphne Padel, Anona Winn and Richard Dimbleby.


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