Jennifer Byrne: How a freak accident left her bedridden for 6 months

Jennifer Byrne hosting episode 1 of MASTERMIND

One of Australia’s most respected journalists faced the toughest time of her life before finding new success with MASTERMIND.

After 11 years of hosting The Book Club for ABC TV, Jennifer Byrne was looking forward to a well-planned gap year. Hiking, travel and exploration was on the agenda, but like all good novels there was a dramatic twist, as Jennifer revealed when she spoke with TV Blackbox;

“To take a year was the bravest, boldest thing I could do and what happened was in February, the start of my great year that I’d worked towards and I’d left something I truly loved in The Book Club to do this for growth, I smashed up my foot really badly during a training walk.”

Jennifer is patron of Sydney Coastrek, an annual walking challenge raising funds for the Fred Hollows Foundation. During her time on 60 minutes she had accompanied Hollows to Nepal in 1992 and this was her opportunity to contribute to his legacy, but those plans were thrown into disarray.

Jennifer Byrne with Fred Hollows on 60 MINUTES

PHOTO: Wentworth Courier

“I was totally incapacitated for about 6 months.  Nothing was going the way I wanted to and it was a really, I mean it sounds so vapid to say it was a learning experience, can I tell you it was a crap experience.  It was horrible. But I grew.  I did grow, I didn’t grow the way I imagined it but I came to the end of that year, the latter 6 months were everything I hoped and I traveled and had explorations both internal and external and this just came out of the blue.  I really was thinking ‘Oh I must go back to work eventually’ but I didn’t know where, and this was in December I was on holidays, I just got this phone call saying ‘we’re returning Mastermind to the screens would you consider coming and hosting’ and it was like… I said  ‘This is extraordinary, you do know that I was the first celebrity Sale of the Century champion? And I am a game freak.  You do know this?’”

It’s been 35 years since the last Australian version of Mastermind and Jennifer believes the time is right to bring the iconic show back;

“Everything old is new again, including me”

But she doesn’t subscribe to the theory It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game;

“There’s nothing more tedious than people saying ‘winning doesn’t matter’, yes it does! It’s intrinsic to the experience that you try because that’s how you get a good game.”

The creator of Mastermind, Bill Wright, created the show drawing inspiration from his experiences of being interrogated by the Gestapo during World War II and the SBS version doesn’t stray from the BBC format of the gameshow.

“Of course it’s that black stage, that iconic chair, that music, the light coming down in that gestapo-like beam. It has the drama, I get that, you are under torturous questioning.”

The preview of episode one viewed by TV Blackbox is well produced and polished, except for a few minor issues producers will iron out over time. Some pick-up shots of the contestants at the start have an applause track but the audience in shot are not applauding and some lighting on the contestants faces still need a little tweaking. These are minor issues though, the episode was captivating from start to finish and something the whole family can sit down to watch. I was amazed at the knowledge of the people sitting in that black chair and found myself cheering for those doing well and empathetic towards those struggling.

Jennifer Byrne is an ideal host, she has warmth while speaking with the contestants but gravitas when asking the questions. While obviously a little under the weather when the episode was recorded, Jennifer pushes through like a pro and seems to relish her new role.

“I feel like whacked with a rainbow that this has happened.  I don’t know how it happened, what fates were going on that they happened to find me, the fact they didn’t even know my passion for games is just extraordinary.”

MASTERMIND starts April 15 at 6pm on SBS.