My Word!

My Word! was a radio panel game broadcast by the BBC on the Home Service (1956–67) and Radio 4 (1967–88).[1] It was created by Edward J. Mason and Tony Shryane, and featured comic writers Denis Norden and Frank Muir, famous in Britain for the series Take It From Here. The show was piloted in June 1956 on the Midland Home Service and first broadcast as a series on the BBC Home Service on 1 January 1957. The series also ran on BBC Television for one series from July-September 1960.

My Word!
GenreLiterary humorous panel game
Running time30 mins
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Home stationBBC Home Service and BBC Radio 4
TV adaptations1 Season (1962)
John Arlott (1956-57)
Jack Longland (1957-77)
John Julius Norwich (1978-82)
Antonia Fraser (1982-83)
Michael O'Donnell (1983-88)
Frank Muir (1956-88)
Isobel Barnett (1956-57)
E. Arnot Robertson (1957-61)
Dilys Powell (1962-88)
Denis Norden (1956-88)
Nancy Spain (1956-64)
Anne Scott-James (1964-78)
Antonia Fraser (1979-88)
Irene Thomas (1982-83)
Created byTony Shryane and Edward J. Mason
Produced byTony Shryane, Bobby Jaye, Pete Atkin, Neil Cargill
Original release1956 – 1988
No. of series39
Opening themeAlpine Pastures, by Vivian Ellis

For decades it was also broadcast worldwide via BBC World Service shortwave. In the United States, the show was syndicated on the WFMT Fine Arts Network until 1 October 2013, when BBC ended US distribution.[2] Australia's Radio National had also been airing reruns for years but discontinued them in July 2014.

A companion programme, My Music, ran from 1967 to 1993.


The host of the show was originally the cricket broadcaster John Arlott, but he was soon replaced by Jack Longland, who spent over twenty years as chairman. Longland was succeeded by John Julius Norwich and finally Michael O'Donnell.

Muir and Norden were always on opposing teams. Muir's partner was initially Isobel Barnett, but she was soon replaced with the film critic E. Arnot Robertson. On Robertson's death in 1961, the film critic and Greek scholar Dilys Powell took her place until the show finished, when she was aged 87. Norden's first partner was the journalist Nancy Spain; after her death in 1964 she was succeeded by journalist Anne Scott-James, and then in 1979 by writer and historian Antonia Fraser. Fraser took the chair for one season in the 1980s, when her place on the panel was taken by Irene Thomas.

Guest panelists, substituting for regulars, included Alfred Marks, Barry Took, John Wells (once in 1973, filling in for Muir; once in 1975, for Norden), and Katharine Whitehorn (once in 1975, for Anne Scott-James).[3]

After Edward J. Mason's death in 1971, Jack Longland, with the assistance of Peter Moore, took over responsibility for compiling most of the questions. After Longland's retirement, Moore became the sole question-setter. In 1980 Michael O'Donnell, who was already chairman of the programme, became the sole question-setter until the programme ended in 1988.


The two teams faced questions devised by Mason, primarily word games and literary quizzes covering vocabulary, etymology, snippets of poetry, and the like. When stumped by a question, the contestants could be sure of receiving generous partial credit for a humorous answer of enough ingenuity.

In the final round, each team was asked to give the origin of a famous phrase or quotation. In early shows, once the real answers were given, Muir and Norden were invited to explain the origin of the phrase less seriously, in the form of a feghoot. An early example was the quotation "Dead! And never called me mother!" from a stage adaptation of East Lynne by Mrs Henry Wood, which became the exclamation of a youth coming out of a public telephone box which he had discovered to be out of order. From 1973, the first part of the round was dropped in favour of having the chairman simply announce the accepted origin of each phrase, thus opening up new fields of phrases that would have been too well known or too obscure to be posed as questions. In later series Muir and Norden chose their own phrases in advance of each programme, and their stories became longer and more convoluted. This became a popular segment of the quiz, and Muir and Norden later compiled five volumes of books containing some of the My Word! stories. Examples included Norden's explanation of how he worked his exit from the army with pedantically exact interpretations of his superior officers' orders ("Brief on 'shun' is better than QR" (that is, Queen's Regulations) "prevention is better than cure"), and Muir's account of his desperately scouring the contents of his neighbour's greenhouse, having bet him £50 that he could work them into a My Word! story ("A snipe, a harp, a fern, corn, seeded trayfuls" "a snapper up of unconsidered trifles" - taken from The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare). Another self-referential example described Norden and Muir's work together as "an intimate complicity for talking puns", parodying "an infinite capacity for taking pains", a way of describing genius.

The theme music to My Word! was Alpine Pastures by Vivian Ellis.


The published compilations of My Word! stories by Muir and Norden were:[4]

  • Muir, Frank; Norden, Denis (1973). You Can't Have Your Kayak and Heat It. Eyre Methuen Ltd
  • Muir, Frank; Norden, Denis (1974). Upon My Word!. Eyre Methuen Ltd
  • Muir, Frank; Norden, Denis (1978). Take My Word for It. Eyre Methuen Ltd
  • Muir, Frank; Norden, Denis (1980). Oh, My Word!. Eyre Methuen Ltd
  • Muir, Frank; Norden, Denis (1989). You Have My Word. Methuen London
  • Muir, Frank; Norden, Denis (1991). The Utterly Ultimate 'My Word!' Collection. Mandarin Paperbacks. ISBN 0-7493-0824-9, a collection of all five volumes.


  2. My Word, My Music ~ A Fond Farewell
  3. "My Word!". The Global British Comedy Collaborative. 4 November 2007. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  4. Muir, Frank; Norden, Denis (1991). The Utterly Ultimate 'My Word!' Collection. Mandarin Paperbacks. p. iv. ISBN 0-7493-0824-9.
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