Gilbert Harding – TV Legends

Gilbert Harding

Gilbert Harding was an outspoken English panellist, quiz- master and broadcaster, known as “the rudest man in Britain”. A former teacher, police constable and journalist, he began working with the BBC’s Monitoring Service in 1939 as a sub-editor. In 1944 he went to Canada for three years to work with the BBC’s Toronto Office. On returning to Britain in 1947, he began making appearances as a Question Master in the popular BBC radio panel game show Round Britain Quiz. He also introduced BBC radio’s The Brains Trust and Twenty Questions.

From 1951 he became part of the post-war British way of life with his appearances as a grumpy panellist in the highly-successful, long-running television panel game show What’s My Line? Every week he entertained and shocked viewers with his intellect, sharp wit and rudeness. He often bullied innocent guests if they gave evasive answers, or didn’t speak perfect English. After one clash between Harding and chairman Eamonn Andrews, the BBC received over 175 phone calls and 6 telegrams from viewers complaining about Harding’s appalling behaviour. For over a decade What’s My Line? was an institution on British television, and Harding became a national celebrity.

In 1960 Harding agreed to be interrogated by journalist John Freeman on a famous live television interview programme called Face to Face. But Harding was reduced to tears in front of millions of viewers when Freeman asked about the recent death of his mother. This was, in fact, a deliberate and tactless attempt to “out” him as gay at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain. Harding admitted nothing, but clearly the interview was a distressing experience for him. He confessed on-screen that “my bad manners and bad temper are quite indefensible…I’m almost unfit to live with…I’m profoundly lonely…I should be very glad to be dead.”

John Freeman later admitted his lack of sensitivity but Harding died shortly after the programme’s September transmission on 16 November 1960. He was 53.

Owen Spencer Thomas described him on BBC Radio London’s Gilbert Harding in 1979 as “That enigmatic man…was bad-tempered and rude, yet his friends counted him as one of the kindest, and most generous.”

TV Personality. Born in Hereford, Herefordshire, England,
5 June 1907. Died 16 November 1960