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
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.
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."
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute
(CHARLES) HARDING. Born in Hereford, Herefordshire, England,
5 June 1907. Attended Cambridge University. Taught English in Canada
and France and worked as a police officer in Bradford, West Yorkshire,
before settling in Cyprus as a teacher and Times correspondent;
returned to England, in 1936, and joined the BBC monitoring service
in 1939, through his skills as a linguist; subsequently worked for
the BBC, Toronto; overseas director after World War II; host of
and regular guest on radio and television panel shows, 1950s. Died
16 November 1960.
1951-60 What's My Line?
Round Britain Quiz; The Brains Trust; Twenty Questions.
Along My Line (autobiography). London: Putnam, 1953.
Howes, Keith. Broadcasting It: An Encyclopaedia of Homosexuality
on Film, Radio and TV in the UK 1923-1993. London: Cassell,
Andy. "Every Wart and Pustule: Gilbert Harding and Television Stardom."
In, Corner, John, editor. Popular Television in Britain: Studies
in Cultural History. London: British Film Institute, 1991.
Wallace. Gilbert Harding: A Candid Portrayal. Brighton, England:
Argus & Robertson, 1978.