Peo­ple like to pre­tend”

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Front Page -

That will come as a re­lief to con­tes­tants about to square up with her as the host of Master­mind, the high­brow quiz show soon to re­launch on SBS.

It will be Byrne’s first TV gig since leav­ing the ABC in 2017. “I planned my exit for some time because I have a real prin­ci­ple you shouldn’t stay any­where for more than seven or eight years.”

She gave spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion to her beloved book club, stay­ing for just over a decade. Then, Byrne says, there came a point where “I felt like I’d done the job I came to do” – which was prov­ing an au­di­ence ex­ists for a show about lit­er­a­ture. If she nurses any dis­ap­point­ment to­wards the ABC, it’s that they haven’t fol­lowed through on a prom­ise to launch a new book-fo­cused pro­gram to fill the gap.

When SBS called, Byrne was com­ing to the end of a self-im­posed gap year. “I wasn’t look­ing for a job or think­ing about what I was going to do next,” she says. “But it seemed like the uni­verse

got­con­spired to in­vent the one job of­fer that could blind­side me – it was so per­fect and out of the blue.”

As a long­time fan of the show’s for­mat, it was – for want of a dif­fer­ent phrase – a no-brainer. “To be re­ally hon­est, I don’t think I was ever going to say no.” (The one trick for the first fe­male host in the Aus­tralian ver­sion’s 41-year his­tory would be de­cid­ing whether to go with the tra­di­tional ti­tle of quiz­mas­ter – ul­ti­mately a yes since, as she ad­mits, “quizmistre­ss sounds faintly per­verse”.)

Den­ton was in full sup­port of his wife’s re­turn to the screen. “He rolled around laugh­ing and said, ‘You’ve to take it,’” she says, putting paid to any sus­pi­cion that work­ing in the same field must be a source of fric­tion be­tween hus­band and wife. “The sim­ple an­swer is no. What­ever is­sues we have, like any cou­ple, they’re not con­nected to that.” If there’s any shop talk, she says, it’s shared strate­gis­ing about what to do next.

The pair took a sim­i­larly col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to par­ent­ing son Con­nor, now in his early 20s. “When my boy was young, I was still do­ing For­eign Cor­re­spon­dent, An­drew was at home. But when he started Enough Rope, he said, ‘We need to talk about your job…’” As she ex­plains, in those years for work­ing moth­ers, “the is­sue was not about hav­ing it all. The fight was be­tween the women who worked and the women who didn’t – the Mummy Wars. It was a time of great fe­male con­flict. Re­ally, it’s so dif­fer­ent now. Women have much more sol­i­dar­ity.”

De­spite the ad­vances being made by women in me­dia, ageism re­mains an en­trenched prob­lem for those who, es­pe­cially in tele­vi­sion, can ex­pect to be benched af­ter turn­ing 50.

“I didn’t get that note,” says Byrne squarely. “It hasn’t been my ex­pe­ri­ence –

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