Years of University Challenge - BBC
TWO, Monday 26 August, 8.00 pm
Quentin narrates this special 40th birthday documentary celebrating
the life and times of University Challenge, the series which has
never failed to be academically challenging and has never been distracted
by big money prizes.
series started in 1962 as the intellectual antidote to the frivolous
quiz shows of the day.
biggest gamble for the producers was the choice of presenter - Bamber
was only 27 when he got the job but was quick witted, bright and
had everything the producers were looking for, except the wardrobe.
Bamber said: "Granada's response to my clothes was very offensive.
I'd come up for my audition in my best cords
and they immediately
sent me to Savile Row."
resulting suit was later stolen from Granada's wardrobe department.
But right clothes or not, Bamber was regarded by the students as
Former alumni John Simpson said: "Seeing Bamber there was like
seeing the God Apollo seated on a throne."
For former contestant Stephen Fry, the choice of Bamber appealed
for more bizarre reasons: "How do you get to be called Bamber?!
"What strange accident happened at the font? Was the vicar
so drunk that he said "I name this child Bamber?" Then
oops, sorry, too late?"
The show went from strength to strength and got 11 million viewers
many of the viewers, it was their first contact with that alien
beast, the student, and did much to make university more accessible
to people who hadn't been to Eton.
University Challenge also provided a running commentary on student
life throughout the decades from the buttoned up early sixties;
the radicals in the late 60s and 70s and the careerists of the 80s
Former contestants have their own memories of appearing on the programme:
Fellowes appeared on University Challenge in 1969: "No tape
of my show has survived thank God. But I look like an unsuccessful
contender in an Elvis lookalike competition - with a yeti wig on
Sebastian Faulks has equally fond but maybe more unreliable memories:
"I smoked all the way through it and was half cut - my parents
In 1987, after 978 episodes, University Challenge was dropped by
ITV but BBC TWO brought it out of retirement after just seven years.
Bamber was asked back as presenter but by this time was involved
in a major project of his own. Enter Jeremy Paxman.
was so clever of them to pick Paxman - Paxman is Bamber Gascoigne
with attitude." says John Simpson.
Stephen Fry's comment reveals that maybe he was glad to have appeared
in the Bamber days: "He [Paxman], can occasionally be rather
And the last word, as always, to Jeremy Paxman who gives his thoughts
on the students: "I like students and I'm amazed by what they
know - and also, sometimes, about what they don't know."
Notes for Editors
Gascoigne was question master from 1962-87. He presented 992 programmes.
Jeremy Paxman became question master in 1994.
The following are all former alumni of the series and are interviewed
in the documentary:
Stephen Fry (writer/actor) Queen's, Cambridge 1980, studied English
and was beaten in the final "by a team from Oxford, of all
Margolyes (actress) Newnham College, Cambridge 1963, studied English
Lit; won the first match against Keele and lost the second to University
Simpson (broadcaster) Magdalene College, Cambridge 1964, studied
English and lost in the semi-finals to "a small Welsh theological
Fellowes (actor/screenwriter) Magdalene College, Cambridge 1969,
studied English Literature and lost in the first round.
Malcolm Rifkind (ex Foreign Secretary) Edinburgh University 1967,
studied Law and won "at least one match".
Faulks (writer) Emmanuel, Cambridge 1972; studied English; lost
in the first round.
Aaronovitch (journalist), Manchester University 1975 studied History
and lost in the first round "unsurprisingly".
Additional interviewees include:
Magnus Magnusson who says: "I still get taxi drivers who say
'Aha starter for 10' and I have to say 'wrong bloody programme'."
Mayell who never appeared on University Challenge proper but was
involved in The Young Ones spoof version which also starred Griff
Rhys Jones as Bambi.