University Challenge: Seven memorable moments from over the years

Jeremy Paxman is stepping down as host after 28 years.

University Challenge host Jeremy Paxman is leaving the UK’s longest running TV quiz show after 28 years.

Leeds-born Paxman, 72, was the second presenter after Bamber Gascoigne, who first hosted the programme in 1962.

The show was revived by the BBC in 1994 with Paxman at the helm, introducing his famously formidable interrogation style.

Graham Norton Show – London
Jeremy Paxman (Yui Mok/PA)

Here are seven memorable moments the quiz show brought to television over the years:

1) Boris Johnson was a contestant in 1999

The future Prime Minister, 58, appeared on the show in 1999 as team captain of the Broadsheets who lost to team Tabloids.

Footage shows Paxman giving Mr Johnson a light telling off at the end of his appearance after the future premier celebrated winning the last question by punching the air.

Paxman said: “I don’t know what you were gesticulating, you were very soundly trounced.”

2) Two-time University Challenge winner becomes lord chancellor and justice secretary

Sir David Lidington, 66, represented Cambridge’s Sydney Sussex College in 1979, winning the show that year before returning for a reunion episode in 2002 to mark the show’s 40th anniversary.

Sir David’s team beat 1968 winners from Keele University in the final to be crowned the greatest champions in the show’s four-decade history.

In 1992, he was elected Conservative MP for Aylesbury and went on to serve in Theresa May’s government as lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice from June 2017 to January 2018.

He became a minister for the Cabinet Office and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster until July 2019.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Sir David Lidington after receiving a knighthood (Victoria Jones/PA)

3) Stephen Fry appeared as a contestant in 1980

The broadcaster, actor and comedian, 64, was a notable celebrity who competed in University Challenge on behalf of Queen’s College, Cambridge, with original quizmaster Gascoigne.

Fry demonstrated the intelligence for which he is now famed, with his team making it to the final round.

Since his on-screen debut at the age of 23, the star has gone on to appear in classics including Blackadder, The Hobbit and present game show QI.

4) A winning team was disqualified in 2009

University Challenge
The team from Corpus Christi, Oxford University (BBC/PA)

The BBC was forced to disqualify Corpus Christi College, Oxford for breaking the rules by using a contestant who was no longer a student.

At the time of the final, Sam Kay, from Surrey, was working as an accountant, and the title was transferred to the University of Manchester by default.

Paxman said: “I suppose it is mildly embarrassing but I do feel sorry for the Corpus Christi team – I mean they were all legitimate students when it started.

“But rules are rules, and they had to be stuck to.”

5) Popular University Challenge contestants become celebrities in their own right

Monkman and Seagull’s Polymathic Adventure
Bobby Seagull and Eric Monkman (BBC Radio 4/PA)

Eric Monkman, from Canada, and Bobby Seagull, from London, rose to fame as rivals on the intellectual gameshow.

The Cambridge graduates became huge hits with the viewing public during the 2017 edition of the BBC Two series.

Monkman was known for his expressive manner and for lacking an “indoor voice” as he answered Paxman’s questions.

Seagull later turned down the chance to appear on Celebrity Big Brother before the pair landed their own TV series titled Monkman And Seagull’s Genius Guide To Britain.

6) Students boycott University Challenge claiming Paxman made ‘misogynistic and sexist’ comments during a recording of the show

Letters Live series – London
Jeremy Paxman (Anthony Devlin/PA)

In 2016, the University of Reading Students’ Union voted to not take part in the quiz show after previous team members complained about the handling of the alleged comments.

At the time, Paxman told the PA news agency he was “baffled” but thought the issue stemmed from a conversation during the 2018 recording when he questioned the Reading team about their mascot, a Jeremy Paxman doll.

7) University Challenge inspires book and film

The quiz show, which pits students in teams of four against rival universities and colleges with questions including the “starter for 10”, inspired a novel by David Nicholls which was adapted into a film starring Scottish actor James McAvoy.

McAvoy plays a working-class youth from Essex, who gets a chance to prove himself when he is accepted to Bristol University.

He finds romance with two students and tries out for a popular TV programme called University Challenge.