Portsmouth University on University Challenge

Portsmouth University Challenge Team 1988

Portsmouth is a new University and has therefore only been eligible for University Challenge for a few years. So our two separate appearances are quite good going (especially since we were unable to enter a team last year, because most of the team had exams during the period of the auditions ! More about that later).

The first appearance was two years ago, when Portsmouth lost to the eventual overall winners.

I personally am one of the select few to have appeared on both versions of the show, and I offer some opinions in the light of this. I was a quarter-finalist in 1984 when Bamber Gascoigne was the questionmaster, representing UWIST.

I've recently learnt that a fellow member of Portsmouth Joggers, Dawn Tozer, came a very close second in a final of Mastermind. Since I have also been on Mastermind, that makes two ex-Mastermind contestants as members of Portsmouth Joggers Running Club. Can any other sporting organization out there report similar scenarios ?


22. May 1998 : Audition in BBC Radio 2 Conference Room, London
27. June 1998 : Recording at Granada studios, Manchester
7. October 1998 : Transmission, BBC-2 (20:00)


Potential participants have to undergo an audition where the original 150 or so teams are whittled down to 28.

Our audition took place at 1400, 22. May 1998 in the Radio 2 Conference Room, which is part of the Broadcasting House complex in London. A team from City University and Cheltenham and Gloucester College were also there.

It appears to be standard practise to hold the auditions slap-bang in the middle of the exam period, a situation which lead to Portsmouth having to withdraw the year before. On enquiry this appears to be because BBC2 leave it fairly late on before actually commisioning a new series.

The important part of the audition was a written test of 40 questions - the questions were answered individually by everyone, although for a team to receive the point for a particular question, it was only necessary for one member of the team to have actually answered correctly (in the contest proper teams are allowed to confer). The highest scoring 28 teams went thru to the program itself.

These are (most of the) questions. In some cases, the questions will not be exact, simply because I cannot remember exactly what the question was, but the general gist is there.

  1. Five of which prizes are awarded by Sweden and one by Norway ?
  2. Which George Eliot novel features Maggie Tulliver ?
  3. What type of object is the end product of a star of less than 4 solar masses. ?
  4. The first asteroid to be discovered was named after which goddess ?
  5. Ambassadors to Britain are officially ambassadors to which court ?
  6. What was signed at Runnymede in 1215 ?
  7. What word is used in a planned economy to describe the required output and is used elsewhere to describe a maximum allocation?
  8. ????
  9. Which post-impressionist technique was used by Seurat ?
  10. Which Cuban government minister was shot dead in Bolivia while leading revolutionary forces ?
  11. Which country lies due east of New York ?
  12. Which is the largest member of the crow family in Britain ?
  13. Which material is used for fastening and was inspired by burrs in nature ?
  14. Which 20. Century British Prime Minister served four terms of office ?
  15. Which French footballer moved from Leeds United to Manchester United ?
  16. Which British king died in 1199 ?
  17. ???
  18. Where did Kublai Khan "a stately dome decree" ?
  19. (mathematician)???
  20. (salt producing chemical)???
  21. The name of which novel derives from the words of Miranda in The Tempest ?
  22. Which is the only species of deer in which both sexes have antlers ?
  23. ???
  24. In which film was a starling used to capture a buffalo ?
  25. What connects the passenger pigeon and the great auk ???
  26. (suffix given to several towns)???
  27. (wood carver) ???
  28. What office was held by U-Thant, Tryge Lie and Kurt Waldheim ?
  29. What name is given to a painting which is intended to be used as a "template" for a final work of art ?
  30. Which of Henry 8.'s ships was recently exhumed from the waters off Portsmouth ?
  31. Who was responsible for a museum of art in Malibu ???
  32. Which DH Lawrence novel was banned until 1961 ?
  33. ???

1. Nobel Prizes 2. Middlemarch 3. White Dwarf 4. Ceres 5. St James Court 6. Magna Carta 7. Quota 8. Vitamins 9. Pointillism 10. Che Guevara 11. Portugal 12. raven 13. Velcro 14. Harold Wilson 15. Cantona 16. Richard 1 17. Stephen Spielberg 18. Xanadu 19. Pythagoras 20. halogen 21. Brave New world 22. reindeer 23. Live for the day 24. Silence of the Lambs 25. All became extinct 26. Regis 27. Grinling Gibbons 28. Sec-Gen of UN 29. cartoon 30. Mary Rose 31. JP Getty 32. Lady Chatterly 33. DNA


(I did intend to include photographs but they were all destroyed in the Kodak Laboratories)

The recording was scheduled for 1630, Saturday 27. June 1998 at the Granada studios in Manchester.


Preparation proved to be quite profitable. We twice won the 100 pound grand prize in the Student Union Quiz, as well a few lesser prizes in the pubs of Portsmouth (usually Scott's Bar)

Arrival in Manchester

We stayed in Manchester on the Friday and Saturday, at the Britannia Hotel, nr. Piccadilly. The Friday night was the occasion of England's World Cup match against Colombia. While the rest of the team watched the game on the hotel's giant screen, I went for a walk around the city center - not too hard to keep up with the progress of the football as I strolled around.

Unfortunately all my photos of Manchester were destroyed in the Kodak Labs, but Manchester is one of the few British cities to possess a tramway system, and still bears the scars of an IRA bomb on the Arndale Center.

We can't spend too much time complaining about the hotel given that we had free accommodation, but there weren't too many good words about it. We were all given rooms without windows and there was a general suspicion that these were the rooms that were reserved for people who weren't paying for themselves. I had a skylight, adjacent to which was an outlet from some air extraction system - I had to keep the skylight shut and even then suffer the continual humming. Ian had to swop his room for the second night because he had been kept awake by a discotheque, good going considering we were on the sixth floor ! Furthermore, no-one could receive all channels on their TV, but the channels we could receive were different for each person.

We arrived at Granada studios around midday and were directed to the refectory, where we also met all the staff involved with program. After that it was effectively a short visit to make-up, a bit of a chat involving procedure and then on with the program (We had to sit thru a recording of a Durham-Oxbridge game first, which was the first occasion on which we saw Jeremy Paxman).

Having been on University Challenge before, there was always going to be the sense of anti-climax. But we did definitely have more of a day of it on my previous visits. I remember the canteen was always full of people in costume and we saw a few famous faces among them, Frank Middlemas I remember well. And we had time to explore the adjacent film plot (the Sherlock Holmes set is still there, now as part of the Granada area that visitors can pay to visit, as is Coronation Street, of course). We came across Julie Goodyear on our travels etc, etc,. And we met Bamber Gascoigne well before the recording and went thru a full-length dress rehersal with him.

Recording itself

This time the only "rehearsal" lasted about three minutes and was really only for the benefit of the sound technicians. Our only fans were Clive, the reserve and his girlfriend. On my previous appearances, the recordings had always been in the evening, so we were always able to have our full complement of three dozen or so spectators (It was one of the highlights of that time that a couple of our spectators were (knowingly) left behind at a motorway service station because they were too slow in getting back on the bus).

jeremy paxman

Having been on University Challenge four times with Bamber Gascoigne, and witnessed two other recordings with him, I can say that all these recordings went straight thru without stopping, and without the need to re-record anything later on. Which was not the case this time. The program had been stopped mid-stream during the Durham-Oxbridge game, and the same thing happened to us. One of these occasions was due to me answering "Kaiser Wilhelm 2" to which Jeremy Paxman said he would let me have it despite it actually being Wilhelm 1, before realising his mistake a few seconds later, something that threw him so much that the recording had to stop for what always seems like an eternity on these occasions. After the game was over, we had to re-record one of our answers - this required several attempts. One attempt was thrown out because Jerry had put his glasses in his breast pocket at the end of the game, causing a continuity problem when the scene was re-recorded. He removed his glasses, but found later in the evening that he had thereby left his glasses behind in the studio.
jeremy paxman


We received several recommendations from the Granada staff as to where to spend our Saturday in Manchester. We actually went to the "Curry Mile" in Rushholme. The length is exaggerated but it does consist of a string of Indian restaurants, most of them chocablock by 1900. The one we visited allowed us to bring in our own drink, which is standard practise in this area, I believe. Although we never actually went we were also recommended to visit the "Gay Village" - I found out the next day that it was only just around the corner from our hotel.

Despite psychologically wanting to return home to Pompey, I partook of a quick visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, overlooking Granada Studios and containing also Liverpool Road station, the original station on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Arrive home about 2200, in severe depression. Recover by about Monday evening


My first comment would be obvious to most people, i.e. the low standard of some of these questions. This is obviously a bit disturbing as a contestant, you don't want to buzz in precisely because you cannot believe that the question could be so easy. In addition, there are always questions where you hold back because you know there could be another answer apart from the obvious one, only to be possibly beaten to the buzzer by someone who knows less than you and has gone for the "obvious" answer.

I am not too sure why this program is restricted to University teams. It is licensed from an American company, so for all I know it could have something to do with the license. But I know from the past that the program has a very dedicated following (largely in the past from people who considered it a red-letter day if they answered just one of the questions), and I would have thought that it would be more appropriate to use the same format with teams drawn from the general public at large.

When I queried this situation at the audition, one of the researchers said that the reason was that it was an academic quiz. But any decent quiz can be called academic.

Several years ago, Manchester University wrecked an edition of the program with the purpose of exposing how unrepresentative the program's contestants are, and its implication that they were somehow superior to the public at large. And this is the point, most University students would have great problems answering the questions, whereas many ordinary quiz teams (including large numbers of people with comparitively much less formal education) would have no trouble coping with them.

Now and again, I used to advocate the return of a "University Challenge" style quiz, but with teams just drawn from the general public. It seemed ridiculous to me that, just as the number of quiz shows / game shows on TV was dramatically increasing, University Challenge was taken off, a program which I knew from experience had a dedicated following, as stated above. I remember I wrote to William G. Stewart, because he always said that he read every letter, but he replied that he thought there were already programs around using the general University Challenge style, a statement which seems even more funny nowadays (with the return of the program) than it did then.

Bass Strait

bass strait

One nice little highlight of the show was a five-penalty awarded against myself for answering "Bass Strait" to a question, when the actual answer, strictly speaking, was "Bass" (after whom the strait is named)


This is a link to a copy of a South Wales Echo report on University Challenge, otherwise general report below

UWIST on University Challenge in 1984

South Wales Echo - 6. July 1994

Your Starter for 10 !

Students say 'pass' to TV battle of wits show
by Hilary Bowden

University Challenge is returning to television screens in September, but South Wales colleges have failed to make the grade.

The programme which showcased the budding undergraduate talents of Clive James, David Mellor, Stephen Fry and Malcolm Rifkind has been re-vamped, with Jeremy Paxman replacing Bamber Gascoigne at the helm

The only Welsh team to make it through the tough qualifying heats was Lampeter University College.

The Echo tracked down two past stars of the programme - the 1984 team from the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, who were knocked out in the quarter-finals.

... .............

A copy of the article can be downloaded here


Are you up to the university challenge ? Here are a sample of some of the questions that might win you a starter for ten.
  1. What is the name of the last opera written by Mozart ?
  2. Which is the oldest UK coin in everyday circulation ?
  3. Which rank in the army is equivalent to the naval rank of commodore ?
  4. What did the F in F. Scott Fitzgerald stand for ?
  5. Where in your body is the medulla oblongata ?
  6. Who sang 'Better the Devil You Know'. Britain's entry in the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest ?
  7. Who wrote the words to the hymn Jersualem ?

Answers: 1. The Magic Flute; 2.50p; 3. Brigadier; 4. Francis; 5 In the lower part of the brain; 6. Liverpool pop star Sonia; 7. Blake