By then UC had been a TV fixture for 20 years. The first ever edition aired at 22:45 on Friday 21 September 1962. Taking part were the Universities of Leeds and Reading. Producer Barrie Heads told the TV Times: “The questions are chosen to test quick reaction, fluency and general knowledge. The emphasis of the whole programme is on speed – and the atmosphere of the whole thing is going to be kept entertaining”
There was, however, one additional now long forgotten aspect to the game that must have been dropped fairly early on. The TV Times tells us that: “Competitors then face the additional hazard that, at any stage throughout the game, they may be asked to speak for 45 seconds on any subject. Here again (said the producer) the accent will be on wit rather than the vast intimate knowledge of the subject.”
The quiz was axed in 1987, ITV having shunted it around the schedules like unwanted leftovers, a sure sign that it was about to be put out of its misery. Its saviour though was a Granada theme night on BBC2 on 28 December 1992. As part of that evening’s entertainment the show was resurrected with Bamber at the helm for a pro-celebrity match. The students were from Keble College, Oxford, the last winners on the final ITV outing. The celebs were Alistair Little, John Simpson, Stephen Fry and Charles Moore.
BBC bosses obviously thought the revival of University Challenge was a damned good idea so they commissioned Granada to make a series that started in 1994. The new incarnation saw TV’s Mr Sneery, Jeremy Paxton, cajoling the students and seemingly seeing the task of explaining the rules as bothersome. The show was a ratings winner for BBC2.
Listen to the Archive on 4 programme on 50 Years of University ChallengeBamber Gascoigne’s 1987 appearance on DesertIsland Discs is also available to listen again or download.