University Challenge (ITV, 1962-1987, BBC2, 1994-present)
I must admit that I am not really a regular viewer of University Challenge, but I felt that I had to write a review about it because it is a very important game show in British TV history, being one of the longest-running and most respected in the genre. When I put this piece together I decided that I wanted to watch some editions from the first era of the show on ITV, unfortunately I could only find one incomplete edition online.
A quick look over the rules: teams of four representing universities from across the country compete against one another, facing some of the toughest questions to have featured on a game show, and only Blockbusters could rival the amount of mascots that the teams had. A starter question is asked for ten points with both teams shown in the famous split-screen effect. Whoever buzzes in and gets it right gets three extra questions for the team to answer for five points each. There are also questions that feature audio and picture clues. Repeat this until time is up.
The reason I wanted to look back at the first era of University Challenge was because when the show was on ITV it was hosted by Bamber Gascoigne, who is regarded as one of the greatest game show hosts. And after watching some of his work I must admit that I was very impressed and I can clearly see why he is held in such high regard by viewers, and why the show is considered to be in the same group as Mastermind. As time began to run out he increased the pace and began to talk quicker as if he was a horse racing commentator and… there’s the gong! The winner is then announced much to the delight of an overexcited studio audience, with a trophy for the overall series winners who are usually a very bright bunch of people.
As the years progressed though, University Challenge seemed to fall out of favour, it was shown by most ITV regions in a daytime slot, but the scheduling was very irregular from region to region. Various rule changes that were introduced included the Pass The Baton round which was difficult to get a grasp of, and ratings slumped, meaning that the show came to an end in 1987 after an impressive 25 years.
The story didn’t end there though. After a one-off special, BBC2 decided in 1994 that the time was right to revive University Challenge in a primetime slot with new host Jeremy Paxman, and it is a surprise to think that he has now hosted the show for almost as long as Gascoigne did. The show remains very popular with viewers, although it does seem to have a very complicated knockout format and the questions are as tough as ever. I’m sure it’ll continue to be on the screen for many years to come.