Quiz show hosted by Jeremy Paxman but more famously Bamber Gascoigne. Teams from the various universities in the UK compete on general knowledge questions. The questions invariably single out people from Public School backgrounds. Subject such as Latin, Classical Music and Religion predominate. Oxford University or Cambridge University always win. The show was spoofed brilliantly by The Young Ones.

Highbrow quiz show shown on BBC, featuring teams representing the universities of the United Kingdom. The show originally ran on ITV in the 1960s and beyond, presented by the alarmingly coiffured Bamber Gascoigne. It was off air for almost ten years before the BBC decided it was ripe for resurrection in 1994.

The format is identical to the original series, with the notable exception of new host Jeremy Paxman's entirely less conciliatory style of dealing with the contestants. The quiz is made up of starter questions and bonus questions. A question can be on any topic, but in any game you can expect to be asked at least one question about Classical Music, Chemistry, Literature, History and Mythology. The beauty of this quiz, however, is that they're not afraid to ask about winners of the FA Cup or the hit singles of Britney Spears, so it is generally not possible to win simply by fielding a team of inhuman propellerheads.

Starter questions must be answered by individual team members, with no conferring. A contestant can buzz at any time and attempt to answer the question, but if they choose to interrupt Paxman before he finishes reading it, they must get the answer right or face a five point penalty. Answering the question correctly earns the team 10 points, and the opportunity to answer three bonus questions, which are each worth 5 points. The bonus questions usually follow some sort of theme, and picture and music rounds feature.

Definitely one of the more difficult quizzes on the telly, and all the better for it. Jeremy Paxman is more used to grilling government ministers for answers to tough questions, so he shows remarkably little patience with dithering students. He will frequently bark "Come on!" at them, or utterly patronise them if they give a fatuous answer: e.g. "That's not even the right century!" This can be a lot of fun, and Anne Robinson has adopted this style for her quiz show The Weakest Link, albeit with a much lesser degree of success.

Having actually appeared on University Challenge (UMIST team, 1999-2000 series, we got to the semi finals and lost to the winners, Durham), I can say that the show is quite different when you're recording it than the finished product looks.

Firstly - Jeremy Paxman. He's wearing jeans under there you know. And taking swigs from a can of Heineken during breaks. Nice bloke. Particularly funny when he gets drunk and rants about Bill Gates.

Second - the show as recorded would probably last about an hour. Those bright students you see on the TV couldn't even think of an answer for about a third of the starter questions.

Third - Paxman's condescension is entirely for show. Half the time he hasn't a clue about the question. The answer will be given by a contestant, and he'll say 'No, the answer is...', but then the student will dispute this, saying that both answers mean the same,he'll get something in his earphone, and there'll be a retake, with him then saying 'Yesss, well, I'm going to allow that...'. At least twice per show he allows through an astoundingly wrong answer, or disallows an obviously right one, but every time when it comes to the final take he manages to portray an air of total omniscience along with superiority to the rest of the human race...

The US equivalent of the show is College Bowl.

Also, at least on the series I was on, mgriffithsuk's write-up is way off the mark. There was not a single question about Latin (shame, I used to quite like the subject), there were as many questions about pop music as there were classical music, and none of the team I was on, who did better than most, went to public school as far as I'm aware (I did go to a fee-paying grammar school for a few years, but as a non-fee-paying Assisted Places student...) and we didn't feel at all disadvantaged by the fact...

And Oxford didn't get a single college through that year, and Durham won, not Cambridge. But other than that, an entirely correct write-up...

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