Keele on University Challenge

University Challenge is a long-running British television quiz show, licensed and produced by Granada Television. It was first shown from 21 September 1962 to 31 December 1987 and Bamber Gascoigne was its only quizmaster.

look-westward The show was revived for BBC2 with Jeremy Paxman as the new quizmaster and ran from 21 September 1994 to the present day. The format was based on the American show College Bowl, which ran on NBC radio from 1953 to 1957, and on NBC TV from 1959 to 1970.

Bamber Gascoigne was the first quizmaster; he compiled the questions himself and presided in his uniquely urbane way until the end of the first incarnation of the series in 1987. He had arrived at Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1955 to study for an English degree, during which time he wrote the musical Share My Lettuce, which became a West End production starring Kenneth Williams and Maggie Smith in 1957. As well as presiding for 25 years on University Challenge - the record for any presenter of a quiz show - he has also presented many documentaries and historical programmes including Cinema, The Christians, Man and Music, Victorian Values, and The Great Moghuls. Since 1994 Bamber has been developing the history website HistoryWorld which won the 2002 New Statesman New Media award for the best educational website.

His name is coincidentally an anagram of 'Organise BBC Game'.

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, University Challenge was placed 34th.

A spoof of University Challenge appeared in the notorious ‘Bambi’ episode of "The Young Ones". The quizmaster on that occasion was played by Griff Rhys-Jones. University Challenge competitors are in illustrious company - notable contestants in the quiz include Sebastian Faulks, Julian Fellows, Stephen Fry, Clive James, Miriam Margolyes, David Mellor, Malcolm Rifkind, John Simpson, David Starkey and William Waldegrave.

keele-team1968 In 1968, a quartet of Keele undergraduates triumphed in TV's toughest test of general knowledge. Millions watched Paul Brownsey, Pam Maddison (Groves), Aubrey "Larry" Lawrence and Andrew MacMullen win the 1968 final of University Challenge. It was the first – and so far the only – time Keele’s team took the title but it was a decisive victory. 

In only the fifth season of the long-running varsity quiz, Keele swept all before them, answering even the trickiest questions put to them by Bamber Gascoigne. Captained by Aubrey Lawrence, usually known as Larry, Keele beat Jesus College Cambridge in the final.

Sadly, between the recording and the transmission of the final, a member of the Jesus College team was killed in a boating accident, although his family gave their blessing to the programme being broadcast as a tribute. Having more than proved his worth Captain Larry went on to become BBC Radio's Brain of Britain and to compete in Mastermind in 1978.

"During the documentary ‘Memoirs of a Cigarette’ on Channel 4 about the national smoking ban, prominent display is given to the Keele University Challenge team of 1968 and especially Andy MacMullen in the act of lighting up a cigarette on screen. It was deliberate - to put Jesus off at a crucial stage in the game. He told us he intended to do it before that contest was shot. Keele won, of course. Andy gave up smoking not that long afterwards: but that's another story.…"

John Meager (1968)

tv-timesmini-300x225 "A photographer from Granada TV tried to pose us against a wall at Keele on which all sorts ‘revolutionary’ slogans had been painted. I refused. This wasn’t so much because I disagreed with the sentiments as that I objected to being used in that kind of way to make an ‘interesting’ picture which might lead to it being ‘inferred’ that I endorsed the sentiments: if I wanted to make a statement I would make it when and how I wanted to, not at some photographer’s whim. There was much excitement when a female student who accompanied us bumped into Elsie Tanner in the ladies’ loos at Granada."

Paul Brownsey (1970)

meeting-princess-margaret "The academic year after the victory I was the Keele exchange student to Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania. While I was there Swarthmore got invited to appear on the US version, College Bowl. I thought it would be fun to do the double and tried out for the Swarthmore team – and scored top marks. They then decided that since I was not a 100% pukkah Swarthmore student I shouldn’t appear. Rather mean! One night at Swarthmore I got back to my room to find a note on my door: ‘telegram from England at switchboard’. As you can imagine, I imagined a death in the family, something like that, and hurtled over to the switchboard in panic. When I opened it I let out a yell that startled the operator no end. It was telegram from Granada TV saying they wanted to fly me over, all expenses paid, for the Christmas special in 1969, at which we were to play against the girls of St Hilda’s. This was a team who, on their original appearance some years before, had got lots of notice for their beauty-and-brains combination: all rather old-fashioned now, the idea that a glamorous girl could also have brains! This was in the days when people like David Frost made the news by flying the Atlantic weekly for one TV show in the USA and one in the UK. So I felt somewhat like that as I taxied to the airport. It was a wonderful excuse for not attending classes. I was taking four classes at Swarthmore and polished it just a little more for each performance: "Oh, Miss Snyder, I’m afraid I won’t be in class for the next two weeks.""Oh?" (Remark already potent with reproof.) " see...British TV is flying me over for an appearance…." There were actually two Christmas specials, the one in 1969 when we beat the girls of St Hilda’s, and a second in 1970 when our own Keele dons beat us very decisively. Who was on the team of Keele dons? I confess I largely forget. David Battye in Computing was definitely one and I have a hunch that Alan Iliffe, Senior Tutor, was one of the others."

Paul Brownsey (1970)

"During an evening performance of The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Beaumont and Fletcher, again in 1968, word came through from Manchester that our University Challenge team had won the contest. Jim Denman (1970), who played the lead, seamlessly moved from his lines to say "... and word hath come in from the north that Keele hath won University Challenge, that very merry quiz." Those of us on stage tried hard to remain in character whilst the rest of the Walter Moberly hall erupted! What a night!"

Julian Comer (1971)

In 2002, the same four members of the Keele team showed their mettle once again when they were reunited in University Challenge's "Champions of Champions", a special season marking the 40th anniversary of the quiz. Along with 30 other winning teams, they were once again put through the agony they had first endured 34 years before and made steady progress to the Grand Final of the special series, when they came up against Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, champions of 1979. Sidney Sussex beat Keele by 375 points to 185, avenging the defeat of their Cambridge fellows in 1968 but placing 2nd out of the 40 championship teams was no mean feat for Keele’s ’68 eggheads.

As a tribute to the 1968 team, Keele University held a special University Re-Challenge on Tuesday 7 October 2008 to celebrate their memorable victory. Quizmaster Bamber Gascoigne agreed to come out of retirement for this event – partly because he always had a soft spot for Keele but also because there was an appeal in support of the Donna Louise Trust, a local charity for a children’s hospice.

urec-2008 The Student’s Union held auditions to identify their lambs for the slaughter and six heroes earned a coveted – and dreaded – place.

Team Captain Ben Hockenhull, a Medical student, was joined by Kathryn Ambrose, studying PhD Humanities; Rob Russell, studying MA International Relations; Adam Cook, studying MA International Relations. Patrick Kidd ‌(MA Diplomatic Studies) and Andy Hodder (PhD Industrial Relations) were the reserves.


urec-1968 The Forty Years On squad was an almost unchanged line-up. Captain, Aubrey "Larry" Lawrence (Latin & History) joined Paul Brownsey (History & Philosophy) and Andy MacMullen (Law & Politics) - the latter of who came directly from the airport after arriving from the USA to take part. Bob Crockford from the 1964 Keele team stood in for Pam Maddison who was unavailable.

After a presentation about the contest and Keele then and now, the teams went head to head before a packed audience in the Westminster Theatre. Keele’s Audio Visual Services team created a setting that was reassuringly, even uncannily, familiar, with the well-known tune, the insistent buzzers, the traditional nameplates and the sonorous tones of Keele colleague Chris Wain announcing the name of the answering player.

urec-bamber The veteran quiz-master started proceedings with the legendary words, "Fingers on the buzzers, your starter for 10". There was early trouble for the 1968 team as they fell quickly to minus five points. By the halfway stage, they still trailed 95 to 45 and seemed doomed to a brave defeat. However, they clawed their way ferociously into contention. With five minutes remaining, they surged ahead to a lead of 135 to 90 as the 2008ers were swept aside by the veterans.

When Bamber announced that only three "starter questions" remained, the 2008 team still trailed by 145 to 100. They were the fastest to each one and closed the gap to a tie of 145 points each.

The very last deciding question saw every finger poised tensely on the buzzers. The victory for 2008 seemed certain as the question emerged - it was about a computer game. Rob Russell pounced accurately and the 2008 squad clinched a rousing 155 – 145 victory for 2008.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Janet Finch, welcomed Bamber Gascoigne and the teams, saying: "It has been an extremely tense contest and very close. I am delighted the 2008 team has won, it shows that Keele is definitely keeping up the standards." Members of the winning student team were presented with a framed David Gentleman print of Keele Hall. All proceeds from the event were donated to the Donna Louise Trust.

"I had a brilliant day and was extremely proud to represent Keele. Thank you so much for all of the hard work you put into organising such a momentous occasion, and for letting me be a part of it."

Kathryn Ambrose (2007)

"Thanks to everyone at Keele for the warmth of their welcome and for their help. It was a memorable day and poignant in ways I haven’t quite got to the bottom of yet. I almost think I want to come back and be a student again. The 2008 team seemed a really nice bunch and were really welcoming. They went out of their way to be friendly and chatty."

Paul Brownsey (1970)

"Thank you for organising such a splendid and enjoyable day; for me it was of little consequence to come second as it was all for such a good cause! It was nice to meet the 1968 team and I thought that the 2008s and their fellow students excelled in their friendly hospitality. I even enjoyed the quiz afterwards in the Students’ Union"

Bob Crockford (1964)

"Thanks for everything you, KUSU and our vanquishers on the 2008 team did to make the event so enjoyable. Jean and I had a great time – the biggest problem was reining in the nostalgia. When University Challenge was revived under Paxman I was interviewed by a journalist whose agenda was clearly to present the whole thing as dumbed down to suit a less knowledgeable generation. I argued against it then and now I’ve been proved to be right."

Aubrey Lawrence (1969)

"What a terrific evening the University Re-Challenge was! It could not have turned out better! I had the good fortune to sit next to two 2008 'freshers'. They were really friendly and we had a great 'how things are and how things were' type of chat."

Tim Patrickson (1970)

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading your report on the recent University Challenge and watching the video of the show and Bamber Gascoigne made by Central TV. I was addicted to the program many years ago and thought that I was doing well if I could answer just one or two questions correctly. The victory of the 2008 team gives us hope for the future in these uncertain times."

Roger James (1968)

"Thanks for the University Challenge write-up. I'm a fan of the programme, and would dearly have loved to go, but midweek sadly just wasn’t on for me. Looks like it was quite a nail-biter. Well done on raising all that money."

David Gentleman (1993)

Each member of the winning 1968 Keele team received a copy of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary as a prize.

uc-prize-6-300x225 Keele University received a trophy in the form of a triple-panelled, three-dimensional masterpiece of modern art in glass and coloured in various shades of blue. The trophy stands over 2m tall and now resides in a place of honour on the walkway overlooking the Concourse of the Chancellor's Building, and down to the soaring statue of Icarus.

The Trophy has known many previous homes and resting places but it is alleged to have sojourned briefly in the boiler room of Hawthorns. Unfortunately, during its long history, the trophy also managed to devolve into its several constituent parts. Our best efforts have restored it to its former glory although nobody really knows what its former glory actually looked like. It is irrefutable that anyone tracing the various lines will discover that the right-hand panel is back to front…

uc-prize-10 Bamber Gascoigne showed particular interest in the trophy and remembered it well. He recounted a widely-circulated myth that the paint on the trophy had succumbed almost immediately to the rigours of time and gravity and dribbled down to the bottom of the glass, leaving just a blue puddle. He was relieved and delighted to see it that it has survived in its original glory.


Four distinguished Keele alumni were invited to participate in the BBC University Challenge Christmas Special and the match was broadcast on 23rd December 2013. As expected from any team with a Keele education, the members were eclectic in talent and Keele had the only team captained by a Rear Admiral!

Ian Moncrieff (1977 Geography & Geology) - Ian joined the Royal Navy on a university cadetship in 1976 and accumulated 20 years of operational seagoing experience in nine warships. He was at one time Commander British Forces South Atlantic in the Falkland Islands, and later Commandant General of the Royal Marines at Plymouth. He is now CEO of the UK Hydrographic Office, which has been charting the world’s oceans for more than 200 years, providing navigational services for the Royal Navy and merchant mariners to save and protect lives at sea.

Maggie Atkinson (2008 PhD Education) - Maggie was president of the Association of Directors of Children's services and became Children's Commissioner for England in 2009. She has been at the forefront of policy and practice for children. The commissioner’s general function is defined as “promoting awareness of the views and interests of children in England”, especially as they relate to their well-being... to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being.

Francis Beckett (1969 History & Philosophy) - author, journalist, biographer and contemporary historian. Francis has written biographies of Aneurin Bevan, Clement Attlee, Harold Macmillan, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. While at Keele he was chosen by the English Speaking Union to be one of the two British student debaters to tour the USA in 1969. His work provokes strong reactions from across the political spectrum. His 2010 book "What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us?" claims that the baby boomer generation inherited the good years, and pulled the ladder up after them. His plays have been performed on the London fringe and on radio, and his short stories appear in the Young Oxford OUP series.

Steve Jackson (1972 Psychology & Biology) - In 1975 Steve Jackson co-founded Games Workshop and helped to organise the first role-playing convention, the first "Games Day". He was involved in developing the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series and now works at Lionhead Studios, which he founded with Peter Molyneux. He is an honorary professor at Brunel University in London, teaching Digital Games Theory and Design.

Martin "Hamish" McArthur (1975 English & History) was the reserve and, as he says "Worth watching...the outtakes were great too..."

According to Francis Beckett:

"We won against Aberystwyth, but there were 14 universities, and only four were going through to the semi-finals. So of the seven winners, only the four highest winning scorers went through, and we were the fifth highest."

Therefore, we can report proudly that Keele was "unbeaten"!

uc-1982-team-castaldo "I was never on a Keele team – but I was once a "human mascot" for the winning Keele team in one of the rounds – stretched horizontally along the laps of the front row of the audience! I don't know whether the video of that has been preserved for posterity."

Malcolm Clarke (1969)

"The video of Malcolm Clarke stretched along the front row has been preserved – they reran it when they did that champion of champions thing and the original 1968 Keele team got into the final. There it was, with Bamber Gascoigne saying 'their mascot is this charming infant.'"

Francis Beckett (1969)

Photo left: The 1982 team reached the second round.

uc-team-1964-spencer "I think the 1970 team reached either the quarter or semi-finals; I cannot remember which. I was a proud member but only because we were already on our third point when we heard about the trials going on in the SU and decided to enter there and then; no one was more surprised than we were to emerge as the Keele team. My own contribution was relatively modest, 'Churchill' and 'woodpecker' as I remember, but then I also suffered from the button malfunction that conspired to keep other Keele teams down on other occasions too. The most memorable member of our team was our only female who the Daily Mirror memorably feted as 'the thinking man's telebird', a moniker which made such an impression that I cannot remember the original but I think it was Lesley. I made a small impression too when I introduced myself as 'of no fixed abode and reading books'. The resulting lunatic fan mail gave me a frightening insight into the mentality of the British television fan."

Anthony Smallwood (1973)

Photo left: The "entirely unsuccessful" University Challenge Team of 1964.

The 1964 Team included Captain Simon Spencer (1964), Bob Crockford (1963), David Utley (1965) and Simon Sweetman (1966).

"I was a member of the (entirely unsuccessful) University Challenge team in 1964. With Simon Spencer, David "Jasper" Uttley and Bob Crockford."

Simon Sweetman (1966)

"Simon Sweetman was one of the great Keele characters of our day and remains in our memory for several things. One was playing Winnie the Pooh in Kathy (Unsworth) Swift's (1968) dramatisation of A A Milne. Another was his Marxist-Leninist football report in Cygnet of a game between Stoke City and Moscow Dinamo "

John Meager (1968)

Bob Crockord was a member of the 2008 Team University Re-Challenge team formed to play a Keele 2008 team under the watchful gaze of Bamber Gascoigne himself. David Utley became a senior official in the British Council and became an author, mainly of books for children.

university-challenge-1973 "I thought I would share with you another great Keele University Challenge team – the little-remembered one of 1973 - a motley crew which included leading footballer Ian "Zeb" Taylor and Martin "Hamish" McArthur (1975) and two other guys that I cannot remember the names of, I'm afraid (Ed: Andrew Cobley (1975) and Mike Butcher 1972). The team was chosen one drunken night although more akin to a press gang than a choice; I was the reserve purely because I had an old car and could give the team a lift to the Granada studios in Manchester. One of the team had actually left Keele so when Bamber asked him to introduce himself he said, "X, reading…situations vacant" which earned us a smirk if not much respect from either Bamber or our opponents, UEA. The team strategy was outlined by the captain in the car en route (who was one of the guys I cannot remember the name of) which was: "If you don't know the answer just say Rabbie Burns or Winston Churchill". The opening exchanges hadn't gone well and we hadn't answered a single question in about the first five minutes. Then Bamber said "your starter for ten" and asked some question with a vague Scottish connection – Hamish buzzed. "Rabbie Burns," said Hamish. "Correct" said Bamber and the whole team fell about, as did many of our supporters in the audience who were 'in the know', leaving Bamber and UEA totally bemused. Unfortunately, the heroic struggle went downhill after that and we lost by a large number and the evening was finished off at the backstage party with Bamber trying to make polite conversation over a sherry and us lot shouting at a big TV in the corner where eventually England infamously lost to Poland in that World Cup qualifier! Happy days."

Richard Wheeler (1975)

Photo above: University Challenge team 1973 - " a motley crew".

"I was on the 1973 team. Mike Butcher went on to be involved with Channel tunnel and Ian Taylor is a PE teacher. Andy Cobley was sent down just before the programme aired and he is the one who said he was 'reading situations vacant'. he later got on several TV quiz shows including 'Who wants to be a Millionaire.' The programme was recorded on the night England were knocked out of the World Cup qualifiers by Poland in 1973."

Martin "Hamish" McArthur (1975)

"As a member of the 1974 and 1976 or it may have been the 1977 teams (both soundly thrashed in the first round) we were always in awe of our predecessors. The recording was on the same day as the infamous England v Poland World Cup Qualifying game. As was usual, there were three teams - us, East Anglia (the other sacrificial lambs) and an Oxford College. We were more concerned about watching the game than the quiz, but the producer assured us that filming would be finished before the game started and, further, that the Green Room would have a TV and, more important, an unlimited supply of alcohol. The Oxford boys dispatched us first and the UEA in short order and we all repaired to the Green Room. Unbelievably, the Oxford boys and Bamber retreated as far away from the TV as possible and sipped orange juice while the rest of us (including the aforementioned producer) got stuck into the booze. We probably disgraced ourselves and ended up back at the Union around midnight where, to our surprise, we were greeted as conquering heroes! Happy Days!"

Gordon Mousinho (1975)

Photo below: 1975 team Toland, Durham, Fauvet, Bygrave - team bench in a photo taken of the live TV screen.

1975-uni-challenge-live-tv-paul-toland "I was in the 1975 team of Toland, Fauvet, Durham and Bygrave. Paul Fauvet was quite famous at the time in Keele leftist circles - a big mate of Steve Botham (Student Union President). Paul became a journalist, now living mostly in Mozambique. I can't recall the first names of Durham and Bygrave - I didn't really know them outside of the University Challenge event. I was clearing out some old boxes in the loft when I came across the two photos - not great quality as they are taken from a scan of a photo taken from the live TV...!"

Paul Toland (1978)

Photo below: 1975 team Toland, Durham, Fauvet, Bygrave in photos taken of the live TV screen! Nice mascot - but what was it?


"I certainly remember Gordon Mousinho who was part of the group; I think 'Zeb' was actually Ian Taylor but he was always known as Zeb. He was very active in the football team and subsequent reunion teams. Hamish and I actually shared a room in one of 'the huts' for a while (i.e. the Nissen huts on the walkway between Lindsay and the Chapel) while they were finishing off the flats at Barnes. I thought we lost to UEA first who then lost to Oxford (Trinity I think) but I could be wrong. Gordon's recollection of the Green Room was spot on with Bamber and the Oxford boys in particular looking down at us as we cheered England on to no avail. Happy days indeed."

Richard Wheeler (1975)

"I was one of the four representing Keele on "University Challenge" back in 1973, along with Hamish the Red, Mike Butcher and Zeb Taylor. I was the one who was reading 'Situations Vacant', having been booted out at the end of my P2 year - the selection process for the team formed part of Final Fling, and the recording was in early October, so I wasn't going to let the chance of appearing slip away. Anyway, all agreed to donate our appearance fee (£50 each) to the South African scholarship fund. I have unofficial photographs of the proceedings; I sneaked my camera into the studios, and got Gordon to surreptitiously take a few."

Andy Cobley (1973)

Photo left: The 1982 rehearsal team with the noble Phil Avery.

uc-1982-team-avery "I was picked as reserve for the 1982 University Challenge team after taking part in a selection quiz in the SU ballroom hosted by the then Union Secretary, Ric Cowdery. The others who made up the team were Wayne Clarke, the captain Phil Avery, Simon Knock, who was by far the brightest among us, and post-grad Nick Doubtfire. The selection process was pretty casual, which is probably how I made it in – beating my mate Edward Coupe, who hasn't forgiven me to this day. When the big day came we travelled up to the Granada studios in Manchester on a Keele coach packed with friends and supporters. We were all pretty excited to say the least, though the whole trip also felt somewhat surreal – as if it couldn't really be happening, not to us at least.

Before the actual show to be recorded there was a rehearsal round and Phil very generously invited me to take part in his place so that I could at least savour the University Challenge experience for myself and not just be 'on the bench' the whole time. As luck would have it the right questions came up and I did pretty well, resulting in a surprising turn of events. The team decided that on the strength of this I should be promoted, and as Phil had been the one to step down it was felt we should continue on those lines – a decision Phil accepted with a great deal of good grace and team spirit. The idea, a naïve one as it turned out, was that we could perhaps swap places in the next round if we got through, but, of course, having won that first match the feeling was that we shouldn't change a so-called winning line up. I also managed to give a good account of myself – second only to Simon Knock in the number of responses given, and It would probably have seemed a bit odd for a team to go into the second round with a different captain.

So the gallant and selfless Phil never did appear and, bizarrely I ended up as Captain having started out as a sub. We won our first round against Aston and lost narrowly in the second to York, but I think the real winner was our noble Captain, Phil Avery. I still feel pangs of guilt whenever I see him on telly or hear him on the radio as one of the BBC's stable of weather reporters. I sometimes wish I could go back and do things differently – perhaps I could have feigned sudden illness requiring Phil to step in again and claim his rightful place. It might well have got us into the third round and, of course, I could have gone through University Challenge as an undefeated captain! I guess I missed a trick there. But when you're young and enthusiastic you just tend to get carried away in the moment. I would love to meet Phil again so I could explain all this to him and offer my heartfelt apologies. Having said that, he enjoys a distinguished career in broadcasting, frequently appearing on our nation's screens, so perhaps I am more cut up about it than he is.

Aside from getting to meet the legendary Bamber 'Bambi' Gascoigne, one of the other bonuses was that the show was, of course, recorded in the same studio as "Coronation Street" – and here I'm talking the proper Corrie of its Sixties – Eighties heyday featuring such TV icons as 'Hilda Ogden', 'Bet Lynch', Alec Gilroy and the like, which was hugely popular with students at the time. So another thrill on what proved a very memorable and special day for me was getting to see the Corrie set from the outside and meeting actor Geoffrey Hughes (now sadly departed) who played loveable rogue and bin-man 'Eddie Yates'."

Gennaro Castaldo (1982)

"You might want to find out about the Keele team that was disqualified because they kept dropping cups of water off the front of their desk; only for them to vanish apparently into thin air - all to prove that the two teams weren't perched one on top of the other but actually side-by-side. Many people didn't believe that the wonders of camera wizardry could split the screen like that!"


(Unfortunately, our investigations with Bamber Gascoigne suggest that this anecdote about the cups is apocryphal - widely disseminated but sadly founded more in imagination than history).