Paxman: “I didn’t make the grade for University Challenge”

The quizmaster reveals how he failed an audition for the show when he was at Cambridge


University Challenge host Jeremy Paxman has admitted that, as a student at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, he tried for a place on the highbrow quiz show but wasn’t good enough.


“There was a quiz going on one night to choose a team for University Challenge. I remember going along with a couple of friends, sitting in the common room and failing to answer questions, therefore failing to get selected for the team.”

Paxman made the admission to Ann Widdecombe, who turned the tables on the arch inquisitor when she interviewed him for the latest issue of Radio Times. And the former Tory MP admitted she was also among the ranks of those who failed to land a place on University Challenge.

“We have something in common,” she told Paxman, “because I too was rejected for my college team.”

But it seems the pair would find it even tougher getting on the show these days.

“The questions have got more difficult, there’s no argument about that,” says Paxman, “because students know a lot more now.”

So what hope do viewers have of getting any answers right?

“It’s a rare member of the audience, or indeed a rare contestant, who can answer every question,” admits Paxman. “[But] it doesn’t reflect at all on your general knowledge or your mental ability. It is a very particular thing, playing a quiz.”


Read Ann Widdecombe’s full banter-fuelled interview with Jeremy Paxman in the latest issue of Radio Times – and find out what prompts him to call her “you ridiculous woman”.