University Challenge celebrates its fiftieth anniversary today, and its host Jeremy Paxman appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning to celebrate the cerebral BBC2 quiz show.
“It’s one of the best-performing shows on the channel,” he said. “I hope it will go on for a long time. It reassures taxpayers that their money is being well spent when they see these clever people at university.”
Still pulling in audiences of two-and-a-half million viewers per week, University Challenge has become one of British TV’s most recognisable formats during its half-century on air. Originally aired on ITV from 1962-87, the BBC revived the format in 1994 and it’s been a staple of BBC2’s schedule ever since.
In its time, the show has played host to some of Britain’s brightest brains, provided the basis for some fond sitcom tributes and even inspired a feature film (2006’s Starter for 10).
And so, in honour of the show’s 50th birthday, here are five of the best University Challenge moments we could dig up on YouTube…
This clip from 1962 (or possibly ’63) sees University Challenge in its earliest incarnation and, despite the black-and-white picture and presence of Bamber Gascoigne in the host’s chair, it’s remarkable to see how little the show has changed over the decades:
Many famous British faces have appeared on University Challenge over the years, including Miriam Margolyes, Christopher Hitchens, Julian Fellowes and, as you’ll see in this clip from 1980, Stephen Fry:
The Young Ones
A good-natured Bamber Gascoigne (Griff Rhys Jones) presided over this memorable parody encounter between the creakingly posh Footlights College team and the four oiks from Scumbag College in 1984.
It’s always funny when University Challenge contestants go barking up the wrong tree in response to questions from the host. In this clip, a chap with a frankly amazing head of hair makes a particularly hilarious mistake:
After Gail Trimble’s staggering displays of brain power on University Challenge in 2009, it was astonishing to see Alexander Guttenplan on the show during 2010 doing even better. Maybe Paxo had a point this morning when he said: “The media stereotype of young people is absolute rubbish. They know amazing things…”