University Challenge: I could have been a contender but Oliver Cromwell (not raging left-wingers) got in my way – Susan Morrison

Jeremy Paxman, successor to the improbably named Bamber Gascoigne, will be missed for his snarling
Former University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne (Picture: Ian Gavan/Getty Images)Former University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne (Picture: Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
Former University Challenge presenter Bamber Gascoigne (Picture: Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

In 1978, I failed to make the team for University Challenge, by just one point. At the time, it was one of the most crushing defeats of my life. Trust me, life had many more nasty surprises in store, but that afternoon at Stirling University, I was bereft.

How could I have forgotten the year Cromwell died? I was team runner-up and spent a fair amount of that semester trying to trip the contestants up to get a place. They turned out to be a lot niftier than geeks have any right to be.

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The student union’s raging left wing had castigated the team as pawns in a bourgeois power play. This notion was reinforced by the name of the quiz master, Bamber Gascoigne, a moniker many in Scotland assumed was made up. Never met anyone in Glasgow called Bamber. Even Gascoigne was pushing it.

A motion was passed calling on the team to reject notions of competitiveness and not answer the questions. Actually, they didn’t, but not because of the class war. Stirling went down to brutal defeat at the hands of some Oxbridge college, whilst I sat on the sidelines and spectated, as I have been doing on and off for 50 years.

There was a time when those conferring students looked like the big boys and girls I saw getting on the bus to go to uni. Then came the "it shoulda been me” years, followed by the “gosh, they’re getting younger” decades and now, my husband and I sit with ginger biscuits and tea thinking these kids could be our grand weans.

We watch competitively. It can get testy, especially on the starter for ten. If he scores a point, he can get a tad superior, but then I point out, he's allowed. It happens so rarely.

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Bamber gave way to Jeremy, and now Mr Paxman is leaving too. I’ll miss him, if only for the snarling. It's good for our young people to confront a genuinely angry old geezer now and then. God knows they’ll meet enough of them in their futures.

Cromwell. Died 1658. Engraved on my soul now.

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