Paxman challenged after series of errors on student quiz show
Published 07/09/2007 | 12:11
Your starter for 10: which overly smug quiz show host renowned for sneering at students who give wrong answers is developing a habit of fluffing his lines?
He may be considered one of the sharpest brains in the BBC, but Jeremy Paxman's infamous intellectual armoury has shown a few chinks recently. Enemies of the University Challenge and Newsnight presenter wishing to expose gaps in his knowledge would have enjoyed to watch last week's show, where the host revealed his less-than-complete knowledge of English castles.
A team from Worcester College, Oxford, having answered their own starter for 10 correctly, was invited to identify the name of an English castle whose picture was put before them and viewers at home. The picture showed Arundel Castle. The Worcester College captain answered "Warwick Castle". Paxman said they were right, and awarded them five points. They were then shown a picture of the Warwick Castle, and answered wrongly. Paxman said the castle was Arundel, the correct answer to the previous question.
This week the fluffs continued. As the message boards of David Bowie fan sites have been frantically discussing, in the most recent episode of the programme the quiz master asked "Which 1973 David Bowie album was inspired by Vince Taylor?", and took Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as the correct answer. In fact, the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released the year before, in 1972. The documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture was released in 1973, which may explain Paxman's difficulty.
Even his pronunciation was not beyond criticism, with some viewers complaining Paxman's utterance of "germanium" with a hard "g" and a short "a". As every keen chemist knows, it should be said to rhyme with "geranium", critics pointed out, with not a little glee.
Is Paxo losing it? The BBC was quick to defend its star interrogator, claiming that "a technical error which went undetected, and for which we apologise" was behind the mismatch of correct answer and question.
Apparently the pictures of castles were simply dropped on viewers' screens in a different order to the correct answers on Paxman's card. A team of researchers at Granada Television in Manchester is responsible for setting the questions on University Challenge, not Paxman himself.
Peter Pemberton-Ross, captain of Pembroke College, Cambridge, the team defeated by Worcester College, was very forgiving. "He is a busy man with a lot of questions to read out in not much time," he said. "He can't be expected to know the answer to every question he sets, so I fully understand the mistake."
Mr Pemberton-Ross, whose team eventually lost by 30 points, said Paxman was surprisingly pleasant in person, and not as intimidating as many students expect him to be.
"He clearly enjoys his job," he said. "If he's intimidating at all, it's probably just an act."
First broadcast in 1962, University Challenge was originally presented by Bamber Gascoigne. Paxman became presenter when the show returned to the BBC in 1994, after a seven-year absence, and his salary for the show is reputed to be £240,000. His reputation stems largely from his fierce questioning of politicians on Newsnight, which he has presented since 1989.
Last month, Paxman turned his wrath to a fellow BBC presenter. After delivering a lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival where he accused the television industry of losing its sense of purpose, he was involved in a heated exchange on Radio 4's Today programme with his fellow BBC journalist John Humphrys. Many media pundits said the contest had been a high-scoring draw.