‘My childish sniggering at knowing Team Bath was a netball thing and the knowledge my Geography O Level had achieved, meant, albeit briefly, I was leading’
Netball. Not the subject I thought would have me whooping and hollering and shouting abuse at eight of the brightest hopes these islands have for the future.
But University Challenge does strange things to folks and indeed does things to the strange folks assembled on the collected couches of academia’s finest.
The new semester of one of the world’s longest-running quizzes began on Monday night with the battle between King’s College, London and Glasgow University.
University Challenge has been running since the days when the grandparents of the current crop were taking part in Rag Week, the first series airing back in 1962.
For those of us who may be not that age but certainly closer to the first series than the present, Bamber Gascoigne was the man with all the questions.
Since 1987, Jeremy Paxman has taken over the role as the inquisitor with a sneering cynicism and smugness that we can all empathise with when one of the boffins answers a question incorrectly.
Apart from the hosts, not much else has changed, apart from screens erected and earphones inserted to ensure socially-distanced conferring, when, on the main, pandemic or not, you wonder if any of the contestants have ever actually spoken to another human being before.
Jeremy told us that some of the famous alumni of King’s included the likes of John Keats, Thomas Hardy and Virginia Wolf. Impressive.
Glasgow had Susan Calman and Neil Oliver, the bloke who wanders around the coast of the UK in awestruck wonder at a piece of kelp. Not just as impressive but did Keats present a holiday programme on Channel Five?
It mattered little though as the Glasgow foursome started the better and were going great guns answering all manner of questions that us normal folk lose Jeremy at ‘which physicist…’
Netball though is a different ball game.
When confronted with a graphic of 10 teams with missing words, the collective minds of two of the great seats of learning were stumped by the vagaries of Superleague Netball.
A map was then shown where Glasgow had to pinpoint the teams that togged out there.
First up was a team whose pin pointed somewhere near Swindon. It may as well as have been Sweden as the Glasgow captain, who hailed from Clydebank and looked like all the members of Wet Wet Wet rolled into one, suggested ‘Falmouth?’
“No,” bellowed Jeremy. “Falmouth is on the coast of Cornwall.” With that they were sunk.
Equally feeble efforts couldn’t find Loughborough or Surrey and from looking like they couldn’t lose, they now looked like they couldn’t find the soap in the Team Bath.
I too rejoiced in their abject failure, suddenly my childish sniggering at knowing Team Bath was a netball thing and the knowledge my Geography O Level had achieved, meant, albeit briefly, I was leading.
It didn’t last and nor did it for Glasgow, losing by 115 to 100 points in a hugely under-whelming first episode that won’t have had the netball players of Falmouth dancing in the streets.
They were down, but there is always the chance of getting through as a high-scoring loser.
Not so fast…
“I doubt if 100 is going to be high enough to bring you back,” Jeremy snorted, before chucking an A to Z at them and sending them homeward to think again.
To be fair to both teams I had warmed up with a go on Only Connect, also making a welcome return on BBC2 on Monday night, with Scrubs v Librarians the opening clash.
Again, throw anything brainy at them and they are in their element, chuck a bit of sport and pop culture in there and it’s like putting Gyles Brandreth into Love Island.
So when former Wolves striker Steve Bull was the first person to pop up in the picture connection round, I was moved.
Up next came Jeffrey Archer.
And I was up. ‘Signs of the Zodiac’ I confidently exclaimed to no one in particular and wheeled off in celebration with Prunella Scales and Michael Fish following suit.
I mean in the pictures, not in my living room, but the marvellous Victoria Coren-Mitchell confirmed my correctness and I missed the next couple of rounds while I recovered.
The looks on the faces of both teams of assembled medical types and bookworms was a joy when the missing words from ‘Don’t Cha Wish Your Girlfriend’ by the Pussycat Dolls was a picture, but it wasn’t long before they were back on song and answering all the worthy questions with aplomb.
And as if things weren’t already exciting enough, at the end of the quite frankly, flppng hrd missing vowels round, we were met with a draw and a tie-break.
The Librarians’ captain prevailed, prompting scenes of unbridled joy the likes of which haven’t been seen since someone brought back an overdue copy of the Big Boy’s Book of Netball, with the Team Bath picture ripped out.