Questions Unlimited

9417 Cathowken Dr., Chattanooga TN 37421 . 1-800-868-1518

Here's an anecdote about the University Challenge program, Britain's counterpart to College Bowl. Coaches who have a chance to serve as moderator should take note by way of counter-example.

JEREMY PAXMAN, the chairman of University Challenge, will be seen to get a taste of his own medicine tomorrow when an undergraduate he scorns takes him to task for sloppy questioning.

New Hall, Cambridge, humiliated when making the lowest score in the history of the programme two years ago, was determined to salvage some dignity when it recorded a game against Imperial College, London. But when a member of its team, Lydia Wilson, 21, a third-year natural sciences student from Hull, was mocked for a wrong answer she turned on the presenter.

The transcript released by BBC2 reads:
Paxman: "You're going to see a British tourist sign - for 10 points simply tell me what it is."
An oak leaf symbol appears. Imperial College buzzes:
"It's a National Park."
Paxman: "Er, no."
(Voice over) "New Hall. Wilson:
"It's an oak leaf."
Paxman: "Anyone can see it's an oak leaf."
Wilson, interrupting: "You asked me what it was. You said: 'What is it?' not 'What's it for?' "
Paxman, interrupting: "It signifies the . . . she, she almost gave you the whole thing. It's the National Trust, so we'll . . ."
Wilson, interrupting: "I know, but you should have said: 'What's it for?' not 'What is it?' "
Paxman: "It's a sign signifying the National Trust. I said it was a tourist sign.
On a point of pedantry you may be right, but there you are, bad luck . . ."
The presenter, with characteristic waspishness, returns to needle the college later. He asks Imperial to study the English Heritage symbol ("or to New Hall 'a square with bits coming off it', I suppose") and the icon for an agricultural museum ("or to New Hall, 'a cart', ").
Miss Wilson had warned her team that she was not going to tolerate any of Mr Paxman's hauteur, typified by him tilting his head and gazing into a far corner of the studio saying in a grieved voice : "Oh, come on!"
She said: "We were under pressure because we did so badly two years ago. I can't really remember what was going through my mind. He's very charming off-camera but I always said I wouldn't be patronised by him, it's not necessary - he just needs to be told sometimes."

Her tutor, Dr Owen Saxton, the director of studies in natural sciences at New Hall, was not surprised to hear of the confrontation. He said: "Lydia's strong-willed, she's determined and she will fight for herself." The result of the contest has not been disclosed although New Hall is expected to improve on its record low of 35 against Nottingham's 335 in the 1997/98 series.