A few weeks ago I blogged about University Challenge and Beetleypete commented that it seemed to be easier now than in the days of Bamber Gascoigne. Ever since then I’ve been meaning to watch an old episode and compare, and today I managed it.
There are lots of episodes available on YouTube but the one I chose was from 1984, UWIST v Queen Elizabeth London. This is obviously far from being an exhaustive study but it does give you a reasonable idea of the differences. What struck me first of all was the friendliness of the presenter: Gascoigne is approachable and smiles a lot, unlike the irascibly avuncular Paxton who rarely smiles, is often critical and sometimes verges on rudeness. Paxman is much stricter than Gascoigne, although he allows more time for the bonus questions, just saying irascibly, ‘Oh, come on!’ when they take too long. Gascoigne also indulges in friendly banter, a skill which seems alien to the soul of Paxman, so that the 1984 experience comes across as altogether more relaxed than now.
But what about the questions themselves: are they any easier now than they were then? On this sampling, I’d have to say no, definitely not. On a good day with Paxo I get around 12-15 questions right: with Gascoigne I managed 18. That’s not unheard of nowadays but if anything I found the 1984 version easier. Interestingly there were 2 questions which also came up in Monday’s Christmas episode (FYI I’m not comparing the Gascoigne version with the Christmas episodes as the latter tend to be easier.)
If anything I think the modern University Challenge is sharper, more focused and yes, harder.