In almost every era, every institution, every demographic, there are some programs which everybody watches every week, without fail. Dallas, Only Fools and Horses, Neighbours, Big Brother (before it got rubbish), TOWIE, and in a very small percentage of the population in which most of us find ourselves, University Challenge.
In my own family, University Challenge (henceforth known as UC) holds something of cult status. My mother wanted to adopt Gail Trimble. Seriously. I had to tell her that Gail probably had her own parents already. I don’t think I have ever heard her more proud than in October last year when I told her I had been selected to be the captain of the St Andrews team for the 2012/13 series. The next twelve months were a rollercoaster of emotion which can only really be explained through interpretative dance, but I’ll do my best here.
At first, one is of course totally elated. Any chance to go on national television is naturally exciting, and anything which prompts your father to say “I’m proud of you”, is a fantastic opportunity.
What is most fascinating about the next 3 months is the unbelievable amount of paperwork required to compete in UC. There are disclaimers, assurances of university attendance, passport photos, availability schedules, I could go on…Fortunately I was in the middle of the second year of a Classics degree, so I had plenty of time on my hands to dig out 8 years of educational records.
Fast forward to February, and I’m on an all-expenses-paid (20p per mile, and one night’s bed-and-breakfast) trip down the M6 to Granada Studios in Manchester. It is one of the slightly confusing things about the filming of UC: although screened by the BBC, it is filmed by Granada, with both companies being based mostly in Manchester. I arrive, check in to a ludicrously over-priced hotel, and spend some time getting to know my room, trying out the trouser press, and making sure that all the channels work on the TV. I’m not due at the at the studios until half five, so now its just a waiting game. I exhaust the supplies of free coffee pretty quickly and opt for a wander around central Manchester, which is new territory to me.
We didn’t get on set until half past eight, and I don’t mind telling you it was the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. I can’t really talk about everything that goes on behind the scenes, trade secrets and that; what I can say is that off set it’s not all that glamorous, although I did get the chance to have a cigarette with Jeremy Kyle behind the recycling bins.
For those of you who didn’t see it, we were defeated by a narrow margin by an experienced Bangor University, a former poly in Wales. I am proud to have represented my university, and happy to have done it. However, watch out for a bitter Viewpoint piece about post-graduates being allowed into the competition…