The Perse School

“Starter for ten…” – OP meets Paxman on University Challenge

24 Aug 2016

The Perse General Knowledge team has been an active and successful part of life at the Upper for many years. For many, their love of quizzing does not stop when they leave the School. Old Persean and former Senior team captain, Daniel Adamson (2014) has gone on to represent Queens’ College, Cambridge in this year’s prestigious University Challenge competition. Here he tells us about his experiences filming the programme.

This year, I fulfilled a lifetime ambition by appearing on the BBC television programme University Challenge. As a member of the team representing Queens’ College, Cambridge – where I am entering my final year as an undergraduate reading History – I was involved in a highly enjoyable filming and quizzing process.

Getting to the stage of appearing on the television edition of University Challenge involved a surprisingly rigorous succession of application processes. Firstly, I was required to trial successfully for the Queens’ College team within the college itself. This initial hurdle took the form of a gruelling written general knowledge exam. After the Queens’ team was formed, we attended a one-hour audition with the TV show’s producers, within which our ‘screen presence’ and trivia knowledge alike were put to the test. Over 130 institutions apply each year to appear on University Challenge, so Queens’ College were delighted to be amongst the 26 teams that made the final cut for this year’s series, which is the 46th in the history of the show.

In February, I travelled to Media City in Salford for the filming of our first round match. The filming experience proved fascinating. Having been whisked through hair and makeup department, we were informed at the last minute that our opponents would be another Cambridge college – Peterhouse.

In real life, the University Challenge studio appeared much as it does on TV, and I was of course delighted to receive my own buzzer ‘nameplate’ as a souvenir following the conclusion of filming. To hear Roger Tilling – the show’s resident voiceover artist who is actually present in the studio during filming – exclaim “Queens’ Adamson” upon pressing my buzzer provided a particular thrill!

After a quick photo opportunity with the imposing figure of Jeremy Paxman, the contest got under way. After a slow start, Queen’s managed to recover some ground against formidable opponents. Happily, I managed to buzz in correctly for at least a few questions on topics ranging- somewhat eclectically – from John Maynard Keynes to Eurasian shrews. Ultimately, however, Queen’s lost narrowly to Peterhouse by 160 points to 150. Five more minutes of quizzing might well have been enough to see the team to victory, but fate was to be against us on this occasion. Answering questions under studio lights certainly proved more challenging than playing along from the comfort of home. Viewers, however, will have to tune in later in the year to discover if Queens’ did enough to return as ‘highest scoring losers’….

Although I was aware that University Challenge attracts a regular audience of around 3 million viewers, I was staggered by the wide range of responses from people who had seen my appearance on TV following its broadcast on BBC2 on August 1st. I received many kind comments regarding my brief appearance on national television from – amongst others – friends, family and former teachers!

My involvement with University Challenge owed much to my participation in the Perse General Knowledge team. Every year from Year 7 to Upper Sixth, I was a member of the school team. In my final year at the school in 2014, I was delighted to captain the Senior Perse team to victory in the National Schools Challenge competition for the first time in Perse history. Under the guidance of the inimitable Mr Adrian Roberts, General Knowledge matches and practice sessions swiftly became the extra-curricular highlight of my time at the Perse. I remain extremely grateful for the time and effort invested in the General Knowledge team by Mr Roberts, which instilled a lasting passion for trivia amongst myself and many of my peers. During my time at Cambridge University, I have kept up my interest in General Knowledge through membership of the Cambridge University Quiz Society. I can only hope that the rich tradition of quizzing continues with similar strength following the recent retirement of Mr Adrian Roberts.

University Challenge is broadcast on BBC2

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