Eye-rolls, barks of ‘hurry up’ and fury at wrong answers has filled University Challenge’s student brainboxes with fear for nearly 30 years: As Jeremy Paxman rings the buzzer on his time as quizmaster, FEMAIL remembers his most withering put-downs
- Paxman, famous for giving student quizzers on the BBC2 show short shrift, has announced his retirement from University Challenge after nearly 30 years
- The 72-year-old, who has presented the show since 1994, will film his final episode this autumn
- Paxman’s withering responses and impatience with some of the nation’s finest student brains has gained him a cult following over three decades
- In 2017, he berated fan favourite Eric Monkman for interrupting a question with
After nearly 30 years at the helm of University Challenge, host Jeremy Paxman is stepping down the BBC has announced.
The famously waspish – and sometimes downright grumpy – host, now 72, has delighted viewers for almost three decades with his regular barks of ‘hurry up’ and sighs of despair when Britain’s student brainboxes have fallen short in the BBC2 academic quiz.
The former Newsnight star, who has presented the show since 1994, will film his last episode this autumn, while his final series will air on BBC Two from August 29 through to summer next year.
The star revealed in May 2021 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
Three decades of quizzing…and snarling at the nation’s undergraduates: Jeremy Paxman, pictured in his early days on University Challenge, has announced his retirement from the BBC2 show after nearly 30 years
The former Newsnight star, who revealed in May 2021 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, will film his final episode this autumn
The quiz host, who succeeded Bamber Gascoigne in 1994, has thrilled viewers with his trademark impatience, eye-rolling and contestant insults
Oh no it isn’t! Paxman dressed as a pantomime dame during a University Challenge Christmas special in 2020
In a statement released with the BBC, he said: ‘I’ve had a blast hosting this wonderful series for nearly 29 years. I’ve been lucky enough to work with an amazing team and to meet some of the swottier brains in the country. It gives me hope for the future.’
Here, FEMAIL rolls back the decades on some of Paxman’s finest – and most terrifying moments…
CALLING ERIC MONKMAN’S ANSWER ‘COMPLETELY USELESS’
Short shrift in 2017: Jeremy Paxman told fan favourite Eric Monkman that his answer was ‘useless’ after the Canadian Economics student from Wolfson College, Cambridge gave a rambling and incoherent response
The clip of Monkman floundering quickly went viral after his incorrect response to Paxman’s question was met with the host saying: ‘Yes, I’m afraid that is a completely useless answer.’
In 2017, Paxman’s crushing response to a flustered answer from fan favourite Eric Monkman went viral.
The Canadian Economics student from Wolfson College, Cambridge felt the quizmaster’s most withering response after he failed to answer Paxman’s history question.
The then 29-year-old team captain set Twitter ablaze when he interrupted Paxman mid-delivery as he asked: ‘Traditionally regarded as a holy relic, the iron crown of Lombardy is housed….’
Monkman sounded his buzzer immediately and said: ‘It’s housed in Italy… Somewhere. Sorry. I mean, it’s the one they used to crown the king…’
Paxman immediately interjected and said ‘Yes, I’m afraid that is a completely useless answer.’
CAMBRIDGE BRAINIAC HANNAH WOODS’ SUEZ CRISIS BLUNDER
A starter for ten left Hannah Woods, captain of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, confident…
But the question on the length of time between the Seven Years War, which started in 1756, and the Suez Crisis, which began in 1956, saw her volunteer ‘six’ as an answer
And Jeremy Paxman quickly unleashed a favoured look of exasperation
‘Oh gosh no!’ The brainiac declared after realising her error, and sinking her head into her hands
Hannah Woods, captain of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, won legions of fans with her arched eyebrow and sharp mind…but she couldn’t win over Paxman, after an excruciating response to a question about the length of time between the Seven Years War, which started in 1756, and the Suez Crisis, which began in 1956. She answered ‘six’ years and Paxman’s exasperated look left the contestant with her head in her hands.
‘THAT BRINGS YOU TO A MAJESTIC ZERO!’ PAXMAN POURS SCORN ON CAMBRIDGE TEAM
Paxman gave a Cambridge team the full five points for an answer, despite it being not totally correct. However, he tempered this act of kindness by then mocking them, telling the swots from Cambridge that they’d risen to ‘a majestic zero’ on the scoreboard from minus 5 points
The Cambridge team were having a difficult time, and had fallen to a below zero score of minus five points
However, they took Paxman’s ribbing well, and laughed when he told them they had ‘risen to ‘a majestic zero’ after getting a question right
Paxman has been a forgiving host at times; when he asked a team from New Hall, Cambridge, during an episode in the 90s: ‘What was the title of the piece by Elgar, to which A C Benson set the words of Land of Hope and Glory?’ he generously gave them five points despite a not quite correct answer.
Contestant Shaw had told him: ‘Pomp and Circumstance March No 4’, when the answer had been ‘Pomp and Circumstance March No 1’. If the quizmaster giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other, pointing out to the swots from Cambridge that they’d risen to ‘a majestic zero’ on the scoreboard from minus 5 points.
CAMBRIDGE ‘SMARTA***’ RALPH MORLEY BACK CHATS JEREMY
Ralph Morley, of Trinity Collage Cambridge (pictured, centre right) was responsible for a hilarious University Challenge moment, when he gave Jeremy Paxman a cheeky response
After answering a question before Jeremy had finished reading it, when the host asked how he knew how the question would end, he simply asked ‘Well, what else is going to be?’
At first the veteran host seemed shocked by the impertinent student’s cheeky response
However, he soon gathered himself, and got his own back, branding the Cambridge crew ‘smarta****’
Ralph Morley from Cambridge University prompted peals of laugher after his cheeky retort to Jeremy Paxman.
The host started asking the question ‘in the 20th century who held the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom…’ before he was cut off by Morley, of Trinity College, who answered ‘Margaret Thatcher’.
‘How did you know I was going to ask for the longest period of time?’ asked a bemused Paxman?
Morley cooly replied: ‘Well, what else is going to be?’
However, the host got his own back on the Cambridge team when he said ‘well let’s see if you get these bonus [questions] right. They are on French land borders, you smarta****!’
When the team struggled with the question, Paxman simply said: ‘See, not all so easy, are they!’
GLASGOW STUDENTS TRY IT ON WITH FRUITLESS TACTIC
The Glasgow team were faced with questions they were unable to answer, prompting them to create a strategy, and carry on with it – despite it being ineffective
As Jeremy kept asking the team questions about Charles Dickens, which they struggled to answer, they looked increasingly out of their depth
Jeremy couldn’t hide his disgust at the team’s fruitless tactic – and their lack of knowledge around Charles Dickens’ famous novel Little Dorrit
A team of Glasgow University students were left flummoxed by a list of questions about Charles Dickens’ novels.
Jeremy Paxman read out locations from the books, and the team had to name their corresponding novel.
Not knowing anything about the writer’s works, they decided to simply answer ‘David Copperfield’ to every question, prompting Jeremy to comment: ‘I don’t think this tactic is going to bear fruit.’
When he asked a third question about the books, to which the students offered their standard answer, the beleaguered presenter couldn’t hide his irritation, exclaiming: ‘No, it’s Little Dorrit, everybody knows that!’
UCL’S TOM TYZCZUK SMITH GETS THE ‘VERY WRONG’ ANSWER
UCL student Tom Tyzczuk Smith (pictured, centre left), before the blunder, which would earn him from a Paxman rebuke
The student looked and sounded slightly nervous as he offered his answer to the questions, which would prove to be very wrong
Tyzczuk Smith’s incorrect response prompted one of Paxman’s classic withering looks, and put downs
UCL student Tom Tyzczuk Smith earned himself one of Paxman’s famous withering glances of contempt when he famously answered a questions wrongly – very wrongly.
The team was asked to name which monarch had landed at Brixham in Devon in 1688, Tyzczuk Smith answered: ‘William the first.’
He visibly regretted the answer almost immediately, as Paxman exclaimed: ‘No! I’m sorry, that’s the wrong answer. You know, it’s very wrong…600 years or so.’
PIETRO ARONICA’S INFAMOUS ‘INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU’ GAFF
Pietro Aronica (pictured, bottom left), part of the Imperial team, made an infamous gaff during University Challenge
The students were asked about a character created by Charlotte Bronte, to which Aronica answered Inspector Clouseau
His blunder left Paxman with his head in his hands, unable to hide his contempt for the student’s inexplicable response
Jeremy Paxman was left with his head in his hands after one student made an enormous gaff.
The host asked: ‘Timothy Dalton, Orson Welles, Toby Stephens and Michael Fassbender are among the actors who have played which romantic figure, the creation of Charlotte Bronte?’
Imperial’s Pietro Aronica quickly buzzed, answering: ‘Inspector Clouseau?’
His incorrect answer was so unexpected, that Paxman was left with his head in his hands.
Without hiding his scorn, he said: ‘I don’t know how you got there, it’s completely wrong.’
KING’S SAM JACKSON IS ‘PERSON OF IGNORANCE’, SAYS PAXMAN
Students from King’s College in London were put on the back foot when they were asked a question they didn’t know the answer to
Student Sam Jackson said the team didn’t know the French word for ‘well done’ as they are ‘people of taste’ and wouldn’t order a steak cooked that way
Without missing a beat, the snarky presenter said the team were also ‘people of ignorance’
A team from King’s were the recipients of a scathing attack by Jeremy Paxman, who branded them ‘people of ignorance’ after they were unable to answer a question about the French language.
The host asked the team to provide the French phrase meaning ‘well cooked’, which you would use to order a steak well done.
King’s Sam Jackson retorted that the team would never order the meat cooked like this, as they ‘have morals’, referring to the idea that it’s uncouth to eat well done red meat.
When King’s were unable to answer, Jackson added that they didn’t know the word as they are ‘people of taste’.
Without missing a beat, Paxman noted that they are also ‘people of ignorance’.
SUSSEX’S SEB ZARRELLI INCURS PAXMAN’S WRATH FOR BLUNDER
Sussex University’s Seb Zarrelli (pictured, top, centre right) moments before giving the incorrect answer that would lead to him earning an irritated response from Paxman
The Sussex student wrongly answered ‘Benjamin Franklin’ to a questions about words spoekn in the House of Commons in 1774
Paxman did not bother to hide his consternation at the incorrect answer, pulling a face and sharply saying: ‘What??! No!!’
Sussex University’s Seb Zarrelli was the recipient of one of Paxman’s brutal responses when he fumbled a historical question.
Paxman asked: ‘To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.’ These are the words of which author and political figure speaking in the House of Commons in 1774?’
To which Zarrelli tentatively responded: ‘Benjamin Franklin?’
With his characteristic bluntness, Paxman said: ‘What??! No!!’
OXFORD’S MARY ARCHER TOLD ‘COME ON, LET’S HAVE IT!’
Famously blunt Paxman was growing weary of waiting for a St Anne’s team to answer one of the questions, so he told them to ‘come on!’
Apparently feeling the pressure, after several moments of failing to come to an answer, Mary Archer decided to blurt out the wrong one rather than keep the impatient host waiting any longer
The team took Paxman’s badgering well, and were able to see the funny side of his impatience
An impatient Jeremy Paxman tried to get a team from St Anne’s college Oxford to hurry up when they left him waiting for an answer.
‘Come on let’s have it!’ he told the players.
When the team continued to fumble for an answer, he repeated: ‘Come on! Let’s have it,’ prompting a panicked Mary Archer to give the wrong answer.