University Challenge: a collision
On Monday night, at about 7.30, around 150 of us gathered in the marquee in Linton Quad for the annual Freshers’ dinner, having already sampled the other temporary marquee at the back of the college for a pre-dinner drink and chat.
This is one of the most important social events of the year, which brings together tutors, students and senior administrative staff. The food is terrific and the hubbub constant. But, of course, there are multiple individual responses to what is going on in the room. Some are nervous and apprehensive, and some very excited.
This year the fates decreed that the meal would take place at the same time as the transmission of the University Challenge match between St Peter’s and Pembroke, Cambridge. The match was recorded many months ago, as is always the case with the whole series, but everybody involved in the production is sworn to secrecy, and so the result was not known in advance, although (confession) I had an intimation (sic). The non-Freshers turned up to watch live in the JCR, and there was a second showing at 22.00 for the Freshers. The match thus became a suitably communal occasion.
It was, as we all now know, a triumph. It was also deceptive. The St Peter’s team was made up of two graduates, James Hodgson (Statistics) and Nick Williford (History), and two undergraduates: Laura Cooper (a biologist, who has just finished her first year) and Sebastian Braddock (an historian, who has just graduated). The strategy, evidently, was to start slowly and generate some narrative excitement by allowing Pembroke to answer a few questions early on. Thereafter, it was a pulverising performance, and it ended in a walloping triumph by 225 to 50.
There were only a few blips along the way. Our recently-retired Fellow in German, Kevin Hilliard, would have been sad that we did not get the answer right to the Georg Büchner question (Danton); Shakespeare was not a strong suit (though I thought the questions very difficult); and London Bridge is Falling Down was a music near-miss. But there were multiple moments of general knowledge brilliance: on the nervous system, on Ishiguro novels, on Antimony, and much else. At one point, Laura Cooper was fabulously running away with it all, but everybody in the team had a good night.
It was all very heartening and brought back fond memories of the team a few years back that got to the semi-finals, led by Gabriel Trueblood.
(And here is a link to a Radio 4 programme about University Challenge, from a few years back, which I presented).