Dear Jeremy Paxman: Beware of over-enthusiastic fan mail, a former contestant

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I'M SO glad they've brought it back. Although quite frankly, they could have Danny Baker presenting it and I'd still watch. Bamber's programme went through a silly patch in the Eighties; I'm glad you don't make the contestants pass around that glowing wand which lit up like a lava lamp whenever you got the right answer. I'm glad you've kept the theme tune and the catch-phrases.

One possible drawback about your chairmanship is that you're a bit too big for the job. In real life Bamber was a Renaissance man who edited encyclopaedias before breakfast. But so what? To us, he was just a donnish nobody who had stumbled into celebrity via a god-forgotten Sunday morning slot - people only watched because the alternatives were the Morning Service or the test card.

I was watching University Challenge before I could even read. It was my fascination with this preposterous programme that made me want to go to university at all. The scarf. The teddy bear. The absurd haircut. I wanted all of it. The day they put the notice on the Somerville noticeboard I was ready. I'd been in training for 15 years.

Not that I wasn't nervous. And if poor old Bamber made us nervous, I can scarcely imagine what the flower of Birmingham and Aberdeen must have felt like last night faced with the mighty Paxman. As it was we spent the hour before filming in the ladies. The dress rehearsals were a breeze. What had been New Hall Cambridge emerged from the practice sessions a pulverised wreck. Come the recording of the real thing it became clear we'd peaked too early. We lost and Bamber didn't even speak to us in the hospitality room. I hope you had a few kind words for Birmingham.

You probably thought that was where it ended. You return to your lair in the Newsnight studio and the losers beetle back to Birmingham. The shame may be just a memory by the time the show is finally screened - but that's when the nuisance letters start. Well, I exaggerate. They weren't a nuisance really. I mean, how often do you get a 17-page letter wrapped round a box of Terry's All Gold? He was a 72-year-old grandfather from Leeds whose interminable life story concluded with the fact that I resembled his childhood sweetheart.

Another letter came from a funny little man in Tooting who enclosed countless Polaroids of his television set with me on it. This was not uncommon. Seriously good-looking University Challengers (older readers may remember the god-like 'Sidney Sussex, Gilmour') received so many letters from love-struck schoolgirls that they dispatched a photocopied rejection letter.

And so to the major problem with having you present the programme: you're bound to get more fan mail than the contestants. After all, what teenage bluestocking will settle for a spotty undergraduate when they could have a signed pin-up of Paxman?

Louise Levene

(Photograph omitted)