College stripped of title: It's enough to make Bamber Gascoigne really cross

The mild-mannered former 'University Challenge' quizmaster was surprised at his anger when Corpus Christi lost their crown

Who was most angry about the University Challenge shambles, which left Oxford's Corpus Christi College stripped of their title, having broken the rules by fielding someone who had recently left the college? The answer, rather bizarrely, is Bamber Gascoigne, the programme's host from 1962 to 1987 and the nation's favourite and most benign brainbox. We got used to Roy Plomley complaining that Desert Island Discs had gone off after he stopped hosting it, and we know Michael Parkinson thinks they don't make interviewers like him any more. But Bamber?

He, surely, was big enough to leave the past behind. He hasn't said much about the programme since leaving it, and we all assumed he was too busy being magnanimous and cerebral. But not this time. He was affronted by the fact that the recording of a series spans two academic years. Given that contestants have to be students "for the duration" of the series, final-year students are thereby excluded. "It's a fiasco for the BBC comparable to the one that engulfed the final of Celebrity Come Dancing," he says. "To fail to produce a University Challenge based on university life not within a single university year is pathetic. It's totally contrary to the rules and nature of University Challenge."

"I don't get very cross naturally," he says. "I rather surprised myself. I hadn't planned to sound off about it when they [Radio 4's The World Tonight] rang me up, but then I realised what a mess they had got themselves into." In all other respects, though, Gascoigne is the embodiment of amused modesty. Magnus Magnusson, the late host of Mastermind, called Gascoigne "the undisputed master of quizzes, he was terrific – and he set a lot of the questions, he actually knew this stuff. A great man... He's miles above everyone."

Yet when I put to him that he is a national treasure, he mutters something self-effacing about "enjoying a bit of flattery as one gets older" and how much preparation he always used to have to do. The charm is impeccable. Few with Gascoigne's immense learning could say "bad luck" to a contestant without sounding condescending, yet he managed it.

He was tempted to return to the quiz-master's chair when the BBC brought back the programme in 1994, but says he disliked the constant recognition. He says he occasionally regrets the decision, but by then he had started writing a mammoth history of the world, which was to become the website to which he now devotes most of his time. His days are spent in Richmond, south-west London, where he lives with Christina, his wife, a potter and painter.

He enjoys the web ("I'm grateful to have lived into this hugely exciting internet age") and works on, an absorbing website that seeks to offer a way of relating odd chunks of history to the wider social and geographical context in which they took place. It attracts about 10,000 users a day, many of them students, he thinks, and says it's a bit of a labour of love. When it started off he hoped it would produce some revenue, which now seems unlikely. "My investors are very kind and generous people. When I apologise for not being likely to present them with a dividend, they just say "don't worry, it's 'racing money'."

He still gets recognised in the street, when people shout "Your starter for 10" at him, and he receives "endless" offers to do charity quizzes, from which he excused himself after his 70th birthday four years ago.

He admits he has seen the Jeremy Paxman version of University Challenge only a few times, which enables him to duck the question of whether it is easier than in his day. Besides, it is a subjective matter. In 1963, he said you couldn't possibly ask what the first names of the Beatles were, which provoked howls of laughter at his donnish unworldliness. At about the same time, Lew Bernstein, the celebrated boss of Granada TV, complained that he looked scruffily dressed and bought him a suit. He wore that for a year, until someone took it abroad and it was lost for ever, so he returned to "my usual clothes". Devotees may be astonished to learn that he never wore a corduroy jacket. He admits "that may have been my image, but I used to know a lot of people who did".

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam