As the University of Dundee announce a fresh team of students will be competing on University Challenge for the first time in nearly 30 years we take a look at the show’s history and the triumphant victory for Dundee in 1983.
University Challenge first broadcast across the UK on ITV in 1962, hosted by iconic quiz master Bamber Gascoigne.
The show quickly became a cult favourite and despite a hiatus after being axed from ITV in 1987, before being revived by the BBC in 1994 with Jeremy Paxman at the helm, it remains a firm fan favourite to this day.
A close call in 1978
The University of Dundee had the chance to become the first Scottish winners of the quiz show 16 years after the first broadcast when the team made up of Tom McGhee, Isabel Morgan, Alistair Thomson and Enid Anderson beat competition from Aberystwyth to reach the show’s quarter finals.
It wasn’t meant to be however when the team were pipped at the post by the Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge.
Despite their loss, the team were still celebrated in the city with those who watched the show remembering captain Alistair Thomson’s musical knowledge, answering every music question which cropped up.
He also gained increasingly enthusiastic applause from the audience each time as he answered with greater detail than even host Bamber had on his cue card.
A triumphant victory in 1983
The University of St Andrews became the first Scottish institute to be crowned champions on the long running show in 1982 but the luck of the Scots kept coming when in 1983 it was Dundee’s turn, although it almost never happened – twice.
The foursome was made up of James A. Smith (Economics and Politics), Graeme Davidson (Law), Donald Kennedy (Medicine) and captain Peter Burt (Zoology) with future University Rector Craig Murray being the team’s first reserve.
The team proved themselves as Britain’s brightest brainboxes with a startling run all the way to the winners’ podium but it was one of the more remarkable performances in the show’s history, involving scoring errors that earned them reprieves along the way, most notably when a viewer noted a disallowed correct answer.
Back in the 80s, to qualify for the quarter-final, teams had to win three games. Despite the Dundee side winning their first two, against Salford and Westfield, London, they received a devastating loss against Balliol College, Oxford.
A week on from their supposed defeat the team were called up by Granada and told there had been a scoring error and they should actually have been named the winners.
It was on to the quarter-final where it appeared they had lost to University College, Oxford, by a painfully slim margin of five points.
However lightning indeed struck twice.
Following the airing of the quarter-final, viewers noted a disallowed correct answer which was also the case for Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The teams were invited for a play-off with Dundee coming out on top.
The team smoothly progressed through the quarter and semi-finals, against Leeds and Birmingham before coming head-to-head with Durham in the final.
The first game was lost comprehensively before Dundee mounted a fightback and forced a decider.
It was a cliff-hanger that was only decided in 30 seconds before the final buzzer sounded, with Dundee inching it.
Remembering the win, team-mate Graeme Davidson, said: “I confess to having experienced in the moment a certain sense of ‘Ha…we showed them!’, as regards people who might not have rated our chances of getting anywhere at all in the tournament, far less actually advancing to the senior stages and eventually going on to win the chuffing thing, after an utterly draining and totally nail-biting three-game final!”
The victory made Dundee only the second Scottish university to win University Challenge, a record that was only added to when the University of Edinburgh were crowned in 2019.
The University of Dundee haven’t had a team compete since their win.
Serious training for new team
Pharmacology PhD student Barnaby Stonier, 27, captains this year’s team, being joined by third year anatomy student Conor Philip, 20, Jacob Spurrell, 27, who is in his first year of graduate medicine and the team’s youngest member 19-year-old biomedical science first year Olivia Russell.
Team captain Barnaby said: “It’s an incredible opportunity, but also a lot of pressure. A lot of people watching on TV might not know much about Dundee, so we’re really acting as ambassadors for the university.
“As it’s been so long since Dundee were last on the show I’m sure a lot of local people and students will be following us closely.
“Shortly after we found out that we were going to be on TV we got together and discussed what we felt were each of our strengths and weaknesses. Comparing these allowed us to identify which topics were our biggest blind spots as a team.
“We assigned a couple of these to each team member, and everyone then went away and tried to get a decent working knowledge. I had to swot up on physics and ancient history, both of which I knew almost nothing about beforehand.
“As you can tell, we took the training pretty seriously since we knew the competition wouldn’t be easy.
“Ultimately as someone who grew up watching University Challenge, becoming the captain of a team is a dream come true. Whatever happens in the competition it’s an experience that I’ll never forget.”
The team will be making their debut on the show on Monday September 27 2021 on BBC2.