CHRISTOPHER STEVENS on last night’s TV: Your starter for 10. After 29 years, who’s left University Challenge?



What a refreshing absence of fuss. No crocodile tears, no sentimental twaddle, just goodbye and the faintest hint of ruefulness.

Jeremy Paxman signed off University Challenge (BBC2) and a telly career spanning more than 45 years with a brusque announcement that the show ‘returns later in the year, and I look forward to watching it with you. So it’s goodnight from me. Goodnight.’

The 73-year-old has been presenting the quiz since 1994. With the average age of both teams in this final being just 21, that’s far longer than any of the contestants have been alive.

So familiar are his face, voice and mannerisms that a doctor was able to diagnose his Parkinson’s disease at an early stage, without ever meeting him. 

The medic, a fan of the show, approached Paxo in hospital where he was recovering after a fall. His facial features were less ‘effusive and exuberant’ than usual, said the doc — a typical sign known as Parkinson’s mask.

Jeremy Paxman, 73, (pictured) signed off University Challenge (BBC2) and a telly career spanning more than 45 years with a brusque announcement

Last October, shortly after revealing this series of University Challenge would be his last, Paxman made a typically frank and curmudgeonly ITV documentary about his illness, called Putting Up With Parkinson’s.

He wrote in Saga magazine earlier this year about his continuing struggles, claiming wryly that he had been ‘attacked by my chair and thrown against the leg of my desk. There was an awful lot of blood’. He added that he was given his ‘usual bed’ at the hospital.

Clearly, he isn’t getting soft-hearted or soppy in his old age, and the teams from Durham and Bristol knew better than to expect a shred of leniency. After the introductions, he declared: ‘We’re all old hands at this now so let’s just get on with it.’

Don’t ask me about the first starter for ten: a player buzzed in before I’d even worked out that the question was about nuclear reactors. Since this was the final, the standard was tougher than ever. ‘What effect is the basis of the thermocouple?’ barked Paxman.

And then, when someone got that right, he announced: ‘These bonuses are on rocket science.’

Jeremy Paxman, 73, signed off after having presented University Challenge since 1994

One round was on the 1970s punk-pop band The B-52’s. How anyone born in the 21st century is meant to know they had a hit called Rock Lobster, heaven only knows. ‘I’m confused by this question,’ admitted the Durham captain. 

In the end, the contest turned on a brainteaser about the 1968 Olympics. Bristol guessed the answer was Men’s 400m. Durham said Men’s 200m. Durham took the prize.



Slightly less scintillating levels of intellect were on display in Unreal! With Olivia Neill (BBC3), a look at dating apps that use virtual reality kit. 

Olivia, also aged 21, a social media influencer, donned a plastic video headset that projected her into a primitive computer animation.

In this world, looking like a Japanese comic-book character, she was able to meet an 8ft-tall dog and a man with throbbing trousers. This became creepy when the other users started to speak in disembodied monotones. 

Olivia looked shaken, and it got worse when she inspected vibrating gadgets, operated by phone apps, for long-distance sexual encounters.

Her chats to camera, updating us on her adventures in virtual reality, were edited with clumsy cuts between every phrase, an irritating pastiche of YouTube videos that was palpably fake.

It was the TV equivalent of using teenage slang. Auntie really oughtn’t try to be down with the kids. 

After half an hour, Olivia hadn’t managed to have one worthwhile conversation in virtual reality. If this is the future of dating, the next generation will all have to be celibate.

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