Don's diary: older and wiser?

July 19, 2002

February 1981
Dundee: a notice in the Students' Association asks volunteers to audition for University Challenge . A series of questions from previous games whittles hopefuls down to the team, plus reserve: James Smith (political science and economics), Graeme Davidson (law), Donald Kennedy (medicine), me (zoology), and the reserve Craig Murray (history).

February 1982
We arrive at Granada TV early afternoon, watch a previous game on video and have a couple of rehearsals (to test sound levels and get used to the buzzer). Although we are slightly in awe of him, Bamber Gascoigne is extremely pleasant and quickly puts us at ease. Teams must win three games before progressing to the quarter final. We record two games (against Salford and Westfield, London) and return the following week to record the third, which we lose (to Balliol, Oxford). A week later Granada tells us there was a scoring error and we actually won. But we lose the quarter final game against University College, Oxford, by five points.

April-May 1983
Lightning strikes twice! When the quarter final was transmitted viewers noted a disallowed correct answer. Consequently, we return for a play-off against Corpus Christi, Cambridge, who are in a similar position. We win the play-off, the quarter final (against Leeds) and the semi-final (against Birmingham).

November
The final, against Durham, goes to best of three. Durham wins the first game comprehensively. We win the second. The third is a cliff-hanger. Graeme clinches it with an interrupted starter 30 seconds before the end.

December
As series champions, we record a light-hearted Christmas game against our dons. One of our opponents is told by a Granada security guard he looks "a bit long in the tooth" for the show.

March 1984
Bamber travels to Dundee to present our prize (two watercolours of the university) at a dinner hosted by the university's principal. After sitting finals, I move south for postgraduate research and thence to my present job.

January 2002
Chatham: I hear from Granada regarding a 40th anniversary series of University Challenge , reuniting previous champions. A complete surprise, but rather worrying when I calculate I am almost two months older than the series.

April
The team meets for the first time since 1984. James is a chartered accountant and Graeme is MD of Regulatory Solutions Limited. Unfortunately, Donald, a doctor in Australia, cannot make the recording, so Craig, ambassador-designate to Uzbekistan, stands in. Speaking to him before the game, Jeremy Paxman's trademark hectoring style is not reflected in his off-camera persona. We play St Hilda's College, Oxford. Reflexes (and brains) are slower, and the game is either team's until halfway, when we pull ahead, to score 255 points (against 125).

Our introductory session, where team members reminisce about their previous appearances, is recorded three hours later, when the alcohol has been flowing freely in Granada's hospitality suite. Recording this without revealing the score is harder than the game itself!

May
Watching the game, jet-lagged after a -hour journey from Central America, I am appalled at what I didn't get correct and amazed at what I know.

June
Much interest from colleagues and our publicity department. Dundee, however, with the notable exception of the alumni office staff, has been extremely quiet. We hear our score, though one of the top ones, was not quite high enough for the next round. So we retire undefeated. There is always the 80th anniversary to look forward to.

Peter Burt is biometeorologist at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich at Medway.

Got a Don's Diary proposal?
Contact Anna Thomson on 020 7782 3168
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