Pipped at the post in University Challenge final

Pipped at the post in University Challenge final

Ben Pugh (OE 2002-2009) and his team from Pembroke College, Cambridge, fought their way successfully through every round of the BBC’s University Challenge before losing narrowly in the final.

He then took the opportunity, along with the rest of his team, to meet the Duchess of Cornwall at a televised ceremony at Clarence House, during which the winning finalists, the University of Manchester, were presented with the University Challenge trophy.

In the 41st series of the popular quiz, which was first broadcast 50 years ago, the Pembroke College team gained frequent praise from host Jeremy Paxman, with Ben’s breadth of knowledge and speed of thought proving key to their success.

In the first round, he got off to a good start against St Anne’s College, Oxford, giving a strong individual performance. But Ben also fell victim to Paxman’s trademark mockery after successfully recognising the girl band Girls Aloud in a music round. Pembroke won by 205 points to 140.

The margin of victory was even bigger in the second round, when Ben’s team trounced Nottingham 280–125.

Next up in the first leg of the quarter-finals were Balliol College, Oxford. Ben was very quick on the buzzer, answering a range of starter questions on diverse subjects including dance tempo, planet recognition, literature and geography, which helped his team to establish an early 90-point lead and secure an eventual 240–160 victory. Ben seemed particularly pleased, or perhaps relieved, to be able to answer correctly on the meaning of the Russian acronym ‘gulag’ – since he is reading Russian and German at Cambridge.

In the second leg, Pembroke faced a fellow Cambridge team, Clare College. Ben’s team raced to a 145-point lead – a position from which fellow Cambridge team, Clare College, could not recover, despite a spirited fight-back. Once again, Ben made his mark by answering correctly on topics including politics, philosophy, the American constitution and geographical terminology. Pembroke won 250 – 175.

Pembroke were slow starters in their semi-final and had to come from behind to overhaul opponents UCL, finally winning 185 points to 125.This time, Ben came up with correct answers on Shakespeare, chess, classical music, geography and Home Secretaries. Paxman praised Pembroke as the only semi-finalists not to have lost a match in the competition and heralded their win as “another storming performance”.

However, that unbroken record was finally to fall in the final. Their opponents, the University of Manchester, enjoyed a very strong start and, although Pembroke fought back strongly, they were unable to catch up, finally losing 180 – 135. Ben made his usual significant contribution, answering a number of starter questions on subjects including anagrams, Chancellors of the Exchequer, Swedish chemists, Polish composers and Rift Valley archaeology.