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Norfolk scientist faces up to Paxman in festive University Challenge

PUBLISHED: 09:31 21 December 2019 | UPDATED: 09:31 21 December 2019

Dr Henry Gee, second from left, appearing alongside Reverend Richard Coles, host Jeremy Paxman and others in a festive series of University Challenge at the end of 2019. Image: BBC/ITV

Dr Henry Gee, second from left, appearing alongside Reverend Richard Coles, host Jeremy Paxman and others in a festive series of University Challenge at the end of 2019. Image: BBC/ITV

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Thousands of questions have been fired at students since Dr Henry Gee's first battle of wits on University Challenge.

Dr Henry Gee, second from left, first appeared on University Challenge in 1983. Image: ITVDr Henry Gee, second from left, first appeared on University Challenge in 1983. Image: ITV

And now, the 57-year-old zoologist is about to get quizzical again on a special festive series of the BBC2 show.

Dr Gee, from Cromer, is part of a University of Leeds team in the first of a 10-part contest featuring quizzers from previous series.

Dr Gee, who is an editor at Nature magazine, said some things had changed since he represented Leeds in the show's 1983 series.

He said: "Back then my team members were all historians and I was the only scientist. There wasn't much science on University Challenge in those days, but they have upped it since then, and they also have a bit more pop culture.

Dr Henry Gee.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYDr Henry Gee. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

"It's also more diverse now, so there are more questions about female artists and scientists and so on."

Dr Gee said the show's current host, Jeremy Paxman, had a much different style to his predecessor, Bamber Gascoigne.

He said: "Bamber Gascoigne was quite gentle, but Jeremy Paxman is a bit spikier."

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Dr Gee said he was still a fan of the show and was impressed by the standard of today's students.

He said: "The questions come awfully quick, and some of the more cryptic questions where you have to calculate something quickly left me standing. As they say, it's all very well sitting at home but when you're there in the studio, you're under a lot of pressure and it's very easy for your mind to go blank."

Dr Gee travelled to Salford for the filming, where the challenge's original broadcaster, ITV, still produces the quiz, although it is now shown on BBC2.

The Reverend Richard Coles, who starred in Strictly Come Dancing, captains the Leeds team, and they play Clare College from the University of Cambridge.

Dr Gee said he could not reveal who won, but if the Leeds did as well as his previous appearance in 1983 they would be doing very well indeed.

He said: "We dispatched a college from Oxford and another from Cambridge, before wiping the floor with University College Swansea by 415 to 70, one of the highest scores ever."

They eventually lost in a knock-out round to the University of Dundee, who went onto win the whole competition that year.

The episode will go to air on Monday, December 23 at 7.30pm.

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