UK News Electronic Telegraph
Thursday 29 May 1997
Issue 734

Open and shut case for university quiz victors
By Hugh Muir

External Links

The Open University

College Bowl (US University Challenge)

Charing Cross Medical School

THE Open University team that scored the highest number of points ever achieved on University Challenge has broken its own record.

The four students, with ages ranging from 33 to 72, scored 415 points against Charing Cross Medical School, whose team could muster only 65 points. The total was achieved in the semi-final which was screened last night, and was the highest in the quiz show's 27-year history. The 350-point margin of victory was also the largest during the programme's run of more than 700 editions.

It eclipsed the Open University team's last triumph in January when it beat University College, Swansea, by 395 points to 85. The Swansea team was shell-shocked by its defeat but there was an indication last night that the students from Charing Cross were prepared for the worst.

As the gong signalled the end of the contest, each team member raised their fingers to their heads and pretended to shoot themselves. Jeremy Paxman, the quizmaster, told them: "There's nothing much I can say to console you after that. You just never got going and you are obviously having a bad day."

The winning team comprised Harriet Courtney, Martin Heighway, Peter Bissett and Ida Staples - the oldest member. Mrs Courtney, the team captain - who has also led a team to victory on Radio Two's Town and Country Quiz - said: "I was absolutely delighted with the result but we never kept our eyes on the score during the contest. All we wanted to do was to get as many questions right as possible and win. We never expected we would do as well as we did. Our victory was down to close teamwork and the combined breadth of knowledge of the team. I just felt sorry for the others but they took it all very well. It was not age or experience that won, it was quickness on the buzzer and a great memory."

Her husband Richard, himself an Open University graduate, said the victory was achieved by playing to their strengths. "Mrs Staples was the great expert on classical music and travelling, Peter Bissett had a wide breadth of general knowledge and Martin Heighway's reflexes on pressing the buzzer first was crucial.

"My wife made an exceptional captain because she had an uncanny ability to pick out which of the answers her team-mates gave to her on bonus questions were right. She in effect played a great balancing role between the rest of the team."

Charing Cross's captain, Mike Smith, 20, said: "We knew they were superior. The youngest player was nearly twice my age. They were older and wiser, but we didn't think it was going to be that bad. It was just such a relief at the end when it was all over. Afterwards we got horrendously drunk."

Mr Smith, from Worthing, Sussex, who went to school at Christ's Hospital in Horsham, Sussex, added: "Our team originally got together around a quiz machine in a bar. We're a very different team to those that normally enter. After our defeat everyone went out clubbing. The Open University bunch were so outgoing that even Ida came out for a drink with us. The whole thing was very good-spirited."

Mrs Stokes said she was not surprised by the her team's wide margin of victory. "If you find yourself up against four young men who are all doing the same subject, it makes life very difficult for them. Our team had a breadth of knowledge. I have got a good memory and I have travelled a lot."

She said that the only drawback to being a mature competitor was that she was slightly slower on the buzzer.

5 December 1996: Your starter for minus 10

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