Tag Archives: 1970s

93. Your Starter for Ten: Bradford’s University Challenge

On 28 January 1979 a team of students from Bradford University triumphed against Lancaster University in the final of University Challenge, 215 points to 160.

Bradford University's University Challenge winning team and the reserve

Bradford University’s University Challenge winning team: Watt, Lee (reserve), Bradford, Simkin and Cooter

University Challenge is a notoriously difficult and fast-moving television quiz.  Produced by Granada Television, the original programme was presented by Bamber Gascoigne and ran from 1962 to 1987.   It was revived by the BBC in 1994 with presenter Jeremy Paxman (an honorary graduate of Bradford University) and is still running today.  Contestants are usually university students although there have been series which used different formats.

The Bradford University team of 1979 boasted three postgraduate computer science students (John Watt, Mike Bradford, John Simkin).   The other team members were Maxwell Cooter, an Interdisciplinary Human Studies student, and a reserve, Martin Lee, a postgraduate in Social Sciences.

The dominance of computer scientists apparently “amused and bemused” Bradford’s opponents, though in fact the three were studying conversion courses.  Along with their colleagues, they had excellent general knowledge spanning key subjects such as classical music, literature, sport and art.

The team actually criticised the University Challenge format, which they felt “tested school rather than at university learning” and called for “fast recall of fairly shallow or even trivial knowledge, rather than the analysis or coherent pattern which University education should develop.”   They emphasised that it was no measure of intellectual ability, and might even mislead the public about the nature of students and university life.

Bradford University's University Challenge winning team reunited for a special series in 2002: Lee, Bradford, Simkin and Cooter

Bradford University’s University Challenge winning team reunited for a special series in 2002: Lee, Bradford, Simkin and Cooter

The University of Bradford’s Corp Comms managed to track down three members of the team for a 2002 series celebrating forty years of the programme: University Challenge Reunited.  Bradford, Simkin and Cooter were joined by the reserve, Martin Lee.    The team lost narrowly to their 1979 final opponents, Lancaster, but enjoyed the experience.   John Watt saw the event on television and got in touch later on.

A Bradford University team who took part in the 2003/04 season were less successful, scoring a mere 35 points in their first-round match on 15 December 2003 against Queen’s University Belfast, who scored 280.

Whatever the scores though, the programme has provided plenty of entertainment.  As Bradford’s winning team observed,  “It seems that this sort of quiz would be best approached in a mildly egotistical mood, as a load of laughs, proving nothing in particular!”

Notes and queries.  There is some confusion around the years of wins, partly caused by inconsistencies in listing styles by the programme makers.  Bradford’s win is often attributed to 1980, as can be seen in the 2002 image above.   Mr Cooter’s first name is “Steve” in the News Sheet article, but “Maxwell” elsewhere.

Sources. Quotations from News Sheet March 1979 p.3-4 and 21 and News and Views May 2002 p.7.  (also online, the 2002 press release seeking the 1979 team).  I have also found many other sources useful, including the BBC site and sites by enthusiasts Blanchflower (useful on statistics and the issue of the varying years of wins) and UK gameshows.

61. J.B. at the JBPL: The Opening of the J.B. Priestley Library, 18 October 1975

On 18 October 1975, J.B. Priestley opened the Library that bears his name at the University of Bradford.  We know a great deal about the opening ceremony thanks to files in the University Archive and this week’s Object, an album of photographs taken on the day and presented to Priestley as a memento.   This later returned to the University as part of Priestley’s Archive.

Presentation slip in album commemorating opening of J.B. Priestley Library 1975Proceedings began the night before with a small dinner party in “one of the private dining rooms” in the main building.  The menu survives: Florida Cocktail or Spring Vegetable Soup, then sole, lamb, and Cherry Cheese Cake.  Harold Wilson, the University’s first Chancellor and Prime Minister at the time, wrote to Vice-Chancellor Ted Edwards that “the warmth of the occasion surpassed even the high quality of the cuisine”.

Priestley and Harold Wilson looking at book by shelves in new J.B. Priestley Library

Priestley and Harold Wilson looking at book by shelves in new J.B. Priestley Library

On the day, the Chancellor and Priestley spoke, Priestley unveiled a plaque, then the party toured the new building and had a buffet lunch before the University car whizzed the Priestleys back to their home in Stratford.  The event was planned to the last detail, including the whereabouts of umbrellas and keeping the lift free for Priestley to use (he was then over eighty).

Harold Wilson and J.B. Priestley, with pipes

Harold Wilson and J.B. Priestley, with pipes

The new Library building (which was supplemented by an extension in the 1990s) was five levels high, one floor occupied by the Computer Centre.   The publicity campaign emphasised what was described as a “whole phalanx of mechanical and electronic aids to ease the paths of users” of both services.  The rapid expansion of the University from the Bradford Institute of Technology had put considerable pressure on library services.  The new building transformed what was possible for staff and students.   From the 1959 situation of two rooms crammed with 9,000 out of date books (which could not be browsed) staffed by two assistants, 1975 offered students over 200,000 volumes, 53 professional and support staff and a pioneering system of subject librarians offering specialist help.

Brochure for J.B. Priestley Library and Computer Centre 1975

Brochure for J.B. Priestley Library and Computer Centre 1975

This year the GLEE building project is transforming the upper floors of the Library.  J.B.’s album (along with our other archives) records these areas as they were imagined at the time, as impressive modern facilities which aimed to provide the best possible environment and services for students: we hope to do the same today with the new facilities.