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Islington Tribune - by TOM FOOT
Published: 6 February 2009

Quizmaster Jeremy Paxman with the City team
City high-flyers’ fingers on buzzers

Praise for team who took university to last eight of Paxman-hosted contest for first time

ONE is a prestigious Cambridge institution founded by the mother of King Henry VIII and boasting an impressive roll-call of alumni including nine Nobel Prize winners, six prime ministers, three archbishops, a prince and a saint.
The other is based in a concrete block in Northampton Square, Angel, with a highly-regarded media department whose former pupils include Sky News presenter Dermot Murnaghan and radio DJ Jo Wiley.
But with academic reputations at stake, and a formidable Jeremy Paxman in the quizmaster’s chair, the outcome of Monday night’s University Challenge quarter final between St John’s College, Cambridge, and Islington’s City University was far from a formality.
City – represented by Kaya Burgess, Henry Ellis, Neil O’Leary and captain Tom Devlin – had made it to the last eight of the competition, beating Hull and Brighton in earlier rounds.
It had been a long road for the four contestants who began their University Challenge quest in February last year, seeing off dozens of their peers in a series of internal college heats. It was the first time the college had reached the quarter-final stage.
Mr Burgess, a journalism student who now works as a reporter for The Times newspaper, said: “We weren’t daunted really. We didn’t do much extra revision. We thought we’d go to a few pub quizzes but in the end we just went to the pub.”
According to Mr Paxman’s introduction, the team had already shown “a flair for 19th-century art but, unusually for City types, fell down on food and wine”.
St John’s lost in the first round of the competition but, having scraped through with the highest losing score, fielded four PhD students, including an expert on medieval ­literature.
City rattled the Oxbridge students by taking an early lead. Their “starter for ten” was “on getting things wrong” – the team rightly answered “gaffe” and “blunder” to take ten points. City scored well on subjects such as board games, Roman Catholic cathedrals and the panel of last year’s Booker Prize.
But the undergraduates did not fare so well when it came to the phonetic alphabet, nuclear physics, advanced mathematics or the family of tetrahedrons.
At the final gong, St John’s ran out comprehensive winners by 265 points to City’s 135. Mr Paxman told the losers: “There’s no shame in going out in the quarter finals and you were ahead a couple of times.”
After the contest, Nikhil Raj Cumlajee, president of City University’s Students’ Union, said: “Over 500 teams entered the national competition and it was hard enough for us just to qualify, but to make it this far is such a great achievement for the team and city.”

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