With a raised eyebrow and acerbic one-liners, Jeremy Paxman showed he didn’t suffer fools gladly as the long-term host of University Challenge.
But Amal Rajan seems to have ushered in a much softer era as he takes over as host of the beloved BBC2 quiz.
Dressed in a bright orange tie and matching pocket square, the former BBC media editor was quick to praise the contestants from Trinity College, Cambridge and Manchester and even engaged in some light chit-chat.
‘Hello and welcome to a new series and a new era of University Challenge,’ he said as he opened the show to the audience.
‘Some things have changed since the end of the last series, but all the important things remain the same; The format is still simple, the questions are still complex and the teams are still terrifyingly knowledgeable.’
BBC’s Amal Rajan presents University Challenge for the first time
The programme’s previous long-running host Jeremy Paxman, 73, filmed his final episodes last year
While Rajan still employed the Paxman-favourite, ‘Come on,’ once or twice, he was also generous with ‘Good job,’ which he did more often.
At one point Rajan, a regular presenter on Radio 4’s Today programme, told one contestant their answer was ‘very impressive’ and another got a ‘wow’ after a light-quick answer during the music round.
While Paxman created tightly wound tension, Rajan seemed keen to put students at ease with off-the-cuff coups and use ‘bad luck’ when met with wrong answers.
There was even a cricket-themed question, prompting Rajan – a keen player and author of a book on the sport – to comment: ‘We had some more cricket questions on this program around the time.’
At the end of the show, he described Manchester’s win as ‘a hell of a win’ after a ‘painful start’ and consoled Trinity, saying: ‘My goodness, I’m so sorry.’
He told them: ‘I think it was probably strong enough that you came back so we could see you again.’
He added: ‘Well done to you both for an absolutely phenomenal performance and thank you both for keeping us all hugely entertained – it was impressive.’
Viewers, meanwhile, said they enjoyed the soft approach, with one man congratulating Rajan on a ‘fantastic job’ and another saying the show had ‘fantastic dynamics’.
But some were not happy with the revised set design and decision to replace question cards with Rajan reading from the electronic screen.
University Challenge fans took to Twitter to share their anger at the new changes
A look at the new set design for University Challenge which airs on BBC 1
One viewer wrote on Twitter: “It’s hard to see. Awful set. There is no question paper. The quizmaster is moving his hand away from the screen at high speed.’
A second said: ‘There is no communication from Amal to the contestants. It’s just you looking at a screen. Might as well just be a computer reading the question.’
Another explained that they were ‘a lot more like he read the cards like Jeremy’ and that the new screen felt ‘hidden’ and ‘removed’.
A fourth added: ‘The big computer screen in front of Amal Rajan is a bit distracting. It also means that he has no cards to lay on the desk when the teams answer stupidly.’
Another exclaimed: ‘The new University Challenge set is horrible! Stiffly built and painted poorly designed and boring. What were they thinking?’
This fan agreed, adding: ‘Reading from the screen makes him look completely detached from everything.’
Right after the show ended, Rajan responded to the feedback he received by posting: ‘Thank you so much for all kind, thoughtful or constructive feedback on my first episode of #UniversityChallenge. I really appreciate it, and will discuss it with the team.’
Paxman’s tenure on the show lasted from 1994 to 2023, making him the longest-serving quizmaster on British television.
But longtime host Paxman, 73, filmed his final episodes last year, with the latest series of the program ending in May after announcing his departure following his Parkinson’s diagnosis.
The late Bamber Gascoigne hosted the show from its inception in 1962 until 1987 when it aired on ITV. The BBC revived it seven years later with Paxman in the quizmaster’s chair.
The new role marks the official end of Paxman’s reign as the longest-running current quizmaster on UK TV as a major promotion for Rajan.
Paxman signed off with little fanfare in May, telling the audience: ‘University Challenge will be back at the end of the year and I’ll be watching.’
Writing in her Saga magazine column last year, she said she was looking forward to a decent life after ‘jumping through’ her other work commitments.
Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman became the face of the revived University Challenge when it returned after a hiatus in 1994.
An easy starter for ten! Amal Rajan in the previous trailer of the show
‘I plan to join a choir, take a master’s degree in understanding Renaissance art and finally finish the wine appreciation course I started a year ago. I might give painting another go,’ he said.
Rajan, 39, was the BBC’s media editor and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today. He has also appeared on BBC Radio 2 and The One Show.
When his appointment was announced last year, Rajan said: ‘It’s being asked to host my favorite TV show – Dreamland.
‘I have watched University Challenge for years, addicted to its high standards, glorious title music and inspiring contestants.
Fans were upset by the ‘horrendous’ set changes and new question paper screens
‘It’s the best possible antidote to cynicism about the young, allowing millions of us to test our wits against a new generation of best minds, and to annoy and impress our families with barked answers from the sofa.’
The broadcaster became Britain’s youngest ever editor of a broadsheet newspaper when he took the helm of The Independent in 2013, but now the BBC’s media editor faces a whole new challenge as he sets out to ask some of the country’s smartest youngsters.
The BBC’s 2021/22 annual report showed he was on a salary of £325,000-£329,999 and expected to be paid more as host of University Challenge.
He has been married to Charlotte Faircloth since September 2013 and the couple has three children.
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