Bamber Gascoigne

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Bamber Gascoigne
Bamber Gascoigne.JPG
Gascoigne in 2006
Born Arthur Bamber Gascoigne
(1935-01-24) 24 January 1935 (age 82)
London, England
Nationality British
Education Sunningdale School
Eton College
Magdalene College, Cambridge
Yale University
Occupation television presenter
Known for Presenting University Challenge
Spouse(s) Christina Gascoigne (née Ditchburn)[1]
Website HistoryWorld

Arthur Bamber Gascoigne FRSL (born 24 January 1935) is a British television presenter and author, best known for being the original quizmaster on University Challenge.[2]

Family background and early life[edit]

Gascoigne is the elder son of Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Ernest Frederick Orby Gascoigne (himself the son of Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Frederick Orby Gascoigne) by his marriage in 1934 to Mary Louisa Hermione O'Neill, a daughter of Captain the Hon. Arthur Edward Bruce O'Neill and Lady Annabel Hungerford Crewe-Milnes.

His great-grandfathers include Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, and Edward O'Neill, 2nd Baron O'Neill.[3] He is a nephew of Sir Julian Gascoigne who was in charge of the Household Division during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.[4]

He is a direct descendant of the 18th-century Lord Mayor of London Sir Crisp Gascoyne and the Tory politicians Bamber Gascoyne (the elder) and Isaac Gascoyne. Isaac's son General Ernest Frederick Gascoyne, of Raby Hall (1796–1867),[1] was his great-great-great-grandfather.[1]

Gascoigne was born in London and educated at Sunningdale School in Berkshire before winning scholarships to both Eton College (also in Berkshire), and Magdalene College, Cambridge (1955), where he read English literature.[5] While at Magdalene he wrote a musical, Share My Lettuce, which was produced in London in 1957 by Michael Codron, and performed by Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams (with music by Keith Statham and Patrick Gowers).[2][6] He then spent a year as a Commonwealth Fund scholar at Yale University (1958–59). After National Service in the Grenadier Guards he became a theatre critic.[5]

University Challenge[edit]

Gascoigne came to national fame as the original presenter (from 1962) of the popular television quiz show University Challenge,[2] based on the US series College Bowl. He held the position for 25 years, until the end of the initial run in 1987. Although he has written several books, mostly works of history, and presented other television programmes, his name is permanently connected with University Challenge for many viewers.[7] His questioning manner was firm yet polite.[8] Phrases he often used which became catchphrases include: "Your starter for ten", "fingers on the buzzers", and "I'll have to hurry you".[9]

Television and books[edit]

Gascoigne is the author of Murgatroyd's Empire, a 1972 satirical novel concerning an entrepreneur who finds an island of pygmies, and trades them arms for treasure, recreating the development of European medieval weaponry and armour.

In 1977, Gascoigne wrote and presented The Christians,[10] a 13-hour television documentary series on the history of Christianity, produced by Granada Television and broadcast on ITV. He wrote a companion book, under the same title, with photography by his wife, Christina Gascoigne, published by Jonathan Cape.

He wrote Quest for the Golden Hare, a 1983 account of the internationally publicised treasure hunt associated with the publication in 1979 of Kit Williams' book, Masquerade. On 8 August 1979, Gascoigne was witness to the burial by Williams of a unique jewelled, solid gold hare pendant in an earthenware jar "somewhere in Britain". The book documents the search and a scandal associated with finding it.

In 1987, Gascoigne presented a documentary series of six 30-minute programmes on Victorian history, Victorian Values, which looked at how Victorian society put in place the infrastructure of the modern welfare state, also produced by Granada Television.[11]

He was the writer and presenter for the TV series The Great Moghuls (1990), a study of the Mughal Empire of India.[12] The series was based on Gascoigne's 1971 book of the same name, which features photographs by his wife.[12]

Current activities[edit]

Gascoigne has established an online history encyclopaedia, HistoryWorld,[13] and TimeSearch[14] which presents multiple searchable timelines collected from various websites.[15]

In August 2014, Gascoigne was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[16]

On the death of his great-aunt Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe in 2014,[17] he inherited an estate at West Horsley, Surrey, including West Horsley Place, a large country house dating from the 16th century.[18][19] Gascoigne has been selling some of the late Duchess's possessions in order to invest in restoring the house.[20] An original pencil and chalk study for the well known painting Flaming June by the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Sir Frederic Leighton, was found on the back of a bedroom door. Art historians had known a sketch existed as it had been included in an art magazine in 1895 but did not know who owned it; it was probably bought by the Duchess after Leighton's death.[21]

External interests[edit]

Gascoigne is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (elected 1976).[22] He has served as a trustee of the National Gallery, a trustee of the Tate Gallery, a member of the council of the National Trust, and as a member of the board of directors of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.[7] He is a patron of the Museum of Richmond.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Gascoigne and his wife Christina (née Ditchburn),[1] who met at Cambridge, lived in Richmond, London from the late 1960s.[10] In 2014 Gascoigne inherited West Horsley Place from his aunt and godmother Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe.[24]

Selected publications[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the early 1970s, comedian Billy Connolly poked fun at Gascoigne's unusual name in his song "Talkin' Blues (What's in a Name)".
  • In 1974, while impersonating David Attenborough in the last Monty Python television episode, Michael Palin sought out the legendary "Walking tree of Dahomey", but instead happened upon "one of Africa's many stationary trees, Arborus Bamber Gascoignus".[29] His name also appears in one version of the Monty Python "Lumberjack Song" when Michael Palin sings of the "Quercus maximus Bamber Gascoigneii", and in the Python song "I Like Traffic Lights" the singer, Terry Jones, points out that his name is not Bamber.
  • In the "Bambi" episode of the TV series The Young Ones (1984), centred on a spoof University Challenge match, Gascoigne – referred to as "Bambi" – is played by Griff Rhys Jones.Griff Rhys Jones also played Gascoigne a few years previously in a sketch on Not the Nine O'Clock News.
  • In 1998, as part of BBC Two's Red Dwarf night, he presented a special Red Dwarf edition of Universe Challenge between the cast and fans of the show. The show began with actor Chris Barrie impersonating host Jeremy Paxman, before being blown up as Gascoigne entered with a mock space-shotgun to much applause. (The fans won by a narrow margin.)
  • In 2004, Gascoigne appeared as a television presenter in an episode of Jonathan Creek, "Gorgon's Wood".[30]
  • In the 2006 film, Starter for 10 (set in 1985, and featuring a University Challenge match), Gascoigne is played by Mark Gatiss.[31]
  • For several years, the satirical magazine Private Eye had a motoring column written by Bamber Gasket.[32]


  1. ^ a b c d Alan Freer. "Conqueror 170". Genealogy of William, Duke of Normandy, King of England, and Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Christopher Stevens (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 368. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  3. ^ Mary Louisa Hermione O'Neill at, accessed 22 March 2015
  4. ^ "Special Coronation Edition". Television Newsreel. BBC. 2 June 1953. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Bamber Gascoigne: Profile". Curtis Brown (literary agents). Retrieved 21 September 2013. 
  6. ^ "Share My Lettuce". The Guide to Musical Theatre. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "About us". HistoryWorld. Retrieved 14 February 2016. 
  8. ^ "Bamber Gascoigne – UKGameshows". Archived from the original on 24 December 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2011. 
  9. ^ "University Challenge – UKGameshows". Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  10. ^ a b Neil Midgley (8 April 2012). "Bamber Gascoigne's Diamond Jubilee challenge". Sunday Telegraph. London. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  11. ^ "Victorian Values (1987– )". IMDb. Retrieved 20 September 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c Benedict Brogan (2 February 1990). "Gascoigne rides in hot pursuit of the great Moghuls". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 20 September 2013. 
  13. ^ "History and Timelines". HistoryWorld. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  14. ^ TimeSearch website
  15. ^ Start the Week, BBC Radio 4, 12 March 2007
  16. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  17. ^ "Roxburghe". Announcements: deaths. The Daily Telegraph. July 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2016. 
  18. ^ "Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  19. ^ "Bamber Gascoigne to save 500-year-old manor after accidental inheritance". The Daily Telegraph. 21 March 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  20. ^ "Sotheby's to offer the historic collection of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe". Art Daily. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  21. ^ "Pre-Raphaelite study behind door in English mansion", The Guardian, 1 May 2015, archived from the original on 3 May 2015, retrieved 3 May 2015 
  22. ^ "Current RSL Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 9 February 2016. 
  23. ^ "Living and Dying in 19th Century Richmond". The Richmond Magazine. London. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013. 
  24. ^ Bamber Gascoigne to save 500-year-old manor after accidental inheritance dated 21 March 2015 in The Daily Telegraph online edition, accessed 22 March 2015
  25. ^ "Twentieth-century drama / Bamber Gascoigne". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  26. ^ "A brief history of Christianity / Bamber Gascoigne.". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  27. ^ "Fearless Freddy's sunken treasure / words by Bamber Gascoigne ; pictures by Christina Gascoigne.". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  28. ^ "Milestones in Colour Printing 1457–1859". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  29. ^ Darl Larsen (2008). Monty Python's Flying Circus: An Utterly Complete, Thoroughly Unillustrated, Absolutely Unauthorized Guide to Possibly All the References. Scarecrow Press. p. 519. 
  30. ^ "Jonathan Creek: Episode 4.6 – Gorgon's Wood". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  31. ^ "Mark Gatiss credits". London: Curtis Brown. Retrieved 15 February 2012. 
  32. ^ Jonathan Glancey (25 August 2001). "Travels with my rant". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2013. 

External links[edit]