JEREMY Paxman said he is “baffled” by the choice of a group of students to boycott University Challenge after they claimed he made “misogynistic and sexist” comments during a taping of the show.
The University of Reading Students’ Union has voted to not take part in the BBC Two quiz show after its previous team members complained about the handling of the alleged comments.
The TV presenter, 66, said he thinks the “issue” stems from a conversation during the taping last year when he questioned the Reading team about their mascot, a Jeremy Paxman doll.
Paxman told the Press Association: “I have racked my brains to discover what on earth the Reading Students’ Union is on about.
“I think they’re referring to a recording of University Challenge which took place in February 2015, though I am baffled at why it has become an issue a year-and-a-half later.
“There was a technical fault which meant we had to interrupt the recording, leaving all of us sitting at our desks in the studio while the problem was sorted out in the control gallery.
“In the conversation to fill the void - in a brightly lit studio, in front of all eight contestants, a full studio crew and an audience of several hundred spectators - I asked the Reading team about the mascot sitting on their desk.
“One of them said it was a hand-knitted Jeremy Paxman doll. Across the several yards separating the chairman’s desk from the teams, I asked the whole team whether they took it to bed with them.”
He said: “Though no complaint was made at the time, this, apparently, is what has upset them.”
Paxman added that Reading University scored 110 points to Imperial College London’s 285.
Niall Hamilton, Reading University Students’ Union education officer, wrote on his blog: “In the most recent round of Change it! students voted to boycott BBC programme University Challenge.
“This is due to misogynistic and sexist comments made to previous team members of the University of Reading team by Jeremy Paxman.
“This incident resulted in a complaint being filed by contestants.
“The response from ITV, the company that produces (although doesn’t air) the famous quiz show, was that they would inform Paxman that he had offended a contestant.
“They did not issue a formal apology and they did not produce any consolation to the contestants.
“Misogyny and sexism are not about ‘offending’ contestants, but undermining and oppressing individuals due to their gender.”
The students’ union voted 120 to 105 in favour of adopting a policy of boycotting the quiz show and has now asked the university to take over recruiting the next team.
It is understood to be the first time a university students’ union has ever boycotted the programme.
A spokesman for the university said it had only just learned of the issue.
He hailed the show as a “national institution”, adding: “We want our brightest and best students competing against the top universities in the UK in front of millions of viewers.
“We respect the union’s right to step down from entering a team after 120 students voted to boycott the programme and 105 against. There are hundreds more students who want to take part.
“The best way of combating prejudice and encouraging women to take part, is fronting up and entering a team, not avoiding the programme.”
Spokeswomen for ITV Studios, the makers of University Challenge, has been contacted for comment.