Bamber Gascoigne

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Bamber Gascoigne

Gascoigne in 2006, photographed by Christina Gascoigne
Arthur Bamber Gascoigne

(1935-01-24)24 January 1935
London, England
Died8 February 2022(2022-02-08) (aged 87)
Alma mater
Occupation(s)Television presenter, historian, author
Years active1962-2022
Known forOriginal quizmaster of University Challenge
Christina Ditchburn
(m. 1965)

Arthur Bamber Gascoigne CBE FRSL (24 January 1935 – 8 February 2022) was an English television presenter and author. He was the original quizmaster on University Challenge, which initially ran from 1962 to 1987.

Early life and education[edit]

Gascoigne was born in London on 24 January 1935.[1] He was the elder son of Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Ernest Frederick Orby Gascoigne by his marriage in 1934 to Mary ("Midi")[3][4] Louisa Hermione O'Neill.

Gascoigne was educated at Sunningdale School in Berkshire before winning scholarships to both Eton College and Magdalene College, Cambridge (1955), where he read English literature.[5] He initially wanted to become an actor, though found it tiresome to have to play the same part for more than a week, so instead turned to writing. While at Magdalene, he initially submitted scripts to the Footlights sketch troupe, though they were never performed. However, he wrote a college revue in his second year, which was seen by the producer Michael Codron. Codron liked it enough to put it on in the West End as a musical called Share My Lettuce, in 1957.[6] It was performed by Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams (with music by Keith Statham and Patrick Gowers).[6][7]

Gascoigne then spent a year as a Commonwealth Fund scholar at Yale University (1958–59). He carried out his National Service in the Grenadier Guards, including six months of duty at Buckingham Palace, before being posted to Germany.[6] After completing his National Service, he became employed as a theatre critic, firstly for The Spectator, and then The Observer.[5][6]

He met his wife, Christina Ditchburn, at Cambridge, and they married in 1965.[8][3][9]


Gascoigne's family were originally Norman, arriving in England in the early 13th century.[6] Gascoigne's mother was a daughter of Captain the Hon. Arthur O'Neill and Lady Annabel Hungerford Crewe-Milnes.[1]

His father was the son of Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Frederick Orby Gascoigne and Laura Cicely, daughter of General Edward Henry Clive, of that family of Styche Hall, Shropshire, from which also came the soldier and administrator of India Robert Clive (Clive of India).[8]

Gascoigne's great-grandfathers included Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, and Edward O'Neill, 2nd Baron O'Neill.[1] He was a nephew of Sir Julian Gascoigne, who was in charge of the Household Division during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and of Terence O'Neill, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (1963–1969).[10]

Gascoigne was 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, Liverpool (1796–1867),[2] was his great-great-great-grandfather.[2] The name Bamber was the surname of the Lord Mayor's wife, and was given to their son.[6]

University Challenge[edit]

Gascoigne was the original presenter (from 1962) of the television quiz show University Challenge,[7] based on the US series College Bowl. He held the position for 25 years, until the end of the initial run in 1987.[11] As well as presenting the show, in its initial series he also set all the questions.[12] His questioning manner was regarded as firm yet polite.[13] Phrases he often used which became catchphrases include: "Your starter for ten, no conferring", "fingers on buzzers” and "I'll have to hurry you."[14] The show was initially only set for 13 episodes, but it was such a hit that Gascoigne eventually presented 913 episodes.[6] A number of contestants later became notable in their respective careers, including Stephen Fry and Miriam Margolyes.[6] When the show was revived in 1994 with Jeremy Paxman, Gascoigne declined to apply to present it again, as he was already involved with other projects.[6]

In 1984 Gascoigne was parodied by Griff Rhys Jones in the alternative comedy series The Young Ones, in an episode entitled "Bambi".[15] Ade Edmondson, a regular cast member of The Young Ones, later appeared on the real University Challenge.[16] In 1998, Gascoigne presented a parody named Universe Challenge based on the sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf.[17]

Gascoigne was also portrayed by actor Mark Gatiss in the 2006 comedy-drama film Starter for 10, directed by Tom Vaughan.[6]

Television and books[edit]

Gascoigne was the author of Murgatreud'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.[18] This was originally written as a script, although the play was abandoned because of the impossibility of finding suitable performers for a cast of forty pygmies.[6]

In 1977, Gascoigne wrote and presented The Christians,[19] a 13-hour television documentary series on the history of Christianity, produced by Granada Television and broadcast on ITV. The same year he wrote a companion book, under the same title, with photography by his wife, Christina Gascoigne, published by Jonathan Cape. In 2003 it was revised and republished as A Brief History of Christianity by Robinson Publishing.[20]

Gascoigne 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.[6] 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.[6][21]

In 1987, Gascoigne presented a documentary series of six 30-minute programmes on Victorian history, Victorian Values, produced by Granada Television. The programmes looked at how Victorian society put in place the infrastructure of the modern welfare state.[18]

In 1988, Gascoigne devised and presented a BBC Two arts quiz called Connoisseur, for which he also set the questions.[22]

Gascoigne was the writer and presenter for the TV series The Great Moghuls (1990), a study of the Mughal Empire of India.[23] The series was based on Gascoigne's 1971 book of the same name, which features photographs by his wife.[23]

Other activities[edit]

Gascoigne established an online history encyclopaedia, HistoryWorld,[24] based on British history. He had already published a hard copy of this encyclopaedia, but he saw the internet as an opportunity to reach millions more than the book alone.[6] He also established TimeSearch,[25] which presents multiple searchable timelines collected from various websites.[26]

Gascoigne was a lifelong supporter of the Liberal Party and subsequently the Liberal Democrats. He publicly endorsed the latter during their 2019 general election campaign.[27][28] 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.[29]

On the death of his great-aunt Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe, in 2014,[30] Gascoigne inherited an estate at West Horsley, Surrey, including West Horsley Place, a large country house dating from the 16th century.[31][32] Gascoigne sold some of the late Duchess's possessions and used the proceeds to restore the house. This was followed by the building of an opera house in its grounds, the Theatre in the Woods, which serves as the home base of the Grange Park Opera.[33][34] An original pencil and chalk study for the painting Flaming June by Sir Frederic Leighton was found on the back of a bedroom door in the house. 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's paternal grandfather after Leighton's death.[35] Since 2019, West Horsley Place has been used as the filming location for the fictional Button House in the BBC TV comedy series Ghosts.[36]

External interests[edit]

Gascoigne was elected in 1976 as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[37] He was a trustee of the National Gallery, a trustee of the Tate Gallery, a member of the council of the National Trust, and a member of the board of directors of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.[11] He was also a patron of the Museum of Richmond.[38]

Personal life, honours and death[edit]

Gascoigne was married, for 57 years,[6][33] to Christina (née Ditchburn), daughter of civil servant Alfred Henry Ditchburn, CBE.[1][2] He met Christina at Cambridge. They lived in Richmond, London, from the late 1960s.[19] She is an artist working in ceramics, silks and other media.[39][40] The couple did not have any children.[41]

Gascoigne was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2018 Birthday Honours for services to the Arts.[42]

In January 2022, Gascoigne was hospitalised for three weeks with pneumonia. Following his hospitalisation, Gascoigne's health drastically declined.[43] He died at his home in Richmond on 8 February 2022, at the age of 87.[15] Stephen Fry led the tributes to Gascoigne, saying he was "such an elegant, intelligent man". Victoria Coren Mitchell, host of BBC quiz show Only Connect, said: "No quiz host has ever seemed more like they could answer all the questions themselves."[15]

Selected publications[edit]

  • 1962: Twentieth Century Drama, London: Hutchinson University Library ISBN 978-0-0906-5843-5[44]
  • 1968: Leda Had a Little Swan OCLC 44110879 (play, cancelled on the day before opening, in New York, after fourteen previews)
  • 1968: World Theatre: An Illustrated History, Ebury Press ISBN 978-0316305006
  • 1971: The Great Moghuls (with photographs by Christina Gascoigne), London: Jonathan Cape; New York: Harper & Row[23]
  • 1973: The Treasures and Dynasties of China (with photographs by Christina Gascoigne and Derrick Witty), Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-00925-7 Republished 2003 as A Brief History of the Dynasties of China ISBN 1-84119-791-2
  • 1973: The Heyday, Jonathan Cape ISBN 978-0224009058 (novel)
  • 1974: Ticker Khan: A Fable, Jonathan Cape ISBN 978-022-401061-0
  • 1975: Castles of Great Britain (introduction; with Christina Gascoigne), Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-24098-1
  • 1977: The Christians (with photographs by Christina Gascoigne), London: Jonathan Cape; New York: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-03220-6 Revised and republished 2003 as A Brief History of Christianity, Robinson Publishing ISBN 1-84119-710-6[20]
  • 1981: Why the Rope Went Tight (children's stories, with pictures by Christina Gascoigne), London: Methuen; New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books ISBN 978-0688005900
  • 1982: Fearless Freddy's Sunken Treasure (children's stories, with pictures by Christina Gascoigne), London: Methuen ISBN 0-416-06510-4[45]
  • 1982: Fearless Freddy's Magic Wish (children's stories, with pictures by Christina Gascoigne), London: Methuen ISBN 978-0-416-06520-6
  • 1983: Quest for the Golden Hare, Jonathan Cape ISBN 0-224-02116-8
  • 1986: Cod Streuth, Jonathan Cape ISBN 0-224-02388-8
  • 1986: How to Identify Prints: A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes from Woodcut to Inkjet, Thames & Hudson; revised 2nd edition 2004 ISBN 0-500-28480-6
  • 1988: (with J Wright): Bamber Gascoigne's Book of Amazing Facts, London: Walker Books ISBN 0-7445-1082-1; ISBN 978-0-7445-1082-9
  • 1993: Encyclopaedia of Britain: The A–Z of Britain's Past and Present, Macmillan Publishers ISBN 0-333-54764-0
  • 1997: Milestones in Colour Printing 1457–1859: With a Bibliography of Nelson Prints (The Sandars Lectures in Bibliography), Cambridge University Press ISBN 978-0-521-55441-1[46]
  • 1998: A Brief History of the Great Moghuls: India's Most Flamboyant Rulers [revised edition of The Great Moghuls (1971)], Philadelphia: Running Press ISBN 0-7867-1040-3
  • 2007: Bamber Gascoigne's Challenging Quiz Book, London: Penguin Books ISBN 978-0-14-103470-6
  • 2010: A Brief History of the Second World War, HistoryWorld ISBN 1-908143-00-2
  • 2011: A Brief History of the First World War, HistoryWorld ISBN 1-908143-03-7, ISBN 1-908143-03-7
  • 2011: The Maya, Aztecs, Incas and Conquistadors: A Brief History, HistoryWorld ISBN 978-1-908143-06-8
  • 2014: The Dynasties of China: A History, The Folio Society ISBN 0-786712-19-8[47]


  1. ^ a b c d e Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage (107th ed.). Burke's Peerage & Gentry. pp. 3011–3012. ISBN 0-9711966-2-1.
  2. ^ a b c d Freer, Alan. "Conqueror 170". Genealogy of William, Duke of Normandy, King of England, and Matilda, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
  3. ^ a b Bloch, Michael (2010). James Lees-Milne: The Life. Hachette. pp. 71–72.
  4. ^ "Hon. Mary ('Midi') Louisa Hermione Gascoigne (née O'Neill)". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Bamber Gascoigne: Profile". Curtis Brown. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Bamber Gascoigne obituary". The Times. 8 February 2022. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  7. ^ a b Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 368. ISBN 978-1-84854-195-5.
  8. ^ a b Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage (107th ed.). Burke's Peerage Ltd. Vol. 1, p. 362 & Vol. 3, p. 3205.
  9. ^ Gascoigne, Christina (1975). Castles of Britain. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-24098-1. OCLC 2073039.
  10. ^ "Special Coronation Edition". Television Newsreel. BBC. 2 June 1953. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  11. ^ a b "About us". HistoryWorld. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  12. ^ "Bamber Gascoigne, urbane presenter and author who made University Challenge a television institution – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 8 February 2022. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  13. ^ "Bamber Gascoigne". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  14. ^ "University Challenge". Archived from the original on 5 January 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  15. ^ a b c "Bamber Gascoigne: Original University Challenge presenter dies at 87". BBC News. 8 February 2022. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  16. ^ "News: Scumbag College Appears On University Challenge For Real?". Beyond the Joke. 16 December 2020. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  17. ^ "Red Dwarf Night". BBC. 14 February 1998. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  18. ^ a b Nugent, Annabel (8 February 2022). "Former University Challenge host Bamber Gascoigne has died". The Independent. Retrieved 14 July 2023.
  19. ^ a b Midgley, Neil (8 April 2012). "Bamber Gascoigne's Diamond Jubilee challenge". The Sunday Telegraph. London. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  20. ^ a b "A brief history of Christianity / Bamber Gascoigne". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  21. ^ Shields, Mark (6 April 2019). "Masquerade: How a real-life treasure hunt obsessed a nation". BBC News. Retrieved 9 February 2022.
  22. ^ "Connoisseur". Programme Index. BBC. 3 May 1988. Retrieved 9 February 2022.
  23. ^ a b c Brogan, Benedict (2 February 1990). "Gascoigne rides in hot pursuit of the great Moghuls". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  24. ^ "History and Timelines". HistoryWorld. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  25. ^ "Home". TimeSearch History. Archived from the original on 29 November 2018. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  26. ^ Start the Week, BBC Radio 4, 12 March 2007
  27. ^ "Letters: Bamber Gascoigne obituary". The Guardian. 20 February 2022. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  28. ^ Lindsay, Caron (21 May 2019). "Bamber Gascgoine: This is the essential moment to support Lib Dems". Liberal Democrat Voice. Retrieved 2 October 2022.
  29. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  30. ^ "Roxburghe". Announcements: deaths. The Daily Telegraph. July 2014. Archived from the original on 16 November 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  31. ^ "Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 9 July 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  32. ^ "Bamber Gascoigne to save 500-year-old manor after accidental inheritance". The Daily Telegraph. 21 March 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  33. ^ a b Sherwood, Harriet (8 February 2022). "Bamber Gascoigne, former University Challenge quizmaster, dies at 87". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  34. ^ "Sotheby's to offer the historic collection of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe". Art Daily. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  35. ^ "Pre-Raphaelite study behind door in English mansion". The Guardian. 1 May 2015. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
  36. ^ "In pictures: Inside the historic West Horsley Place where hit BBC comedy 'Ghosts' is filmed". Surrey Live. 4 September 2021. Retrieved 8 February 2022.
  37. ^ "Current RSL Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  38. ^ "Living and Dying in 19th Century Richmond". The Richmond Magazine. London. 22 February 2013. Archived from the original on 15 November 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  39. ^ "Home < Christina Gascoigne".
  40. ^ "Christina Gascoigne - Alex Ingram - Alex Ingram | Photographer".
  41. ^ "Bamber Gascoigne plans 'mini Covent Garden' for mansion gardens". BBC News. 13 November 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  42. ^ "No. 62310". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 June 2018. p. B8.
  43. ^ Allfree, Claire (12 February 2022). "'My husband Bamber Gascoigne had a brilliant mind – but I wouldn't call him an intellectual'". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 4 September 2022.
  44. ^ "Twentieth-Century Drama / Bamber Gascoigne". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  45. ^ "Fearless Freddy's sunken treasure / words by Bamber Gascoigne; pictures by Christina Gascoigne". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
  46. ^ "Milestones in Colour Printing 1457–1859". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
  47. ^ "The Dynasties of China: A History". Goodreads.

External links[edit]

Media offices
New creation University Challenge host
1962 – 1987
Succeeded by