Buzzers, bonuses and backstage Paxo

Buzzers, bonuses and backstage Paxo

Having been running now for 52 years, spanning 43 series and upwards of 1000 teams, it seems fair to say that University Challenge is almost as much of a national institution as the Tower of London. However, while we addicts of the series can end up spending a total of almost 14 hours watching it each year- what goes on behind the scenes remains, aside from a recent documentary detailing the selection process, somewhat mysterious. As the latest cohort of hopefuls begin to trickle onto our screens in pursuit of the much-coveted title, the OxStu has tracked down University Challenge competitors past and present to give you the lowdown on the backstage drama.

The first question likely to arise in relation to the show is inevitably to do with the infamous quizmaster himself, Jeremy Paxman. Having taken over from the original host Bamber Gascoigne at the show’s re-launch with the BBC in 1994, to become the UK’s longest serving quizmaster, he is famed for his snappy and often cutting responses to some answers given, making it somewhat surprising that he acknowledges never having been “good enough to get onto it”. The suggestion this entails that much of his onscreen behaviour is simply a factor that contributes to the entertainment value of the programme is supported by the experience of a current member of the St Peter’s college team, who went so far as to describe his relaxed, off-screen demeanour as “a bit underwhelming”. While contact between him and the contestants backstage is minimal, it is tempting to feel that a true fan of the programme couldn’t help but be somewhat disappointed by anything other than an outright dismissal from the man described by The Guardian’s Johnny Dee as “famous for intimidating inquisitions, pricking pomposity [and] withering world-weariness”.

Paxman isn’t the only celebrity Somerville’s team have won over

Yet this sentiment was not shared with all of our interviewees. Sam Walker, a member of the Somerville team who were runners up to Trinity College Cambridge in last year’s final, found that despite being slightly “warmer”, Jeremy Paxman off camera was “very similar to Jeremy Paxman on camera!”  This could, however, be more a reflection of the more relaxed side to Paxman witnessed by audiences in last year’s quarter-final. When captain Michael Davies breezed through questions on Economics, Paxman joked: “Some people find these questions quite difficult to answer, you know.” Paxman isn’t the only celebrity Somerville’s team, and specifically its captain, have won over: Stephen Fry, himself a former contestant on the programme, tweeted after the quarter-final: “Somerville’s captain Davies is delightful.”

This surprisingly mellow attitude is apparently matched by the interaction between competing teams. Where both The Young Ones, and later, St Trinian’s, have depicted the potential for rivalry in similar competitions to provoke dramatic courses of action both during the competition and beforehand, current contestants maintain that the interaction necessitated by the lengthy waits before and after filming rendered other teams “pretty friendly and happy to talk”. Indeed, the producers’ decision to host all the teams in the same hotel suggests a level of faith in the competitors’ behaviour towards one another. Sam compares the difference between this and the tension onscreen to a boxing match, where “the two guys who’ve been throwing punches at each other stop to talk, hug and shake hands”.

Nobody looks particularly intimidating

However, the lack of fireworks sparked by meetings with other competitors doesn’t mean they didn’t, at times, amuse. A fair few “bizarre pre show talks” were witnessed to have taken place- the content of which remains mysterious, yet watching some of the more unusual tactics employed by others may serve to instil a greater feeling of normality for teams with less elaborate plans, especially if, as one correspondent confessed “nobody looks particularly intimidating” in the competition.

A degree of attention has been paid to Manchester University’s preparation tactics, having won 4 times since 2006, they are often considered to be one of the shows greatest success stories. While many may be tempted to put this down to the institution’s status as the UK’s largest single-site university, thus allowing them a greater pool of potential competitors, it may rather be that their librarian, a former contestant, puts the team through a rigorous training process including buzzers and past questions.

Even the best preparation can’t cover all eventualities

Yet emulating the conditions of the competition requires a great deal of hard work and resources not available to all teams- in the case of this year’s St.Peter’s team, losing the occasional pub quiz had to suffice. However, the experience of Somerville last year, when one contestant became ineligible during the competition and had to be replaced, suggests that even the best preparation can’t cover all eventualities, something suggested by the various controversies that have surfaced relating to the show. Most notably, certain bodies feel uncomfortable with the fact that both Oxford and Cambridge colleges are permitted to enter separately, thus representing a far small number of students than other universities.

Fancy testing your dedication to the programme? Check out how Uni-C savvy you are with our quiz.


Phoenix Picturehouse does outdoor cinema in LMH

Phoenix Picturehouse does outdoor cinema in LMH


On the 18th, 19th and 20th of July, Phoenix Picturehouse provided residents of Oxford with a weekend of fantastic film in a beautiful setting, by screening Labyrinth, Grease and Casablanca in the grounds of Lady Margaret Hall.

One attendee told The Oxford Student, “Watching Casablanca while lying on the grass outside was definitely an amazing start to my summer!” Phoenix Picturehouse plans to bring viewers another weekend of great movies, so head to LMH on the 8th, 9th or 10th of August to join in the experience.

8th August – The Grand Budapest Hotel




Wes Anderson’s latest, and most successful film is a perfect choice for an outdoor screening. Let its breathtaking visuals complement your beautiful surroundings, and enjoy an evening you are unlikely to forget. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a thrilling and insightful comedy-drama, featuring a stellar performance by Ralph Fiennes and an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton – read our full review here.

9th August – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off




While The Breakfast Club is John Hughes’s most famous film, many would argue that Ferris Bueller is just as good, if not better. Join a young Matthew Broderick on a day where nothing goes wrong. This is a teen film for the ages, and it deals with the mischief, camaraderie and angst of teenage life with expert flair. What better way to take advantage of a day off than watch Hughes’s vision of a great day off?

10th August – Singin’ in the Rain




Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds star in perhaps one of the best musicals ever made. The advent of the talkies causes problems for the stars of a silent film production company, but these problems can be easily overcome with a little love, a little friendship and a lot of brilliant music. O’Connor’s Cosmo Brown and Jean Hagen’s Lina Lamont prove to be the underrated stars of this classic.

PHOTO/Richard Budd

Doors open from 7.00. Relax, have a drink and enjoy the views before the start of the film around 9.15. 

Standard ticket prices apply: £9.50 full price, £8.50 concessions, £7.50 adult Members, £6.50 concessionary Members and children

5 reasons why you should love Donald O’Connor

5 reasons why you should love Donald O’Connor


1. He’s hilarious.




Make ‘em Laugh goes down in history as one of the best comedic performances ever. Another great example of O’Connor singing, dancing, and getting people laughing is in Anything Goes, where he performs alongside the great Bing Crosby:




2. He’s great with the ladies.




Where did you learn to dance? The chemistry between Debbie Reynolds and O’Connor is absolutely palpable in this adorable song from I Love Melvin.

3. He’s great with kids.




He can tap dance on roller skates – what more do you want from a person, really?

4. He was part of one of the best bromances in the history of cinema.




Moses supposes that this is awesome.

5. He never let being a third-wheel get him down – and in fact, he owned it.




So if your best friend is in a relationship (and all but proclaims it from the rooftops), worry not my friend, for you too can channel the talent, laughter and enthusiastic obliviousness of Donald O’Connor.


Come down to the lady garden…

Come down to the lady garden…

Lady Garden is a three-woman art exhibition staged in the unconventional setting of Kiss Bar on Park End Street. Against the backdrop of a nightclub (functioning bar included) Ruskin School of Art students Angeli Bhose, Ruth Spencer Jolly and Lu Williams present sculpture, film, sound art, digital collage, drawing and photography.

With tongue firmly in cheek, the work featuring in the show will raise questions about how we view our bodies and ourselves and how our experience of culture dictates our behavior.

Through performance Angeli focuses on the process of our absorption and perpetuation of external influences with minimal processing time as we try to stay afloat in the chaotic sea of information and images. Ruth works predominantly in film and presents two semi-autobiographical works in this exhibition, focusing on the theme of self-improvement. Lu’s sculptures react to the theory of self-socialisation — our instinctive ability to direct our social development by selecting certain influences within our environment to focus upon and imitate, whilst ignoring others. These sculptures are accompanied by collage, prints and a zine commenting upon societal attitudes towards the concept of feminism.

The exhibition contributes to an ongoing debate, recently enflamed by the recent visit to Britain by the UN special rapporteur Rashida Manjoo who expressed concern about the media’s portrayal of women in the UK. It’s a discussion that will continue to roll; Tuesday of 1st week (April 29th) is your opportunity to drop in, have a drink, experience the art and join the debate.

Matthew McConaughey buys into real acting

Matthew McConaughey buys into real acting

The Matthew McConaughey revival is turning into one of the great cinema stories of our generation; the once-jaded rom-com star has turned his career around in truly impressive style, moving from schlocky rubbish to arthouse chic in a matter of a couple of years. His turns in Magic Mike and Mud garnered praise from critics, and he is now the odds-on favourite to add an Oscar to this haul of accolades, with Dallas Buyers Club a huge success critically and commercially in the US.

The film is good enough to justify the buzz it’s been accompanied by as it opens in the UK, for once, and McConaughey’s performance is really a superb one. He plays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic bundle of machismo in the US south, who is blindsided by a diagnosis of HIV, a disease he considers reserved for homosexuals. Given thirty days to live, he initially goes on a binge of drugs and meaningless sexual contact, but then starts to react against the hopeless situation the medical professionals have presented him with. He embarks on a variety of journeys to a variety of countries to secure alternative medication to the controversial drug he was initially prescribed, AZT, and has to deal with the litigious and obstructive input of the FDA while he does so.

The central performance is a hugely impressive one from McConaughey veers from huge vulnerability and weakness into bravado and false confidence at a moment’s notice, and is constantly riveting. When Woodroof eventually gains a measure of wisdom and calmness it feels like a victory in characterisation, and a heartening moment for the audience. Equally impressive is Jared Leto, as Rayonne, a transgender woman who Ron befriends, whose reach extends into the LGBTQ community Woodroof is so repulsed by. He and McConaughey have both lost a frightening amount of weight to fit their roles, and the instances when they are changing or stretching out leave horrifying images of skeletal bodies behind, to remind the audience of the situation these impressive people find themselves in.

The supporting work from Leto is highly likely to win the singer an Oscar, and McConaughey is well-backed to gain the Best Actor gong, at the expense of the slightly more deserving Chiwetel Ejiofor. They are both on top form, and Jennifer Garner is convincing as well, as the primary medical presence in Ron’s life, his doctor Eve Saks, who has serious reservations about AZT but no license to do anything about it. The serious subject matter might have attracted goads of Oscar-baiting, but the film is so well-made and heartfelt that such slurs haven’t really surfaced, and nor should they. The AIDS crisis is treated very maturely, and it is not the absolute centre of the film – it obviously drives the action, but Dalls Buyers Club does not seek to educate too much at the expense of immersion. Some knowledge is assumed, and much is implied and learned through organic inclusion, but it never feels like a documentary (that hole has been recently filled by How to Survive a Plague, which will screen at the Keble Arts Festival this term).

Dallas Buyers Club is a superb film, led by an impressive cast, and will deserve the Oscars it will most likely gain – even if, for me, Twelve Years a Slave will deserve some of them a mite more.

Dallas Buyers Club is now showing at the Phoenix Picturehouse.

PHOTOS/ Empire

Golden Globe: awarding or restraining art?

Golden Globe: awarding or restraining art?

With the announcement of the Golden Globe winners this year, the media inevitably splashes out in stories from the most mundane repetition of the winners, to the painfully more mundane Daily Mail ‘scoop’ that ‘Jennifer Lawrence was thrashed the night before the Golden Globes’. As the awards are shared and spread, actors, producers, and those other people who get awarded during the interval for bizarre things like sound editing, rejoice in the recognition. Then the moment is gone, and they all gear up for the Oscar nominations.

Since the early post-war period, the circle of cinema-making has been dictated and defined by this period. Any film intending to be considered as a serious and self-aware creation has had to ensure it is released in the period of consideration for the Oscars, and preferably not win Best Drama at the Globes.  Because, when journalists agree too much, they go on to realise they may be wrong.

What does not seem to be questioned as thoroughly as perhaps it should be is: why have such institutions been awarded with the ubiquitous voice of cinema? In fact, it seems difficult to recall them ever winning an award in their own right – it is ironic to think they have never been acknowledged by their own system of worth-attachment.

Rather than launching into the question of whether we should, at all, try to create any omniscient measure of cinematic quality, let us turn to the organisations themselves.

The Golden Globe award is given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. This organisation was founded by foreign journalists, based in Los Angeles, trying to raise the profile of overseas markets for cinema amid the turmoil of the Second World War. The group was originally led by none other than the British correspondent for the Daily Mail. 

The original intention, therefore, was not at all focused on cinema, or the art of picture-making. It was an attempt to improve the marketing strategy of Hollywood films abroad via access to top-end celebrities for interviews in local papers around the world.

Today, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association annually selects up to five journalists to join their prestigious ranks, and boasts a combined readership of over 250 million. In essence, these people are influential enough to have ensured these films are given a certain level of praise before they even reach the stage of award-giving. The fact these journalists are influential enough, however, seems somewhat counter intuative to the process of award giving. Namely, the worth of an award stands quite aside from a local newspaper review offering praise in the Telegraph. Yet, given the structure of the organisaiton, as nothing more than a conglomerate of those very same people behind the Telegraph, Le Figaro and Vogue reviews, the Golden Globes acknowledge nothing more than the fact several important people may have enjoyed the film.

Rather than necessarily encouraging film quality, and the death of the contrived rom-com (probably featuring Jennifer Aniston), the Golden Globes is a celebration of influence. The award ceremony is a ploy, initiated by journalists, to demonstrate the weight of their own opinion that will (in an ironically metaphysical twist) then be discussed even further in the media. It is media-led influence driving influencing media.

The films themselves are perhaps excellent, at times dire, but all in all perfectly acceptable. What they are certainly not is the life changing experiences suggested by the titles Golden Globe and Oscar.

Diane Keaton, for instance, accepted Woody Allan’s award for a lifetime achievement in writing, producing, and directing films, by noting that “Woody Allan films have changed the way we think about life.” Yes, somewhere between solving global warming and offering a military strategy for the colonisation of Antartica, Woody Allen films have also had me completely reconsider my epistemological conceptions of the world. So shaken was I, at the sight of Midnight in Paris, that I began to think of life not as the historically chronological and ordered thing that it is, but as the magically lyrical paradigm where people and events occur for my cinematic convenience. It’s done me wonders, really.

The more Golden Globes we hand out, the more we restrain cinema-makers to this seemingly inescapable globe of golden showbiz and loud noise. In fact, the best reaction a filmmaker could ever provoke is a simple, still, heavy, and thoughtful silence.

FEATURED PHOTO/ jdeeringdavis

Capitol Couture

Capitol Couture

“Dude, have you seen the new Hunger Games?” “Yeah it was amazing, what did you think of it?” Such was the conversation that dominated the Oxford scene following the release of the Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Having not read the book and found the first movie somewhat average, I made my way to the cinema with mixed feelings.


However, I was pleasantly surprised by the film, and found it to be a very exciting experience, much more exciting than the second Hobbit film at least (yes. You heard me, die-hard hobbit fans..). But what really impressed me was not so much the CGIs nor the intriguing plot, but the depiction of the fashion couture of the Capitol, the heart of Panem.


It is obvious that when Collins described the fashion scene in her book and when Trish Summerville designed the costumes, they aimed to depict a vulgar, self-centered mob desperate to fill their insatiable souls with fabrics, tattoos and delightful food. In writing about the Capitol, Collins is mocking (albeit in a very exaggerated manner) the world of high fashion and its over-emphasis on the aesthetic and pursuit of youth and beauty. Certainly, the mobs’ acts of almost self-harm in changing their bodies that Katniss describes (in the book) could be compared with the issue of runway models living off drips and single pieces of salad in order to stay bone-thin. Having said so, one cannot remain unmoved by the beauty plethora of colours and styles depicted in the film, especially in the famous garden party scene or Katniss’ wedding dress.



The costumes were in fact very thoughtfully designed, as each costume is an expression of the thoughts and feelings of each character. For example, Effie Trinket’s dresses, which were glamorous but always made a little too tight, exemplify her yearning for the beauty that the Capitol offers and yet at the same her discomfort with the way the districts were treated. On the other hand, the blazers of President Snow and his hair cut are designed in such a way as to convey a certain sense of regality and power.


Is there anything we can get out of Capitol fashion and apply it to the real world? Yes is the answer. In fact, many pieces featured in the film are in fact real pieces made by designers. Effie Trinket’s dresses are designed by Alexander McQueen and House of Worth, whilst Junn J and Nicholas K provided pieces for Katniss and Peeta. Unfortunately, they are hardly within the spending range of us, who are living off student loan.


Instead, go away from the film taking this idea with you: that fashion is a form of self-expression, not restriction; what you choose to wear should be an outlet of your individuality, not some means to conformity. It must be with this idea in mind, that costume designer Trish Summerville went about the daunting task of dressing over 6,000 extras individually to give each of them their own expression.


Fred Shan.


Photo Source:;

Wanted: Bearded Men

A film company has been seeking bearded extras this week to take part in a new production of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.

The film is set to star Carey Mulligan and Micahel Sheen, with filming set to take place near Bicester next month.

Guy Campbell, crowd second assistant director, stated that people with who could boast “really good faces” were needed to appear in the latest adaptation of the nineteenth century classic.

Those who still wish to be involved will have to hurry to auditions, however, as campbell continued:

“We have had a large number of wonderful faces appearing already.

The company was also on the hunt for women with a “natural appearance”.

Furry-cheeked Balliol PPEist Tom Wainford expressed his gratitude at the news, commenting, “‘I’m pleased to see that the inherent beauty of the beard is finally being given the recognition it deserves, after the discrimination we have received from the media for so long.”

“The first step on the road was Paxman, now with this, nothing can stop us.”

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