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Paxman ‘cuddly’ and a ‘very nice chap’ says Norfolk University Challenge semi-finalist

PUBLISHED: 16:35 31 December 2019 | UPDATED: 16:39 31 December 2019

Cromer scientist Dr Henry Gee with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC quiz show University Challenge.
Photo: BBC/ITV

Cromer scientist Dr Henry Gee with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC quiz show University Challenge. Photo: BBC/ITV

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Cuddly isn’t a word normally associated with Jeremy Paxman, but, according to Cromer-based author, journalist and palaeontologist Dr Henry Gee, the veteran broadcaster famous for his caustic comments and abrasive questioning style has mellowed in his later years.

Cromer scientist Dr Henry Gee with Jeremy Paxman and his Leeds University team mates on the BBC quiz show University Challenge.
Photo: BBC/ITVCromer scientist Dr Henry Gee with Jeremy Paxman and his Leeds University team mates on the BBC quiz show University Challenge. Photo: BBC/ITV

Dr Gee, who studied genetics at Leeds University before gaining a PhD in zoology at Cambridge, has been an editor of the science journal Nature for 32 years.

He recently returned to the set of long-running quiz show University Challenge, appearing on a Christmas special last week, 33 years after taking part in the programme as a student.

Dr Henry Gee.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYDr Henry Gee. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Having met the show's "fierce" host as a guest on the BBC programme Newsnight years ago, Dr Gee 57, said that, sitting in the make up chair next to Mr Paxman, he seemed like a "very nice chap" this time around.

"Although he does still have his sharp moments, he's a little bit more cuddly and is actually very funny," he added.

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Dr Gee's team, which is captained by Norfolk-based pop star-turned-clergyman Richard Coles - who is also famous for his short-lived appearance on Strictly Come Dancing - trounced their opponents in the first round of the competition, scoring 255 points to the paltry 55 clocked up by a team of former Cambridge University students.

"We were all quite excited as we wiped the floor with everybody and if we were to win, we would be the first non-Oxbridge university to do so," he said.

His proudest moment in the competition so far has been filling in the blanked-out words in the famous John Keats poem Ode to a Nightingale, which he studied as a mature English A Level student more than 20 years ago.

"i thoroughly enjoyed it and it was great going to Salford for the filming," Dr Gee said. "There was a lot of humour and Richard Coles knows absolutely everything about everything, although, funnily enough, he was actually quite poor on the religious knowledge questions."

The semi finals of the show are due to be screened on BBC 2 at 8.30pm tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday, with the final shown on Friday, but avid quiz show watcher Dr Gee, who is currently working on a book tracing the history of life on Earth, is keeping tight-lipped about how well his team fared.

"We were definitely the ones to beat, but that's really all I can say at the moment," he said.


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