Long-running BBC Two show University Challenge seems to have undergone something of a resurgence in popularity this year. From the Twitterati getting a bit hot under the collar about an attractive blonde medical student from Corpus Christi College, Oxford to the meme sensation that is Eric Monkman (an astonishingly intense Canadian economics student at Wolfson College, Cambridge), this series has been the talk of social media. At the forefront of reporting on it all was the Daily Mail and its website, which were frequently filled with pieces about the show, its contestants and the various musings about it to be found in the Twittersphere.
It was, therefore, not surprising when a Mail reporter tweeted a member of the victorious team from Balliol College, Oxford, asking if she could have a chat with them for a piece about the show. Reporter Laura Lambert sent contestant Freddy Potts a tweet saying: ‘Hi Freddy, hope you’re well. Do you by any chance have a contact email? I just tried to send you a DM (direct message) but it bounced back! Thanks.’ Potts replied: ‘Hi Laura. I have nothing against you personally, but equally I have nothing to say to the fascist rag that employs you.’ Eager not to miss out on a bit of Mail-bashing, Potts’ team captain, Benjamin Pope, elaborated: ‘Hi! As a team, we won’t be interviewed by the Mail. We know it’s not your fault, but we must ethically boycott that hateful publication.’
This was more pose than protest. Now all the world knows that Potts and Pope are not only astonishingly clever, but their politics are bloody well right-on too. Never mind the fact that the increased popularity of University Challenge is partly down to the coverage it has received in ‘hateful publications’ like the Mail. Never mind the fact that a history student at one of the world’s best universities is glibly bandying about accusations of fascism without apparently understanding or caring what it actually means. All that matters is that they’ve shown the world they hate the Mail. They are the right sort of people.
How pathetic. Having a pop at the Mail is the most boring virtue-signal there is. Potts and Pope might have won the battle of the brainboxes, but their PC posturing is neither big nor clever.
Guy Birchall is a writer based in London.