Jeremy Paxman said he is “baffled” over allegations he made “misogynistic and sexist comments” to students on University Challenge, claiming he only spoke to the contestants about a knitted mascot of himself.
Due to a confidentiality agreement signed by the show’s contestants, the student union has been unable to give details the alleged incident.
But after “racking his brains”, the veteran TV presenter believes they are referring to a conversation about a knitted toy in February 2015, saying he is “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,” Paxman told the BBC.
“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.”
The question master added that no complaints were made about the comments at the time.
The students’ union at Reading Uni voted 120 to 105 in favour of boycotting the show.
The union’s Education Officer Niall Hamilton said students had come to the decision after contestants received no “formal apology” from the show’s producers following Paxman’s alleged “misogynistic and sexist comments”.
“Misogyny and sexism are not about ‘offending’ contestants, but undermining and oppressing individuals due to their gender,” Hamilton wrote in a blog.
“In such a historical and respected institution as University Challenge, these forms of oppression should not be taken lightly.”
The University of Reading will now take on responsibility for choosing a team for the TV show, which they called a “national institution”.