University Challenge is attempting to introduce “gender neutral” questions following viewer complaints that too many of the show’s brain-teasers were about men.
The programme’s executive producer Peter Gwyn said that while both men and women write the show’s notoriously difficult questions, it is hard to define what makes a gender-balanced set of head-scratchers.
“Perhaps ‘gender-neutrality’ is what we aim for,” he told the Radio Times.
“We try to ensure that when hearing a question, we don’t have any sense of whether it was written by a man or a woman, just as questions should never sound as if they are directed more at men than women.”
Gwyn added: “We believe very strongly that the more representative, inclusive and diverse we can make the programme, the better and more interesting it will be.”
His comments come amid an ongoing row about a lack of women on University Challenge, which first aired in 1962.
During the previous season, the show’s host Jeremy Paxman took aim at an all-male team from St Hugh’s College Oxford, a college set up for women by a woman. It first started admitting men in 1987.
“On the basis of tonight’s team, we could be forgiven for thinking they’d (men) rather taken it over,” Paxman joked.
But female contestants – including 2018 winner Rosie McKeown – said many women are put off from applying to the show because of the hostility they face on social media.
“But I think there may also be an issue with women underestimating themselves and being hesitant to try out for the show,” McKeown added. “I hope that will change soon.”