Bamber Gascoigne

“Your starter for ten…

Fingers on the buzzers…

I’ll have to hurry you…”

The original quizmaster of University Challenge, Bamber Gascoigne, died last Tuesday, at the age of 87.  The quiz show began in 1962, and I was an avid viewer before I went to university (the questions were easier, then!) and in our household hubby and I still challenge each other every week (I win about once a year).  The gentlemanly Bamber stopped hosting the show in 1987, but it was subsequently revived with Jeremy (not so gentlemanly) Paxman at the helm.

Birth Chart

We are fortunate enough to have a birth time for Bamber, and his vital astrological statistics are Sun in Aquarius, Moon in Virgo and Ascendant in Cancer.  He had half his planets in Air (Intellectual) and half in Fixed signs (strong willed).  With the Sun in Aquarius square to its ruling planet Uranus, he was very independent.  His Sun was conjunct the North Node and trine Chiron, so had a strong sense of rectitude.  His Moon and Mars were in Virgo in the 3rd House of Intellect and Broadcasting.  He had the Writer Archetype, in Mercury exactly conjunct Venus –  and indeed left a serious body of writing, much of it historical.  The other archetype he had was the Quizmaster Archetype, in the shape of Mercury trine Mars!  He began his career as a theatre critic, and The Critic is another archetype associated with Mercury-Mars.  He had a broad depth of knowledge, described by Mercury closely square Jupiter: his wife said that he had a “limitless thirst for knowledge, which he retained like a sponge.”  With Mars square the Ascendant, and Pluto on his Ascendant, he sported a red head of hair.  He cut a powerful figure with Jupiter trine Pluto, and sustained a successful career (Jupiter trine the Midheaven in the 9th House of University).  He wrote books on Christianity, and curiously enough his Neptune (Spirituality) was unaspected – apparently “Gascoigne insisted – in the face of criticism by the church – that his lay status was precisely what was required: he said he wanted Christians to assume he was a believer and non-Christians to assume he was not.”

Early Life and Career

Bamber was born in London into a family connected to aristocracy, educated at Eton, and then Magdalene College Cambridge, where he met his wife.  The pair were married in 1965, a marriage which lasted 57 years, until his death.  He began working as a theatre critic, and then at the age of 27 he was chosen to present the new television quiz University Challenge, never realizing it would have such longevity.  For the first series, he set the questions himself, as well as delivering them.

University Challenge

At the onset of University Challenge, on 21st September 1962, Mars was square his natal Mars, and Saturn was trine his natal Chiron in Gemini.  The Sun was on his natal ruling planet, Uranus.  At the conclusion of that first phase of the show, on 31st December 1987, Bamber had a profusion of transits.  Some of them indicated an ending (Saturn square his natal Midheaven or Careerpoint) and Uranus square his natal Moon in Virgo in 3rd House (the end of a way of life in a broadcasting role).  Other transits hinted at the release into new pastures for him (Jupiter sextile his natal Mercury/Venus hinting at future writings) and Uranus exactly trine his natal Uranus (freedom to express his Aquarian nature).  The Astrology of the University Challenge chart itself is interesting, too: Uranus squared the chart’s Sun (an ending), and Pluto was transiting the Venus/Neptune conjunction of the University Challenge chart (also depicting an ending).

Jeremy Paxman Era

Seven years later, the show was revived with a new quizmaster, Jeremy Paxman.  Jeremy displayed a much more hectoring style towards the students.  Jeremy is a Taurean, and also has a strong willed chart.  In 1997 he famously interviewed the politician Michael Howard and asked him the same question 12 times, leading to a nickname of “The Rottweiler”.  Interestingly, Jeremy has the same Quizmaster Archetype of Mercury trine Mars in his chart as Bamber Gascoigne!  The BBC decided to air the new series on 21st September 1994, the anniversary of the original, which meant that again the Sun was on Bamber Gascoigne’s Uranus.  However, Bamber stated that he only ever watched one or two episodes of the show with the new host.  Mars was prominent again in the transits for Jeremy when he took up the show, in that the planet was exactly sextile his natal Mars to the day.  Perhaps that reflects the combative nature of the show.  In addition, Neptune was on Jeremy’s Sun, Pluto exactly opposite his Mercury, and Uranus exactly trine his Uranus on the day (the same transit as Bamber Gascoigne had on taking leave of the show).  In this case it represented the new enterprise for Jeremy.

After University Challenge

After leaving the show, Bamber Gascoigne continued to write books, on mainly historical themes.  His television series “The Christians” had been followed by a book on that theme accompanied by photographs taken by his wife, and was republished in 2003.  In 1979 he had been involved in writing Quest for the Golden Hare, about Kit Williams’ book Masquerade. In the actual year he left University Challenge (1987) he presented a documentary series on Victorian history.  He was later involved in a study of the Mughal Empire of India.

In 2014, his great aunt died and left him an estate at West Horsley, Surrey, which included a country house, a home once owned by Henry VIII.  He and his wife decided to restore the house, and later built an opera house on the grounds.  The house has been used for the filming of television comedy “Ghosts”.

With his high forehead, he always did seem the epitome of intelligence.  There was also an untouchable aloofness about his character, often the result of a combination of Sun in Aquarius and Moon in Virgo.  But the original face of University Challenge is always remembered with a palpable affection.

“…He was so kind and warm to us students who sat nervously at those desks.  Such an elegant, intelligent man”

~ Stephen Fry


Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, but really it’s Valentine’s Week this year, because Venus will be conjunct with Mars all week, which rarely happens.  So get in the zone straight away, even if it is self-love which you are aiming for.  It’s hearts and flowers, all the way!

On the day itself (Monday, 14th), Pluto will be trine the North Node, an important recognition of the roles we play in each other’s lives.  It is a good time to appreciation who is in our life, and to ponder on the reasons why.  Whether you take a this life approach, or a more long term view of past and future lives, we can on that day gain insight into the law of cause and effect, as it applies to our relationships.  We can ask profitably ask the question: how can we best evolve our relationship(s). The day, and the aspect, is not only about relationship, it is about our own deepest psychology and the meaning of life itself.  It is up to you how deep you go with that!

In the evening, Mercury enters Aquarius.  That increases the balance of planets in Aquarius to three, with the Sun and Saturn already there.  The asteroid Juno is also currently in Aquarius.  The Aquarian energy is gathering…though the love birds Venus and Mars are still in Capricorn, giving an old-fashioned quality to romance itself.  But soon you may see a surge in space-age related news items and influences.  Technology, too will flourish.

The Sun squares the Nodal Axis on Tuesday (15th), challenging us to stay on our karmic path even if group pressure tries to sway our individuality.  We have to find a way to honour our own way, while staying in integrity with society or outside pressures.  It may present as a power struggle, but can be an opportunity to find higher solutions.

Wednesday (16th) is the day when Venus and Mars actually catch up with each other.  Maybe your Valentine celebration was delayed, or that special online gift purchase finally arrives at the doorstep.  At any rate, this is the most romantic day of the week.  Tell those you love how you feel about them, and tell yourself how you feel about yourself (hopefully that will be a positive!)  Some celebrity (whose name escapes me) said last week that he tries to treat every day as Valentine’s Day.  Well, this is certainly a week when that idea can be put into practice.

Of course, not everybody likes Valentine’s Day.  For those that don’t Venus conjoining Mars on this day can be a hedonist’s dream, revelling in your own sensuality. What’s that I hear?  Not everyone likes hedonism?  I am running out of options, in that case, but perhaps try just enjoying the moment.

Wednesday also offers a Full Moon at 28 degrees Leo, which will produce some emotional tension, possibly around the question of romance itself: did the Venus-Mars conjunction meet your expectations?  Moon in Leo can be dramatic, and bring about power struggles.  But Leo is creative, and can write its own screenplay, especially if working in a balanced way within a group.  Do your best to create your own reality your own way.

However, the climax of the week comes on Friday (18th), with a harmonious sextile between two big hitters, Jupiter and Uranus.  It happens in the first hour of the day, so you could experience the wow factor at the end of Thursday evening.  It may be exciting enough to keep you awake!  If you have a pet project or enterprise on the go, there may be a sudden success attached to it.  Or your positive future focus may suddenly be firing on all cylinders.  It is a good time to seize the moment, the day or the week.  Entrepreneurs often have this sextile  in their natal chart.  I only hope that, with the build up of troops on the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin does not read this…

Last up this week, in the afternoon of Friday, the Sun will enter the sign of Pisces.  We become more introspective and aware of our deeper emotions with the Sun in Pisces.  We become more aware of the sentience and oneness of all life.  The Sun in that sign shines a light on such matters.  It is our final stage of quietude and incubation before the Spring arrives in a month’s time.

The week in bullet points:

  • Tomorrow – insight and understanding; looking to the future
  • Tuesday – karmic power struggles
  • Wednesday – true love and drama
  • Friday – enthusiasm and surprise! Deeper introspection