Jeremy Paxman was caught up in a sexism row after students voted to boycott University Challenge over a comment he made about a knitted doll.
The University of Reading’s students’ union voted not to take part in future episodes of the BBC2 quiz show after the presenter made an off-the-cuff remark about a team mascot during a break in recording.
He was apparently accused of being sexist and misogynistic after he asked the team if they took a hand-knitted Jeremy Paxman doll sitting on the edge of their desk to bed with them.
The comment sparked controversy early last year when a team from the university was trailing badly during filming against their opponents from Imperial College London.
Paxman, who said he was baffled by the boycott, said: “I have racked my brains to discover what on earth the Reading students’ union is on about.
“I think they’re referring to a recording of University Challenge in February 2015, though I am baffled at why it has become an issue a year and a half later.”
He added: “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.
“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.”
Samantha Buzzard, the Reading captain and a PhD student working on mathematical modelling of the surface melt of Antarctic ice shelves, was the team’s only woman and took offence. Reading went on to lose by 110 points to Imperial’s 285.
Writing in a blog, Niall Hamilton, education officer at Reading students’ union, said: “Misogyny and sexism are not about ‘offending’ contestants, but undermining and oppressing individuals due to their gender.
“In such a historical and respected institution as University Challenge, these forms of oppression should not be taken lightly.”
A university spokeswoman said: “The best way of combating prejudice and encouraging women to take part is fronting up and entering a team.”
The university now plans to organise its own team after the students’ union opted out.
A spokesman for the show said: “Last year producers spoke with a Reading university contestant about a comment made during a conversation with the whole team, which would appear to have been misinterpreted.
“The student union’s recent comments are surprising. We are, however, pleased that Reading university continues to apply for the show.”