-Production company behind the BBC show say they are 'aware contestants subject of unwanted attention'
-Many comments encourage physical and sexual violence
By Andrew Levy
Harassed: Marine Debray who represented Balliol College, Oxford, was the victim of an offensive online campaign and says some automatically assumed she was a 'dumb blonde'
It began with Gail Trimble, the Oxford student whose triumphant appearances on University Challenge led to online sniping about her being a ‘horse-toothed snob’.
Now other female contestants on the programme have been subjected to offensive internet campaigns.
One had her photograph posted on a blog beside sexual images. Others have been criticised for the way they speak, their clothes and their nervous habits.
Cruel: Some of the abusive and sexual comments aimed by Facebook users at Gail Trimble
ITV Studios, which produces the quiz for the BBC, yesterday admitted contestants were routinely given a number to call if they needed ‘advice and support’ over abuse.
Among those targeted is Marine Debray, 20, who represented Balliol College, Oxford, last year.
‘People generally thought I was a stupid blonde and made sexual comments,’ said Miss Debray, who read English and Modern Languages.
‘There was a guy who made a photo album of me intercut with photos of male genitalia.
Victim: Gail Trimble, whose Corpus Christi College, Oxford, team triumphed in University
Challenge, suffered badly at the hands of online abusers
‘People seem to think that because I wasn’t this nerdy male then I shouldn’t be on there. Look how Gail Trimble was asked to pose for Nuts [magazine]. Just because a woman is smart doesn’t mean that she has to show you her boobs.’
Jenny Harris, 22, who won the series last year with Emmanuel College, Cambridge, was the subject of a spoof online article which said she had a ‘brilliant mind, fuelled by a pair of breasts’.
She said viewers were prejudiced against women who take part.
‘An aspect of it is the idea that women shouldn’t be showing off how clever they are, where this is more OK for boys,’ she said.
Winners for a week: The Corpus Christi team, including Gail Trimble, middle right, with presenter Jeremy Paxman before they were stripped of their title
One male student said the problem of abuse was widespread among those who had appeared on the show, which is presented by Jeremy Paxman and regularly attracts 2.5million viewers.
‘Some people get it a lot worse than others,’ he said. ‘It’s not in any particular place on the internet. It’s all over the place.’
Miss Trimble was 26 when she captained Corpus Christi in 2009 and famously won 125 points in the last four minutes of the final. However, following one appearance, one viewer wrote that she was ‘brain-rupturingly irritating and smug’.
Yuan Yang, of Oxford University Student Union, said: ‘Online harassment is not a laugh but a serious indicator of a lack of respect for women.’
ITV Studios insisted the online abuse was ‘unusual’.
A spokesman said: ‘If there is any unwanted attention we provide contestants with the contact details of someone who can give support and advice.’