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Blackadder: I then leapt upon the chance to test you. I asked if he had been to one of the great universities: Oxford, Cambridge or Hull.
I went to Occidental, which is... cool too.
A portmanteau term for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (two distinct institutions). They are the UK's equivalent to the Ivy League and thus they are popular in UK fiction. They have also inspired fictional universities such as the Unseen University for wizards in the Discworld novels.
The University of Oxford, like all of the first European Universities, was never officially founded, rather it grew up organically as scholars settled in the city and began establishing their own informal institutional ties. Teaching activity is recorded in the city from at least the late 11th century. In 1209-10 the university was closed down temporarily and many scholars fled Oxford after two students were hanged for killing a woman. Many of them settled in Cambridge and established their own University in the following decades. The University of Cambridge received its official royal charter in 1231.
Cambridge is known for the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club (more commonly just "The Footlights" or "The Cambridge Footlights"), which puts on a yearly comedy revue and has featured some of Britain's best-loved comic writers and actors, including Peter Cook, half of Monty Python, Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Emma Thompson (actress, Remains of the Day), Clive Anderson (presenter, Whose Line Is It Anyway?), and John Oliver (The Daily Show).
The Footlights have also given birth to some of Britain's best comedic pairings/groups, including Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (A Bit of Fry and Laurie, but better known these days as the guy from QI and the guy from House, respectively--and, incidentally, introduced to each other by Emma Thompson), most of the Monty Python troupe, The Goodies, and Mitchell and Webb (Peep Show).
Both universities are actually composed of semi-independent colleges, which accept applicants individually.
Undergraduate teaching methods at both universities are distinct from many others in the UK in using the "tutorial system". Rather than self-contained classes with their own lectures, assignments, exams etc., most subjects are taught via the university putting on lectures (and running the final-year exams on which students' degree class is almost wholly dependent), while the colleges independently assign their own coursework to the students. Most of this college-level teaching is done in tutorials between a faculty member and one or two students at a time, scenes of which will often crop up in Oxbridge-set fiction.
Oxford and Cambridge also both do the curious awarding of, in addition to the standard variety, "fake" MAs. For historical reasons (in short, the original undergraduate degree was an MA, BAs being a later invention), those who graduate with a BA (for Historical Reasons, almost all first degrees, even in the sciences) can receive an MA a set number of years later merely by turning up for the ceremony (or paying a few quid to graduate in absentia). UK employers are generally aware that these are pretty meaningless.
Oxford has educated twenty-six British Prime Ministers (including the incumbent, David Cameron). Its most visible institution is probably the Oxford Union, an independent debating society whose controversial guest speakers occasionally make the mainstream press.
There is a rather fierce rivalry between the two universities, members of each referring to the other as 'The Other Place'. This rivalry is most apparent in Varsity matches, which are any type of competition between the two, most often sporting (e.g. the boat race) but also covering various events such as the annual Tolkien quiz.
Naturally both of them have a Pretentious Latin Motto, though there was nothing pretentious about them when they were chosen--back then, all the students would have been expected to speak Latin as much of the teaching was done in that language. Oxford has Dominus Illuminatio Mea ("The Lord is my Light") and Cambridge has Hinc lucem et pocula sacra (literally, "From here, light and sacred draughts"--draughts being a metaphor for knowledge, but it would also work quite well as a reference to the pubs...)
- Punting on the River Cam.
- The Oxford Don With The Caustic Wit.
- The Cultured English Double Agent From Cambridge. Truth In Television- note the Cambridge Five.
- The Professor Who Recruits People For The Secret Service. Also Truth In Televison. During the Cold War, students with spy potential would get "a tap on the shoulder" from a chap from MI6.
- The Lewis Carroll-style eccentric.
- The Boat Race - in which Oxford and Cambridge rowers race down the River Thames for a bit. Shown on TV. Chucking the winning cox in the river seems to be obligatory.
Oxford in the media:
- Inspector Morse and Lewis- Several episodes involving Oxford colleges, with sarcastic and eccentric dons and establishing shots of the dreaming spires.
- Amateur detective Gervaise Fen, in the series by Edmund Crispin, is an Oxford don.
- Brideshead Revisited (Novel and film) - The two main characters meet while studying at Oxford.
- Shadowlands - Film about CS Lewis, definitely an eccentric don, set partly in the Oxford college where he taught.
- His Dark Materials - Alternative Oxford, but still quite recognisable.
- Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, Fire Watch and To Say Nothing of the Dog: Oxford in the future runs a Time Travel project.
- The fictional Bailie College at Oxford made occasional appearances on Yes Minister, being Sir Humphrey's alma mater, to which he retains connections. One of the oldest Oxford colleges in Real Life is Balliol. Bernard is noted as another Oxford alumnus, having read Classics (his pedantry regarding grammar and Latin are a running joke). Both tease Hacker for having attended the London School of Economics and take any opportunity to pour (exceedingly polite) abuse and disdain upon Cantabrigian civil servants.
- Lord Peter Wimsey is a Balliol alumnus. In the same series, Harriet Vane attended Shrewsbury, a fictional all-female Oxford College.
- The love interest in "The Serial Murders", one of Kim Newman's Diogenes Club stories, is another Shrewsbury alumna; on its first American publication, the story included a footnote that helpfully explained that Shrewsbury was an Oxford college whose other famous alumni included Harriet Vane, but mischievously neglected to mention that both were fictional.
- Mary Russell spends a great deal of time at Oxford.
- Cal Lightman of Lie to Me went to Oxford.
- In the first episode of Series 4 of The Sarah Jane Adventures Luke and K-9 were put in a yellow VW Beetle to Oxford after Luke passed his A Levels a year early.
- Jay Gatsby went to Oxford. Well, sort of. He was there briefly after WWI as part of a "mixup" of some kind, but left after a couple months to search for Daisy.
- The Doctor Who Virgin New Adventures novel The Dimension Riders by Daniel Blythe is set in the fictional St Matthew's College. The college president is a retired Time Lord. Presumably, the author (an alumnus of St John's, Oxford) wanted to balance out "Shada".
- Christminster University in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure is a thinly disguised Oxford. The title character is at Bibliol College, which is a barely-disguised-at-all Balliol.
- Oxford Murders (both the book and the film). It also features Cambridge, albeit very briefly.
- In X-Men: First Class, Oxford is the alma mater of Charles Xavier. There are several Oxford scenes, shot on location.
- Inspector Lynley is an Oxford alum.
- Helen Magnus was the first woman to attend Oxford, where she met John Druitt, Nikola Tesla, Nigel Griffin, and James Watson (and was canonically lusted after by three out of those last four). "The Five" form a critical aspect of Sanctuary's backstory.
- As the page quote shows, Blackadder. This was also an inside joke; Stephen Fry, who played Melchett, was a Cambridge man, while Rowan Atkinson, who played Blackadder, attended Oxford.
- Hogwarts is heavily based on Oxford, with much of the movies' locations filmed in colleges and university buildings (e.g. Bodleian Library), in the surrounding area, or using sets based on the architecture.
- A Discovery Of Witches is set in Oxford, and heavily features the Bodleian library, colleges, and the river.
Cambridge in the media:
- The Canterbury Tales: The Reeves Tale is set in one of the original Cambridge colleges.
- Chariots of Fire: One of the main characters starts his running career competing in the Trinity Court Great Run studying at Cambridge.
- Porterhouse Blue: Set in a fictional Cambridge college. Which is not Peterhouse, at all.
- The Doctor Who story "Shada" is set at St Cedd's College, a fictional Cambridge college, and was filmed in Cambridge. It was written by Cambridge alumnus Douglas Adams, who also used it in his novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. In the forward to Dirk Gently he notes that elements of it are based loosely on his own college, St John's, as well as other colleges. St Cedd's appears in the second episode of the Dirk Gently TV series.
- Makes sense, since they're basically the same thing.
- Ian and Barbara are revealed to have become Cambridge professors.
- The 'Imogen Quy' detective novels by Jill Paton Walsh are set in a fictional Cambridge college.
- Susannah Gregory's 'Matthew Bartholomew' novels are set in and around one of the original Cambridge colleges.
- James Bond has a First in Oriental Languages from Cambridge.
- At the beginning of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 2010 film, there are several shots of university buildings, including King's College.
- The Worst Witch followup Weirdsister College relocates Mildred and company from Wizard School to Wizard Cambridge College.
- The Liar by Stephen Fry, his monologues on The BBC Radio 4 programme Loose Ends, and his more recent podcast monologues The Dongle of Donald Trefusis all feature Cambridge don Professor Trefusis, of the fictional St Matthew's College.
Oxbridge in the media:
- In Batman and Robin, Barbara Gordon apparently studied at "Oxbridge Academy". What this is supposed to mean British viewers can only guess at. Going by her accent, though, it's nowhere in the UK.
- What it means is the writers wanted to give her an Oxbridge background without potentially causing offence to either institution. There are many parallel examples, although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle preferred "Camford" for his fictional Professor Presbury.
- In one episode of The Young Ones ("Bambi"), Neil, Rick, Mike and Vyvian goes on the Quiz Show University Challenge against Lord Snot, Lord Monty, Miss Money-Sterling and Kendall Mintcake from "Footlights College, Oxbridge" (Played by old Footlighters Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, no less).
- The History Boys centers on eight working-class boys from Sheffield trying to get into Oxford and Cambridge.
- Olly Reader of The Thick of It went to either Oxford or Cambridge. It is not known which as the other characters only ever refer to his alma mater as "Poxbridge".
- As mentioned above, the inspiration for Unseen University in the Discworld novels. All the bizarre ceremonies and rituals mentioned in the books are based on real Oxbridge traditions. Yes, even Hunting the Megapode.
- Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear uses the term "Oxbridge" to refer to any highbrow, high class, big money Ivy League-style university, even ones that aren't in the UK. (Specifically, he once referred to Harvard as "an Oxbridge school".