Business and Intellectual Challenges - and University Challenge

13th December 2013 in Alumni

Alumnus Meredith Lloyd-Evans talks about life after Churchill & University Challenge.

I left Churchill in 1973, to go off to the University of Guelph, Canada, for a postgraduate diploma at Ontario Veterinary College. The students clearly knew about my lack of sportiness (I'd made it to Churchill’s 2nd Bridge Four), since they persuaded me to be ice-hockey goalie in their practice team, a task for which I was ill-suited and probably provided more laughs than they’d had for years. Four years in vet practice in the UK convinced me that catching excitable cows, squeezing dogs’ anal glands and neutering tomcats was not the life for me, despite becoming the tortoise and goat specialist for one practice. A friend offered me a job in the Animal Health industry, where my Cambridge-nurtured brain flourished for eight years, not in research but in vet product technical support, planning and managing field trials, dealing with data and regulatory authorities, toning down the wilder assertions of the PR and publicity agents and representing the company at conferences, ending as a Director at the UK company and coordinator of European vet pharmaceuticals development. This was all a tremendous confidence- and skills-building experience and set the scene for a fascination with how bench research innovations become real-life products, and all the stages from understanding markets to grappling with intellectual property issues that go into the innovation chain. After a short time in BTG (British Technology Group), when it was still responsible for commercialising the UK’s publicly-funded research discoveries, and an even shorter time in a general technology consultancy not far away from here, I set up my own bioscience innovation consultancy, BioBridge, in Cambridge.

April 1st 2014 marks the twenty-fifth birthday of BioBridge. In that time, we have worked for companies, universities and governments on strategic and practical projects, often at the very leading edge of new exploitation possibilities for biosciences, from biotechnology for animal and food-crop production, through bioartificial organs and tissue engineering, to the more recent activities in biotechnology for industrial applications – ‘green’ chemistry, bioenergy, bioremediation, etc. – and making use of marine bioresources. The analytical and synthetical skills Cambridge taught me have been invaluable. Based in Cambridge and working from home, I have what I consider an excellent and enviable work-life balance, without neglecting real opportunities for intellectually stimulating and absorbing work that has tangible benefits for my clients. I’ve developed a network across the different areas of interest of well over 100 associates with whom I can form teams for projects too large or complex for me to handle on my own, such as the Global Benchmarking Survey we did recently for the International Animal Health Federation; my work and involvement in conferences and workshops takes me round the world, most recently to Canada, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Austria, Ireland, and soon to Brussels for the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology in September, where I have organised a workshop on marine biotechnology and new medicines. It’s not all consultancy: I was the local organiser for Japan 2001, a large-scale science, arts and mutual-understanding festival; I get the chance to mentor and advise entrepreneurial students through several of Cambridge’s schemes (CUE, CfEL and others); in 2011 I was the Inaugural Policy and Enterprise Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Durham University, contributing to the Biofuels, Science and Society Theme, and took up an invitation to the SCR at St Mary’s College, which hosted me during the fellowship term, a relationship I treasure; and recently David Jenkins and I have started an informal Churchillians lunch group, meeting every couple of months at the Hawks’ Club and other places in Cambridge. I’ve even been accepted as a volunteer horticulturalist at the University Botanic Garden, working half a day a week with the team in the Alpine and Woodlands section. My next task is to don waders and help dredge out the streams and ponds – a good but odorous change from re-potting and propagating! Who knows what the next twenty-five years may bring? I do know, however, that the grounding at Churchill and in Cambridge has generated the capacity for hard work, the sociability and the resilience and flexibility to seek intellectual challenge that will hopefully carry me through to my nineties!

University Challenge.

We didn’t go into University Challenge thinking we would win, more with a ‘can-do’ enthusiasm. Our strengths were complementary and we split the gaps between us – I remember reading Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable more or less cover-to-cover. The finals, best-of-three, were nail-biting – I’d been flown up from Cambridge in a 4-seater plane after re-sitting my Pharmacology exam at Senate House, not having eaten at all that day, and was given a double Bloody Mary on arrival by Douglas Terry, the producer at Granada’s studios in Manchester, on the strength of the tomato-juice content being food. The vodka blew away my performance in the first game! By game 2 we were on form again; but game 3 was neck-and-neck with Christ’s until the very end, when we were all so nervous I couldn’t remember the common name of the plover, ‘peewit’, and Christ’s forgot the cities of the Hanseatic League. We were just ahead at the end.

I still have some strong memories of the series. Granada say they lost the films, and I always wonder if anyone has videos of any of the matches we were in - it would be great to relive those moments and be alarmed by the clothes Granada put me in, including a gold lamé see-through shirt , which I recall was not very nice on my nipples (though the purple Paisley shirt I wore for the finals was my own, made by my Mum). Our efforts brought £640 into the College JCR funds, a huge sum in 1970, which the committee was determined to spend on arming rebels in Mozambique until a rebellion in the Wolfson Hall forced them to spend it closer to home, on facilities for schools, children’s playgrounds and other items.

When University Challenge Reunited came round in 2002, we played Fitzwilliam College, the 1973 champions. I found I could still get into my Paisley shirt and took it with me to wear, though my wife had said she’d divorce me if I wore it on-camera – Jeremy Paxman was very surprised to see her walking towards me with her wedding ring in her hand! The biggest difference between 1970 and 2002 was that, back then, I pressed the buzzer if there was the slightest inkling I might know the answer, and relied on my brain to pull it out – in 2002 I waited until I was absolutely sure, and that was microseconds too long. We were very evenly matched against Fitz, losing by only a few points and holding them off from going to the next round, which was a minor triumph in the end, to add to the fun we had had.

- Meredith Lloyd-Evans (U&G67, Medical Sciences (Veterinary Medicine) and History of Art)


Image: The University Challenge team from 1970, with (left to right) Malcolm Keay, Gareth Aicken, presenter Bamber Gascoigne, John Armytage and Meredith Lloyd-Evans. Bamber is holding the sculpture by Arthur Dooley which was the series prize and is now in the Buttery.

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