Holly’s maths mastery adds up to a role in TV game show

Holly Jennings and her fellow panellists get down to problem solving on TV show The School of Hard Sums

Maths student Holly Jennings on the set with School of Hard Sums host Dara O'Briain

University of Sussex student Holly Jennings can do the maths and the jokes too, which is probably why she is currently appearing alongside comedian Dara O’Briain in a new TV comedy panel game that celebrates the ingenuity of problem-solving.

Third-year mathematics undergraduate Holly, 22, responded to a call, relayed by the department of Mathematics, from the producers of School of Hard Sums. They were looking for talented students to pit their wits against brainbox host Dara and his comedian friends while solving thorny mathematical problems.

Holly, who is from Cambridge, auditioned and was selected to join a panel of 12 students on the show. Holly appears in six of eight episodes for the latest series, the first of which aired this week (04 March 2014) on the satellite channel Dave TV (and which continues on Tuesday evenings at 10pm).

Holly and her fellow student problem-solvers were joined on the shows by a comedy line-up including Peter Serafinowicz, Lee Mack, Miles Jupp, Sally Richardson, Marcus Brigstocke, Mark Watson, Josh Widdicombe, Susan Calman, Andrew Maxwell and Steven K Amos. 

While Dara and his guests set about finding the answers in practical fashion using props for comic effect, Holly and her fellow students put their heads together and used just pen and paper.

Holly says: “The audition involved solving questions similar to the ones on the show, while chatting to the producers about what we were doing so they could see how we communicate our working to people from a non-maths background.

“It was great to be on the show and to meet the other panellists, Dara and the comedians and to see how filming a TV show actually works. The maths problems they set were fun, though they were more like puzzles rather than the maths you do at school or university.

“I think the programme is a great way to communicate maths, and puts the subject in a positive light. Maths is too often the least favourite subject at school, but I think that’s partly because people often think it’s a subject that doesn’t have any use. The show proves that maths can be used in everyday problem solving and makes the subject much more accessible and appealing to people that aren't necessarily into maths.”

And does Holly have a favourite mathematically-themed joke? “Infinitely many mathematicians walk into a bar. The first says, ‘I'll have a beer.’ The second says, ‘I'll have half a beer.’ The third says, ‘I'll have a quarter of a beer.’ The barman pulls out just two beers. The mathematicians are all like, ‘That’s all you're giving us? How drunk do you expect us to get on that?’ The bartender says, ‘Come on guys. Know your limits.’”


Notes for Editors

  • Dara O Briain: School Of Hard Sums is based on the Emmy Award-nominated Japanese comedy-panel format Comaneci University Mathematics. The show is hosted by the Irish comedian and broadcaster Dara O Briain, who studied maths and theoretical physics at University College, Dublin.

    Dara, with the help of Oxford University maths professor Marcus du Sautoy, uses maths, physics, chemistry and logic to solve problems ranging from the best way to save a drowning man to how to get the maximum slices of pizza from just three cuts or how to bluff your way through your first day at work. Mathematics, Dara shows, really can give you an advantage. He is joined by fellow comedians who are set increasingly difficult challenges to puzzle out.
  • The University of Sussex runs a mathematics outreach programme, bookable by schools free of charge, to encourage school pupils to study maths at A-level and beyond, promoting mathematics and its wide ranging applications to inspire the mathematicians of the future.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. T +44 (0)1273 678 888. E press@sussex.ac.uk

Last updated: Thursday, 6 March 2014