University Challenge

From Academic Kids

University Challenge is a long-running British television quiz show. The format is based on College Bowl, which is credited in the end title, and is licensed and produced by Granada Television.

At its inception in 1962 it was hosted by Bamber Gascoigne. When audience figures began to fall, changes to the long-standing format of the programme only made things worse and it was taken off the air in 1987. It was eventually revived in 1994 by the BBC (although still produced by Granada), using the original format (with minor differences) and presented by Jeremy Paxman.

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, University Challenge was placed 34th.



Teams consist of four members and represent a single university or Oxford, Cambridge, Wales or London college. "Starter" questions are answered individually "on the buzzer" without conferring, and are worth 10 points. The team answering a starter correctly gets a set of "bonus" questions worth a potential fifteen points, over which they can confer. An incorrect interruption of a starter results in a five point penalty. In the course of a game there are two "picture rounds" and one "music round"; if a picture or music starter is not correctly answered, the accompanying bonus questions are held back until a normal starter is correctly answered. The pace of questioning gradually increases through the show, becoming almost frantic in the last minute or so before the "gong" which signals the end of the game. In the event of a tied score at the sound of the gong, a "sudden death" question is asked, the first team to answer correctly being deemed the winner; this is repeated until one or other of the teams answer correctly.

The fact that Oxbridge colleges can enter singly was the ostensible reason behind a bizarre 1975 protest. A team from the University of Manchester (which included David Aaronovitch) who were appearing on the show answered every question "Trotsky" or "Lenin", possibly in the (vain) hope of making the resulting show unbroadcastable. It did however get broadcast, although the episode no longer exists in the archives of Granada TV.

1995 revival

Since the revival of the programme, an increasing number of teams have featured mature students, who are thought to have the advantage of a greater breadth of general knowledge. The Open University won the 1999 series with a team whose age averaged 46, and included two members (Lance Haward and Martin Heighway) who had only applied to study for their distance-learning degrees in order to appear on the show. The 2003 final was contested between two teams of mature students, with Birkbeck College, London, defeating Cranfield University. The producers of the programme have taken this development to its logical conclusion by making two series without any student participants: University Challenge Reunited (2002) brought former teams back together, while University Challenge: The Professionals (2003, 2004 and 2005) matched occupational groups such as civil servants, architects and doctors against each other. The former was won by the 1979 team from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, the latter in 2003 by a team from the UK tax office (the Inland Revenue).

In the edition of University Challenge: The Professionals shown on 20 June 2005 between teams representing "The Today Programme" and "Masters of Wine" a starter question was asked for which the answer was "Wikipedia". Neither team knew "What internet service [had been] started by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger" but in telling them Paxman recommended that they should use the site.

Spinoff shows

University Challenge ran in New Zealand for 14 seasons, from 1976 until 1989, with international series held between the previous years' British and New Zealand champions in both 1986 and 1987.

University Challenge India started in Summer 2003, culminating in a match in March 2004 between the Indian winners, Sardar Patel College of Engineering (SPCE), Mumbai, and finalists from the UK show, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. UC India is produced by BBC World India, and Synergy communications, co-owned by Siddhartha Basu, who also hosts the show.

The show has seen numerous specials, including those for specific professions and celebrity editions.


Original Series

Year University/College
1963 Leicester
1965 New College, Oxford
1966 Oriel College, Oxford
1967 Sussex
1968 Keele
1969 Sussex
1970 Churchill College, Cambridge
1971 Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
1972 University College, Oxford
1973 Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
1974 Trinity College, Cambridge
1975 Keble College, Oxford
1976 University College, Oxford
1977 Durham
1978 Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
1979 Bradford
1980 Merton College, Oxford
1981 Queen's University, Belfast
1982 St. Andrews
1983 Dundee
1984 The Open University
1985 Jesus College, Oxford
1986 Keble College, Oxford

New Series

Year Winners Runners-up
1995 Trinity College, Cambridge New College, Oxford
1996 Imperial College, London London School of Economics
1997 Magdalen College, Oxford The Open University
1998 Magdalen College, Oxford Birkbeck College, London
1999 The Open University Oriel College, Oxford
2000 Durham Oriel College, Oxford
2001 Imperial College, London St John's College, Oxford
2002 Somerville College, Oxford Imperial College, London
2003 Birkbeck College, London Cranfield University
2004 Magdalen College, Oxford Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
2005 Corpus Christi College, Oxford University College London


Year Special Event Winners Runners Up
1984 The Young Ones spoof, episode Bambi

Griff Rhys Jones as Bamber "Bambi" Gasgoine

Scumbag College (Mike, (P)Rick, Vyvyan, Neil) Footlights College, Oxbridge (Lord Monty, Lord Snot, Miss Money-Sterling, Kendal Mintcake)
1993 Celebrity match Celebrity Past Contestants (John Simpson, Charles Moore, Stephen Fry, Alastair Little) Keble College, Oxford, 1987
1997 College Bowl Challenge University of Michigan Imperial College, 1996
1998 College Bowl Challenge USA UK
1998 Mastermind Challenge Magdalen College, Oxford, 1997 Imperial College, London, 1996
1998 Red Dwarf Universe Challenge Fans The cast
1999 Journalists Special Tabloids Broadsheets
1999 Challenge Magdalen College, Oxford, 1998 Leicester, 1963
2002 University Challenge: Reunited Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, 1979 Keele, 1968
2003 University Challenge: The Professionals The Inland Revenue Royal Meteorological Society
2003 Comic Relief match The Townies: (Jeremy Beadle, Danny Baker, Johnny Vaughan, Gina Yashere) The Gownies: (David Baddiel, Frank Skinner, Stephen Fry, Clive Anderson)
2004 International "Grand Final": UK vs India Sardar Patel College of Engineering (SPCE), Mumbai Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge: (Laura Ashe, Darren Khodaverdi, Lameen Souag, Edward Wallace)
2004 Christmas Special 1 Television (Monty Don, Martha Kearney, Andrew Neil, Clare Balding) Radio
Christmas Special 2 Critics (Waldemar Januszczak, Russel Davies, Brian Sewell, Andrew Graham-Dixon) Theatre
Christmas Specials: Final Critics Television
2005 Comic Relief 2005 Match The South (Sarah Alexander, Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Omid Djalili) The North (Colin Murray, John Thomson, Armando Ianucci, Neil Morrissey)

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