Bamber Gascoigne (1962–1987)
Jeremy Paxman (1994–present)
Don Murray Henderson (1962-1972)
Jim Pope (1972-2002)
Roger Tilling (1997-1998, 2002-present)
University Challenge TV card
ITV: 21 September 1962–3 September 1987
BBC2: 21 September 1994-present
ITV Studios

University Challenge is a long-running British quiz show based on the American academic quiz show College Bowl.


The current tournament format used for each series is that of a direct knockout tournament starting with 28 teams. The 14 first-round winners progress directly to the last 16. Two matches, involving the four highest scoring losing teams from the first round, whose losing scores often exceed winning scores in other first-round matches, fill the remaining places in the last 16. Teams in the quarter-final round (last 8 teams) have to win two matches in the round to progress to the semi-finals. Equally, teams must lose two quarter-final matches in order to be eliminated from that round. The pairings for matches are often chosen in order to keep stronger teams apart.

Teams consist of four members and represent either a single university or a college of the universities which teach under a collegiate system (as in the case of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Wales or London)

"Starter" questions are answered individually "on the buzzer" without conferring and are worth 10 points. "Your starter for 10" became the programme's most famous catchphrase and inspired David Nicholls' 2003 novel Starter for Ten and the 2006 film based on it starring James McAvoy. The team answering a starter correctly gets a set of three "bonus" questions worth a potential 15 points over which they can confer. Sets of bonus questions are thematically linked, although, apart from Picture and Music bonus questions, they rarely share a connection with the preceding starter question. Generally there are three separate bonus questions worth 5 points each, but occasionally a bonus will require the enumeration of a given list with 5, 10 or 15 points given for correctly giving a certain number of items from the list (e.g., "there are seven fundamental SI units. Give 5 for 5 points, 6 for 10 points or all 7 for 15 points"). An incorrect interruption of a starter results in a 5-point penalty.

It is the team captain's responsibility to give the answer to the bonus questions unless another member of the team is specified with the phrase "Nominate [name]". The team member so named may then give the answer instead.

In the course of a game there are two picture rounds (occurring roughly one quarter and three quarters of the way through) and one music round (at the halfway point), where the subsequent bonuses are connected thematically to the starter; 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 2010 Manchester University team included a visually impaired student, Rachael Neiman, and the picture rounds in episodes involving the team were word puzzles for which she was provided with Braille transcriptions. Pieces of music played for the music round may be classical or popular - for example, on 25 July 2011, the pieces played were winners of the Eurovision Song Contest. Occasionally, audio clips other than music (e.g. speech, animal sounds or other field recordings) are used.

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. At this point, the game immediately ends, even if Paxman is halfway through asking a question. 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, or a team loses by giving an incorrect interruption. The ending of the programme is signified with Jeremy Paxman saying "It's goodbye from (name of losing team, who wave and say goodbye), it's goodbye from (winning team, likewise), and it's goodbye from me: goodbye!"

While the starter questions are being read out, the teams are shown on screen one above the other by means of a split-screen effect. When a player buzzes in, the shot zooms in to that player, accompanied by a voiceover identifying the player by team and surname, for example "Nottingham, Smith". The voiceovers are performed live in the studio by Roger Tilling and become noticeably more energetic towards the end of the programme. The 1985 season experimented with an actual two-tier set, which was discontinued the following season.


Based on the American academic quiz show College Bowl.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.