A brief history of University Challenge

University Challenge is one of the UK's most popular and famous TV quiz shows with a reputation for the difficulty of its questions matched only by Mastermind. The show was first broadcast on Friday 21st September, 1962 (the first match was between Leeds and Reading), filmed by Granada Television, and ran continuously until falling ratings forced it to be cut in 1987. After a seven year break the BBC revived it, though it is still filmed by Granada in Manchester, and it has staged a series each year since then. It is shown on a week night at either 8:00 or 8:30 on BBC2 between August and May.

In recent years, the gap in between the end of one series and the beginning of the next has been filled with a new Professionals show, which pits teams from a given profession against one another using the usual format.

It was originally based on an American show called College Bowl invented by Don Reid. College Bowl has been running continuously since 1959.

Usually with around 40 shows per series, there were around 978 shows between 1962 and 1987, with contestants including Stephen Fry (1980), David Mellor, Malcolm Rifkind (67), David Starkey, Clive James, David Aaronovitch (75), Miriam Margolyes (62), Sebastian Faulks (72), Julian Fellowes (69) and John Simpson (65).

Around 250 universities and colleges apply for entry, and a tough interview process reduces this to only 28 teams for the show. The series takes a knockout format with the 14 first round winners advancing to the second round. The four highest scoring losers from the first round then play a single knockout round between them, with the two winners progressing. From then on, only the winner advances.

The early years saw Barrie Heads as producer and Peter Plummer as director, though Douglas Terry and Peter Mullings took over in the mid 1960s as producer and director respectively, retaining the positions through the 1970s.

The famous theme tune hasn't changed since Bamber's days, though has been brought somewhat up to date. Entitled 'College Boy' and composed by Derek New, a new arrangement was used for the series 1995-2000 inclusive.

For the 2000-1 series the familiar blue set was replaced by a deep red backdrop illuminated by projected animated text, and the theme tune was played by a string quartet – the Balanescu Quartet. The title sequence changed at the same time, and depicted the images of Nelson Mandela, Johnny Rotten, John F Kennedy, Mick Jagger, Luciano Pavarotti, and Germaine Greer.

At the start of the 2004 Professionals series, the set and titles changed once again to a dark blue and cream motif. The titles now show an array of sketch images.