Top of the Form (quiz show)

Top of the Form was a BBC radio and television quiz show for teams from secondary schools in the United Kingdom which ran for 38 years, from 1948 to 1986.

Top of the Form
Running time30 mins
Country of originUK
Home stationBBC Radio 4
TV adaptationsBBC 1 (1962–75)
Original release1 May 1948 – 2 December 1986
Opening themeMarching Strings
Other themesFanfare for the Common Man (ELP prog rock version)

The programme began on Saturday 1 May 1948, as a radio series, at 7.30pm on the Light Programme. It progressed to become a TV series from 1962 to 1975. A decision to stop the programme was announced on 28 September 1986 and the last broadcast was on Tuesday 2 December. The producer, Graham Frost, was reported to have said it had been cancelled because the competitive nature of the show jarred with modern educational philosophy.



Each school fielded a team of four pupils ranging in age from under 13 to under 18.




The programme was first aired on TV in two special experiments. The first was on 25 April 1953, featuring Sheffield High School (girls) v. Marylebone Grammar School (boys).[1] A second TV broadcast was performed in 1954 featuring Lady Margaret High School for Girls (Cardiff) v Solihull School for Boys. The programme fully migrated to TV later. It ran from 1962 to 1975, and was called Television Top of the Form. It began on Monday 12 November 1962, when the Controller of BBC1 was Stuart Hood (Scottish).

The questions were set by polymath and author Boswell Taylor on behalf of BBC TV and he was assisted by the BBC's Mary Craig who doubled as the scorer and electronic score board operator. In order to set appropriate questions the selected contestants from each school filled in a questionnaire listing their interests, books recently read and favourite music. The teams from co-ed schools usually included two girls and two boys.

Compared to many television quiz shows in recent years, Top of the Form had a resolutely grandiose outlook; nothing would ever be dumbed down. Consequently, on Monday 18 June 1973 it had its first bilingual competition, with Paris v London. The competition on Monday 25 March 1974 was all in the Welsh language.

In 1967 UK schools took on Australian schools in Top of the Form: Transworld Edition. The following year this was renamed Transworld Top Team, under which title it ran until 1973. Each series involved teams from the UK taking on teams from another country. Countries participating over the course of the run included Canada, The Netherlands, the US and Hong Kong.[2]

In 1975 the TV version moved to 4.10–4.35pm on Sundays, then from 3.55 to 4.20, with the last final on 9 August 1975. One of the producers of the TV version was Bill Wright, who would later devise Mastermind in the early 1970s.


The tune Marching Strings (composition credited to "Marshall Ross", a pseudonym of Ray Martin) was the theme for many years, though for the last few series, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's recording of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man was used. Earlier, Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk, from his Children's Corner suite, had introduced the radio series.[3]

Marching Strings had been featured in the popular 1956 British film It's Great to be Young! where a music teacher's job was saved by the efforts of his students.


Producers have included:


The series tended to feature grammar schools; in later years, as these schools became less numerous, comprehensive schools sometimes featured, but less often, and there was an increasing dominance by independent schools.

However, as comprehensive schools were becoming more commonplace under the Harold Wilson government, the autumn 1967 TV series of Top of the Form featured only comprehensive schools.[4]

Top of the Form finalistsEdit

Television Top of the Form finalistsEdit

  • 24 December 1962 Grove Park School for Boys, Wrexham (J Salisbury, RG Thomas, JS Williams, and D Williams) v Kingston Grammar School for Boys (winners: Ian White – Philosophy at St John's College, Oxford)
  • 1 May 1963 The Grammar School for Girls, Weston-super-Mare v Royal Belfast Academical Institution (boys, winners: Hugh Gibson, Barry Stevens, Harry Cowie, and Bill Smith); Belfast won 39–33
  • 23 December 1963 Brownhills High School for Girls, Stoke-on-Trent (winners: Dianne Bamber or Lawton – studied music at the University of Leeds, Lesley Steadiman, Jacqueline Bamford, and Mary Pedley) v Hull Grammar School (boys)
  • 26 March 1964 High School, Stirling (boys, Hamish Meldrum – later Chairman of the BMA from 2007 to 2012) v Barnsley and District Holgate Grammar School (winners: Andrew Wood – History at Oxford)
  • 10 December 1964 Portsmouth High School (a direct grant school, not independent)
  • 1 April 1965 Sutton Coldfield Grammar School (girls, winners)[40] v Paston School (boys), North Walsham
  • 30 December 1965 Allan Glen's Boys School, Glasgow v Cathays High School, Cardiff (boys)
  • 9 June 1966 Ayr Academy (winners)
  • 28 December 1966 Hastings High School (girls) v Leamington College (girls, winners: Marie Bishop, Elizabeth Wilson, Janet Vaughan, and Vanessa Webb), Leamington Spa
  • 28 December 1967 Burnt Mill School, Harlow v Kirkton High School, Dundee (winners: Fiona Anderson, Michael O'Rourke, Morag Smith, and captain Gordon Cobban)
  • 12 June 1969 Chatham House Grammar School (boys) v Torquay Girls' Grammar School (winners); the trophy was given by sports presenter Peter Dimmock
  • 20 June 1970 Salisbury (winners: Alison Greenlees, Andrew Parton, Diane James, and Tom Owen from South Wilts Grammar School and Bishop Wordsworth's School) v Inverness (Irene Anderson, Andrew MacDonald, Margaret MacDonald, and Charles Bannerman from Inverness Royal Academy); the finalists competed with teams from the Netherlands in Transworld; on 3 August 1970 it was recorded at Inverness Royal Academy with other teams from Aberdeen Academy and Salisbury; later competed on 5 August 1970 in Hilversum, Netherlands; the Dutch teams from The Hague, Eindhoven and Deventer; it was broadcast from 15 September 1970 with Salisbury v Eindhoven and continued until October 1970; Hazlehead Academy featured Morag Ogilvie, Raymond Berry, Christine Cook, and James Treasurer;[41]Hazlehead Academy would be opened by the Queen on Wednesday 7 October 1970; Inverness beat Eindhoven 38-27,[42] Inverness beat Deventer 42 to 30;[43] a Birmingham Post review on 30 September 1970 said – 'very few programmes can boast the education quality and mental stimulus that distinguishes Transworld Top Team'
  • 8 June 1971 Luton Sixth Form College v Kenilworth Grammar School (won 53-43, winners: Jane Broughton, Alison Love, Ross Beadle, and Martin Clarke);[44] this was the 10th anniversary series, so the week afterwards, Kenilworth challenged a 'representative team' from the first series; Kenilworth played a team from Minneapolis on Transworld Top Team on 23 November 1971[45] Transworld would be recorded between August 14 and 1 September 1971,[46] Kenilworth beat New Orleans 52-42,[47]Kenilworth beat Mineapolis,[48]Kenilworth lost to Baltimore 47-34;[49]In the Transworld competition, Oban High School featured Mary Nicol, Anne Hay, Stuart Ross, and Kenneth MacIntyre[50]
  • 1 August 1972 Llanelli (male and female, winners: Margaret Samuel – Medicine at Barts) v Manchester (Mike Murphy, Phil Smith from St Augustine RC Grammar School of Wythenshawe, and Josephine Finan – Modern Languages at Cambridge, and Anne Heaton from Hollies Convent Grammar School[51]); the two teams competed against Canadian teams in Trans World
  • 11 June 1973 Elgin Academy (winners: Wilma Grant studied Ecology at Edinburgh University, David Knight of Duffus studied Medicine at Aberdeen University, Lynn Scott, Kenneth Lindsay, studied History and English at Aberdeen University, who was also the son of the Director of Education of County of Nairn, and later a BBC radio newsreader; filmed at Elgin on 16 May 1973, it ended in a draw 41-41, the tie breaker was won by Elgin)[52] v Derby (all sixth formers - Anthony Kelk and Paul McCrea from Derby School, and Gillian Duckworth and Jane Sutton from Homelands School; Derby School had become comprehensive in September 1972; Derby School became Derby Moor Academy in 1989; Homelands School also closed in 1989);[53] Elgin went to Hong Kong for Trans World, with St George's School, Hong Kong at Kowloon (servicemens children) against three Australian teams[54][55][56] An assistant producer on Mastermind, Mary Craig, who kept the scoring total, worked on Top of the Form for ten years and met her husband, an RAF officer, in Hong Kong, on a Transworld episode, marrying in 1975.[57]
  • 17 June 1974 Loughborough (two males from Loughborough Grammar School and two females from Loughborough High School, Lucy Stein, Robert Satchwell – 1977–80 Christ Church, Oxford 1st Maths, Anna McKay, and Mark Poole) v Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, Darlington
  • 9 August 1975 Gower (Susan Raad, Michael Isaac, Alison Maull, and David Smith) v Leeds (Francis Bruynseels – head boy of his school in 1975, Jane Dougherty, Stephen Moriarty from St Michael's College)

Notable contestantsEdit

Popular cultureEdit

Top of The Form was satirised in the 1960s pre-Python television series At Last the 1948 Show.

"Natural Born Quizzers", an episode of Steve Coogan's comedy series Coogan's Run, involved a thinly-disguised version of the show.

In 2008, Dave Gorman traced the history of the show on BBC Four.

A similar quiz for British schools in Germany called Top Marks was broadcast by BFBS Germany.[60]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Television Top of the Form at
  2. ^ "Transworld Top Team". Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  3. ^ Marching Strings (Top of the Form) on YouTube
  4. ^ Daily Record, 21 September 1967
  5. ^ Sunday Post Sunday 19 December 1948, page 4
  6. ^ The Herald obituary, 19 November 2011
  7. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal Monday 27 November 1950, page 6
  8. ^ Northern Whig Tuesday 15 January 1952, page 6
  9. ^ Bo'ness Journal, and Linlithgow Advertiser Friday 18 January 1952, page 2
  10. ^ Belfast Telegraph Friday 22 January 1954, page 5
  11. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Wednesday 23 December 1959, page 4
  12. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Friday 22 January 1954. page 11
  13. ^ Port-Glasgow Express Friday 26 February 1954, page 2
  14. ^ Daily Record Friday 22 January 1954, page 8
  15. ^ Western Mail Friday 20 January 1956, page 4
  16. ^ Western Mail Monday 16 January 1956, page 8
  17. ^ Belfast News-Letter Monday 16 January 1956, page 2
  18. ^ Northern Whig Tuesday 10 January 1956, page 2
  19. ^ Birmingham Daily Post Tuesday 15 January 1957, page 30
  20. ^ Daily Herald Tuesday 8 January 1957, page 3
  21. ^ Birmingham Daily Post Monday 14 January 1957, page 32
  22. ^ Birmingham Weekly Post Friday 11 January 1957, page 7
  23. ^ Reading Standard Friday 18 January 1957, page 5
  24. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Friday 25 December 1959, page 5
  25. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Thursday 24 December 1959, page 7
  26. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Friday 8 January 60, page 7
  27. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal Thursday 21 January 1965, page 5
  28. ^ Nottingham Evening Post March 1970
  29. ^ South Wales Gazette Friday 23 December 1966, page 4
  30. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Monday 8 January 1968, page 7
  31. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal, Tuesday 5 February 1980, page 11
  32. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Monday 4 February 1980, page 1
  33. ^ Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald Friday 19 December 1980, page 1
  34. ^ Times Thursday 28 January 1982, page 5
  35. ^ Times Tuesday 22 March 1983, page 2
  36. ^ Times Tuesday 14 February 1984, page 4
  37. ^ Reading Evening Post Thursday 8 December 1983, page 1
  38. ^ Reading Evening Post Friday 25 November 1983, page 13
  39. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal Thursday 20 December 1984, page 3
  40. ^ Birmingham Daily Post, Friday 2 April 1965, page 27
  41. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Tuesday 22 September 1970, page 2
  42. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal Wednesday 7 October 1970, page 11
  43. ^ Aberdeen Press and Journal Wednesday 14 October 1970, page 19
  44. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Tuesday 12 October 1971, page 10
  45. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Tuesday 23 November 1971, page 2
  46. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Wednesday 9 June 1971, page 17
  47. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Wednesday 10 November 1971, page 18
  48. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Wednesday 24 November 1971, page 3
  49. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Wednesday 08 December 1971, page 18
  50. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Tuesday 14 December 1971, page 2
  51. ^ St Augustine's RC Grammar
  52. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express Thursday 6 September 1973, page 5
  53. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Monday 11 June 1973, page 2
  54. ^ BBC Genome
  55. ^ The Derbeian May 1973
  56. ^ Coventry Evening Telegraph Wednesday 11 July 1973, page 20
  57. ^ Belfast Telegraph, 21 Nov 1981, page 10
  58. ^ Presenter: James Lipton (12 May 2002). "Inside the Actors Studio: Hugh Grant". Inside the Actors Studio. Season 8. Episode 813. Bravo. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008 {{cite episode}}: |transcript-url= missing title (help)
  59. ^ Donovan, Paul (1992) The Radio Companion. London: Grafton; p. 267
  60. ^ Walmsley, Andy (16 January 2018). "Random radio jottings: Ed Doolan".

External linksEdit

Video clipsEdit