University Challenge is a British quiz programme which first aired in 1962. University Challenge aired for 913 episodes on ITV from 21 September 1962 to 31 December 1987, presented by quizmaster Bamber Gascoigne. The BBC revived the programme on 21 September 1994 with Jeremy Paxman as the quizmaster.
Logo used since 2013
|Presented by||Bamber Gascoigne (1962–1987)|
Jeremy Paxman (1994–)
|Voices of||Don Murray-Henderson (1962–1971)|
Jim Pope (1971–1987, 1994–2001)
Roger Tilling (1997, 2001–)
|Theme music composer||Derek New|
|Opening theme||"College Boy" performed by the Balanescu Quartet|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||48|
|No. of episodes||1,792 (as of 4 February 2019[update])[clarification needed]|
|Production location(s)||Granada Studios (1962–2013)|
dock10, MediaCityUK (2013–present)
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Granada Television (1962–1987, 1994–2009)|
ITV Studios (2009–present)
|Original network||ITV (1962–87)|
BBC Two (1994–present)
|Picture format||4:3 (1962–2000)|
|Audio format||Mono (1962–87)|
|Original release||21 September 1962 –|
|Related shows||College Bowl|
University Challenge: The Professionals
The 3rd Degree
Christmas University Challenge
The show is produced by Granada Television (re-branded as ITV Studios in 2009), under licence from Richard Reid Productions and the College Bowl Company. It was recorded at Granada Studios in Manchester from its inception until the studios closed down in 2013; it is now recorded at dock10 in Salford.
Despite periodic changes to the sets, studio layout, and presentation, University Challenge has preserved a high level of continuity from 1962 to the present. Some commentators have cited this as an essential element of its success. Elements of this continuity include:
- The long service of its quizmasters, with only two presenters over more than half a century of broadcasting history;
- The split-screen presentation during the starter question phase, which appears to place one team physically above the other. In the final years of the original Bamber Gascoigne era, the studio set genuinely was double-decker, although the split-screen effect returned for the revived series and has been used ever since;
- Long serving voiceover announcers, with only three in more than half a century – Don Murray-Henderson from 1962 until his death in 1971, then Jim Pope until his death in 2001, then Roger Tilling;
- The theme tune College Boy by Derek New, which has been with the series since the 1960s (although the first series used Ting A Ling by Duke Ellington). College Boy was originally scored for an ensemble of tubular bells, Flugelhorn, harpsichord, brushed Hi-hat, bass drum and double bass. The original theme returned for the early Paxman-era episodes, and was later replaced by a string quartet arrangement of the theme recorded by the Balanescu Quartet.
The programme had its beginnings in an American television quiz show called College Bowl. Cecil Bernstein, brother of Sidney Bernstein who founded Granada Television in 1954, had seen the programme in the United States and liked the format. It was decided that Granada would produce a similar programme with competing teams from universities across the United Kingdom. From its inception in 1962, University Challenge was hosted by Bamber Gascoigne. The show was a cult favourite with a small but loyal core audience, and was one of a select few ITV shows that were transmitted without any advertising breaks. Originally, the series started off in many areas, being broadcast at peak times or just after the nightly news around 10:30 pm; by the early 1970s, the series was relegated to irregular timeslots by the various ITV regional companies, appearing anywhere in the schedules; daytime, weekends, or even late at night. In the absence of a regular networked slot, audience figures would often fall, leading the producers to make changes to the long-standing format of the programme. In October 1983 LWT decided to stop broadcasting the series, with Thames following suit, which resulted in no broadcasts in the London area. The series was given a rest for the whole of 1985, before returning in April 1986, when it was finally networked by ITV and stripped across the weekday slot of 3pm. The gameplay was revised, initial games were staged over two legs; the first in the classic format and the second played as a relay, where contestants selected questions from specific categories such as sport, literature and science, passing a baton between players whenever a "lap" of two correct answers was scored. The final series was also networked, but broadcast around 11 am during the summer holiday period. Even so, the new networked time did little to save the series from the axe. The last ITV series was broadcast in 1987.
The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge could each enter as separate teams up to five of their constituent colleges, which are not themselves universities: they have far fewer students – numbering in the hundreds rather than thousands – than most universities. This was one ostensible inspiration for a 1975 protest, in which a team from the Victoria University of Manchester (which included David Aaronovitch) came second to Downing College, Cambridge, when they started a round by answering every question "Che Guevara", "Marx", "Trotsky" or "Lenin", in the hope of making the resulting show unbroadcastable. It did, however, get broadcast, although only portions of the episode still exist in the archives of Granada TV. Granada banned the University of Manchester for several years.
University Challenge was eventually revived in 1994 by the BBC, although still produced by Granada Television (now as part of the ITV Studios), using the original format with minor differences and presented by Jeremy Paxman.
During the show's hiatus, a special edition of the show was made, not by Granada but by BBC Television, as part of a themed evening of programmes dedicated to Granada Television. It was presented by Bamber Gascoigne, and screened on BBC2 on 28 December 1992. The teams included one of students from Keble College, Oxford, which had fielded the winning team in the final 1987 season; and a graduates team of celebrity alumni who had previously appeared on the programme as students, including journalist John Simpson and actor Stephen Fry. This show was preceded by a short documentary about the show's history. Bamber Gascoigne's final appearance as host was in Universe Challenge in 1998 (see below).
The show has, since its revival in 1994, featured a number of teams of postgraduate and mature students, whose participation has been criticised. The Open University (OU) won the 1999 series with a team whose ages averaged 46. In the quarter-final, they narrowly beat a slightly younger team from part-time and mature student specialist Birkbeck, University of London. Birkbeck won the competition in 2003, also with a substantially mature team. Host Jeremy Paxman said that the OU team was not in the spirit of the competition. The team publicly replied by challenging him to specify in what way this was "contrary to the spirit of the quiz – or of the university".
In 2009, Sam Kay, part of the team from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, was accused of not being a student when the show was filmed. Kay, who had completed a chemistry degree the previous summer, had been planning to go on to study for a Doctor of Philosophy, but he did not have sufficient funding so dropped out. He then became an accountant. The team, whose captain Gail Trimble was dubbed the "human Google", won the competition but was subsequently disqualified and the trophy awarded to the runners-up, the University of Manchester.
A few days later, it was also revealed that Charles Markland, a member of the 2008 winning team from Christ Church, Oxford, had transferred his studies to Balliol College halfway through the series. He said that his team captain had contacted a researcher concerning the situation, and had been told that this was not a problem and that the same team should be maintained for continuity purposes. It was also revealed that Freya McClements, captain of the 2004 winning team from Magdalen College, Oxford, was at the time studying at Trinity College, Dublin. Although it was mentioned in a BBC news story at the time, no action was taken because the BBC stated that the facts had not been brought to their attention.
In 2016, at the Henley Literary Festival, Jeremy Paxman revealed that, when students were unable to answer several consecutive starter questions, those questions were often deleted before the show is broadcast. He explained that this was done to make a better programme and because "you as a taxpayer do not want to think your money is being wasted."
In popular culture
- In an episode of the BBC comedy series Not the Nine O'Clock News, first broadcast in 15th December 1980, Griff Rhys Jones plays Bamber Gascoigne in a sketch that pitches two teams of criminals representing prisoners from Wormwood Scrubs and Parkhurst. The teams score 'points' (remission of sentence) by 'grassing' on possible suspects involved in a crime. 
- In 1984, an episode of The Young Ones, entitled "Bambi" (a play on Bamber Gascoigne's name), centred on a parody of University Challenge with a match between the fictitious teams of Scumbag College and Footlights College, Oxbridge. The cast included Stephen Fry, who participated in the real competition in 1980 while at Cambridge, and fellow alumni and Footlights members Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie as part of the "Footlights College" team and Griff Rhys Jones as the host.
- A quiz themed around BBC science fiction situation comedy Red Dwarf, broadcast in 1998, is entitled Universe Challenge. It opens as if it were a regular episode, but with Chris Barrie impersonating Jeremy Paxman. Gascoigne comes from behind with a blaster gun and blows him out of the chair to take over as host. This was Gascoigne's last appearance as host.
- 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.
- The quiz was the subject of the hour-long BBC Two documentary The Story So Far, first broadcast in November 2006.
- In 2014, a two part documentary narrated by Richard Osman called 'Class of 2014' outlined a brief history of the programme and the team selection process both within the universities and by the production staff. The documentary attracted some criticism due to the large emphasis on Oxbridge and Manchester during the programme.
- Armando Ianucci's Time Trumpet presented a parody of University Challenge, set in a future where students are 'too lazy to learn'; this parody was later referenced in an episode of the 2013–2014 series of University Challenge by the team captain of SOAS, Peter McKean, who, not knowing the real answer, simply answered "Venezuela?"
- Starter For Ten is the title of a novel, first published in 2003, by British author David Nicholls. The plot is about a first-year student, Brian Jackson, who attempts to join his university team competing in University Challenge. Nicholls also adapted the novel into the film Starter for 10 in 2006, starring James McAvoy as Jackson, with Mark Gatiss portraying Gascoigne.
- In March 2017 semi-finalist team captains Bobby Seagull of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and Eric Monkman of Wolfson College, Cambridge, appeared on BBC One's The One Show. In August 2017 the two were featured on BBC Radio 4's Today programme ahead of hosting their own show, Monkman and Seagull's Polymathic Adventure, on 21 August.
Teams consist of four members and most represent a single university. The exceptions to this are colleges of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, which enter independent teams. While a number of other British universities have constituent colleges, only those where some teaching is undertaken at the college-level may enter independent teams. The competing teams each year are selected by the show's producers, based both on scores from a general trivia quiz and the producers' judging of the suitability of the teams for television. Durham University has appeared most frequently in the post-1994 format.
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.
Starter questions are answered individually and are worth 10 points. The catchphrase "Your starter for 10" inspired David Nicholls' 2003 novel Starter for Ten and the 2006 film based on it starring James McAvoy. An incorrect interruption of a starter results in a 5-point penalty (during the Gascoigne era, this took the form of 5 points awarded to the opposing team; currently, 5 points are deducted from the interrupting team).
The team answering a starter correctly gets a set of three bonus questions worth a potential 15 points, for 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 (for example, "there are seven fundamental SI units. Give 5 for 5 points, 6 for 10 points or all 7 for 15 points"). 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. Usually, in the recent contests, the first picture round focuses on science and technology, geography, and languages, while the second picture round centres about art, film, television, and literature. 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. The sound of a gong 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 answers correctly, or a team loses by giving an incorrect interruption. The ending of the programme is usually signified with Jeremy Paxman saying "It's goodbye from (name of losing team, who say goodbye), it's goodbye from (winning team, likewise), and it's goodbye from me: goodbye!" However, in the final episode of the seasons, Paxman ends the show with "It's goodbye from (name of the season's winner, who wave and say goodbye), 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, Munro". The voiceovers are performed live in the studio by Roger Tilling and become more energetic towards the end of the programme. The 1985 series experimented with an actual two-tier set, which was discontinued the following year.
Notable contestants in the regular student competition. Special Celebrity Christmas editions, where all competitors are distinguished, are excluded.
The University of Manchester and Magdalen College, Oxford, have the highest number of wins, with four each, and are also the only ones to successfully defend the title the year after their win (Manchester's 2009 win came only after the original winner was disqualified). Trinity College, Cambridge, hold three titles, and a further seven institutions have two titles: Durham, Sussex, the Open University, Imperial College London, Sidney Sussex (Cambridge), Keble (Oxford), and University College (Oxford).
Not much is known about the lowest scores from the Bamber Gascoigne series, except that the lowest score ever was amassed in 1971-2, when a Sussex team, fresh from two series wins, managed only 10 points. However, a low score was also achieved by Victoria University of Manchester in their first round match in 1975 when for much of the recording they answered only with the names of Marxists as a protest against the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges being able to enter separate teams.
Under quizmaster Jeremy Paxman, a low score of 15 was achieved by the University of Exeter in a quarter-final against Corpus Christi, Oxford, whose team captain Gail Trimble amassed 15 correct starter questions. However, the Corpus Christi team were later disqualified from the competition after it was found that team member Sam Kay had been ineligible for the last three matches. Therefore, the lowest score officially achieved against eligible opponents under quizmaster Jeremy Paxman was by Lincoln College, Oxford, who totalled 30 in a semi-final against the eventual series champions the University of Manchester, in an episode televised on 9 February 2009. This was also matched in the grand final by St John's College, Oxford, against Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 18 April 2016.
Before these matches, the lowest score was 35, reached by New Hall, Cambridge, 1997. This score would have been lower if all fines for incorrect interruptions had been applied.[better source needed]
The lowest score during the Professionals series was achieved by the House of Commons team, who scored 25 in 2003. In the 2014 Christmas University Challenge series, a team of alumni from Newcastle University also finished with 25.
A all-time record low score for the series was achieved in the final of the 2017 Christmas series, when Keble College, Oxford, beat the University of Reading 240–0. The previous year in the "Christmas University Challenge" series in 2016, a team of notable alumni from The University of Nottingham scored 75, five points more than the alumni from Bristol University. Both teams conferred excessively and gave incorrect bonus answers.
University College, Oxford, scored 520 points in the final ITV season in 1987. In the Jeremy Paxman era, the team from Open University scored the highest score, 415, in the semi-final in 1997 against Charing Cross Hospital.
|Year||Special Event||Winners||Runners Up|
|1978||College Bowl-University Challenge World Championship||University Challenge "all-stars"||Stanford University|
|1979||College Bowl-University Challenge World Championship||Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge||Davidson College|
|1984||1984 Christmas special|
|1986||International best of three series||Great Britain (Jesus College, Oxford, 1985)||New Zealand (University of Auckland, 1985)|
|1987||International best of three series||Great Britain (Keble College, Oxford, 1986)||New Zealand (University of Otago, 1986)|
|1992||Celebrity match||Celebrity Past Contestants (Alastair Little, John Simpson, Stephen Fry, Charles Moore)||Keble College, Oxford (A team of current students from the college, as they were the "defending champions", having won the last series of the show, back in 1987.)|
|1997||College Bowl Challenge||University of Michigan||Imperial College London, 1996|
|1997||Mastermind Challenge||Magdalen College, Oxford, 1997||The last 4 Mastermind finalists from the Magnus Magnusson era: Claire Ockwell, Andrea Weston, Colin Cadby (Captain) and Anne Ashurst (series champion)|
|1998||College Bowl Challenge||USA||UK|
|1998||Champions' Challenge||Magdalen College, Oxford, 1997||Imperial College London, 1996|
|1998||Universe Challenge||Red Dwarf Fans: (Darryl Ball, Kaley Nichols, Steve Rogers [Chairman of the Official Red Dwarf Fan Club], Pip Swallow, Sharon Burnett [Co-author of The Red Dwarf Quiz Book])||Red Dwarf Cast: (Robert Llewellyn, Danny John-Jules, Chris Barrie, Chloë Annett, Craig Charles)|
|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: (Nirad Inamdar, Bharat Jayakumar, Nishad Manerikar, Shrijit Plappally)||Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge: (Laura Ashe, Darren Khodaverdi, Lameen Souag, Edward Wallace)|
|2004||University Challenge: The Professionals||British Library||Oxford University Press|
|2004||Christmas Special 1||Television (Monty Don, Martha Kearney, Andrew Neil, Clare Balding)||Radio (Henry Blofeld, Jenni Murray, Ned Sherrin, Roger Bolton)|
|Christmas Special 2||Critics (Waldemar Januszczak, Russell 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 Iannucci, Neil Morrissey)|
|2005||University Challenge: The Professionals||Privy Council Office||Romantic Novelists' Association|
|2006||University Challenge: The Professionals||Bodleian Library||Royal Statistical Society|
|2008||University Challenge: The Professionals||Ministry of Justice||National Physical Laboratory|
|2011||Christmas University Challenge||Trinity College, Cambridge (Robin Bhattacharyya, Daisy Goodwin, John Lloyd, Edward Stourton)||University of Warwick (Vadim Jean, Daisy Christodoulou, Christian Wolmar, Carla Mendonça)|
|2012||Christmas University Challenge||New College, Oxford (Rachel Johnson, Patrick Gale, Kate Mosse, Yan Wong)||University of East Anglia (John Boyne, Razia Iqbal, David Grossman, Charlie Higson)|
|2013||Christmas University Challenge||Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (Quentin Stafford-Fraser, Helen Castor, Mark Damazer, Lars Tharp)||Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Hugo Rifkind, Mary-Ann Ochota, Simon Singh, Rory McGrath)|
|2014||Champion of Champions||University of Manchester (Henry Pertinez, Gareth Aubrey, Tristan Burke, Adam Barr)||Magdalen College, Oxford (Matthew Chan, Freya McClements, Jim Adams, Sarah Healey)|
|2014||Christmas University Challenge||Trinity Hall, Cambridge (Tom James, Emma Pooley, Adam Mars-Jones, Dan Starkey)||University of Hull (Rosie Millard, Malcolm Sinclair, Jenni Murray, Stan Cullimore)|
|2015||Christmas University Challenge||Magdalen College, Oxford (Robin Lane Fox, Heather Berlin, Louis Theroux, Matt Ridley)||University of Sheffield (Sid Lowe, Nicci Gerrard, Adam Hart, Ruth Reed)|
|2016||Christmas University Challenge||St Hilda's College, Oxford (Fiona Caldicott, Daisy Dunn, Val McDermid, Adèle Geras)||University of Leeds (Louise Doughty, Gus Unger-Hamilton, Kamal Ahmed, Steve Bell)|
|2017||Christmas University Challenge||Keble College, Oxford (Paul Johnson, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Katy Brand, Anne-Marie Imafidon)||University of Reading (Anna Machin, Martin Hughes-Games, Sophie Walker, Pippa Greenwood)|
|2018||Christmas University Challenge||Peterhouse, Cambridge (Dan Mazer, Mark Horton, Michael Howard, Michael Axworthy)||University of Bristol (Philip Ball, Laura Wade, Misha Glenny, Iain Stewart)|
|2019||Comic Relief 2019 Match||Team Freeman (Luisa Omielan, Robert Rinder, Martin Freeman, Kerry Godliman)||Team Manford (Darren Harriott, Vick Hope, Jason Manford, Emily Atack)|
Some information from this table was obtained from the web pages listed in "Special Series". Sean Blanchflower. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
The producers of the programme have taken the more recent inclusion of mature students 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 (from 2003) matched occupational groups such as civil servants, architects and doctors against each other. In 2003, the former was won by the 1979 team from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, the latter by a team from the Inland Revenue. The 2004 Professionals series was won by the British Library, and the 2005 series by the Privy Council Office. In 2006, Professionals was won by staff of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.
The show has seen numerous specials, including those for specific professions and celebrity editions, such as Universe Challenge, presented by former host and Red Dwarf fan, Bamber Gascoigne, where the cast of Red Dwarf challenged a team of their "ultimate fans" to celebrate Red Dwarf's 10th anniversary on the air. The cast was Chris Barrie (captain), Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett and Craig Charles. The cast, who at times seemed amazed at the fans' knowledge, lost, but by only 15 points, 280–295.
Sixth Form Challenge, hosted by Chris Kelly, appeared briefly between 1965 and 1967. The sixth form contestants represented leading public schools and grammar schools. An untelevised version, Schools' Challenge, continues to run at junior and senior secondary school levels.
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. It was hosted by Peter Sinclair. The series was revived in 2014 with Tom Conroy as host.
University Challenge, hosted by Magnus Clarke, ran in Australia on the ABC from 1987 until 1989. In the 1988 series, the University of New South Wales defeated the University of Melbourne in the final by 245 points to 175.
University Challenge India started in summer 2003, with the season culminating in the finals of March 2004 where Sardar Patel College of Engineering (SPCE), Mumbai, beat Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. The 2004–2005 season finale saw a team of undergraduate engineering students from Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology (NSIT), Delhi, beat a team of management students from the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode. The Indian winners of the 2003–2004 season went on to beat the 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 hosted the show.
- This figure included all episodes from both the ITV and BBC series, as well as the 2002 Reunited series and all special episodes. The figures does not include the spin-off University Challenge: The Professionals.
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- deadmonger (11 April 2011) [12 Feb 2013]. "The BFI TV 100 (2000) – a list". IMDb. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
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- On the TV programme The 100 Most Embarrassing TV Moments Ever, the New Hall performance was repeated and a member of the team said that they stopped losing points.
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- This was played under College Bowl rules, with Art Fleming hosting
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