Top of the Form (quiz show)

Last updated

Top of the Form
Running time30 mins
Country of originUK
Home station BBC Radio 4
TV adaptations BBC 1 (1962–75)
Original release1 May 1948 – 2 December 1986
Opening theme Marching Strings
Other themes Fanfare for the Common Man (ELP prog rock version)

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.


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 3.55–4.20, 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.

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. [3]

Top of the Form finalists

Television Top of the Form finalists

Notable contestants

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. [11]

See also

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  1. Television Top of the Form at
  2. "Transworld Top Team". Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  3. Daily Record , 21 September 1967
  4. The Herald obituary, 19 November 2011
  5. Times Thursday January 28 1982, page 5
  6. Times Tuesday 22 March 1983, page 2
  7. Times Tuesday 14 February 1984, page 4
  8. BBC Genome
  9. 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 |transcript-url= missing title (help).
  10. Donovan, Paul (1992) The Radio Companion. London: Grafton; p. 267
  11. Walmsley, Andy (16 January 2018). "Random radio jottings: Ed Doolan".

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