History of quizbowl in the UK

Quizbowl in one form or another has been played in the UK since the 1960s. University Challenge, an adaptation of the American TV show College Bowl, began in 1962, and ran continuously between then and 1987, where the show went on hiatus until 1994.

However, prior to the the 1990s, there was very little inter-university quizbowl being played in the UK. This was in stark contrast to the United States, where quiz competitions between universities was fairly common, even after College Bowl ended in 1970.

To remedy the lack of quiz related competition, Oxford University Quiz Society (OUQS) was founded in the 1980s. It ran a tournament of intercollegiate quizzes (known as “ICQ”) with questions similar to those on University Challenge. The society folded after University Challenge went on hiatus.

OUQS was reformed in the summer of 1998. The Cambridge University Quiz Society was formed soon after, and the first varsity match between the two took place in 1999. Oxford won that match, along with a further twelve straight iterations of the competition.

Quizbowl being the sole preserve of Oxbridge students was about to change, however. The first British Student Quiz Championships took place in 1998 and continued until 2003. During those early years of the competition Durham, Manchester, Birkbeck, Hull, Bristol, the Open University, UCL, Imperial and Warwick were just some of the teams to take part, with Manchester winning it in 2002. Unfortunately, BSQC was not run between 2004 and 2010 and quizbowl in the UK was confined to University Challenge, the Oxbridge Varsity match and the Cambridge and Oxford ICQs.

BSQC was revived in 2011 by Kyle Haddad-Fonda, a University Challenge winner who had previously played quizbowl at Harvard. Oxford won the first iteration of the revived tournament against a field that included Sheffield, Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial and Manchester. Oxford also won the tournament every year from 2012 to 2017, with their vice-like grip on the tournament ending this year, where they lost in the final to Cambridge.

A small circuit of regular quizbowl tournaments emerged in the UK alongside the re-established BSQC. These tournaments were generally run on quizbowl sets written in the US, sometimes modified (or “Briticised”) to make them more palatable to a British audience. The “mirroring” of US-written tournaments in the UK has continued to this day, with more and more teams participating in a growing number of tournaments, which form the backbone of the student quizbowl season.

Alongside playing tournaments originally written in the US, British universities also began writing their own tournaments from scratch. The first of these tournaments was the Oxford Open, which first took place in 2012. That tournament was won by the University of Chicago, a trend that continued until a British team finally won the title in 2017. Not to be outdone, Cambridge established the Cambridge Open in 2015 and have written it wholly in-house for the last two years.

The Oxford and Cambridge Opens, MKULTRA (a Milton Keynes based quizbowl tournament held in the summer) and the Quiz League of London’s Buzzer quiz tournament are the four biggest “open” quizbowl tournaments, which allow student players to test themselves against the best non-student quizzers, some of whom are famous for their quizzing exploits on TV. Student teams at past versions of these open tournaments have beaten teams including Eggheads like Kevin Ashman, Pat Gibson and Barry Simmons and Chasers such as Paul Sinha.

Quizbowl’s growth since the re-establishment of BSQC in 2011 has been steady, with the 2018 iteration of the tournament being the largest ever. UKQB aims to ensure that this growth continues for the foreseeable future, with more and more universities forming teams and playing the game. If you or your university wants to get involved in quizbowl, please look at our FAQ list or contact UKQB via email, Facebook or Twitter.