Mother and son pair team up for BBC’s University Challenge

University College London

UCL’s University Challenge team 2022-23 contains the programme’s first ever mother and son pair in its 60-year history.

UCL's university challenge team on set

Rachel Collier (UCL Greek & Latin) and her son Louis Collier (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education & Society) will team up alongside Team Captain James Salmon (UCL Mathematics & Physical Sciences), Michael Fleetwood-Walker (UCL Geography) and team reserve member Thomas Cryer (UCL Institute of the Americas).

Currently airing on BBC Two, University Challenge is Britain’s longest-running quiz show. Throughout the academic year, two teams of four students from UK universities are pitted against each other in a battle of general knowledge – with each winning team progressing to the next round until an overall series winner eventually emerges.

Speaking about the experience of quizzing alongside her son, PhD student Rachel (UCL Greek & Latin) said: “It was by accident (or happy coincidence) rather than design that Louis and I overlapped for a year at UCL and then found ourselves together on a University Challenge team.

“We went through the university’s first rounds of selection independently and it was only at the final stage that the filial connection came to light. The rest of the family, all keen quizzers, were excited and intrigued.

“I found the whole experience extremely nerve-wracking – and something of a distraction from my academic work – but the stress was more than offset by the pleasure of spending lots of time with Louis, who flew the family nest a couple of years ago. And, in a reversal of roles, I learned a lot from him too – about staying calm, enjoying the moment, and not beating yourself up for blurting out a foolish answer under the spotlight.”

Louis, who has been studying for a PGCE in Physics with Mathematics, added: “Competing on University Challenge fulfilled a dream that I’ll shamelessly admit to having held for many, many years. Doing it on the same team as my mother, however, made it a truly special experience that I’ll always remember with great fondness.

“As you might imagine, my mum was always quick to magnify my successes and minimise the (frequent) blunders; and both the practice we did, and the daunting experience of being on the show itself were immeasurably more enjoyable thanks to her.”

With an average age of 41, the UCL team is the programme’s oldest team this series. Team captain and master’s student James Salmon, 66, is also believed to be one of University Challenge’s oldest captains to date.

James (UCL Physics & Astronomy) said: “Prior to the show, I had no experience of quizzing – so this was a first for me – although others in the team have a lot of quizzing experience. I used to shout at the TV during University Challenge broadcasts and got fairly high marks. So I applied, and was astonished to even get on the team, let alone be chosen as captain. It must be my loud voice.”

Discussing his experience, James added: “It was all a lot of fun! The team are simply lovely people, and we were nicely balanced, making it a lot easier. We really had to get on and trust each other, and I thought a lot about making it fun and enjoyable, and for us to be supportive and encouraging. The priority was to make sure the whole team was consulted and felt consulted before giving the answer.”

The first UCL team was listed in the 1962 academic year, with a total of 22 teams competing since. UCL took the runner-up titles against some fierce competition in 2005 and 2013 – and have also made it to the quarter finals four times. The university also holds a record for the player with the longest surname called out by announcer Roger Tilling: Adam Papaphilippopoulos (2012/13).

UCL Student Union is currently recruiting for its 2023 team, with selection rounds taking place throughout October and November.

This year’s team will take on The University of Sheffield in their first-round match on Monday 17 October at 20.30pm on BBC Two.

  • Caption: L-R Rachel Collier, Michael Fleetwood-Walker, James Salmon and Louis Collier. Credit: ITV Studios, Lifted Entertainment
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