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Fifteen to One


Fifteen to One

Fifteen to One
File:Fifteen to Onelogo.jpg
Final 15 to 1 logo
Format Game show
Created by John M. Lewis
Presented by William G. Stewart
Narrated by Laura Calland and
Philip Lowrie (alternating)
Sarah Wynter (substitute)
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 35
No. of episodes 2265
Producer(s) William G. Stewart
Running time 30–45 minutes (inc. adverts)
Production companies Regent Productions Ltd.
Distributor Fremantle Media
Original channel Channel 4
Picture format 4:3 (1988–1998)
16:9 (1999–2003)
Original run 4 January 1988 (1988-01-04) – 19 December 2003 (2003-12-19)

Fifteen to One was a popular general knowledge quiz show broadcast on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. It ran from 4 January 1988 to 19 December 2003, and had a reputation for being one of the toughest quizzes on TV. Throughout the show's run it was presented and produced by William G. Stewart. Some 30,000 contestants appeared on the programme, which was notable for having very little of the chatting between host and contestant that is often a feature of other television quiz shows.

The basis of the show was devised by John M. Lewis, a former sales manager for British Telecom. He submitted the idea to Regent Productions who developed the programme into a 30 minute format. Originally, there were 20 starting contestants but the figure was cut down to 15 in order to fit the available running time. The number varied in other countries.

The Fifteen to One format is sold internationally by DRG-Zeal TV from London.

At the start of the grand finale of the 35th and final series, William G. Stewart provided some statistics about the show, stating that nearly 350,000 questions had been asked to 33,975 contestants in a total of 2265 programmes.

On 20 September 2013, a special one-off episode aired on Channel 4. The show was hosted by Adam Hills and titled Celebrity Fifteen to One.[1] Two previous celebrity specials were aired in 1990 and 1992, respectively.


The 15 contestants stood in a semicircle, each behind a lectern with a number from 1 to 15. (A similar layout was used by the later The Weakest Link game shows.) Though the design varied slightly over the years, the essential elements were a number on the front of the lectern, a name badge either on top of the lectern or worn by the contestant, and three green neon lights to represent the lives of the contestant. The numbers were allocated by drawing lots from a bag before videotaping. Upon elimination from the game, a contestant had to sit down and his or her spotlight went out.

A separate lectern was moved in place for the third round, with the semicircle behind it no longer lit.

During the first two rounds, 12 contestants had to be eliminated.

Round 1

Each of the 15 numbered contestants began the quiz with three 'lives'. Each contestant was asked a general-knowledge question in numerical order and given three seconds to answer. If the correct answer was not given, the contestant lost one of the three lives. After all of the 15 contestants were asked a question, another round of questioning began in the same manner. Any player who failed to answer the first question correctly and also failed the second question lost both remaining lives and was out of the game. Stewart's succinct explanation of round 1 was "Two questions each: one correct answer from you to survive."

The outcome of Round 1 could vary considerably. Sometimes nobody was dismissed at all, while on other occasions there were as few as five contestants left standing. There was never a case when only three or fewer contestants remained from Round 1 (making Round 2 impossible) although William G. Stewart once jokingly said that, if this happened, he would give a talk on the Parthenon Marbles to fill the time. Stewart is an outspoken supporter of returning the Marbles to Greece, and once presented a Fifteen to One special on the subject.

Round 2

At this point, each contestant had either 2 or 3 lives remaining. As in Round 1, questions were asked to contestants 1, 2, 3, etc. in turn, with one life lost for an incorrect response. As soon as one player answered correctly, the player could begin nominating – choosing and calling out the number of the next player to face a question. If the nominated player did not give a correct answer, the nominee lost a life and the nominator had to nominate again. A correctly answering nominee became the new nominator. Loss of a contestant's final life removed him or her from the game. Towards the end of the show's run, a new rule forbade contestants from nominating the person who had just nominated them. When only three contestants remained, the first phase of the quiz was over and the programme paused for a commercial break.

Round 2 had no fixed duration or number of questions; it varied depending on how many players survived from Round 1 and how well they performed.

Round 3

The end game (usually called "the final") was played for points. Before it began in earnest, the three contestants were restored to the full set of three lives; also, after the first few series, the number of lives that each player had remaining at the end of Round 2 also becomes part of the player's score. Thus, for example, those contestants who had three lives left started the second phase with a score of three points. This serves to give players who had not lost a life in the first phase of the game a small advantage.

Before the round started, a brief introduction to each of the three players was made by the voice-over, naming occupation and hobbies or interests (the introductions often being lengthened or shortened to accommodate an unusually short or long game).

In the end game, up to 40 questions were asked, with the number of remaining questions displayed at the bottom right hand corner of the televised picture. A wrong answer cost one life (three lost lives spelled elimination, regardless of score), while correct answers scored 10 points. The first question was open to all players to answer on the buzzer. Once one of the players answered three questions correctly, he or she was given the choice to answer the next question or to nominate one of the other two players to answer.

From this point on, after each correct answer, the host asked "Question or nominate?". If a nominated player failed to answer a question correctly, the nominator again had a choice of "Question or nominate?". If a player chose to answer a question himself or herself and failed to answer it correctly, the next question was asked on the buzzer. After two players had been eliminated, the remaining player was asked the remaining questions one by one. Once all 40 questions were asked or the last remaining player lost all of his or her lives, the game was over. The player who survived longest was declared the winner. If two or three players survived through all 40 questions, the player with the top score (regardless of lives left) was the winner. Any lives that remained were added to the winning player's score, with a value of 10 points each.

Round 3 could vary considerably in length. Thus, the programme was structured in such a way that it could be shortened or lengthened easily. For example, if the recording was running short, Stewart could show the finals board to the viewers at the end, or show the trophies for that series. If it was running long, the contestant introductions before Round 3 could be cut short.

In the Grand Final each season, all questions in the final round were asked on the buzzer, until two contestants had lost all their lives. If and when this happened, the remaining questions were asked to the winning contestant in the usual way.

Finals Board

The Finals Board was the table of the fifteen highest scoring winners so far in that series. This was similar to the high score table found in many video games. It would start empty, and in the first fifteen episodes of a series fill with the winners' names and scores in descending order. These could subsequently be displaced by higher-scoring winners. Two or more contestants tying for 15th place were considered to be on the "sideline" and listed to one side of the board instead of in the table itself.

Grand Final

At the end of the series, those people whose names remained on the finals board competed in the grand final. An unscreened playoff took place immediately before the Grand Final if there were still people on the sidelines tied for 15th place.

The format of a grand final differed in two ways from the format of a regular episode. Due to the high standard of the competitors, and to allow time for presentation of the trophies, the running time was 45 minutes. Also, in Round 3, after the first few series, all the questions were played on the buzzer. Presumably this was to prevent the player who correctly answered the first question from simply taking all subsequent questions themselves, and never nominating an opponent.

Final episode

The Grand Final of Series 35 of Fifteen to One, which originally aired on 19 December 2003, was the last ever edition of the quiz. It was won by John Harrison, who also won the finals board trophy of that series with a score of 291.

William G. Stewart began the show by explaining some statistics about the show, which had run from January 1988. Some 350,000 questions had been asked, with 33,975 contestants in 2265 shows.


There was no actual prize for winning an individual episode. This meant that a lot of players would win one of the daily shows but would not post a winning score to trouble the high score board for a place in the grand final. All winning players were invited back for the next series. Some players became so regular that in the last few series Grand Final winners would not get such an invitation. Initially, players who did not win were generally not permitted to compete again; this rule applied even if they had been previous winners. However, in the year 2000, the rule was altered to allow players who had previously played a while ago and had not got as far as the grand final to apply to be on the show again. See discussion notes for an example.

The series prize tended to be a classical artefact (for example a Greek vase), and was presented to the winning contestant by the regular voice-over artist, Laura Calland (who married Stewart in 1997). Calland's voice-overs were occasionally provided by other presenters, usually Philip Lowrie and occasionally Sarah Wynter, but only Calland was seen on screen, when she presented the prize. In later series, the highest scoring person on the finals board also received a minor trophy. Between 1988 and 1990 the original voice-over was Anthony Hyde, although he was never seen on screen, and in the early days William G. Stewart presented the prize himself in the Grand Final. Calland became the regular voice-over artist in 1991 after Anthony Hyde left the series.

The Grand Final of Series 34, in early 2003, saw the only series tie. It was one of only four real ties in the show's history, such a result being possible only when two contestants finished the final level on points and lives remaining. In this case, Jack Welsby and David Stedman both finished on 101 points with one life remaining. No provision had been made for a tie-breaker, so Stewart offered to buy a prize of equal value for the two winners.


The maximum end game score of 433 could only be achieved if a player started the end game with all three lives intact and correctly answered all 40 questions. The player scored 3 points for retaining their three lives from the first two rounds, 400 points for answering the 40 questions correctly, and 30 points for retaining their three lives from the end game. The maximum score was achieved only once by Bill McKaig, a minister from Glasgow.[2] He did this in April 1999 (Series 25). The other two contestants in that final, Martin Penny and Alison Shand, were invited back for the next series even though they had not won, a very rare exception to the rule preventing losers from competing on the show again.

The feat of correctly answering all 40 questions in the final was also achieved by Daphne Fowler in May 2000 (Series 28). However, she scored 432, having answered a question incorrectly in round 2 of that episode. As with the time Bill McKaig managed his 433 score, the other two contestants in the final, Don Street and Eric Matthews, were allowed to try again. The feat of scoring over 400 in the final was achieved on two other occasions; both in Series 32: Michael Penrice achieved a score of 423 on 30 January 2002, having been beaten to the buzzer for one of the questions at the start of the final, before Matti Watton achieved a score of 412, after attempting all 40 questions but incorrectly answering one in the process. Watton's score was thus the highest not to win the Finals Board trophy, although he atoned for this by winning the subsequent Grand Final.

The highest number of people to ever go out of the first round is 11, leaving just 4 contestants for Round 2. This happened in September 2000 (Series 29) The lowest number is 0, which also happened on a few occasions, but was very rare, and even in Grand Finals it was rare despite the much higher standard level of competitors, even though the questions were not thought to be much harder in the Grand Final than in normal heats.

In Series 32, Matti Watton set the record for the highest score in the final of the Grand Final, of 222 (not including the points for the remaining lives). A close second was Nick Terry with 221, set in series 25. He also holds the record for the lowest score in a Grand Final, of 52 in series 26 (September 1999). This came after the other two finalists, Eddie Collins and Martin Ewers, had lost all three lives. Terry won four Grand Final titles; however, he never held a finals board trophy.

In the final series, in late 2003, Gwyneth Welham achieved a perhaps unwanted feat of the highest winning score which failed to make the Grand Final, with the score being 211. Worse, she was told by William G Stewart, as one of his common phrases when a high score had been achieved, "I'll see you in the Grand Final." She was knocked off the Finals Board with eight shows remaining in the series when Barry Smith scored 232. Wil Ransome and Andrew Dickens were joint 14th, with a score of 221. Their participation in the Grand Final was under threat as a result, despite a very high score. One score of 201 and another score of 202 had also been posted in the series. Andrew Auger's score of 203 failed to make the Grand Final in series 27 (early 2000), as did Nick Terry's and Alan Gibbs' scores of 202 in series 27 and 32 respectively. Dennis Collinson's score of 201 in series 25 (1999), which he achieved in the very first episode of the series, failed to make the Grand Final when his name was displaced from the board on the very last episode before the Grand Final.

Other arguably dubious honours attained in Fifteen to One are: lowest ever winning score (10, scored by Milo First in series 1), most appearances without winning either trophy (14, by Chris Russon from series 4 to series 12); also, Paul Hillman was the only Fifteen to One champion (he won the series 24 grand final) to win only once.

In the Grand Final, several people have achieved the feat of not getting a question wrong in the first two rounds. People who have done this are Mike Kirby (series 7), Stanley Miller (series 13), Leslie Booth (series 14), Matti Watton (series' 28 & 29), Olav Bjortomt (series 32) and Debra Carr (series 33). Only three of them went on to win the Grand Final.

The lowest score to lift the finals board trophy is 202, set by Thomas Dyer in series 4. In the same series, a score of 111 made the Grand Final (although a four-way play-off was required).

The rules of the series also state that if a losing contestant achieves a score that would otherwise have given them a place in a Grand Final, they are given a second chance. In 2001, two contestants achieved scores of 272 (the highest losing score in the series' history) before going out on the penultimate question. The first, Liam Maxwell, a teacher from Roslea, County Fermanagh appeared in the next series Grand Final with a score of 223 (series 30). The second, Alan Gibbs achieved a winning score of 202 when he returned a year later in series 32, but failed to make the Grand Final after his name was displaced from the board with three episodes remaining.

Trevor Montague

In 1998, one of its former contestants, Trevor Montague, was sued by Regent Productions. Montague broke the rule which states that losers on the programme cannot take part again. Having been knocked out in 1989, he entered again in 1992 under the name Steve Romana. When a viewer saw a repeat of the series on Challenge TV, they noticed the same appearance between Montague and "Steve Romana" and contacted Channel 4.[3]

Behind the scenes

The shows were filmed at Capital Studios in Wandsworth, South London. Only in the first few series was there a live audience. William G. Stewart decided to abolish the studio audience after audience members audibly whispered answers to questions on too many occasions. After that, the audience sounds were pre-recorded, and the only real audience were any contestants who had already been knocked out and one guest per contestant (for the last few series however the contestants' guests were also barred from the studio, due to a change in the layout of the filming and production equipment).

Schools series

In the summer of 1999, Channel 4 broadcast the one and only schools version of the show, in which 108 schools from across the UK took part. Instead of 15 individuals, each episode featured 3 teams of 5 players per school. Round 1 consisted of questions to each player in turn (no conferring) worth 10 points each. In round 2, each player was asked further questions worth 10 points each if they answered themselves, or 5 points if they opted to confer with team-mates. In the final buzzer round, the captain of each school went head-to-head over 30 questions. The "three lives" rule was in play in the final round only. The 9 highest-scoring schools played in 3 semi-final episodes.

Series champions were Audenshaw School, from Audenshaw in Tameside, who claimed victory after a hard-fought Grand Final episode. Audenshaw scored 270 points (plus a nominal 20 for 2 remaining lives) and triumphed over Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School from Elstree in Hertfordshire (250 points), and Westbourne High School from Ipswich (245 points).

Series winners

Series Grand Final Winner Top of the Finals Board Score Shown
1 Jon Goodwin Peter Knott 270 1988
2 Mal Collier Fred Gavin 290
3 Kevin Ashman Mal Collier 261 1989
4 Andrew Francis Thomas Dyer 202
5 Anthony Martin Anthony Martin 251 1990
6 Mike Kirby Mike Kirby 281
7 Thomas Dyer Mike Kirby 263 1991
8 Anthony Martin Katharine Heaney 242
9 Julian Allen Barbara Thompson 252 1992
10 Barbara Thompson Sheri Evans 231
11 Anthony Martin Tim Goadby 242 1993
12 Glen Binnie Andrew McGlennon 302
13 Stanley Miller Peter Fillingham 251 1994
14 Leslie Booth Lesley Webster 262
15 Leslie Booth Christopher Cooke 292 1995
16 Ian Potts Susan 'O Donoghue 231
17 Arnold O’ Hara John Clarke 291 1996
18 Martin Riley Martin Riley 333
19 Trevor Montague* Christopher Bostock 292 1997
20 Bill Francis Rosemary Broome 311
21 Nick Terry Christopher Bostock 272
Champion of Champions Mal Collier N/A 122
22 Nick Terry Bill McKaig 272 1998
23 Bill McKaig Roy Smith 293
24 Paul Hillman Michael Irwin 311
25 Nick Terry Bill McKaig 433 1999
Schools Series Audenshaw School Royal Belfast Academical Institution 290
26 Nick Terry Michael Penrice 321
27 1st Les Arnott
2nd Phil Waldock
3rd David Albinson
1st John Jenkins
2nd Michael Penrice
3= Bill Gabbett
3= Les Arnott
28 1st Dag Griffiths
2nd Matti Watton
3rd Gavin Hodgson
1st Daphne Fowler
2= Mike Billson
2= Michael Penrice
29 1st Matti Watton
2nd Russell Turner
3rd Dave Berry
1st Daphne Fowler
2nd Matti Watton
3= David Albinson
3= Russell Turner
30 1st Daphne Fowler
2nd Andrea Weston
3rd Frank Clark
1st Daphne Fowler
2nd Russell Turner
3= Matti Watton
3= Richard Parnell
31 1st Daphne Fowler
2nd Don Young
3rd Martin Saunders
1st Martin Saunders
2nd Michael Penrice
3rd Travis Flint
32 1st Matti Watton
2nd Olav Bjortomt
3rd Nigel Jones
1st Michael Penrice
2nd Matti Watton
3rd Alastair Love
33 1st David Good
2nd Debra Carr
3rd Thomas Leeming
1st Jim MacIntosh
2= Debra Carr
2= Neil Crockford
34 1= Jack Welsby
1= David Stedman
3rd Geoff Thomas
1st Azeez Feshitan
2nd Robert Waller
3rd Ted Dilley
35 1st John Harrison
2nd Ian Thomason
3rd Wil Ransome
1st John Harrison
2nd Marijoy France
3rd Roger Keevil

*Montague lost his prize in a court case. William G. Stewart was tipped off by an eagle-eyed viewer that Montague had previously appeared on the programme in disguise and under a different name to avoid the programme's strict rules that losing players could not re-enter unless invited.

Celebrity specials

Famous episodes

In one show, in the 15th series in 1995, William G. Stewart dropped his cards whilst explaining the rules of the first round. The questions had to be wasted. A notable contestant on this show, and clearly seen in the outtake as he was standing at position 7, was Ingram Wilcox, who later won the top prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

In the grand final of series 29 shown in December 2000 (won by Matti Watton), one contestant, who was standing at position 4, could not be identified for legal reasons, so all traces of this contestant participating in the show had to be removed. In round one, the contestant's two questions were edited out, and the camera jumped from contestant 3 to 5. The contestant was eliminated in the first round, so the episode progressed as normal.


Series Start date End date Episodes
1 4 January 1988 8 April 1988 70
2 5 September 1988 23 December 1988 80
3 20 March 1989 7 July 1989 80
4 16 October 1989 22 December 1989 50
5 2 April 1990 29 June 1990 65
6 1 October 1990 21 December 1990 60
7 1 April 1991 28 June 1991 65
8 30 September 1991 20 December 1991 60
9 30 March 1992 26 June 1992 65
10 28 September 1992 18 December 1992 60
11 5 April 1993 2 July 1993 65
12 4 October 1993 24 December 1993 60
13 4 April 1994 1 July 1994 65
14 3 October 1994 23 December 1994 60
15 3 April 1995 30 June 1995 65
16 2 October 1995 22 December 1995 60
17 1 April 1996 28 June 1996 65
18 23 September 1996 20 December 1996 65
19 13 January 1997 28 March 1997 55
20 31 March 1997 18 July 1997 80
21 22 September 1997 19 December 1997 65
22 12 January 1998 10 April 1998 65
23 13 April 1998 1998  ??
24 21 September 1998 18 December 1998 65
25 4 January 1999 23 April 1999 80
26 20 September 1999 24 December 1999 70
27 3 January 2000 7 April 2000 70
28 10 April 2000 16 June 2000 50
29 18 September 2000 22 December 2000 70
30 8 January 2001 13 April 2001 70
31 24 September 2001 21 December 2001 65
32 2 January 2002 12 April 2002 70
33 16 September 2002 20 December 2002 70
34 6 January 2003 11 April 2003 68
35 15 September 2003 19 December 2003 70

Celebrity specials

Date Celebrities featured:
27 December 1990 Richard Whiteley, Nicholas Parsons, Barry Cryer, Jayne Irving, Claire Rayner, Jan Leeming, David Hamilton, Anna Raeburn, Carol Vorderman, Bob Holness, Nigel Rees, Sally Jones, Rory McGrath, Matthew Parris, Nicholas Owen
30 December 1992 Rory McGrath, Lionel Blair, Jim Bowen, Matthew Kelly, Sue Carpenter, John Inman, Judi Spiers, Richard Whiteley, Gyles Brandreth, Austin Mitchell, Anna Raeburn, Sally Jones, Lesley Joseph, Patrick Stoddart, Marcus Berkmann
20 September 2013 Jonathan Ross, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Kim Woodburn, Stephen Mangan, Jo Brand, Richard Bacon, Eamonn Holmes, Arlene Phillips, Colin Jackson, Konnie Huq, Fern Britton, Alex Brooker, Dr. Dawn Harper, Ulrika Jonsson, Danny Wallace


In August 2013, the Daily Mirror reported that Fifteen to One was to make a special comeback on Channel 4, on 20 September 2013, as part of a weekend devoted to the 1980s. This was later confirmed by Channel 4.

The one-off 60-minute special was hosted by comedian Adam Hills and featured celebrities as the contestants.[4] A TV source said: “Everyone remembers Fifteen To One and who knows what could happen if the audience is big enough or it creates a stir on Twitter. A new series and a comeback is not out of the question. It has a proven track record.”[5]

The special was produced by Remedy Productions at Pinewood Studios on 13 September. The fifteen celebrity contestants include: Jonathan Ross, Jo Brand, Fern Britton, Alex Brooker, Dr. Dawn Harper, Eamonn Holmes, Konnie Huq and Stephen Mangan. Brand won this episode for charity, with Jennie Bond providing the voiceover. The special was originally watched by 1.64 million viewers, ranking ninth in the channel's top 10 programmes that week.[6]

In other countries

Jeden z dziesięciu is the Polish version of Fifteen to One, but it quizzes only 10 participants, as the questions are longer in Polish. It has been shown on TVP2 since 1994 and hosted by Tadeusz Sznuk. It is firmly established as the channel's top rated quiz show.[7]

Also, the German version on Sat.1 used 10 contestants. This version was called Jeder gegen Jeden and aired from 1996 to 2001.

A version of the programme called Vem vet mest? (Who knows the most?) began to be transmitted by Sveriges Television in Sweden on 25 August 2008. The Swedish format is transmitted every week day on SVT2 with the Friday edition being a final of the week's top contestants. The Swedish version has 12 contestants.


External links

  • Internet Movie Database.
  • at BFI.
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