The 3rd Degree



Steve Punt


Pozzitive Productions for BBC Radio 4, 21 February 2011 to present


Quiz pitting teams of three university students against their own tutors, or to put it another way, teams of people too young to remember Beat the Teacher against teams of people old enough to recall it, but who probably don't, what with having far more important things on their minds.

The rounds are a mix of "tough general knowledge" (to borrow a phrase that only one side is likely to have been exposed to before) and specialist rounds. We'll take the latter first: the student and their tutor each face three questions. In an attempt to reduce the tutors' obvious advantage (i.e. they know lots of stuff), unanswered questions can be passed from the tutors to the students for a bonus, but tutors cannot answer the students' questions. Well, they can, but they don't get any points for it.

A middle-aged man hanging around the bike sheds. It's alright, he's with the BBC.

These specialist rounds alternate with general knowledge rounds. The opening round is one question to each contestant in turn; the closing round is the traditional buzzer round. There's also a "name things in a given category against the clock" round, and most interestingly the "Highbrow - Lowbrow" round. In this, a category is read out, for which there are two questions, one "highbrow", the other... yes, you're ahead of us here. Without hearing the questions, the contestant has to choose whether they will answer the highbrow question and leave the lowbrow one to their opponent, or vice versa. Students score 1 point for a lowbrow question and 2 for a highbrow, but for the tutors it's the other way round. Not only does this make for an interesting twist on the traditional "home or away" choice (because you're selecting "home or away" on behalf of both yourself and your opponent, knowing that correct answers from both of you will effectively cancel out) but it's also a much more convincing application of the "highbrow meets lowbrow" concept than the last show to try it: where The Deadly Knowledge Show talked the talk, The 3rd Degree walks the walk. Slightly falteringly perhaps, but credit where it's due.

Theme music

For reasons that we're sure must be as obvious to you as they are to us, "Ruby" by Kaiser Chiefs.


The students didn't win a single match in the first series, though the students of Stirling did manage a tie. The first student win was by the surprisingly large margin of 37-26 at the University of Warwick in series two.

According to the Radio 4 website, "The 3rd Degree is a funny, lively and dynamic quiz show aimed at cultivating the next generation of Radio 4 listeners whilst delighting the current ones." And you thought it was just a load of larking about.

The 3rd Degree is explained at the start of each episode "Each of the three students is studying one of the subjects taught by the three dons. So as well as general knowledge questions, there will be specialist subject rounds as well." Just a Minute shakes its head ruefully.

They must be doing something right, The 3rd Degree won the Eurovision Rose d'Or for Best Radio Programme in 2015.

Web links

BBC programme page

See also

Not to be confused with the 1960s academic quiz Third Degree, or The Third Degree, a lottery show from 1999.

Weaver's Week review


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