Fifty years ago, pupils from Kirkton High School in Dundee became champions of Britain – winning BBC TV quiz show Top of the Form. Michael Alexander helped reunite surviving team members with their former coaches.
On December 28, 1967, an estimated 16 million people sat down in front of their black and white TV sets to watch four Dundee children become the top quiz-kids of Britain.
The two-boy, two-girl team from Kirkton High School defeated a team from Burnt Hill School, Harlow, Essex, in the final of the BBC TV series ‘Top of the Form’.
The final was actually filmed in the Kirkton High school hall three weeks earlier.
But the Kirkton pupils and staff – including the 300 children who watched the recording live in the hall -had to maintain a diplomatic silence until December 28 when the programme was screened – and the rest of Dundee, and the country, found out the winner.
The team comprised 16-year-old captain Gordon Cobban of McLean Street; 15-year-old Morag Smith of Baldovan; 14-year-old Michael O’Rourke of St Kilda Road and 12-year-old Fiona Anderson of Ailsa Place.
Four reserves were also on stand-by. However their services were not required as all four members of the Kirkton team made it fit and well right through to the final round, which they won by 60 points to 50.
Kirkton High’s victory made them the fourth Scottish team to win the title since the series started in 1962.
Best described as a junior version of University Challenge, they defeated Hermitage School, Edinburgh; Tavistock School, Devon; Regis School, Wolverhampton, and finally Burnt Hill.
However, it would be January 29, 1968, before the captain would receive the prize – a brass owl – from Peter Dimmock, General Manager of BBC Outside Broadcasts.
For people of a certain age in and around Dundee, the victory of December 1967 is still recalled with pride.
Not only did it bring glory to Dundee schools just seven years after the official opening of Kirkton High School – which merged with Rockwell in 1997 to become Baldragon Academy – it was also significant as Kirkton was the first comprehensive school, first mixed gender team and the youngest team to win the title.
The win was featured in an exhibition put together recently by former Kirkton High pupil and former depute rector Sandra Cannon to commemorate the history of the school, ahead of the new £28.7 million replacement Baldragon Academy opening in the new year.
However, surviving team members and the teachers who coached them had not been together for 50 years – until reunited by The Courier to mark this special anniversary.
Fiona Campbell (nee Anderson), now a 62-year-old grandmother who has worked in social work for 37 years, said: “I remember just being told ‘right you are doing this’!
“I don’t remember having a choice or anything. I think I was chosen because I was the youngest in my year and there were certain age categories we had to fit into.
“We didn’t really know each other at school – it was such a huge place with 1400 pupils at that time. We were treated like heroes when we won!”
Morag Reid (nee Smith), now a 65-year-old grandmother who went on to become an English and guidance teacher at Dundee’s Menzieshill High School, said: “I recall great excitement about it but absolute terror as well that you might get a question wrong.
“People recognised us for years – you’d be down the town buying shoes and people would say ‘you’re that wee girl from Top of the Form!’
“Everywhere I went people sang me the programme’s theme tune.”
Michael O’Rourke, 64, who retired from Dundee criminal justice after 37 years, said: “Indirectly the reason we won was down to the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson because at that time Wilson was pushing the comprehensive school agenda, and up to that time Top of the Form had only involved grammar schools.
“The groundwork the teachers put in was great. I remember feeling really optimistic and confident that we weren’t going to let each other down as a team.”
Unfortunately team captain Gordon Cobban, the oldest member of the team who went on to become a prominent London architect, died in Dundee two years ago aged just 64.
However, Albert A’Hara, now aged 81, who was principal teacher of classics at Kirkton High in 1967 and one of the team coaches, has fond memories of his “calm, individualistic talent”.
“My main worry was would the team all appear on the day?” said Albert, who encouraged pupils to keep on top of current affairs ahead of the final.
“Would there be any hysterics? Would the reserves turn up? To everyone’s credit we never had any problems – although the rounds were very close!”
Former Kirkton class teacher and team coach Bill Kippen, now 78, who went on to become depute head teacher at Rockwell High School, said: “I was so excited teaching at Kirkton in those days, I wanted the summer holidays to be cut short so that I could get back. I loved it! Kirkton had this buzz.
“We helped the children look at life in the round.
“With due respect to the team, I can think of a good many children who could have taken part.
“I think there was a huge dynamic, a huge interaction of clever children, positive children and children who had enthusiasm.
“I feel very proud of the fact that other children could have taken part.”
How would you have done in 1967? Below are the questions and answers that were posed to the Kirkton High team and their rivals from Harlow, Essex, in the final:
Top of the Form Questions 1967 Autumn Series
Round 1 Kirkton High
- A miner digs out coal. What does a lumberjack do?
- Which mountain range makes Switzerland the most mountainous country in Europe?
- With which country do we associate Fidel Castro?
- Luxemburg is one of the smallest and oldest independent countries in Europe. Can you name one of the countries which borders it? 8 points
- A fashion designer designs clothes. What does an architect design?
- If you sailed from Liverpool to Montreal, which ocean would you cross?
- Of which country was Josef Stalin the dictator?
- Which is the smallest county in England? 8 points each side.
Round 2 (Kirkton first)
- What do butterflies and bees extract from flowers?
- Why are hedgehogs rarely seen in winter?
- Buoys are found in harbours. What are they used for?
- Buffers can be found on railways. What are they used for?
- If you went from Rouen to Fontainbleu by boat, what river would you be on?
- If you went from Strasbourg to by boat, what river would you be travelling on?
- With what business activity do you associate the names of Northcliffe, Beaverbrook and Thomson?
- These people work in the entertainment world. What special job do they have in common? Alfred Hitchcock, John Schlesinger and Richard Lester.
Dundee have 14 points, and Harlowe are just ahead with 15 points.
Round 3 (Harlow first)
- When I left the house it was 12 o’ clock. When I got back it was half past twelve. How many degrees has the minute hand gone through on the face of the clock?
- You tilt a ladder against a wall so that the top of the ladder is as far up the wall as the bottom of the ladder is away from the wall. At what angle is the ladder tilted?
- If the liquid in a thermometer is coloured red, what is it most likely to be?
- If a barometer has a liquid at all what is it?
- In an ordinary light bulb, what does the electricity pass through to give the bright light?
- In neon lighting, what does the electricity pass through to give the bright light?
- If an entymologyst gave his collection to a museum, what would he be giving?
- If a lepidopterist presented his collection to a museum, what would he be giving?
At the end of Round 3 – Kirkton High 20 Harlowe 23
Round 4 Kirkton first
Pictures, Music and Film extract Questions
- There is a special name for this kind of boat which can be seen in Chinese waters. What is it?
- There is a special name for this kind of boat which can be found in Italy. What is it?
- Listen to the music and tell me when I ask you what is the name of the work and who composed it?
- Listen to the music and tell me when I ask you what the name of this is and who composed it.
- Look at your picture please. This is part of the first complete map of unexplored territory. What is it?
- Look at your picture. This controversial piece of sculpture was recently unveiled opposite the Palace of Westminster. Who was the sculptor?
- Look at this piece of film. This film shows work being carried out to move temples of an ancient Pharoah and his queen on the banks of the Nile. What is the name generally given to these temples and why have they been moved?
- This shows excavations being carried out this summer at Canbury Hill in Somerset. Now excavations have also been carried out at Glastonbury, Northumberland, Cornwall and Scotland. What are all these archaeologists trying to find and with which legendary character are they associated?
At the end of Round 4, positions are reversed. Harlowe have 27 and Dundee have 30.
Round 5 Harlow first
- Who is the nursery rhyme character who fell from a wall and who even the King’s horses and the King’s men couldn’t put together again?
- Who was the nursery rhyme character who fell down and broke his crown while on a domestic mission up a hill?
- If the opposite of inside is outside, what is the opposite of ascend?
- If the opposite of behave is misbehave, what is the opposite of legible?
- Cricket as you know is played on a pitch. What is the particular name given to the place where Lawn Tennis is played?
- What is the particular name given to the place where golf is played?
- In fiction, his friends were Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Who was he?
- In one of Shakespeare’s plays the spirit Ariel is the servant of a magician. Who is the magician?
At the end of Round 5 Harlowe have 33 points and Dundee have increased their lead with 38 points
Round 6 Kirkton first
- We have French beans, but what kind of vegetable is associated with Savoy?
- What kind of vegetable is associated with Brussels?
- What kind of a port is a heliport?
- What kind of a yacht is a sand yacht?
- Where would you most likely be if you were travelling in a droshky?
- Where would you most likely be if you were travelling in a jaunting car?
- Where is the Abominable Snowman supposed to live?
- Where is Davy Jones Locker supposed to be?
Harlowe 39 Kirkton 43
Round 7 Harlow first
- The Romans had plumes in their helmets. What was the distinguishing feature of Viking helmets?
- What was the distinguishing feature that the Crusaders wore on their tunics?
- One period of British history is often referred to as The Restoration. What was restored?
- A great movement in history was the Reformation. What was reformed?
- What king said these words – “Let not poor Nelly starve.”
- What English queen said these words: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.”
- Who was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor 1685?
- Who was the English king defeated at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314?
Harlowe 44 Kirkton 48
Round 8 Kirkton first
- What is the proper name of the saint that we call Santa Claus?
- What is the name of the monk who was one of Robin Hood’s merry men?
- What would be the hobby of someone who collected black mollies, swordtails and guppies?
- If a BBC announcer used the terms Dogger, Rockall and Faroes, what announcement would he be making?
- If a country is holding a plebiscite, what are the people expected to do?
- If a king abdicates, what does he decide to do?
- What is the common name by which the disease rubella is better known?
- What is the familiar name of the Australian bird, the kookaburra?
Harlowe 48 points Kirkton 58 points
Round 9 Harlow first
- With which country do we associate Napoleon?
- With which country do we associate George Washington?
That was the final question in the final contest.
Result:Harlow 50 points Dundee 60 points
1 cuts down trees
2 the Alps
2 the Atlantic
2 they hibernate
3 to warn ships of rocks and sandbanks
4 to stop carriages bashing into each other and stop trains at the end of the line.
5 The Seine
6 The Rhine
7 Newspapers, the Press
8 Film Directors (producers accepted)
1 180 degrees
2 45 degrees
3 alcohol and red dye
5 a filament of wire
6 neon gas
3 Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture
4 Handel Water Music
5 The Moon – the far side of the Moon.
6 Henry Moore
7 The temples of Abu Simbel and they are being moved so they won’t be flooded by the new Aswan Dam.
8 Camelot and King Arthur’s capital (Kirkton bonus point for Gordon!)
1 Humpty Dumpty
7 D’Artagnan (Gordon bonus point)
3 place for landing helicopters on high buildings
4 yacht with wheels for going on large open beaches
6 Ireland (Morag bonus point!)
7 Tibet / Himalayas
8 the bottom of the sea
2 a cross
3 the monarchy after Oliver Cromwell
4 the Church – Protestant Church split from the Catholic Church
(bonus to Harlowe)
5 Charles ll (bonus to Kirkton)
6 Elizabeth the First
7 Duke of Monmouth
8 Edward ll
1 St Nicholas
2 Friar Tuck (bonus point Fiona)
3 collects tropical fish
4 shipping forecast
5 to vote to show their opinion on a certain matter
6 to give up his throne
7 German Measles
8 the Laughing Jackass (Gordon bonus point)