Counterpoint (radio programme)

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GenreQuiz show
Running time30 minutes
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Home stationBBC Radio 4
StarringNed Sherrin (1986–2006)
Edward Seckerson (2007)
Paul Gambaccini (2008–2013, 2014–)
Russell Davies (2013–2014)
Original release1986 – present
Opening themeBach: Partita in E Major

Counterpoint is a BBC Radio 4 quiz. Described in the show's introduction as "The general knowledge music quiz", the questions are about music, from classical, jazz, pop, musicals, and all other forms of music. It was originally hosted by Ned Sherrin (1986–2006). In the chair for the 2007 series was Edward Seckerson with Paul Gambaccini taking over in 2008, following the death of Ned Sherrin in 2007.[1] Russell Davies took over temporarily in 2013 following allegations made against Gambaccini, who returned to the show in November 2014 after being cleared of the allegations.


The quiz is played by three contestants over three rounds, or "movements" as they are known in the show.

First round

In the first round, each contestant is asked four (or occasionally three if there is a shortage of time) questions, two of which are illustrated by short musical pieces. Two points are awarded for a correct answer, or one point for a partially correct response. If the given answer is incorrect, or partially incorrect, the other two contestants may buzz in for one point. If there is a tie at the end of the first round, a further buzzer question is asked to determine the contestants' order for the next round.

Second round

The middle round is a solo round, similar to the 'specialist subject' format of Mastermind, with the difference that the contestants have neither chosen nor been given warning of the subject. Five categories of questions are offered, some of which are very specific e.g. "Beethoven's Piano Sonatas", while others are more general, for instance "sunshine and rain". The contestant with the most points after round one chooses from the five categories, the runner-up chooses from the four remaining, and the contestant in last place chooses from the three that are left. Each round consists of seven (occasionally six) questions, including three musical cues. Again two points are given for a correct answer, but, in this round, questions answered incorrectly are not offered to the other contestants.

Third round

The final round consists of a variable number of questions, usually no more than twenty. Any contestant can answer these questions, provided they buzz in first. A correct answer will add one point to a contestant's score. If an incorrect answer is given, a contestant is deducted one point.

The contestant with the highest score at the end of each regular show wins the right to appear again, later in the series, to compete against other winners from the current series. The series is completed in 13 weeks, the last show being the final, at the end of which the series' winner is decided.

Broadcast history

The show has been broadcast in BBC Radio 4's Monday afternoon quiz slot since 1998 with a repeat on the following Saturday evening. Three main question-setters have been used by the programme: Ian Gillies, often referred to as Mycroft by Robert Robinson in Brain of Britain (1986–2000); David Kenrick, the 1993 champion (1993 – )referred to as ' Clever Mr Kochel ' by Ned Sherrin ; and Stephen Follows a semi-finalist 1996 ( 2002 - ). 'Counterpoint' has been produced since 2001 by Paul Bajoria. In November 2014, Paul Gambaccini returned to present the programme after being cleared of allegations against him.[2] In his absence the programme had been hosted by Russell Davies.


The following is an incomplete list of Counterpoint champions since 1988.

Year Champion
1988 Andrew Rothwell
1992 Ian Sutton
1993 David Kenrick
1994 James Eccleson
1995 Geoff Thomas
1996 Peter French
1997 Richard Newbold
1999 David Hunt
2001 Andrew Rothwell 2004 Paul Steeples
2005 John Taylor
2006 Graham Holliday
2007 John Wrigley
2008 Brian Davies
2009 David Roy
2010 Andy Langley
2011 Anthony Dean
2012 Michael Pitwood
2013 Wilson Bain
2014 Stephen Whittaker
2015 Dan Adler
2016 Tim Adkin
2017 Richard Searle
2018 David Sherman
2019 Brian Thompson


Theme music

The current Counterpoint theme is Bach's "Partita in E major", arranged and performed by Jacques Loussier. The original theme tune for the programme, when it began in 1986, was the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Georg Friedrich Handel. In the late 1990s it was opened by a specially commissioned piece entitled "Counterpoint", by musician Ray Davies.


  1. ^ Williams, Zoe (27 June 2011). "Radio review: Counterpoint". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  2. ^ Hastings, Paul. "Cleared Paul Gambaccini gets BBC show back: Veteran DJ accused of historic sex abuse returns to studio – after almost a year on bail". Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  3. ^ BBC recordings

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