We met Stephen Pearson, Manchester’s brainiest BNOC

The Tab meets the coach who keeps Manchester’s University Challenge team on top


Original BNIQ (big name in quizzing) Stephen Pearson chats about his love of Manchester, being snubbed by Camilla, front cover shoots, and how quizzing gets you the honeyz.

Quizzie Rascal: University Challenge coach Stephen strikes a pose

Quizzie Rascal: University Challenge coach Stephen strikes a pose

How does a man end up coaching a University Challenge team?

I’ve been a librarian here since 1991. In 1996, while studying for a masters, I captained the University Challenge team to the semi-finals where we lost on the very last starter for ten. The following year I asked the Students’ Union if I could be the team organiser and they said yes as nobody else particularly wanted to do it! Here we are 16 years later.

 What makes the perfect team member?

Speed on the buzzer. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you have to be able to buzz in as soon as the mental connection happens.

Could the team pull it off without your guidance?

A lot of team members say they benefit from the many practice matches I put on because answering questions on the buzzer is not the most natural thing in the world. The 2006/7 actually lost their first match so we then practiced every week. By the time they came back to University Challenge as highest scoring losers they made it all the way to the final.

When Fergie brought title after title to Manchester he got open-top bus tours and a knighthood. What does Stephen Pearson get for his endeavours?

The University very kindly gave me the University Medal of Honour after our third win and I’ve been on the cover of UniLife, the University newsletter. The Lord Mayor also presented me and the other team members with a nice medal and scroll at Town Hall.

The victorious 2011/12 team got presented with their trophy by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Did you get to meet her?

I wasn’t invited. My role isn’t an official one so only the actual team members got to meet Camilla. I think some of their friends teased them about it.

Snubbed: Camilla

Snubbed: Camilla

4 wins in 8 series, what is it that makes Manchester so good?

I like to think, and I’m sure that students would agree, that we are one of the best universities in Britain. In the world league tables we’re 33rd and top five to ten nationally. I think that prestige attracts good students and knowledgeable students.

Who is Stephen Pearson the man, outside of University Challenge?

I’m married with a two year old daughter. I try not to think of her as a future University Challenge contestant but sometimes it’s difficult! I think you have to try not to re-live your own life through your children. She and my wife are the main parts of my life.

What are the perks of being a big name in quizzing?

I actually met my wife through quizzing. I took part in a quiz called ‘Masterteam’ on Radio 4 and the day after I found an email from a student called Sarah congratulating me. After that, I’d send her an email, she’d send me an email and so on. We met for coffee and two years later we were married. Quizzing has been good to me in my personal life as well!

If you want to try out for this year’s University Challenge team, Stephen will be conducting the selection test from 2pm-5pm on Wednesday 20th November in Academy 3 at the Students’ Union. The test takes no more than 45 minutes to complete so you can attend at any time, providing you finish before 5pm.