In Spring 1963 the first National Mathematical Contest here was organized by Mr. F. R. Watson (now of the Dept. of Education, Keele University). The papers were those of the Mathematical Society of America and Society of Actuaries (past papers are published in the two “Contest Problem Books” (Random House)). About 1000 people, aged 14–18, took part. There were no prizes, only the interest, for teacher and pupil, of submitting to an American test in which even those of modest talent can put up a satisfactory performance.

Each year the scope of the contest widens, and from 1966 Prof. Hayman, of Imperial College, London, has organized the much stiffer “British Mathematical Olympiad” for which the other contest acts as a qualifying round. In 1967 there were 5737 candidates (from about 240 schools) for the first round, of which 65 proceeded to the final. The administration is now handled by the Guinness Awards (60, Paddington St., London, W.1.) who also provide cash prizes.

Russia and other communist countries have for some time run national Olympiads, to discover and encourage mathematical talent, and the winners take part in International Olympiads (in which no winning country or individual is declared, but certificates are awarded to those who reach agreed standards).

This year Yugoslavia, the host country, also invited a number of Western countries to compete, of which Sweden, Italy, France, and England accepted. Prof. Hayman chose eight recent high scorers from our national Olympiad, the Dept. of Education and Science provided Mr. Robert Lyness to supervise the expedition, the Treasury paid our fares, the Guinness Awards paid the incidental expenses and did the organizing, and the Yugoslavs provided us with a most enjoyable 10 day holiday at Cetinje (in the mountains of Montenegro), and Budva (down on the coast).

The boys had papers on two days, and expeditions, bathing and fraternizing for the rest. For the seniors it was a little more strenuous, agreeing on the papers and the marking (French was the lingua franca), and having a seminar on the discovery and development of mathematical talent in the young. All the seniors, save one, came from universities and government departments, and their schemes seemed often to ignore the fact that future mathematicians were also young people, with many sides to their natures (the French and Italian delegates spoke very powerfully about this).

There were six questions in the examination (divided into two 4-hour papers), traditional in content, and not involving calculus, or more than simple trigonometry (the questions, and solutions, will be published in “The Science Teacher”). We were afraid that our team, some of whom had not done much mathematics lately, might make a poor showing beside Russia, E. Germany, and Hungary, who take these contests very seriously, having special camps, and even special schools, to prepare for them. In the event we were beaten, in total marks, only by these three countries (twelve competed fully, and France came at half-time as an observer), and all our boys save one got at least a 3rd class certificate (as did half the contestants in all).

Our team came from King Edward VI’s School, Stafford, Manchester Grammar School, Winchester and Eton. This reflects, no doubt, the excellence of these schools, but also the fact that only a minority of suitable schools entered for the National Mathematical Contest. Let us hope that in 1968, when the International Olympiad (to which England has already been invited) is held in Moscow, we shall have been able to select a team from a much wider field of schools.


The Marches,
Eton College,

Reproduced with permission from The Mathematical Gazette volume 52 number 380 (May 1968) pages 130–131
© 1968 Mathematical Association.

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