She’s one of the country’s most eminent wine critics but what few know about Jancis Robinson MW is that she’s an expert on the English canal system.

The hidden depths of a quartet of eminent MW’s will be revealed to all on Monday night when the new series of University Challenge – The Professionals is aired.

University Challenge – first broadcast on 21 September 1962 – is one of the BBC’s most enduring quiz shows, with a format copied around the world, notably as College Bowl in the US.

And the first teams of this new season are Masters of Wine versus BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. Stephen Skelton, Jancis Robinson, Nick Sowicz and Jasper Morris made up the MWs team, and James Naughtie, Ed Stourton, Carolyn Quinn and Ian Thompson were for the Today Programme.

It was a close run thing, according to Skelton who made no bones about the gamesmanship of their opponents, who were treated with a good deal of leniency by the quizmaster, veteran BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman.

‘Paxman let them get away with murder,’ he told decanter.com. ‘They all know each other and were very pally.’

The Today team allegedly conferred on starter questions (a serious offence), and overran their time on several occasions. Paxman himself describes the team as ‘a bunch of prima donnas’ in an article in The Sunday Times.

The MWs acquitted themselves well. Skelton, the team leader, fluffed the first question but found his form later. Sowicz turned out to be an expert on Gonzo journalism and the late Hunter S Thompson, and Robinson triumphed in the picture round by correctly identifying a series of English canals – an expertise which surprised even herself.

Morris was a dominant, though silent presence, according to reports.

The one embarassment of the evening, Robinson said, was the team’s ‘dismal’ performance in the wine questions. ‘Though there wasn’t a single one you’d get in the MW exam,’ she added.

University Challenge – The Professionals is on BBC2, 8.30pm Monday 20 June.

Written by Adam Lechmere