The Brains Trust



Donald McCullough Bernard Braden (1957), Michael Flanders, Hugh Ross Williamson(1955-6), Norman Fisher, Alan Melville, Hubert Gregg, Malcolm Muggeridge, Bernard Braden, Robert Kee, Mary Ann Sieghart (1996)


Original permanent panellists (1940s): Archibald Campbell (known as Commander A.B. Campbell), Dr. Julian Huxley and Prof. C.E.M. Joad (1950's) Bertrand Russell, Julian Huxley, Egon Ronay, Dr. Jacob Bronowski, Archbishop of Cape Town. (1996) Jonathan Miller, Edward de Bono, Ben Okri.


BBC Home Service, 1 January 1941 to 1949

Cinema films, 1942-3 (4 films)

BBC-tv, 1955-61

Radio 3, 1994-5

BBC2, 1996


A panel answered questions sent in by listeners, and were expected to talk intelligently on any subject, no matter what it was.

About half-a-dozen questions were dealt with in each live 45-minute broadcast, and the producers selected the questions to play to the panel's strengths. The questions tended to raise matters of morality rather than fact, and while party politics were eschewed, international politics and religion were open for general discussion.


Long before the show transferred to television, there was a version which was filmed and shown in cinemas. It was claimed to be the first completely unscripted and unrehearsed feature film. As far as we can tell there were four films in all, with the first one (in 1942) being a film of a radio show, and the other three (in 1943) made specially for the big screen.

One of the most famous discussions concerned the question of whether a fly landing on a ceiling approaches upside-down or right-way-up. The answer, arrived at after multiple discussions and experiment, was that a fly approaches the ceiling right-way-up and executes a "flip" to land.

Discussion of religion was banned from the show in 1942 after complaints from the Anglican and Catholic churches that the show had an agnostic bias. Similarly, the following year the Ministry of Information put pressure on the BBC to prevent politics being discussed because of socialist bias from the three regulars.

"Professor" C.E.M. Joad (not technically a professor, though he was head of the Philosophy department at Birkbeck College) was one of the first game show regulars to be dropped after a press scandal. The popular contributor to the radio version suddenly found himself persona non grata in 1948 after being convicted of dodging a 17s 1d train fare.

The 1960s series Petticoat Line, devised by Ian Messiter, was a similar show with an all-female panel.


Howard Thomas, who claimed to have coined the term "question-master" specially for Donald McCullough. The programme was "inspired by" the American series Information Please!.

Web links

IMDB entry


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