The Brains Trust



1940s: Donald McCullough (1941-9) in rotation with:

Geoffrey Crowther (1943-5), Francis Meynell (1944), Stephen King-Hall (1944-5), Philip Inman (1944-5), Lionel Hale (1946-7), Gilbert Harding (1948-9)

Short-term stand-ins in 1943-4 included John Betjeman (2 episodes), Edward Chichester, Marquess of Donegal (2 episodes), Godfrey Elton (3 episodes), A.B. Campbell (at least once)

1950s version: Hugh Ross Williamson (1955), Alan Melville (1955-8), Norman Fisher (1956-1), Bernard Braden (1957-9), Malcolm Muggeridge (stand-in, 1957), Michael Flanders (1958), Hubert Gregg (stand-in, 1956), Robert Kee (1958), Alan Bullock (1959), John Wolfenden (1959-60), Bernard Williams (1960-1)

Mary Ann Sieghart (1996)

Joan Bakewell (1998-2001)


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


BBC Home Service, 1 January 1941 to 1949 (1941 as Any Questions?)

Cinema films, 1942-3 (4 films)

BBC-tv, special 1 July 1946, series 4 September 1955 to 1961

BBC2, 8 January to 4 March 1996 (6 episodes in 1 series)

Radio 3, 20 June 1998 to 27 October 2001


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.


Although the panel were known as the Brains Trust from the start, the programme itself was originally billed as "Any Questions?". That title simply didn't stick with the public, and realising that everyone called it "The Brains Trust" anyway, on the series' first anniversary the Corporation bowed to the inevitable and made that the official title instead. The name "Any Questions?" was later recycled for another topical discussion programme in 1948, which (as of 2020) is still running.

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. Donald McCullough was the chairman for all four.

The panel for the 12 January 1961 edition, the last regular edition of the original TV run: left to right, AJ Ayer, Jacob Bronowski, Robert Bolt, Alan Bullock and chairman Norman Fisher.

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.


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!.

See also

Petticoat Line, a similar show with an all-female panel.

Web links

IMDb entry


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