On the Air

Well- loved pro­grammes from the world of wire­less The Brains Trust

Evergreen - - Contents - Wal­ter Meredith

You need a long mem­ory to re­mem­ber the orig­i­nal ra­dio pro­gramme which be­gan in 1941 and ended in 1949! How­ever, it resur­faced on tele­vi­sion dur­ing the Fifties and was re­broad­cast on ra­dio the fol­low­ing week. By to­day’s stan­dards it was some­what se­date but at the time it was ex­tremely pop­u­lar be­cause it was even­tu­ally broad­cast on Sun­day af­ter­noons when lit­tle else hap­pened.

Ini­tially it ap­peared on Forces Ra­dio un­der the ti­tle Any Ques­tions?, not to be con­fused with its later more fa­mous name­sake ( see Ev­er­green, Win­ter 2013). The ver­sa­tile pro­duc­ers were Howard Thomas ( 1909- 1986) and Dou­glas Clever­don ( 1903- 1987).

Thomas in par­tic­u­lar was heav­ily in­volved with other wartime pro­grammes in­clud­ing Ack- Ack Beer- Beer aimed at en­ter­tain­ing and al­le­vi­at­ing the bore­dom of an­ti­air­craft crews. On one oc­ca­sion he and a col­league played shove half­penny on air and claimed to have re- in­tro­duced the game to the pub­lic! He also spot­ted Vera Lynn and spe­cially cre­ated Sin­cerely Yours for her ( see page 45). His other ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion was Ship­mates Ashore made specif­i­cally for the Merchant Navy who, un­like the other three Ser­vices, did not have their own ded­i­cated show.

The Brains Trust was deemed to be ed­u­ca­tional, in­for­ma­tive and mildly en­ter­tain­ing in a sense which has been vir­tu­ally lost to­day. A panel of ex­perts was in­vited to an­swer and de­bate ques­tions sent in by the gen­eral pub­lic, the orig­i­nal tri­umvi­rate be­ing Cyril Joad ( 1891- 1953), Julian Hux­ley ( 1887- 1975) and A. B. Camp­bell ( 18811966). The chair­man was Don­ald McCul­lough ( 1901- 1978).

Be­gin­ning on New Year’s Day 1941, the pro­gramme ran as Any Ques­tions? un­til Septem­ber 1942 be­fore be­ing

re­named The Brains Trust un­der which ti­tle it con­tin­ued un­til May 1949. The BBC tele­vi­sion se­ries and sub­se­quent ra­dio re­peats on the Home Ser­vice be­gan just over five years later.

The very first episode was a lit­eral bap­tism of fire be­cause it be­gan in the mid­dle of an air raid dur­ing the Lon­don Blitz. The BBC stu­dios had al­ready been hit and the bi­ol­o­gist, Julian Hux­ley, ar­rived hot foot from Lon­don Zoo which had also just been bombed, al­low­ing a ze­bra to es­cape. It is has been said that Thomas hired Hux­ley for his brain, Joad for his tongue and Camp­bell for his heart. Sit­ting close to­gether around a table, un­like the later tele­vi­sion se­ries which saw them sit­ting in lux­u­ri­ant arm­chairs, they were soon joined by other pan­el­lists, all of whom could be de­scribed as ‘‘ se­ri­ous”, the idea of an en­ter­tainer ever join­ing the ranks be­ing to­tally un­think­able.

At first the pro­gramme was aired on Tues­day evenings but quickly be­came a na­tional in­sti­tu­tion and was moved to Sun­day af­ter­noons where it at­tracted up to 30 per cent of the lis­ten­ing pop­u­la­tion. Two of the three main pan­el­lists reg­u­larly used phrases which be­came part of the na­tional psy­che, in par­tic­u­lar Joad’s open­ing gam­bit, “It all de­pends on what you mean by ...” and Camp­bell’s, “When I was in Patag­o­nia ...”, the lat­ter be­ing mock­ingly adapted by gen­er­a­tions yet un­born.

Don­ald McCul­lough re­called that in an­swer to “What are the most

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