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