The Brains Trust

The Brains Trust

:"For other uses, see Brain Trust (disambiguation)."

"The Brains Trust" was a popular informational BBC radio and later television programme in the United Kingdom during the 1940s and 50s.


The series was created by BBC producers Howard Thomas and Douglas Cleverdon. [Thomas, Howard "With An Independent Air" London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1977 ISBN 0-297-77278-3] The first series started on the BBC Home Service in September 1942. It followed a radio programme called "Any Questions" first broadcast in January 1941. "The Brains Trust" continued for 84 weeks continuously from its initial broadcast and became one of the most popular informational programmes ever. Due to its popularity, it was moved to the peak time on Sunday afternoons. It was typically heard by around 29% of the UK population and generated four to five thousand letters each week from the general public.

The radio programme ended in May 1949 and transferred to BBC television in the 1950s. The soundtrack was broadcast on the Home Service during the week following the television broadcast.


The original three members of the broadcasting team were C. E. M. Joad (a philosopher and psychologist), Julian Huxley (a biologist) and Commander A. B. Campbell (a retired naval officer). The chairman was Donald McCullough. Other participants included: Noel Annan, Alfred Ayer, Michael Ayrton, Isaiah Berlin, Collin Brooks, Violet Bonham Carter, Kenneth Clark, Norman Fisher (as chairman), Commander Rupert Gould, Will Hay, John Maud, Herbert Hart, Anna Neagle, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Hannen Swaffer and Barbara Ward.


The concept was simple. Viewers would send in questions on subjects ranging from practical conundrums to moral dilemmas and the panel members would answer them. The questions chosen for any given show were precisely that kind of mix and the panellists were chosen for the unique contributions each could bring to the subject matter - from the most erudite and serious to the most irreverent and comedic. One question which has become a classic example of its kind was 'Where do flies go in winter?'. Although questions on religion and politics were initially included, these were banned as the program progressed, following complaints from the Church and Government. It appeared that the typical intellectual appearing on the Brains Trust was likely to be both agnostic and socialist!

The conversation was free wheeling and totally unscripted or rehearsed, relying on the skills of the presenters to fashion a cogent response in the time available. This produced an 'edge-of-the-seat' feel to the performance which did much to add to its popularity.

American version

An American version of this program, devised and produced by then television producer/director Jeff Smith, aired on WTTW Channel 11, the PBS television outlet in Chicago in the early sixties with an original revolving "cast" of Alec Sutherland, Director of Continuing Education at the University of Chicago; Paul Haggerty, a former vaudevillian, musician and raconteur; Robin Pearce, an artist, film maker, lecturer on the fine arts and a world traveler; Paul Schilpp, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University; Dick Applegate, foreign correspondent, TV newsman and commentator; Dan Q Posin, DePaul University Professor and host of his own television program on WTTW, "Dr. Posin’s Universe"; Nathan Schwartz, philanthropist and raconteur; Ralph Eisendrath, lawyer and civic leader; and moderator Don Bruckner, at that time a labor writer for the Chicago Sun Times and for many years after that, a theater critic for the New York Times. Only four panellists plus the moderator appeared on each program.

In contrast to the British program, the questions for the American spin-off were revealed to the team beforehand so that they could have some time to think about them.


* [ The Brains Trust information]

External links

* [ "The Brains Trust"] at
* [ "The Brains Trust" by A. J. Ayer]

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