Brain of Britain



Franklin Engelmann (1968-72)

Ian Gillies (1972)

Robert Robinson (1973-2008)

Russell Davies (stand-in, 2004, 2009, host 2010-)

Peter Snow (2007)


Adjudicators (usually silent): "Mycroft" (Ian Gillies, 1973-2001), "Jorkins" (Kevin Ashman, 2002-7)


BBC Radio 4, 16 January 1968 to present


Radio's premier clever-clogs quiz show, originally spun-off from a segment in What Do You Know?.

Four contenders gather from a selected region of the UK, and the presenter asks a question of each, continuing until they get one wrong - that's open to the other contestants on (silent) buzzers. There's a point for a correct answer, five in a row gains a bonus mark, and ten seconds are allowed for thought. In the event of a tie, bonus questions count double; a five question play-off is available if required.

Half-way through each episode is a "Beat The Brains" section, where a listener sets two questions, hoping to stump the panel on one, and win a book token. Like the main quiz, this interlude was also carried over from What Do You Know?.

According to Ian Gillies' book from the 1980s, each programme was carefully structured, with relatively easy questions to begin with, difficult posers in the middle, and relaxing with more simple questions to end the programme on a high. This structure appears to have been relaxed over time, and almost forgotten by the twenty-first century. One thing that never changed was that two questions would be accompanied by a musical clue - except this changed to three music questions in 2012.

The contest features 48 competitors - eight each from London, the Home Counties, the Midlands and East Anglia, the North of England, four from the South-West, and four drawn from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Until 2006, each heat featured people from the same geographic region. The twelve heat winners, and four highest-scoring runners-up, compete in semi-finals, with the winner of each advancing to the final.

Every three years, the annual winners return for a Brain of Brains competition. Every nine years, the triennial champions compete in the Top Brain contest, possibly eight years after their original triumph. The Brain of Brains and Top Brain scheduled for 2007 were delayed until September 2008, allowing Robert Robinson to return to the host's chair.

Towards the end of his life, Robert Robinson's health was not good enough for him to participate, despite the show relocating to London on occasion to facilitate his continuing contributions. 2007 saw Peter Snow taking up the mantle, along with a few other minor changes: contestants introduced themselves rather than having the host greet them, and were referred to by their first names rather than Robinson's traditional "Mr Jones/Mrs Smith". Also, a production team set the questions rather than one individual, as Kevin Ashman was unable to travel to Manchester regularly. Robinson returned for the 2008 series, but was again absent in 2009, with Russell Davies standing in. In August 2010, Robinson announced that he would not be returning, allowing Davies to officially step up to the the role of host. Robinson died in August 2011, and a tribute was paid prior to that autumn's first show.


John P. Wynn


Regular Series

Those listed for 1954-1967 are winners of the Brain of Britain segment of What Do You Know?

1954 Martin Dakin 1972 A. Lawrence 1990 Jim Eccleson2008-9 Geoff Thomas
1955 Arthur Maddocks 1973 Glyn Court 1991 Chris Wright 2009-10 Ian Bayley
1956 Anthony Carr [1] 1974 Roger Pritchard 1992 Mike Billson 2010-11 Iwan Thomas
1957 Rosemary Watson 1975 Winifred Lawson1993 Geoffrey Colton 2011-12 Ray Ward
1958 David Keys 1976 Thomas Dyer 1994 Ian Wynn-Mackenzie 2012-13 Barry Simmons
1959 Dr Reginald Webster 1977 Martin Gostelow 1995 Ian Kinloch 2014 Mark Grant
1960 Patrick Bowing 1978 James Nesbitt 1996 Kevin Ashman 2015 Nigel Jones
1961 Irene Thomas 1979 Arthur Gerard 1997 Daphne Fowler 2016 Mike Clarke
1962 Henry Button 1980 Tim Paxton 1998 Guy Herbert 2017 John Beynon
1963 Ian Barton 1981 Peter Barlow 1999 Leslie Duncalf 2018 Clive Dunning
1964 Ian Gillies 1982 John Pusey 2000 Mike Smith-Rawnsley 2019 David Stainer
1965 Robert Crampsey 1983 Sue Marshall 2001 Tom Corfe 2020 Graham Barker
1966 Richard Best 1984 Peter Bates 2002 Dr David Jones
1967 Lt. Cmdr. Loring 1985 Richard Fife 2003 David Stedman
1968 Ralph Raby 1986 Stephen Gore 2004 Alan Bennett
1969 T. D. Thomson 1987 Ian Sutton 2005 Christopher Hughes
1970 Iain Matheson 1988 Paul Monaghan2006 Pat Gibson
1971 Fred Morgan 1989 Barbara Thompson2007Mark Bytheway

[1] At 18-years-old, the youngest ever winner.

Brain of Brains

1956 Anthony Carr
1959 Reginald Webster
1962 Irene Thomas
1965 Ian Gillies
1968 Ralph Raby
1971 Iain Matheson
1974 Roger Pritchard
1977 Tom Dyer
1980 James Nesbitt
1983 Peter Barlow
1986 Richard Fife
1989 Glen Binnie [1]
1992 Mike Billson
1995 Geoffrey Colton
1998 Kevin Ashman
2001 Leslie Duncalf
2004 Alan Bennett
2008 Mark Bytheway
2011 Ian Bayley
2014 Mark Grant
2018 John Benyon
2021 David Stainer

[1] Mr Binnie finished second to Miss Thompson in the 1989 final, and took her place when she was unavailable to record the Brain of Brains competition.

Top Brain

1962 Anthony Carr
1971 Ian Gillies
1980 Roger Pritchard
1989 Peter Barlow
1998 Kevin Ashman
2008 Mark Bytheway
2018 Mark Grant


"Aaaah." (and other slightly pained cries, as Robert Robinson fills while the adjudicator considers an answer.)

Theme music

Various versions of "Rondo", including that by the fabulously named Waldo de los Rios.


The record score on a programme final is 35, although there have been higher scores in earlier rounds.

Former producer Richard Edis explained the show's appeal, "When the audience hear a question to which they know the answer, they feel warm. When they know and the competitors don't, they're positively incandescent."

The 2020 series had to be aired in two blocks - the first six heats in one block and the rest of the series in the other - as a consequence of COVID-19.


A Brain of Britain quiz book was published in 1986.

See also


Television Brain of Britain


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