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Listeners' Brains Trust

On January 4th 1943 the BBC put its Brains Trust into reverse. For one night only the regular Brains Trust residents were invited to send in questions and six members of the public were invited to give their spontaneous answers.

The six savants were:
A soldier, Sergeant Eric Arthur Ford, who served with a London anti-aicraft battery
A business man, George Harrison
A girl from the Services, Wren Desiree Green, formerly a hospital nurse
A housewife, Mrs. Norah Taylor from Gillingham, Kent
A factory worker, Harold Richard Nolan, detail fitter on heavy aircraft
An entertainer, Leslie Henson

The questions were:
1. Do you think that men and women should be paid the same rates for the same job throughout industry and in the Services?
(sent by Dr. Edith Summerskill and Jennie Lee)
2. Do you, as a cross-section of listeners, prefer Jazz music to classical?
(sent by Dr. Malcolm Sargent)
3. What does the average listener regard as the seven wonders of the modern world?
(sent by Dr. Julian Huxley)
4. If the Government asked you to assist them in building a house, what features would you press for?
(sent by Dr. Edith Summerskill)
5. How would you define a truly great man?
(sent by Commander R.T.Gould)
6. Has any member of the Brains Trust seen a ghost?
(sent by Commander A.B.Campbell)

Members of the Listeners' Brains Trust who took part in last night's successful BBC feature, in front of the microphone. They were, left to right, seated: Wren Desiree Green, the Service girl; Mrs. Norah Taylor from Gillingham Kent, the housewife; Donald McCullough, Brains Trust Question Master, and Leslie Henson, the entertainer. Left to right standing: Mr. George Harrison, the business man; Mr. Harold R. Nolan, the factory worker and Sergeant Eric A. Ford, R.A., the soldier.

APPEARING before the microphone for the first time is not an ordeal... if you completely forget that you are broadcasting. This is the general opinion of members of the Listeners' Brains Trust, who last night faced the "dreaded" microphone for the first time.
Having seen so many personalities inured to public speaking who have wilted before the harmless-looking "mike", I felt really sorry for the Listeners' Brains Trust when they entered the studio in which they had to give spontaneous answers to many awkward questions. As these questions had been put to them by members of the original Brains Trust I felt doubly sorry for them.
I need not have done. Each one of the novices was calm, cool and collected after their debut.

Nervous at First

"I was very nervous when I first heard that I had been chosen to appear in the Listeners' Brains Trust as the 'typical housewife'," said Mrs. Norah Taylor, who originally hails from Newcastle upon Tyne.
"However, after meeting those who were appearing with me and discovering that they all felt exactly the same as I did, I did not feel so scared.
"When I sat down at the 'round table' and the broadcast started , I forgot all my qualms and just concentrated on answering the questions that the Question Master put to us."

Here Mrs. Norah Taylor gave a sigh and went on: "Since the broadcast, I have thought of things I might have said - instead of the ones I did say. But it is too late now, every answer I did give was real.
"I did not have time to calculate my answers as I would have liked. So my reactions were spontaneous. I am sure that this is the way listeners would like questions answered.

Pram Problem

"For instance," continued Mrs. Taylor, "when Mr. Donald McCullough put to me the question asked by Dr. Edith Summerskill: 'If the Government asked you to assist them in building a house, what features would you press for?', in answering I said 'I would like to have a house into which one could get a perambulator without manoeuvering up and down two or three steps'
"Now, that is a question that interests every housewife. A scientist may have given a different answer, but the one that I gave, I am sure, echoes the sentiments of many mothers who suffer from this problem.

Husband's Idea

"You see, I have to get the perambulator, used by my little six-month-old boy, up the steps of the council house in which I live."

I asked Mrs. Taylor what her husband thought about her appearance in the Listeners' Brains Trust, and she told me that it was he who had suggested that she should write in to the BBC.
"You see," said Mrs. Taylor, "my husband, who is a company sergeant-major in the Royal Marines, has often said to me when I criticised the answers given by the Brains Trust: 'Maybe you think you could do better?'
"I did not take up his challenge until I heard that a woman was wanted to represent a typical British housewife in a Brains Trust representative of the radio listeners of Britain."
As a contrast to this bright-eyed 33-year-old housewife who had faced the ordeal of the 'mike', I then had a chat with The Business Man - Mr. George Harrison, the chairman of an important advertising agency in London, who told me that he was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire and spent his early days in Wallasey, Cheshire, before coming to London in 1920.
"I admit that I was very scared when I was told I had been invited by Mr. Howard Thomas to figure in the first Listeners' Brains Trust.

Put at Ease

"However, as soon as I met him and Mr. Donald McCullough, I was entirely at my ease.

"I think that listeners should realise how much of the success of the Brains Trust depends upon these two men. They only figure briefly in the 'credits' but they are the real brains behind the Brains Trust. If they had not been so understanding I should have felt extremely frightened at the thought of making my first appearance before the 'mike'. As it was, I felt very much at home."

Second Thoughts

I asked Mr. Harrison whether he had any 'second thoughts' about his radio debut.
"Yes," he said, "I now realise that I wasted a lot of time by first giving reasons for my answers instead of immediately getting to the point."
Sergeant Eric Arthur Ford, Wren Desiree Green, and war-worker Harold Richard Nolan all agreed that their fist appearance before the 'mike' was not as terrifying as they had expected, and that they are willing to have another 'shot' any time - which, judging by the success last night, might happen very soon.
By the way, Leslie Henson, a veteran to broadcasting, is busily preparing pithy remarks for any questions be might be asked in the event of his receiving an encore!

An Interview with Ronald Strode
Article from The Sheffield Star, 5th. January 1943

All information on this page was supplied by Tony Taylor, son of Mrs. Norah Taylor

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