Each round begins with the contestant whose surname begins first alphabetically being asked a question; if they answer it correctly within ten seconds they gets a point and are asked another. If they get one wrong the question is offered to the other contestants via silent buzzer, and after that the questions move to the next contestant, still in alphabetical order of surname. If a contestant gets five questions correct in a row then they get a bonus point and the questions move to the next contestant. Each contestant also is given one question has on a sound clip. The contestant with the most points at the end of the programme wins. In case of a tie, the tied contestant with the most bonus points (points for answering questions missed by opponents, plus points for answering five questions in a row correctly) wins. In cases where they are still level, the joint winners are asked a question on the buzzer and the first to answer correctly wins.
The show also features "Beat The Brains", in which a pair of questions submitted by a listener is read: the submitter wins a book token if the contestants fail to answer correctly one or both questions. At one point, the prize was a Brain of Britain quiz book, but was replaced by the book token when the book was out of print.
Brain of Britain was hosted by Robert Robinson for most of its life, although during his illness the 2004 series was hosted by Russell Davies. Peter Snow took over the role in 2007, also due to the illness of Robinson, dispensing with Robinson's trademark style of addressing contestants by their honorific and surname (e.g. 'Mr Blenkinsop'), preferring to use their given names. Robinson was reinstated for the autumn 2008 series, and formality returned to the proceedings; Davies hosted the show again in 2009, with the intention that Robinson would again return when his health permitted. Robinson formally retired from the show in 2010, and died in August 2011, and Davies continues as host.
Until 2007, all questions were set by one individual, who was present (but silent) during recordings. The host would consult the setter, traditionally known by a pseudonym, to adjudicate when an answer was imprecise. For many years Ian Gillies fulfilled the role, taking the name Mycroft (from Mycroft Holmes, older and wiser brother of Sherlock). After his death in April 2002, the new question setter was Kevin Ashman, who has the distinction of winning both Brain of Britain and Mastermind. He chose to be known as Jorkins, a character in Dickens' David Copperfield. From the 2007 series a team of setters was engaged, as is the practice in most other quiz shows.
For much of its life the theme music of Brain of Britain was the opening of the fourth movement of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but in a 'modernised' version by Waldo de los Ríos. This choice was the subject of frequent complaints from classical music fans (with whom the show was popular) and presenter Robert Robinson described it on air as "Mozart plus sacrilege". The theme was changed to a more conventional version in the early nineties.
Every three years, the three most recent champions compete for the Brain of Brains title, most recently held in 2008. The three winners of Brain of Brains themselves compete for the title Top Brain, held every nine years, with Mark Bytheway the most recent winner in 2008.
The record individual score on a programme is 38 by Kevin Ashman (who went on to become four times World Quizzing Champion, also holds the record for the highest ever score on Mastermind, became Brain of Britain question setter and one of the Eggheads) in 1996. The record individual score in a final is 35, achieved by Peter Barlow (1981), Peter Bates (1984) and Kevin Ashman (1996).
Brain of Britain was also broadcast on BBC World Service for many years; in fact, talk show host David Letterman was a fan of the show, and invited 1993 winner Geoffrey Colton to appear on his talk show. However, some World Service broadcasts had cuts in them to fit the show as well as a news bulletin into the time slot, resulting in some apparent rules irregularities (for example, a contestant would be asked a question and give a correct answer, and then the next question would go to another contestant without it being the first contestant's fifth consecutive correct answer).
|1954||David Martin Dakin|
|1956||Anthony Carr *,** (youngest ever winner, 18 years old at the time)|
|1959||Dr Reginald Webster|
|1967||Lt. Cmdr. Loring|
|1969||T. D. Thomson|
|1974||Roger Pritchard *,**|
|1978||James Nesbitt *|
|1981||Peter Barlow *,**|
|1985||Richard Fife *|
|1992||Mike Billson *|
|1993||Geoffrey Colton *|
|1999||Leslie Duncalf *|
|2004||Alan Bennett *|
|2010||Dr. Iwan Thomas|
'* - also won the 3-yearly competition to find the "Brain of Brains"
'** - also won the 9-yearly competition to find the "Top Brain"