Irene Thomas

Elsie Irene Ready (28 June 1920 – 27 March 2001) was a British radio personality, well known for her participation in quiz shows and panel games from the 1960s until shortly before her death.[1]

Early life and education

Thomas was born in Feltham, Middlesex into a working-class family, the daughter of Edmund R Ready, a clarinetist in a military band. Her mother, born Ethel E. Crapnell, worked as a seamstress for 'Frederick Gorringe Limited', a large department store on Buckingham Palace Road.[2]

She attended Ashford County Grammar School where she was considered to have the potential to win a scholarship to Oxford University, but she left at fifteen to work as a clerk at the Inland Revenue.[1]


Thomas's first full-time job, aged fifteen, circa 1936, was as a clerk at the Inland Revenue.[1] During the Second World War she worked in the National Fire Service.[2]

Music and broadcasting

In 1946 Thomas embarked on a career as a musician and singer when she joined the chorus at Covent Garden and took small roles as a light mezzo-soprano.[2] She branched out into session singing, joined the George Mitchell Minstrels and became the familiar voice of many radio and television advertising jingles in the 1950s.

In 1959 while recovering from cancer surgery she applied to join Mensa: her IQ was rated at 160.[2]

In 1961 she entered and won radio's Brain of Britain contest. This heralded a forty-year period as a mainstay of radio panel game quiz programmes. In 1967, after much lobbying of the producers, she joined the panel on Round Britain Quiz, regarded as the most erudite of the BBC's quiz shows, and rapidly became its most celebrated panellist.

In the 1970s she co presented a BBC daytime television programme entitled The 607080 Show with Roy Hudd.[1]


Her autobiography, The Bandsman's Daughter, was published in 1979.

She was a columnist for Woman & Home magazine for many years.[2]


Her first marriage, in 1940, was to John Wesley Baldry, but they divorced in 1949.

From 1950 until her death she was married to Eddie Thomas, a fellow singer in the chorus at Covent Garden, who later became a teacher.[2] She was a sister-in-law of the novelist Gwyn Thomas.[1]

In 1986 she became a patron of the Polite Society, an organisation supporting good manners.[2]


  1. "Irene Thomas Obituary at the Daily Telegraph". 3 April 2001. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  2. Dennis Barker (4 April 2001). "Irene Thomas". Her phenomenal memory made her queen of the quiz programmes. The Guardian, London. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
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