Irene Thomas was born Elsie Irene Ready in Feltham, Middlesex, into a working-class family, the daughter of a musician in a military band. 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. She then embarked on a career as a musician and singer. In 1946 she joined the chorus at Covent Garden, and met and married her second husband, Eddie Thomas, to whom she remained married until her death. 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 and her IQ was rated at 159. 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.
Her autobiography, The Bandsman's Daughter, was published in 1979.
- Irene Thomas Obituary at the Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 March 2014
- Obituary, The Independent, 5 April 2001
- Photo of Irene Thomas in 1961
- X Marks the Spot - panel game - Radio 4 - 1998-2006 recording includes Irene Thomas (mp3 recording)
- Irene Thomas - Brain of Britain (mp3 recording)