I suspect that much of today’s radio listening is done on the move.  People listen to the radio in their cars and via a range of mobile phones and portable devices, whilst out and about – travelling to and from work, walking or jogging etc.  How different it was years ago when, during the evenings, we sat as families around our ‘wirelesses’ - just as we sit watching the television these days.  Of course, during the daytime, some radio programmes would lend themselves to accompanying other tasks - like Housewives’ Choice and Two Way Family Favourites.  I wonder how many of you can remember listening to the latter, while mum cooked the roast dinner and dad read the Sunday papers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reason I mention this is because I have just read a book by Simon Elmes entitled, Hello Again…Nine decades of radio voices, which has brought back many personal memories of listening to the radio during the late 40’s and 50’s – perhaps the golden age of radio!  These were the days before television became the staple entertainment diet of the nation.

 

My most enduring memories are of the many comedy programmes that filled the airways – programmes that lightened the austerity of the post war years.  Take it from Here was first broadcast on the Light Programme in 1948.  The well known comedian, Jimmy Edwards, was joined by the Australian comedian, Dick Bentley, and by Joy Nichols. In 1953, Joy Nichols left and was replaced by June Whitfield and many of us will never forget her opening words, ‘Oh…Ron,’ in the weekly cameo of the Glum family.  Her fiancé, Ron, played by Dick Bentley, was far from the macho stereotype Australian of the Crocodile Dundee films of later years!  My only recollection of Much Binding in the Marsh, a sitcom based on an imaginary R.A.F. base, is of the gentle opening and closing music sung by its stars Kenneth Horne and Richard Murdoch - who did the, ‘tiddlyum pom pom,’ bit.  The former went onto have great success in the sixties with his iconic comedy series, Round the Horne.  Broadcast in the 50’s, Life with the Lyons, was unusual because the stars were a real life American family who had settled in England during the war.  Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels were accompanied by their children, Barbara and Richard, though the star of the show was, undoubtedly, Mollie Weir who played their Scottish housekeeper, Aggie.  Ted Ray’s series, Ray’s a laugh, started in 1949 and co-starred Kitty Bluett.  I recall, vividly, Ted’s continuity lines such as, ‘Here’s the door, I’ll go in.’ At that time, Ted’s sister worked as cashier alongside my father in a fish shop in Hoylake, Wirral, and Ted used to call in to see her.  

 

Young people today would be surprised to discover that another popular series of the 50’s involved a ventriloquist and his dummy – on the radio!  Peter Brough and his dummy, Archie Andrews, starred in, Educating Archie, through much of the 50’s.  I think the success of the series lay, not in the quality of the ventriloquism which, of course, could not be seen, but in the sound of Archie’s voice which, ideally, suited that of a mischievous young boy.  Tony Hancock, Max Bygraves and Julie Andrews all took part in the series in their early show business days.  Another series involving a mischievous young boy, which I had totally forgotten about until I read Simon Elmes’ book, was, The Clitheroe Kid, which started broadcasting in 1957. The star was Jimmy Clitheroe, a diminutive adult who, apparently, dressed up as a boy for the studio recordings in order to get into character!  Simon Elmes observes that Jimmy found the often thoughtless attitudes of people in those days to someone of his unusual size difficult to handle.  He died, after some personal tragedies, at the early age of 51yrs from an overdose.  The inquest verdict was accidental death.  

 

I have deliberately kept my favourite comedy programme until last.  It took me some time to understand the anarchic, Goon Show, but, once I ‘got’ it, I was hooked! The early shows involved Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine but the latter left after the first two years. (You may remember his later BAFTA award winning television series, It’s a square world! ) Along with the rest of the nation, I waited, patiently, each week for Bluebottle to utter those immortal words, ‘He’s fallen in the water!’   The two jokes I recall most vividly are:  

 

1. The cold war inspired episode when the dramatic observation was made, ‘Natasha will never walk the streets again! ’ Cue loud musical chord and the chorused question, ‘Why?’  Answer – ‘Because she’s bought a motor scooter!    

 

2.  Neddy Seagoon declares, ‘I’ll join the navy! ’  Cue at least 5 minutes of the Radio Orchestra raucously playing snatches from almost every seafaring tune imaginable – Anchors Away, I’ll join the navy, Popeye the Sailor Man, The Sailors’ Hornpipe, etc – at the end of which Seagoon announces, ‘No I won’t, I’ll join the army instead – it’s too damn noisy in the navy!’

 

Of course, broadcasting in the post war years was far from restricted to comedy.  By January 1957, Any Questions had notched up its 300th edition and programmes like Woman’s Hour and Book at Bedtime had become enduring jewels in BBC Radio’s crown.  Even the Shipping Forecast became a national institution!  How many of us can still recite the magical names of those shipping areas around our coast – Fair Isle, Dogger, Viking, Forties, Cromarty, German Bight etc?  In 1946, a quiz show was launched which built up an audience of over 20 million – far outnumbering anything that Chris Tarrant could muster for his famous television show, Who wants to be a millionaire?  The host was one Wilfred Pickles.  (Earlier, in his broadcasting career, this broad speaking Yorkshire man had caused no small upset when, in 1941, he was chosen to read the news. His Yorkshire accent was so far removed from the ‘cut glass’ pronunciation used by other newsreaders it caused outrage among some listeners.)  The show was called, Have a go, Joe, and Wilfred was accompanied by his wife, Mable, who sat, ‘at the table’.   The top prize was a guinea (one pound one shilling or, in today’s money, £1.05) and, to reach these dizzy heights, contestants had to answer four questions with the prize money ratcheting up from an initial half a crown (two shillings and sixpence – today, 12 and a half pence).  Piano accompaniment was by Violet Carson who also worked on Children’s Hour and Women’s Hour - before taking on the television role of the formidable Ena Sharples in Coronation Street.

 

Drama was also a feature of 40s and 50s radio broadcasting.  To date, the longest running drama in the world, The Archers, commenced broadcasting in 1950.  Dan and Doris were the central characters of the original cast, though they have long since died.  If you are old enough, you may remember the demise of Phil’s wife, Grace, in a fire – an event that shook the nation and that marked a spectacular coup for the BBC in 1955!  Before The Archers took to the air, we listened, along with 15 million others, to Dick Barton, Special Agent.  We also let our imaginations run riot with Journey into Space, written and produced by Charles Chiltern.  The eerie voice at the beginning was that of David Jacobs and the cast included Andrew Faulds as Jet Morgan and David Kossof as Lemme, though he was later replaced by Alfie Bass - both of whom switched, effortlessly, to television in subsequent years.

 

My reminiscences have covered only a small fraction of the nine decades of radio voices Simon Elmes writes about in his fascinating book, which traces the history of BBC broadcasting from its early, tentative days to the modern era.  If you are, or have been, a radio listener at any time in the past or present, you are bound to find something of interest within its pages.

 

Alan Jones   

 

 

 

Simon Elmes’ book, Hello Again…Nine decades of radio voices, is published as a paperback by Arrow Books, Random House Press.

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