I am going back to some more memories of the ‘wireless’, which in my early years was more significant than television. OK, when I talk of the wireless and television I mean radio and TV – but all such distinctions are rapidly disappearing into the vast all-encompassing Internet in all its forms.
I have so far looked at the Radio programmes Mrs Dale’s Diary and Two-Way Family Favourites and some early television in  TV Heroes and  More TV (as well as Children’s Television in Blog  and Blog .)
But I am going to abandon attempts to be logical or chronological because programmes went on for years and started jumping between radio and television. There are still people and programmes I am saving for another blog and there are many I was aware of but did not listen to avidly. (Journey into Space, with its title spoken with an air of terror, Life with the Lyons … deserve an honourable mention. Dick Barton, ITMA and others were before my time!)
Radio had been around longer than television but had not developed much further by the 50s. As for televisions, radio sets were a luxury. Valve-based sets could be large and heavy, maybe the size of a microwave oven and nearly as heavy. They were not portable and households would not think of having two sets. (Cheap, portable sets came with transistors in the mid-sixties.) Tuning was manual and not a simple process.
There were three channels, the Light Programme, (later to form the basis of BBC Radio 2,) the Home Service, (which would become Radio 4,) and a limited classical music channel, the Third Programme (now Radio 3.) We never listened to the Third Programme – It was just classical music which did not feature in the life of my parents.
This is something like our old radio, about 70 or 80 cm wide. It has two controls – one for volume (which also acted as an on/off switch) and one for manual tuning. The chart on the front shows several radio stations around Europe and the tuning dial had to be turned to approximately the right frequency. Of course there weren’t that many stations available even allowing for some long-distance reception. (Quality of reception depended on the frequency band, the time of day and the weather!)
I have looked at Sunday Lunch which kept Mum pretty busy, so we listened to the radio for much of Sundays. I am finding it difficult to pin down times but I think Family Favourites was followed by Billy Cotton for an hour, then two separate half-hour comedies. This blog will look at these Sunday programmes only. I may have missed out some.
The Billy Cotton Band Show was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme from 1949 until 1968. I think it ran from noon to one o’clock every Sunday.
The band leader, Billy Cotton, was a larger-than-life Cockney character who started each show with the cry “Wakey-Wakey!” followed by the band’s signature tune “Somebody Stole My Gal.”
The show transferred to BBC Television in 1956, usually on Saturday evenings running until 1965. Regular entertainers included Alan Breeze, Kathie Kay, and the pianist Russ Conway. The pianist Mrs Mills made her first television appearance on the show.
[Sir Bill Cotton, the BBC television producer and executive was his son, originally known as Billy Cotton Junior.]
I have to mention Alan Breeze specifically. I always felt that he could have been much more famous if he went out on his own. He was born in 1909 in West Ham, the son of Louis Breeze, a concert and oratorio singer. At the beginning of his career, Alan sang in working men’s clubs, restaurants and even theatre queues. He produced some 78 recordings, for example from his later repertoire: ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’. He produced recordings at film studios for actors who could not sing and met Billy Cotton, who changed his career forever. He started with Billy Cotton in 1932, without a contract, and stayed for 36 years. He became one of the most popular UK vocalists, on radio, television and in theatres around the United Kingdom. His recordings are still occasionally heard on the radio.
(I suspect that I would not have like him so much, or remembered him so fondly, if his name had not been Alan!)
Educating Archie (1950-58)
Educating Archie was a BBC Light Programme comedy show featuring ventriloquist Peter Brough and his doll Archie Andrews. It was a very popular programme even though a ventriloquist act seemed incongruous and silly on radio. It averaged 15 million listeners, and a fan club of 250,000 members. It was my favourite of the Sunday comedy shows.
The show introduced several comedians who later became well known including Tony Hancock as Archie’s tutor, who would greet Archie with a weary “Oh, it’s you again” and always replied to a put down by him with “flipping kids”. Other “tutors” included Benny Hill, Harry Secombe, Dick Emery, Bernard Bresslaw, Hattie Jacques and Bruce Forsyth together with a young Julie Andrews as Archie’s girlfriend. Later, Beryl Reid took this role, playing Monica in the style of St. Trinians with catchphrases, “jolly hockey-stick” and “as the art-mistress said to the gardener”. Beryl Reid also played a young Brummie girl, with the catchphrase: “Evening each, moy noyme’s Mar-leen”.
Max Bygraves later played Archie’s tutor with catch-phrases, “I’ve arrived , and to prove it, I’m here” and “That’s a good idea … son!”.
Later attempts to transfer Archie to television were hampered by the fact that Peter Brough was not a good ventriloquist. You could see his lips moving!
The Clitheroe Kid (1957-72)
The Clitheroe Kid was featured diminutive Northern comedian Jimmy Clitheroe in the role of a cheeky schoolboy, who lived with his family at 33 Lilac Avenue in an unnamed town in the North of England. Nearly three hundred episodes were broadcast. (Younger readers will spot a similarity with the Krankies!)
Jimmy Clitheroe was 35 when he started playing the part in 1956, but he could pass as an 11-year-old boy because he had never grown physically beyond that age, though in later years his face gave his real age away. The series was made with a studio audience and there were frequent gales of laughter at Jimmy’s schoolboy humour, as well as at Alfie Hall’s mangling of the English language as he tried to explain something and made it worse. Jimmy wore a schoolboy’s blazer and cap even for radio recordings, to maintain the appearance that he was 11 years old. Real children never appeared in the show, as this would have given away that Jimmy was an adult acting a part; so he talked of his pal Ozzie and his friends in the “Black Hand Gang” (who would punish any member caught in the company of a girl) but they never actually appeared.
The Navy Lark (1959-77)
The Navy Lark was a radio sit-com about life aboard a British Royal Navy frigate named HMS Troutbridge, (a pun on HMS Troubridge, an actual Royal Navy destroyer) based in HMNB Portsmouth. In series 1 and 2, the ship and crew were stationed offshore at an unnamed location known simply as “The Island”. In series 2 this island was revealed to be owned by Lt. Cdr. Stanton.
It was transmitted on the Light Programme and subsequently BBC Radio 2. For most of its run, it starred Leslie Phillips, Jon Pertwee and Stephen Murray whose names rotated in order of precedence every episode over the entire 15 season run.
Episodes were self-contained, normally consisted of Sub Lt Phillips, scheming Chief Petty Officer Pertwee, and bemused Lt. Murray trying to get out of trouble they created for themselves without their direct superior, Commander (later Captain) “Thunderguts” Povey finding out. Scenes frequently featured a string of eccentric characters, often played by Ronnie Barker or Jon Pertwee. [You may find this a bit reminiscent of Sergeant Bilko in the Phil Silvers Show.]
Its clearly identifiable characters acquired enduring catchphrases. From Sub Lieutenant Phillips: “Corrrrr”, “Ooh, nasty…”, “Oh lumme!”, and “Left hand down a bit.” “Ev’rybody down!” was a phrase of CPO Pertwee’s, necessitated by a string of incomprehensible navigation orders by Phillips, and followed by a sound effect of the ship crashing. Also, whenever Pertwee had some menial job to be done, Able Seaman Johnson was always first in line to do it, inevitably against his will: “You’re rotten, you are!” The telephone response from Naval Intelligence (Ronnie Barker), was always an extremely gormless and dimwitted delivery of “‘Ello, Intelligence ‘ere” or “This is intelligence speakin'”.
Other recurring verbal features were the invented words “humgrummit” and “floggle-toggle” which served to cover all manner of unspecified objects ranging from foodstuffs to naval equipment.
Many of the characters heard on these early radio shows went on to fame in television or films and several have been mentioned in earlier blogs. Here I have to mention Leslie Phillips, an English actor who came to prominence in films in the fifties, generally acting as a suave charmer with an exaggerated upper-class accent, in the style of Terry-Thomas. After a notable success in the Carry On films and the Doctor series, he moved away from comedy into more character roles such as the Harry Potter series and many TV sitcoms, as well as stage work.
He made his first film appearances as a child in the 1930s and is the only actor still alive who performed at Pinewood Studios in its first week of opening in 1936. Called up to the Army in 1942 he rose to the rank of Lance-Bombardier in the Royal Artillery. Due to his acquired upper class accent, he was selected for officer training and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1943.
It was during the 1950s that he became known for playing amusing English stereotypes. His seductive voice has been his trademark as well as his catchphrases, “I say, Ding Dong” “Hello” and “Lumme!” which were partly, if not wholly, based on those of fellow cad actor Terry-Thomas. He appeared in three of the early Carry films, Carry On Nurse, Carry On Teacher and Carry On Constable. In the 1960s he took over from Dirk Bogarde in several of the ‘Doctor’ film comedies.
In 1982 he decided to move away from the kind of lecherous twits with suave chat-up lines which had characterised much of his previous work. He has remained busy in both stage and television productions.
Beyond our Ken (1958-64) and Round the Horne (1965-68)
These two were very similar, hosted by Kenneth Horne. Both are puns on his name. They also starred Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee, with announcer Douglas Smith.
There were many regular sketches featuring regular characters. One of the most popular sketches was Julian and Sandy, featuring Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams as two flamboyantly camp out-of-work actors, speaking in the gay slang Polari, with Horne as their comic foil, at a time when homosexuality was illegal.
There were parodies of popular British TV entertainers such as Eamonn Andrews (“Seamus Android”, played by Pertwee), Simon Dee, Wilfred Pickles (both played by Williams), and “Daphne Whitethigh“, presumably based on journalist Katharine Whitehorn.
The shows featured the supposed old English folk singer, Rambling Syd Rumpo, played by Williams, who sang such nonsense ditties as “Green Grow My Nadgers Oh!”, “Song of the Bogle Clencher” and “Ballad of the Woggler’s Moulie”. All Rambling Syd’s songs were new words set to traditional tunes, such as “The Lincolnshire Poacher”, “Oh My Darling, Clementine” and “Widecombe Fair”.
Although I remember all these programmes I have again used Wikipedia to check dates and provide additional information.
I think I am about done for radio but more television to come…