I have done several posts about television and my television heroes of the fifties and sixties and may have given the impression that I have done them all. But I have kept back several programmes and people for special mention, mostly very early memories. Here they are.
[A] What’s My Line?
There was an original US version of this programme, but the British version ran from 1951 to 1963, regularly chaired by Eamonn Andrews (Top Left in the picture above.) It always had a panel of four and the picture shows David Nixon (Bottom Left), Lady Isobel Barnett (Bottom Right), Barbara Kelly (Top Centre) and Gilbert Harding (Top Right.)
It was a panel game based on guessing people’s occupations through a series of questions. The guest would sign in on a blackboard, give a very short, usually incomprehensible mime of an action in their job, and then state whether they were salaried (i.e. paid monthly) or wage-earners (paid weekly.) I suppose that this gave a clue as to whether they were middle-class or working-class occupations. (These distinctions were clearer then.) There were, of course, many very obscure occupations.
The panelists could only ask yes/no questions and a ‘no’ passed the questioning down the line of panelists. To win the round, they had to get to the occupation before ten noes were marked up against them.
[Every week there was a special celebrity round where the panel wore blindfolds and they had to guess the identity of a celebrity. The mystery guest was not always successful in disguising his – or her – voice.]
There were several other radio and television revivals in the seventies, eighties and nineties, on various channels.
I will start with the regular chairman Eamonn Andrews (1922-1987), who I may have mentioned before. He was an Irish ex-boxer who was very well known for many television shows.
He was first known on radio, as a commentator for major heavyweight fights on the Light Programme, and also as a presenter of the long-running Sports Report on BBC’s Light Programme from 1954-1965. In 1965, he left the BBC to join ITV, where he pioneered talk shows with The Eamonn Andrews Show.
Apart from What’s My Line, he is well known for presenting UK’s version of This Is Your Life, between from 1955 until his death in 1987, and the Children’s television show Crackerjack. (“CRACKERJACK”)
He was a regular presenter of the early Miss World pageants.
[This is Your Life is worth a mention because it was much more significant in the days when communication was more difficult. In a carefully engineered way, the subject of the Big Red Book would be introduced to people he had not met for years, generally ending with a long lost relative flown over from Australia or other distant lands. Now with Google, Facebook, mobile phones and relatively cheap and easy air transport, the show would have little impact.]
David Nixon (1919-78) was a magician and television personality in the days when magic was mostly card tricks, sleight of hand and prestidigitation. I remember him as pleasant, always smiling and bald. Much of his entertainment career came earlier but in 1954 he rose to wider fame with What’s My Line? Later he presented various series including the British version of Candid Camera, Comedy Bandbox (later David Nixon’s Comedy Bandbox and he was Basil Brush’s first partner. His magic shows included Tonight with David Nixon, David Nixon’s Magic Box and The David Nixon Show (1972).He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1973 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the Magic Circle Headquarters in London. He then famously presented an episode of the programme the following year, in which the subject was Eamonn Andrews.
Isobel Barnett (1918-80)
I always assumed that Isobel was form the House of Lords because she was always known as Lady Isobel Barnett, but her claims to the title were of a more lowly form. She came from Aberdeen, the daughter of a doctor. After qualifying herself as a doctor she and married solicitor and company director Geoffrey Barnett. He was knighted for political and public services to the city of Leicester; she gave up her medical career and became a Justice of the Peace.
She rose to popular fame with What’s My Line, where she appeared for ten years. She was elegant and witty, regarded by audiences as the epitome of the British aristocracy, although she was neither an aristocrat, nor married into the aristocracy – the title Lady Isobel was not strictly accurate.
She also made regular appearances on the BBC radio series Any Questions, on the radio panel game Many a Slip and on the women’s discussion series The Petticoat Line. And she was in demand as an after-dinner speaker.
In 1956, a reviewer predicted that an alien visiting from another planet could ask anyone between the ages of seven and 70 “What is What’s my Line?” and “Who is Isobel Barnett?” and be confident of getting an answer!
[It’s no longer fashionable to appear to be Upper Class. John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich, was known simply as John Julius Norwich in his television and radio career – which including hosting My Word! And the regional radio Round Britain Quiz. Kirstie Allsopp, presenter of Location, Location, Location, does not use the title due to the daughter of a Peer.]
Barbara Kelly (1924-2007) was Canadian, appearing often with her husband Bernard Braden (1916-1993) She started in programmes with him and appeared in a few films before her run as a regular panellist in What’s My Line? Later she introduced Criss Cross Quiz, a general knowledge game based on noughts and crosses.
Bernard is probably best remembered for On the Braden Beat, a popular consumer affairs television programme made for ITV in the sixties. This Saturday late-night show, which also examined current political issues, was interspersed with light-hearted sketches and music.
Gilbert Harding (1907-60)
Apart from What’s My Line? He was a regular panelist on the radio programme Twenty Questions. He was notorious for his irascibility and was characterized in the newspapers as rude. His fame sprang from an inability to suffer fools gladly, and many 1950s viewers watched for the chance of a live Harding outburst.
Cyril Fletcher (1913-2005) was another regular panelist. He was a comedian and actor, best known for his humerous recitations, which he called Odd Odes.
Two other less regular panelists I remember were Katie Boyle (mentioned in a blog to come, under Eurovision) and Marghanita Laski.
I am continuing with programmes in random order. Whack-O! was a television series, what we would now call a sitcom, starring Jimmy Edwards, written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, broadcast from 1956–60 – with a later series in 1971–72.
(Older readers will remember Jimmy Edwards from his earlier entertainment career, particularly in the early radio series Take it From Here as the father in The Glums.)
Like so much early television, most of the show’s episodes are lost. Only three of the original black-and-white episodes are known to exist today; and from the colour revival series of the 1970s, only one is known to have survived
The star of the series took the part of Professor James Edwards, the drunken, gambling, devious, cane-swishing headmaster – who tyrannized both staff and children at Chiselbury public school, described in the opening titles as “for the sons of Gentlefolk”. He was in some ways similar to Sergeant Bilko as he tried to swindle the children out of their pocket money to finance his many schemes.
I remember Jimmy Edwards, seen almost always with the cane shown in the picture above, flexing or swishing it. Of course in those days, canes were widely used for corporal punishment, probably even more widely in public schools. [Non-UK readers should note that in those days ‘Public Schools’ were the private, fee-paying schools. State schools were free and public. Now the fee-paying schools call themselves Independent Schools.]
The only other character I remember was the rather effeminate deputy Head, Oliver Pettigrew played by Arthur Howard.
[C] Billy Bunter
Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School was a BBC Television show broadcast from 1952 to 1961, based on the Greyfriars School stories by author Charles Hamilton (writing as Frank Richards) who also wrote all the scripts for the television show.
As for Whack-o! most of the series have been lost. The first series were broadcast as live performances and no tele-recordings were made. The majority of the remaining episodes have been lost to the BBC’s policy of wiping archived recordings in the 1960s and 1970s. A total of nine episodes still exist in the BBC’s archive.
The setting was similar to that of Whack-o! but concentrated more on the boys than the staff. Bunter was overweight, over-eating and always after loans from his friends to buy food. He always claimed to have a postal order in the post to him!
Bunter was portrayed by actor Gerrald Campion, who was 29 when he was cast in the role, married with two children – a relatively lightweight 11 stone 2 pounds, compared with Bunter’s weight of 14 stone 12. (That’s 156 pounds and 208 pounds for US readers.) His ‘catchprase’ was ‘Yarroo!’
Apart from Mr Qelch, the teacher, the character I most remember was Hurree Jamset Ram Singh, portrayed with the exaggerated speech and mannerisms of India in a way that would probably be considered racist today.
There were other characters that would become famous later – Michael Crawford as Frank Nugent and Melvyn Hayes as Harold Skinner.
I’m not sure I’m even halfway yet in my list but there is enough to come for at least one more post …