The Probus Club of Basingstoke, the social group for retired professional and business managers, listened with interest about radio broadcasting memories in the era of 1930s – 60s. It was presented by John Pitman, who grew up during WW2 on a farm near Winchester, where the “wireless” was the main form of information and entertainment.
Like many places in those days his home had no electrical supply and the radio was powered by an accumulator, an early form of battery consisting of glass phials filled with acid and it had to be taken away weekly for recharging. Some readers may remember “crystal sets” which were usually homemade and did not require an electrical supply. However radio broadcasting goes back to the turn of the twentieth century after the invention of valves made it possible to receive electrical signals. The first broadcast took place on Christmas Eve 1906 from the New York Metropolitan Opera House but the only listeners were ships moored in New York harbour.
1920 saw the first radio news broadcast by the Marconi Experimental Station at Writtle near Chelmsford in Essex followed two years later with regular entertainment programmes. The British Broadcasting Company, whose main station was 2LO, morphed into the Corporation in 1926 becoming the BBC.
Many memories were stirred as old radio programmes were recalled, ITMA (It’s that man again – Hitler during the war) with Tommy Handley and Mrs Mop asking “Can I do you now sir” and Worker’s Playtime was broadcast from factory canteens. Have a Go starred Wilfred Pickles with Mabel at the Table and in later series Violet Carson, of Ena Sharples fame, playing the piano. Ray’s a Laugh with Ted Ray was the fastest joke teller on radio, Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, with Kenneth Horne and Richard Murdoch was broadcast from a fictitious RAF station. Hi Gang in the war became in peacetime Life with the Lyons with American Ben Lyon with his English wife Bebe Daniels and Vic Oliver. Take it from Here starred “Professor” Jimmy Edwards, Alma Cogan with Dick Bentley and June Whitfield playing the dim witted engaged couple whose famous phrase was “Oooh Ron; yes Eth?”.
Dick Barton Special Agent was on every weekday evening while Journey in to Space with Jet Morgan was on Monday evenings. In Town Tonight was a Saturday teatime current affairs and personality show “We stop the roar of London’s traffic to see who is in town tonight”. Sunday lunchtimes had Two Way Family Favourites with Cliff Michelmoore in London and Jean Metcalfe in Germany followed by the Billy Cotton Band Show which opened with the phrase “Wakey wakey”.
The Goon Show had Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe while Round the Horne had Kenneth Horne, Marty Feldman with Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick as Julian and his friend Sandy. Mrs Dale’s Diary was always worried about Jim and The Archers the everyday story of country folk is still on air today.
Who would believe that a ventriloquist’s dummy would have a successful radio show called Educating Archie! It couldn’t happen today but stars of the day appeared like Beryl Reid as Monica but introduced herself in a Brummie accent “Good evening each, my name’s Marlene” and Max Bygraves had two catch phrases “I’ve arrived and to prove it I’m here” and “Good idea,son”. The programme had 15 million listeners but was less successful when it transferred to TV, perhaps because viewers could see Peter Brough’s lips move.
The New York Opera still broadcasts on Christmas Eve but today over 300 radio stations around the world carry the programme.