RADIO LARKS GOON WITH HANCOCK - ARCHIE & D-DAY

A TIME WHEN IMAGINATION PUT THE FACE ON THE CHARACTERS

IF 'Left hand down a bit' and 'He's fallen in der water' seem familiar, then you are older than you think.
Just two of the catch phrases from the 1930/40s Golden Age of comedy on BBC steam radio that has kept the nation laughing ever since.
Add to those. 'Give'r the money Mabel, 'I'm very worried about Jim, and 'Hello Children everywhere', then you really should have some hot milk and go to bed early.
Writing this, balancing my hot milk on the bed post and, wearing my jim-jams with a Scrooge pointy night cap, it will be obvious that I have plenty of memories of my childhood and adolescent life in Essex and Liverpool.
After five decades in journalism, the joy of writing has never diminished and delving into the memory banks, has stirred up a happy cavern of memories.
This story is about the ultimate British institution, The British Broadcasting Company, founded in October 1922 by a group of  wireless manufacturers lead by Marconi and began broadcasting from the company's London studio in the Strand on November 14.
Aunty BBC, as it later affectionately became known, initially started broadcasting for a few hours a day at the end of 1922, and the addition of 33 year-old John Reith, a Scottish businessman as General Manager, the radio waves began their journey reaching across the nation.

The guiding of hand of John Reith and chief engineer, Peter Eckersley, grew as they experimented and innovated eventually bringing the service to the nation and later the world.
Reith's first words of; 'I hadn't the remotest idea as to what  broadcasting was.' hid the determination and the influence he was to bring to his new job.  next column.
Tony Hancock
Tommy Handley in ITMA
Journey into Space
Round the Horn
Pictures courtesy of British Broadcasting Corporation

TAKE IT FROM HERE - THE NAVY LARK - PC 49 - MRS DALES DIARY - CHILDRENS HOUR - PAUL TEMPLE - DICK BARTON


It also hid the skills he brought to his desk as news and information in depth were joined for the first time by entertainment and the production of comedy shows such as; Take It From Here; The Navy Lark, The Goon Show, Childrens Hour with Uncle Mac, Take Your Pick with Wilfred Pickles, and Mrs Dale's Diary to name but a few.
John Reith, a larger than life Scot did not tolerate fools gladly and was given a Barony in recognition of his reconstruction of 'Aunty'.
Daunting in every aspect of business and life in general, he could be described as a powerboat in a duck pond when he took over the reins of the Corporation; turning it into a working modern-day way to communicate with the population.
His handling paid untold dividends in shaping and preparing the nation for the gathering storm clouds of war in 1939, raising morale throughout the six year conflict by broadcasting worldwide and in particular to the people of occupied Europe.
Risking death if caught, the patriots paid a heavy price for the news, and messages to the resistance.
Using coded passages from an 1866 Verlaine poem 'Chanson dAutomne', the allies announced in 1944 to the waiting resistance fighters that the anticipated  Allied Invasion of Fortress Europe was imminent.

Operation Overlord was announced by the opening three lines of the poem  “Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l’automne” (“Long sobs of autumn violins”), indicating it was to start within two weeks
These lines were broadcast on 1 June 1944. The next set of lines, “Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”), meant that it would start within 48 hours and that the resistance should begin sabotage operations especially on the French railroad system; these lines were broadcast on 5 June at 23:15, the call to action and history shows us that

June 6, 1944 was D-Day. Monumental in its message and fundamental to the history of this Island, the BBC was the instrument that signalled the most important and significant chapters of our history.
Wartime radio from the corporation showed the strength and purpose Lord Reith and others put into radio programming.
With the serious Home Service and Third Programme, the slightly promiscuous Light Programme, they broadcast what the nation wanted to hear, news and entertainment.
During the war years and continuing radio of today, the entertainment side of programming gave us mind images as the actors used their skills to create stories and weave continuing episodes into daily life. They were so real to the listening audience that they knew what Walter Gabriel of the ARCHERS  looked like and the turmoil created at harvest time in village of Ambridge.
My father was a devotee of the entertainment programmes and insisted on a  regular schedule of listening throughout each week.
The coming of television blew away these images and I never did recover from the shock of seeing Neddy Seacombe or Major Bloodknock of the GOONS in real life
The idea for this summary of my childhood listening came about after a question from one of the younger generation in my family of 'why do you call our uncles 'Nunkie'?
It was from another great favourite programme of the era,

THE NAVY LARK.
The show  began in 1959 when I was 13 and also starred, Jon Pertwee, Lesley Phillips, Richard Caldicot, Ronnie Barker, Dennis Price, Tenniel Evans, Michael Bates and Heather Chasen.
The mental image of a large grey ship of the line being guided byLeslie Phillips as the navigation officer passing instructions to the helmsman of 'left hand down a bit,' passed easily by we listeners. CPO Pertwee was the wheeler dealer of HMS Troutbridge and his dealings involved an uncle (nunkie) who passed on the earnings as nephew Pertwee stripped parts of the ship's structure and accessories, all mysteriously disappearing overnight.
But the particular favourite in our house was THE GOON SHOW. Considering it starred Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and the evergreen Michael Bentine, it became the hottest show on radio. The humour was basically very silly, but considering the perpetrators had just survived serving in World War Two as well as most of the population, it was the banter of relief when a chicken crossing the road would bring the house down.
The Goons became contagious and the perfect remedy for just about everything, from in-grown toenails to nasty rashes. The quartet above became absolute masters and the characters became household names, Major Bloodknock, The famous Eccles, Moriaty, Gryspipe Thin, Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister with Little Jim who kept falling in the water.  With music from Ray Ellington and the magic harmonica of Max Geldray, the plots were as outrageous as the characters, Sailing Dartmoor Prison in Channel, and the curse of the 'Exploding trousers' and the theme song 'Ying-tong yddle I fo', all of which circulated the playground the following day.

TAKE IT FROM HERE hit the airwaves in 1948 with the inimitable Jimmy Edwards, June Whitfield Dick Bentley and even Alma Cogan for a short while. The show ran for 328 episodes over 13 years, finishing in 1960.
The big favourite was the GLUMS, a family challenging the daily toil with Mr Edwards running the shop and June Whitfield and Dick Bentley creating Ron and Eff, a couple where conversation was somewhat basic and very slow and led to the opening of the show with Jimmy Edwards apparently catching Ron and Eff on the sofa with a roared , 'ELLO-ELLO, WHATS GOING ON ERE'.
At the same time Kenneth Horn had his Sunday lunchtime ROUND THE HORN and BEYOND OUR KEN, with Kenneth Williams. They also created a family of outrageous characters, Ricky Livid, Fanny Haddock and Rodney and Charles, a couple of lads who sailed quite close to the wind in 1958 era when gay was considered a state of happiness. The script was so well written it  pushed the boundaries and did a lot help the understanding and acceptance of a serous part of life.

HANCOCK'S HALF HOUR  was perhaps the most famous, The lad from 22 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam got into more self-made scrapes then anyone else. Written by Galton and Simpson, it also starred Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Moira Lister, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams.
The Blood Donor was a typical example after donation an 'armful' of blood. and the promotion of Rowntree's Liquorice Wine Gums cemented the theme in the 50s and 60s of a likeable and much loved comedian whose depression sadly led to an early death.

Another favourite of that era was EDUCATING  ARCHIE. Starring Peter Brough, he created Archie Andrews, a likeable lad who also had an answer for everything. It was unique in that Archie Andrews was a ventriloquists' dummy which did open the question why a dummy had a radio show of his own. The distinctive voice was a call for all youngsters as Archie seemed to get away with everything. and he was made of wood. The supporting cast included Harry Secombe, Max Bygraves, Julie Andrews, Hattie Jacques and Dick Emery

My particular favourite was Uncle Mac who introduced CHILDRENS HOUR with a breezy 'Hello children, everywhere. Uncle Mac was a gentle voiced man called Derek McCulloch and though I tried desperately, I never did get a record request played. Too many people liked the Runaway Train (Puffing Billy)  or Robin Hood, who was loved by the poor and feared by the rich.

Francis Durbridge's PAUL TEMPLE series opened with memorable theme tune apparently meant to symbolise a train roaring through a station. It went something like; da da-da da da-da-da-da. A softly spoken private detective who solved every crime and his strongest swear word was 'by Timothy'. The series started on radio in 1938 and carried on well into the 50s.

The crime-fighter section had Noel Johnson as DICK BARTON in the 1946 series and the scary Valentine Dyall as the MAN IN BLACK from 1943 to 1955. The imagination ran wild at the sound of his hollow echoing voice and struck such fear in young minds that he might just pay a visit during the night. I actually met him when he was the celebrity opening a pedigree cat show in Kent. Suitably hunched and confined to a wheel chair, his voice was strong and vibrant and shaking his hand was a defining moment. A brief fawning chat with him later blew away the cobwebs as he was the nicest person I have ever met and a great actor. 
Stretching the memory to its limits, the shows were my particular favourites and I was nurtured by my Liverpool Father's sense of humour as we tuned in the small brown Bakelite radio that became so essential to the post war days of rationing.

The 1947/1953 series of PC 49 with Brian Reece was a light comedy and totally inspired writing as '49' ploughed his way through the criminal population. His arrests carried an element of comedy which brought to an impressionable lad an element of sympathetic admiration of the police that is still in force with me today.

In a similar manner, JOURNEY INTO SPACE in 1953 opened up the vivid imagination of Jet Morgan, played by Andrew Faulds, and his nervous hero crewman Lemmy played by David Kossoff and later Alfie Bass, roaring through space and landing on a sixpence. It was never a question of the later 'The Eagle has Landed', and the sound effects were brilliant from the BBC Radio Workshop. With plenty of whoosh'es, booms and doppler effects and no mention of zero gravity. The real thing of later years, landing on the moon and televised space walks were such an anti-climax by comparison.    
The advent of television created a new generation of 'posh' people living in our street who could afford to buy a television set. They were the most popular people and envious eyes were cast at their houses known to contain the new miracle. The Tea-plate size screens led to square eyes with the large walnut case holding the small screen and always given pride of place in the front room. Just turning on the set became a ritualistic event with the responsibility given to the father of the house;  an excited uninvited audience always gathered by open windows or spread all over the front room carpet to watch if invited in, but never allowed to sit on the best furniture.

The radio switching on was handed over to the woman of the house for MRS DALE'S DIARY. The series of household tales began in 1948, ending in 1969. It ran for 5,531 episodes with Mrs Dale, played by Jessie Matthews for most of the broadcasts, was continually 'worried about Jim,' he doctor husband played by Nicholas Parsons.

The other great family favourite was the ARCHERS, the every-day tale of country folk. Dan and Doris Archer were the farmers and most of the action seemed to be played in their Farmhouse kitchen with the BBC sound effects team rattling crockery, doing impressions of sheep and cows and the odd dog barking as Dan came through the door. The triumph of the show was Walter Gabriel, an imagined fly ridden cow dung infused neighbour who 'ooh aard' his way through the script with few understanding what he was actually saying. Hancock did a marvellous spoof of Walter in one of his shows when Walter fell into a Combine Harvester; he did not go quietly either with a record number of ooh-arrs and cog wheels shearing to convey the digestive process.
It must have been an exciting time in the sound effects department.
Radio got the imagination going in to overdrive and television left it in pieces on the small screen. I never quite got over the television version of Eccles or Bluebottle, or seeing that MUFFIN THE MULE was not a real horse but a jointed effigy of a pantomime horse that danced on top of the piano.

The curse of radio was the number of large valves stuffed inside the Bakelite box that kept blowing and shutting the device down. It usually happened in the evening when all the shops were shut and the family had to resort to Monopoly or talking while the father of the house combed through all the cupboards in the hope he had bought a spare valve.
Leaving all that and Andy Pandy behind, the digital age has marked a new revolution in leisure surpassed by anything before, but I sometimes miss the ringing tones  of 'Little Weed and the 'flopalot' language of the Flowerpot Men, Bill and Ben.
  
The man in Black Valentine Dyall
Jet Morgan in Journey into Space

'Wound my heart with monotonous langour' The coded message from the BBC to the French resistance that D-Day  - Operation Overlord - the Allied invasion of Europe would be on June 6 1944