Old Radio Shows of the Fifties

0Found – an article in an Australian comic book collectors magazine from about 30 years ago. Slightly truncated but a view of radio before internet radio quietly revived the medium. The author refers to himself as part of ‘…a lost race of knob-twiddlers, racing up and down the dial in search of something other than canned music, football and talkback.’

Listening to repeats of the Glumms on BL’s City Extra a few years ago stirred in me a deep well of nostalgia for the fifties and sixties, when radio still had a lot more to offer than pop music, sport and Parliamentary frolics. To an isolated child, as I was, radio was friend, entertainment and to a large extent, education. During the day, as part of my correspondence schooling, I listened to the schools broadcasts, but at night I had a galaxy of choice, from situation comedy and soap opera, to suspense, variety and science fiction.

‘Life with the Glumms’ was a regular part of the comedy show ‘Take it From Here’. It was a satire on the saccharine family show ‘Life with the Lyons’, starring Ben Lyon, Bebe Daniels and their children. The Lyons had strong American accents, and the whole show had a definite American bias – I preferred the Wodehousian delights of the divinely decadent George Cole in ‘A Life of Bliss’, who was forever getting into scrapes with his girlfriends – how innocent people were then. The theme of the show was ‘a Bachelor Gay’, and no one doubted George’s sexual preferences for a moment.

In Australia, the doyen of the serials was Blue Hills.
In England, it was The Archers. They droned on week after week, stolidly discussing their way through births, marriages, deaths, accidents, disasters, and more plot convolutions in a week than Sons and Daughters might face in a year. Dan, Philip, Grace and Gwen et al had been chewing the bacon fat ever since I could remember, and the Ancient Walter Gabriel got ever more ancient, but never died…

Fans of the show were just as devoted to the characters as A Country Practice fans are today – when Gwen Archer perished at an untimely age, the BBC were inundated with telegrams, wreaths and furious complaints. One series of episodes revolved around the villagers putting on a ‘Gala’, as an agricultural show is called in England, and their desperate efforts to engage some entertainment for the ring events. My father, who regularly performed at real Galas with his sharpshooting act, decided it would be a good joke to send the village committee a bunch of photos, brochures and his best offer for the day, which he duly did. Back came a very serious letter from the BBC, assuring him that the Archers were a fictional serial, and that they were not really looking for entertainers. No sense of humour, some people.

The familiar harp music that introduced Mrs Dale’s Diary had housewives rushing to the sets for their daily dose of auricular Bex. How shocked they all were when the actress who played Mrs Dale for twelve years was suddenly dismissed from the role, and revealed herself in the lurid pages of the News of the World as a de facto wife and a hard drinker! It was as if the Queen had been accused of using safety pins in her underwear!

Suspense serials were in a class of their own – nothing can match radio for bringing the listener teetering to the edge of his seat, straining to hear whose footstep it is that creaks ominously on the landing outside the Heroine’s bedroom. Suspense writer Francis Durbridge administered ice to the spine with a masterly hand on radio, but the same stories did not translate well on TV. No visual menace could live up to that which the listener’s mind had seen.

No Sunday would have been complete without Billy Cotton and his team of execrable singers and musicians, or Jimmy the Kid Clitheroe, Ray’s a Laugh with Ted Ray, and of course Take It From Here. Radio shielded the plain faces of some of comedy’s finest talents – people whose names you knew, but whose faces you never saw. Later, when hey transferred successfully to TV, they became the people whose faces you always recognised but whose names you never could recall – can you put a face to Pat Coombs, Peter Jones or Cardew Robinson?

Scriptwriter, too, made enormous strides from the back rooms of radio to the small screen, such as the Goodies team of Graham Garden and Bill Odie. Others would not even be recognised in their radio roles – Jon Pertwee is a dazzling comic actor, mimic and writer, whose multiple voices and skills were part of the heyday of radio, and were responsible for much of the hilarity of the incomparable Navy Lark.

I was a regular listener to ‘The Children’s Hour, which put on lot classier entertainment than it’s modern TV equivalents. I had my first introduction t the fantasy worlds literature on this programme. Though I was an avid Enid Blyton reader, and I read all the ghost stories my mother loved to collect, I had no idea of the existence of a lot of fantasy fiction until I heard the dramatisation of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. I was enchanted – seeing out the book led me to the whole Narnia series, and onto George MacDonald, Jane Gaskell, and of course, the Rings Saga. Listening to ‘A Book at Bedtime’ with my father, who was a non-reader but enjoyed radio as much as I did, introduced me to modern masters before I was old enough to find their books in the Public Library. No matter where we were, sitting in a dressing room after the show, or on the side of the road between engagements, we would tune into the reading of ‘Cry the Beloved Country’. Years later, hearing the song, ‘Lost in the Stars’ from the musical version of that book brought all the memories rushing back. Of course there was science fiction – so much more satisfying on the radio than on the screen in those days before sate of the art SPFX. My imagination could supply all the SPFX that was needed. I followed the reading of ‘Day of the Triffids’ avidly, my mind creating the monstrous plants in gory detail – then I saw the dreadful film and was very disappointed.

Drama, suspense, comedy – to my mind, radio had a lot to offer. It was my prime source of entertainment until I was in my teens, and dad finally succumbs to the 20th century and bought a TV. But while TV has certainly given a lot of good memories too, radiophones like myself have become a lost race of knob-twiddlers, racing up and down the dial in search of something other than canned music, football and talkback. And they call John Laws entertainment.

2 thoughts on “Old Radio Shows of the Fifties

  1. Roger

    No mention of The Goon Show, which I’d have thought the best-known 1950s show. The BBC World Service continued to broadcast it in the 1960s and 1970s, which is where I came across it. I had visions of unfortunate Russian or Chinese dissidents finally tuning into the BBC and wondering what it was about, while the counter-espionage code-breakers desperately tried to work out what it actually meant.

  2. Jot 101 Post author

    Thanks Roger. You are right. It’s possible The Goons were not big down under or a little too near the outer limits for this radio fan’s taste. Even now The Goons can seem extraordinarily eccentric.


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