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Radio and TV from the 50s

Published: 29th January 2008 14:36

By Peter Keat, Manor Court Nostalgia Writer 

Remember ‘Whirlygig' and HL (Humphrey Lestoq's) his timber top 'partner': the string-borne, shrill-voiced partner Mr. Turnip ! On alternative Saturdays, there was 'Saturday Special', the counterpoint programme, which was hosted by the memorable, World War II hero, Peter Butterworth, with 'Porty', the parrot. It was thanks to Whirligig that many children learned how to make models, masks, puppets etc with Papier- Mache. Mr. Lestoq was ex-RAF and he used his 'Flying Officer Kyte' image, to good effect It was Whirligig that gave many children their first introduction to Steve Race. He was a really professional performer and he was wonderful, at keeping kids happy; in addition to teaching them how to appreciate music. Most of all, during those early days of Children's Television - from the BBC I remember the announcers: MacDonald Hobley, Mary Malcolm, and Sylvia Peters all clad in chic evening wear.

Now who remembers the children's serial: 'Man In Armour', (1951), and his adversary Sapho, the magician...and his dreaded itching powder ? The 'H' or ‘X' shaped Television aerial mounted proudly on the chimney - identified us, immediately, as having a ‘set'. Having just the one channel the anticipation was great and ten minutes before the appointed hour of transmission, the first thing to appear was the test card. Then came the BBC heraldic crest, followed by a shot of the House of Commons - very similar to that featured, in later years, on the HP sauce bottle - and then came the BBC TV newsreel, with it's familiar mast, logo, surrounded by spiraling air-waves, as the accompanying infectious theme music went out.

Then there was 'Fabian of the Yard', with Bruce Seaton, in the title role. It was based on the true stories collected by Inspector Fabian, during his detective career, at New Scotland Yard. At around 10pm, there was The Epilogue, when a clergyman would give some sacred reading, and comment briefly on it. Of course, interspersed with all this, we were obliged to watch at least two, or even three, of the BBC's memorable 'interlude' shorts, of which, the most famous was 'The Potter's Wheel'. These usually followed a polite, card-borne, 'technical hitch' apology, which was headed with the assurance: 'Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible'.

Muffin The Mule, with the Annette Mills, was (I thought) much too childish for my 'adult' palate, in any event, we had been told, in the credits, that: 'Anne Hogarth Pulls The Strings'...and, for that matter, you could see them glistening in the lights, anyway ! On the other hand (no pun intended), Annette's glove-puppet, Prudence Kitten, along with her sister Primrose were also on our screens at the time along with Andy Pandy, the Flower Pot Men and their spindly girl friend: LittleWeed.

Adult viewing included Joan Gilbert's 'Picture Page': a magazine, highlighting people and events that were then 'in the news', mainly in London. Joan had hosted the same programme, during BBC Television's brief pre-war reign, but this all disappeared with WWII, Joan was real upper-class English lady - and she was ably assisted by another charming presenter, and Gaumont British Newsreel commentator, Leslie Mitchell.

Brian Rix, and the late Basil Lord, teamed up with Elspeth Gray (later to become Mrs. Brian Rix), Leo Franklyn, Ronnie Shiner, and Robertson Hare, to bring us 'Laughter From The Whitehall', when we saw all the classic farces, and many other pre-war blockbusters, that had previously been staged in the West End, with Tom Walls and Ralph Lynn.

In the news, in 1952, we saw Kurt Karlsen's epic escape from his stricken ship, the 'Flying Enterprise', in the North Sea. On Lake Windemere we witnessed the tragic death of John Cobb, when - attempting to break the World Water Speed record.

Perhaps the most thrilling treat, in those far-off days, for a young and dream-filled lad was to switch-on at 8pm, every other Saturday, for 'Cafe Continental' , which was hosted by Helen Cordet, assisted by Pierre Auguste, who announced, in a suitably French guttural accent: "Your table is reserved, as always". There was a novel touch to the opening credits: A commissionaire walked up to your TV screen, released the blind on your taxi window, saluted you, and gestured as though he were opening the door of your taxi. There followed a five-star cabaret top continental acts, punctuated by troupes of plumed, and satin-sheathed dancers. At the end of the show, the welcoming procedure was reversed, and down came the taxi blind...and on it were the credits.

Vic Oliver's Show, 'This Is Showbusiness', had a similar novel touch: At the end, each performer, bade 'goodnight' to the old stage door keeper...and, of course, to that Viennese Jewish comedian. The well-loved comedian Terry Thomas had a very successful television show, entitled 'How Do You View ?', parodying his famous "How Do You Do ?, and in it, he had several sketches. In one sketch, he even included the veteran actor, A E Matthews (Matty), who took the role of his manservant, and deferred to the gap-toothed comic, as 'Master Terry, Sir' Talking about manservant's, we cannot omit The Jack Benny Hour with its the endearing actor, Rochester, who played Benny's long-suffering butler/valet.

Other unforgettable American programmes are 'The Burns & Allen Show', starring George Burns, and his wacky spouse, Gracie Allen. By the mid-5Os, 'I Love Lucy' was coming over, and also episodes of Phil Silvers Show with Sergeant Ernie Bilko.

Panel games were making great strides. None was better, or more avidly awaited, than 'What's My Line', chaired by an Irish ex-boxer, and former sports commentator, Eamonn Andrews, with four celebrity panellists, among whom were a balding, bespectacled, florid-faced, irascible schoolmaster, turned policeman, turned broadcaster, Gilbert Harding; a beautiful lady doctor-turned-broadcaster, Lady Isabel Barnett; a TV illusionist-supreme, David Nixon, and the female half of a comedy double act, the dynamic, and effervescent Canadian comedienne and actress, Barbara Kelly.

'Victory At Sea' - an epic wartime film newsreel documentary and provided compelling viewing, from its producers in the United States. Noteworthy, was the fact that the start of each episode was prompted by the monotone, ship-board style mandate: 'And, Now !' Sadly the soundtrack was one of the first LP's I bough, it was on the Saga label and  still have it !!!!!

Maybe sometime soon we will look at Christmas and those oh-so-happy, and yet 'naturally unaffected' BBC TV Christmas Parties, when all the stars 'let their hair down', yet still managed to retain their dignity- and decency - and, simultaneously, give millions of viewers, a feast of family fun, into the bargain !

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