THE DAYS OF CLASSIC RADIO SERIALS AND SERIES
Here we take a look back at the golden days of radio,
from just prior to WWII to about the mid 1950s. Radio programming in those days
was very different to today's low-cost product and the Radio
Times listings in those days read
more like present day TV schedules. As well as music,
programmes included talks, quiz shows, light entertainment,
documentaries, plays, series and serials, some of which are
described briefly on this page. During the post-war years – long
before the offshore pop stations of the 1970s - the BBC monopolized
the British airwaves.
The only commercial station available as an
English language alternative to the BBC's output was Radio
Luxembourg. Luxembourg was not at that time simply a popular music
station: in direct competition with the BBC, it broadcast programmes such as ‘People are Funny’, a sort
of semi-Americanized ‘Have a Go’ without Wilfred Pickles, Hughie
Green's 'Double Your Money' (later on ITV) and also ran 'The Bogart
and Bacall Playhouse', 'Perry Mason, Lawyer Detective' and ‘Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future’ (see
below), a series that ran from 1951 to 1956.
enormously popular in those post-war years, especially on Sundays where the BBC output was
sober and mainly religious in content, despite the inevitable fading
of reception making it difficult to follow the action; usually at critical points in the programme!
Francis Durbridge was a gifted playwright. Born in
Hull in 1912, he studied English at university but after graduating
in 1933 he worked as a stockbroker’s clerk. He sold his first radio
play to the BBC when still only 21. His most famous creation, Paul
Temple, first saw the light of day in the late 1930s. Temple was a
novelist and amateur sleuth and with his girl friend and later wife,
Steve, he solved many crimes, with all stories set securely in a world of middle-class
values. The first radio appearance of Paul Temple was in 1939 and
the episodic series went on for the next 30 years before switching
to television. Durbridge died in 1998. The wonderful 'Coronation
Scot' theme music heralded each of the later episodes.
JOURNEY INTO SPACE
Over a lifelong career, Charles Chilton worked as a
radio presenter, producer and writer. He was born in London in 1917
and joined the BBC as a messenger boy at the age of 15 and was soon
working in the record library.
He became a writer and producer, and in 1948 created
‘Riders of the Range’, a series starring a cowboy character named
Jeff Arnold. Probably his most famous creation was ‘Journey into
Space', featuring the main characters of Jet Morgan, Mitch Mitchell,
Doc Matthews and Lemmy Barnett, which first aired in 1953 and ran
for three series. Introduced by David Jacobs, who also played minor
parts in the serial, the serialized stories were listened to by
millions. The eerie music created by Van Phillips heralded each
DICK BARTON - SPECIAL AGENT
Richard Barton, ex commando, first appeared on radio on the Light
Programme in 1946. Moral, fair-minded and athletic, he and his
assistants Snowy White and Jock Anderson very soon became a fixture
in the lives of listeners and quickly went on to become Britain's
most popular heroes. Basically aimed at schoolboys, the serial
became universally popular despite the severe scripting limitations
(no extreme violence, no sex, no innuendo).
Edward J. Mason and Geoffrey Webb co-wrote ‘Dick Barton, Special
Agent’ for the BBC in 1947. The serial format - a quarter-hour every
weekday evening with an omnibus one hour rerun on Sundays –
continued until 1951.
Several films were produced and remakes
have occurred over
the years including a television series. Anyone old enough to
remember the Barton radio serial will also recall the signature
tune, 'Devil's Galop' (sic)*and the thrill of anticipation that music
*A galop is a form of dance,
named after the speed of a running horse - and for sure the music
was truly a frenzied, fearful gallop...
Although enormously popular with the listening audience, the BBC
bowed to pressure from those who considered 'Dick Barton''
unsuitable for the early evening time slot and replaced it in May,
1950 with ‘The Archers’, created by Godfrey Baseley and again
originally written by Mason and Webb.
THE MAN IN BLACK and APPOINTMENT WITH FEAR
Valentine Dyall was born in 1908 and was blessed – if
that is the correct term – with a deep, resonant and oddly menacing
voice. This voice quality led to him gaining radio play roles and
most notably he narrated the stories of the ‘Appointment With fear’
series as ‘The Man in Black’. These were weekly programmes of half
hour length and related grim tales, often with a supernatural edge,
by writers such as Poe, although much was specially written for the
series by modern-day authors of the genre. The shows were very
popular and ran between 1943 and 1955, after which Dyall had a
series of his own, simply entitled ‘The Man in Black’ but with a
quality much the same as the earlier series.
The graphic artist Frank Hampson created Dan Dare in
1950 for the then new Eagle comic. The character lifted the
sales of the comic to phenomenal heights, but eventually caused
Hampson to succumb ill health due to the pressure of producing the
weekly serials. Although he had considerable help both artistically
and with scripting, he was a driven perfectionist.
Luxembourg aired 'Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future', a
serial that ran from 1951 to 1956, sponsored by Horlicks.
you have it, as The Two Ronnies would have said - a quick, nostalgic look back at radio
serials and series as they were when I
was a child in the austere post-war years. I have only mentioned
serials ans series but I could have covered lots of other forms of
no mention of team games such as 'twenty questions' with the
sharp-witted Anona Winn a perennial panellist. Nor
'The Brains Trust', the spoof panel game 'Its Folly to be Wise'. The
peregrinations of 'Down Your Way'. 'Two Way Family Favourites', a
request show that united members of the forces with their loved ones.The
odd show (name not recalled) where a commentator sat in a cinema
watching a film and relayed the action to the listener, and so much
more. No discussion of the higher brow-ed Third programme (now of
course radio 3) nor any of the many comedy shows such as 'Take It
From Here', 'Much Binding in the Marsh', Al Read, 'Educating Archie'
Suffice to say that radio had everything. From Tony Hancock to Professor Joad, from Frank Sinatra to Sir John Barbirolli, there was
programming to suit all tastes.
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