Radio memories from the Forties and Fifties - Scottish nostalgia
Jack Hastie recalls the role that the radio played in family life in bygone Scotland.
Long, long ago when trains were hauled by steam and carts by horse, when Queens Park were in Division A and Glasgow`s colour coded tramcars trundled from Milngavie to Merrylee, there stood in the corner of our family living room a big brown wooden box two feet square. It was, I was told, a Marconi. It was a ‘wireless’. This represented, apparently, a technological advance, since our other state of the art technological device, a telephone, depended on wires.
The Marconi was the wonder of the age. It had dials which could change channels and I seem to remember trying to tune in to Leipzig or Dresden or Munich to listen to crackly German voices. This was quite an adventure as we were at war with Germany at the time. And of course we sometimes heard Lord Haw Haw and ‘Germany calling.’ But for practical purposes all we listened to was the BBC Home Service.
We didn`t cluster round this marvel of technology in the way we line up today to goggle at the TV. The focus of our room was the fireplace, replete with coal scuttle, tongs and poker and there the family gathered with our backs to the Marconi. As I was born in 1935 the programmes which made the greatest childhood impression on me were ones that ran during or immediately after the war.
Some of these were listened to only by the adults and I knew of them mainly by reputation: ITMA, starring Tommy Handley; Mrs Dale`s Diary and its predecessor, The Robinsons; The Brains Trust with Commander Campbell, Julian Huxley and CEM Joad; programmes starring Cyril Fletcher (I dimly remember his funny poems) and Wilfrid (Give him the money Barney) Pickles.
There were also the songs; ‘Run Rabbit Run’ sung by Flanagan and Allen and Vera Lynn`s ‘We`ll meet again’; and the jokes; comedian Rob Wilton`s catchphrase, ‘The day war broke out.’ But it wasn`t all about war.
Then there were programmes whose appeal transcended the age groups. Monday Night at Eight, broadcast from 8.00 to 9.00pm, ran from 1939 to 1948 and featured the detective investigations of Dr Morrell and his assistant Miss Frail and always included a ‘deliberate mistake’ for viewers to detect before the following week`s programme.
More vernacular was The MacFlannels, also a wartime programme and a radio equivalent of The Broons, starring John Morton as Willie, Meg Buchanan as Sarah and Willie Joss as Uncle Matha. It was a humorous evocation of life in a room and kitchen in a Glasgow tenement with waxcloth on the floor and a jawbox at the window. I remember Willie`s catchphrase, ‘You never died o` winter yet’ to this day.
R. Gordon MacCallum`s music programme Down at the Mains was a celebration of traditional Scottish folk music, a forerunner of the White Heather club. I enjoyed songs like ‘The Crooked Bawbee’ and ‘Willie`s Gaun Tae Melville Castle’ and the choral singing of the Blairkindie Glee Club. The programme also featured a semi comic character called (I`ve no idea how to spell this) Cernallachie.
Then, of course, there were the programmes specifically designed for children. Predictably this included Children`s Hour hosted by Auntie Kathleen and Uncle Mac and broadcast from 5.00 to 6.00. This featured Norman and Henry Bones, the boy detectives; the adventures of Tammy Troot, Rab Rat and Froggy, written by Lavinia Derwent and recited by Willie Joss; and Toy Town with Larry the Lamb and Dennis the Dachsund.
Another favourite was Dick Barton Special Agent, a sort of forerunner of James Bond. He was assisted by his side kicks Snowy (a cockney) and Jock and introduced by a most exciting signature tune. Recently listening to back numbers on You Tube I was astonished at how polished and Etonian Barton`s accent had been.
My last memory of a children`s programme is the educational How Things Began. I can`t remember anything specific about this programme but I do know that it fascinated me. It was a schools programme devoted to prehistory with dinosaurs and, I think, cave men, and as it was broadcast in the morning during school hours I can have listened to it only on those odd occasions when I was off school, sick, because I did not hear it in school.
(Cartoon copyright Tuck DB Postcards)