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RADIO HISTORY: RADIO SERIALS

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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.

Luxembourg was 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!

 

PAUL TEMPLE

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 gripping episode.

 

DICK BARTON - SPECIAL AGENT

Captain 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 brought.

*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...

 

THE ARCHERS

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.

 

DAN DARE

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.

Radio Luxembourg aired 'Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future', a serial that ran from 1951 to 1956, sponsored by Horlicks.

 

So there 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 programming. There's 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' and others.

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.

A single page like this cannot do justice, not even to the few items featured. For a greater insight, try a web search on any name.

 

 

Audio recordings of Paul Temple stories are published by the BBC - and not just for British audiences.

The cover of Radio Times shows Andrew Faulds as Jet Morgan in the serial 'Journey into Space'

 This early 1950s book, produced by arrangement with the BBC, contained a number of stories based upon original 'Dick Barton' scripts by Mason and Webb, illustrated by George Mitchell.

'The Archers', still scheduled, has become the longest running soap opera on radio.

Valentine Dyall 'The Man in Black'. He died at the age of 77.

Artwork by Frank Hampson from the cover of The Eagle

 

VINTAGE RADIO world: SIXTEEN YEARS OF WEB PRESENCE