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Radio Ga-Ga

T he date, November 15th 1922, the BBC broadcasts its first radio program.

Now the BBC is proud of its ability to produce programs of high quality because of the unique way it is financed. Now many of you reading this site will not know how it is financed. Simple the British public pay. What's radical about this you may well ask. Again simple you do not pay for the output of the BBC you pay for the priviledge of having a television so you can pay for ITV & Channel 4 by watching adverts and pay for satellite by subscribing and pay for decent films by renting them. Then the BBC feeds you a diet of repeats which as long as you are over the age of three you should have seen before (probably that morning.)

Oh yes, if you do not pay for having your TV (its about £100/$170 per year) you get to appear in court pay heavy fines or visit the Government approved boarding house, otherwise known as prison. Often though it is single parent mothers that fall foul of this and the government are not keen on building prisons for women so these menaces to society may end up rubbing shoulders with the criminally insane. I think the BBC should be justifiably proud of themselves for such an enlightened way of collecting revenue. No doubt there are more balanced views abounding on this situation but you are not going to find it here <g>. So all together now, sing-a-long, 'Its a perfect day.'

Toni & Yento, surprisingly a one man band

Okay I have got this pet rant off my keyboard and lets move on to things more immeadiate; cigarette cards.

There are a number of sets which are dedicated to all things radio. This is quite jolly as many of the presenters were only known by voice, as is the case today. So, unlike the stars of stage and screen, this could well have been the first and only time that the general public got to see the presenters. Although a good many of them would cross over to television later.

The error card from the Radio Celebrities series.

Wills produced two sets Series 1 & 2 of Radio Celebrities. The real joy of series one is my favorite card error. Number 9 shows Captain HBT Wakelam. The card explains that he was the first man to attempt a sporting commentary, Rugby, England Vs Wales, Jan 1927. Well all is good but this man clearly was not seen a great deal because Wills issued the set with totally the wrong person on show. The error was quickly remedied and the real Captain Wakelam stepped forward. It was never revealed exactly who the man was impersonating him originally, but the chap was not even close.

A good few years later (1995 I think) it was finally discovered who the fellow above really was.

Mr Arthur Burrows please step forward.
He was the BBC's first Director of Programmes in 1922
I hope it was worth the wait, it took over seventy years for this bit of information to finally be common knowledge.

The radio somehow demanded everyone had a catch. Card 43 Series 1 shows Billy Mayerl, 'The pianist with lightening in his fingers.' Card 28 Clapham and Dwyer get described thus, 'Dwyer, the one who keeps on trying to be sensible, is fat. Clapham the 'silly ass' who never finds the right word at the right time, is slim.' Card 35 mentions Leslie Holmes and the fact that he wrote 'Ain't it Grand to be Bloomin' well Dead.' Later the card mentions he also wrote, 'If you knew Susie.' The march of time is a strange thing. I knew a Susie, and if you knew Susie, like I knew Susie, I doubt we would get on <vbg>.

I must recount this story about Archie Andrews. A friend of mine, Peter has never forgiven Archie Andrews because of a mix-up over a harmonica. The young Peter was sitting centre isle at the theatre enjoying Archie Andrews performing. At the end of the show Archie Andrew harmonica's were handed out. Boxes began at both ends of the row Peter was at but by the time they reached him, there were none left. He never got the harmonica and I fear it has left quite a mental scar because he spits blood every time it is mentioned, which is as frequently as possible.
Did you know both Tony Hancock and Bruce Forsyth played Archie's teacher.

Names were often stage names as we all know, John Wayne was not John Wayne but I cannot tell you if Olive Groves (card 19) was a real name or an unforunate error, anyway her hobbies were bridge and making her own clothes. Series two includes, Flotsam & Jetsam (card 23) and Stainless Stephen aka Arthur Clifford (card 21) a comic with a small bowler hat rather than an underworld figure. There is no mention though of a person reputed to have been something of a celebrity at the time that went by the incredible name Nosmo King which is to clever to be true.

It is easy to be disparraging about the radio in this world of endless technology but it was a very real focal point for a family and during those dark war years was an essential. In 1936 (Nov 2nd actually) the world's first high-definition TV was broadcast (405 lines) and then there was an estimated One Hundred (100) television sets in the UK. That's how important radio was for example in 1950 30 million people tuned in to hear the fight between Lee Savold (US) & Bruce Woodcock.

Everyone of a certain age has a favorite memory of radio, be it Dick Barton, secret agent or In Town Tonight.

A poor link maybe but a link none the less to the set issued by Churchmans, In Town Tonight. This focused on the people that actually appeared on the program rather than the presenters. One of the rare delights about radio was the totally inappropriate acts they had on. We all remember the ventriloquist that was on.

A series of 50 cards it begins very promisingly with Fred Archer. He spent 20 years in the motor trade (and they must have been tought years) for one day he noticed the ridiculous expressions on shop dummies. Twelve months later (and with the experience of being a Grenadier Guard) Fred could remain motionless (the card claims, without blinking) for 35 minutes at a time. What better talent for a radio program.

I wish I could recount the whole set to you but can only manage edited highlights. W.Reginald Bray fits the category. He became fascinated with the postal system in 1898 and discovered one of the smallest articles that could be posted was a bee and the largest an elephant. Presumably he did not have an elelphant so posted himself instead. The card mentions some of the other things posted, A bowler hat, a turnip (with name and address and message carved in) a pipe, a cigarette and a cycle pump. Why a pipe and a cycle pump get a mention I am not sure.

Mrs Molly Moore (card 29) claims to have been the last 'knocker-up' left in London. For those that don't know what this is and lets face it who does (and if you are guessing, you are wrong). Knocking-up entailed walking the streets of London blowing peas at the windows of her clients to wake them up. The card explains that the pea-shooter is an ordinary tube of rubber but it is over 60 years old (Must have been a good one then). It also says that during the war she was at considerable risk from air-raids etc but alarm clocks and the like have reduced her round to about 50 clients. She appears right next to card 30 Mrs Nelson, the only woman street-sweeper in London. In these days of unemployment where people are being hired as human scarecrows wouldn't it be fun to re-introduce this. Next time I am caught wandering the streets of our capital in the early hours of the morning with a rubber tube I shall have a ready made excuse.
Card 11, William Dalton was a rat-catcher. The rats are caught alive by secret method and the record was 1600 caught in one night by three men. Fair enough but things get unpleassant towards the end of the card where it is revealed there is no commercial value to the skins unlike in the Great War when they were worth 5d each when they were used in the making of fur coats (!!)
Card 34, Mrs May Phillips, The Perfect Barmaid, 'And despite her 16 stones she is as agile as ever.' More fatist prose from the cards there. It makes you wonder how agile she was in the first place, or at least what measure of agile is being used.

Fascinating radio all this.

Churchmans, In Town Tonight

Really the last few cards are a treat Card 42 is a bit of a worry, Miss May Storey is a female detective, 'most exciting jobs possible...engaged in detecting shoplifters.' But it goes on to say, 'Of course Miss Storey frequently adopts masculine roles.' Not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of female detectives I must say but perhaps times have changed. The card continues, 'which suit her particularly well as she has a deep voice and very short hair.' She is pictured as a man on the card which might be something of a cigarette card first.

Card 45 is Toni & Yento, surprisingly a one man band, with a bass drum over 100 years old. The mystery is solved when you discover Yento is in fact a monkey. His proudest moment was when Princess Mary gave him half a crown at Epsom races. God bless you ma'm. Actually there was no end to her good works as she also sent the Princess Mary Gift Card printed by Abdula in 1914. I'm being cheeky now and probably reducing my chances of a knighthood in the process.