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U3A Writing: Radio Fun

Pauline Sampson remembers Larry the Lamb, Paul Temple, Tonny Handley, the Goons - and other radio stars.

Four biscuit boxes and a wooden loud speaker, that was my first introduction to radio, aged six years; but of course it was not a radio but a “wireless.” It was at my grandmother’s house, where I had been taken for nursing when seriously ill with measles. This contraption had been installed in my room, for distraction, which was very kind as it was the only one in the house. Grandsie loved it; she was musical and orchestral works were her favourite. For me, though, it was many years before I could listen to a symphony or overture without being overwhelmed by depression, right into adult life.

As I recovered from the measles, the wireless did begin to engage my attention, with Children’s Hour, featuring Toytown with Larry the Lamb and Dennis the Dachshund; and even the Glasgow Orpheus Choir singing Nymphs and Shepherds.

Children’s Hour was a constant favourite, but as I grew older other programmes intruded, such as Music Hall, though there were questions about the suitability of this for a ten year old. But then those were the days of Lord Reith!

There were the early Paul Temple stories, Paul Temple with his wife Steve and their manservant Charlie. My life-long love of “whodunits” must stem from this time.

Above all I remember comedy, starting with Band Wagon, featuring Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. Did he get the name ‘Stinker’ then?

In 1939 war was declared, and then many people, myself included, became real radio addicts. We were even allowed one “strictly for the news you know” in the common room of my boarding school. Now I cannot let a day go by without hearing at least one news bulletin, though I admit it is usually watched on TV.

With the war over and on leaving school, the wireless was still my companion. That great comedian of ITMA fame, Tommy Handley, had died in 1948, but others soon filled his place.

For a time I worked from home and had to contend with “how can you apply yourself with that thing blaring?” But I just smiled and got on with my work.

Then as a young mother, and living in isolation both in the depths of the country or wildest suburbia, my children and I had the magic box as a companion, and Children’s Hour was once again a favourite.

The family had a spell overseas where radio was a lifeline, if only to counteract the loud Arab music, and with shortwave bringing the sounds of home and old favourites.

Television did not come into our lives until our return to the UK in 1957; thus we missed that early milestone event, the Coronation.

The late fifties and sixties were the golden years of radio comedy, with the Goons, Take it from Here, Ray’s a Laugh, Round the Horne, and many more. However the telly pushed the radio into the background for quite a long time.

Lately though, I have found myself returning to listening rather than watching. There are still the old constants: news bulletins and until latterly Letter from America, Woman’s Hour and even a Book at Bedtime. With regard to the last named where else would I “read” modern novels if left to my own devices? The Dog that did not Bark in the Night and the Bad Mother’s Tale have been real delights.

This piece I headed Radio Fun, after the children’s comic, because I remember so fondly those old comedy shows, which were funny without being cruel: kindness not being much in evidence today. However, my birth followed just a few years after the start of broadcasting and we have grown up and seen many changes together. Perhaps the title should have been “Radio Times.”

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