The radio was the main source of entertainment in our house although for the adult population there was the cinema, dances, whist drives etc,. I think that the cinema was dominated by American movies because not many were being produced in this country, I can’t really comment about the cinema because as none of our family ever went. The most important radio programmes for adults was the News, ‘This is the Home Service and the 1 O’clock News with so and so reading it’ which invariably opened with a report on the war, there was also a radio doctor, Doctor Hill, talking about health issues in a very serious voice and commenting on the important necessity of ‘ keeping ones bowels open’. I think he was on every day. There was also a lunch time programme called ‘Workers Playtime,’ which was broadcast from some large factory canteen, the programme often featured some of the top performers of the time such as Gracie Fields, Arthur Askey, Vera Lynn, George Formby with a mixture of singing and comedy and very often, audience participation in the form of a sing-along.
Mum had her favourite programmes such as ‘Palm Court Hotel’ on a Sunday evening with Anna Negal and Webster Booth, which was mainly music, with their signature tune ‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again’ another Sunday evening programme which mum listened to without fail was ‘Hymns’ with all the most popular ones, which she sang along with. During the week there was a number of programmes which were directed at women such as ‘Women’s Hour’ ‘Mrs Dales Diary’ which always at some point in the programme Mrs Dale would say ‘I’m worried about Jim’ there was also ‘The Luscombe’s’ a series set in Somerset, I’m not positive but I believe that ‘The Archers’ ‘The every day story of country folk’ had its beginnings back during the war.
The only a couple of programme directed towards children that I remember one was ‘Listen with Mother’which I never did and the other was ’Children’s Hour’ which was broadcast between four and five, I can’t remember much about it’s contents other than a tune ‘ We are the Ovaltinies little girls and boys’ and ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’ with the theme tune ‘ Coronation Scot’ I also think that there was ‘The Lone Ranger‘ and his side kick ‘Tonto’ with the theme music from the ’William Tell Overture’ I remember both programmes more for the music than their other content. Other programmes which must have been within ‘Children’s Hour’ were ’Billy Bunter‘ of Greyfriars School , Bunter was fat and greedy and most of the stories was the amount of trouble he got into in his pursuit of tuck. The other wayward school boy was ‘William Brown’ in ‘Just William’. William was always into trouble of one sort or another, I think his friend had sister called Violet Elizabeth who would say in a lispy voice that she would ‘Scream and scream until she was sick’ if she didn’t get her way. One important value of radio is that, like reading a book, ones own imagination is stimulated, against films and television were it is the product of someone else’s .
On a Saturday night there was a programme called ‘In town tonight’ a kind of chat show opening with the words ‘We stop the mighty roar of London’s traffic to see who is in town tonight’. There was of course lots of variety programmes, again with well known stars, with lots of derogatory jokes about Hitler, and when the Americans arrived quite a few jokes about them as well. One well liked comedy programme was ‘ITMA’ [It’s That Man Again] with Tommy Handley as the top comedian, it was not to mums taste and targeted the younger generation, I don’t believe she understood half of the jokes.
Another programme was targeted at the older generation, called ‘Down your way’ with Wilfred Pickles where a member of the audience had to answer very, very, simple questions which more often than not they got wrong but they still got the magnificent money price of ‘five bob’ [five shillings] with Pickles saying ‘giv’em the money Barney’ even at my then age I thought it a very patronising sort of programme. Mum did not like classical music or operatic music, particularly women singing arias, which she called ‘screeching’ and would turn the radio off. I quite liked arias and what one calls ‘popular classics’ but mum did not see any of this as in anyway educational.
Music was very important as a moral booster, with lots of sing-a- longs, there was ‘Forces Favourites’ with Vera Lynn where wives and girl friends would write in with a request for a loved one serving overseas, with the signature of ‘We’ll meet again’ and it was almost certain that she would sing ‘There’ll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover’ another popular musical show was Bill Cotton with opening of ‘Wakey Wakey’ A lot of the songs were left over’s from the WW1 and pre-war variety theatres such as ‘It’s a long way to Tippery’ ‘Daisy Daisy’ ‘My old man said follow the van’, one such variety show was the ’Crazy Gang’ with Flanagan and Allen with songs like ‘Underneath the Arches’ and ‘Any Umbrellas’ and ‘The old lamp lighter’ ‘ Run Rabbit run’ other popular songs were ‘A nightingale sang in Berkley Square’ ‘ Mad dogs of Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun’ ‘On the Road to Mandalay’ ‘A soldier is a soldier’ ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’ ‘ I like to climb up apple trees’ ‘Roll out the barrel’ and George Formby with his ukulele with songs like ‘ When I’m cleaning Windows’ and ‘ I’m leaning on a lamp post on the corner of a street’. Gracie Fields like Vera Lyn was a real favourite, singing ‘Sally, Sally pride of our alley’. These are just a few of the many stars and their songs that I remember that were top in the early years of the war and before the Americans joined in, in fact I made a list of the names of all the personnel I could remember from that period and it is over thirty.
The cinema was also a top for entertainment, although none of our family ever went, the ‘Daily Echo’ devoted one whole page to advertising their programmes for the week and I remember almost all the names of the cinemas that were shown covering Southampton and surrounding districts, there was the Odeon, Forum, ABC, more than one Ritz, the Classic, Rialto, Plaza, Regal, The Royal, Picture House and the Gaumount the largest which had been a theatre and has since become one again under the name of The Mayfair. Some of these cinemas were quite small, often called ‘bug hutches’ and some had at one time had been variety theatres. I don’t think that a single one was hit by a bomb although some were left with hardly a building still standing around them. As for the films that were shown I don’t have much idea but one thing I do known that 90% were made in black and white with colour being a rarity and like most things during the war you had to queue to get in.
Like music, comedy was extremely important to keep up morale and here again I remember a lot of wartime programmes from that period but not exactly what year that they were broadcast, some I think were around for the whole war. I’ve already mentioned ITMA but there were many more like ‘The Glums’ with Jimmy Edwards which also feature June Whitfield, another of his programmes was ‘Wacko’ in which I think he was headmaster of a school., yet another was ‘The Navy Lark’ with Kenneth Horn and Richard Murdoch, there were a number of other shows like them, which at this moment the names escape me but I can think of a great many stand up comedians that were mainly in the variety shows such as Max Wall, Tommy Trinder, Vic Oliver, Bernard Mills, Arthur Askey, Will Hay, Cyril Fletcher, Arthur English and Max Miller who got banned from the BBC for using, by modern standards, a quite mild and common swear word, there was also one or two women who were popular acts such as Elsie and Doris Walters, Peggy Mount, Joyce Grenfield, Margret Rutherford, Beryl Reed and several others which although I can visualise them and hear them, their names escape for the moment.
Within the range of variety shows there always seemed to be acts like ‘tap dancing’ a ‘ventriloquist’ someone playing a harmonica like Larry Adler, or the xylophone, even whistling and very often a chap mimicking bird song and farm animals, as you can imagine tap dancing and ventriloquism required a bit of imagination on the part of the listener as to most people they are more visual acts but there again almost everything that was broadcast required the listeners own imagination particularly, plays and serials.
Increasingly as the war progressed more and more American comedians and their shows were broadcast such as ‘Jack Benny and his servant Rochester’, ‘George Burns and Gracie Allen’ ‘Bob Hope’ and a lot of ‘Big Band’ music with the likes of ‘Glen Miller’ ‘Benny Goodman’ ‘Duke Ellington’ and crooners such ‘Bing Crosby’ with a fair amount of memorable music from films with Judy Garland singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and songs from films such as ‘Easter Parade’ and lots of hit songs from Fred Astaire films that he made with Ginger Rogers.