Here’s a reminder of some of the radio comics and comedies so popular in the 1940s and '50s.
I am also informed of two other former comics: Rob Wilton ("The day war broke out"). Sandy Powell ("Can you hear me mother") (thanks for info. to John Blackwood).
REGULAR RADIO COMEDY SHOWS
No. 1) ITMA! If anyone asks "What
is that?", the reply is, "It's Whitey-Whitey
K!" - "And what's that??" Reply: "You're too young to
know". That was an ITMA gag. The comedy series immortalised the phrase
'ta-ta-for-now', abbreviated to TTFN. Tommy Handley
was the kingpin and a commonplace hero to the troops and the 'home front'
alike. Yes, that was ITMA - & 'It's That Man Again' originally meant Hitler,
who was always depressingly and boringly in the news from the 30s onwards, but it came only
to mean Tommy Handley! The genius at voices, who did many characters on that
programmes, predominant impressionist on many a BBC comedy programme, I thought
was Ted Kavanaugh. However, I have been informed
by James Pople by e-mail that Ted was only a script
writer, not a performer. James also wrote ”the impressionist was Peter Kavanagh (or Cavanagh) known
as "The Voice of Them All" “. Anyhow, Peter Sellers came
along and usurped his BBC impressionists’ throne for about the next two decades!
Hattie Jacques played a greedy girl, Sophie Tuckshop (catchphrase 'But I'm all right now". .
Mrs. Mopp was definitely the most awaited character
most of the time, played by Dorothy Summers. Her catchphrase - upon entering to meet Tommy, was, "I've
brought this for you, sir" and more often, "Can I do you now, sir?" When ITMA performed
one of its shows for the Fleet at
There were also Mona Lot, Derek Guyler as Frisby Dyke with the Liverpudlians 'Whack' and 'La', Jack Train as Colonel Chinstrap "I don't mind if I do", a self-contradictory Welsh character (Sam Fairfechan by Hugh Morton who'd say things like, "I'm as fit as a fiddle, Vic Oliver's") and Sam Costa in various roles. Other catch phrases included "I go, I come back" – Middle Eastern vendor, Ali Oop. Spoken by Jack Train and "Don't forget the diver" by Horace Percival upon entrance and exit as a diver. Also "I'll have to ask me Dad" – Mark Time (an elderly ditherer)
I was a big fan even during the war & could eventually imitate. My uncle was able to arrange for us to attend a recording session of Itma at the BBC locale at Aolean Hall, London in about 1949, and I saw them all in the flesh they year before Tommy Handley died. Already in those days, the organisers had 'Silence' and 'Applause' placards that were held up at certain points - but fortunately none said 'Laugh'. That was actually unnecessary then - unlike the present case in most Americanised situation comedies! Sorry about the oxymoron - 'American' and 'comedy' can very seldom make sense together, eh? But no offence intended to Danny Kaye, Woody or Seinfeld). But the BBC also now destroy most otherwise very funny shows with horrible canned laughter! Eg. ‘Mr. Bean’ suffers terribly from it.
2) Doris and Ethel Waters were genuine Cockney girls who made a radio hit as 'Gert and Daisy' around the beginning of the 2nd WW. This couple were a fixture on radio throughout the war and years thereafter. Their brother Jack Warner was also a comedian and often appeared with them. According to John Blackwood, Jack's catch phrases included, "Mind my bike" and "Not blue pencil likely". Later he became a film and TV policeman (incl. Dixon of Dock Green).
3) 'Variety Bandbox' was an entertainment
programme with music, songs and comedy, done before an audience. Many of those
who later fronted their own programmes started there. Peter Sellers was one
such. Frankie Howerd another. Arthur English first appeared here, as did many others later to be well-known in UK. I am informed by Roger Perry (in Manila, "in steam-ridden Phillippines") "In the early 50s, there would be radio shows the likes of "Variety Bandbox" and 'Monday Night at Eight' (formerly 'Monday Night at Seven' and maybe also as "Home at Eight") in which the likes of Robert Morton (with his "Bumper Fun Book") would be given ten minutes or so of air-time. (I think the program started off being called "Home at Seven" then due to a change in scheduling it was suitably renamed.)"
4) Bandwagon Arthur Askey and Richard ('Stinker') Murdoch were in a similarly-named programme 'Band Wagon', a semi-sitcom. It was centred upon their supposed flat on the top floor of Broadcasting House. Amongst the other characters were Mrs Bagwash and her daughter Nausea. In common with the practice at the time, it also included a musical interlude by Jack Hylton and a comedy slot entitled ‘Chestnut Corner’.
5) 'Ignorance is Bliss' 'The Brain's Trust' was a serious discussion programme with Marghanita Laski, Professor C.E.M. Joad, Gilbert Harding and other intellectuals of the time. It spawned a comedy counterpart programme, which I rather preferred, called 'Ignorance is Bliss' - an addled brain's trust with idiots played by Michael Moore, Gladys Hay (as a vulgar, fishwife-voiced heckler) and Harold Behrens (the complete moron, as stupidly incorrect as one could get). The quizmaster was Winnipeg Canadian and 2WW correspondent Stewart MacPherson, once voted to have a better voice than Winston Churchill in the Daily Mail's 'Voice of the Year' poll, being a prominent BBC announcer, boxing commentator and quiz show host (20 Questions). He was eventually superceded in all those departments by Eaamon Andrews.
6) 'Breakfast with Braden', which later shifted to 'Bedtime with Braden', was a light-hearted easy-going concoction with the Canadian Bernard Braden and Barbara Kelly (in fact his wife, I now hear from a correspondent, Ralph Lucas, and also a performer on BBC TV 'What's My Line'). . They were taken to be Yanks by many of us misguided Brits, but then they were very witty… (Sorry again, cousins! But stick at it, for though you Yanks were late for the 2nd WW, you won out in the end!) . John Weaver from Winnipeg informs me both were from Vancouver and also point out other Canadians who were prominent in UK: Carol Levis and Hughie Green, talent show hosts, Robert Beatty the film actor, Robert Farnon the band leader and composer, and Jean Cavall the singer (probably thought to be French rather than French Canadian).
7) Max Miller: Was he known as "The Cheekie Chappie"?
Anyway, he got sacked from the BBC in about 1949, and I think it was for ending
with a song, "When roses are red, they're ready for plucking. When girls
are sixteen, they're ready for Goodnight Ladies and Gentlemen!" His banishment
may have ended after some years. Roger Perry has a comment again: "You are correct in thinking that Max Miller got sacked for his “"When roses are red etc..." although the words I knew were: “When roses are red, and ready for plucking, young girls of sixteen are ready for . . . Goodnight Ladies and Gentlemen!"). But there was another similar one that may or may not have been the final straw. He told a tale of walking along a very narrow ridge that connected two precipices. The story went on to say that he was edging his way across when he came face-to-face with this girl. The narrow ridge wasn’t wide enough to pass each other by, and he told the audience that he didn’t know whether to “block her passage” or “toss her off”!"
Perhaps it was also he who told of the ten year old girl who swallowed a needle but didn't feel a p---k until she was fourteen? (or was that by the `Funniest Yank Then`, Bob Hope - who was born a British subject? In a film with Jerry Lewis and others he said of entering spooky, ancient dark empty houses that he was not at all afraid... on the grounds that `Why, I was in Vaudeville`) .
8) Arthur English - the Cockney comic ("Mum, they're larfin' at me again") whose main role was that of a London post-war spiv 'Prince of the Wide Boys'. He wore a huge kipper tie and was known for rambling 'shaggy dog' stories which speeded up until he shouted "Play the music! Open the cage!" and exited. He came and went surprisingly 'fast', spiv that he was supposed to be. Perhaps the constabulary caught him? In fact he was also a film actor and his name was Arthur Leslie Norman.
9) Charlie Chester came next - with "'Stand Easy' and this you will know, is the Charlie Chester Show". He always had a little political rhyme eg., "Down in the jungle, living in a tent, better than a prefab, No rent!" He was also a Cockney… a race apart known as the world’s biggest smart asses (I ain’t one, though, mate).
10) 'Life with the
11) 'The Billy Cotton Band Show' was mainly a music programme, with Billy Cotton's Cockney humour and many an amusing Cockney or music hall song, often sung by Alan Breeze in pure Cockney. Among the titles were such gems as the Billingsgate-like fishmonger song, 'If yer don' want the whelks, don’ muck ‘em abaht' (an` keep yer baby`s fingers orf the slab, they’re covered in choc-olate. Take an ‘ake or a noice cod steak...). One musician who was often called in to do a stint on guitar, banjo or other fretted instruments was the Polish-born Jewish multi-musician, Ivor Mairants, who at that time had a guitar academy in West Street, off Cambridge Circus and behind Charing Cross Rd. (which I, R.P., attended for about one year, being taught by the maestro himself, as well as by Roy Plummer and other top session guitarists of the '50s). See here
12) 'Much Binding in the Marsh', the country club-cum-RAF station where nothing of any consequence was done (just like at certain National Service RAF stations, at which I spent a couple of years too), was on from about 1949, and went on until about 1956 - Dicky 'Stinker' Murdock, Kenneth Horne, with Dick Bentley and Maurice Denham, Sam Costa, Hattie Jacques and Kitty Bluet etc. One catch phrase was "Good Old Charl-ieee" (eventually also said when young Prince Charles was in the audience). Always ended with the words "That little thing that goes something like this... "Then the 3-verse song: "And Much Binding in the Marsh,..." with little inserts like 'tiddle-im-pom-pom', 'last verse', 'how's yer faaather' or 'keep your hair on' etc. ad. lib. Roger from Manila reminds me: "There was, of course, no smut in those days and recall vividly Kenneth Horne saying in one of his monologues: " . . . . . . and he grabbed hold of her. 'Course it's . . . . . " Now THAT brought on a huge laugh from the audience."
John Weaver reminds: "There were three shows in the 1940s connected with the services which were aired in rotation. 'Much Binding in the Marsh' with Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne was R.A.F., 'Stand Easy' with Charlie Chester was army and 'HMS Waterlogged' with Eric Barker (whose catchphrase was 'Carry on smoking') and Jon Pertwee was Royal Navy. You have mentioned all of these (or their successors) separately but they were in fact part of the same series under the umbrella title Merry-go-Round. I recall as a boy finding the Navy version the least humorous of the three and Much Binding the best, but post-Monty Python all of them would probably now seem very tame and not particularly funny. "
13) 'The Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warris Show' There were a dozen series shows in all (including 'Up the Pole') - all having Jimmy Jewel in - with different titles, from 1951 to 1972. Jewel and Warris had as a signature tune, which they sang in duet, 'Shine on Harvest Moon'. They seemed very funny to me in the early 50s when I was about 15 years old.
14) 'Educating Archie', with Peter
Brough and his ventriloquist's doll ('Archie Andrews' - a
much easier act to do on radio than TV, it would seem! It flopped on telly
because Peter Brough's mouth was seen to move!).
The show started out with a schoolmasterly and rather lugubrious-sounding
character called Morton, who'd say when he though himself to be 'crisp', "Oh!
Get in there, Morton". (My informant tells me that the “Oh! Get in there Morton” was said at a time when Robert Norton – who used to quote from the pages of his “Bumper Fun Book” – actually got one of his jokes right. As you will probably remember, the whole basis of his ‘show’ was to tell jokes incorrectly. He would tell the first half, but then the second half seemed to bare no relation to the first because it came from a different joke. He would suddenly realize that something was wrong and with the words of: “Now just a minute . . . no . . . that’s not right” he would then try and sort it out.) The teacher trying to educate Archie
changed often and various starts - many subsequently foremost in radio comedy
- made a succession of teachers for the dummy, Archie. These included Harry
Secombe, James Robertson Justice, Tony Hancock, Sidney James and others.
Morton was the impossible Archie's teacher, and was always made a laughing stock.
The teacher trying to educate Archie changed often and various starts - many subsequently foremost in radio comedy - made a succession of teachers for the dummy, Archie. These included Harry Secombe, James Robertson Justice, Tony Hancock, Sidney James and others.
15) 'Take it From Here' - written by
Dennis Norden and Frank Muir - had Dick Bentley
(playing Ron Glum), Jimmy Edwards (Mr. Glum) & June Whitfield... playing
Eth Glum. Joy Nichols was also involved. '(As the Goons later quipped: Question:
'Hey, where'd you get that old joke from?' - Answer: 'Take it From Here' 1954).
One of the best shows was where - to Mr. Glum's
outrage, chronically out-of-work Ron managed to get a job as a copper at the
local Police Station. Peter Moore, adds his favourite bit from the Glums. "Eth
has been protesting to Ron that she's not perfect and egging him on to give
an example of any little failings she might have. After much deliberation.
'Well Eth...' 'Yes, Ron?' 'You're a bit ugly.' Also, Peter adds: "TIFH
and later used by Kenneth Williams in a 'Carry On' film (Cleo?). They are
the dying words of Julius Caesar as he is stabbed by Brutus et al. 'Infamy!
Infamy! They've all got it in for me!'"
One of the funniest lines they managed was when Ron was pressing past Eth to bring in his bike through the narrow hall passageway and she complained about him rubbing himself up against her. He replied in that utterly gormless voice, "But I like it, Eth". A correspondent,
Peter Moore, adds his favourite bit from the Glums. "Eth has been protesting to Ron that she's not perfect and egging him on to give an example of any little failings she might have. After much deliberation. 'Well Eth...' 'Yes, Ron?' 'You're a bit ugly.' Also, Peter adds: "TIFH and later used by Kenneth Williams in a 'Carry On' film (Cleo?). They are the dying words of Julius Caesar as he is stabbed by Brutus et al. 'Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!'"
16) 'Ray's a Laugh' with Ted Ray ran for ages too. It was a Sunday lunchtime show, a domestic comedy in which Kitty Bluett played his wife, Fred Yule his brother-in-law. At the beginning of his career, Peter Sellers appeared as Soppy, a small boy criticised by the nation's watchdogs for his catchphrase, "Just like your big red conk!" Another of his characters was a strange woman, Crystal Jollibottom ("Stop it you saucebox!" he would cry in a crazy falsetto). There was the glamour girl who would do anything, but "Not until after six-o'clock!" Roger Perry writes: "The one catchphrase I recall came from a duo called Bob and Alf Pearson. Their main act was to sin There was Ivy's (Ted Ray) devotion to Dr Hardcastle, for instance: "He's lovely, Mrs Hoskin, he's lovely!" And it was she to whom Mrs Hoskin would remark weakly: "It was agony, Ivy!" There was the adenoidal "If you haven't been to Manchester, you haven't lived."g, but they were given a five-minute spot in which Bob (or it may have been Alf) would say: “Hello little girl . . . and what’s YOUR name?” The answer was always the same: “Jennnniiifffffeeeerrrr!” and said in a high falsetto voice."
17) ‘Hancock’s Half-Hour’ Until very recently, poor TH was left out of this list. The proclaimed ‘genius of British humour’ now sounds a bit dated, mush. But his timing and tone of voice were marvellous. hhh-Hancock’s Half Hour rose to prominence in the late 50s and ran on until his early death (suicide?). His chief companions were Sid(ney) James – always playing the role of a Cockney crook, and the simplest ocker ever, Bill Kerr. I think this was where that most utter chump of all twisted bawdiness, Kenneth Williams, first loomed into view. The strange, queer Kenneth Williams was the biggest camp outrage (until Edna Everidge came up from down under). My favourite Hancock show is ‘The Poet’s Society’, which puts abstract modern poetry and all modern pseudo-intellectual ‘arty-fartiness’ where it should be… in the laughing stocks! Hancock's poem was as abstract as he could make it, but - when questioned what it was about, he eventually hit on 'It's an attack on the licensing laws'. Asked what the phrase 'flaming camels' symbolised he replied "They're the camel drivers in the Gobi desert, you won't get any change out of 'em!". Sid James followed with a modern poem in which he inserted such words as 'lead roof' and 'fortune made' but he is judged by the Society as outclassed by Bill Kerr with a winning poem consisting of nonsense and which ends on the words 'Ching, cham, chollup'. When Hancock was chucked out of the Poet Society (which he was hosting in his own house in East Cheam) he got very 'narked' and decided to start another society to change the entire world... trying to think of a suitable title for it, he eventually gave up, saying 'Or maybe I'll go to the pictures instead'
18) 'Beyond Our Ken' (1958-1964)- (See http://www.britishcomedy.org.uk/kwas/bok.html)
Kenneth Horne - was a long-running comedy show still in the old pre-Goon style,
about the last of its kind, apart from the follow-up show,
'Round the Horne' (1965-1968) See (http://www.britishcomedy.org.uk/kwas/rth/index.html). Ken Williams became a feature here, until he went off with Sid James etc. to do the ‘Carry on’ films. I hear that the ‘Round the Horne’ programmes are being reissued on CD-ROM this year (2002)
19) Last here, but the very opposite of least, was 'The Goon Show', much esteemed. Greatly steamed! Of this illustrious weekly disturbance on the Light programme so much has been written that I need not expand, other than direct fans to my web page about my having met the 'original' on whose voice Bluebottle was actually modelled, a certain red-bearded scoutmaster in Essex called Ruston Hayward, who is still extant (2004)! Needle-nardle-noo!Yin-tong-iddel-i-po. (They don’t make ‘em like that any more. Can’t get the wood, you know.) The greatest British impressionist ever - Peter Sellers - was the backbone of the performances, while Spike Milligan broke his back (and his mind occasionally) in writing the shows... an entirely new kind of humour which later inspired a generation and more.
The only show that produced two knighthoods:
Sir Neddy Seagoon and
Sir Eccles. Marvellous developments in that illustrious institution - to think
that raspberry-blower Secombe and mad Spike Milligan
were actually elevated to such formal orders! Hooray! Hooray! Our heroes!
(But Spike should rather have been rewarded for his war service long ago,
while he was instead made a deserter because the strains of shell-shock got
him! Not to mention his very early stand on vivisection and animal rights
at the price of ridicule!)
Since this was written
Spike received a very well-earned knighthood... Sir Spike... can you believe
it? Since then, he has passed over into the beyond...
Since this was written Spike received a very well-earned knighthood... Sir Spike... can you believe it? Since then, he has passed over into the beyond...
1) Tommy Cooper was first seen on
black & white TV around 1952, wearing the fez from the very start. After
the first show, many wondered if he were not just a conjuror who couldn't get
it together, poor chap! And they were right too! But that was not the point,
folks. For a long time, Tommy Cooper just had to appear to make you laugh… he
simply WAS funny. One of his co-performers was the Eric Sykes, also a radio
2) Frankie Howerd was a revelation in post-war daring bawdiness when first he appeared on TV in the early 50s. He pushed the boundaries of decency back a long way without getting punished for it. Even his way of saying 'Ladies and Gentlemen' was somehow suggestive, not to mention such names as Castor and Pollux (in 'On My Way to the Forum'). I think it was he who started the gag of pointing out into the audience and saying 'Not you, madam' and the like.
3) Norman Wisdom first appeared a bit later than the above two, but took slapstick pratfalls a mile further with his first show, where his hand got crushed in a grand piano, causing the most excruciatingly funny fall... such as had not been seen until then.