When the Wireless Reigned Supreme

This article entitled "When the Wireless Reigned Supreme" appeared in the Pembrokeshire Life magazine and was written by Society member, Richard Howells. It may bring back memories to older readers. In villages like Hook wireless listeners relied on bulky accumulators, which had to be charged on a regular basis to ensure the wireless did not fade out during the news or a much awaited boxing match!

If today you sometimes absent mindedly refer to the ubiquitous radio as the wireless you could well be a child of the 50’s.

Your grandchildren may wonder what on earth a wireless was but you can recall the days when this was the only means of entertainment in the home and so a vital cog in the family’s social well-being.

There were only a handful of television sets in Pembrokeshire but every home had a wireless…….sorry, radio.

Programmes were eagerly awaited and the whole family would gather around the set to listen to such favourites as Workers Playtime; Dick Barton Special Agent and Peter Brough and Archie Andrews……the radio ventriloquist!

Weekday radio was slanted largely to housewives rather than children as in the 1950’s female career workers were few and far between as most married women would describe themselves as housewives……and in those far off days children played outside and only returned to the home at meal times.

The day would start with record requests through programmes called Housewives Choice and Music While You Work. In the afternoon came what may well have been the first soap opera….Mrs Dales Diary……a suburban doctor’s wife who seemed to spend her entire life worrying about her husband, Jim. 

From a purely personal point of view my friends and I were spell bound by ex- Commando Dick Barton Special Agent and his two sidekicks, Snowy White and Jock Anderson. 6.45 every evening 15 minutes of Dick Barton would be heralded by a stirring signature tune that I can still hear today…….the Devils’ Gallop. 

Earlier I mentioned Archie Andrews and Educating Archie…..how naïve we must have been …..after all a radio ventriloquist is little better than the proverbial radio juggler. Yet, such was the popularity of the show it launched into world-wide fame such stars as Max Bygraves, Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock and even Julie Andrews

There was also Riders of the Range………I can’t remember the names of any of the cowboys but the dog was Rustler, would you believe. And, naturally there was the obligatory singing cowboy as those were the days when all good guy gunslingers, as soon as they holstered their six- shooter, would start to sing ……no one stopped to think from where the musical accompaniment appeared as soon as the last Indian bit the dust. But of course these were the days of the radio ventriloquist!. 

Constable Archibald Berkeley- Willoughby better known as PC 49 was another firm favourite along with, even in those days, a rather ancient Jack Warner in Dixon of Dock Green. Sophisticated crime busting was provided by the suave Paul Temple which was often followed by  a comedy programme called Much Binding in the Marsh with Ken Horne and Stinker Murdoch. How did he become known as Stinker?………Frankly I would prefer not to think about it. 

Later in the 50’s came the all- time favourite, The Goon Show. Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Michael Bentine and in the inimitable Spike Milligan. To millions they were better known as Bluebottle, Ned Seegoon, Bloodnock and of course, Eccles. I recall clearly in Haverfordwest Grammar School a boy in my form, who has become a pillar of local society, being pounded by an irate and admittedly notoriously  short tempered French teacher for embarking on conversational French in a near perfect imitation of the not too bright, Eccles. A particular favourite of mine  was the retired soldier called Private Bogg. There were many other laughter makers such as  Tommy Handley in ITMA; Ted Ray, Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder and Life with the Lyons starring husband and wife team Ben and Bebe Lyons.

Children’s radio majored on Saturdays when Uncle Mac fronted a morning long request programme. The Runaway Train, Nellie the Elephant, Sparky and his magic piano were constantly played hotly pursued by Tubby the Tuba and a Windmill in old Amsterdam.

Thank God when Cliff Richards and Tommy Steele appeared on the scene even if a song about a little white bull was a hit!! 

Bill Haley and his Comets were still to revolutionise the dance scene so to prepare for the school social and a dance with a young lady from Taskers, who until then you had only admired over the school wall, which separated the boys from the girls, it was Glen Miller or, heaven forbid, trying to hone your ballroom skills to the sedate Victor Sylvester. Slow, slow quick, quick slow murmured Victor but it was such a relief when the new anything goes style that accompanied Rock and Roll hit the scene. Victor Sylvester’s main rival that I recall was Edmundo Ross and his Cuban band. 

Sundays were obviously different in those days. Shops were shut, streets deserted and families usually spent the day in and around the home. This meant the wireless…. Sorry, there I go again….the radio was so important as a form of entertainment.

After all it was Sunday so the day would start with Chapel in the Valley ….hymn singing with Sandy McPherson at the organ but about noon the scene would change quite dramatically with the raucous call of “Wakey Wakey” from Billy Cotton a band leader with two singers called Cathy Kay and Alan Breeze .No Sunday lunch would have been complete without Two Way Family Favourites a record request programme linking servicemen with their families in the UK. The presenters……DJ’s hadn’t arrived…. Were Cliff Mitchell Moore and soon to be his wife Jean Metcalfe.           

Later came Leslie Phillips in the Navy Lark they were based if you remember at HMS Troutbridge; Hancock’s Half Hour with Tony Hancock and Sid James and Around the Horn with Kenneth Horne……………….and the run up to Sunday tea was in the hands of Franklin Engleman and Down Your Way. 

Sadly Sunday evenings were no more exciting. 

Palm Court Orchestra and Donald Peers and his never ending babbling brook held our parents spell bound and young people of my age bored stiff……………some Sundays seemed never ending! 

Now in this day and age the variety of programmes on both radio and television is absolutely mind blowing. The choice and range is endless but many still have a hankering for those close knit family days when the wireless reigned supreme.