East End Memories



One of the advantages of having the Internet is that now radio from around the world is available at all times and with good reception. No longer does one have to suffer the interference that came with short wave reception. Living, as I do, in the U.S., radio is no longer of a high standard. Most radio stations play endless music or else allow their audience to give their opinions about anything of interest to them. Other stations that require monitory participation pretend to cater to the intelligencia of the society, yet are just as dull and dismal as those stations where mindless entertainment is offered. Now, thanks to the Internet, I am able to hear B.B.C. Radio once more. I can hear The Archers again, should I wish, hear real news in depth and not just headlines and get details by listening to From Our Own Correspondent amongst other programmes.

At present, while I type this story I am enjoying an episode of Paul Temple, who along with his wife Steve and their domestique, Charlie attempt to unravel a mystery perpetrated by a dastardly cunning villain. Although the programme is dated and the dialogue is stilted, and despite the principals, now being played by different actors, it is still of interest and immensely entertaining to me. Sitting here and listening to the episode reminded me of the radio of my childhood when cliffhangers were so dramatic and caused the listener to wait with great impatience for the following week’s episode. My mother loved Paul Temple and would sit and listen spellbound each week as the plot thickened and then began to clear. Prior to the beginning of the programme, I would be instructed to be silent during the emission. I must admit that this never proved difficult since I was equally spellbound by the mystery, and besides, I liked the introductory music very much.

Click on the picture to listen to a clip from an episode of Paul Temple

Radio was different from today back in the 1950’s. The B.B.C. had the monopoly as there was no commercial radio in those days. Radio was not presented 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Local radio did not exist as yet, but the Home Service presented regional transmissions following The News in order to present news of a more regional and local interest. Scotland and Wales did get their own programming at times, as it was put by the announcer, which generally meant special musical presentations.

Radios were huge by today’s standards and had to be tuned with care and needed to be re-tuned periodically as the reception tended to drift with time. Once gramophone records became readily available, various companies began to sell a new appliance, which was a combination of a radio and a record player, which was colloquially known as a radiogram. My mother bought one of these radiograms in the early 1950’s and had it installed in our parlour, as sitting rooms were called in those days. My father ran a wire through the floorboards and down into the pie ‘n’ mash shop below and connected it to a speaker so that they could listen either to the radio or to their records during work hours. The customers always enjoyed this. On Friday and Saturdays nights, when sing-a-long tunes were being played on the Light Programme, it wouldn’t take them long before everyone in the shop had joined in and a spontaneous community-sing-song would soon be in full swing, which I would hear laying in my bed.

As my parents had to open the shop between 6.30 and 7.00 p.m., I was sent to bed early each evening. This was not as bad as it sounds, as I was allowed to read and do anything I chose, as long as I did it from my bed. I used to like to listen to the radio and happily would lay in bed and do so for hours. At about 8.30 p.m., my mother would come upstairs to check on me and, if I was still awake, turn the radio off and tell me to go straight to sleep, which sounded easy, but was hard to do. Once I heard the singing on a Friday or Saturday night, I would get up immediately and creep downstairs. I would position myself on the stairs just out of view of my mother who would be working from behind the counter serving the clientele. I would always be certain to be wearing my slippers and dressing gown otherwise, should I be found without them, I had no chance of being allowed to stay. Like most people of the time, my parents believed that one instantly caught terrible diseases without such coverings.

My favourite evening of radio listening was Saturday. It was never a problem for my mother to get me to go to bed, as there always great things on the radio. Generally, Saturday was a busy day for me since I had to complete my rounds. I used to enjoy spending Saturday afternoons visiting the stalls and talking to my favourite costermongers and shopkeepers. Once I returned home, I generally felt tired and was happy to go to bed without delay, and besides, my programmes would soon be on and I had to be ready to hear them!

I remember that I would generally wander home soon after Children’s Hour had begun. As I have said before, I was never too impressed with this programme. I would generally be eating my tea while listening to the Weather and the Six O’clock News. My parents always listened to these programmes with great interest and I sat and ate quietly as they did. Following this, the sports results would be read. This meant the Football Results.

In a time when few opportunities existed for legalised gambling, doing the pools was a rare chance for the ordinary fellar to win a fortune for a small outlay. At exactly 6.10 p.m. each Saturday evening, families all over Britain waited in silence, but not without a certain apprehension, as the results were read on the Home Service of the B.B.C. Meanwhile fathers and husbands sat at the kitchen table with a list of the games played that afternoon before them and with a pencil poised in their hand. Slowly and deliberately, they wrote down the final scores against the names of each of the teams as they were announced. Later in life, I realised how fortunate I was that my father did not do the Football Pools each week, as I learned of the misery that accompanied the reading of the results each Saturday evening, as woe-be-tide anyone who dared to talk and so interrupt the concentration of the writer, as this would cause the wrath of God to descend on them! Occasionally, sounds of pleasure or dismay escaped the mouth once particular results were learned. Should the right combination of draws come up, dreams would be realised, but if not, which was more often the case, disappointment would fall on the family. Sadly, many mothers and wives knew that they would have to pay for this disappointment later that evening when their drunken husbands returned home from the pub. (For a history of the Football Pools, see The History of the Football Pools following After Thought and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_pool.)

Luckily I was able to sit and listen to the results without fear. I liked to hear the names of the teams and especially enjoyed hearing those of the Scottish League. Names like Hamilton Academicals, Stenhousemuir and Cowdenbeath appealed to me, as did Alloa Athletic, Partick Thistle and Raith Rovers, not to mention Dunfermline, Motherwell and Kilmarnock. I had no concept of these names. Were they places or people or things? The only actual game that interested me during those days was the one concerning West Ham United. West Ham United is the East End team and had legions of fans in the area. Unfortunately, the team spent much of its playing life in the Second Division during my childhood, but in 1966, three team players stood heads and shoulders above the crowd and helped England win the World Cup.

I was never hungry at Saturday evening tea since I had generally feasted well during my rounds and had tasted many succulent sweetmeats and drinks during this time. This always annoyed my mother since she had told me that I was not to overeat when out. Naturally, I did not listen. How could I? For who could refuse a cake or a bag of chips or a Saveloy, washed down with a soft drink?

Following the Sports Results, I would make efforts to help clear the table and then prepare myself for bed. While doing this, I would be able to hear the Saturday Sports Review and Those were the days! My father enjoyed this programme and would often linger at the kitchen table to listen. Occasionally, he and my mother would dance to a tune. This would generally end in a slight tiff mainly because my mother would forget and want to lead and some mild pushing and shoving would take place and my father would come off the worse for this! Poor Harry Davidson would be horrified if he had known!

By 7.15 p.m. I had to be in bed. This was not from a demand from my parents, but rather I had to be ready for In Town Tonight.

This was an earlier version of the Talk Show and was a wonderful and interesting programme where visitors to London came to Broadcasting House and were interviewed. I especially remember Les Paul & Mary Ford. being on the programme while they were appearing at the London Palladium and I recall that they played and sang something, the name of which escapes me at present. However, what was spectacular about the programme was its introduction and ending. It began with the sound of traffic, which would be interrupted, or rather frozen once someone yelled at the top of their voice STOP! Immediately an announcer would say once again we stop the roar of London’s mighty traffic to bring to you those that are IN TOWN TONIGHT! And off we would go. At the end, the traffic would start up once more and then fade off into the distance. I found this sort of thing both dramatic and spellbinding.

As the evening wore on, there were several of my special programmes to hear. Firstly, there was a visit to the Music Hall. Being a devotee of the genre and a regular of the Hackney, anything to do with Music Hall naturally would interest me greatly. Here comedians and singers and virtuosos of various musical instruments would entertain. As good as these earlier programmes were, what followed, Saturday Night Theatre, was the highlight of my week. I enjoyed a long play on the radio – none of your-thirty minute-stuff – each week, we were treated to a good hour and twenty minutes – something to get one’s teeth into! I did not mind if the setting was contemporary or period; whether it was an adaptation from another medium or specially written for the occasion. Perhaps I did have a slight preference for the period setting, but only because there would generally be a sword fight, which always sounded very exciting. The great advantage of radio over television, and this could still be true today, is that radio allows the imagination to roam and romp free. My imagination certainly developed well as a child thanks to B.B.C. Radio.


Continue to Part two - THE EARLY YEARS

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Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins