East End Memories

RADIO LUXEMBOURG – 208-ON-THE-DIAL -
STATION OF THE STARS

208 – RADIO LUXEMBOURG – THE EARLY YEARS

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If you were to ask anyone of my age about radio during their childhood, they will undoubtedly talk about their favourite B.B.C. programmes and also mention Radio Luxembourg. The only place to hear rock ‘n’ roll with any regularity on the radio at that time was on Radio Luxembourg.

It was sometime in 1951 that my listening pleasure was extended to include Radio Luxembourg. The station format and style differed markedly from the formality of the B.B.C., however Radio Luxembourg suffered from a major problem and this was its reception, which could be poor at times. Neither of my parents would tolerate the variety of crackles, snaps and juddering thumping sounds that could accompany the often waxing and waning reception. In those days, one had to be a real fan in order to maintain attention to a programme.

Radio Luxembourg came into being in an attempt to introduce commercial radio into Britain. In 1927, monopoly rights to broadcasting in Britain passed to a new non-commercial British Broadcasting Corporation (B.B.C.), which operated under a charter from the Crown. Various attempts were made to bring commercial radio to Britain, one of which was housed in Luxembourg. Luxembourg is a very small country in Europe and a member of the European Union or Common Market, as it was once called. It is a Duchy and ruled/administered over by a Grand Duke. It is a charming place and I went there a number of times in the 1970s to take advantage of the cheap flights between Europe and North America since it was the main continental hub of Icelandic Airlines. The country’s location in Europe put it in an ideal position for the broadcasting of radio to other countries nearby.

Eventually after much too-ing and fro-ing between interested parties and the ignoring of an international agreement regarding wavelength use, transmission from Luxembourg began in both English and French in 1934 on long wave. Both of these stations were commercial stations, which were naturally frowned upon by the purists in the society, and especially by the B.B.C. and by those that ran the newspapers. A full history of the early days of the station may be found at http://www.pjede.de/208/history.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Luxembourg_(English).

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the radio station closed down, but was soon used by the Germans to transmit propaganda by William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw amongst others. Once liberation came, the station was used by American forces for the duration of the war years. With peace, attempts were made to revive the English service and in the early 1950s, transmissions were transferred to a new wavelength on the medium wave, 208 metres (1430 kHz). French programming continued on long-wave, while English programming now appeared exclusively on medium wave from 6 p.m. with German and Dutch emissions using the frequency during the day. The English language station soon became known as 208 – The Station of the Stars since programming featured sponsored showcases for musical entertainers popular at the time.

I first listened to Radio Luxembourg on my parents’ radiogram, a Sobell. This was an elegant piece of furniture made of walnut wood. It had a lid, which when lifted exposed a radio capable of picking up short wave, medium wave and long wave emissions and had a turntable that played up to ten records, one after the other. It was said to be state of the art at that time. Whether this was true or not, it was my mother’s pride and joy and I was only allowed to touch it under the strictest of supervision when we first got it. We used to listen to the home service and the light programme and occasionally the third programme and also to the records in their collection, which had been mostly obtained from Paul’s stall and shop.


Click on the pages of the booklet to enlarge

In those early days of listening to Radio Luxembourg, my interests were not in the musical programmes or in the game shows. My interest lay elsewhere. I wanted to hear about the latest adventures of Dan Dare who I was following with interest each week in The Eagle. The Eagle was a children’s comic that had started publication recently in 1950 and had quickly become an essential part of every boy’s reading at that time. Dan Dare and his associates were featured each week along with other great staples such as Riders of the Range and P.C. 49, both of which were weekly radio programmes, much enjoyed by me. The Eagle was a great comic. It also contained news and sports and was written in a style guaranteed to appeal to boys without being patronising. The Eagle also included cut-out drawings, which allowed the reader to make models of objects of interest.

My parents enjoyed listening to the various fifteen minute programmes that were once presented on Radio Luxembourg. Here various stars or well-known bands would be featured. Sunday evening was perhaps the best night for such listening pleasure. I remember my parents listening, and occasionally dancing, to Edmundo Ros & His Orchestra. This was followed by the lush dulcet sounds of Mantovani & His Orchestra. Mantovani was famous for his shimmering violins and sophisticated arrangements and was immensely popular around the world for many years. Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, and Jo Stafford also had shows on Radio Luxembourg at one time or another. I also remember Winifred Atwell, Vera Lynn and David Whitfield having their own shows as well. I cannot say that I was especially interested in their presentations at the time.

I remember that it was thanks to Radio Luxembourg that we were first introduced to Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Adaptations of these mysteries were presented in fifteen minutes segments with suitable musical accompaniment to heighten the tension. I remember sitting spellbound as I listened, probably with mouth open, to each episode. However, within a few short years, once Perry Mason came to television, I was older and saw myself as being too sophisticated in my tastes to watch such matter, much to the annoyance of my mother, who enjoyed them very much. Many years later, thanks to television reruns, I had the opportunity to revisit the object of my ridicule and watch many of these episodes. Whether I had aged and developed a greater willingness to tolerate such material or whether these programmes weren’t as terrible as I had once surmised my opinion of these stories changed yet again and I found myself enjoying them – much to the amusement of my mother!

Listening to Radio Luxembourg in those days gave the listener their first taste of commercially sponsored radio. The B.B.C. did not allow advertising and still does not. In those days, listeners weren’t used to interruptions in the flow of a play or in musical presentations. The B.B.C. gained its revenue from the requirement of a yearly licence, which was obtained from the Post Office. A fine would be levied against members of the public listening without a licence. Apparently the B.B.C. had vans with trackers that were able to find those homes without licences or so they said. Radio Luxembourg offered its programming free to the British public and obtained their revenue by selling air time to a variety of companies who then sponsored a show. Sponsorship then allowed a variety of companies to advertise their products to the listening public. This was a novelty to us at the time. With the spread of commercial radio and its eventual extension to television, advertisements have become a part of modern life and far from being a novelty. At one time, certain advertisements bordered on art or were pitched as being so:

Chanel No. 5

Chanel No. 5 - Share the Fantasy

Most adverts were direct and some were redeemed by their humour. Many were memorable. I doubt that there isn’t a person living in Britain of my age who doesn’t know that you’ll look a little lovelier each day with fabulous Pink Camay? And who did not know that the perfume used in the soap was worth a stunning nine guineas an ounce?

Today, we live in an age where we are inundated with advertisements. With the advent of demographic groups, they are aimed with special attention to target audiences. Mercifully for me, I have reached an age where most advertisements are no longer aimed at my group, and like many other members of society, I consider them as annoyances to be ignored as much as possible.

I remember, as a child, being greatly amused by some of the commercials on Radio Luxembourg and would often find myself singing one of the jingles, as the tunes and ditties were soon called. Here are a few examples of commercials and accompanying jingles that which once graced the airwaves of Radio Luxembourg:

Pepsodent – You’ll wonder where the yellow went

Ovaltine – The Ovaltiney’s Song

Esso – The Esso Sign means happy motoring

Shell – You can be sure of Shell

Horace Batchelor – Infradraw method

One of the best remembered adverts of the time was for Ovaltine. This was a malt product that was dissolved in warm milk and drunk generally at bedtime. I think that it was meant to give a restful night’s sleep. As a child, I found the jingle associated with the product to be amusing, but then it was meant to appeal to people of my demographic age group: We are the Ovaltineys, little girls and boys. This was sung by young children with shrill voices. Despite this, most kids sang along with them. My mother tried to get me to drink it a few times, but each time she did, I vomited and so she gave up. I don’t think that it was the Ovaltine that caused this, but rather the milk. I used to drive teachers nuts as a kid, as I refused to drink the milk provided by the state to all school kids. I told them that if they insisted that I drink it, I would soon be sick. Each new teacher would naturally not believe me and insist that I drink it. Most soon became believers when within ten to fifteen minutes I would be vomiting on the floor of the classroom. Some teachers took a little longer to convince, but eventually even they got the message. Sadly, there was no talk about lactose intolerance in those days.

Britain is a country of gamblers. In the early 1950s, there were no betting shops or casinos and no Bingo except at the seaside and at church fates and other functions. The Bingo craze was only just beginning and its popularity had not yet grown sufficiently to cause its take-over of multiple local cinemas and theatres. This would come within a few years later. Although off-track betting was illegal, everyone knew of someone who kept a book on both dog and horse racing. However, of the legal gambling outlets of the time, the most popular was the weekly flutter on the Football Pools.

I can recall at least three major Football Pool companies – Littlewoods, Vernons and Empire – although I am sure that there were more at one time. Each company offered patrons a chance to win up to fifty thousand pounds, a fabulous sum of money at the time, if they were able to predict eight draws on one line, which was officially called the Treble Chance. The average British workman, although women were known to enjoy a flutter, would spend much of his free time between Monday and Wednesday studying the form of the football teams playing matches on the following Saturday. Study was a serious matter and much would be written on the possible draws on the Sports Pages of the daily and specialised newspapers of the day. Generally on a Wednesday, the punter would sit at their kitchen table after the evening meal and fill out the coupon. Complete silence would be required throughout the house while Dad was busy since no one wanted to risk his making an error. Once complete, the coupon was neatly folded and placed in the provided envelope, sealed and a stamp placed on the top right hand corner of the front. The now stamped and addressed envelope would next be placed on the mantle over the fire and someone, generally one of the children, would be told to post it on the following morning on their way to school.

This job sent shivers down the back of many a child of the time since should the entry did not arrive at the company before the deadline, and were it to contain the winning entry, it would not be recognised by the company and the sender would be ineligible to share in the winnings. The fallout of such a tragedy did not bear thinking about! I was lucky as my father had no interest in the pools and when my mother made an effort to enter, which was rare, I was required to choose the matches, fill out the coupon and post the letter. Needless to say, we never won a penny, as I did not have a clue as to which teams were likely to draw. I made guesses and always completed the form on a Sunday evening and posted it on the following Monday without any study or thought. My mother would have done better had she used a pin to choose the teams!

Doing the Pools, for many was not just a flutter or a bit of a gamble and a laugh! No, for them, it was a deadly and serious business as their families could attest too. What could really fill mothers, wives and children with fear, besides the thought of not getting the entry at the company before the deadline, was the actual learning of the results. There would be a general demand for silence while the News Reader read the results, which regularly followed the 6 o’clock News on a Saturday evening and Dad checked his entry. Whole families sat with breath held and shivered as they waited to learn if their lives were about to change. Many wives knew that win or lose they would be paying for it later that evening once their husbands returned from their supping at the local pub. In the vast majority of cases, Dad did not win the grand prize. Family dreams were then put away yet again for another week. Slowly life would go back to normal while Dad was allowed to sulk in his chair until it was time for him to go to the pub and drown his sorrows leaving poor Mum to mind the kids and to sit and wait for his return.

However, some people suffered more than others over the Pools. The worst job that I have ever heard of was that performed each week by a kid that I knew in school. This poor boy not only had to sit in silence while the results were read, but was actually required to write down the scores of each team as the News Reader read them in that slow and deliberate B.B.C. manner of the time. I knew for a fact that this poor child shook at the thought of this task. He told me how he had to listen with great concentration and did not dare make an error for risk of angering his father who swore at the radio each time a displeasing result was read. The punishment, should he have actually made an error, did not bear thinking of! I suspect that the poor kid grew up to be a nervous wreck and probably never did the Pools himself!

Many stories and even a musical have been written about winners who, after winning vast fortunes on the pools, wasted it a frivolous manner or else invested it poorly and lost it all. Obviously some must have lived happily ever after, but their stories must have been of little interest to the reporters of the various newspaper style magazines of the time since we heard nothing of them.

Many serious punters of the time would invest in a variety of plans or perms to help increase their chances of winning a large dividend on the treble chance. These plans or perms were offered to the public by various companies and individuals who made a lot of money selling what they said would bring riches to buyers. Again, if you were to mention football pool plans to anyone young in the 1950s and 1960s, it is highly likely that the infra-draw method would come to mind and the name of its inventor, Horace Bachelor would soon be quoted. Anyone who listened to Radio Luxembourg at that time could not fail to remember him. Horace would do his own advertisement extolling the virtues of his plan. He told of the huge number of first treble chance wins that he had garlanded using his own method. The thing that made this advertisement so memorable was, believe it or not, the manner in which the address was delivered. At the end of the advertisement, the potential punter was requested to:


Horace Batchelor
send no money, just your name and address ….
send now to Horace Bachelor
Department One
at Keynsham – spelt
K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M -
Keynsham, Bristol

Keynsham High Street

I seem to recall that Horace did the whole of his commercial himself at one time, including the reading of the address. For a time Horace enjoyed celebrity status, if only in a slightly mocking manner, but had the distinction of being included in the list of performers provided by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band on their classic The Intro and The Outro, which gives full recognition to his place in the pop culture and national psyche of the time.

The amusing thing about this advertisement was that after hearing its delivery a few times, listeners would merrily spell along with the announcer! Should an ex-listener ever have the need to utter the word Keynsham, I am confident that he or she would most certainly follow it with its spelling, which proves what a remarkable piece of brainwashing had taken place. Sadly for Horace, any brainwashing did not extend to vast sales of his product. As amusing as it was to have heard of Keynsham (spelt ………!) at that time, I am sure that few of us actually knew where it was!

In those early, pre-rock ‘n’ roll days, Radio Luxembourg was something that I listened to with my parents. I cannot say that other than Dan Dare and Perry Mason, I didn’t find anything else aired to be of interest. As Carl Perkins would later say, none of the music moved me! It was fine as far as it went, but it was not the kind of stuff that I heard at Paul’s stall and it wasn’t until rock ‘n’ roll came along that I became a lifetime fan of the station and, for me and millions of others, it became truly The Station of the Stars!
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READER COMMENTS

 

I enjoyed your piece on Radio Luxembourg.  I too was a Dan Dare fan.  I can remember buying Eagle number 2 and then rushing back to the newsagent to see if he had number 1 which, happily, he had.  You may be interested to know that I possess two books published a few years ago, which contain the first three stories. Dan Dare: Pilot of the future, Dan Dare: The Red Moon and Dan Dare: Marooned on Mercury, copied from original preserved issues.  Stirring stuff!

Geoff Bannister

 

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Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins