Those Radio Times 

1 September 2001

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is more than 20 years old. The formatting may be strange, links broken and/or images missing. The text may have been superseded by subsequent events or later research.

When I was a sub-editor on the Radio Times in the 1970s, you learned quickly even a weekly listings magazine has some fraught moments, one of which got me the chance to be a costumed audience member at the filming of a show that I would sub-edit the listing for in March 1976.

“The Good Old Days” was the BBC’s long running replica of a Victorian music hall, as was popular at the turn of the century. BBC Manchester producer Barney Colehan (of “It’s a Knockout” fame) taped the song and dance show each week at the City Varieties Theatre in Leeds. Many famous radio and television stars appeared in the 60s and 70s and always dressed in period costume on stage. The show ran for many years and was especially popular with older viewers.

In charge of proceedings was master of ceremonies Leonard Sachs, father of actor Andrew Sachs. He had a special gift for ‘exaggerated introductions’. His banter with the audience and banging of a gavel to bring on each act was a popular feature of the show.

The real stars of ‘The Good Old Days’ were the audience, who came in free as long as they were dressed in Victorian or Edwardian style – with lavish hats and shawls for women, bowler hatted men or younger men kitted-out in military style. The audience joined in the banter and sang along to musical hall songs.

The waiting list for tickets was longer than that for ‘Top of the Pops’. The costumed section often came from amateur operatic societies and had to wait up to fifteen years to get tickets for this long running series.

I had earned my tickets though. In those days I was partly responsible for the TV listings pages of Radio Times, billing information and programme timings and weather details.

As we were going to press one week in early 1976, Dorothy Bickerdike, the producer’s assistant, got on the phone to me in a real panic. Could I add one more artist name to the billing? We had already made the metal plates up at the printers ready to roll the presses.

I knew how important it was for artists to get their credit in Radio Times and I just managed to get the star’s name inserted and an entire new metal plate made with almost literally seconds to spare.

Dorothy was so grateful she said I must come and see the show and bring some friends. I took up her offer and so received ten tickets to see Arthur Askey, Aimi MacDonald, and Joseph Locke in the edition to be filmed on 25th February 1976.

It went out about a month later on BBC-1. Dorothy asked me if I wanted my group to have tickets in the costumed section and of course being shy, but a bit daring, I said yes…

I brought friends from London and gave more tickets to others. We hired our clothes from costumiers ‘Berman’s and Nathan’s’ which was owned by the ATV empire at the time. As I worked for the BBC, I got a discount! The ladies dresses had been used in LWT’s ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and my military tunic in the earlier ABC drama ‘Frontier’.

I had been in the north that week doing some free lance PR work at Border Television on ‘Lookaround’ with Keith Macklin and at Tyne Tees on ‘Northern Life’ with Bill Steel. I had also visited BBC Radios Newcastle and Carlisle. Our Leeds trip for the show was the climax to the week.

Dorothy had allocated seats to my party in the fourth row from the front where they always filmed in close up.

Dorothy wanted to note exactly where we were as she fully intended to make sure Barney had the cameras on us occasionally during the recording. I was invited to watch the editing the next day. When the show went out about 6 weeks later I was surprised at just how much they had angled those cameras onto the people in our group. We were in close up at the start of the show about six times!

All of nine years later, I received a mysterious letter from Sweden. It came from one of a group of students I had met during my BBC PR career. He knew I worked at the BBC as I had once conducted his guest party to see an edition of ‘Top of the Pops’.

He asked if I had ever been in the audience on an edition of ‘The Good Old Days”. He said the series was now screened in Sweden and he was sure it was me he recognised, sitting in a red tunic at the front of the stalls. This was an observation I found quite amazing all those years later, and all because I was one of the sub editors at the Radio Times!

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