Tonight’s BBC Television Service… in 1953 

6 June 2018

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign of the ‘United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon’ takes place this week on Tuesday 2 June 1953 and Radio Times goes all out with its Coronation Number.

After Tuesday’s groundbreaking coverage of the Coronation itself, the televisual feast continues for the growing number of viewers of the nation’s television service. It’s becoming increasingly possible to rent a set if the cost of buying outright is too much and as can be seen by the advertisement on Page 50, Radio Rentals offer a set at 47/6 per month [£2.37½ in decimal and about £65 at 2018 values]. Free tubes and valves are included and, thankfully, the rental reduces every six months. You can send off the coupon to Bristol for the free 20 page book to find out more about renting and buying. While you’re at it, there’s a handy portable typewriter (complete in carrying case) for just 19 guineas tax free [£19.95]. That’s a hefty £546 in today’s money – but it does only weighs 8¾lbs and easily slips into your briefcase, dress case or a shallow desk drawer so is perfect no doubt for the modern businessman ensconced in his lodgings on a business trip.

The main televisual offering is at 9.30 pm with Commonwealth Cavalcade – but more of that later. The BBC Television Service opens at 3.15 with Road Show, an American comedy film starring actor Adolphe Menjou. IMDb tells me his career spanned both silent movies and talkies and that Hal Roach (Laurel and Hardy) was his director.

The film takes us to 4.25 and then there’s a pause in proceedings for 35 minutes until the service returns with Children’s Television at 5.0. First up, it’s Whirligig – a bit of digging has uncovered that this is Episode 17 of season 3. It’s a variety show, featuring different inserts – all broadcast under the Whirligig and Children’s Television umbrella.

Puppetry played a big part in early children’s programmes (and arguably much beyond into the 60s, 70s and 80s with the Anderson’s ‘Supermarionation’ technique) and here Humphrey Lestocq is accompanied by ‘Mr Turnip’. In fact, there’s a connection between Mr Turnip and early Anderson – Joy Laurey, who created Mr Turnip, was also responsible for the design and making of all the puppets in Anderson’s The Adventures of Twizzle. She also operated the puppets for the complete series (of which there were 52 episodes made) along with Christine Glanville who remained with Anderson through the Four Feather Falls, Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds years and beyond. Peter Hawkins is credited as voicing Mr Turnip – he later voiced for Bill and Ben in The Flowerpot Men, daleks and cybermen in Doctor Who and Zippy in the first run of Rainbow. Tony Hart and Steve Race also feature in the shows following Mr Turnip – all names familiar to and lovingly remembered by the ‘boomer’ generation.

Time for some repeats of The Week’s Newsreels at 6.0 and as it’s coronation week, there’s a Special Coronation edition of Tuesday’s newsreel to see again. If you want the day’s news and a spot of weather, you’ll have to wait until approximately 11.0 pm for that but in sound only.

At 8.30, all you need to know about how a Nottingham factory produces cricket bats with Godfrey Baseley in King Willow. It’s an outside broadcast and John Vernon produces. Vernon joined the BBC in 1946 and his first OB was in 1952. He went on to produce and direct many BBC series including Theatre Night, Theatre Date and BBC Sunday Night Theatre.

A six-parter kicks off at 9.0. Stand by to Shoot is billed as a serial play in six episodes, set in a film studio. Looking down the cast list, there are two or three names that stand out. Peter Arne (Geoff) was a budding character actor at the time and became a familiar face in film with appearances in Moonraker, Ice Cold in Alex, Khartoum, Victor Victoria, Trail of/Curse of the Pink Panther and others. His television appearances were prolific with roles in The Avengers, Danger Man, The Saint, The Baron, Man in a Suitcase, Department S, Softly Softly and Triangle to name just some. Sadly found murdered in his Knightsbridge flat in August 1983, he was about to take a part in a Doctor Who story for BBC Television, the role falling to William Lucas.

Jack Howarth (‘Tug’ Wilson) is of course destined to become Albert Tatlock in Granada’s Coronation Street but we’re over seven years before we see him in that role.

Betty Paul takes centre stage in this serial (it’s billed as ‘Betty Paul in…’). A successful actress on stage and screen, she also wrote for radio and had several novels published. With her then-husband Peter Lambda she wrote and created Anglia Television’s short-lived rural soap, Weavers Green.

So it’s 9.30 now – and it’s curtain up on Commonwealth Cavalcade from the Scala Theatre, London. There’s 90 minutes of entertainment with ‘leading artists from the British Commonwealth of Nations… from the worlds of music, ballet, drama, Variety and sport’. There’s Bernard Braden, Shirley Abicair, Michael Miles – names that will become synonymous with ITV in the years to come, and Australian comedian and actor, Dick Bentley, who starred with Jimmy Edwards in the radio comedy Take It From Here playing the daft Ron to Edwards’ Pa Glum in ‘The Glums’, a mini-strand within TIFH.

W (Bill) Lyon-Shaw is the producer and his many future credits will include Variety Parade (1953–55), The Ken Dodd Show (1965) and The Roy Castle Show (1965). He also produced shows for Frankie Howerd, Harry Seacombe and Norman Wisdom.

At 11.0 (‘app.’ as the show might overrun presumably), it’s time for a look, or more correctly, a listen, to the weather forecast and the news. It wasn’t until the threat of ITN’s arrival two years later, with Messrs Chataway, Day and Kennedy to be seen in vision, that the BBC decided that perhaps we wouldn’t be distracted by the sight of a newsreader after all. Bring on Richard Baker…

It’s been quite a week for television and arguably, a turning point in UK television set ownership, thanks to the Coronation coverage. Sound and vision licences jumped to 2.1m in March 1953 prior to the June coronation from 1.4m the previous year and an estimated 20m people watched the seven hours broadcast – if not on their own sets, in neighbours’ homes and in other public venues such as church halls, hospitals and in cinemas projected on to on large screens. It’s not until 2014 that the rise in ownership of television sets starts to fall, reflecting the increased use of smart phones and tablets as sources of viewing.

But that’s years ahead… in just over twelve months in July 1954, the Television Bill becomes law, heralding the next chapter in UK broadcasting history. I’m up for that, are you?

You Say

5 responses to this article

Geoff Nash 6 June 2018 at 12:34 pm

Am I correct in assuming the Toddler’s Truce shutdown at 6pm didn’t apply on Saturdays?

Russ J Graham 6 June 2018 at 1:22 pm

It did apply to Saturdays, but it’s a bit hidden here: Whirligig runs from 17:00 to 17:35; the Truce is 17:35 to 18:00. It’s usually until 19:15 (part Truce, part BBCtv only coming on in peak anyway), but the BBC have obtained a bye from the Postmaster General because the Coronation newsreels run longer than the usual ones.

Paul Mason 6 June 2018 at 5:34 pm

A couple of names of note in the Commonwealth Cavalcade, one living, one dead. Still alive at 88 is the Australian zither player Shirley Abicair who I remember from childhood, and the dead one Chester Harriott , father of chef Ainsley.

Arthur Nibble 7 June 2018 at 9:22 am

In “Hank Rides Again”, Francis Coudrill writes the story, speaks the voices, draws and animates the pictures, but doesn’t play the drums. Lazy arse!

Alan Keeling 11 June 2018 at 4:04 pm

There are a couple of Hank the Cowboy stories on YouTube, and they are actually in glowing colour.

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