The rise of ‘Take It From Here’ 

24 September 2018

From the BBC Year Book for 1950

In the last year, ‘Take It From Here’, a new Variety programme with a new team of radio artists, has climbed to a high place in listeners’ affections. ‘Take It From Here’ now runs neck and neck with ‘Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh’ as first favourite amongst Variety shows, for the prime favourite, the unique ‘Have a Go!’, can hardly be termed Variety in the strict sense of the word.

The first principle of ‘Take It From Here’ is to treat listeners as intelligent human beings. It is often assumed in all branches of the entertainment business that the great British public is composed of people of rather low mentality and that to be a success a show must play down to them; ‘They won’t understand that, old man, it’ll go right over their heads, make it simpler’, is the cry. The scriptwriters of ‘Take It From Here’, Frank Muir and Denis Norden, take an entirely opposite view. They assume that listeners have brains and, more important still, that they are willing to use them. They postulate that the average listener can not only read but can read intelligent matter; they credit him with an appreciation of good music, and a knowledge of what an opera is; they believe he can understand and appraise the larger issues of the day. With these assumptions the scope of the programme is greatly enlarged and listeners have responded warmly to the implied compliment.

Secondly, ‘Take it From Here’ is not tied to any set locale, stock situations or stereotyped characters, and its catch-phrases are few. During the course of a show the script-writers do ‘Take It From Here’ — anywhere and everywhere. It is the pride of the show that it is mobile. It is more than that, for it whizzes about with the speed of a rocket and much of its brilliance. It does not disdain the pun, and gains many of its best points from a deliberate misunderstanding of words such as ‘What are we hunting for?’ ‘Herd of deer, my lord.’ ‘Course I’ve heard of deer — big things like horses with a hat-rack on their foreheads.’ The programme’s authors play upon words with the delight of a composer writing for an enormous orchestra. Their scoring is unusual, and most effective.

They are young men, and everyone connected with the programme is young. Bentley, despite the scripts’ insistence on his decrepitude, is by no means a greybeard, but the rest of the cast is under thirty, and all of them bring to the show the freshness and exuberance without the inexperience of youth.

‘Take It From Here’ is a weekly party, and no one enjoys it more than the cast. The show is recorded on Sunday, the reason for this being that the three stars, Joy Nichols, Dick Bentley, and Professor Jimmy Edwards, are usually playing on the halls, and Sunday is the only day on which they can all get together.

The show is broadcast from the Paris Cinema in Lower Regent Street and is rehearsed and recorded within five hours. The cast meets producer and authors at four o’clock, and reads through the script, a read-through that is impossible to time, for, everyone reading the lines for the first time begins to laugh, which makes the half-hour show last considerably longer. After this first reading comes the music rehearsal while the cast takes its cups of tea — the number of cups of tea consumed on these Sundays is almost astronomical in number — and then they really get down to work.

Joy Nichols and Dick Bentley attempting to groom Jimmy Edwards to ‘Take It From Here’

Timing is immensely important in radio, when an error of a minute either way is a major offence, and allowances have to be made for laughs which take up several minutes of broadcast time. Sometimes Dick or Jimmy suggest additional cracks and, provided Charles Maxwell agrees, they are interpolated. Gags come most frequently from Bentley, easy-going, inoffensive, and quiet, who suddenly comes forward with a good line that he has been hatching as he sat quietly in the stalls at the Paris waiting for his cue. He is good-humoured under the constant fire of witticisms directed at the ageing member of the trio, but likes to join in and poke fun at himself occasionally rather than be the perpetual butt of the other two. Dick Bentley is a radio performer whose unfailing competence is a constant source of joy to his producer; he is quick to take direction, his timing is faultless, and he never needs to be told twice, one of the compensations of being an old hand at the game, for he has been a radio star in Australia since — well, a long time ago.

His compatriot, dynamic, blonde Miss Nichols, has also been a star for a long time, although she’s only twenty-two. This pretty and hustling young woman, who has enough energy for three people, was saved from becoming a school teacher by the fact that her spare-time entertaining — undertaken since she played Tiny Tim at the age of seven — was becoming a full-time job. Joy went into Australian radio in a big way, and also played on the variety and straight stage and in films. She thinks of little else but show business, spending her spare time in the theatre or listening to the radio, and her all-round ability and capacity for sheer hard work would put many artists to shame. She has a wonderful command of British dialects, and even producer Maxwell, himself a Scot, can find no fault with her Scots accent, which is a high compliment to an Australian.

The opening and close of an episode of Take It From Here in 1958, by which time Joy Nichols had been replaced by June Whitfield

After a couple of hours’ spasmodic rehearsal there is a last run-through of the show and then a short break before the recording at eight-thirty. It is not always as easy as this, of course, for there are Jimmy Edwards’s objections to be surmounted, and this sometimes takes quite a while, for Jimmy, as befits a Cambridge M.A., is a stickler for grammar, and if there are any grammatical errors in the script, in Edwards’s part of it at any rate, they must be amended. If not, the Professor will refuse to speak the offending lines. He is a tireless critic, not only of himself but of the entire show, script, production, even the music. Producer Maxwell does not mind this, accepting Jimmy’s perpetual but kindly carping for what it is, an overwhelming interest in the show as a whole.

He is, in reality, a lumbering, genial creature, his fresh, rosy face draped with a handlebar blonde moustache of enormous proportions. His hair, though so abundant and luxurious on his upper lip, is not as thick as he would wish upon his head and seldom points all one way. His clothes, seen side by side at the microphone with Bentley’s perfectly tailored suits, make the dapper Dick look additionally smart, for the Professor scorns sartorial orthodoxy and delights in wearing a rather small check cap with a flannel suit that is also rather small for him. He is the proud euphonium player of the Barnes Brass Band, with whom he practises each Sunday morning, before he eats an enormous lunch, which he sleeps off before arriving at the afternoon rehearsal. All three of the stars, and the supporting artists, Wallas Eaton — the homely Wal from ‘back in the buildin’s’— Alan Dean and the Keynotes, the programme’s vocal quartet, are exceptionally keen on ‘Take It From Here’ and jealous of its good name.

Elizabeth Forster was a BBC producer in 1950. She was also a renowned birdwatcher, travelling across the world in pursuit of unusual birds to spot; she also was an avid knitter and published several books of her knitting patterns that are still popular on the secondhand market today.

This article is published as a tribute to Denis Norden (1922-2018). As well as co-creating Take It From Here, he was a regular on the popular panel shows My Word! and My Music, and created and scripted LWT’s long-running It’ll Be Alright On The Night bloopers show. His autobiography, Clips from a Life, was published in 2009.

Alpine Pastures, the theme to My Word!, by Sydney Torch

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3 responses to this article

Paul Mason 25 October 2018 at 11:56 pm

The irony of The Glums, which a TV version was shown as part of Bruce Forstyh’s Big Night in 1978, is that in the radio version Dick Bentley was YOUNGER than Jimmy Edwards who played his father.

Paul Mason 26 October 2018 at 12:02 am

Denis Norden last broadcast was a slot on BBC Radio 4s In Touch for blind people where he recited a monologue from his My Word radio show. These talks ended with a play on a well known phrase. This was broadcast Christmas week in 2017. Entertaining to the end

Kevin Flynn 1 June 2019 at 11:01 am

Outside-edge trivia: in the 1970s the Norwegian public-service broadcaster NRK adapted a number of the “Ooh, Ron” sketches and transmitted them as “Familien Glum”.

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