Who invents the jokes for ‘BAND WAGGON’? 

19 May 2022 tbs.pm/75853

HAROLD RATHBONE reveals for the first time all that you have ever wanted to know about ‘Band Waggon,’ which now has a regular place in the programmes of the BBC’s Overseas Service

 

 

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From ‘London Calling’ for 11 November 1939

Richard Murdoch: Perhaps you could suggest what I should do to improve my broadcasting?

Arthur Askey: Certainly I can. Get lockjaw … Okay — make your announcement. Big-Hearted Arthur — that’s me!

THAT was how Arthur became Big-Hearted in the very first Band Waggon, in January, 1938. A few weeks later he and his partner trespassed on the BBC Theatre Organ and ‘Dicky’ Murdoch became Stinker. ‘You keep cave, Stinker, while I pull out the stops…’

Mrs. Bagwash is a comparatively late arrival. She joined the Askey-Murdoch ménage during a spring-cleaning episode (remember the theme cry: ‘It isn’t the people who make the most noise who do the most work’?) Gordon Crier was the christener of Mrs. Bagwash. The name stuck in his mind when he saw it printed in gilt letters on a laundry van. Daughter Nausea was also his invention. Lewis the goat, and Basil and the pigeons all arrived together in one broadcast, on February 9, 1938.

Askey and Murdoch have now been together continuously for nearly three years. Even when the wheels of Band Waggon stopped revolving temporarily, the Fol-de-Rols, films, and stage productions kept them together. Askev had broadcast frequently before Band Waggon, but I think Gordon Crier gave Murdoch his first engagement in radio, and that was for a television show at Alexandra Palace. Gordon first met Dicky at the Saville Theatre. The show was Over She Goes, and sharing Dicky’s dressing-room — an extraordinary coincidence — was Syd Walker.

A great deal of the success of Band Waggon must be attributed to the weekly conferences, called ‘sit-rounds,’ which have preceded Band-Waggon broadcasts right from the start. Each conference lasts three hours, and quite often more than one session is necessary.

The notice goes on the board by about Wednesday, three days before the broadcast, usually set out something like this:

 

BAND WAGGON SIT-ROUND
Big, Stinker, Vernon, Penny, Gordon
Please attend 11 a.m. today, in
Crier’s office
I THANK YOU!

 

In this way Askey and Murdoch are convened for their weekly meeting with producers Gordon Crier and Vernon Harris, with Miss Worth (‘Penny’ to most people) very much to the fore with her pencil and shorthand pad.

The five of them draw up their chairs round a large desk. You can imagine the scene: Arthur, his brow puckered one minute, a Puckish grin creasing his face the next, first sucking his pencil, then taking notes with his tongue peeping from the corner of his mouth; Stinker in his sports jacket and bow tie (his usual dress off-stage), complaining that the ‘meeting’s been much too “’oomdroom” so far’; Gorden Crier and Vernon Harris shaking their heads doubtfully — ‘We’ll have to establish that Arthur’s dropped his glasses, else that “crack” won’t mean a thing’ — and then reddening with laughter when Arthur puts the finishing touch to a joke; and, behind all the head-scratching and chatter and badinage, ‘Penny ‘ Worth, who has a genius for sifting the wheat that will go over the air from the chaff that won’t.

First of all, either Stinker or Big usually suggests the situation. ‘Let’s be lost in the black-out,’ says one of them, and the other continues, ‘Perhaps we could be lost while trying to find Basil and Lucy.’

Gordon Crier nods. ‘There might be something there,’ he agrees.

‘Suppose the pigeons escaped because Arthur put them through a ventilator instead of into the meat safe?’

‘A good chance in the black-out scene for Arthur to mistake a lamp-post for a man,’ cuts in Vernon Harris. ‘You remember that gag we discussed at the last meeting…’

The thing that would strike an outsider at the sit-round is the extraordinary care to make even the most slapdash scene photographic, so that it springs to the mind’s eye of the listener just as though he were seeing it and not just hearing it.

‘It’s twenty lines back since you asked Stinker to keep hold of your hand, Arthur. I think you ought to ask him again at this stage,’ suggests Gordon Crier. ‘We must keep on establishing the scene — you and Dicky walking across Trafalgar Square in the black-out hand in hand.’

How is it with all this intensive preparation that Band Waggon manages to appear spontaneous?

The answer is two-fold: Askey and Murdoch are polished Variety artists who know how to time a line to a split second, and secondly, much of the apparent spontaneity is real.

 

5 people around a desk

The first picture of the weekly ‘Band Waggon’ ‘Sit-Round’ in Gordon Crier’s temporary office ‘somewhere in England.’ Left to right are: Richard Murdoch, Crier himself, Arthur Askey, Vernon Harris and ‘Penny’ Worth

 

Arthur is one of the cleverest ‘gaggers’ in the show business, and modest though Arthur is, he well knows it. On one occasion Gordon Crier had to rush in to the microphone as a telegraph boy. When the cue came, Gordon was looking somewhere else — he had forgotten his entrance completely. Arthur didn’t stop talking. ‘This is where Gordy comes in as a telegraph boy,’ he explained confidentially from the corner of his mouth to millions of listeners. ‘Come along, Gordy… That’s the style, old boy… Now turn to page 4. Your line’s right at the top of the page…’

I suppose there are hard-boiled listeners who refuse to believe in the spontaneity of fooling like this. As a punishment they should be forced to go behind the scenes during a Band-Waggon broadcast and share the ordeal of the studio staff — with handkerchiefs stuffed in their mouths to prevent an explosion.

 

Courtesy of HiTechFX

 

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