In Town To-night 

29 April 2024


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From Radio Review, a supplement to Topical Times, for 23 December 1933

YEARS ago — or so it seems — we started our weekly “Surprise Items” at Savoy Hill. Nobody was more apprehensive about them than I — the humble originator.

But after Number One, in spite of the sceptics and the superstitious — for our first effort was on a Friday the thirteenth — it was quite obvious that the idea received the whole-hearted support of the listeners.

The “Surprise Items” continued for years, and became an established and regular feature of our programmes.

Then reorganisation in timing, changes in policy, important outside events, and a hundred and one other things made it evident that the familiar 10.45 “Stop Press” would have to bow to the exigencies of the service.

The B.B.C. promised to revive it in some other form in the future. They did, as you know, for “Diversions” came along and jumped into the aural limelight with a very marked degree of success.

The two entertainments — parent and child — had proved two things — the listener liked a regular feature like a Surprise Item, and, secondly, was intrigued by several of them in juxtaposition — “Diversions.” A strong point in favour of the latter appeared to be a growing tendency on the part of many listeners to welcome topical features earlier in the evening than the original time of the “S. I.” — 10.45 p.m.

And Here is the Third

Well, the first two had “passed over.” What about the third?

Well, here it is with the all-embracing title of “In Town To-night,” and there is ample evidence at Broadcasting House that it is a success already.

The listeners have written to say so, and the latest advice I have from Mr Eric Maschwitz is that it will carry on for at least three months.

I have been asked to tell you something about this popular Saturday night programme. That in itself is quite a difficult job, for instead of being a one-man concern like the Surprise Item, this “In Town To-night” undertaking requires the closest co-operation of many officials and interests in broadcasting.

By officials I mean those men on the permanent staff of the B.B.C. who provide you with entertainment, and by interests I mean interested parties, like theatre managers, film people, newspapers, composers and authors, and lots of men outside the B.B.C. who keep their eyes and ears open for possible stunts. Please include me in the latter category!

During the last two years, the Talks and Entertainment Departments have roped me in to help them in some of the shorter features like Topical Talks and so on. My heart and soul are in this task of providing any entertaining stunt for you whenever I am asked. So much for my contribution.

What of the men who really handle it at the microphone?

Eric Maschwitz, director of Light Entertainment, is in charge and under him comes A. W. Hanson, known as ” Bill,” who as Eric’s righthand man is responsible for the placing together and timing of the various items submitted, closely followed by the studio executives, sound-effects men, balance and control experts, and the announcer on duty.

How is In Town To-night ” arranged? Well, it starts the moment after the previous one has finished, and for a week suggestions are put forward to Maschwitz and Hanson by the score.


Five people stand in a line

John Macdonell greets Virginia Cherrill, Mr Cary Grant (left), and Mr Randolph Scott.


How We Get on the Job

The daily papers are watched, the passenger lists of the big shipping companies are watched, the theatre and cinema worlds are watched — everything is watched — and certainly the watchers “see most of the game” — a game which only takes half an hour to play. But what a lot of practice it needs!

Take, for instance, a recent example. Len Harvey was OK, so Hanson went “all out” for Tom Webster to introduce him. The famous cartoonist thought he could do it — but was doubtful about rehearsal. However, Tom wrote his script and tried it out over the mike like any other artiste, for he realised the value of getting the thing dead right. Fine!

Now what about Jack Petersen? Well, he wasn’t possible from Cardiff, and that was that!

In the meantime, I was in Plymouth waiting for the arrival of Cary Grant, Randolph Scott and Virginia Cherrill. I talked with them on the train back to London, and was fortunate to get a “Yes” from all three.

Maschwitz and Hanson had been working hard on the film studio angle, and had managed to pull off a talking film excerpt with the commentary super-imposed.

Jack Hylton came into the picture with one of his discoveries, and so the half-hour assumed shape.

Then came Hanson’s job of timing and balancing the items. “Cut this — increase that” instructed the stop-watch check-over, and while he refashioned his lay-out, Maschwitz began to write the connecting links.

That accomplished, there arose the question of studios. With so much going on at Broadcasting House, the booking of the necessary studios is an intricate task, for some are more suitable than others.

Saturday morning — run-through with four or five studios linked to the control panel.

At the end of the afternoon, back go the studio – from the “Talks” people to Maschwitz, and are recoupled again for the final rehearsal for “In Town To-night.”

From 6.30 onwards, the most feverish activity pervades B. H., for the cartoonist, the boxer, the film star, and the outside broadcasting people have to be directed into the correct channels, and introduced to the announcer on duty. Even a last minute “hope” may turn up, and this eventuality has to be considered.



“In Town” Goes Over

The last few minutes are hectic, the last few seconds frantic.

Suddenly the red lights begin to flick up and down. The control panel takes charge, and the show is on!

The music faded and stopped — the announcer — the green light cue for Cary Grant’s studio — the switch over to Tom Webster and Harvey, with the announcer dashing from studio to studio — the preliminary signals to the film people — the actual O K for them to go ahead — the awful hiatus of five seconds before the sound comes in from the talkie machines — it seems like five years — the fade back to studio music — more green lights for Hylton — more running by officials with a stop press message from Maschwitz — and the announcer on duty rushing after his last announcement to his next item — maybe in St George’s Hall with only perhaps one minute to spare !


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