Although many people across Britain bought television sets specifically to watch the Coronation in 1953, some families held out against it for much longer, including my own. Listening to the wireless had certain advantages: you could picture the characters in dramas much more vividly in your mind than the primitive black and white screens of early television sets could show them, and having to listen closely in case you missed anything was good training in concentration.
In 1951, when the novel I’m working on is set, there were two wireless stations in Britain. The Home Service was the original BBC station which had already conveyed items of world-shattering news to everyone before the war. I don’t know if everyone who was alive at the time of the Abdication Crisis found the words of the King’s abdication speech seared into their brains for the rest of their lives, but my mother certainly did. She could also quote from the declaration of war speech of 1939 with a reasonable degree of accuracy even 50 or 60 years later. The Light Programme was meant, as its name suggests, for light entertainment of various kinds.
Because one of my characters listens to the wireless a lot I’ve had to establish which programmes had already started at that time, and although I knew ‘The Archers’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’ were long-running programmes I was quite surprised to find out they were both around then, with ‘The Archers’ having started in 1950 in one region and later being transmitted nationally. Some of the other popular programmes such as ‘Workers’ Playtime’ had a long life but have now finished.
Incidentally, I was rather disappointed to find that ITMA, from which my parents repeated jokes well into the 1960s, had finished in the late 1940s, but I have found a script online which gives something of the flavour:
It is now seen almost as a forerunner of The Goon Show.
My personal experience of listening to the wireless was that I became completely immersed in the children’s serials broadcast during ‘Children’s Hour’ by the Scottish Home Service, probably in the second half of the decade. ‘The Family at Number 5’ and ‘The Boys of Glen Morroch’ are two that I remember. My imagination ran riot when I listened to a sci-fi serial called (I think) Mystine Mutation in which a mutation that made things larger caused giant spiders to appear in the story and in my mind, and the mental pictures frightened me so much that I had to switch off the wireless. I suppose it was the 1950s equivalent of hiding behind the sofa to watch ‘Dr Who.’