Howard Lockhart

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Howard McIlwraith Lockhart, MA, MBE
Born (1912-03-29)29 March 1912
Darlie, Ayr
Died 21 March 1987(1987-03-21) (aged 74)
Glasgow
Nationality Scottish
Education
  • Ayr Academy
  • High School of Glasgow
Alma mater Glasgow University, MA, 1933
Occupation
  • BBC
  • BBC variety producer
Spouse(s) Unmarried
Parent(s)
  • George Lockhart, solicitor
  • Jessie Stevenson?

Howard Lockhart (1912–1987) was a broadcaster, actor and playwright, known best for being pioneer of radio in Scotland, as both a broadcaster and producer, mainly in the field of light entertainment. He was the voice of Larry the Lamb in Children's Corner, Scotland's first DJ, and a popular broadcaster to Scots troops abroad during the Second World War. Until his retiral in 1985, he presented Howard Lockhart's Greetings for more than 30 years — a programme which would become one of the longest-running on Scottish radio.

Early life

Howard McIlwraith Lockhart was born in Ayr on 29 March 1912, to parents George and Jessie Lockhart. His father worked at the family firm of solicitors, which dated back to 1876.

Educated at Ayr Academy and Glasgow High School.

His first broadcast was in 1923 at the age of eleven, reading a self-penned short story, for which he had won a prize two years' earlier in the popular children's magazine, Little Folks. He was taken along to the BBC's Bath Street studio in Glasgow one Saturday morning with the intention of having someone else read it out, but when children's organiser Kathleen Garscadden looked at it, she announced that, if there was time, Lockart could read it himself in the Children's Corner that very afternoon.

I remember the heavy grey drapes on the walls and ceiling, the grey corded carpet and the dead, grey sound when one spoke. The microphone was slung on a stand, I remember, that had rubber wheels, and I had to climb on to the conductor's rostrum to reach it when it was my turn to speak. [1]

While still at Ayr Academy, Lockhart would travel to the BBC studios in Glasgow on occasional Saturdays and holidays to take part in the Children's Corner, reading stories, singing songs, joining in choruses and taking part in the spontaneous chit-chat.

In 1927, at the age of 15, he left Ayr Academy to enrol at the High School of Glasgow. He lived with the Lightbody family, Annie and Jessie, in a top-floor flat in Pitt Strret, along with his brother Allan who was at the University. He stayed with them for years and they became lifelong friends. Living round the corner from the BBC studios at Blythswood Square he often helped out on Children's Hour after school.

Lockhart got his first taste for stage acting in the High School's dramatic society, which was visited once a week by the respected theatre director, A. Parry Gunn, who produced the end of term school plays and would have a lasting effect on Lockhart's career. Kathleen Garscadden, too, would come to see the plays. This led to him getting a variety of parts in many Children's Hour plays, but his first major role came with the introduction of Toytown in 1929, the scripts for which were originally supplied locally to each Region and performed with a local cast. The part of 'Larry the Lamb' had initially been played in Scotland by Bettine Luke but, when she was unable to take part, Lockhart took over and played the character most probably until the war.

Parry Gunn helped Lockhart acquire a repertoire so that, by the time he left school in 1930, he was accepting public engagements as an elocutionist, performing comic and tragic readings in town and church halls.

On the advice of his father, Lockhart followed his brother, Allan, in studying for law at Glasgow University, but during this time he continued to make headway at the BBC, taking over the presentation of Children's Hour one summer when Kathleen Garscadden was on holiday. He also found himself in a number of plays, most of which were produced by either Andrew Stewart or Gordon Gildard. Stewart arranged for him to do his first solo act in a variety show, got him into radio production, and gave him an opportunity to do some announcing in the evenings. "You can bring your books with you," he suggested, "and study between programmes".

Although Lockhart's heart was in broadcasting, he saw no prospect of a career in it. After graduating with an MA in 1933, he became a law apprentice in a Glasgow office, taking classes at the same time for a law degree, and continuing to appear in Children's Hour and, from time to time, in evening plays. At the same time he applied (unsuccessfully) for a full-time announcer position in Edinburgh, which went to Douglas Moodie, and to be Andrew Stewart's permanent assistant in Glasgow, which went to James Fergusson.

Parry Gunn introduced Lockhart to the Scottish National Players, one of Glasgow's oldest and most successful amateur dramatic companies, which provided most of the leading players in Scottish radio plays. They would have a repertory of about half-a-dozen one-act plays at the beginning of each season, and toured round hospitals and institutions in the Glasgow area. Eventually he was cast as the 'pedant' in a large-scale production of The Taming of the Shrew, at the Lyric Theatre in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street.

Announcer and 'disc-jokey'

In 1935, Lockhart was appointed full-time announcer at Scottish Broadcasting House, Edinburgh. The salary of £260 per annum was more than he was earning as a law apprentice and so he moved full-time into broadcasting.

Lockhart recalled that when VIPs were expected in the evenings, the announcers were expected, out of deference, to don dinner-jackets, for which they got a small annual dress allowance. It was not true that they wore evening dress just to read the news bulletin.[2]

As an announcer, Lockhart often had to play records to fill gaps between the programmes and, following the popular gramophone record programmes presented by Christopher Stone in London, he managed to get Andrew Stewart to arrange a selection of Scottish records under the title, Scotch Broth, which first made an appearance in 1936. The monthly feature continued for many years, both on the Scottish Programme and the Forces Programme, and Lockhart claimed he was Scotland's first disc-jockey (although such an expression belonged to the future).

Aberdeen

In April 1936 Lockhart took the job of assistant representative at the BBC's station in Aberdeen.[3] He worked under station representative, Moultrie Kelsall, who, up until that point, had been running the station practically single-handed for many years, although with great success.

Reflecting on his career decades later, he wrote that Aberdeen remained his favourite city in the world.[4]

Lockhart took over the running of the local Children's Hour programme and played 'Howard the Hare' in the popular Aberdeen Animals programme, which had started in 1932.

War years

Lockhart was transferred from Aberdeen in early 1940 to replace announcer Tom Dawson who had gone on sick leave.[5] With a greatly reduced staff, Lockhart also did a lot of producing, especially when the Forces Programme got underway.

Most of his wartime work was in the field of variety programmes, working with artists such as Doris Droy who, with her husband Frank, performed domestic sketches, a kind of 'stair-head type of humour'. She introduced at least two catchphrases widely used by Scottish servicemen at the time: 'Nae hairm done!' and 'My hert's roastit!'

When his age group was released by the BBC for call-up, Lockhart began a new life in the Royal Artillery. While terrified at the very thought of military service, after his initial training and 'square bashing' at Hereford, he was fortunate enough to be transferred to the Concert Party and Dance Band unit of Northern Command at Scunthorpe. In this role he wrote and produced shows, 'fed' lines to the comics, played in sketches, sang and even danced. Lockhart's Concert Party gave many broadcasts in the wartime series Private Smith Entertains on the BBC Forces Programme — sometimes from the studio in Leeds, and others from camp sites.

On his return to Glasgow, one of his first assignments was to produce the morning exercises in Up in the Morning Early. He was also responsible for Scottish Half-Hour on the Overseas Service.[6]

Lockhart was also responsible for some London-based shows when they came to Scotland. These included Shipmates Ashore, a programme for the merchant navy presented by Doris Hare, and Have A Go with Wilfred Pickles and 'Mabel at the table', along with their travelling pianist, Violet Carson.[7] Another programme, Works Wonders, showcased amateur talent from the wartime factories. This involved a great deal of preliminary work with Lockhart having to visit works all over Scotland to find those with sufficient talent to make a broadcast. One notable discovery at an aircraft factory in Prestwick was a teenager by the name of Alistair McHarg who possessed a rich bass-baritone voice. McHarg would go on to enjoy a successful career in stage and screen.[8]

He gave Jimmy Shand his first braodcast and helped the early careers of Jimmy Logan and Stanley Baxter. He was in charge of all of Sir Harry Lauder's broadcasts and worked with Gracie Fields, John Gielgud, Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon.

Post-war years

He produced programmes including The McFlannels.

Resignation from BBC

While Lockhart enjoyed being the BBC's variety producer in Scotland, he did not want to make it his life's work and, by the end of the 1940s, found himself unsettled. He wanted to travel in order to take stock of his life and decided to go to Australia. However, instead of having to resign, his boss, Melville Dinwiddie, managed to arrange an overseas exchange, whereby Lockhart would go and work for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Sydney for six months, while Trafford Whitelock from ABC would transfer to Scotland.

During this exchange, Lockhart realised he wanted to diversify his activities in a way that was not possible while remaining a member of BBC staff. He wanted to do more writing, more stage production and more broadcasting. At the time, BBC staff producers were not encouraged to take part in programmes, whereas no such taboo operated in Australia. And so, after having been a member of BBC staff for 15 years, he resigned his job as variety producer and handed it over to his successor, Eddie Fraser at the end of August 1950.[9]

Freelance activities

For a few months, early in his career as a freelance, Lockhart was the anonymous radio critic of the Scotsman newspaper. He gave this work up when the BBC took him back on the staff to do some temporary announcing.

In these early freelance years Lockhart presented a feature in the Scottish Magazine programme called 'Stavaigan', in which he described his experiences in different places at home and abroad.

From 1954 he presented a series called Personal Choice, produced by David Pat Walker, in which he would interview people and have them choose a favourite record. It was Walker who chose as the signature tune a recording by the Melachrino Strings of 'Limelight'.

He also appeared again in Children's Hour in a series called 'Howard's Fun Fair', written by Lavinia Derwent, in which he played a kind of genial uncle at a fairground.

Housewives' Choice, 1955–63

Keen for wider exposure, Lockhart sent a demo to Anna Instone, head of gramophone programmes, and was accepted as one of the presenters of Housewives' Choice, the morning request programme on the BBC Light Programme. No-one was ever allowed on the programme more than once a year and so Lockhart took his turn along with more than 250 other names who presented the programme during its lifetime between 1945 and 1967. His annual stint would typically run for two weeks.[10] Broadcast from 9 to 9.55 am every weekday morning, at its peak the programme attracted huge audiences of up to 8.5 million, and received around 3,000 postcard requests a week.

During the weeks he was on the air, Lockhart would get up at six every morning and travel to the studio by taxi from his hotel in Knightsbridge in time for rehearsal at 7.50. As he recalled, planning for the programme took a considerable amount of time:

When it was my turn, I used to go through the post cards and build programmes. It was never a case of just picking up a bundle of cards at random and working haphazardly. No, it took a long time, sifting through the requests and building balanced programmes. I used to spend enjoyable days in the gramophone library, just playing over different records, deciding if they were suitable or not.

Given the huge audience for the programme, it was a target for the publishing and recording companies. Lockhart recalled that he was virtually shadowed by record pluggers and invited out for lunch, but never once was offered anything in the nature of a bribe. It was not unknown for the less scrupulous pluggers to write in requesting their own records.[11]

In August of 1958 and 1959, he presented a couple of editions of an offshoot programme, Exhibition Choice, from the grandstand at the National Radio Show at Earls Court, London, in which he talked to visitors and challenged the BBC gramophone library to find their choice in record time.[12]

Woman's Hour, 1955–58

Howard Lockhart contributed a number of features to the Light Programme's Woman's Hour on occasions when it was broadcast from Scotland, with Elsie Russell presenting.

  • 4 November 1955: 'Unforgotten Faces': recollections from his movie memories, by Howard M. Lockhart.
  • 6 February 1956: 'Unforgotten Faces', by Howard M. Lockhart, who provides a sequel to a previous talk he gave on the actors of the silent screen.
  • 29 September 1958: 'Return Visit': Howard M. Lockhart takes the recorder to Tor-na-Dee Sanatorium and meets some old friends.

Home This Afternoon, 1964–70

Between 1964 and 1970, Lockhart was the regular presenter of the BBC Home Service magazine programme aimed at older listeners, Home This Afternoon, when it came from Scotland.[13]

TB diagnosis

During Glasgow's mass radiography campaign of 1957, Lockhart was diagnosed with TB and was instructed to go to Tor-na-Dee within two weeks. He remained there for nearly a year.

He described his time there as a very happy one and received an impressive list of visitors: Petula Clark came from Aberdeen by bus; Frankie Vaughan, and the trumpeter Nat Gonella. Soon he began organising programmes for the hospital's own closed circuit broadcasting system, including panel games, quizzes, discussions, plays, record programmes, and even an inter-denominational religious service on Sundays.[14]

Record request programme, 1957–85

It was following his long spell in hospital that the idea of a request programme for patients came to Lockhart. As a patient he had been very touched when his old friend, the organist Sandy Macpherson, sent him a greeting and played him a piece of music during his BBC programme.

I had never realised until that moment, just what it can mean to have a radio greeting in this way, when you are ill and in hospital. What impressed me particularly, and much to my surprise, was the tonic effect it had on the entire establishment. Everyone was talking about 'our' hospital having been mentioned over the air.

A further greeting was broadcast to Lockhart later, in the Housewives' Choice programme, and, once again, there was a tremendous upsurge of interest. Moved by the effect this had on the rest of the patients, on his return to health Lockhart persuaded the BBC to let him try out a programme of greetings on the Scottish Home Service, beginning as a 12-week series in 1957. Produced by Iain MacFadyen, Record Time went out every Tuesday evening from 6.35 to 7 pm, and was aimed not only at hospital patients, but also invalids at home and people who lived alone.[15] The programme was re-commissioned, and by 1962 was moved to a Friday evening. It went on under various names for more than 30 years until Lockhart retired in 1985.

Unlike many other request programmes at the time, Lockhart chose the records to go with the greetings:

In hospital, I had noticed it was the mentioning of names, not the music that mattered. It used to vex me in Housewives' Choice and other programmes, where listeners unwittingly excluded their greeting by reason of their choice of record. Clearly, one cannot repeat the same music too often. And if Mrs. X requests a tune that was played yesterday, she is going to be unlucky. I could hardly fail to notice that, after Sandy's broadcast to me, no one, but no one, had been even mildly interested in what he played. It was the hospital that counted. So I decided then and there, that, in my new programme, I myself would choose the records to go with the greetings, and, in this way, I could mention ten or a dozen names with each disc.[16]

His Record Programme was cited, in 1966, as an example of the trend towards larger midday audiences on radio.[17]

A feature on Howard Lockhart's final regular Sunday programme appeared in the Radio Times of 23–29 November 1985, 91.

A trademark feature of Lockhart's presentation was asking the audience, "How are you today?" and waiting for the answer in his mind's ear. He had copied the technique from the 1930s schools programmes of Herbert Wiseman who would say: "Good afternoon, boys and girls," and would wait for the response before proceeding.[18]

Playwright

Lockhart wrote The Story of Madeleine Smith for the New Victory Players, which was performed at the Glasgow Lyric Theatre. It was later performed at the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre in 1948 by producer John Casson. Lockhart took a copy of the play to Australia and produced it for both radio and the stage in Sydney. It was also broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 24 June 1957 and a television version was made by Associated-Rediffusion for ITV, transmitted on 19 April 1960.[19]

Lockhart wrote many other plays but, by his own admission, none were successful.[20]

Other

He wrote an autobiography, On My Wavelength, which was published by Aberdeen-based Impulse Books in 1973.

In 1976 he was awarded the MBE for his services to broadcasting.

Discoveries

The following people acknowledged Lockhart's help in furthering their careers: Jimmy Shand, Margo Henderson, Ian Wallace, Kathie Kay, Frank Chacksfield, Alastair McHarg. Lockhart was also associated in their early days with: Robert Urquhart, Michael Barratt, Cliff Hanley, Gordon Roddick, Peter Mallan, Ian Ross, Bryden Murdoch, the Five Smith Brothers and Moira Lamb.

Death and legacy

Howard Lockhart died on 21 March 1987 in Glasgow at the age of 74.

As a gesture to Lockhart for giving him his first broadcast, Jimmy Shand much later wrote The Howard Lockhart Polka, which Lockhart went on to use every week in his Greetings Programme.

One of Howard's nephews, and also his godson, was Chris Lowe, who presented PM on Radio 4, the Six o’clock news, Newsnight, and latterly was a newsreader on BBC News 24.

Another of Howard's nephews, Peter Lockhart, continues to run the family legal business, and himself worked as a part-time broadcaster at West Sound in Ayr, from 1987 until 1991, presenting the Scottish Chart Show, and returning to present a weekend show in 2003.

References

  1. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 1–2.
  2. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 23.
  3. 'News of Scottish Broadcasting', Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, 2 May 1936.
  4. Lockhart, 27.
  5. 'Scottish Region Staff', undated document, BBC WAC R13/372.
  6. After the war Scottish Half-Hour was re-titled Scottish Magazine and ran for many years under the direction of Bill Meikle.
  7. Carson would later play Ena Sharples in ITV's Coronation Street from 1960–80.
  8. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 59.
  9. 'BBC Resignation', Glasgow Herald, 9 May 1950, 5.
  10. The Radio Times lists Lockhart having presented Housewives' Choice on the following dates: 18–22 April 1955; 12–30 November 1956; 27 January–7 February 1958; on 13 & 16 May 1958 from Edinburgh; 9–20 February 1959; 7–18 March 1960; 3–14 April 1961; 11–22 June 1962; 2–13 December 1963.
  11. Lockhart, 123–5.
  12. The programmes were broadcast twice a day on Thursday 28 August 1958 and Thursday 27 August 1959
  13. List of programmes from BBC Genome
  14. Lockhart, 48–9.
  15. 'Record Time', Radio Times (Scottish Edition), 5 April 1957, 29.
  16. Lockhart, 127–8.
  17. Comment by Douglas Stuart, Minutes of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland, 1 July 1966.
  18. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 22.
  19. No archival copy is known to exist.
  20. Lockhart, 115.
Media offices
Preceded by
??
BBC Scottish variety producer
1940?–1950
Succeeded by
Eddie Fraser