Kathleen Garscadden

From Scotland On Air
Jump to: navigation, search

Kathleen Mary Evelyn Garscadden (18 February 1897 – 20 February 1991) was a Scottish radio broadcaster who became famous as presenter of the Scottish Children's Hour programme on the BBC's Regional Programme, Home Service and, later, Radio Four in Scotland. She was known as 'Auntie Kathleen' and her popularity turned her into a celebrity.

Early life

Kathleen Garscadden was born on 18 February 1897 at 13 Nithsdale Gardens, Crossmyloof, Glasgow, the daughter of George Garscadden, accountant and businessman, and his wife, Maggie Jane Vint. She began studying music at about the age of seven at a small private school in Pollokshields. She was then educated at the city's Hutchesons' Girls' Grammar School, and then went on to study singing at the Glasgow Athenaeum School of Music. She had a Carl Rosa Opera coach, before moving to London to train as a professional singer under the renowned English conductor Sir Henry Wood.[1] She did not pursue her goal of becoming an opera singer and, upon returning to Glasgow, was appointed leading soprano at the city’s Park Church.[2]

Kathleen's father was rather superstitious and sent her to a famous fortune teller who lived in London's Oxford Street and who had foretold the futures of the Royal Family. The man told her she was going to be surrounded by hundreds of children reaching out their arms towards her, from all over the world.

5MG

Garscadden's broadcasting career began in early 1923 when she was drafted-in as a singer, pianist, and announcer on her father's amateur radio station, 5MG. George Garscadden, who owned a household appliance business at 202 Bath Street, Glasgow, established the experimental station along with his friends Frank Milligan and James Cameron. Kathleen described the set-up:

I and my choir, in which I sang, and my organist Mr Carruthers were invited to that little flat to come and experiment to see if we could send our voices through the air. It was really a comical set-up with cables from the kitchen to the dining room in the little flat, and a microphone like a soup-plate suspended from the ceiling. And we played and we sang night after night, but nothing happened [...] But I'll never forget the night I was heard [...] and my mother heard me in Sauchiehall Street, and of course that was a miracle.[3]

Joining the British Broadcasting Company

Garscadden was involved from the very beginning of 5SC, when station director Herbert Carruthers brought her in for advice on the first concert that was broadcast, by the Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company, asking about the Italian arias that were to be sung by the soprano and how to pronounce the titles.[4]

She arranged the 'Children's Hour. The characters of the programme were known as Uncles and Aunties. At first, they made up comic names — Garscadden was known as 'Auntie Cyclone'. But London soon put a stop to this as they believed using meteorological terms could be confusing to children, and so Garscadden simply became 'Aunty Kathleen'.[ macasser

Her first broadcast on the BBC came about by accident. On Wednesday 2 May 1923, the BBC was getting ready to inaugurate its first Women's Hour broadcast with a talk delivered in London by HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. In the days before simultaneous broadcasting was possible, manuscripts of such talks were sent up from London to the provincial stations to be read-out by local speakers. That night, however, the speaker in Glasgow took stage-fright minutes before going on-air. Carruthers immediately called on Garscadden, who lived just around the corner in Sauchiehall Street.

From this most inauspicious of starts Kathleen went on to look after women’s programmes, having to arrange speakers on a daily basis. She also looked after the Children's Hour, which was started a few weeks later, and acting as a soprano when required. As a woman, however, she was not allowed to take her turn as station announcer.

Three weeks later 5SC broadcast its first Children's Hour (???) and Garscadden became organiser of the programme as well as performing in it, becoming known as "the girl with the laughing voice" after her first broadcasts. Her first 'stage-name' was 'Auntie Cyclone' — a skit on the early weather forecasts. Later, children knew her as 'Auntie Kathleen'. At the same time she continued to sing frequently in the evening concert programmes.

From 1928, Children's Hour was relayed to other Scottish stations.

Garscadden was still a freelance by 10 November 1933, though Melville Dinwiddie tried to get her back on the staff.[5]

From 14 October 1935, Garscadden had a spell as a temporary announcer — the first woman in Britain to perform the role on a regular basis. A BBC spokesman told the Scottish Daily Express: "We will watch the reaction of listeners very carefully. The appointment of Miss Garscadden as announcer is not intended to be permanent. There Is a shortage of staff in the Glasgow studio, and Miss Garscadden is helping us in a difficulty." However, he added: "If listeners show very great approval of the experiment, it may lead to a reconsideration of policy."[6]

During the Second World War she worked as an assistant on Children's Hour under the leadership of Christine Orr, who had been organiser of the BBC's Scottish Children's Hour from 1936.[7]

Retiral

Garscadden retired in June 1960 after 37 years' service with the BBC. On 1 July members of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland placed on record their warm appreciation of her outstandingly fine record of service. She left the BBC at a time when children's programmes on radio were being scaled down because of television's increasingly powerful counter-attraction. She returned to give a talk about her childhood in the final Children's Hour programme in 1964.

She continued to sing and give piano and singing lessons to children in her small flat at Victoria Place, Station Road, Milngavie, and also took part in occasional programmes. She was presented to the queen in 1983 at the diamond jubilee of BBC children's broadcasting.[8]

Death

Kathleen Garscadden died of haematemesis at the Western Infirmary, Glasgow on 20 February 1991 and was cremated at Clydebank Crematorium, North Dalnottar, seven days later. She was unmarried.[9]

References

  1. 'Auntie Kathleen', BBC Radio Scotland, 19 March 1991.
  2. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. 'Carrocher in Conversation', BBC Radio Scotland, 3 April 1980.
  4. 'Carrocher in Conversation', BBC Radio Scotland, 3 April 1980.
  5. 'Scottish plan of campaign', DIA to Controller (A), 10 November 1933, BBC WAC R13/369/2.
  6. 'Only woman announcer in Britain', Scottish Daily Express, 15 October 1935.
  7. 'Scottish Region Staff', circa January 1940, BBC WAC R13/372.
  8. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  9. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Media offices
First Scottish Children's Hour organiser (shared with Evva Kerr)
1928–1936
Succeeded by
Cecile Walton