Scottish Children's Hour

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Children's Hour ran from 1923 to 1964. The format consisted of station staff adopting the monickers of 'aunties' and 'uncles', singing, telling stories, and exchanging jokes and riddles between themselves, in a very simple and relaxed manner.

Aunties and Uncles

The original aunties and uncles were: Auntie Cyclone (Kathleen Garscadden), Uncle Bert (Herbert Carruthers), Uncle Mungo (Mungo Dewar), and Uncle Alec (Alex Swinton Paterson).

Later, after Uncle Alex and Uncle Mungo disappeared into administrative jobs, they were replaced by the likes of Uncle Martyn (Martyn Webster), Uncle Bob and Longfellow (Andrew Stewart), so called as Stewart a tall and striking figure.

Talks on stamp collecting were given by the philatelist A. K. MacDonald who, naturally enough, was called 'Uncle Phil'.

Pianists Barbara Laing and Andrew Bryson shared duties as official accompanists.

Aberdeen staff

R.E. Jeffrey, Christine Crowe (Auntie Chris) and Winifred Manners (Auntie Win).

Charity fundraising

There was a strong charitable theme to the programme, with collections of money for disadvantaged children (those without shoes, clothing, or not enough to eat), bulb growing competitions for sick kids in hospitals, and parties for poor children once a year.[1] Money was partly raised through a number of highly successful bazaars, held in various locations including Glasgow's City Hall and, as Howard Lockhart recalled, on one occasion in the church hall at the foot of Woodlands Road:

Long before the doors were opened, a queue began to form along the street, and it was soon obvious that hte hall simply could not accoomodate the crowd that was clamouring to get in. For a short time a rumour began to spread that the floor was going to cave in. And I think this was the first time anybody realised the tremendous power of radio and the popularity of the Aunties and Uncles. They were besieged by autograph hunters, and their photos sold like hot cakes.[2]

Radio Circle

The 5SC Radio Circle cost ninepence to join and members were given a badge, with an aerial on it, and underneath, the inscription '5SC Radio Circle'. The money went to a fund for providing wireless sets for children's hospitals.

Garscadden ran a spirited Radio Circle Choir which practiced every Saturday morning. The rehearsals were actually broadcast, presumably to provide testing material for wireless retailers and dealers at a time when there were no scheduled programmes on the air.[3]

Open day on a Saturday afternoons, which the broadcaster Howard Lockhart attended from Ayr Academy.

Amalgamation

The separate Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee Children's Hour programmes were merged into a new Scottish Children's Hour from 1 November 1928. Aberdeen joined a year later from 1 October 1929.

From that date Garscadden was no longer a member of staff, but was placed as an artist on contract.

Miss Evva Kerr was in charge of Children's Hour along with women's talks and afternoon programmes, but while she was a better organiser, Garscadden had a definite appeal for children. The problem was that Garscadden and Kerr "had such a marked dislike for each other" and the advice from London was that Miss Kerr should be told that "if she is unable to make Miss Garscadden happy as an artist, it is not the latter who will suffer, but she herself".[4]

Cleghorn Thomson was told by the Programme Executive in London "that it is not considered that Miss Garscadden should be tied up by too restricting a contract, but that she should work as an Assistant in the Scottish Regional Children's Hour and be expected to carry out any reasonable instructions as they are given from time to time".[5]

In 1930, the Children's Hour from Glasgow was run three days a week by the station representative, J.C.S. Macgregor, and three days a week by Kathleen Garscadden.

In 1932, there was a Children's Hour from Glasgow on alternate Saturdays.

Return of the Aberdeen Children's Hour

In March 1932, the Aberdeen Children's Hour returned after Moultrie Kelsall was appointed station representative and revived what had been a moribund operation. This was not an exclusively local programme as it had been before, but one which was relayed across the Scottish transmitters once or twice a week.

Instead of the 'aunties' and 'uncles' of old, he adapted for radio the technique of popular comics, like 'Puck' and 'Rainbow', where animals with human attributes were the central figures. Kelsall himself played 'Brer Rabbit', Addie Ross was 'Miss Mouse' and Ruby Duncan was Squirrel. Their human friends included Granny Mutch (Christine Crowe) and, later and logically, Grandfather More (Arthur Black). The animals represented the children's point of view, with Brer Rabbit as the mischievous ringleader, Miss Mouse the capable if rather prim older sister, and Squirrel, the baby. The cast indulged in typical children's adventures, illustrated in song and story.

Upon becoming Kelsall's assistant in 1936, Howard Lockhart took over the running of the Aberdeen Children's Hour and the Aberdeen Animals, taking on the part of 'Howard the Hare'. Kelsall, as Brer Rabbit, became a less frequent contributor, but his songs were always in great demand, especially his quickfire rendering of The Wee Cooper of Fife. They also performed plays, variety shows and had their own concert party, which was called 'Four-footed Follies', with most of the material written by Alan Melville. Other animals included: Geeraw Giraffe (Bill Thomson), Bunny (Tommy Forbes) and Mr Mole (Alan Melville, who subsequently went to London). There was also Roland Smith who played an 'aul' wifie'.

Reflecting on the period, in 1973, Lockhart wrote:

It never ceases to surprise me that, although the Aberdeen Animals existed for only a few years before their demise on the outbreak of war in 1939, they are still missed, even today. Their impact, for a once-weekly broadcast, was quite extraordinary, and they rank among the most popular fictional characters in Scottish radio [...]

People loved them. Wrote to them. Sent them presents. At Christmas, when we appealed for toys for hospitals, we could hardly move along corridors crammed with parcels and boxes, overflowing from offices and studios already packed to capacity.[6]

When Kelsall and Ruby Duncan moved to London, the latter was replaced with Nan Davidson.

The Hour was deliberately and self-consciously Scottish, from the opening musical signature, Bluebells of Scotland, played by Ruby Duncan on the celeste, to the closing cradle song Wee Davey Daylicht, sung by Miss Mouse.[7]

Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Children's Hour was run by Mrs Callis ('Miss Manners').

The Scottish Children's Hour, run by Cecile Walton ('Auntie Wendy'), was much more formal than Garscadden's programme in Glasgow, with critics calling it cold and unfriendly. There were no conundrums or inconsequential ad-libbing. Howard Lockhart, who took part in the programme after he became an announcer in Edinburgh from 1935, wrote:

But Wendy's programmes were packed with material, mostly historical or legendary, and nothing was left to chance. Cecile Walton was a lady of wide cultural perception and sympathetic understanding. She was an idealist, a dreamer. "Wendy's rather vague," people would say. This was quite inaccurate. Abstracted, yes, but not vague.

Walton gradually took over the role of producer, leaving the actual presentation of the programmes in subordinate hands. As well as Lockhart, others who helped in this capacity included: Enid Maxwell ('Tinkerbell') and, later, Betty Ogilvie and Gladys Sutherland. Other popular personalities included Andrew P Wilson ('Heather Jock') and Dudley Stuart White ('Uncle Dudley') who possessed a fine, baritone voice. There were also regular visits from Tom Gillespie ('Uncle Tom') of Edinburgh Zoo to report in his genial, kindly manner the latest zoo news. Gillespie would sometimes bring into the studio with him a very large ape called 'Bobo', which was a great favourite with the children. Walton's vivacious secretary, Binnie Crawford, was called 'Puppy' on the programme.

After Walton left the BBC in 1936, her place as Children's Hour organiser was taken by Christine Orr, who, in the opinion of Lockhart, was "one of the best-loved and most delightful people ever to be on the BBC staff".[8]

Development

From 1937 there was a more frequent and regular interchange of programmes between London and the various broadcasting regions, including Scotland. The BBC Handbook 1939 noted that: "The extent to which children from the regions sent in appreciations of the main London programmes suggests that children's tastes in listening do not differ fundamentally whatever part of the country they live in."[9]

Second World War

The introduction of a unified Home Service during the Second World War meant that the Regions had to take it in turn to present the Children's Hour — Scotland, the North of England, the West, and Wales (Wales started slightly later than the rest in January 1940). The move had the effect of extending Kathleen Garscadden’s popularity and fame to the whole of Britain, but as the historian Asa Briggs noted, the move was not without its disadvantages as it was 'extremely difficult to balance the claims of five Regions and yet preserve the continuity which has always been such a feature of the Children's Hour’.[10]

From 30 June 1942, Lavinia Derwent's tales of the excitable wee Borders fish, Tammy Troot, became a regular and much-loved part of Children's Hour. Derwent had been writing about other animals, but when Garscadden heard about the story of the little fish she encouraged Derwent to write more. The tales were read by actor Willie Joss. Catchphrases included 'Hoots toots!' and 'Stop telling taradiddles!' Other characters included Rab Rat, Froggy, Sam Salmon, Tam Toad, Geordie the Grasshopper and Katy the Kipper. At its height, there were books and a cartoon strip in Glasgow's The Bulletin newspaper. In her lifetime, Derwent had written 205 stories about the character.

From April 1944, a new monthly serial, Down at the Mains, was introduced. Devised by R. Gordon McCallum, it was based on the fictional farmer Andrew Scott and his family at Braeside Mains. It continued until June 1955.

25th anniversary programme

A party to celebrate 25 years of Children's Hour in Scotland was broadcast on the Scottish Home Service from the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow on 6 March 1948. Former broadcasters were interviewed and many sang songs which were popular on the programme — they included Uncle Alec, Uncle Mungo, Andrew Stewart, Moultrie Kelsall and his wife Ruby Duncan, Howard Lockhart, Dudley Stuart Whyte, Uncle Tom on the Edinburgh animals, Robin Russell, Gordon MacCallum, Willie Joss, Dan White.

Famous debuts

Stanley Baxter (1926–), the Glasgow-born actor and impressionist. Garscadden discovered him at about the age of ten, hearing him singing at a 'Band of Hope' concert in his church in Belmont Street, Glasgow ('Band of Hope' was a temperance organisation for working-class children). Dressed in his coat, frock and tails, he performed a Fred Astaire and a Harry Lauder turn. He was studying elocution in the Glasgow Athenaeum School of Music (later the Scottish National Academy of Music). He was called into the studio when a small boy’s voice was needed.[11]

Gordon Jackson (1923–1990), the actor.

Janet Brown (1923–2011), the Rutherglen-born actress, comedian and impressionist began doing impersonations in the Children’s Hour. She went on to gain prominence for her realistic impressions of the Conservative leader and prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, on programmes such as BBC TV's Mike Yarwood Show, BBC Radio's The News Huddlines, and in the 1981 James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only.

Margo Henderson (1928–2009), the Clydebank-born variety start and comic impressionist.

Muir Mathieson (1911–1975), the Stirling-born conductor on a large number of British films, appeared on the programme as a boy of 11 with an orchestra of small boys from Stirling. Garscadden recalled that all the girls were excited as he was very handsome.[12]

Jimmy Logan (1928–2001), the Dennistoun-born performer, producer, impresario and director.

Organisers

End of Children's Hour

Children's Hour ended in 1964 due to the popularity of television.

References

  1. 'Howard Lockhart's New Year Special', BBC Radio Scotland, 1 January 1982.
  2. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 5.
  3. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 4.
  4. Assistant Controller to Scottish Regional Director, 'Staff', 21 May 1929, BBC WAC R49/571/2.
  5. Administration Executive to Director-General, 'Scottish Staff', 19 June 1929, BBC WAC R49/571/2.
  6. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 29–30.
  7. Lockhart, 31.
  8. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 24–5.
  9. BBC Handbook 1939, 26.
  10. Briggs, 104.
  11. 'Carrocher in Conversation', BBC Radio Scotland, 3 April 1980.
  12. 'Carrocher in Conversation', BBC Radio Scotland, 3 April 1980.
  13. 'Miss Christine Orr's BBC appointment', Glasgow Herald, 2 December 1936, 7.