Scottish Half-Hour

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Scottish Half-Hour was a weekly programme on the wartime BBC Home Service created to give Scots an outlet for national expression. It ran from 1 October 1940 to ???. Originally broadcast on Tuesdays at 7.30 pm.

Format

Scottish Programme Director, Andrew Stewart, described the format of the programme:

The Scottish Half Hour is divided among heartening people by showing whence their strength comes (‘The Book of Scotland’), reflecting as sharply as possible their present-day doings (‘Scottish Magazine’), and entertaining them.[1]

The Scottish Director Melville Dinwiddie explained how the programme attempted to incorporate culture from every corner of Scotland:

Such popular items as 'bothy' concerts, music from the Borders, 'At the Bursts', and plays like 'The Scarecrow' were put on for listeners in different districts, because it was felt that to provide a really satisfying broadcast for listeners in the north-east or south-west once a month was better than to try to please the whole nation at one time every Tuesday.[2]

Scottish Magazine

Scottish Magazine was a monthly topical magazine programme covering sport, music, food and news events, which, from 4 February 1941, occupied the Scottish Half-Hour slot on the first Tuesday of each month. Regular features included the 'sports page' from Rex Kingsley; 'An historian views the news' by Professor J. D. Mackie; 'Poet's Corner'; and Rae Elrick's topical song.[3] From April 1942, Scottish Magazine was a monthly programme in its own right.

Scottish Chapbook

From Tuesday 12 January 1943, Scottish Magazine was re-named Scottish Chapbook. The editor gave it this title, having in mind the old days when the chapman wandered round the country telling tales and singing ballads of a topical character. As war conditions resulted in a scarcity of books and magazines, and as the black-out increased demand for them, the Scottish Chapbook was an attempt to fill the gap by broadcast means. The programme was a miscellany of newly-written work, including contributions by Scottish poets, writers, and composers.[4] However, listings in the Radio Times suggested a wider remit including "comment on current affairs, new music, and poetry, sketches, and reviews, contributed by Scots at home and overseas, with a recorded impression of an event of the month from the Scottish News Unit".

It contained first performances of new songs and piano pieces by David Stephen, Francis G Scott, W . B. Moonie, Hans Gal, and Betty Balfour. Lyrics for the songs were by such writers as Hugh McDiarmid and George Scott-Moncrieff, and short stories and poems were contributed by a number of Scottish men and women. Scottish Chapbook's review and comment was generally anonymous, but many listeners will have identified Edwin Muir, George Scott-Moncrieff, and Alexander Reid as having taken part in them.[5]

After the second programme the Glasgow Herald's radio critic, G. M. L., wrote:

The Scottish Chapbook continues to preserve an excellent balance of widely varied items — and to lack some essential quality which would quicken it into vivid and arresting life. The feature may not yet have succeeded in always getting hold of the exactly right material; the 'soldier's letters home' item last night for instance, though not uninteresting, was a reminder that when letters move away from people and events they have to be written by masters of descriptive style before they can hold a wide public.[6]

Scottish Chapbook highlights

Tuesday 12 January 1943, 18:45
The first programme featured new verse by Perth's William Soutar; Sydney Smith, an Edinburgh poet; and George Bruce, an Aberdonian living in Dundee. A glance at what 1943 was likely to hold for Scotland was contributed by J. M. Reid, and there were some new songs by Francis George Scott. James Bridie talked about C.E.M.A., the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Art, of which he was recently appointed Scottish member.[7] And there was a 'Letter Home' in the form of a dispatch from R. F. Dunnett, the former Scottish radio war correspondent who was now on duty in North Africa.[8]

Tuesday 9 February 1943, 18:45
In the last edition of the programme, listeners were asked to allow the BBC the privilege of quoting passages of general interest from letters received from relatives abroad. In this edition a series of interesting extracts were given from the letters of Sergeant Angus Ramsay, a Glasgow insurance man, who was born at Cavers, Roxburghshire, 31 years ago. He joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but is now serving in the Intelligence Corps of the Eighth Army.[9] It was intended to use his descriptions of the voyage out to Africa, to Abyssinia, of the Nile, of Alexandria, etc. Other features were another story by A. S. Wallace, author of The Spry Auld Yin, and a new musical composition by W. B. Moonie, an example of giving modern Scottish composers a platform for the performance of shorter works.[10]

Tuesday 9 November 1943, 18:45
A tribute to the Perth's poet, the late William Soutar. Following a recital of three his poems in Scots, Mr Edwin Muir, the eminent literary critic, paid an eloquent tribute to the poet.[11]

Forces' Scottish Half-Hour

A Scottish Half-Hour, principally intended for Scots servicemen stations overseas, began as an experiment in the Forces Programme in 1942. Consisting of traditional songs, comic turns and brief news and sports bulletins, it was broadcast weekly to the Middle East on Wednesdays from 8.30–9pm, and to India on Fridays from 1.30–2pm.

The 'hauf oor', as many of the troops called it, was produced by Howard Lockhart at the BBC's Queen Margaret Drive studios in Glasgow. Its compere was James Sloan, a native of Galloway and an experienced broadcaster who played regularly with the Scottish National Players. Also introducing the programme from time to time was Mrs Ferguson, a Galloway-born Glasgow housewife. Lockhart explained that they were chosen for their "middle-aged maturity":

One of these was James Sloan. He had been in the earlier War and he sounded friendly and rather avuncular in manner. At the end of each edition, he used to say, "Roll On the Big Ship", a phrase that had been much used in the first War to indicate the troop ship bound for home. The other presenter was Mrs Helen Mitchell, who had played as Granny Ferguson in the Knockendoch series which she had written and in which I played as a child actor. She had a lovely, soft Dumfries-shire tongue and warm sincerity. We called her 'Mrs Ferguson'. She had, in fact, a grown-up son in the army overseas, and he was able to report back to us regarding reception of our programmes. [12]

When no letters had been received for almost two months the programme was on the point of being abandoned until, suddenly, a steady flow of letters arrived from Scots in India, Persia, Burma, Africa, and France.

The choice of entertainment was based to some extent on letters Lockhart received from the audience. Interestingly, instead of asking swing, jazz, or boogie-woogie, most of the requests were for the old, traditional Scottish folk songs, such as The Star o' Rabbie Burns, My Ain Folk, and My Granny's Hie'lan Hame. At one point, Lockhart had such songs sung by various school choirs so that dads could hear their own youngsters singing them. The Daily Record journalist John Quigley wrote that

In some cases, a letter written by a Scots lad yearning for a breath of his homeland in the steaming, enervating atmosphere of a Burmese jungle, or an arid desert, has been instrumental in moulding the programme to its present form.

On a visit to the BBC, Quigley was shown a letter written by a Glasgow man, Sergeant J. H. Andrew, of the Middle East Forces:

It is a long time between programmes when they are only once a week. Scottish ears grow weary of the eternal Tin Pan Alley music and the rubbishy sentimental songs so much in evidence in radio programmes. It is like coming off the desert and seeing a fountain of cool, clear water to hear a properly trained singer giving expression to one of our deeply sincere Scottish ballads. [13]

Pipe bands were also in great demand, and Scots comics. Nearly every star of the Glasgow pantomimes performed on the programme, including the likes of Will Fyffe. The men asked specially for Doris Droy, the 'hearty and robust' comedienne who spoke with a distinct Glasgow accent.[14]

The half-hour contained a brief Scottish news summary and a Scottish sports bulletin.

After the General Forces Programme was launched, the Forces' Scottish Half-Hour was heard by listeners at home as well and first appeared on Monday 28 February 1944. However, there was soon a growing feeling that the programme had gone astray from its original aim of shared listening for the troops and home listeners, specifically that it was completely ignoring servicemen and civilians back in Britain.[15]

In 1945, a quiz section was introduced, consisting of questions of Scottish interest. The journalist John Quigley asked "Will any prizes be offered?", Lockhart quipped: "I don't think so. After all, this is essentially a Scottish programme."[16]

References

  1. Scottish Programme Director to Controller (Programmes), Head Office: 'January–March Quarter, 1942', 11 November 1941, BBC WAC R34/869/5.
  2. BBC Handbook 1941, 83–4.
  3. 'Ray Elrick' was a pseudonym of Archibald Hyslop for writing comic plays for BBC radio and songs for the comedian Harry Gordon.
  4. 'An Editorial Diary: The "Scottish Chapbook"', Glasgow Herald, 5 January 1943, 2.
  5. BBC Handbook 1944, 65.
  6. 'A Radio Commentary', Glasgow Herald, 10 February 1943, 3.
  7. 'Introducing C.E.M.A.', Daily Record, 11 January 1943.
  8. 'Scottish Chapbook', Stirling Journal, 4 February 1943.
  9. 'Letters on the Air', Glasgow Herald, 4 February 1943, 4.
  10. See also Edinburgh Evening News, 4 February 1943.
  11. 'Tribute from the BBC', Perthshire Advertiser, 3 November 1943.
  12. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 58–9.
  13. '103 Scottish Half Hours', Daily Record, 8 November 1944.
  14. 'A Real Touch of Glesca' for the Lads Overseas, Evening Citizen, 3 January 1944.
  15. 'Scots BBC Critics', Press and Journal, 27 March 1944.
  16. '103 Scottish Half Hours', Daily Record, 8 November 1944.