For most people, Christmas still truly began on Christmas Eve this meant the wireless would be full of festive shows and music.
UnderTheChristmasTree take’s a look back in our ByGone Christmases series at what was played on the radio during the 1930s.
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Decorating was a huge part of entertainment with tinsel and cheap, pressed-metal decorations being far more common meant families could afford a little more. These were often bought in stores such as Woolworths. Electric fairy lights were also just starting to make their first appearances, although many would still use candles.
Many would still have attended church first thing on Christmas morning, but thereafter the day would have been dominated by the wireless and the BBC.
Since its inception in 1922, the BBC had made a great effort to celebrate Christmas. Special programmes were broadcast across the festive period and the radio was extremely influential in popularising the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve.
In 1932 the BBC moved into purpose built studios at Portland Place in London – the famous and now iconic Broadcasting House and popular entertainment programmes being broadcast.
Popular radio presenters of the time included Sandy Powell, who was honoured with an MBE and who passed away in June 1982) an English comedian best known for his catchphrase Can You Hear Me, Mother?
Famously, on Christmas Day (no pre recordings available back then) 1932 King George V made his first Christmas Broadcast, which was written by poet and writer Rudyard Kipling, to the Empire, from a temporary studio set up at Sandringham House.
Listening to the King’s Christmas Day speech soon became a habit across the Empire, just as we tune in to the BBC on Christmas Day to listen to the Queen’s speech. The BBC also linked the Empire on Christmas Day by relaying Christmas messages of goodwill from one country to another. This historic message went from east to west coming back to London across Canada, to Dublin and Belfast before arriving home. In this way, radio created the impression of one great imperial family.
Of special importance here was the inclusion of Palestine into the British Empire as a mandated territory under the League of Nations. This allowed the BBC to broadcast the bells in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.
Less profound, but equally popular, were the special dance band programmes led by men such as Henry Hall, and other Christmas party programmes.
A wireless was a popular present and ‘The Times’ carried an advert for radios as Christmas gifts priced £8.5s and £17.10s, more than a week’s wages for the average middle class man in the ninteen thirties.
In the same year the BBC decided to give its audience a taste of what commercially supported broadcasting meant in programming terms. On New Year’s Eve, 1930, an episode of the popular comedy series, Amos n’ Andy was broadcast in a relay from the US.
Families often spent their evenings together sitting around the fire listening to the radio where they could listen to the popular and long running Saturday night show In Town Tonight which began in 1933.
Sunday was a special day for the family and most attended church services for those who were unable to go to church a service was broadcast at 9.30am. A fairly typical 30sl Sunday’s Radio offerings could look something like this:
09.30 Church Service
10.30 Weather for Farmers & Shipping Forecast
10.45 Luigi Voselli & his Hungarian Orchestra
11.30 Mario de Pietro (mandolins & banjo)
11.50 The Luton Band
12.30 Gilbert Stacey & his Sextet
13.00 Harry Davidson & his Orchestra
14.00 In Your Garden with CH Middleton
14.20 Charles Ernesco & his Quintet with Webster Booth
15.30 Frank Biffo’s Brass Quintet
16.00 Learning to be a Christian
16.20 Reginald King & his Orchestra
17.00 Great Books of Christendom
17.20 Orchestre Ramonde
18.00 The Fortnight’s Films
18.15 A Sonata Recital
18.50 Eugene Pini & his Tango Orchestra
19.20 BBC Theatre Organ
19.55 Organ Voluntary
20.00 Religious Service
20.50 News & Weather
21.05 The Empire Songs
22.05 Mantovani & his Tipica Orchestra
23.00 Shipping Forecast
Radio continued its popularity with more and more families owning one or more radios and the very popular comedy series It’s That Man Again (ITMA), starring Tommy Handley, began in the summer of 1939.
ITMA was to become a classic radio series that ran for ten years until Tommy Handley’s death in 1949. Set on board a commercial pirate radio ship it gained it’s unusual title from a popular phrase at the time: Newspapers reporting another Adolf Hitler story would often write “It’s that man again” as the headline.
It wasn’t long after the ITMA programme made its first appearance on radio that the crisis with Hitler caused war to break out. Germany invaded Poland on 1st September, annexing Danzig, Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany on 3rd September 1939.
World War II broke out in 1939 and the nature of programmes provided by the BBC was quickly changed to adapt to the situation. On September 1st the BBC quickly closed its television service from Alexandra Palace for fear of the German air force being able to use the television signals for direction finding. The Regional and National radio programmes were also closed and replaced by a single Home Service.
Following this Radio Luxembourg closed it’s English service , followed later the same year by Radio Normandie. Meanwhile, on 10th November 1939 the BBC Home Service began Garrison Theater with Jack Warner.
What radio shows were your favourite? Why not comment below.
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