Dial-twiddling brought laughter into our lives

THE ARCHERS: singer-whistler Ronnie Ronalde presents the trophies to the men's and women's champions

THE ARCHERS: singer-whistler Ronnie Ronalde presents the trophies to the men's and women's champions at the East Anglian archery championships at the Wellesley recreation ground in August 1951 while he was starring all summer at the Britannia Pier Pavilion. - Credit: Archant

In my distant childhood, I looked forward to Fridays because it meant the newspaper boy would deliver the Radio Times, enabling me to look forward to the pleasures promised on our wireless for the coming week.

WHAT A POPPET! Cockney spiv star comedian Arthur English, helped by resident bandleader Neville Bish

WHAT A POPPET! Cockney spiv star comedian Arthur English, helped by resident bandleader Neville Bishop, crowns the winner of a Miss Payne's Poppet competition at the open-air Marina at Great Yarmouth, probably in the Fifties.Pictures: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

However, the choice was severely limited. Back then, nobody envisaged that one day there would be not only scores of radio stations of varying appeal available in our homes but also innumerable television programmes, a medium known to only a few.

In those postwar pre-TV decades all anybody could receive were two BBC radio stations, the Home Service (staid and factual - “serious” music, talks, classical plays...) and the Light Programme, more amenable and aimed at the so-called ordinary listener.

If you were lucky with your dial-twiddling, you might pick up low-brow stations like Luxembourg, Holland’s Hilversum and AFN (American Forces Network).

Our household came into the BBC’s majority category, enjoying variety programmes, comedy shows, Music While You Work, Dick Barton Special Agent, The Man in Black (Valentine Dyall) and his creepy late-evening dramas...

Radio Times, founded in 1923, at one time enjoyed the largest magazine circulation in Europe, by the way.

Regular correspondent Paul Godfrey, a photographic researcher now living in Lowestoft, was excited recently to learn that the BBC had established an on-line archive of the Radio Times, using it to try to resolve questions from his boyhood, one involving the 1900 Daimler still participating in the annual London to Brighton veteran car rally and bearing the oldest Great Yarmouth borough registration number in existence, EX10, as mentioned in this column a fortnight ago.

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“Through series of coincidences I have recently had some e-mail correspondence with the present owner of EX10, John Worth,” writes Paul.

“I first saw this car as a child in the 1950s when BBC-TV were doing an outside broadcast from Yarmouth. I don’t believe our family owned a television at the time.

“I was taken by my Mum and Dad down to the Marine Parade at Yarmouth during a summer evening and, from outside the open-air swimming pool, we watched high diver Perry Blake do his death-defying leap into the pool - but we only heard the splash.

“Then we walked towards the Windmill Theatre and saw Tommy Trinder, the comedian, standing outside before climbing aboard Frank Bately’s Daimler EX10.

“In front of the car was Neville Bishop’s Band (summer residents at the outdoor Marina amphitheatre), dressed in funny old clothes and wigs, marching in procession while playing McNamara’s Band, with Neville at the front conducting the band with a floor mop!”

Paul’s previous efforts to find anyone else who witnessed this were in vain but “a bit of computer Googling yesterday brought up a BBC website that has scanned the whole of the Radio Times, and there are two possibilities for this broadcast.”

In the summer of 1955 the BBC featured Yarmouth on television and radio as part of its East Anglia Week, and two TV programmes in particular caught Paul’s eye as he trawled through the extensive archive.

The first was transmitted from the Wellington Pier Pavilion, before an audience of 1,100, with Tommy Trinder introducing entertainers spending the summer in Yarmouth and Gorleston, among them singer-whistler Ronnie Ronalde and the singing trio, The Beverley Sisters.

Trinder was bill-topping at the Windmill Theatre which belonged to his old chum, Jack Jay.

Two nights later came Marine Parade, with television cameras in the bathing pool for highlights from George Baines’ Water Follies and also “visits by the ‘Roving Eye’ to various parts of this seaside resort.”

The Roving Eye was a mobile outside broadcast vehicle with a TV camera and cameraman on the roof.

For some unexplained reason, in the archive Ronnie Ronalde was listed first among the entertainers in the broadcast Pier Pavilion show...but then came: “Introduces – Tommy Trinder; Unknown – Ronnie Ronalde; Presented by – Barrie Edgar”.

Says Paul Godfrey: “Ronnie Ronalde unknown! In Yarmouth he is still a legend, whistling, yodelling and singing his way through two seasons at the Wellington Pier, not forgetting The Yarmouth Song.”

TV critics in the local Press were very cool and unimpressed by the BBC’s coverage in the resort, reports Paul.

Among other items in its East Anglia Week were features on Yarmouth’s Trinity House depot on Southgates Road (“Shifting Sands/Buoys and Bells”), a radio discussion on staggered holidays (resort chiefs, hoteliers, boarding house proprietors and trade unionists putting their viewpoints), and a church service from the Park Baptist Tabernacle.

According to Paul, “The late David Buddery once claimed in the Yarmouth Mercury that he had a cine film of EX10 and Tommy Trinder. The innovation of the Roving Eye would have attracted his interest as well as EX10!”

By one of those coincidences that occasionally occur with my weekly feature, the death of Ronnie Ronalde at the age of 91 was announced while Paul and I were in correspondence about that 1955 visit by the BBC to Yarmouth.

Ronalde was very popular with our summer show audiences and spent three full seasons here, topping bills at the Britannia Pier in 1951, supported by Max Bygraves, and on the Wellington Pier in 1955 and 1956.

During that 1956 stay with us, Ronalde recorded The Yarmouth Song (“Yarmouth, wonderful Yarmouth, the place that has everything”), backed by Neville Bishop and his Wolves. The 1s 6d (7½p) sheet music published by Chappell, of which I have a copy, announces it as “The official song of Great Yarmouth and authorised by the Corporation” and, to confirm that, our borough coat-of-arms is also on the cover.

The composer was Barry Lewis – probably Ronalde’s long-serving manager and friend, Beccles resident Arturo Steffani.

The Columbia 78rpm recording never threatened to enter the national hit parade but, some years ago, was broadcast several times on BBC Radio Norfolk after I had resurrected it in this column, and a local entertainer updated its style.

Later, Coastal Radio played the disc, obtained from Hospital Radio Yare’s collection, and succeeded in contacting Ronnie Ronalde for a live interview from his home in New Zealand.