Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Entertainment and the Two Singers.

In the 40's & 50's the main entertainment was the cinema.  We had dozens of cinemas in Cleethorpes & Grimsby, the inside page of the Grimsby Evening Telegraph newspaper would have a complete entertainments guide listing which films were on at each cinema.  Some of the smaller independent cinemas ran older films that had "done the rounds" and put them on with a B-Movie and also a change of program mid-week.  The larger cinemas in the ABC
group (Associated British Cinemas) would show the latest blockbusters from America, although not as quickly as we enjoy now.
It was possible to pick and choose between the shows on offer and see a different program each night of the week.
On a Saturday morning the ABC Cleethorpes had their kids matinee show and we would go along to see cowboy films, cartoons, comedy films (The three Stooges, Chaplin, Harold Lloyd etc). There would be a weekly serial that ended in a "cliffhanger situation" to ensure everyone came back the following week!  The series I remember most was The Adventures of Flash Gordon.   The ABC group ran a club which we could join called the ABC Minors, all
members received a badge and at the halfway point, if you'd had a birthday during the previous week, you would be invited up to the stage by the manager to be introduced to the audience.  This usually brought all manner of missiles up from the front few rows though!  As the cinema emptied after a Saturday ABC Minors matinee show it was always obvious what films had been shown, the boys would run down the road smacking their own backsides if a cowboy film had been on or some would be whooping and chasing the others if they had more support for the indians!  Duelling with imaginary swords meant the main feature had been a "Cavaliers & Roundhead" film.

We had a live theatre in Cleethorpes, The Empire Theatre on the seafront which ran variety shows nightly in the summer season and amateur dramatics for the locals in the winter months.  my granddad often played in the orchestra and I would get a box circle seat overlooking the orchestra pit so I could see him playing.

We had gramophone records, made from shellac which ran at 78rpm on wind up gramophone players, I've mentioned them previously.

The main form of home entertainment though was the radio.  TV
was in it's infancy in the 50's and only affordable by more wealthy folk.  On the radio we had a wealth of comedy programs on the BBC Light Program, the Home Service catered for news bulletins and the Third Program ran "high brow" music and intellectual discussion programs.  We stayed with the Light Program.  We had a mains valve radio which could be tuned in to these stations plus many more from the continent, the reception for these though could be questionable at best.  The main way people in Cleethorpes and grimsby received their BBC Radio programs though was via the radio relay.  A local firm called "Radio Rentals" provided a receiver that was wired up to a local piped network going back to a central transmitter, for which subscribers paid a weekly rental fee.  The wires ran along all the terraced houses facia boards and the receiver in the houses had a 3-way switch to select the 3 BBC radio broadcasts.  It was a forerunner of CABLE TV!
There were dozens of comedy programs where lots of famous household names began their careers but I'll not go through them all.  
One of the most popular shows was called "Have a Go" and was presented by Wilfred Pickles, a popular Yorkshireman. The weekly show was what later became known as a "chat show" and broadcast live from places, towns & villages all over the country.  Wilfred and his wife Mabel invited local people to talk about themselves and answer a few questions where they could win the princely sum of £1-19s-11d.  The show was hugely popular and ran continuously from 1946 to 1967 and attracted listening audiences of 20 million people in it's heydays.  The show also received an average of 5,000 letters a week.  Anyone could apply to be on the show but they seemed to pick characters and people with a good story to tell, one such participant was my "Little Gran", my great grandmother.  Her early life is described in this blog, see http://a40sboy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/hard-times-and-heroes.html  We all listened to it on our Radio Relay set, I remember it as if it was only yeterday!

The tale of The Two Singers!
My great grandma was on "Have a Go" when it was broadcast from the Central Hall, Grimsby in the early 50's, by this time she was an elderly woman in her 80's.  Wilfred asked her to talk about her early life and she told him about how she took in washing to make ends meet and also did a lot of sewing for people making mens shirts for one shilling and 6d for a vest. A childs' dress was 9d and so on.  She did this along with the washing and also "charred" for local better off ladies for many years to earn money, all the more surprising as she was born with only one hand!  Wilfred asked how she managed to do the sewing and she revealed that she had used some of the money in the early days to buy a sewing machine to allow her to take on more work, a very enterprising woman. He asked her if she still had the sewing machine and she said "of cause, I still use it daily, I've had it for 55 years now, it's one of Singers' machines and it's as good as the day I first got it!  This brought a tremendous round of applause, in those days it was almost a crime for anyone to advertise on the BBC!  Wilfred though, being the old stager that he was, covered it up very professionally by saying "we'll be on ITV any minute now" (ITV was the commercial TV station that had only just started broadcasting and relied on advertising for revenue).  He went on to say "well, it's jolly time they (Singers) presented you with another one.  At the end of each interview Wilfred would consider how the participant had performed and if he thought they had done well he would utter the immortal words "give 'em the money Barney". Barney was the show's producer and I don't need to tell you my Little Got the money.
As a follow up to this story, a couple of days later, the manager of the local Singer Sewing machine shop called on my grandma.  The broadcast had been covered by the national papers and, being a shrewd business man, he decided to visit her with a photographer from the local paper to indeed give her the latest Singer electric sewing machine, free of charge for the publicity they had received on the BBC!  He demonstrated it to her showing her how much of an improvement it was over her old machine but she wasn't very impressed.  In fact although she thanked him politely for it she said she preferred her old treadle sewing machine and said her daughter Emma could have the new one!
The whole thing was reported Singer's in house magazine called The Red S Review   under the headline of  "Mrs. Connolly and Her Two Singers".
Little Gran trying out the new electric sewing machine under the guidance of
the local Singer Sewing Centre shop manager.  looking on is her daughter, my aunt
Emma who gran gave the new machine to!


You can listen to a short clip from "Have a Go" on You Tube via the following link:


She was quite a lady....do please find time to look at the link above.