BACK TO THE '50s

by
DOUG BOND

1953 saw the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth, and in order that people who lived in North East England could watch the great event live, the BBC brought forward its plans for opening the Pontop Pike transmitter. Test transmissions from Pontop Pike on a low-power temporary aerial began on Monday 20th April 1953, and the first programmes were transmitted on Friday 1st May. The local newspaper's review of the first evening's programmes is of interest:

"Your first evening offered first class entertainment. The visit to the Severn Wildfowl Trust Sanctuary must have been delightful to nature lovers and was excellently produced, the close shots of the birds being particularly fine. The Boys Brigade display from The Royal Albert Hall, London, was another good outside broadcast, and had an efficiency worthy of Horse Guards Parade. The programme "In The News" is usually well worthy of attention; last night's discussion of the M.I.G. reward offer was given many interesting angles. "Kaleidoscope" is a show for the family. It aims only to please, and while it does not always do that, it did so last night after having had an overhaul. The short play-story however, was rather childish."

In spite of this poor review, my parents decided early on that television was going to be "a good thing", and so one Tuesday afternoon a 14" Sobell, on hire from Rentaset (later taken over by Radio Rentals), was installed in our living room in Pendowar Way. I was immediately enraptured by the concept of television broadcasting. Oft-times, when my mother was out shopping, I would switch on the set during non-scheduled transmission time just to see what was happening. Even then, I must have had an inkling that maybe, just maybe there might be something interesting going on! In the early weeks after the opening of the transmitter, the answer was nothing except a snowstorm. I suspect that the transmitter was still being worked upon, and therefore only opened up maybe half an hour or so before the programmes started. One never-to-be-forgotten Autumn morning, however, there was what I remember describing to my mother as "a pretty pattern with a horrible noise". Sadly, my mother was completely disinterested! However, this was later to be identified as Test Card 'C' and 440Hz tone. My opinion of tone has not changed over the years! Again, I suspect that for the first few months, Pontop Pike must have radiated this locally, for it was several months before I discovered the delights of the Demonstration Film.

This film, which appeared in several editions, was shown daily, except Sundays, between 10.00 and 12.00 and was divided roughly into fifteen-minute segments, linked together by Sylvia Peters, one of the famous announcers of the period. After an opening shot of Big Ben from across the Thames, the first segment of the film consisted of an introduction to the BBC Television Service - its history, with clips from pre-war programmes, as well as more recent items, particularly variety programmes and sport. I remember a sequence showing speedway racing, and commentator Peter Dimmock's phrase - "they're like Monday's washing on the line now, they're strung right out". Isn't it strange how things like that stick in your memory for over forty years! Other items in this opening segment included Lupino Lane singing "Lambeth Walk" in an outside broadcast from a London theatre, Nina May McKinney singing "Papa Treetop Tall" and an excerpt from the ballet "Facade". At the beginning of the segment, however, Test Card 'C' was faded in, and Sylvia Peters announced that "during the morning, we shall be broadcasting periods of Test Card 'C' to enable engineers to test receivers during installation". She then went on to describe the various tests which had to be done, for example checking bandwidth., linearity, aspect ratio etc. That, of course, meant nothing to me and still doesn't! Then, at 10.15, Sylvia came back on screen to say "But now, it's time for a quarter of an hour of Test Card 'C', after which we shall be showing you something of our programmes for children". Fade out Sylvia, fade in Test Card 'C'.... and MUSIC!!! My first ever experience of the music which was to dominate and influence my musical tastes for the rest of my life. The first fifteen minutes consisted of light orchestral pieces by the Leighton Lucas Orchestra on EMI Studios discs. These included two Strauss items, "Wiener Blut" and "Tritsch Tratsch Polka"; plus "Marche Fantastique" and "Sellenger's Round".

10.29 - Fade out Test Card 'C', fade in a young lady to announce, "Hello everyone. I'm Jennifer Gay, one of the Children's Hour announcers. I'm going to tell you about some of our special programmes for children. But first, perhaps you'd like to have a look around the studio with me. This is the camera through which you are seeing me; this is the microphone which picks up my voice; and this is some of the scenery ready for rehearsal". This was all done in the space of about thirty seconds, and, remembering it now, it seems terribly naive! Then there were some clips from recent programmes, including a fairly lengthy sequence from a play called "The Powder Monkey" based on an imaginary incident on board Nelson's ship at the Battle of Trafalgar. I suspect that the whole play may have been surprisingly good! Jennifer then announced, "We have outside broadcasts, too. We've been to the zoo, a farm, and lots more interesting places". This segment ended with a showing of a recent edition of Children's Newsreel, after which, at 10.43, it was straight into the next sequence of Test Card 'C', with no announcement. This featured dance music from The Melachrino Orchestra, on EMI Studios discs, and from The Danceland Ballroom Orchestra on the now much-maligned (and unfairly so, in my humble opinion) Danceland label. In later editions of the Demfilm, Jennifer Gay was replaced by Sylvia Peters, as children's announcers were withdrawn.

The third section of the textual part of the Demfilm began at 10.58, and early editions were devoted to the first example of television from abroad with a broadcast from Paris in 1950, the commentator being Richard Dimbleby. We were shown the complicated routing of the pictures from Paris to Lille, where a large aerial had to be installed upon the top of the Hotel de Ville. From Lille, to the channel coast, and across to England. Somewhere along the way, I also remember being informed about the construction of a Standards converter. In later editions, this part of the Demfilm was greatly altered to include clips of the Coronation, and of the first "Eurovision" links. Typically obtuse, of course, the BBC refused to use this common name adopted by the rest of Europe, and for a long time insisted on calling it the "Television Continental Exchange". I seem to recall that the first of these "exchanges" included the flower Festival from Montreux in Switzerland, and the famous horse race around the main square in Siena, Italy. Clips of these were used in the later versions of this section of the Demfilm.

Test Card 'C' again between 11.13 and 11.27, this time featuring some Latin American tracks from the Danceland Rumba and Samba Orchestras, which was followed by a film showing the development of the spread of television across the United Kingdom with the building of transmitters at Sutton Coldfield, Holme Moss, Wenvoe and Kirk o' Shotts. The final session of Test Card 'C' between 11.40 and 11.55 went back to EMI Studios recordings by Leighton Lucas and his Orchestra, with extracts from Haydn and Mendelssohn symphonies.

This was followed by the motor car interference suppressor film. One of the pieces of background music in this short film was a super piece of dance music called "Apple Honey" played by the Harry Langer Orchestra, on the Paxton label. My original 78 rpm copy of this suffered a breakage many years ago, but it is now available on a CD re-issue entitled "Showtime" (Atmosphere AACD-6), which also contains two other tracks by Harry Langer, "Eight Bar Bounce" and "Midsummer Mood", both of which were used with Test Card 'C' between summer 1954 and May 1955. So that was the Demonstration Film. In later editions of the Demfilm, a current edition of Television Newsreel was shown.

I seem to recall that for the first few months Pontop Pike closed down at 12.00, and did not reopen until 15.00 with Test Card 'C' and tone until 15.08; then blank screen and silence until 15.10 followed by the tuning signal and music (national airs) until 15.14. There was then one minute of the BBC emblem and silence until afternoon programmes began at 15.15. The only time this varied was during the week before Christmas when the test card and tone were broadcast between 14.00 and 15.08. When afternoon programmes finished at 16.15, there was blank screen and silence until 16.18, when there was test card and music until 16.53. The next seven minutes followed the same sequence as 15.08 to 15.15, except that the music was an arrangement of nursery rhymes rather than the national airs, and the minute of BBC emblem was replaced by a more suitable children's sequence. Transmitters closed down after Children's Television, (which could last for anything between thirty and sixty minutes) until fifteen minutes before the start of evening programmes (firstly at 20.00, and later at 19.30) when the 15.00 sequence was adopted. Occasionally, at 16.18, tone replaced music; and sometimes Test Card 'C' was replaced by the "art bars".

Although I used to listen to the music at this time, I made no attempt to ascertain details, although I now know that it consisted of 78 rpm discs by the Cedric Dumont Orchestra (on the BBC label), and some commercially available discs on the Oriole label by The Cuban Caballeros and Sid Phillips Septet. This was the sequence of music which now goes under the generic title "Winter Sunshine". It was all instrumental music, with no vocals. I must have first heard it in the late summer or autumn of 1953, and I think it continued in use until summer 1954. I cannot recall ever hearing it between 12.00 and 13.00, only at 16.18.

Then in 1954 came the breakthrough with, as far as I was concerned, the first change in music. There was a two-hour sequence of 78 rpm discs - sixty minutes of classical and light orchestral music on BBC and EMI Studios non-commercial discs; and sixty minutes of dance music on commercially available Oriole discs, plus the non-commercial (at that time) Paxton and Harmonic labels. These latter labels were made available to the public at a later date. I certainly remember hearing all of these in both the 16.18 and 12.00 slots. The Oriole discs were withdrawn in November 1954, but until then, I would estimate that the dance music sequence was used for 75% of the time. Although the two sequences were never mixed before the Oriole withdrawal, there was no standard playing order within the sequences - it varied with each transmission. There was, however, one notable exception.

When the dance music sequence was used, the final record was inevitably "Buck Dance" played by the David Carroll Orchestra. This was to make use of the final two notes which featured the band members shouting out "the end". On many occasions, the record was faded in part way through so that these two words appeared just as Test Card 'C' was fading out. I think that one of the reasons I was so attracted to these discs is because they included vocals, and this is probably the reason for their early withdrawal. Having said that, however, the next set of records introduced in May 1955 also included a couple of vocal tracks, although these were withdrawn after only a couple of weeks. I wrote a fan letter to the lovely Mary Malcolm, asking her for an autographed photograph and a list of the trade test records. That excellent lady supplied both. I began gradually (I was still at school, remember, with only a small amount of pocket money) to buy all of the Oriole records - I think they each cost five shillings and sixpence - 271/2 pence. At a later date, I also purchased the Paxton and Harmonic discs. I still have two or three left, but most have been broken during various house moves over the years. The classical sequence included records by the Munich Radio Orchestra, the Viener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra and the ubiquitous Leighton Lucas Orchestra. The Oriole discs were by Richard Hayman, David Carroll (with vocals), Xavier Cugat (with vocals) and one record which actually got into the top twenty - "Pink Champagne" played by Bobby Maxwell and his Swinging Harps. The Paxton disc was by the aforementioned Harry Langer Orchestra; and the Harmonic records were all by Charles Brull's Dance Orchestra.

From November 1954 until May 1955, trade tests continued on the previous pattern using the classical and Paxton / Harmonic discs only. Then came my second change of music. A shorter list (about twenty minutes) of 78 rpm discs, again a mixture of classical, light orchestral, dance music and modern jazz, but this time all on the non-commercial BBC label. These discs saw my first introduction to the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, and to bands and groups which were to remain popular in trade tests for many subsequent years. The popular sequence consisted entirely of French and Canadian discs, and introduced us to Ricky Hyslop's Orchestra, Howard Cable's Orchestra, Jean-Jacques Tilche and his Dance Orchestra, Oscar Peterson and the Trio Francois Charpin. Two of the tracks by the latter were vocal - "La Devinette" (sung in French), and "Route 66" (sung in English). After only two weeks, however, both of these were withdrawn, and it was to be many years before vocals were again to be heard with the test card.

The start of independent television in September 1955 saw a dramatic change in BBC trade tests. Out went the Demonstration Film, and music on discs played randomly. Instead, we had Test Card 'C' and taped music from 10.00 until 13.00. For full details refer to the separate article An Evolving Triad of Reels.

Demfilm Test Card 'C' Music

1.

3.03

Marche Fantastique (Lucas)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

2.

3.56

Wiener Blut (Strauss)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

3.

3.10

Tritsch Tratsch Polka (Strauss)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

4.

2.36

Sellenger's Round

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

5.

2.42

I Hate Dancing

Danceland Ballroom Orchestra

6.

2.37

Song Of The Willows

Danceland Ballroom Orchestra

7.

2.00

Pila Pilo

Melachrino Orchestra

8.

2.49

Bobbysox Bounce

Melachrino Orchestra

9.

2.50

Smooth Kisses

Melachrino Orchestra

10.

2.58

Cuban Moonlight

Danceland Rumba Band

11.

2.44

Ah! The Argentine

Danceland Samba Band

12.

2.52

Trip Tropicale

Danceland Rumba Band

13.

2.38

Bang Go The Bongoes

Danceland Samba Band

14.

2.51

Part Of My Life

Danceland Ballroom Orchestra

15.

2.53

(Part of) 4th Movement from Symphony No 4 (Mendelssohn)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

16.

3.47

(Part of) 2nd Movement from Sympbony No 102 (Haydn)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

17.

3.48

(Part of) 3rd Movement from Symphony No 104 (Haydn)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

18.

1.50

(Part of) 2nd Movement from Symphony No 3 (Mendelssohn)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

 

 

BBC tv 1953 - 78 rpm discs

 1.

3.19

Winter Sunshine

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

2.

2.25

Don Cristobal

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

3.

3.18

Anniversary Serenade

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

4.

2.02

Fiddler In The Barn

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

5.

2.20

Rondo Allegro

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

6.

4.11

Bolero (Moeckel)

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

7.

3.23

Serenade To Eileen

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

8.

3.44

Danse Andalouse

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

9.

3.40

Radio Waltz

Cedric Dumont Light Orchestra

10.

2-52

O Passo Du Kanguru

The Cuban Caballeros

11.

2.23

Brazil

The Cuban Caballeros

12.

2.50

Maria My Own

The Cuban Caballeros

13.

3.05

Frenesi

The Cuban Caballeros

14.

2.46

Os Quindins De Yaya

The Cuban Caballeros

15

2.45

Adios Mariquita Linda

The Cuban Caballeros

16.

2.33

Elma's Delight

Sid Phillips Septet

17.

3.00

Calahorra (Spanish Serenade)

Sid Phillips Septet

18.

2.24

Readin', Ridin' and Rhythmatic

Sid Phillips Septet

19.

2.40

Moon Mist

Sid Phillips Septet

20.

2.34

A La Mode

Sid Phillips Septet

21.

2.30

Chintz And Chippendale

Sid Phillips Septet

Total Duration: 60.54

 

 

BBC tv 1954 - 78 rpm discs

1.

4.24

Overture: La Clemenza Di Tito (Mozart)

Munich Radio Orchestra

2.

3.40

Symphony no.1 in C (Weber). 3rd Movement

Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

3.

4.20

Symphony no.1 in C (Weber). 4th Movement

Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

4.

2.45

Hungarian Dance no.5 (Brahms)

Kurt Granuke Orchestra

5.

3.55

Hungarian Dance no.6 (Brahms)

Kurt Granuke Orchestra

6.

4.10

Weiner Blut (Strauss)

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

7.

3.35

Suite: South Of The Alps. 1st Mvmt. In A Haven.

Wiener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra

8.

3.19

Suite: South Of The Alps. 2nd Mvmt. Flowers Of Corsica

Wiener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra

9.

4.30

Suite: South Of The Alps. 3rd Mvmt. Terrace By The Sea

Wiener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra

10.

3.33

Suite: South Of The Alps. 4th Mvmt. Tarantella

Wiener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra

11.

3.40

Clair De Lune (Debussy)

Wiener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra

12.

5.45

Habanera

Wiener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra

13.

2.45

Tango

Wiener Tonkunstlerverein Orchestra

14.

3.40

Columbine

Leighton Lucas Orchestra

15.

4.10

Little Brown Jug (Fantasy Ballet)

Melachrino Orchestra

16.

2.52

Eight Bar Bounce

Harry Langer Orchestra

17.

2.58

Midsummer Mood

Harry Langer Orchestra

18.

2.07

Tradewinds

David Carroll Orchestra

19.

2.15

Tropical

David Carroll Orchestra

20.

2.50

Gadabout

David Carroll Orchestra

21.

2.18

Caribbean

David Carroll Orchestra

22.

2.24

Sadie Thompson's Song

Richard Hayman Orchestra

23.

2.15

Drive In

Richard Hayman Orchestra

24.

2.36

Stomp and Whistle

David Carroll Orchestra

25.

1.40

Pink Champagne

Bobby Maxwell and his Swinging Harps

26.

1.50

Hindustan

Bobby Maxwell and his Swinging Harps

27.

2.56

Cuban Nightingale

Xavier Cugat Orchestra

28.

2.15

Oooh!

Xavier Cugat Orchestra

29.

2.48

Jungle Flute

Xavier Cugat Orchestra

30.

2.38

Chiu Chiu

Xavier Cugat Orchestra

31.

2.40

Negra Leonor

Xavier Cugat Orchestra

32.

3.11

Gypsy Mambo

Xavier Cugat Orchestra

33.

2.55

I'm So Lonesome Tonight

Charles Brull's Dance Orchestra

34.

3.00

Square Four

Charles Brull's Dance Orchestra

35.

2.46

Jazz Interlude

Charles Brull's Dance Orchestra

36.

2.52

Rhythm For You

Charles Brull's Dance Orchestra

37.

2.34

Swing Doors

Charles Brull's Dance Orchestra

38.

2.42

Yankee Doodle Polka

Charles Brull's Dance Orchestra

39.

2.20

Buck Dance

David Carroll Orchestra

 

 

BBC tv 78 rpm discs

May - September 1955

 1.

3.17

Cassation in B flat major, K99 (Mozart). Marcia and Allegro

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

2.

2.26

Cassation in B flat major, K99 (Mozart). Andante I

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

3.

3.02

Cassation in B flat major, K99 (Mozart). Andante II

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

4.

2.13

Cassation in B flat major, K99 (Mozart). Menuetto I

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

5.

2.25

Cassation in B flat major, K99 (Mozart). Menuetto II

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

6.

3.53

Cassation in B flat major, K99 (Mozart). Allegro and Marcia (da capo)

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

7.

7.07

Overture: Pique Dame (Suppe)

Munich Radio Orchestra

8.

5.18

Overture: Russlan and Ludmilla (Glinka)

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

9.

2.19

Red River Jig (Benjamin)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

10.

3.00

Envy

Ricky Hislop Orchestra

11.

2.08

C'est Si Bon

Ricky Hislop Orchestra

12.

1 41

Chewing Gum

Ricky Hislop Orchestra

13.

2.00

She Didn't Say Yes

Howard Cable Orchestra

14.

2.13

In All The Country Round

Howard Cable Orchestra

15.

3.03

The Moon Was Yellow

Howard Cable Orchestra

16.

2.20

La Devinette

Trio Francois Charpin

17.

2.37

Medley: Parlez Moi d'Amour/Sous Les Toits De Paris

Trio Francois Charpin

18.

2.35

The Breeze And I

Trio Francois Charpin

19.

2.15

Mystery Street

Trio Francois Charpin

20.

3.41

Route 66

Trio Francois Charpin

21.

2.30

El Negro Zumbon

Trio Francois Charpin

22.

1.53

Just You, Just Me

Oscar Peterson

23.

1.46

Flying Home

Oscar Peterson

24.

2.01

For You

Oscar Peterson

25.

2.30

Pennies From Heaven

Oscar Peterson

Total Duration: 71.25

 

Articles

Revised: 14/01/11


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