In March 1945 I had my eleventh birthday. During the following Easter holiday I was taken, as a treat, to Broadcasting House. During the blitz my mother was an ambulance driver, and had made friends with Donald Henderson, novelist and playwright. He was one of the main writers of radio’s first soap - “The Robinsons.” I was taken to tea in the rather primitive canteen in the basement, where a tin teaspoon was chained to the sugar basin in order to avoid accidental kleptomania.
Suddenly a lady at the next table leant across and said that I had a nice voice and would I like to see what a studio looked like. The studio was 3a. I was shown a microphone, and a young man brought a box on which I had to stand in order to reach it. The young lady had a friendly smile and asked me to read a bit from the book I was clutching when I saw a green light.
My mother, Donald Henderson, the young lady and the young man went into a box that looked like a goldfish bowl. On the green light I started to read about Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. By this time I was reading Ainsworth, Scott, Arthur Ransome and Keats and Shelley, but my mother was insistent that I should clutch an A.A. Milne, which she for some strange reason felt was more suitable for my age.
I was then asked if I had ever acted, and I admitted that I had just played Rosalind in “As You Like It” in the end-of-term show. Again, on being asked if I remembered anything from it, I obligingly recited the epilogue from the play. Then the lady came in with a script and asked me to read a part with the young man; I said that I could read both parts and did so.
The lady was Josephine Plummer, a Children’s Hour producer, and then and there she asked me to be in a broadcast. So on July 29th,1945, I was in “The Gentle Poet” and played William Cowper, the poet, as a boy, and obviously my mother had been consulted; in fact later I realised that the whole thing had been pre-arranged.
I was given permission by the school and then played Albert Schweitzer as a boy in another Children’s Hour play. But when I was asked to play John the Baptist as a boy in a grown up play my mother decided I had to leave school and become an actor. Being only eleven, I was not strictly permitted to leave school, but the LCC was still more interested in the War, and so a tutor was found and my school days were over.
There followed a huge amount of broadcasts, sometimes more than one a week, and in 1948 I played William in the Richmal Crompton series, by which time I was already an established boy-actor!
David Spenser: RADIO MEMORIES
Actors & Actresses
Mary O'Farrell and James McKechnie
Gladys Young & Marjorie Westbury
Peter Coke, Rolf Lefebvre and others
Radio Producers: early days - Josephine Plummer and May Jenkins
David Davies and Uncle Mac
Howard Rose and Val Gielgud
Donald MacWhinnie and Raymond Raikes
Louis MacNeice and H.B.Fortuin
Douglas Cleverdon and E.J.King-Bull
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
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