Those days, with piles of sandbags outside the entrance, and our troops still battling the sinister Japs, actors (hugely talented as they were) did not have much in common with the casual types (like myself later I hasten to add) who, these days, turn up in jeans and sawn off T shirts. Their casual rehearsal or working clothes consisted of smart flannel trousers, waistcoats, white or palely checked shirts, and sports jackets with leather patches at their elbows.
The men occasionally gave in to a silk scarf knotted round their necks and tucked neatly into the front of their shirts where two buttons were allowed to open. The older actresses wore smart sensible matching skits and coats and rather quiet blouses , or a plain wartime dress relieved by a small brooch. Even allowing for the clothes rationing they did not dress ostentatiously.
Difficult though it may seem today, Radio Actors and Actresses were considered to be “Stars”. Their voices were as recognisable as faces in Coronation Street today. There was no television.
Films were mostly from Hollywood, except the rich offerings from Gainsborough, Rank and the Kordas; the theatre was still beyond many people’s salaries - as it is today - and so Radio was the friend in one’s own home, giving one the news in a quiet sensible fashion, and entertaining one with music and zany comedy and Drama.
People actually sat together, sipped their reheated teas and listened to Pinero, Maugham and Coward; listeners would very often try to guess the name of the actor speaking, so affectionately did they feel towards them all. Another reason for their personal popularity was that there were not a great many of them.
During the war a group of actors and actresses had been formed in order to keep Drama going while the bombs fell. They were, in a way, the first members of what later became known as the BBC Drama Repertory Company. Some time, at the beginning of the war, the Company worked out of London (Bristol, I believe) but very soon returned to London where the studios were better equipped, and by the time I started Broadcasting House was almost back to its true self.
One of the difficulties of writing truthfully about those great radio actors and actresses of the past is that I was a small boy. Small boys at that time, however talented, were to be seen, heard, not often spoken to and certainly never confided in.
But I have a very positive impression that none of them discussed their private lives; conversation was on a politely social level and did not seem to be hiding any deep emotional secrets. Again unlike today ! Well, they all knew each other...
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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