How to Listen
by Stephen Potter and Joyce Grenfell

Stephen Potter and Joyce Grenfell - How to Listen.

(including 'How Not to'; 'How You Ought To'; and 'How You Won't')

BBC Third Programme

Broadcast: Saturday 16th November 1946

A feature programme (one of the inaugural programmes to be broadcast by the Third Programme) on radio listening including how not to, how you ought to and how you won't, demonstrated by Joyce Grenfell, Gladys Young, Betty Hardy, Louise Hutton, Carleton Hobbs, Geoffrey Wincott, Roy Plomley, Ivor Barnard, Deryck Guyler and Ronald Simpson.

Production by Stephen Potter.

Note: This is a re-broadcast "How To Listen" from the 8th September 1990 on BBC Radio 3 in which it was part of a programme called: "Remembering How To". This programme included a five minute introduction by Betty Johnston who was Stephen Potter's secretary when he and Joyce Grenfell first came up with the idea.

Introduction by Betty Johnston:

"Stephen met Joyce in 1943 and there was at once a great rapore between them and they talked about getting Joyce onto radio and Stephen was extremely keen on being the one to do it. And, in the course of their conversations and their meetings together, it was born and blossomed. And they started talking in this sort of language: "How to do this" and "How to do that" and eventually it came down to Stephen putting the idea forward and it being accepted that there should be a series of "How to Listen", "How to Woo", "How to Move House" which they did when they were both moving house and was particularly apt, of course. So then, they began to write little sketches and little pieces on little pieces of paper which percolated through to my office and gradually, very gradually, became a rough script. And I may say at this time that Stephen was living out in Essex and he use to come in by train with his bicycle and he would very often write bits in the train and leave them behind... in the train. And he was notorious for this and he was capable, time and again, of leaving his bicycle behind on the train. So I was very familiar with the ups and downs of Liverpool Street Station where I had to go and try and find these pieces of paper and translate them into a script.

Whether they were going to make a full programme or only half a programme nobody knew until we got nearer, nearer, nearer, and nearer to the day when d-day arrived. We had, I had always booked a studio well in advance so that we at least knew we got somewhere to go to make the programme. And the system at the BBC was that the secretary stencilled a beautiful, immaculate script and, if possible, handed some of them out to the actors, previously, which never, I think, occured ever on a "How to..." programme. Then, on the day I had to be in the studio trying to time the thing and as Stephen suddenly discovered he got another bit of paper in his pocket and would I type out the scene? I had top go back to the office to type and eventually learned to bring a typewriter with me or have one in studio. And that had to be stencilled and distributed so that my day was extremely fraught.

I can't tell you the things that had to be done and HAD to be done. The acting that went on was so spontaneous as to be practically not acting because the parts were written, thought of, belonging to Betty Hardy or Cecil Chancelor or Carleton Hobbs or whoever we had booked. And so they came out ready-made almost. There was no difficulty and Stephen didn't say "the accent is on that word in that sentence" or Joyce didn't say "No, no , no, that's not right." because somehow or other, these people were all experienced people; they were all very experienced actors and actresses and, completely at home in a studio. I remember Betty Hardy in "How to Give a Party". The first guest arriving with, you know, the nerves of the host and hostess slightly tingling. In this programme she came in and they offered her a drink and she had to say "Oh, thank you but I don't drink"... "Have a cigarette..." (everybody smoked those days) "Oh thank you but I don't smoke". And it started off that sort of idea, you see, that it was.. you knew what was going to come. And another one was called "How to Woo". One of my favourite things about that was Joyce Grenfell going up to Stephen saying "How did you manage to get ash on the back of your collar, dear?" It was a wonderful observation and that's the keynote to all of these programmes I think - their affectionate observation of people. And it shines through when I've heard then replayed I can just think of Joyce and Stephen laughing over that kitchen table as they concocted the programmes."

40 min.


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