Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

....At that time, I was working on the 'Sunday Referee', and my thing was to keep tabs on anything which was interesting in the development of radio. This little piece of paper arrived on my desk, so I took it to the Editor, whose name was George Mussabini and he said "if you think it's worthwhile, do a bit and see what happens".

I did a little piece and the circulation people said to give it a Contents Bill. Contents Bills were put out by the hundred. Anything you'd got in the paper that you wanted to draw particular attention to - you printed a Bill. This time, I simply used the same phraseology that Plugge had used "Special Foreign Broadcasts to British Listeners" and that was distributed all round the South coast of England - about as far as 0.5 kW would reach. To everyone's amazement, the paper sold out in all the southern regions and they had to send both their two travellers out in their cars filling in the newsagents' gaps as they'd run out of papers.

Both Mussabini and the boss (Valentine Smith) decided to keep it on for another 3/4 weeks and the paper sold out each week. Plugge then appeared - to say he was interested that we had been pushing Radio Fecamp so much. I took him in to meet Valentine Smith and George Mussabini and they said that they would like to exploit this radio station, but that it would have to have its power increased.

Plugge went away in high glee, and hired IBC's first employee, a chap named Max Staniforth, who had been Publicity Director of Argentine State Railways, but who knew nothing about radio. Staniforth went to Fecamp in October, 1931, but didn't know very much what to look for, so, in January, 1932, I was sent over there charged with the task of launching M Le Grand's 0.5 kW drawing-room wireless set as 5 kW Radio Normandy, which was the first regular English language commercial broadcasting station selling British goods to British listeners. [although, of course, American commercial stations had started in 1920].

When I arrived, I found it to be very primitive. It had one gramophone turntable, admittedly electrically-driven, one long-playing reproducer which had been supplied by Philco and a number of 16" diameter discs from America. I wasn't very keen on the all-American stuff, so the first thing I did was to get four '78' turntables, build myself an amplifier and fit the lot into a four-square table which I had made by the local carpenter, placing the microphone on the top; we had the hayloft in one of the Benedictine stables for the studio, we "damped" the walls with old rugs, deadened the floor with stable matting - and that's how Radio Normandy was born.

It was rather like trawling in the ether. We put out a programme and had no idea if anyone was listening, hoping it would be attractive, and repeatedly telling anyone listening what wavelength it was on. There was plenty of correspondence, however, but when we told potential clients the size of our postbag, the response was that they didn't think our listening figures would be large enough to interest them.

I decided to find out, and conceived the idea of the 'International Broadcasting Club', which cost nothing to join except for a 1d. stamp and a promise to listen regularly to our station. The 'Sunday Referee' provided the admin: back-up - just as well, for, unbelievably, within 3 weeks, nearly 50,000 applications had been received at its offices and in less than 3 months more than 250,000 names were on the books. With these impressive figures, the man who was trying to sell our air time asked advertisers the same question as before and got the same reply : 'but will they buy anything?'

Philco suggested barter, offering 12 radio receivers in exchange for announcements advertising its products and a number of concerns made similar offers. Clearly, this was no use to us, as we needed something positive to convince advertisers that our listeners could constitute a genuine market. The breakthrough came from an associate of Plugge's, one George Shanks, who was browsing through a kind of household management book (like Mrs. Beeton) when he came across a recipe for a face beautifying cream.

As a matter of fun, he went to the chemist, bought the ingredients and cooked it up on the gas stove in the back kitchen of his mother's house, no. 10, Great Stanhope Street - one of the poshest streets in Mayfair, bombed out of existence in the war. Along comes Plugge to me with 2 pots of this stuff - could I advertise it? It was called Renis Face Cream by Classic Beauty Preparations Max Staniforth, who was still with me, was a good classical scholar, and we made up a story together about a beautiful Persian Princess who was being carried in her sedan chair through the streets of Persepolis when she found her progress barred by a disturbance in the roadway.

She sent one of her attendants to find out what the trouble was and they reported that it was due to some young bloods ill-treating a poor old slave. The Princess was very angry, sent for the young men, ticked them off, sent for the old slave and gave him a small bag of money for which he was very grateful.

Years later, when she got married, she found among her wedding presents a little tablet from the old slave which explained that the gift attached to it would make her the most beautiful woman in the world. It was a small alabaster jar of ointment. This preparation had indeed done as promised, and although its recipe had been lost, it had recently been rediscovered, analysed and the contents refined. It was now available to the ladies of Britain in pink glass pots at 2s. 3d. (11 p.) each, post free from 10, Great Stanhope Street.

This caused a terrible domestic row with Shanks's mother, as it sold and sold and the kitchen couldn't cope with it, so Plugge had to put it out to a proper chemist. That's what convinced the advertising fraternity that radio could sell.

previous page / next page

1:Early life and a first radio set
2:The yacht 'Ceto', Lord Northcliffe and the Daily Mail
3:An early transmitter in Luxembourg
4:Radio Normandy and a Persian Princess
5:Plans for the Luxembourg transmitter
6:Delegated to the new Radio Luxembourg
7:Williams takes charge
8:Recording audio on film, and the Philips recording system
9:Signing up Christopher Stone
10:Football Pools advertizing, 1930s
11:Advertizing anecdotes and pre-war strategy
12:Radio politics, and WW2 begins
13:Stephen Williams joins ENSA as Broadcasting Officer
14:Messages from soldiers: Two-Way Family Favourites
15:More wartime work for ENSA and the BBC
16:War ends; Williams returns to Radio Luxembourg
17:Back to the BBC
18:The hazards of 'Have A Go!'
19:Twilight years at the BBC
20:Awards and retirement


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