Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

As the number of hours of transmission increased and more clients came forward, other helpers were seconded from RP (L's) London offices - respectively, Bud Batten (ex-HMV), Joan Longstaff (Secretary in the Radio Paris office), Hugh Gee (Announcer), Gerald Cames, Laurie and Janet Townes and Robert Fellowes (recommended to Stephen by Peter Ustinov).

There was a need to reappraise the rather cumbersome methods of communicating in a foreign language all the time and having to type out two sets of cue sheets, which had served its purpose during the early weeks of sponsored programmes, whilst it became an imperative to overcome the logistical problems caused by there being no pre-recording methods.

.... now..... there was no tape recording - they didn't like the Blattnerphone system, as it was too heavy, too big, too cumbersome and it certainly wasn't transportable in the sense that we meant it. So we went in for ordinary sound film, which had come in in about 1928.

What we did was to instal 2 systems provided by British Acoustics Limited (they were part of the Gaumont British Group controlled by the Ostrers, which had been supporting us as I've already said) which operated on standard 35 mm. film, cut in half lengthways so that it fed through the sound-heads on the single remaining line of sprocket-holes. That gave you a complete half-hour programme without any change at all and it was easily transportable, because it was in a little tin, it was non-flammable in the sense that it wasn't anywhere near anything alight (altough, of course, if you put a match to it it would blow up!).

The system wasn't used until Spring, 1934 and was operated by Laurie Townes, who had been seconded by British Acoustics. It was a good move and it enabled us to do something which we'd never thought of before - it gave the sponsor an added interest in the programme for which he was paying and kept him keen to carry on. You see, up to that time, a sponsor had paid for a programme to be made and that was it - the programme came over to Luxembourg by air. We were now able to invite the sponsors along to see the programme being made and also to bring their friends, so it became a sort of social cachet for them to say 'come along to such-and-such a studio to see my programme being made and then, if you feel like it, Old Boy, pop in on Sunday to listen to it over a drink at home'.

That caught their fancy; the sound quality was as good as any disc. Indeed, clients were falling over each other to get on the air and within 3 years all the air time available for English language transmissions had been sold and since the Station's 'raison d'etre' within the International Radio Union was to be truly international, no more such time could be made available".

This recording system was superseded in about 1936 by a more sophisticated method developed by Philips of Eindhoven, the Phillips-Miller system, being the forerunner of magnetic tape recording. Philimil was described by Stephen as a stylographic recording method, involving the scratching on a film gel-coat by a stylus, which laid bare the transparent surface of the ribbon, which was then "read" like a film, to produce the sound-track.

.....the first programme to be pre-recorded and sent out on sound film (the 17.5 mm version) was the Palmolive Programme with Carroll Gibbons, Olive Groves, Paul England (and I've forgotten who the others were for the moment) and the second programme to come out fully recorded was Ovaltine.

Amusing story about that.....the first version of it we'd hired an actor to play the Chief Ovaltiney and he was taken ill and there was nobody else to take the part but me, so I had to come on as Cbief Ovaltiney, do a big bang on the cymbals and say 'Hello, my little Ovaltiney friends'. They issued a little rule book (which I've still got) with a secret code in it - simple enough, A = 2, B = 4, that sort of thing.

Anyway, we broadcast this, the first time it was OK, thank God, the second time the actor was alright and could do it. After about 4 programmes, I was in my office in Luxembourg when my secretary came in to say that the Captain of the Luxembourg Secret Police wanted a word with me......

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


Radio Plays
Wine Making
Cosby Methodist Church
Gokart Racing
Links to other sites
Sitemap xml
Contact Us