Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

Well, I knew the man socially and asked him 'is this a friendly or an official visit?', not dreaming that he'd say 'No, it's official'. So I said 'Oh, what have I done?' and he said that I'd been vitiating my terms of licence to broadcast from Luxembourg by transmitting messages in code, which was strictly forbidden. I said that I certainly had not, and he said that I had - at 5.30 p.m. the previous evening.

Well, that was Ovaltineys so I said 'I see what you mean', asked my secretary to bring in the little rule book, turned up the code which had been broadcast by the Chief Ovaltiney, and translated it for him - it said 'Don't forget your Ovaltine at 11'. He didn't believe me at first, but went away chuckling when I finally convinced him! "

Stephen's greatest coup, and one which undoubtedly rankled with the BBC for many years, was the recruitment of Christopher Stone to Radio Luxembourg in 1934. Stephen had become convinced that, despite the early success of Luxembourg, a 'real radio personality' was needed to maintain and increase momentum.

He put this to Isidore Ostrer and suggested that Freddy Grisewood would be a good choice.

"I spoke to a Colonel Alan Saunders, whom I knew personally, and who also knew Christopher Stone, and said to this chap 'ask Christopher if he'd like to join us', almost as a joke! .......Imagine my amazement a couple of weeks later when Saunders came back to me, saying 'I asked Christopher the other day, by way of a joke as you suggested, if he'd like to join you at Luxembourg and he said he might very well like to do so if "things" (the money - the BBC never paid very well) were alright'.

So we started negotiations. I spoke to the Ostrers who were still backing us and they said to push the boat out. I suggested a figure of 2,750 per annum for Stone to give up his BBC and other commitments, but he wanted the figure rounded up to 5,000 (! !), and the Ostrers, who were very good businessmen and knew what they were doing, agreed.

This was a fantastic salary for those days, but Stone was a nationally-recognised figure, had been introducing records on radio since 1927 (his father-in-law, Compton Mackenzie had started a similar programme as far back as 1924)". Stone was invited to broadcast as Stephen's personal guest on Luxembourg on Sunday July 1st, 1934, before any contract was signed.

"........the reaction was amazing - I got over 8,000 letters saying how nice it was to hear Christopher Stone on Radio Luxembourg and how much less inhibited, how much less formal, he sounded".

The contract was then signed, and Stone resigned from BBC work on September 28th., 1934, becoming an employee of Radio Publicity (Universal) Limited.

The BBC adopted an official policy of (unofficially) telling people not to work for Radio Luxembourg. They did it like this: the Variety Booking Department would mention that artists working for R.L. were not helping themselves in the eyes of the Corporation. It would also suggest to the British Phonographic Society that Luxembourg could afford to pay a generous "copyright fee" in the light of its, allegedly, hourly charge to sponsors of 200.

The British Phonographic Society levy was designed to protect and reward the mechanical and other rights of the gramophone record producing Companies, and was set at 10 shillings per record side, so, with an average of 9 disc-faces per half-hour programme, Stephen Williams said that this was hardly excessive, measured against gross fees earned. Incidentally, the BPS should not be confused with the Performing Rights Society, which was formed in 1914 for the protection and just payment to composers and authors.

By late 1934, Radio Luxembourg's audiences were substantial - 17th August saw the first Friday of regular weekday English broadcasts, and BBC monitoring service logs indicate its concern at the quality of Luxembourg's transmissions both in terms of output and reception.

The publicity given by the "Sunday Referee" had been invaluable during the station's early months, for it published RL's full programme details and had also sponsored its own "Sunday Referee" programmes from December, 1933 until December, 1934. Stephen and his colleagues put in an enormous amount of work to increase the range of advertisers. By the end of 1934, the list of sponsors included Littlewoods Pools, Palmolive, Shredded Wheat, Rothmans, Beecham's Pills, Ever Ready, W.D. & H.O.Wills, the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes, Zam-Buk, Kraft Cheese, Horlicks, Owbridge's Lung Tonic, Macleans Toothpaste and Mason's OK Sauce.

Some of the Companies appearing on Radio Luxembourg preferred it to advertising in the press. Established stars familiar from their commercial gramophone releases also continued to appear on Luxembourg. By then, a relative newcomer, "Radio Pictorial", had begun to make its mark, detailing BBC programmes and output from Continental Commercial Stations. It produced photographs of announcers and studios and provided publicity, making Radio Luxembourg better known.

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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