Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

Stephen spoke next about early development of Football Pools advertising on the Radio.

"I can't remember the exact date, but an extremely nice man called B.J. Ayres came to see me, saying that he was Publicity Manager for Littlewoods and he'd like to take some air time to encourage people to fill their coupons in.

At that time, the biggest source of football pool coupons was the Sunday papers. People were invited to fill these in and send them to, for example, Littlewoods, Zetters, Vernons and there were explanatory notes.

You filled in the form and posted it to whatever Company you were interested in, but you mustn't send any money with your forecast, because only credit betting was then legal. So any betting had to be done on "tick" . You had to promise to send your stake money the following week.

Well, you can imagine people thinking: "Well, that's a good idea .... I'll wait and see if I win anything ..... " So we had to spend a lot of time devising the advertising so as to explain that it was no use waiting to see if you win before sending in the stake money, as this would be monitored and any offenders blacklisted.

Then Ayres and Sangster, (the latter ran Vernons), decided that people shouldn't have to wait until Sunday's early papers to find out what the dividends were, that radio would do it much quicker. They turned up and put a proposal to me - could I arrange for somebody to be at a telephone on a Saturday evening (at 7.30 I think it was), and they would 'phone over the results.

Well, in those days, the results were to the nearest penny. There were no big prizes, all your winnings were quoted in shillings and pence until one day Littlewoods suggested that they were going to launch a "Penny Points Pool". In fact, they 'phoned me on the first Saturday evening, saying that it had been a highly successful launch, with a top prize of 12,000 for one penny.

I couldn't believe it. Neither could most of our listeners. We put this over the air and one of my girls spent the next 90 minutes answering the telephone. But, anyway, we never looked back. Although in my time the dividends never went over a few thousands, there was great competition to beat the BBC with the results, which we usually managed to do.

Old Ayres wrote me a lovely letter saying it was a most extraordinary thrill for him to sit in his office in Liverpool and ring you up, spend 20 minutes on the 'phone and then put the receiver down, turn towards his wireless and hear what he'd just told me coming back at him.

The Press weren't very pleased with us, as they thought that Pools were a danger to the Press. On one occasion, my father, who was a London Vicar, was told that he should put his own life in order, because, whilst he was preaching the Gospel in his Parish Church, his son was advertising gambling on a very loud-voiced machine in the Continent.

Other Pools companies sponsoring programmes were International Soccapools, McKays, McLoughlins and Copes.

It is especially interesting to read the pre-war advertisements in, e.g "Radio Times", which made the most outrageous claims for the huge variety of pills, balms, powders, tonics, etc., which were sold to a largely gullible public at that time. Radio advertising supplemented this, and the list of sponsors reflects the large number of so-called medicinal preparations which were sold.

It should be remembered that antibiotics and many common drugs which we now take for granted were not available.

Despite the growing success of radio advertising (or probably because of it?), the press remained suspicious of Luxembourg. The expulsion of the "Sunday Referee" from the Newspapers Publishers' Assocation had cut off most of its distribution channels, and although the Ostrers ploughed money in during 1934, it had to capitulate and stop listing RL's programmes late that year.

The odd situation arose that the Communist "Daily Worker" would announce: " no other daily newspaper in Britain gives the Luxembourg programmes .... the "Worker" is now able to fill that gap".

Throughout 1935, the number of listeners continued to increase. In November and December of that year, a survey of the Institute of Incorporated Practitioners in Advertising showed that 1 of every 2 British listeners interviewed said that they regularly listened to RL on Sundays; 1 in 9 on weekdays. Professor Arnold Plant's Joint Committee report in 1938 estimated that 1 million households on Sundays tuned in to RL between 1300 and 1400 hrs, although the BBC listening figures on weekdays were claimed to exceed all the existing Commercial stations combined.

Luxembourg's programming policy was largely dictated by the Sponsors' spending powers, with the result that big name stars regularly appeared - as any ORCA# member with access to "Radio Pictorial" in those years can confirm. There seems little doubt, that the BBC's policy of giving its audience what the Corporation thought was good for it led to the high RL Sunday listening figures.

# ORCA is the Old Radio Show Collectors Association; still going strong.

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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