Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

Stephen returned to the UK.

I didn't want to apply to the BBC myself, I thought that was undignified, so I asked an old friend of my father's, the actor, Sir Seymour Hicks, to sound things out because I knew that he knew some of the BBC boys very well.

So he sounded out and reported back that 'young Williams was not advised to approach the Corporation with regard to joining it - he was unacceptable in that he had competed for listening figures against the BBC as a Commercial Broadcasting Executive (what that meant, I wasn't just an announcer, I was managing the thing) and, moreover, he had encouraged the departure of Christopher Stone'.

However, as one door was closing, another was opening.

In the summer of 1938, Basil Dean, an outstanding theatrical producer, had met Leslie Henson, Owen Nares and Godfrey Tearle (all prominent men of the Theatre) and suggested that, in the event of war, they should put together a plan of what the Theatre should do to help maintain the morale of the Country in general, and the Armed Forces in particular.

Many years later, in June1978, Stephen Williams interviewed Harold Conway, who was an ENSA executive from 1939 for 6 years, amongst other things its Press Officer, Auditions Chief and an Inspector, checking on the quality and "cleanliness" of its shows.

Conway remembers : "No, what happened from the very beginning was that on the day after war was declared, all the Theatre Managers in London met at Drury Lane, to decide how they were going to approach it and what they were going to do, and as all TMs and theatrical people always do, they couldn't agree on a single thing. Basil Dean was sitting in for about 4 hours, after which he got up in disgust, took a train to Kennington, where NAAFI HQ was, told then that there would never be agreement on anything and they said 'Right, you become Director of the organisation and we will lease Drury Lane' ".

Dean's book "The Theatre At War" is the definitive work about ENSA, if anyone wishes to study its full history. In the "Daily Telegraph" of 6th September 1939, this announcement appeared :

    "A movement has been started for the entertainment of the troops at home and overseas by visiting concert parties and other performers ..... the suggested title is the Enteretainments National Service Association".
The following day, the Telegraph commented:
    " ..... ENSA will be a familiar name in the days that are coming .... the Naval, Military and Air authorities have agreed that this shall be the recognised body for providing entertainments in military camps and hospitals ..... ENSA. ..... represents such bodies as the Incorporated Society of Musicians, British Actors' Equity, the Variety Artists Federation, the Concert Artists Federation, the Musicians' Union and thge Association of Dance Band Leaders. Mr. Basil Dean in ENSA Liaison with the Service authorities and Sir Seymour Hicks is the Chairman".

Stephen joined ENSA early in 1940, through Hicks's good offices, and, in mid-1941, became its Broadcasting Officer. Dean, in his book, says " his practical knowledge was just what was required to render down our enthusiasm into common sense. I engaged him there and then. He quickly made his presence felt.. ... working hard and unselfishly in presenting ENSA entertainment over the air".

"I was appointed Broadcasting Officer and also the BBC wre ordered to make use of me, so I became that and also a producer in the BBC .... .I produced every well-known name and sometimes we averaged 12-13 shows each week .... .it was a wonderful period and exciting too, because I was doing outside broadcasts as well - getting involved in bombing incidents at Euston Station and that kind of thing.

I had a microphone knocked out of my hand by a chunk of either bomb or shrapnel - wham! it suddenly disappeared. It was all live broadcasting. The actual programming broadcast they hitched up to Post Office lines everywhere and they needed to carry amplifiers and that sort of thing in trucks and then they ran out a microphone cable on to platform 15 at Euston or wherever" .

This period of his career was gruelling, but ......

......my work was my life - I absolutely loved it. When they started the Allied Expeditionary Forces programme, they brought me in on that, too .... that involved me with quite a number of American artists and American and Canadian bands, for example, Roderick Crawford, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore ..... ".

I was also responsible for a large number of Glenn Miller broadcasts .....we always believed in internal balance of a band - in other words, you balance it by ear as you heard it as a whole.

He (Miller) wanted microphones at each section so you could bring up, for example, the brass. If he thought he'd like a little more brass, the microphone nearest to the brass could be turned up on different tracks (of course, these days, they do it all the time).

It came to the point where he said that he wanted to do a big broadcast at the Queensbury Old Services Club and wanted 26 microphones.

I got hold of the Outside Broadcasting Engineer and said 'what on earth are we going to do with this bloke' and he said 'well, of course, he can't have them'.

So I referred to the Head of the service I was with which was Internal and Overseas Variety in the BBC and he said 'oh, play him along'. So I did.

My friend, the Chief Engineer of Outside Broadcasts produced 26 microphones and each one had a cable and each cable went underneath a carpet and 8 of them were connected because we hadn't got a mixer which would take 26.

.........So I took Mr. Miller through a rehearsal at the Queensbury with his 26 microphones and he came up to the Control Room which was in Box 1 and listened to it and said : 'There you are - you see, it's very good sound'. So I said that I was very pleased that he was very pleased and the broadcast went ahead.

He never knew.

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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