Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

Stephen's gift for producing simple workable ideas had been important in developing Radio Luxembourg (e.g. The International Broadcasting Club mentioned much earlier). He suggested to the BBC that they broadcast personal messages from soldiers overseas to their families at home. The idea made an instant appeal to the listening public and the first broadcasts took place late in March, 1940.

..........the system hadn't been going long when I proposed that the wife for whom the message was intended should be present when it was read and should reply over the microphone, while her husband listened in overseas.

Official approval for this was delayed, and not received until about 8 p.m. on the day before the broadcast, the wife lived in the country and couldn't be located by 'phone, but, thanks to the local exchange, a near-by grocer offered to get in touch with her.

When he reached the house, she was in her bath, so he had to talk with her through the door. Hastily turning off the tap, she demanded to know whether it was good news or bad.

Reassured on that point, she then said that it was quite impossible for her to give an answer whilst she was having a bath".

Thus did a Mrs. Elliott of East Grinstead inaugurate a system of messages from home to men serving overseas, an idea which spawned programmes such as "Two-Way Family Favourites".

Stephen then expanded on these programmes, which went out throughout the War and formed the basis of a special feature which Peter Haddon built up under the title "Cairo Calling".

.....That became a really big thing. We did a deal with the War Office and the Admiralty and Air Ministry.

They would find the people who wanted to send messages to a certain area back home; then they would get the person to whom a message was addressed in front of a microphone.

......the authorities checked out the messages and had the chaps waiting to give their message and at home we had the wives waiting to reply.

I stopped doing it myself, as the wives got very tearful. ... they were incoherent sometimes, so I introduced doing it with the children who were excited and we did a programme called "Deputising for Daddy".

They could come and talk to Daddy and say what they liked. We took about 30 children at a time, entertained them then brought them back to the studio and gave them a tea which they hadn't seen the likes of since before the War, before putting them on the air to talk to Daddy.

There were always accidents, like one little boy who got faster and faster talking to his Daddy, sending his love, and love from Mummy, and being prompted to send love from 'granny and grandpa', when he suddenly said 'Mummy, Clive wants to go po-po'.

Father wrote back to say it was the best thing he and his pals had heard, but a humourless Director of Programme Planning had happened to hear it.

He rang me to say that he knew producers had control over their programmes, but surely that involved control over the people who appeared on them and he really thought I should have been able to stop the little boy saying something so unpleasant over the air.

That didn't matter, but what did was that he managed to persuade the Board of Management that children under the age of 10 should not broadcast live".

We also asked if any of them wanted to do a little party piece. One little girl put up her hand and said she did, so I said 'what do you do' and she replied that she imitated Nellie Wallace.

Well, Nellie Wallace's material was rather blue at times, so I asked her if she sung and she said she could sing "Mighty Like A Rose" . This, at the time, was the popular song of the great Paul Robeson, so I had a good orchestra in the studio, they busked it, this little girl started to sing.

The Director-General of the BBC happened to be listening in and he immediately rang the studio asking 'Who is that child?' - she sounded absolutely wonderful, so we adopted her, so to speak; helping her through dancing school and using her as much as the regulations would allow, as she was only about 9 at that time.

She afterwards became Petula Clark.

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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