Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

................Jumping forward for a moment..............

........ in April 1978, prior to a historical documentary programmes in 2 parts about ENSA, (R2, presenter Charlie Chester, 22 & 29 July 1978) a list was made of surviving show-business personalities who broadcast for ENSA, and who had interesting stories to tell.

The names offer a cross-section of those whose services were freely given for fixed fees of 10 per appearance :

Chesney Allen, Avril Angers, Arthur Askey, Eric Barker, Adrian Boult, Brenda Bruce, Peter Cavanagh, Charlie Chester, Cicely Courtneidge, Norman del Mar, Gracie Fields, Margot Fonteyn, John Gielgud, Joyce Grenfell, Henry Hall, Spike Hughes, Beatrice Lillie, Joe Loss, Vera Lynn, James Mason, Bernard Miles, Gerald Moore, Richard Murdoch, Anna Neagle, Laurence Olivier, Sandy Powell, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Reader, Ralph Richardson, Solomon, Vilem Tausky, Terry-Thomas, Tommy Trinder, Elsie and Doris Waters, Emlyn Williams, Anona Winn, Wee Georgie Wood.

...now - back to the story ......

ENSA was wound up on 31 August 1946, its final concert being on 18th August in India, iin which Tommy Trinder appeared. It had provided 2 million separate performances for audiences totalling over 500 million: members of HM Armed Forces and munitions-workers in this country and in every theatre of war over a 7-year span.

Stephen's contribution had been immense, but he had no idea of what was in store as 1945 opened.

.......I was astonished as the war came to an end to be summoned to see the Assistant Dirtector-General of the BBC and be told that 'they' wanted me to go back to Luxembourg.

I said 'who?' and he replied 'we, among others'.

I said 'how do you mean?'

He said 'we want you to go back to Luxembourg and so does the Government' (By this time, Attlee was PM).

So I said that I didn't understand what it's all about....... to be told that I would when I met the British Ambassador in Brussels.

So I left at the end of 1945, and went to Brussels where I was told that Churchill and the Prime Minister of the Luxembourg Government-in-exile had come to the conclusion that Radio Luxembourg would be most useful continuing, as far as the general public were concerned, as a commercial independent radio station, but also transmitting BBC-fed news over its international aerials which could reach countries which had fallen under Russian influence.

So I was to go back to Luxembourg, re-start the programmes and get all my necessary information and any equipment I wanted - anything - from the BBC. Not direct from London, but through the Paris BBC office which was my liaison.

"So I went back to Luxembourg and got the station on the air with an English-language programme (of sorts) early in January, 1946 through an amazing piece of luck.

Before we left Luxembourg in 1939, I'd had all the commercial gramophone records and some other portable stuff stored in about 50 or so big wooden crates and placed in a depository in Luxembourg town.

I rang up this depository, rather as a joke, and said 'i don't suppose you've anything left of those crates' to be told, much to my astonishment 'Oh, yes, all but one, one's been damaged and is all in bits'.

I said 'do you mean to say that you kept them from the Germans?' to which the reply was 'yes, we moved them once or twice and they never found them'.

I was told that they were so glad to have us back that they'd charge a nominal 5,000 francs for storage - that's 50 quid for 6 years! So, on the first Sunday in January, 1946, I was able to provide a full English programme from the station".

No film or other pre-recordings had been preserved and the written archives had been destroyed by the Germans, but, due to the bravery of one man, the transmitter had been saved. Before the Germans had left, they had wired up the whole station with a view to blowing it up as they retreated.

Mathias Felten, who was Chief Engineer before the outbreak of war, gained access to the station on 9th September 1944 and disconnected the detonators, so that, on 10th, when the enemy moved out and the buttons were pressed, nothing happened.

Had Felten been caught, he would undoubtedly have been shot, so it was a just reward that, later, he became President of Radio Luxembourg.

The aerial system had been re-orientated to suit the requirements of the German Propaganda Ministry and a battery of Magnetophones were intact and in perfect working order.

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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