Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

.....In a way, I was tricked into outside broadcasts.

The Controller of the Light Programme was an old friend of mine called Kenneth Adam - the man who was later responsible for "That Was The Week That Was".

Anyway, he had a bright idea. He wanted the North Country comedian, WIlfred Pickles, to come down to London and to turn the 'Have A Go!' programme into a live, unscripted, broadcast.

As I'd been specialising in that type of programme during the war, he thought that I'd be just the person to do it, and he said to me 'here's a way back to sound if you'd like to come', so he told me what it was and I replied 'no, thank you very much, I've met Mr. Pickles before'.

He then said 'well, will you do it for 8 weeks - I want to get it launched and if you can at least launch it down here, we can probably carry on. It might get you out of Alexandra Palace'.

So I said that I would do my last TV programme, 'Picture Page'.

I met Mr. Pickles for the umpteenth time; we renewed our acquaintance and he said that he was glad to know that I was going to take it on. He hoped that it would be as nice and matey as his Northern programme had been and that I would do as his Northern producer did (that was a recorded programme, mind you).

The reasons why they wanted to make it live and why they wanted to bring it down to London were that they had recorded as many people they could get on at the time, which meant that it all had to be edited.

What happened was that very often they had to edit down and cut out a number of people who'd actually been on the platform, talked to Wilfred Pickles and told their friends they were going to be on the programme. A terrible disappointment, you see.......and also, London didn't like the embarrassing moments.

Wilfred used to ask participants what their partner's most irritating habit was. The one that finally decided them to bring it to London was: 'I love you, darling, but I do wish you wouldn't blow your nose in the sink' "

So my terms of reference were to tame him and cut out this ridiculous business of reading information off the script and to keep it as clean as possible.

But, anyway, the thing that really did shake me was this business of being and spending each weekend at his country house near Manchester.

I said I couldn't possibly do that. I thought from the very beginning it was much better for it to be kept purely on a professional basis. Nothing else. We never became friends.

It went on live and he didn't know who he was going to interview until about 5 minutes before the programme started. What happened was that I interviewed everybody and made notes of what subjects I knew they could answer questions on. Didn't give him any answers or anything like that, but I simply made a list like 'radio, dogs, goats'......gave it to him on cards which were left on a table for him and he picked them up and from that he knew (there were about 20 headings on each card) that if he asked a question on those subjects, he would get an answer, which was all that really mattered.

You see, what's awkward is if someone asks a question and the chap says 'I've no idea'. Wilfred would get an answer, and that was the only prompting he had. He was a very good actor.

The only problem was that Mabel would interfere. She liked to sit next to him.

I found out a few weeks after I'd started to do this that she used to kick him under the table when she thought that it was time for him to put in a little joke. Unfortunately, the little jokes never matched the theme of what the person was talking about, which annoyed me very much, until I found out what she was doing and stopped her.

But, anyway, the end of the 8 weeks approached and they said they'd like me to carry on, so I said I really didn't want to.

Then they said, well we won't ask you to do only 'Have A Go!' of course - there are lots of other programmes, but we do want you to keep on with HAG, because so far you're the only person who's kept him in order. We've had no problems, no anything.

So I agreed for another year, and that year became two, and then three. I had heaps of other programmes to do, so I wasn't immersed in HAG, although it took me quite a while to do, because I had to visit every place to choose where he was to go, and to select 6 people for him to interview, so that took a bit of time.

Still, it was interesting, it took me all over the country and in the going round, I was able to do other broadcasts" .

Stephen's comment "that took a bit of time" is a little understated.

During the 15 years of producing 'Have A Go!', he travelled nearly 400,000 miles, visiting every county in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most of those in Scotland, plus the principal islands off the coasts: Shetland, Orkney, the Outer and Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Man, the Scilllies, all 4 Channel Islands. He also went abroad; his visits included British Army of the Rhine, Germany and Eire.

Pickles received so many invitations that he would have had to live for another 1,400 years to have been able to accept them all.

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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