Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

The first programme was broadcast on Monday March 4th, 1946, billed in that week's "Radio Times" as "Have A Go, Joe!"

The last programme came from Longridge, near Preston, at 7.30pm on the Light Programme on Tuesday January l0th, 1967.

There was a "one-off" revival on Christmas Day 1972, from Padiham.

The first "live" programme, and the first produced by Stephen, came from Ramsbottom on 17th. November, 1953, and its popularity probably reached a peak during the mid-late 1950s, when audience figures are estimated to have been around 20 million.

"Over the years, the programme became a little more serious, yet never dull or stuffy. Millions of listeners joined in with the laughter of local audiences as 'embarrassing moments' were revealed and blushes became almost audible as the same audiences roared their delight at the whispered answer to the eagerly expected question "Are you courting?"

Its contents were of wide general interest with plenty of scope for the ordinary man or woman-in-the-street to tell, in their own words, of their likes and dislikes and of their interests and activities in the places where they lived and how they fitted into their local community and neighbourhood.

Many of the older people interviewed told of crafts, ancient customs, folk-lore and local superstitions which still survived. It was real social history - it covered, for example, the period of Austerity when the prize of an orange or a lemon or even an egg was greeted with "Oh!" by the audience".

I have listened to broadcasts from the early 1950s, when people in their nineties were being interviewed who had started work at the age of 10, and suddenly realised that here was someone talking about something that had happened in around 1874.

Stephen told me that there were very few difficult moments, despite HAG going out live. There was, however, one never-to-be-forgotten time which he recounted as follows:

"I had an accidental case with one of my unscripted broadcasts, where an old boy of 94 referred to the Retreat at Mons in the first World War as 'getting the buggers on the run'. Well, now, that word had never been used on the air and it was quite funny because Pickles felt he ought to say something (which was silly of him - I wouldn't have taken any notice).

He said 'Oh, dear, oh, dear, what do we do now?'.

The audience screamed with laughter, so we quietened that down, but within a few seconds the control line from London which we had between the engineers and transmitting bench in London were wanting to talk to me and there were calls from the Press, so I said that they would have to wait until the programme had ended.

Then the Head of Outside Broadcasts came on and said 'What on earth will you do, Stephen' and I replied 'Nothing at all'.

He said 'But you can't let it go'. I said 'I will, and I'll let it go on repeat 2'.

He said 'You can't', I replied ....well, of course I can, it's a perfectly natural thing for an old man to say in his own words. Who the hell are we to censor him and alter what he says? It's not insulting. It's not even an obscene word used in that sense'.

The Producer or Director in those days was Captain of his own ship so nobody interfered with you unless there was a technical disaster or something like that. Obviously if you said something libellous or treacherous, you had a problem, but there were no Executive Producers or ridiculous things like that in those days.

So, anyway, I told the press I was going to let it go. It had 4 repeats. And they waited. And it was in each repeat. In the meantime, I had a letter from the Colonel of the old man's regiment saying how refreshing it was to hear a genuine old soldier speaking like that, how grateful he was to the BBC for leaving it uncensored and he invited the old chap along to the Officers' Mess".

In the end, though, the format of "Have A Go!" became out of tune with the 'swinging 60s'. Moreover, TV had taken a large slice of radio's audience, and it may well have been with some relief that Stephen turned back to other programmes with which he had been associated, including "Down Your Way", then presented by Franklin Engelmann.

He produced several of these from about 1966 until 1971, but was becoming increasingly involved with BBC Enterprises, originally Radio Enterprises. This company had been formed in 1965, with H. Rooney Pelletier as its General Manager.

Pelletier had been in charge of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Programme Unit stationed in London from 1939 until November 1942, when he had joined the BBC as North American Programme Organiser.

In late 1967, he asked Stephen to join him in what he described as "a pleasant-sounding pasture for a couple of elderly horses", but the merger of Radio Enterprises with TV enterprises hastened Pelletier's retirement in 1968, and the arrival of Peter Dimmock in 1972 as General Manager of BBC Enterprises was the beginning of the end of Stephen's career.

Stephen said he should have gone in 1968, when he was 60, but he stayed another 7 years.

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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