Stephen Williams and Radio Luxembourg
Roger Bickerton

Stephen produced the double album "50 Years of Royal Broadcasts, 1924~1974" transmitted on Radio 4 in April, 1975 and the double album in 1972 : "50 Years of BBC Broadcasting", co≠produced with Alan Burgess. These records, nos 50A and 50B, unusually for spoken word LPs, achieved such high sales levels as to qualify for a Gold Disc award.

However, when Charles Curran, Director-General of the BBC, received the Gold Disc from the President of the Phonographic Industry, he was told that the main qualification for the award was sales of £250,000.

Curran commented that this would be impressive if the Corporation's principal business was the sale of gramophone records, but he could not get over-excited about the sales figures viewed agianst the background of a £67 million broadcasting budget.

This miserable attitude probably confirmed Stephen's unspoken thoughts that the dichotomy between the creative and commercial elements within the Corporation would ultimately kill off marginally profitable divisions and that the enjoyment would probably go out of the job. Gentle pressure began to be exerted in the 1974-1975 period and Stephen decided to bow out in 1975, at the age of 67.

However, he had set up his own small business many years earlier and was able to pursue his love of radio by researching and interviewing for many years after his official retirement, to provide material for several important radio programmes, including "Laughter In The Air", a 13-part series from 1979, "ENSA", transmitted in 2 parts in July, 1978, and '''Ow Do, 'Ow Are Yer?", a 3-part tribute to Wilfred Pickles, broadcast in March, 1988.

To Stephen Williams, his job was his hobby, so although he found retirement irksome, he continued to pursue his hobby enthusiastically until the end.

He treated me with great kindness and courtesy, concealing what must have been some impatience at my efforts to interview him - as a seasoned interviewer himself, he must have wondered what I was trying to achieve!

12 months after Stephen's death, I can look back and say that I was fortunate to have been able to meet him on two occasions, but that I regret not having made his acquaintance many years earlier.

Access to his letters reveals him as a principled man, with high professional standards and a real sense of duty. This might paint a picture of an austere, rather humourless, person, but this was far from the case, as a couple of stories culled from his papers will show :

"Several years ago, with expert advice, I made a gramophone record for BBC Schools Department. Its subject was 'Sex Education' and it covered all a youngster should know from early teens. It was to be a double-sided LP, so, after we had recorded all the advice, I had to decide where. to change over from side 1 to side 2. I consulted one of the advisers, who pondered for a moment and then said seriously 'I think we'd better turn over after "masturbation".

"Some people show real flashes of ingenuity - for example, Miss Emily Twine of Wootton Bassett in her job of cleaning neighbourhood telephone kiosks. Not just sweeping and duting them, but washing them out, as people expected clean kiosks then. 'How do you get the water?' I asked. 'You need hot water for this job' said Miss Twine, 'so I take it with me in rubber hot-water bottles. They keep me warm on the way - and if I'm taken short on the way home, there's always the empty bottles to help me out!' "

In the 1930s, came the time, came the man and perhaps once again we should remember that Stephen Williams was only in his mid-to-late 20s when he oversaw the birth and formative years of a Radio station which was to have a profound impact on radio's history.

A remarkable achievement.

Roger Bickerton

previous page / back to main radio 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


Radio Plays
Wine Making
Cosby Methodist Church
Gokart Racing
Links to other sites
Sitemap xml
Contact Us