Wireless trapeze artists, bogus majors and other leg-pulling
PUBLISHED: 09:07 05 May 2018
The pictures are better on the raadio, says Keith Skipper - especially if you’re having your leg pulled.
Despite my fundamental belief that the best pictures are on the wireless, there are some subjects still finding it difficult to make a breakthrough via this marvellous medium.
Like art classes, celebrity knitting, whist drives, dancing on ice, synchronised swimming, front-room charades, world darts and beauty contests. Not to mention ventriloquism acts.
Hang on, there’s just a “gottle-of-geer” minute… I’m sure that’s been attempted in my dim and distant past. Yes, it’s all coming back now from a hectic day in 1955 when I sat my 11-plus examination at Beeston Primary School.
I wrote a composition on “My Favourite Radio Programme”, selecting Educating Archie as an easy winner. Well, where else could you find a ventriloquist (Peter Brough) and a dummy (Archie Andrews) on the wireless and not notice any lips move?
I was shrewd enough to point out such brave pioneering spirit behind this entertaining partnership and wrote away for my Archie badge to wear with pride. He helped me through to grammar school where, sadly, my lips worked overtime while the brain too often lagged far behind.
It was during dummy runs before the official opening of BBC Radio Norfolk in September 1980, that I twigged certain broadcasting “rules” were there to be tested if not entirely shoved aside. Local wireless seemed to offer much more scope than the hallowed studios of London propriety.
After a single impromptu rehearsal, I masqueraded for seven years as Old Barney, the station’s rural correspondent. He travelled to Norfolk Tower on his trusty old bike every Saturday morning. The journey could be hazardous in rough weather or after a heavy night at his beloved Datty Duck, the village pub inspiring much of his homespun material.
It’s not unusual all these years later to bump into listeners who thought Old Barney was a real person, not least because he put over sentiments about the changing face of Norfolk with which they could readily identify.
Perhaps that’s his legacy, an outspoken ambassador for the old guard trying to protect precious qualities of local life at a time of irrevocable change. I had a bit in common with him – but those reflections were much more effective coming from a true son of the soil.
I shared a dressing-room with Shakespearean actor Peter Whitbread at Norwich Theatre Royal for the 1982 festive pantomime, Mother Goose. He played the Wicked Squire while I squared up to Nora Batty as a Norfolk Compo. During that run, Peter and I invented an outlandish Norfolk character, Major Egbert Gladstone-Pyle of Wanglingham Hall. It provided this talented performer with a perfect stage for a vibrant imagination and wacky sense of humour. He marched into my Dinnertime Show on Radio Norfolk to put the peasants in their place.
It was all off the crisply-turned cuff, one prejudiced outburst after another, as he preached the virtues of forelock-tugging, knee-bending and general toadying to the aristocracy. Our inspired radio spoof ran for several years. The monocled major with clipped tone was even invited to open a village garden fete.
He appeared with me on stage to prove Wanglingham really existed. Those able to follow his quick-fire map references would have discovered this fair parish located in the middle of The Wash.
Later wireless episodes with a distinct difference included a gradual build-up to the punchline of a rather risqué Norfolk yarn at the end of a broadcasting week. As I prepared myself and an expectant audience for the dramatic denouement … the station went off air for a few tantalising seconds. I resumed when power was restored and chatted about weekend plans.
My favourite in-house jape starred colleague Rob Bonnet as a trapeze artist swinging frantically over my head in Cell 33, the name I gave the Dinnertime Show studio. The Great Bonneti and I were later summoned to the manager’s office to see if we’d recovered from our thrilling experience.
Eventually, I was allowed into the Radio Norfolk kitchen to host the menu spot. Thank goodness culinary enthusiasts couldn’t see me poking, prodding and pretending to know what was cooking. Archie Andrews would never have acted so wooden.
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