Bradford Telegraph & Argus 1948

From 'This is Bradford' site

 Wilfred, darling of the radio

Wednesday, January 21, 1948  

The year of 1948 is usually associated with the Berlin Airlift, when America and Britain beat the Communist blockade of West Berlin by flying in thousands of tons of food, coal, medicine and clothing and other essentials.

At least the first month or two of that year are special for Bradford for an entirely different reason. A very great broadcaster, revolutionary in his own Yorkshire way, was starring at the Alhambra with a young woman who went on to become Britain's most popular comic actress.

The broadcaster was Halifax-born Wilfred Pickles, whose travelling radio programme for the BBC, Have a Go, regularly attracted a listening audience of 18 million and upwards. The young woman was June Whitfield. He was Buttons and she was Cinderella in Francis Laidler's marvellous pantomime which bridged Christmas 1947 and the New Year. The panto was broadcast on the BBC Home Service on January 21, 1948.

Pickles, the Michael Parkinson of his day, was revolutionary because he refused to disguise his distinctive Yorkshire accent. He fought successfully against attempts within the BBC hierarchy to use the bland Received Pronunciation which broadcasters were expected to use.

"There has been a gradual standardisation of spoken English. Too many Northerners, I'm afraid, are ashamed of speaking the language their forefathers spoke," he said.

In 1948 Pickles read Shakespeare's sonnets in his own voice on the radio. The public loved it, and they loved him and his wife Mabel for taking 'Have a Go' out into villages, towns, and cities beyond London to "let the people meet the people". Have a Go was first broadcast from Bingley on March 4, 1946. It was a cheerful neighbourly sort of programme, a precursor of Down Your Way, exactly suited to Wilfred Pickles' personality. He made people laugh by asking "Are y'courtin?"

His fan mail was colossal, more than 1,000 letters a week. He employed three secretaries to deal with it, and ordered signed photographs of himself 10,000 at a time. He thrived on getting out and about.

Hospitals were regular venues for his radio show. At 2.15pm on Christmas Day, 1947, dressed up as Santa Claus and accompanied by June Whitfield and other members of the Cinderella cast, he broadcast a special show for the Light Programme direct from Bradford Children's Hospital, Manningham.

The Yorkshire Observer reported: "While the millions who heard little Harvey Matthews, aged 11, of Torre Crescent, Bradford, sing from his bed the second verse of Away in a Manger, and the third verse by eight-year-old Jean Scotcher, of 8 Bowling Alley Terrace, Rastrick, accompanied by Jack Harvey's Orchestra, must have immediately understood the whole spirit of Wilfred's party."

The pantomime stars in their stage costumes brought gasps of surprise and pleasure from the children. But there was more, a link from the hospital to Walt Disney in Hollywood, who persuaded Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse to send their Christmas greetings to that hospital in Bradford.

That was Wilfred Pickles all over. The loss of his son at the age of seven had the effect of making him go out of his way to do something for children.

Like Freddie Trueman, Wilfred Pickles was an unapologetic Yorkshireman. Pride in his roots, however, did not make him small-minded or one-dimensional.

His career was multi-faceted. One newspaper described him as "a superb actor of startling versatility".

He brought cheer, fellowship and a bit of silliness to the nation during the years of rationing after the war

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