On this page you can hear episode one of London Calling: "In The Beginning" which was broadcast by BBC Radio 2 in 1994.
Article first published in the fanzine Hello Campers. (c) Rob Cope 1995
Above: Jeffrey Holland as Roger Eccles, Logan Murray as 'Uncle Rex' and Amanda Bellamy as 'Auntie Phyllis'.
Listeners to BBC Radio today take for granted the up to the minute news service and live commentary of the FA Cup or the latest Formula One drama. However things were very different some seventy years ago when the British Broadcasting Company was making the mark on the nation with historic broadcasts from Savoy Hill. Jimmy Perry as ever with a keen eye (and ear) for new comic ideas realised the early attempts at broadcasting were filled with opportunities for his scriptwriting genius and thus London Calling was born.
The story is taken up in 1923 when a new Director-General, John Brown, is appointed to oversee the output of the fledgling BBC. Unfortunately for the staff of the British Broadcasting Company their new D.G. is a Scotsman whose idea of vulgarity is the mention of the word “stockings” on air ! The premiere of London Calling went out ironically on BBC Radio 2 highlighting their Comedy Week. Four episodes introduced us to a variety of memorable characters including the talents of the author in of the major roles. Graham Crowden, star of TV’s Waiting For God, makes a formidable John Brown, Brown’s idea of a good night’s programming includes talks on Dead Sea Fossils and the art of dentistry. Peter Cellier and Jimmy Perry himself appear as controller Admiral Carpenter and producer Colonel Beecham respectively, always at a loss to try and inject some entertaining programmes that will get past the ever watchful eye of Brown. Jeffrey Holland is Roger Eccles, the Brummie sound engineer who lives in fear of the presenters who jam his coil. Amanda Bellamy (Rose in You Rang, M’Lord ?) is ‘Auntie’ Phyllis Godfrey, her sweet voice heard partnering ‘Uncle’ Rex Murray (Logan Murray) in Children’s Hour but in reality this sweet pair are involved in a torrid affair which they try to keep secret from the rest of the team. Bill Pertwee, a veteran of many Perry shows, is playing yet another uniformed policeman in the shape of Sergeant Lucas, his stalwart efforts at safeguarding the interests of the BBC are commendable.
Celebrated variety performer Roy Hudd is tailor made playing comic Fred ‘Keep em laughing’ Hicks, Fred’s bawdy humour soon attracts the wrath of John Brown who promptly throws him out of the building. But a performer who has weathered the storm of the tough audiences on the music hall circuit isn’t going to be beaten by a raving Scotsman… Another familiar voice is that of Joanna Monro, best known for the series Angels in the early 1980s and also as a presenter of That’s Life, here she turns up in the duel roles of receptionist Miss Nightingale and grande Dame Plunkett-Plunkett whose scrapings on the cello are sending listeners for the off switch. Into the melee enters Jeffrey Stainton (played by Chris Luscombe) recently employed as the new announcer of 2LO and somewhat astounded at the frantic goings on behind the scenes. During the first four episodes the atmosphere of those early days is marvellously captured with some first rate performances and as ever some inspired scripting from Perry. Who would have thought that something as simple as covering the 1923 Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race - which today would be covered without the BBC crew even breaking into a sweat - would involve the staff staying at hotels and phoning in details of the race which would be then written down and rushed into the studio where the presenters would pretend they were actually at the event ! Jimmy Perry has obviously done a lot of research into the facilities available at the time and this is apparent during the four sparkling shows, the listener gets the feeling that we in fact in the 1920s witnessing the birth of radio transmissions. It is hoped that a full series will follow and perhaps even a television version will result, admirers of classic British comedy cannot fail to be impressed with the quality of material presented in London Calling.
Jimmy Perry’s knack of creating British eccentrics is evident once more in the chaotic world of radio transmissions and one can only hope that these great characters are allowed to grow in further episodes. If you haven’t yet discovered the delights of the BBC circa 1923 then I warmly recommend you tune into London Calling the next time it gets an airing on it’s modern day counterpart, it is without doubt another jewel from the man who gave us the Walmington On Sea Home Guard and Maplin’s Holiday Camp. This is 2LO closing down.
1. IN THE BEGINNING (19/9/94)
The microphone jammed if the speaker talked too loudly, the letters of praise and complaint flooded in, and then a new Director-General, John Brown, came to take over the British Broadcasting Company.
2. IT PAYS TO ADVERTISE (20/9/94)
Colonel Beecham and Admiral Carpenter are concerned that all their hard work producing the BBC’s wireless output is beginning to affect their golf swing. Meanwhile hard-up Children’s Hour’s Uncle Rex is made an offer he really ought to refuse.
3. LITTLE WILLIE SAVES THE DAY (21/9/94)
The BBC is in trouble. The Daily Sketch says the BBC’s programmes are too boring. Will John Brown see sense and finally agree to broadcast some light entertainment. Or will his peccadillo with Aunty Phyllis force him over the edge ? Either way, Fred ‘Keep ‘Em Laughing’ Hicks has got an unusual new act for radio, the like of which has never been seen before.
4. THE GREAT RACE (22/9/94)
John Brown has decided the BBC will broadcast the 1923 Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race. So the rest of the staff rally round to find a way to bring off the transmission, at whatever cost.
Cast: GRAHAM CROWDEN (John Brown) JIMMY PERRY (Colonel Beecham) PETER CELLIER (Admiral Carpenter) JEFFREY HOLLAND (Roger Eccles) AMANDA BELLAMY (Phyllis Godrey) LOGAN MURRAY (Rex Murray) CHRIS LUSCOMBE (Jeffrey Stainton) BILL PERTWEE (Sergeant Lucas) JOANNA MUNRO (Miss Nightingale / Dame Plunkett-Plunkett) JULIE GIBBS (Isabel Blair) TOBY LONGWORTH (Arthur) LEONARD KIRBY (Bobby Bright) ROY HUDD (Fred ’Keep Em Laughing’ Hicks) BRIAN BOWLES (Dawson / Mooney)
Music by ROY MOORE Theme tune lyrics by JIMMY PERRY
Theme peformed by JEFFREY HOLLAND
Produced by JO CLEGG