Over the summer we are repeating this series recalling BBC radio programmes from the 30s, 40s and 50s, when the corporation was a much-loved institution broadcasting material the listeners wanted to hear. This article was first published on March 16, 2019.
ONE of many radio shows which emerged after the war combining the talents of performers who had either served in the forces or had entertained the troops was Take it From Here.
It had its roots in an earlier show, Navy Mixture, which ran for 25 editions from July, 1947. In the variety vein, it was introduced by Australian actress and singer Joy Nichols and featured ‘Professor’ Jimmy Edwards, a wartime RAF officer complete with DFC and handlebar moustache (which concealed burn scars resulting from being shot down at Arnhem in 1944). His regular spot, a light-hearted lecture, was written by Frank Muir. An occasional guest was another Australian, Dick Bentley, who performed material by Denis Norden. Producer Charles Maxwell had the genius to bring Muir and Norden together to write a show for Nichols, Bentley and Edwards.
The first edition of Take It From Here went out on the Light Programme on March 23, 1948, Edwards’s 28th birthday. The setting was a radio station. Musical interludes were provided by a vocal group called The Keynotes, and here is an example of their work.
The listeners were underwhelmed, and had it not been for Maxwell the show would have sunk without trace. He persuaded the BBC bosses to commission a second series, which was refashioned into three sections: some opening banter between the three participants, a sketch on a theme or a recent news item, such as the operatic weather forecast: ‘The mercury’s sunk to the figure 0. Figure 0? Figure 0, Figure 0, Fi-gar-O!’ and a parody of a film, book or play. Wallas Eaton joined the cast to provide a multitude of characters. The programme was given a huge boost partway through its run by the sudden death of Tommy Handley, the immensely popular star of It’s That Man Again, or ITMA. There could be no ITMA without Handley, so the show’s slots became vacant, and Take It From Here took over the Saturday lunchtime one.
Four more series followed, each building on the success of the last and in 1950 it was named Show of the Year at a London awards ceremony.
The material was fresh and funny, with much word play. Muir in particular was keen not to talk down to his audience, and wrote of the film/book/play parody section that ‘it was a small breakthrough in radio comedy because as far as we knew it was the first time in a prime-time series that the listener was credited with having been at school, taken a newspaper and read a few books’.
One parody of Quo Vadis had the platoon numbering off:
Centurion: Roman soldiers, by the left, num-BAH!
First soldier: Aye
Second soldier: Aye aye
Third soldier: Aye aye aye
Fourth soldier: Aye vee
Fifth soldier: Vee
Sixth soldier: Vee aye
Other sketches parodied the fashion for books and films on North Country themes, one being entitled Trouble at t’Mill, which lives on.
Many TIFH lines ended up in the Carry On films after Norden and Muir handed some old scripts to their friend, Carry On writer Talbot Rothwell, when he was pushed for time, with permission to plunder them. One such line was Dick Bentley as Caesar, attacked by Brutus, crying ‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’ This was delivered by Kenneth Williams in Carry on Cleo (1964) and in 2007 it was voted the greatest one-liner in movie history.
At the end of Series 6 in 1953 Joy Nichols left, and the show was re-jigged to include a segment about a family called the Glums. This was conceived as an antidote to all the other BBC families who were impossibly nice, such as the Huggetts, the Lyons and the Archers. Edwards played the frightful Mr Glum, the head of the family. His wife was played by Alma Cogan, nearly always as an indistinct racket from ‘upstairs’ (for example, Edwards: MUVVA! Cogan: Shouting which could be interpreted as WHADDAYAWANT?) Their dim-witted and workshy son, Ron, was played by Bentley (who was actually 13 years older than Edwards) and his long-suffering fiancée Eth was played by June Whitfield. The segment always began with Mr Glum wheedling a last pint of brown ale out of pub landlord Ted (Wallas Eaton) then regaling him with the latest tale of woe involving Ron and Eth. The story, told in flashback, would start with Eth’s soulful ‘Oh, Ron!’ to which came the flat reply ‘Yes Eth.’ (It was never explained why Ron had an Australian accent.)
In one episode Ron informs his father that he and Eth have modern ideas on marriage. Mr Glum is shocked: ‘Is this the golden-haired boy in the sailor suit what used to climb on to his dad’s knee and recite Goblin Market?’ Ron: ‘I’ve grown up dad – that was last Christmas! I’ve met Eth now and become a man!’ Mr Glum: ‘When?! When was that?! Where’s me strap?’
The Glums were an instant hit. One surprise was that Muir and Norden received numerous letters from engaged couples who saw the Ron and Eth situation mirroring their own lives. (I am not sure that a pair of comedy scriptwriters would be my first port of call for relationship advice.)
Here are several Glums episodes. The first includes the Take It From Here signature tune and the end theme, Cole Porter’s Just One of Those Things.
The Tax Rebate, in which Eth tells Ron she has got a refund on her PAYE. Ron: ‘Well don’t try to treat it yourself Eth, let the chemist have a look at it.’
Ron’s Name, in which Ron fails to get a job as a sandwich board man: ‘It’s a shame because it would have kept me off the streets.’
Toed in the Hole, in which Mr Glum gets his toe stuck in the bath plughole, Eth and Ron have to help, and to preserve Mr Glum’s modesty Ron is required to pour gravy browning into the bath. Mr Glum confides to landlord Ted: ‘I shall remember it till the day I die – if I’m spared that long.’
Roger the Lodger, in which Mr Glum inserts an advert in the tobacconist’s window reading ‘Comfortable room offered to paying guest in small house, secluded road, suit business gent or Army deserter’.
Sadly I could not find any complete episodes, but for the record Alma Cogan provided a musical number, such as this one, in series seven and eight.
After she left I think Mrs Glum was reduced to the sound of shuffling feet upstairs.
In 1959, at the end of Series 12, Muir and Norden moved into television. As replacement writers the BBC brought in Barry Took and Eric Merriman, who had been on Beyond Our Ken starring the wonderful Kenneth Horne, but they split up and TFIH came to an end. The last programme went out on March 3, 1960, and featured the Glums emigrating to Australia.
The Glums returned in a short series as part of Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night on ITV in 1978, and the old scripts were recycled two at a time in a series of eight 30-minute shows in 1979, again on ITV. But it wasn’t the same.
I’ve had a lot of laughs putting this together and I hope you have enjoyed it too.