Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin (updated 4 Jan 2013).

I’ve been feeling under the weather for the past few days – not my usual self at all. So by early evening most days I haven’t felt much like watching TV. Rather I’ve headed to bed early, and listened to the radio instead. Usually it’s BBC Radio 4, but last night there wasn’t much on that interested me, so I changed stations to Classic FM.

Well, just after I started listening, one piece of music was played that took me right back to my childhood. I don’t know why, and I couldn’t think of any connection whatsoever. So what was this piece of music, I hear you cry, and why had it opened up the memory banks? It was the Humoresque in G-Flat Major, Op. 101, No. 7 by Antonin Dvořák. I’ve since gone to Wikipedia to see if the music was used as a theme to a radio or TV program, or whatever. Not that I could find, but I came across a reference to “Passengers will please refrain . . .

Anyway, I got to thinking – about other songs that I remembered from my childhood in the 50s. There were two radio programmes in particular. First was Listen With Mother, which was first broadcast on the Light Programme (essentially now BBC Radio 2) in 1950, and began with the lines “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” The theme music was from Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite, Op. 56. The voice of Listen with Mother was Daphne Oxenford, who died on 21 December 2012.

The other was Children’s Favourites, broadcast from 1954, and hosted by Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac) who began each program with “Hello children, everywhere!”, and using Puffin’ Billy by Edward White as its theme music.

Among the ‘iconic’ songs I remember in particular from the 50s are:

  • Buttons and bows (actually the best selling record on the day I was born – 18 November 1948) by Dinah Shore, but played often throughout the early fifties.

  • A couple of songs by Max Bygraves (who moved to Australia in 2005 and died on 1 September 2012 aged 89) – Gilly gilly ossenfeffer katzenellen bogen by the sea (1954), and You’re a pink toothbrush (1959).

  • Danny Kaye, Thumberlina (1952) from the film Hans Christian Andersen.

In a recent post I talked about the music I’d take away on my desert island. None of the music above would find its way on to any of my lists. But, just tracking these down through You Tube and other sites, has taken me on a magical tour of some very early childhood memories.

27 February
After I’d posted this story yesterday, I began thinking a little more about the music of the 50s, and whether, in some ways, this had been an ‘age of innocence’. After all, our music sources were the radio, and 78 rpm records (if we could afford them). Music today is so much more accessible – a plethora of radio and TV stations (and on the Internet) blaring out music of every genre you can imagine (and even don’t want to imagine), personal mp3 players (having replaced the cassette Walkman and CD Discman), and increasingly on smart phones. So today’s youth has access to music 24 hours a day.

Thinking back on the songs I listed in my post yesterday, and the types of programme on which they were played, it all seems so gentle and genteel somehow. But as the 50s progressed, changes were happening. Skiffle music had taken off. The rock ‘n roll craze hit the UK from the USA. I was aware of Bill Haley and His Comets and their 1956 hit Rock Around the Clock (I remember seeing a movie of that name at the Grand Cinema in Leek). I don’t remember much about Elvis Presley, however. And in the UK, we had our own Elvis: Cliff Richard, who caused much consternation among the straight-laced members of society for his ‘deplorable’ antics on stage (too much hip movement – tame compared to what today’s artists get up to). And of course, with the coming of the 60s, so much changed in any case, much of it under the influence of The Beatles, and particularly following the release of their fourth single, She Love You, in 1963.

Ask a youngster today about music and it’s all Lady Gaga,  boy bands, girl bands, Justin (fill in the surname to whichever), etc. I don’t think there is time now for an ‘age of innocence’.

P.S. There’s one song from the 50s I forgot to mention: The Runaway Train by Michael Holliday (1956) – from his accent you wouldn’t credit he came from Liverpool!