Monday, 8 August 2011

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

I’ve been down various audio avenues and alleyways since my third post last November in which I recalled some early radio memories of hearing Listen with Mother, though it’s that haunting melancholic closing theme from Faure’s Dolly Suite (above) that probably lingers in the memory.  So to remind you what the programme sounded like here’s an edition from 16 June 1965 in the days when it went out on the Home Service. The announcer is John Dunn.

It’s amazing isn’t it how over the years the phrase “Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then I’ll begin” has become part of the language, even though the programme is now a distant memory. It conjures up cosy black and white images of the children playing in front of the wireless, mother going about her housework, father out at work in some suburban post-war full employment world that never really existed.

It’s probably such memories that led to the outcry on 1982 when the BBC announced the decision to axe Listen with Mother after 32 years as by then few children actually listened, with mother or otherwise. The audience share of pre-school children was just 2%. An audience survey in the mid-70s revealed that there were as many long-distance lorry drivers as young children listening, presumably sitting comfortably in their cabs.

The then Network Controller Monica Sims, formerly head of BBC Children’s Television, saw the programme as a “frightful nuisance” as listeners switched off after Woman’s Hour. So in September 1980 the programme was shunted off to a mid-morning VHF only slot opposite the Daily Service and two years later the axe fell.

Here is that final Listen with Mother from 10 September 1982. The presenters are Tony Aitken and Nerys Hughes (of The Liver Birds fame). As you’ll again hear, contrary to what reference books and online encyclopaedias state, the phrase “are you sitting comfortably?” precedes the story and not the actual programme.

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