Welcome one and all to my beach hut

Grab a deck chair, Tea or coffee and help yourself to a buiscuit but you'd better mind the seaguls or they'll grab them first. Just look at that view and doesn't the sea look inviting.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Puffin Billy and The Runaway Train

This story starts with an introduction two men who without knowing it played a significant part in my younger days

Edward White was a composer whose most famous piece is a tune called puffin Billy, the original recording was made by the Melodi Light Orchestra and was inspired by a locomotive called Puffin Billy whilst the composer was on holiday in the Isle of Wight (see picture right of one of the original locos that worked on the Isle of Wight light railway).

Derek McCulloch was born in Plymouth in 1897 of Scottish parents. The First World War interrupted his education and he enlisted in 1915 in the Public Schools Battalion of the 16th Middlesex Regiment at the age of 17. He served until 1921, with the infantry, where he was commissioned into the Green Howards, and in the Royal Flying Corps as an Equipment Officer, including a spell on HMS Valiant. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme (1916) and lay in 'no-man's land' for three days and nights in a shell-hole 20 yards from the German lines. While lying badly injured but still twitching, he was found by the German Red Cross and was deliberately shot through the head to end his suffering. (This is the account told by the man himself to Trevor Hill, a colleague on BBC Children's Hour), however, he survived. From 1926 till 1954 he worked for the BBC in various capacities, he was the first radio outside broadcaster to commentate on the F.A Cup in 1927. He resigned from the BBC in 1950 through health problems.

Here’s where our story begins. In 1954 Derek McCulloch rejoined the BBC to take over a programme of music for children every Saturday morning and for thousands of us kids came to be fondly known has Uncle Mac. The programme was called ‘Children’s Favourites and its theme tune was Puffin Billy composed by Edward White. I used to spend every weekend at my Grandmothers house and without fail I would be up, dressed and sitting below her old valve radio waiting for the opening bars of Puffin Billy followed every time by Uncle Mac saying “ Hello Children Everywhere” to all us children Uncle Mac was not just a BBC presenter he was our Uncle and every week he would receive hundreds of letters from children all over the UK and I was one of them. I remember sending a letter in addressed to Uncle Mac asking him if he would play ‘The Runaway Train’ by Michael holliday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7_IMEvr9ek  Michael Holliday was a very popular crooner who had many hits like ‘The story of My Life’ and ‘Starry Eyed’ and was often compared to Bing Crosby.

 T'was in the year of eighty-nine, on that old Chicago line**
When the winter wind was blowin' shrill
The rails were froze, the wheels were cold, then the air
brakes wouldn't hold
And Number Nine came roaring down the hill.....oooooh!
The runaway train came down the track and she blew, she blew
The runaway train came down the track and she blew, she blew
The runaway train came down the track, her whistle wide and
her throttle back
And she blew, blew, blew, blew, blew
The poor Fireman got the blame lol in the words of the final verse “the fireman said he rang the bell, the engineer said you did like ++++!  I loved that song and it was also many other children’s favourite.  Children’s favourites was really my introduction to popular music. There were a complete mixture of tunes played each week from Classical to Skiffle and some wonderful songs about old women that swallowed a fly and there was Charlie Drake singing about is Boomerang that wouldn’t come back and the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Many of the popular TV/Film themes of the day were played like ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Davy Crockett King of The Wild Frontier’ and the Deadwood Stage sung by Doris Day from the Film ‘Calamity Jane’. For more classic songs from Children’ Favourites  see http://www.sterlingtimes.co.uk/children.htm

Children’s Favourites also introduced us kids to the Hit Parade of the day with artists like Tommy Steele, Alma Cogan, Lonnie Donegan, Adam Faith and Cliff Richard. Children’s Favourites carried on with the help of Peter Brough and his ventriloquist's dummy Archie Andrews and Uncle Mac until he finally retired in 1965. The show then changed its name to Junior Choice led by Ed (Stewpot) Stewart and the theme tune became ‘Morning Town Ride’, but by then the Beatles had arrived on the scene and there were more pressing things on the horizon. But for us who were growing up in the 1950s we have never forgot our Uncle Mac and some of the brilliant tunes he used to play for us every Saturday morning.

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