The Foldout looks at some aspects of the life and works of Wilfred Pickles:
He went to Parkinson Lane Council School, and then Warley Road Council School as a half-timer.
His first job was in a corner shop, where he earned 1s 6d a week. When he was 13, Wilfred became an errand-boy at Mitchell's, ladies' and gents' outfitters in Crown Street, and was later promoted to shop assistant.
After World War I, his father, Fred, went into business as a builder, and Wilfred joined the firm. The business went bankrupt.
He studied mathematics and building construction at Halifax Technical College.
In 1924, he took part in the Mrs Sunderland musical competition in Huddersfield.
In 192?, Wilfred's father moved to become the manager of a building firm at Southport. Wilfred stayed in Halifax, and went to live with his aunts and worked for his uncle Isaac, and then with another local building firm.
He attended elocution lessons with the Rev Henry Ironmonger, and won prizes at several music festivals, the Mrs Sunderland Festival at Huddersfield, at Leeds, and at Liverpool.
He was interested in amateur dramatics. At 18, he joined the King Cross Amateur Dramatic Society, and was a founder member of Halifax Thespians in 1927, appearing in their first production. In 1927, he played Purdie in the new company's production of Dear Brutus. Both Wilfred and his brother, Arthur, were friends of Eric Portman.
In March 1929, Wilfred moved to join his parents in Southport, and started work with his father. His health suffered from his day-job and his night-time acting.
In 1928, he joined an amateur church dramatic group in Southport – led by Arthur Belt – and appeared in their production of The Jeffersons. It was here that he met Mabel Myerscough. Wilfred and Mabel married 18 months later.
Their son, David, was born 20th August 1932. The child died of infantile paralysis on 1st November 1939.
Mabel urged Wilfred to audition for the BBC. Wilfred's radio début was as Sir Frederick in a play entitled The Mystery in the Cutting produced from the BBC Manchester Piccadilly studios in 1937. In 19??, he received critical acclaim for the part of Trimalchio in Louis MacNeice's radio adaptation of a Petronius play, Trimalchio's Feast. He subsequently made a number of broadcasts in plays for BBC radio Children's Hour, and the family moved to live in Manchester.
It was here that he first worked with actress Violet Carson – later famous as Ena Sharples in Coronation Street. At her suggestion, he became involved in regional radio variety programmes; the first was Boy babies don't matter.
He worked as a temporary relief announcer for the BBC. He later joined the BBC permanent staff and presented a popular series of 15-minute programmes Kingpins of comedy in which he interviewed well-known comedians.
During the war, Wilfred was involved in a revival of an old radio programme – Harry Hopeful – in which he travelled around the country interviewing ordinary people. The programme was produced by D. G. Bridson, and was called Billy Welcome. It was later developed into a propaganda tool to boost workers' morale.
On 27th November 1941, he was invited to join the BBC in London, and he was one of the first people to read the news in a regional accent, a part of a plan by Brendan Bracken, the Minister of Information, and the BBC, to avoid enemy infiltration of the media during World War II. His accent and his homely style provoked much criticism, and his closing "Good neet" was received with mixed feelings although the overall response was favourable.
Wilfred and Mabel moved back to Manchester, and he worked on variety programmes and entertaining the forces, and spent some time touring as a comedian. He then left the BBC.
In March 1942, he read the commentary on a propaganda film entitled Keeping Rabbits for Extra Meat produced by Edgar Anstey and directed by Ralph Bond for the Ministry of Agriculture
Between 1946 and 1967, he was involved with the legendary Have a Go radio programme.
In 1946, he appeared in the West End and in the provinces in the stage production of The cure for love, taking over the lead from Robert Donat.
In 1947, he appeared in Pleasant Journey a series of six documentary features, produced by Olive Shapley, which had been specially written in collaboration with Joan Littlewood as vehicles for Wilfred. At Christmas 1947, he appeared at Bradford as Buttons with June Whitfield as Cinderella in Francis Laidler's pantomime. The panto was broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 21st January 1948.
In 1948, he read Shakespeare's sonnets on the radio.
In 1949, he switched on the Morecambe Illuminations, and he switched on the Blackpool Illuminations in 1950.
In 1950, Wilfred was hastily brought in to feature on the cover of the Radio Fun Annual, replacing Tommy Handley who died shortly after the annual went to print.
In 1956, he advised Barrie Ingham to enter the professional theatre by going into repertory.
In 1969, he starred in a radio drama The Compost Heap – the first radio drama by Sheffield-born writer, Bill Stanton. This was the story of Albert Smith, an old man who had become a burden to his family and was fighting to maintain his independence when they wanted to put him in a home. Bill and Wilfred became firm friends.
He broadcast poetry recitals – The Pleasure's Mine – and presented several TV programmes, including At Home, Places with Problems, and the popular Ask Pickles – a forerunner of Jim'll Fix It – which people wrote to Wilfred asking for their wishes to be granted.
He appeared in several pantomimes.
In the 1960s, he appeared in a TV commercial in which he confronted lumbago and arthritis sufferers with Not much fun is it, eh? before offering them a tin of Ffynon Salts.
In the 1970s, Wilfred found renewed fame as a character actor on television.
In 1975, he appeared in a TV documentary called Controversy about the Common Market.
Wilfred received the OBE in the King's Birthday Honours List of June 1950.
He died at his home in Brighton on 27th March 1978. He was buried in the family grave in Manchester, next to his son, David. Mabel died in 1989
Wilfred wrote several autobiographies and other books:
and Mabel wrote:
|His TV & film career|
Some events in Wilfred's TV and film career include:
|Have a Go|
John Salt – great-grandson of Sir Titus Salt – was programme director for the BBC North Region, and asked Wilfred if he would be interested in presenting a quiz show, interviewing ordinary people and giving cash prizes for simple questions. The working title was Quiz Bang, although this did not receive unanimous approval, and when Wilfred was invited to suggest an alternative, he came up with Have a Go, Joe. Have a Go was first broadcast from Bingley on 4th March 1946, and the programme was a success from the first transmission. Wilfred travelled over 400,000 miles around the country in the 1940s and 1950s, presenting his popular Have a Go! radio series. The signature tune was:
and the closing chorus:Have a go, Joe, Come on and have a go You can't lose owt, it costs you nowt To make yourself some dough. So hurry up and join us, Don't be shy and don't be slow. Come on, Joe! Have a go!
The program – in which he visited factories, hospitals, and other venues around Britain and talked to ordinary people – was produced by Barney Colehan and had audiences of 26 million listeners. In the simple games which the contestants played, he asked his guests to complete the sentence:Call round any old time and make yourself at home, Put your feet on the mantle-shelf, Tune in your wireless and help yourself, We don't care if your friends have left you all alone Rich or poor, knock at the door, and make yourself at home
I love you darling, but ...
addressed to their husband/wife, and to answer questions such as:
What object would you save from a burning house?
The prize money started at 2/6d, then 5/-, 10/6d and the big prize was a guinea. The show made him a household name, and he became nationally famous for his catch-phrases 'ow do, 'ow are yer?, "Are you courtin'?", and What's on the table, Mabel. When Mabel retired from the show, Barney Colehan took over and a new catchphrase – "Give 'im the money, Barney" – was introduced. From 1964, the actress Violet Carson – later to star in Coronation Street – played the piano accompaniment during the show.
His fan mail amounted to more than 1,000 letters a week, and he employed three secretaries to deal with it. He ordered signed photographs of himself 10,000 at a time.
One edition of the programme was broadcast from Windsor Castle with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret present.
On 11th January 1955, he broadcast the 250th edition of the programme in front of an audience of 200 local people from the Sunday school at Warley Congregational Church, and this was heard by an estimated radio audience of 23 million people.
In 1967, the BBC felt that the programme had run out of steam, and it finished even though it was still very popular. It was one of the most popular radio shows ever and regularly attracted audiences of over 20 million each week, and when the show finished, there were still invitations from more than 1,500 venues
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Malcolm Bull 2012 /
Revised 14:40 on 5th November 2012 / mmp54 / 19
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