Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: When Worker’s Playtime came to the mill

After the show, Denis Lotis shares a joke with Dennis Goodman ''Nostalgia - Film stars appeared at Wormalds and Walker to entertain the workers via BBC radio
After the show, Denis Lotis shares a joke with Dennis Goodman ''Nostalgia - Film stars appeared at Wormalds and Walker to entertain the workers via BBC radio

One of the most popular BBC radio programmes in the 1950s was without doubt Worker’s Playtime which was broadcast live from mills and factories throughout the country.

Some of the top stars of the day took part, and it was with a great sense of pride and excitement the factories concerned prepared for the occasion.

There's no doubt these two young weavers enjoyed the broadcast, but who were they?''Nostalgia - Film stars appeared at Wormalds and Walker to entertain the workers via BBC radio

There's no doubt these two young weavers enjoyed the broadcast, but who were they?''Nostalgia - Film stars appeared at Wormalds and Walker to entertain the workers via BBC radio

The BBC usually chose those factories and mills which employed huge numbers of workers because thunderous applause, loud laughter and enthusiastic cheering was needed to add to the enjoyment of those listening at home. No canned laughter in those days.

The entertainment always took place in the works’ canteens and the workers would be given an extended lunch-hour, which added greatly to the enjoyment of the occasion.

One of the largest blanket manufacturers in the country was Wormalds and Walker in Thornhill Lees, which employed over a thousand staff, and so it was no surprise that the BBC went back to this particular mill time and time again.

Last week, former employee David Sharp, of Mirfield, wrote on this page of his memories of being part of the audience as a young apprentice when Worker’s Playtime was broadcast from there.

Denis Lotis singing live on air.''Nostalgia - Film stars appeared at Wormalds and Walker to entertain the workers via BBC radio

Denis Lotis singing live on air.''Nostalgia - Film stars appeared at Wormalds and Walker to entertain the workers via BBC radio

He mentioned the names of some of the stars appearing, Denis Lotis, Dennis Goodman and Jack Watson, and I’m delighted to say I can now show the photographs of some of them.

The programme took place in 1957, and I am sure there are many people still living in the area who were there and still remember it.

The rehearsals for the show took place in the morning, and one can only imagine how fascinated the workers would have been watching it all being set up, and catching a glimpse of their favourite stars even before the show started.

Radio engineers could be seen wandering around the factory performing what would have seemed to observers some mysterious operations.

Special dressing rooms were set up for the stars, who could be seen in the morning strolling across the stage learning their lines or singing snatches from popular songs of the time.

But dead on time, the show began. First the Merritones, a slick and tuneful group of vocalists, then Jack Watson, a young and jovial comedian and impressionist, who later became a well-known actor both on television and in films.

Following him came the moment all the young teenage girls had been waiting for, Denis Lotis, who at that time was one of the most popular singers in the country.

South African born Denis had recently been tested for a film lead opposite glamorous Lana Turner, but unfortunately, for him, he photographed too young and didn’t get it.

Finally came Dennis Goodwin, the bashful half of the famous Monkhouse and Goodwin script-writing team.

To introduce the various acts came Dewsbury-born Randal Herley, son of a well-known local doctor of the same name.

Randal was a big name in the BBC at the time and also went on to appear in films and television.

There was no doubt the audience in Dewsbury Mills canteen that day loved every minute of the broadcast.

And, when it was over, a good number of them poured on to the stage to collect autographs, most of them on their wages slip.

Only reluctantly did the fans eventually leave the stage and go back to work, but they were back in force later when the artists made a brief tour of the works.

Middle-aged ladies wanted to mother Dennis Goodwin, while the younger ladies made a rush for their idol, Denis Lotis, and then got tongue tied when they got up to him.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon, the artists drifted to their cars parked in the yard, and went away, Dennis Goodwin to write a script for the incomparable Jack Benny, and Denis Lotis to rehearse for his television series Hits and Misses.

If you were in the audience that day or have memories of working at Wormalds and Walker or any other mill where Worker’s Playtime was broadcast, please contact me, by e-mail - tresham3@gmail.com, or ringing Dewsbury 468282.