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From before the flood

  • 25 January 2022
I’m not sure that my Greek grandchildren know the word antediluvian or whether they have heard of Methuselah, but they certainly consider me an ancient relic who occasionally tells tall tales and true from the legendary past. And from another land. Of course they are unable to conceive of life or domestic space without screens: even my youngest grandchild, who has just had her first birthday, knows when a Skype call is imminent, and coos accordingly.  Neither can they quite believe that I started life pre-TV. I tell them the stirring tale of the household actually acquiring a TV set, but they become bemused again when I inform them that way back then there were only three channels, and that the viewer had to cross the room to the TV set and use the manual dial.

It seems fairly useless to go on about how we were all in thrall to radio, as differences in time and culture are just too much: I doubt, for example, that the grandchildren would warm to any episode of Dad and Dave in Snake Gully. But radio was an enormous influence in the Australia of 1930 -70. The National Film and Sound Archive’s list of programmes broadcast during that period runs to more than 200 pages, and is studded with many a familiar title. My mother listened to radio serials while she did the housework, and was firm in her opinion of the characters: ‘What a scheming wretch that Delia is!’ And she and Dad listened to a radio play every Sunday night, and to English comedy shows and quiz programmes on other nights. Music was important, too: they once woke me up so that I could listen to the 1812 Overture.

Of course we also had our routines, my sister and I, and homework was fitted in around them. Our parents were teachers, so we were predictably obsessed with Yes What? a popular Australian series about a school fourth form, in which the character Greenbottle, noted for his idiosyncratic lunacy, regularly drove his teacher mad. This show, which lasted only a brisk 12 minutes every time, ran to 520 episodes.

Then there was Lavender Grove, a fairly anodyne series about middle-class suburban life, followed by the detective adventures called No Holiday for Halliday (cue rueful chuckle from our editor?) Last show of the evening for us was When a Girl Marries: for all those who are in