Listen With Mother (1950-82)

Julia LangEileen Brownewith Ann Driver, George Dixon, Daphne Oxenford, Dorothy Smith, Eileen Browne (left), Catherine Edwards and Julia Lang (right).

Few radio memories come as misty-eyed as this: no other signature tune evokes the warmth and tenderness of childhood security as powerfully as the Berceuse from Faure's Dolly Suite.

Click Here!Berceuse

The time is a quarter to two. This is the BBC Light Programme for mothers and children at home. Are you ready for the music? When it stops, Catherine Edwards will be here to speak to you. Ding-de-dong. Ding-de-dong, Ding, Ding! Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin!

Click Here!Listen With Mother Introduction

So began Listen with Mother every afternoon at 1:45pm (just before Woman's Hour), a fifteen minute programme of stories, songs and nursery rhymes for children under five. The audience was over one million at its peak.

George Dixon
George Dixon

With nursery rhymes set to music by Ann Driver and sung by George Dixon, a senior schools producer with a long and distinguished career in broadcasting, and Eileen Browne, the songs were often unaccompanied. There cannot be many children who did not march up and down the hill with "The Grand Old Duke of York".

Meanwhile "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" was growing neat rows of silver bells and cockleshells in her garden, while the King of Spain's Daughter regularly visited a "Little Nut Tree" which only grew a silver nutmeg and a golden pear. Humpty Dumpty and "Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross" were other favourites.

Then, helping us to count was "One, two. . . . three, four, five; Once I caught a fish alive; six, seven. . . . eight, nine, ten; Then I let it go again" and the rhyme "Ding, Dong, Dell, Pussy's in the Well" all turned out for the best once we had found out who put her in and who pulled her out! So "Polly Put the Kettle On, We'll All Have Tea!

Also "Hob Shoe Hob"

Another particularly memorable song, which featured at least once a week, ended:
This is the way the old men ride, Hobble-dee Hobble-dee Hobble-dee and down into a ditch!

It is quite likely that this latter song was the origin of the following anecdote sent in by George Dixon's son, Paul: "My father told us one story about the programme. A listener had called in with the complaint that her child had been terrified by the sound of galloping horses. It was explained to her that the sound effect was made with the traditional half coconut shells, and how she could make the sound herself to show the child. They would not run that song again until she let them know that the child understood, which she did. Presumably there was one satisfied customer!"

Mitten the Kitten storybook

The stories were read by Daphne Oxenford, Dorothy Smith and Julia Lang. The storytellers wrote several of their own tales and Dorothy Smith's readings of the My Naughty Little Sister stories written by the late Dorothy Edwards are still remembered with affection.

Daphne Oxenford
Daphne Oxenford
Dorothy Smith

Daphne Oxenford and Dorothy Smith were very long-standing members of the team and read the stories on the programme for 21 and 26 years respectively.

Audrey Hindley [Allen] wrote several stories for Listen With Mother in the 1960's

I created stories for my two children (Mark was the younger). The children asked me to repeat the stories and they are the best critics! ……so ………
I decided to send some of them to the "Listen With Mother" programme as I felt that the experiences of everyday life in the stories were educational, and they stimulated the imagination of the pre-school child. I aimed to introduce new vocabulary, creativity, interest in numeracy and literacy, interaction with family and friends and an understanding of the world outside the home.
I am still writing …. not only for children: but rhyming and non-rhyming verse and short stories for adults too.

Listen With Mother ……Mark and his Teddy Bears

1] Mark and the Teddy Bears Play in the Snow
2] Mark and the Teddy Bears Make an Aeroplane
3] Mark and the Teddy Bears, on a Wet Day
4] Mark and the Teddy Bears go on a Train
5] Mark and the Teddy Bears have a Birthday.
6] Mark and his Teddy Bears help the Removal Men
7] Mark and the Teddy Bears have Sandwiches in the Sand.
8] Mark and the Teddy Bears Walk by the River
9] Mark and the Teddy Bears go Fishing
10] Mark and the Teddy Bears go to the Fair. Part 1 and 2.
11] Mark and the Teddy Bears Dig the Garden
12] Mark and the Teddy Bears go Shopping, and Plant the Garden.
13] Mark and the Teddy Bears Find Flowers in the Garden.
14] Mark and the Teddy Bears Find a Hedgehog.
15] Mark and the Teddy Bears make a Camp.
16] Mark and his Teddy Bears Prepare for Christmas
17] Mark and his Teddy Bears See Father Christmas.
18] Mark and the Teddy Bears Fly a Kite.
19] Mark and the Teddy Bears have an Injection.[See the doctor]

Some of these stories were also broadcast on BBC Welsh Service .

It wasn't only children who listened, but seamen on board ship were also regular listeners, as were the occupants of Buckingham Palace.

Eileen Browne (top) an early presenter of "Listen With Mother" later moved on to "Watch With Mother" and provided the voice of "Jenny" in "The Woodentops". Eileen's nephew, Geoffrey Browne remembers:
"As a child, I visited Broadcasting House to watch them make the programme with a wonderful new invention: the tape recorder. This incredible machine enabled them to record all the programmes for the whole week in one go, without having to do it live every weekday. The music and stories were on 78 rpm records with a yellow crayon mark that showed where to put the needle down. Eileen was of course wearing a tweed suit and sat in front of the famous BBC 'lollypop microphone'. If I remember rightly, women were not allowed to wear trousers in the BBC until 1971."

Joyce Williams wrote several stories for Listen with Mother in the late 70's, such as Black Beetle, Amy Kate's Lion and Tim's Tomorrow.

The programme transferred over to the Home Service during the 60's but he audience numbers diminished over the years with the advent of Watch With Mother and the programme finally ended in 1982.

Sue Burden has memories of the programme in the 1970s:

I was an avid 'Listen with Mother' listener in the 70s. My parents originally thought the programme was weedy, but I reckon it had improved a lot by my time. To me it was a winning formula.

I enjoyed the stories and the songs. When I was small I didn't like Scottish accents with their rolling rs, but as I grew more mature I thought Alison Mcmorland's accent was lovely.

Apart from the sung nursery rhymes, the programme had the following songs on regularly;
All the Ducks are Swimming in the Water
Samantha the Panther
Shortneen' Bread (presumably American song)
They swam and they swam right over the Dam
The Wheels of the Bus (not the usual song, but a slower one inviting you to move your hands like the bus wheels or swimming fish)
Wind Up- a song about clockwork toys, a racing car and a drummer
Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes, with funny noises
Let's go to the moon, shall we?

I remember all these and haven't been looking on the Internet for them. I never heard the Hobbidy Hobbidy Hop song.
For stories I remember one offs about Alphonso the toy lion, and a teapot with a cracked lid who sang " Buy me! Buy me!". Plus there were multiple stories about Wriggly Worm, Mrs. Muddle, and My Naughty Little Sister - I'm glad I could get books about her. I never heard any stories about the boy with the teddy bears.

Quarter to three was Listen with Mother time. I remember for a while that they pared two minutes off it by having it after the three o'clock news bulletin - "Remember, it's 2 past 3 on 4."

I was disappointed when it finally ended, because although I was a bit too old for it by then, I thought that there should be radio programmes for children as well as TV ones. I grew up without a telly, unlike everyone else in my class. I remember the BBC brought in as a replacement, the Listening Corner, which was far too short and not a patch on Listen With Mother.

If you would like, I can tell you what the layout of a Listen with Mother show was like in the 70s. The signature tune at the beginning was different to that at the end (the Berceuse).

Helena Socha also remembers:

I too was sorry when Listen with Mother, stopped I loved it so much in fact I loved it lots.

Story's poems, songs, and rhymes, captured a young heart at that time.

I wish I could go back in years to a small girl listening with Mother there, to here the tales I recall so well

Now i'm writing little poems myself.

With fond memories

Hilary Stout remembers:

Like so many others, I have very fond memories of this programme. I remember 'sitting comfortably' on the big brown leather armchair in the dining room, with my little legs pointing straight out because of course the chair was much too big for me.

One day my mother sat me comfortably on the armchair, and before she went out of the room, presumably into the kitchen I suppose, she told me to sit and listen to the programme and not to get up out of the chair. But half way through the programme the 'man on the radio' suggested that when we heard the next song (or piece of music, I can’t remember which) we get up and march round the room like soldiers. I was born in 1948 and I am 73 now, and to this day I can very vividly remember the terrible dilemma into this put me. I desperately wanted to march around the room like a soldier, but my mother had told me to sit nicely and not get up out of the big brown leather armchair. Which was I to do? I thought very hard : the 'man on the radio' won. I was very proud of my marching, and my mother didn’t seem to mind at all when she found out what I was doing. Moreover, I can remember also being extremely proud of having come to that decision all by myself – probably the first important decision I had ever made.

Many years later, about 1982, I bought an LP which was a compilation of various pieces of music. I took the LP home and put it on. The first few tracks were pleasant. And then unexpectedly came the theme tune of 'my' programme. I was instantly transported back into that dining room, that armchair. There I was, '‘sitting comfortably,' listening to the music. But more memories came flooding in. I could picture the whole room, where the furniture was, where the window was and where the high up cream coloured shelf was, upon which stood the radio. I stopped what I was doing and went immediately to my mother's. I described the picture that the music had conjured up. “But it wasn’t right," I said. "It wasn’t at all like the house where we used to live when I was a child." My mother replied that I had just perfectly described, in some detail, the dining room of the house that we had LEFT when I was three tears old. Magic. The music won't bring it back any more - I've tried many times to recall that picture. But it shows that somewhere it is still locked in a tiny corner of my mind, forever there, "sitting comfortably."

If this little story brings back lovely memories to anyone, then I shall be very happy indeed.

John Jascoll remembers:

Dear Radio Days,

I've been reading through some of the "Listen with Mother" memories.

It's not only women who recall that delightful radio programme. A 72-year-old grandpa does as well.

My daughter just bought her 3-year-old son a second hand "Mother Goose" board book of nursery rhymes with the quaintest Edwardian illustrations which he asked me to read to him.

And there they all were! The "Listen with Mother" songs.

I didn't read them to the child - I sang them to him. My memory banks from a childhood in England instantly brought back the tunes to Humpty Dumpty, The Cat and the Fiddle, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, et al. They'd been locked away in my mind for decades but as I sang them I heard in my head once again the music that accompanied the songs on those programmes from oh, so long ago.

Thanks for the website.

John Jascoll
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

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