Mrs. Dale's Diary
The first post-war soap on British radio was Mrs. Dale's Diary and was first broadcast on the Light Programme at 4pm on Monday 5th. January 1948. Who could forget Marie Goossens' harp introduction to the programme or the reflective comments of Dr. Dale's ever-earnest wife?
The title character was a nice middle-class doctor's wife, Mary, and her husband Jim who lived at Virginia Lodge in the Middlesex suburb of Parkwood Hill.
They had a son called Bob played by Nicholas Parsons, Hugh Latimer, Derek Hart, and by Leslie Heritage for nearly twenty years. and a daughter called Gwen who was successively Virginia Hewitt, Joan Newell, Beryl Calder and (for many years) Aline Waites. Bob was married to Jenny and they had twins. Gwen was married to her, not always faithful, husband David who was Jenny's brother but was eventually left a widow when David was killed water skiing in the Bahamas whilst holidaying with his rich mistress. Derek Nimmo was brought in at this time to play Jago Peters a boyfriend for Gwen.
Mrs. Dale's sophisticated sister, Sally, (always pronounced "Selly") lived in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, and ran a dress shop and also had a country cottage with a housekeeper called Zenobia.
There was also a char lady called Mrs. Morgan (played by Grace Allardyce) who subsequently married Mr. Maggs (played by Jack Howarth).
The neighbour across the road, the grumpy Mrs Mountford (played by Vivienne Chatterton) had a nervous companion called Miss Marchbanks and a parrot called Coco along with a liking for chocolate cake.
An occasional character was Mrs. Leathers who was a Cockney and rather common (played by Hattie Jaques). Mrs. Freeman (or Mother-in-Law as Dr. Dale always used to call her) had a cat named Captain (always pronounced "Kepton").
Eventually the stories were relocated to a town called Exton and the cast had to roughen up the famous cut glass vowels and become a different kind of family. Gwen became a mature student and the characters started to have a social conscience.
The Queen Mother reportedly commented about the programme, 'It is the only way of knowing what goes on in a middle-class family'. Radio comics loved to spoof the programme, using the soul-searching comment, "I'm awfully worried about Jim" as allegedly uttered by the indefatigable diarist.
The final episode, in 1969, featured Gwen's engagement to a glamorous TV professor played by John Justin.
A 1952 publicity picture of the cast: Dr. Dale (Douglas Burbidge) with his hands on the shoulders of Mrs. Dale (Ellis Powell). The other characters are daughter Gwen (Joan Newell) sitting far left; Mrs. Freeman (Dorothy Lane) seated second left; Isabel Fielding (Thea Wells) standing; son Bob (Derek Hart) centre; and daily help Mrs. Morgan (Grace Allardyce) standing far right. Mrs. Dale's sister, Sally Lane (Thelma Hughes) is seated bottom right.
Main Cast List:
Dale: Ellis Powell, Jessie
Dr Dale: Douglas Burbidge, James Dale (honestly!), Charles Simon
Bob Dale: Hugh Latimer, Leslie Heritage, Nicholas Parsons, Derek Hart
Jenny Dale: Julia Braddock, Shirley Dixon, Mary Steele, Sheila Sweet
Gwen Dale/Owen: Virginia Hewitt, Joan Newell, Beryl Calder, Aline Waites
David Owen: Anthony James, Frank Partington, Gordon Morrison, John Spingett, Robin Lloyd, Lee Peters
Mrs. Freeman (Mrs. Dale's Mother): Courtney Hope, Dorothy Lane
Sally Lane (Mrs. Dale's sister): Thelma Hughes, Margaret Ward
Isobelle Fielding: Thea Wells
Mrs. Mountford: Vivienne Chatterton
Mr. Maggs: Jack Howarth (later to become Albert Tatlock in Coronation Street)
Mrs. Morgan / Maggs: Grace Allardyce
Mrs. Leathers: Hattie Jaques
Monument (the gardener): Charles Lamb
Scriptwriter was Jonquil Anthony
The soap ran from January 1948 until April 1969, by which time it had been renamed 'The Dales'. A total run of 5531 episodes.
In the mid-'60s, the theme was updated by Ron Grainer. Here are clips of the beginning and ending music:
Aline Waites (1969)
|With grateful thanks to Aline Waites who played Gwen and has filled in a lot of the blanks about the programme for us and supplied the pictures for this page.|
Phillip McCaughan writes:
I have a few vague recollections of "Mrs. Dale's Diary"; endless stream of 'cut-glass' accents and much drinking of tea. My memories of "The Dales" being much clearer. We lived opposite my school so I was always home by the time it came on, all I need is a cup of tea and a couple of digestives and memories trickle back. I do remember Mrs. Dale's brother-in-law confiding in her that he was homosexual (shriek); Mrs. Dale in court on a charge of dangerous driving and causing death; Dr Dale's heart attack and the various travails of Bob and Jenny. They had shifted the action by then to a new town in the Home Counties, presumably in an attempt to de-posh it.
Mrs. Dale was played by Ellis Powell from 1948 until 1963 when Jessie Matthews stepped in. Interestingly, during Miss Matthews' reign, she had two protracted periods of ill-health, and she was replaced (temporarily) by two erstwhile soap matriarchs: Noel Dyson (Ida Barlow Coronation Street) and later on, Ruth Dunning (Mrs. Grove The Grove Family).
Strange how little pride the BBC appears to have in its past successes, considering its huge audience and length of run, it seems to be totally forgotten. In its small way, it played a part in bridging the post-war days of Britain and the 60s revolution. Wouldn't it be nice if the BBC deigned to issue a double audio pack of selected episodes (there MUST be some in existence)?
"ON THE RECORD"
fascinated to find the data on the Mrs Dale serial. I
took a very systematic interest, and five years ago I
produced Charles Simon's play "At Home With The
Dales" for a studio theatre in Essex. Charles died a
few months ago, working to the end, at 93. I also knew
James Dale and Dorothy Lane.
successively Virginia Hewitt, Joan Newell, Beryl Calder
and (for many years) Aline Waites. Aline Waites became
active in putting on fringe theatre. Jenny was played
very distinctively as a spoiled actressy brat by Julia
Braddock. She was rethought as a character, and became a
hard-working mum played by Mary Steele (a lovely
performance), then by Shirley Dixon.
Addendum: December 2004
I was very sorry to learn of the death of Margaret Ward. She played the title character's glamorous sister in 'Mrs Dale's Diary' (which became 'The Dales' while she was in it) for more than half of the serial's twenty-one year run. (She was indeed the second actress to have a long run in the part, and hers was the longest - the casting of daily serials was always complicated.) I personally never heard anyone else play the character - which I always regarded as a Princess Margaret to the Queen of Mrs Dale - in the serial. I never met her, and only saw her in person as Mrs Eynsford-Hill in 'Pygmalion' in London in the seventies. That production survives as an audio recording.
I know little about her as a person, but something about her radio and TV work. In the early fifties she was with the BBC Drama Repertory Company, and I wonder if she might have developed more as a leading actress in radio if she had not accepted the long-running part. She had leads in Anouilh's 'Colombe' and in 'The Plain Dealer' on the Third Programme, and played Sherlock Holmes's nemesis Irene Adler in 'A Scandal In Bohemia' with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. The episode exists as a commercial recording.
While playing the charming and rather unpredictable Sally on radio, she appeared from time to time on television, usually in somewhat less glamorous roles, such as the one she played in a reconstruction of a the famous nineteenth century murder of Charles Bravo. In later years she played an executive wife in the corporation series 'The Troubleshooters'. She once had a 'bored wife' speech which referred to listening to 'The Dales' - no doubt a personalised reference! In the late eighties, she rejoined the BBC Rep - now the Radio Drama Company - for a spell, playing older parts.
Dorothy Lane, who played the mother of Mrs Dale and Sally, told me that they heard over their Christmas break one year that Margaret Ward's husband had died. She said how pleased they were that Margaret later married Richard Hurndall, another actor who was busy in radio. She described it as a very popular marriage. She also remembered Margaret's schoolboy son doing his homework in the studio while they worked on 'The Dales'.
Addendum: February 2007
THE DALES AND THE WIDER WORLD
Like everything else, the serial story of
Mrs Dale and her family was not broadcast in isolation.
There are connections of every kind to a wider world. Not
least in the many and various ways parts are cast.
Actors' lives are much affected by association of ideas -
the most obvious example here being James Dale playing
his namesake the Doctor. And one week Stuart Nichol
shared the part of Alec (Jim's brother) with his almost
namesake-in-reverse Nicholas Stuart.
there are the personal connections between people. At one
point Margaret Ward as Sally (Mrs Dale's sister) seemed
to be be risking her marriage by her friendship with
Martin Harvill, played by Richard Hurndall. Thus the
actress was - as Wilde would say - flirting with her own
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