It was an honour to be included on the guest list for ‘A Celebration of the life and work of Charles Chilton’ at the BBC. We were included as members of ‘The Goon Show Preservation Society’ and because I had been one of the puppeteers for ‘The Telegoons’.
Penny Chilton full of smiles and humour as always, was there with her family to greet us all. “How the BBC has changed” she remarked looking round, “so very different from my day”. She had of course been a shorthand typist in the BBC when she first met Charles.
Once we were all gathered in the Radio Theatre, Jon Briggs told us that Charles had regarded the BBC as his university, musical college etc. where he learned all the skills he had ever needed. Various extracts from Charles talking about his life were played which added poignancy to this lovely occasion, as well as a series of speakers taking the stage. I have tried to include some of the spirit of their contributions.
Michael Pointon, talked about Early Jazz at the BBC and told us about Charles starting the ‘Radio Rhythm Club’ and later writing ‘The Story of New Orleans’. He was a pioneer in bringing Jazz and black musicians to Britain.
Stephen Winders from ‘The Eagle Society’, brought to life Charles’ interest in and recordings and stories about the wild west. Charles had researched the wild west and all his stories were based on fact including the music and drama written for the BBC. Later the stories were extended to books, comics and merchandising.
Professor Colin Pillinger CBE told us that Charles had researched space and met Patrick Moore, among others, and also bought an astronomical telescope before he launched into writing ‘Journey into Space’ because he wanted his stories to be based on fact.
Colin had met Charles a few times when he was quite old. He told of an occasion when a team of people were lined up ready to meet Prince Andrew and Charles and Penny burst through the door, which was only supposed to be used by the Prince, much to the amusement of all concerned.
John Repsh chair of ‘GSPS’ shared his knowledge of of Charles’ and ‘The Goons’. Apparently he had also instrumental in keeping the peace between the main players, particularly when Peter Sellars was worried about being typecast and wanted to leave. It took all of Charles’ ingenuity to keep the show on the road for just that bit longer.
Roy Hudd was on hand to tell us that Charles had been one of his main inspirations and that he regarded him as his university, musical college etc. Both he and Charles had been brought up by their Grandmothers in London and risen to fame (and let’s hope fortune) from humble beginnings in London.
Murray Melvin – was one of the original cast members in the play ‘Oh What a Lovely War!’ now archivist at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. I think we all found his talk particularly touching. He told of Charles visiting Arras as a young man to find his father’s grave and being shocked to discover over 35,000 soldiers, including his dad, had no known grave.
Bertrand Russell had been invited to the show on his 90th birthday. Murray then read out the text of a letter which Russell had sent afterwards to each member of the cast telling them how touched he had been by the show and how he hoped that it’s anti-war message would be transmitted throughout the world. Bertrand Russell was a pacifist and had suffered dreadful prejudice and attacks when talking about the folly of it all on a soap box in Hyde Park.
Charles original play is going to be back in Stratford next year as part of the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.
Gillian had long experience of radio and shared something of his work and spirit. He had she said brought new people to the BBC, nurtured new talent, was a pioneer of many things original and creative as well as a brilliant writer and producer. She assured us that the work of Charles Chilton would be a continuing inspiration.
With a summing up from our able master of ceremonies we adjourned to the Media Cafe for refreshments with friends and family.
Looking round that room at the buffet, it was a happy but gentle celebration, family, friends and quite a lot of ‘old timers’ from the world of entertainment, people like Charles himself ‘the salt of the earth’.
Thank you Penny, her family and to everyone else involved. Ann and Alan
Roy Hudd is older than me and very famous while I have only ever been on the fringe of show business. But we shared a few memories of Variety,we had both appeared on the same bill with the legendary Max Miller early in our careers.
We met Charles for the last time in 2012 when he unveiled a plaque in honour of ‘The Goons’
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