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4:42pm on Saturday, 15th January, 2011:

Good Night


I mentioned last week that my dad had sent me some cigarette card albums that he got from my grandad, and I threatened to blog the other ones. Today, I'm carrying that threat out, at least with one of the two other albums: Radio Celebrities.

I suppose when you think about it, having a book of pictures of people who you only know from their voices is quite a good idea, although having to smoke 50 packs of ciggies to get them isn't quite so great. Some of the people mentioned are singers, some are bandleaders, some are comedians, some are actors, some are songwriters, and one is a woman called Cecil Dixon who, despite having a man's name, seems to appear nowhere on the Internet except in reference to this collection of radio stars. There are some people I've actually heard of, though: Paul Robeson, Cicily Courtneidge and Gracie Fields ("Lancashire-born and proud of it!" — gotta love that exclamation mark). Oh, I'd heard of Ambrose the bandleader, too.

However, rather than show you pictures of Cecil or any of the other people in the book I haven't heard of, I'm only going to give you the first one, A. Stuart Hibberd, as he pretty well sums up the vibe of the time:

It's before the second world war, so his moustache is Charlie Chaplin or Oliver Hardy rather than Adolf Hitler. He's a university man, but it's OK, he's from Cambridge rather than Oxford (nice to see that some things never change at the BBC — they accept Cambridge graduates as well as Oxford ones). He's one of the tallest people at the BBC, although not so tall that his height in feet and inches is worth mentioning. The most poignant thing, though, is that he was heard by more people more frequently than anyone else in the world in his day, but nowadays people haven't even heard of him, let alone heard him.

The same applies to pretty well everyone else in the book. It's mainly people who rose to fame based on being in the right place at the right time, or through who they knew, who did have talent but probably only upper-quartile level, and who, once their day was passed, faded into obscurity. The only ones whose names live on are the ones whose talent was all that got them there — Robeson and Fields in particular — and that wasn't entirely reliable on a live medium for success.

How would the others fare in an Internet world, I wonder?

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).