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The forgotten BBC radio history of Teddy Bear’s Picnic

The other day I looked up the history of the song “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” and found an interesting radio related connection. Apparently the formative 1932 recording made by BBC band leader Henry Hall offered such fine tonal quality that the Beeb used it for three decades to keep audio equipment up to speed.

One BBC staffer remembers:

“The BBC Chief Engineer had laid down that one side of one particular record would be used for testing gramophones because it had a very wide range of frequencies and acoustics. That particular record was ‘The Teddy Bears Picnic’ played by Henry Hall and his band, and the singer was Hal Rosen [possible error here; I think he meant Val Rosing]. We had piles of these blessed records, which were well and truly worn by the heavy pick-up and steel needle (which had to be discarded and replaced after each playing!).

One became very fed-up playing this and one day, just for devilment, I put the reverse side on, which was ‘Hush, Hush, Hush, here comes the Bogey Man!’ My colleague in the Control Room must have been listening to my antics on a loud speaker and not headphones as was the usual practice, and due to this, the SME (Senior Maintenance Engineer) on duty must have heard, and using the intercom system over the studio loudspeaker, a voice boomed out ‘Faulkner, put the other side of that record on’!”

Seems to me that the BBC had the right idea. TBP should be more widely used for general purposes—maybe our Emergency Alert System should deploy it instead of that horrendous screeching interruption noise. Just a thought.

You may be wondering how I became curious about this tune. Here is an admittedly circuitous explanation. Sunday saw the last installment of one of my favorite free form radio music programs—the Gramophoney Baloney show on Radio Valencia in San Francisco. I was a big fan of that production, and not just because I was on it from time to time. It was a treasure trove of wonderful pre-1949 recordings. Sometimes its host, DJ McShmormac, did episodes that focused on pre-1912 selections. Great stuff.

The good news is that a similar version will be appearing on the Radioactive International streaming service. It will be called Crackleton Manor, dedicated to the fine work of “Sir Earnest Crackleton: Heroic explorer of pre-1951 sound reproductions.”

@CrackletonManorMeanwhile, the retiring McShmormac was kind enough to pay homage to our humble blog and a post of mine in particular. Radio Survivor readers may recall that several weeks ago I protested the increasingly vague definitions of “radio” that presently abound in marketing policy circles. By those standards, I complained, “my emailing you or posting an .mp3 or .wav file of me singing ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ and including a link to my Paypal account might be radio.”

Evidently inspired by this observation, McShmormac invited me to sing the Picnic song on the last episode, along with him and his talented son, McShmormac Junior. Then he posted the cast along with a link to Radio Survivor’s paypal account.

I hope that you’ll note Junior’s excellent work on the penny whistle in this recording, which offsets my inability to sing while laughing.

Last but not least, here’s a picture of the McShmormacs at the last Radio Valencia show. I added the eye blackout edit at their request, they being big fans of anonymity.

The Great McShmormacs

The Great McShmormacs at work.




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One Response to The forgotten BBC radio history of Teddy Bear’s Picnic

  1. www.youtube.com August 8, 2013 at 1:58 am #

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