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The Eccentric Entrepreneur

Duration:
58 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 30 August 2014

"Radio Normandy Calling!" The Belles of Normandy sing the station ident; Roy Plomley (of Desert Island Discs fame) introduces the artistes from the Bradford Alhambra, and another melody-packed hour - sponsored by a patent medicine - begins on the commercial radio station that, back in the 1930s, was often more popular than the majestic BBC.

The man behind it all was called, improbably, Captain Leonard Plugge. And in this programme, Dominic Sandbrook tells the story of this clever, enterprising and subversive man. Tory MP, passionate European and backroom boffin, Plugge created a string of brilliantly successful commercial stations in France and beyond that challenged Sir John Reith's radio monopoly with popular music and variety shows, sponsored by Bile Beans, Persil and Diploma cheddar cheese. So wealthy did his radio network make him that he owned two yachts, six cars (including two Rolls Royces), a Mayfair mansion, employed twelve staff, and lived a life that lay somewhere between The Great Gatsby and Citizen Kane.

With Plugge's son Frank, Dominic leafs through his father's mountain of diaries and scrapbooks - news cuttings, photographs... memorabilia of a life that brought him the Legion d'Honneur, a medal from US broadcaster NBC and made him a worldwide celebrity. With a rich archive of contributions from Roy Plomley, Bob Danvers-Walker and many others who first made their names on Plugge's stations, plus recordings from the shows they broadcast, Dominic Sandbrook brings a forgotten mogul of a bygone era to life.

And next time you approach a road junction with an elongated 'SLOW' painted on the tarmac, you can thank Captain Plugge for it, because that was his idea too...

Producer Simon Elmes.

  • Leonard Plugge’s son Frank (right) shows his father’s medal, including his Legion d’Honneur, to presenter Dominic Sandbrook

    Leonard Plugge’s son Frank (right) shows his father’s medal, including his Legion d’Honneur, to presenter Dominic Sandbrook
  • Dominic Sandbrook examines a photograph of Leonard Plugge,driver of the first underground train to run in 1926 General Strike

    Dominic Sandbrook examining a photograph of Leonard Plugge

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