Barry Humphries: Barry's Forgotten Musical Christmas
Barry Humphries channels the Ghost of Christmas Past and uncovers a treasure-trove of rarities and long-forgotten festive recordings from bygone eras. Barry's passion and enthusiasm for performers of the past provides the spine of this programme. As well as re-living childhood memories, he pays tribute to the earliest recording stars and celebrates the birth of radio.
Barry is particularly excited to be playing recordings by his compatriot Billy Williams, a musical star of the early 1900s. Australian performer Billy Williams came to London in 1899, sixty years before Barry made a similar trip to further his career in 1959. Billy appeared on the bill at the first Royal Command Performance in 1912 and achieved much critical acclaim. Sadly, his fame was not to last. He became ill late in 1914 and died early in 1915. Thankfully many of his recordings survive allowing Barry to still showcase a little of his talent on the radio today.
Barry also plays the rarely heard opening verse of Irving Berlin's 'White Christmas' (performed by Leslie Hutchinson aka 'Hutch') and there are festive tracks by Gracie Fields and George Formby in memory of Barry's Grandfather, who hailed from Lancashire and emigrated to Australia in the 1880s in the wake of the Gold Rush.
Other artists include: Arthur Tracy, Jack Hylton, BBC Dance Orchestra, Max Miller, The Comedian Harmonists, Dick Robertson, Edith Piaf, Ronnie Ronalde (renowned whistler and yodeller), Dorothy Collins and Leslie Sarony... among many others.
1922 marked the first BBC Christmas radio broadcast. The first radio play was broadcast on Christmas Day 1922 entitled, 'The Truth About Father Christmas'. Sadly, the BBC didn't have any tape recorders for another ten years, so Barry's unable to play an extract from it. There are plenty other festive gems on offer though!
This two-hour programme is a festive edition of the critically acclaimed music series 'Barry's Forgotten Musical Masterpieces', which was broadcast in January 2016 and described as:
"The best Radio 2 series in this, or any month, for as long as I can remember" The New Statesman.
"Humphries weights every word in his script, switching between what a child would hear in a record and what time has since taught him about it. He speaks lightly, firmly, allusively, letting the listener make connections to the music and its context... a wonderful trio of programmes" Telegraph, Gillian Reynolds.