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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comics on Radio: "Merry-Go-Round"

Back in November 2006 I mentioned that stories from Eagle were broadcast on the Radio Luxembourg show 'Spread Your Wings' in 1954; both 'Luck of the Legion' and 'Dan Dare' were turned into radio serials. Probably the first strips to be adapted for the radio, I said at the time.

I was wrong.

I've been digging around issues of Swift and stumbled across a mention of an earlier show. This was also on Radio Luxembourg and was called 'Merry-Go-Round'. Looking around the net I can't find any reference to it but a few details appeared in issues of Swift. In the issue dated 2 October 1954, readers were informed about...

"A Special Radio Programme for every boy and girl. Tune in to Radio Luxembourg on Monday 4th October at seven p.m. and hear Humphrey Lestocq—H.L. of TV fame—tell you about:—

* A special helicopter trip for a boy or girl
* A new Tarna serial
* And other exciting things for everybody.

This show is compered for you by H.L. himself. Tune in to 208 metres."

The following week (9 October 1954) was a free gift issue for Swift, designed to boost sales; talk of the radio show was surprisingly low-key on the editorial page which was mostly concerned with the launch of the Swift Quester's Book for Swift Club members. A Quester, as the editorial page reveals, is a boy or girl who looks for exciting and interesting things; the editorial choice of what was interesting was quite... um... unexciting. Each week, pictures were published that you could stick in your book and you could award yourself points for spotting what was pictured. So, for instance, the first week's quest was to look for: a scooter (15 points), a dog (4), a railway crossing (33), a postman (10) and a weighing machine (23).

The radio show got a brief mention at the end of the editorial: "... and don't forget our Radio Luxembourg Programme either. Tune in to 208 metres next Monday evening at 7 p.m." In addition, there was a competition (announced on the previous week's show) with two "super" cameras as prizes.

The following week's editorial page gave the show something of a greater boost and mentioned an 'Out and About' adventure which, I guess, would be some kind of Quester-style feature.

The following week's snippet about the show mentions a "sing-song with Tom Tex". Tom was a cowboy character who appeared in Swift each week. "Sing a song with Tom Tex" was again mentioned the following week (30 October 1954): "On Merry-Go-Round you can sit round thet old camp fire with Tom Tex; have a thrilling jungle adventure with Tarna; listen to H.L. compere the Show and hear several other enjoyable radio features."

Two weeks later, a small notice urged readers to "Tell Your Big Brother!"

"The Merry-Go-Round Programme for Swift readers featuring H.L. has been a terrific success! Now you can tell your big brother and his friends that next week they can listen to the first smashing Eagle "Spread Your Wings" Programme featuring all the things that Eagle readers look forward to. Don't forget it's your big brother's turn! Tell him to tune in to Radio Luxembourg, on 208 metres, next Monday, November 15th. The Eagle "Spread Your Wings" Programme starts at 7.0 p.m."

The last of the competition entries had appeared a week earlier relating to the show for November 1st and the winners were announced in the issue dated November 20th.

"Merry-Go-Round" lasted only six weeks before being replaced by "Spread Your Wings" but that's enough to make it the first British comic-related radio show. And the first strip to be adapted would therefore appear to be the adventures of Swift's junior Tarzan, Tarna the jungle boy. Tarna (unlike his almost namesake) had no back-story; he was simply a white boy in the jungle who could make himself understood to Toto the chimp and Tuski the elephant. His adventures ran in Swift for nine years, at its best when drawn by Harry Bishop (the 1st episode, at the top of this column was drawn by the strip's original artist, Walter Pannett).

Humphrey Lestocq (Humphrey Lestocq Gilbert) was a London-born actor and former R.A.F. fighter pilot who came to prominence as the character Flying Officer Kite in the radio comedy series 'Merry-Go-Round'. The show had been first broadcast by the BBC, rotating each week to cover the three major services (army, navy, air force); it gave birth to a number of famous radio shows, not least 'Much Binding in the Marsh' with Kenneth Horne and 'Stand Easy' with Charlie Chester. Lestocq made the switch to television where he became well known in the 1950s as a children's entertainer, playing the stooge to a puppet called Mr. Turnip on Whirligig, and as the quiz show chairman of Quick on the Draw. His fortunes diminished in the late 1950s when he was bankrupted. He died in January 1984 after collapsing at King's Cross station, aged 65.

Before leaving Swift, here's your chance to be a Quester: while you're out and about over the next few days, make a note of how many of the following things you see...

(* Swift © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.; 'Tarna Jungle Boy' © IPC Media.)

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