If Christmas and the new year is a time to get away from work, pull up the drawbridge, relax, reminisce and remember times gone by, then here’s something to fill the bill, though it will help if you’re over 50.
If you don’t quite make that grade, relax anyway, and read and enjoy a tale with a deliciously idiosyncratic link to the Western Group area. Its nothing to do with motor cars, but you could certainly describe the story as strange… and its definitely true…
We return to an age before pretty much digital anything, when computers were still in their infancy and occupied whole rooms, phones were black and Bakelite and not even remotely mobile and the operator manually connected long distance calls to numbers such as “Skipwith 18.”
It was a time when not many had a TV – invariably big, bulky and black and white, but everyone had a radio. Yet the BBC Light Programme hardly acknowledged the existence of popular music, so getting to hear your favourite tunes and the “hit parade” was quite difficult. There was just one option: a radio station with a long and interesting history but a fraught and fading signal, based in some far away country… called Luxembourg
Radio Luxembourg was liberated from the wartime Nazi propaganda machine – where it had broadcast the voice of William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw Haw, in November 1945, and began an English service in 1946.
Two years later it was licensed to use a powerful medium wave transmitter on 208 metres, and soon its strapline of “the great 208” and unabashed popular music programme philosophy captivated the ears and minds of young people across Europe, and especially in Britain.
For twenty years until the 1970s, the 7pm to 3am nightime-only English service was essential listening and part of the soundtrack of life for young, impressionable minds. This was where you could hear the latest songs and regular music charts, which simply couldn’t be found anywhere else on the radio dial.
But in reality everything wasn’t quite what it seemed, as Luxembourg was funded by spot advertising and – especially – sponsored programmes, mostly by big-name record companies. This meant rather a lot of some artists and bands got played, and nothing much from others… Then pirate radio came along, followed by Radio 1, which in the late 1960s poached most of the station’s long list of disc jockeys from what had by then become “Fab 208.” Many of them went on to become household names in Britain.
There is, though, one non-disc jockey name eternally associated with Radio Luxembourg, captured forever back then and still irrevocably remembered today by a whole generation of 1950s and 1960s music lovers. That name was Horace Bachelor, inventor of the so called “infra-draw” treble chance football pools winning system, which fell foul of rules preventing its advertisement on British TV… but it was allowed on Radio Luxembourg.
There must have been many like this correspondent far more interested in the music than who paid Radio Luxembourg’s bills, or what service they offered. Yet such is the power of repetitive radio advertising there can’t be many post war baby boomers around today that don’t know of Horace Batchelor, or his home town and how to spell it, because his sponsor announcements, voiced by the great man himself, repeatedly told them.
Eventually it become subliminally engrained into the teenage psyche of the 60’s generation, and is still readily recalled by many 50 years later. It was Keynhsam, spelt K-e-y-n-s-h-a-m – in the heart of the future Western Group area between Bath and Bristol.
Horace Batchelor was born in 1898 at Bedminster, just south of Bristol, but seems to have lived most of his life in obscurity – though its known he was something of an artist, with a particular skill in water colours.
By the time his infra-draw system came to prominence on the Luxembourg airwaves he was already in his mid-50’s, and living at Longreach House, alongside the Bath Road in Keynsham. He must have already accumulated a certain wealth by then, as the property was quite substantial, and in the 1920s and 30s had been the residence of Miss Gwendolyn Wills, a member of the famous Wills tobacco company.
Later in life, as Luxembourg’s influence faded, its said Horace Batchelor’s son began running the infra-draw system – though both then quickly disappeared from view. Horace himself, having emerged from obscurity and exploited the power of radio to almost accidentally become an internationally known name with one of the most famous addresses in Europe, seems to have returned to obscurity in his final years, lived out largely as a recluse. He continued living at Longreach House until his death, at the age of 78, in early January 1977.
Horace was immortalised by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band when they named an album “Keynsham” after him. Some of his scripted words are mimicked on opening track “You done my brain in.”
He’s also listed as a fictitious band member on the track “The Intro and the Outro,” on their first album “Gorilla.”
For much of the 1960s, there was talk in playgrounds, milk bars and beyond – without, so far as this writer can recall, the slightest shred of evidence – of just how rich Horace Batchelor must be, having orchestrated so many pools wins.
Yet his system never seemed to trouble the Pools companies or the headline writers, and the reason why became clear when The Times newspaper published his will.
He left just under £150,000, a tidy but not enormous sum in 1977, when £1m pools wins were not uncommon. Longreach House probably raised much more on its sale for conversion into a nursing home, and later a hotel, before ultimately being demolished to make way for a block of flats.
A Horace Batchelor advertisement can be found here (MP3 file)
A compilation of Radio Luxembourg’s history and miscellanea is here:
The Radio Luxembourg story (and lots more about the station) can be found here:
The Wikipedia entry for Horace Batchelor is here:
Dave Moss has a lifetime connection with the world of motoring. His father was a time-served skilled engineer from an age when car repairs really meant repairs: he ran his own garage from the 1930’s to the 60’s, while Mum was the boss’s secretary at a big Austin distributor. Both worked their entire lives in the motor trade, so if motor oil’s not in Dave’s blood, its surely a very close thing.
Though qualified in Electronics, for Dave it seemed a natural step into restoring a succession of classic cars, culminating in a variety of Minis. Writing and broadcasting about these, and a widening range of motoring matters ancient and modern, gathered pace in the 1970’s and has taken over since. Topics nowadays range across the modern motoring mainstream to the offbeat and more arcane aspects of motoring history, and outlets embrace books, websites national and international magazines, newspapers, radio programmes, phone-ins and guest appearances. Spare time: hard graft on the garage floor attending to vehicles old and new. Latest projects: that 1968 Mini Cooper S has finally moved again after 30 years, and when the paint is finished, the 1960 Morris Mini 850 will also soon be ready for the road again…