Storytelling in my yoof took many forms. For those of us of ‘a certain age’, music lessons at school in the 1960s involved the handing out of a set booklet, and the teacher would turn on the radio so we could all listen in with the BBC Radio Workshop for schools. Yes, we did singing practice once or twice a week as well and occasionally someone would get to bash a xylophone or rattle a tambourine, but it was the weekly radio workshops I loved. I remember how much I loved it. It was more than just a singing lesson, it was story-time! The nice man with the BBC correct accent would read along, and tell us a bit about music (I think) and we used to sing our heads off. This must have been about 1968 to 1970, I would have been about 8 or 9 then.
There was a new booklet/story/songbook every school term or half term, not sure which. There were three books in particular I remember – we had Aladdin, based on the fairy story – I can’t remember much about that, only a few fleeting memories of artwork involving large urns and a lamp. And there was another one called The Violin-Maker – I quite liked that one too. But my favourite was The Bluebird Line. It was fun and bright and full of great songs about a run-down railway line abandoned for the modern amenities of the Motor Car. The main characters were a young chap called Charlie and his father who was the station-master, ‘and lived in the country because he’d rather.’ I remember there was a creature called the Railway Boggart who contributed to this decline by making a nuisance of himself:
Diddle ee dum, diddle ee dah
The Boggart is under the restaurant car
He shakes it about, he’s an impudent chap
And makes all the people spill soup in their laps
It was a beautifully illustrated story with songs for the children to join in and told the tale of people who fell in love with that new-fangled thing, the car, (“Ah, cars. They don’t go diddle-ee-dum; everyone knows they go brrm brrm brrm!”) and abandoned the railways. But the love-affair with roads all went wrong when they had to sit in traffic lines and there was a outcry, ‘oh give us back our railway line’. I’m sure we could make a case for a political statement back then that we kids were oblivious to.
I still have the book for the Bluebird Line, it was in a box in the loft, but I think the Violin-Maker got thrown out years ago. I can remember a soppy romantic song about the Violin-Maker’s daughter who fell in love with a chap who played a guitar. There was a heated discussion between smitten maid and her irate father (the eponymous hero) in song form, of course, about the relative merits of traditional and modern music. There was a bit about the young lady preferring the sound of ‘a nice guitar’ which her father dismissed ‘it just makes a horrid din!’ Not quite as up-to-the-minute as it could have been.
Wonderful memories – and the snatches of a story that I still half-remember even after 45 years or more. And I know I’m not the only one. And guess what – they are still running for the age 9-11 group. At the moment they’re doing The Tempest. I bet it’s brilliant.