Two-Way Family Favourites was a radio programme designed to link families at home in Blighty with people serving in the armed forces abroad. Of which there were quite a few (several thousand) throughout the Cold War, in West Berlin, in West Germany, and in places all along the border with the Iron Curtain.
Both the people at home and those abroad could write in (they’d have had to write in, same as they’d have to write to their loved ones via the BFPO: the British Forces Post Office; you couldn’t just telephone from your telephone table). They would ask for a particular song to be played, along with a dedication or message to go with it. “Harry in Singapore is thinking of his mum today, on her birthday.” “Rosie in Leeds sends all her love to Frank, in Hamburg, as today’s their wedding anniversary.” That sort of thing.
Originally a half-hour Tuesday evening show broadcast on the Light Programme, Favourites grew up in 1960. It turned into a longer 90-minute Sunday show, and this is the version I remember. “The time in Britain is twelve noon, in Germany, it’s one o’clock, but home and away it’s time for Two-Way Family Favourites.”
It was as ingrained in our family Sundays as church and the roast my mother inevitably made. This was despite that fact that not a single member of the family was in the armed forces so it was highly unlikely we would receive a message that Joe in Canada was thinking of us fondly.
It was popular in our family because it combined two things: the precarious and the predictable.
The precarious was introduced by technology. The show had one presenter based in London and another in an overseas station participating via telephone. Communication with Canada, West Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong or even Australia seemed positively magical in the 1960s. If the link failed, there’d be a kerfuffle and a switch to something pre-recorded.
The predictable lay in the records they played. I think we heard Brian Hyland sing about an Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini every Sunday for a month. You could count on not having to struggle through too many Sabbaths before you heard the stirring tale of The Runaway Train or even The Last Train to San Fernando. Given their frequency, I could probably still recite to you today what those mice got up in their windmill in old Amsterdam. (A windmill with mice in? That’s hardly surprisin’.) And I can tell you what did Delaware. (A brand New Jersey, that’s what she did wear.)
Two-Way Family Favourites is the reason why several generations of British children (the programme ran from 1945 to 1980) will never be able to hear Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree without thinking of Sunday-dinner roast potatoes, or listen to Doris Day remind us that Que Sera, Sera without actually, physically smelling boiled cabbage.
It can work the other way round, too. You can be staring at a bit of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and suddenly be transported to all these magical faraway places, where people told each other they loved each other, and missed them, and that they would be home soon.
Then I eat my Yorkshire pudding With A Song in My Heart.