Nice weather for ducks by the electronic music duo Lemon Jelly was played on BBC Radio 6 this evening. It is an unlikely recording, Twenty-First Century music intermittently overlaid with a familiar baritone voice singing,
All the ducks are swimming in the water
Fal de ral de ral do
Fal de ral de ral do
Although it made the Top 20 in the charts, it is an unlikely recording. An online search revealed that the singer sampled in the song is John Langstaff, an American singer and broadcaster.
Discovering that he was American was unexpected, Langstaff’s voice seemed something familiar from childhood, something which had been a background sound to young days. How would we have known the voice of someone who was an early music revivalist and whose specialism was the recovery of Christmas music and traditions?
Reading further, the reason for recall of John Langstaff became clear. He hosted the BBC Schools’ programme Making Music for five years in the late-1960s. In the junior classroom at High Ham Primary School we would have sat and watched John Langstaff and the school choir from Middlesex with whom he made the music. Perhaps his programmes helped English school children become familiar with lost traditions from their own counties. Fifty years before we watched John Langstaff on television, Cecil Sharp had travelled the villages of our neighbourhood, collecting folk songs. Perhaps among the songs on the programmes were songs inspired by the work of Sharp.
Our school’s television was a large black and white set that rested on a four-legged aluminium frame with wheels at its feet. It would be wheeled backward and forward between the junior and senior rooms according to programme schedules. An opportunity to watch a television programme was always welcome and we would have watched the arrival of the set into our room with a great sense of anticipation.
More than fifty years after their broadcast, some of those programmes still remain in the memory. ITV’s Picture Box was the favourite in our school, perhaps because its collection of material from around the world was altogether different from the insular life of our small village, perhaps because it was meant to inspire creativity so did not demand that we watch and remember the facts that had been shared with us.
Electronic communication of any sort was so novel in the 1960s that the sounds from the television were as much memorable for their novelty as for their content. It is difficult to imagine broadcasts now having a comparable impact.