Radio Production

Strauss House Productions comprises a team of associates from a range of multi media fields. Working independently of each other, as well as together, their combined talents form a highly efficient and creative team which is able to draw from a range of experiences.

We produce special features, documentaries and series for regional and network radio.

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Barry’s Forgotten Musical Masterpieces (series 4)

In this fourth series of the critically acclaimed ‘Forgotten Musical Masterpieces’, Barry Humphries once again paints vibrant audio pictures of key events from the early 20th century. Each series of Barry’s Forgotten Musical Masterpieces has received strong reviews from the likes of the Observer, Times, Mail, Radio Times, Telegraph, Sunday Times, New Statesman, Guardian).  There have also been many letters of praise from listeners to the Radio Times and the show has also been singled out by presenters of ‘Pick of the Week’ on BBC Radio 4.

Barry’s Forgotten Musical Masterpieces was named a major Cultural Highlight of the Year by The Telegraph in 2016.

Barry Humphries Musical Masterpieces, series 4.

Series Overview:

Barry Humphries returns to BBC Radio 2 to present another culturally thrilling series of musical snapshots from the past. Barry’s playlists of vintage music from the first half of the 20th Century, offer musical therapy for lost souls living in the in 21st.

‘Barry’s Forgotten Musical Masterpieces’ is produced by Clair Wordsworth for Strauss House Productions.

Barry’s Forgotten Musical Masterpieces has proved itself to be is a Jewel in Radio 2’s Crown. As the presenter himself says, “this show alone is well worth your license fee! … Of all the things I do, this is my favourite. I love listening to music from the first half of the 20th century and sharing my favourites with Radio 2 listeners is an added bonus.”

The four programmes in this new series contain important, sometimes hilarious and often thought-provoking, musical lessons from the past.  Through his unique commentary, Barry Humphries reveals that the lyrics of very old songs are just as relevant today.  This is not a series of stuffy, irrelevant old tunes, but instead a vibrant celebration of popular music from times which were just as challenging as our own.

Programme 1 – 02/02/2020 at 21:03 – BBC Radio 2

Barry Humphries sets his turntable time machine to a rate of 78 r.p.m. to take listeners back to the era of the Bright Young Things – the flamboyant, rebellious, decadent, irresponsible, progressive and totally promiscuous, 1920s!  “They didn’t call them roaring for nothing!” he says.

The 1920s, also known as The Jazz Age because of the success of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, Tales of the Jazz Age, published in 1922.  It was also the era of the Bright Young Things, whose flamboyant behaviour inspired the cult of celebrity in Britain, as news of the group’s exploits made front-page headlines almost daily!

For instance, Zita Jungman & her sister Theresa, just for a laugh, famously tried to spend the night in Madam Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors.  They removed the wax models of the Princes in the Tower and made themselves a bed.  They were eventually discovered by security staff during the night.

The Bright Young Things included the likes of Olivia Plunket Greene and her brothers, Elizabeth Ponsonby (the original It Girl who drank herself to death before she was 40), Stephen Tennant (was labelled as the brightest star of the Bright Young Things), Brenda Dean Paul (known as the society drug addict), Bryan Guinness (heir to the Guinness brewing fortune and whose first wife, Diana Mitford, left him for Oswald Moseley), Evelyn Waugh (novelist whose literary works were inspired by the Bohemian group’s exploits), Cecil Beaton, Elsa Lanchester & Beverly Nichols, among others…

Of course, the 1920s brought many new things and attitudes, including the first birth control clinic in London, which opened in March 1921.  This had followed the publication, in 1918, of a book on the subject entitled, Married Love, written by MARIE STOPES.  It became a best seller and in its sixth printing within a fortnight. You should say that it was the 50 Shades of Grey of its day!

Prog. 1  Selected Music Playlist:

Futuristic Rhythm by Irving Mills & His Band
One Little One More by Tom Clare, recorded in 1924 – “a wonderful song about addiction” says Barry.
Another Day Wasted Away sung by Annette Hanshaw, recorded in 1927
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sung by Joyce Barbour, recorded in 1926 and inspired by the publication of Anita Loose’s literary smash-hit of the same name.
The Younger Generation – sung Al Bowlly (written by Noel Coward)
They Sang God Save the King – Florrie Forde
The Charleston – Savoy Hotel Orpheans
Take Me to the Land of Jazz – Billy Murray
Harlem Twist – Duke Ellington
I Wanna Go Places and Do Things – Jack Hylton
My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes – Elsie Carlise
World Weary – Noel Coward
The Party’s Over Now – Noel Coward
Don’t Tell My Mother I’m Living in Sin sung by Elsa Lanchester

Barry says:

“One of my favourite Bright Young Things is Elsa Lanchester.  She set up, The Cave of Harmony nightclub, in London, frequented by Evelyn Waugh, in which plays and cabaret turns were performed.  Elsa Lanchester recorded a fabulous song, which for me, sums up the mood of the era better than any other record.  The title?  ‘Don’t Tell My Mother I’m Living in Sin’”.

And that song – Don’t Tell My Mother I’m Living in Sin – had a kind of autobiographical quality for Elsa, as before Elsa was born, her mother was forced into an asylum by her own father and brothers, so upset were they at the prospect of their daughter and sister living in sin.  The case made front page news at the end of the 1800s.  Eventually, after a court case and support from a local M.P., Elsa’s mother was declared sane and returned home to continue living in sin with her beloved, she never got married and gave birth to two children, one of whom was Elsa.

Programme 2 – 09/02/2020 at 2103 – BBC Radio 2

In this programme, Barry celebrates early pre-code cinema.  By pre-code he means the era before the introduction of the Motion Picture Production Code, which subsequently became, The Hays Code, after the man charged with writing it, William Harrison Hays.  It was a successful attempt by the American Film Industry, after a period of Hollywood scandals, to bring in a policy of self-regulation and thereby, hopefully, prevent wholesale Government Censorship.

Among the films mentioned is the 1917 film, Cleopatra.  It is one of the best examples of a pre-code film, but sadly it has now been completely lost.

Barry says:

“Just like the 1963 film of the same name, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the Cleopatra of 1917, was one of the most elaborate and expensive films Hollywood had ever produced, up to that time.  With lavish sets and costumes, the film was a huge box office draw.  Yet, after the Hays Code was implemented, Cleopatra, was judged too obscene to be shown at all and, the last known prints of it were destroyed in a fire at Fox Studios, in 1937.  Tragically, only a few tantalizing segments now survive.”

In this particular programme, Barry also recognises the achievements of Australian actors (including Annette Kellerman) during the early days of cinema.

Prog. 2 Selected Music Playlist:

I’m Going to Get Lit Up (When the Lights Go on in London) – Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans.  The song was used during the Second World War to alert the French resistance that the Allied Invasion was imminent.
Du Bist Mein Greta Garbo – by Dajos Bella and band.  The title means You Are My Greta Garbo.  The band of Hungarian born violinist Dajos Bella was one of the most popular in Berlin during the 20s and early 30s.  It broke up suddenly at the end of 1933, when he emigrated to South America to escape the Nazis.  He lived the rest of his life in Buenos Aires and died, in 1978.
Cleopatra Had a Jazz Band – Sam Ash
Laugh Clown Laugh – Fred Warring
The World is Waiting for Sunshine – Isham Jones
California Here I Come – Al Jolson
Dapper Dan – Jack Buchanan and the Trix Sisters
How’d You Like to Spoon with Me – Angela Lansbury

Programme 3 – 16/02/2020 at 21:03 – BBC Radio 2

On the eve before his 86th birthday (his birthday is 17th February), Barry Humphries celebrates the music and artists from the year of his birth, 1934.

Barry says:

“I’m delighted to say that I’ve received notification that the country of my birth has decreed, that all references to the years prior to 1934 are to receive the suffix B.B. – meaning Before Barry.”

1934 was also the year that:

Flash Gordon and Donald Duck first appeared.
In a referendum, Germans voted for Hitler to become the Fuhrer – a new, unique Government position, which combined both the roles of Reich Chancellor and Head of State, giving him control over German’s affairs.  Barry says, “it’s perhaps worth noting that, as history shows, referendums can be troublesome things.”
SAMUEL GOLDWYN purchased the film rights to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for Forty Thousand Dollars from the estate of L. Frank Baum.
Percy Shaw patented the cat’s eye road safety device.
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was first published.
The Flying Scotsman became the first steam locomotive to be officially recorded at 100 miles per hour.
P.L. Travers’ first children’s story Mary Poppins, James Hilton’s Goodbye Mr Chips and P.G. Wodehouse’s first full-length Jeeves story, were also published.

Prog. 3  Selected Music Playlist includes:

An earful of Music – Rudy Vallee
Easy Come Easy Go – Al Bowlly
What a Difference a Day Made – Denny Dennis
Ain’t It Gorgeous – The Western Brothers
With my Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming – Greta Keller
I’m on a See-Saw – John Mills & Louise Brown, accompanied by the Saville Theatre Orchestra.  That track was recorded in London, on 19th December 1934, before John Mills was given a Knighthood in recognition of his serious dramatic roles in countless movies from the 1940s onwards.
I Only Have Eyes for You – Ben Selvin, from the musical Dames.
The Girl with the Ironing Board – Joan Blondell, from the musical Dames.
With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock – George Formby…

Programme 4 – 23/02/2020 at 2103 – BBC Radio 2

In this programme, Barry Humphries celebrates the early recording stars – those who were among the first to exploit the wonders of the new technologies of both amplifying and recording sound.

Prog. 4  Selected Music Playlist includes:

Swanee – Al Jolson – Jolson made his name in the era before singers in theatres were amplified, hence his booming vocals on disc.
Learn to Croon – Bing Crosby
The Music Goes Around – BBC Dance Orchestra
Clap Yo’ Hands – Whispering Jack Smith
Blame it on My Youth – Bob Crosby (brother of Bing)
I’m Wax Within Your Hands – Lucie Manheim
The Cats Duet – Hinge and Bracket
10 Cents a Dance – Hutch (Leslie Hutchinson) – this song was written to be sung by a woman.  Hutch’s version puts an entirely different spin on the song’s meaning and was very decadent for the era in which it was recorded.  He was known to take female and male lovers…

Truly beautiful radio. Praise be.  Barry Humphries is back with a new run of his music series - witty, nifty compilations of old songs on 78 rpm records that, decades later, still retain resonance.

Gillian Reynolds writing in Sunday Times, March 2019

The best Radio 2 series in this or any month for as long as I can remember.

Antonia Quirke, New Statesman.

Do such programmes fit the BBC's relentless attempts to bring in younger listeners? Definitely, I'd say.

Gillian Reynolds

Barry’s Forgotten Musical Masterpieces (2019)

BBC Radio 2 in February & March 2019 with a new four-part series.
TX: 10th, 17th, 24th February & 3rd March at 10pm.

Produced for Strauss House Productions by Clair Wordsworth. Themes include Britain’s relationship with Europe, Dance history and Australia’s cultural musical heritage.

Barry says:

“Through these programmes, I’m seeking to give new life to old songs – vintage tracks, which, in my opinion have been undeservedly cast aside, overlooked and forgotten. Many of the songs in these programmes, offer fascinating snapshots of social history and contain advice, which, should any of us choose to listen, is still of great value today. The first half of the 20th century saw great change and challenges, which were reflected upon by many songwriters.”

This vintage music series presented by Barry Humphries refreshes parts other presenters cannot, or dare not, even reach for!

Programme 1: Sunday 17TH March 2019 at 9pm

In this particular programme, Barry offers musical therapy to distressed 21st Century souls on both sides of the Brexit debate. With his Turntable Time Machine spinning at 78 r.p.m., Barry transports listeners back to the sound of the early 20th Century with an exciting assortment of wonderfully quirky British and Continental songs.

Tracks in this programme include: The Eyes of the World Are On You – Louis Levy & His Gaumont British Symphony, Breakaway – Jack Hylton, Rule Britannia A Travestry – Norman Long, Buy British – Clarkson Rose, The Continong & We’re Riding the Tunnel to Gay Paris – North & South (aka Tommy Handley & Ronald Frankau), The Channel Swimmer – Horace Kenney, The Continental – Nat Gonnella, The Cockney Amorist – Sir John Betjeman with music by Jim Parker… 

Plus, Barry uncovers the dark fictional plot of the Gershwins’ 1927 musical ‘Strike Up the Band’ which had America going to war with Switzerland over a trivial trade dispute.

Programme 2: Sunday 24th March 2019 at 9pm

Barry Humphries plays Dance Classics from the first half of the 20th Century.

Barry Humphries urges listeners to dust off their dancing shoes in anticipation of the finest Dance Classics from the likes of Fred Astaire, Victor Silvester, the Nicholas Brothers, Florrie Fored & Jack Hylton et al.

In the 2nd programme in this 4-part series, Barry Humphries urges listeners to roll up the carpet and dust of their dancing shoes in anticipation of hearing the finest selection of Dance Classics from the first half of the 20th Century.

Barry takes a brief look at the history of Ballroom dancing and uncovers the origins of dances like the Grizzly Bear, the Turkey Trot and the Kangaroo Hop. Barry also recalls his own traumatic tales of childhood dancing lessons in a church hall in Melbourne given by Mr & Mrs Meyer during the 1940s…

Programme 3: Sunday 31st March 2019 at 9pm

Barry Humphries presents a his favourite Australian early 20th Century Sounds.

In this penultimate programme in this vintage music series, Barry goes Down Under for inspiration and uncovers an intriguing selection of forgotten Australian musical masterpieces.

With is turntable time machine spinning at a rate of 78 r.p.m., Barry Humphries once again refreshes parts other programmes cannot, or dare not, reach!

Song topics range from penal folk ballads (‘Moreton Bay’, ‘Jim Jones of Botany Bay’ & ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’) to those celebrating the country’s top attractions and landmarks (including the Sydney Harbour Bridge), legendary cricketers (Donald Bradman known as The Don) and ground-breaking explorers and aviators (including Kingsford-Smith).

Barry says:

“I’ve only really fallen in love with Australia later in life. When I was young, it seemed, anything of any great worth lay overseas. I blame my parents, who often said things like, ‘you’ll like the new school, Barry, there’s quite a lot of teachers there who have been overseas…’ Back then, Australia seemed a very boring place. I was constantly hankering after something else. I didn’t know what, but I thought that it might be in this mysterious place which people called ‘overseas’”.

Featured tracks include:
‘The Bridge We’ve Been Waiting For’ – written to commemorate the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, ‘Our Don Bradman’ – written about Australia’s most famous Cricketer and ‘Let’s Take A Trip to Melbourne’…

Programme 4: Sunday 7th April 2019 at 9pm

In the last programme in the series, Barry recalls his favourite childhood listening.

Barry recalls the soundtrack to his childhood, including Fraser Simpson’s music for ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. Barry says, “to this day, that music has a near-hypnotic effect on me”.

In this final programme in the series, Barry Humphries recalls the soundtrack to his early life growing up in Melbourne, Australia during the 1930s & ’40s. Barry’s preferred childhood listening was Fraser Simpson’s music for ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. Barry says: “to this day, that music has a near-hypnotic effect on me. It is utterly charming. We didn’t have a river-bank in Healsville, just outside of Melbourne, but we did have a creek and, in my mind, I somehow transplanted the setting of The Wind in the Willows to where I lived in Australia. The Wild Wood, where the stoats and the weasels lived, brought to my mind, the terrifying Australian Bush.”

In the 1930s and ’40s, inhabitants of Barry’s home city of Melbourne were convinced they were living in a rather remote part of the English home counties. This was reflected in many ways, not least, in the music they listened to on the wireless or gramophone.

Other musical delights on offer in this programme include:
‘Just Like in a Story Book’ – Layton and Johnstone, ‘Other People’s Babies’ – Nora Howard, ‘The Deepest Shelter in Town’ – Florence Desmond…

Barry’s Wireless Christmas (2018)

TX: 23rd December from 9-11pm on BBC Radio 2.

Barry's Wireless Christmas announcement.

In this special 2-hour radio programme, Barry Humphries channels the Ghost of Christmas Past to transport listeners back to the age of the wireless.

Featured artists include:

Judy Garland, Vera Lynn, Arthur Tracy, Tessie O’Shea, Harry Helmsley, George Formby, Max Miller, Fred Astaire, Leroy Anderson, Julie London, Peggy Lee, Jimmy Durante, The Andrews Sisters, Bobby Comber, Billy Williams, Spike Milligan, Dame Edna Everage…

Plus, there is a rare appearance from Santa Claus himself!

In addition:

  • Barry plays the original, rarely-heard opening verse of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’;
  • Tells how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was actually born in Chicago;
  • Barry reveals why he came to be sacked from his Christmas job in a top Melbourne department store – perhaps an early indication that his talents lay elsewhere;
  • How he never receives a Christmas card from Dame Edna, who he suspects in holidaying on the Island of Mustique;
  • And how Spike Milligan and Barry Humphries went on nocturnal tours around London in the 1960s.

Barry says:

“I’m looking forward to once again spinning my Turntable Time Machine to transport Radio 2 listeners back to the first half of the twentieth century with a selection of my favourite festive vintage recordings. As well as reliving childhood memories, I shall be paying tribute to the earliest recording starts and celebrating the birth of radio. It was a time before Video Games, Microwaves, Skinny Lattes, Digital Watches and even Darth Vader.”

“For two-hours, I shall be doing my level best to spread joy and festive cheer, through the magic of the wireless – my very favourite twentieth century invention!”

“Listening to music from the first half of the twentieth century is what I most love to do and, sharing my favourites with the Radio 2 audience, especially at this time of year, is an added bonus.”

“I think it’s difficult today for most of us to imagine that there was a time when listening to music at home on some sort of mechanical contraption, or on the wireless, was cutting edge technology.”

“I think I must have started early on the radio, well before the age of ten. Our radio was made of substance called bakelite. It was brown and it was rather chunky in a sort of art deco style. It was a very thirties-looking-thing, perched on top of a corner table in our sitting room at home in Melbourne and when it got heated up, with the valves inside the radio, it gave off a rather interesting smell. We huddled around it all the same to listen to favourite our radio programmes, serials, children’s programmes, even sporting events, although they were of very little interest to me.”

“The wireless is my favourite thing, really. I prefer it to television, even to the theatre, because it was where I first head men, whose job it was, to make people laugh.”

“I first heard comedians on the wireless. Especially at the end of the Second World War, there were programmes intended to cheer us all up, so, there were whole programmes of British comedians. They were called comedians too and not stand ups. I rather resist the title stand up. Although I am a comedian of sorts, I think of myself as a sit-down comedian, even when I’m standing up.”