The Joy of Cranleigh: The 1970s and ‘Down Your Way’

by Joy Horn // Main Photo: BBC sound engineer Peter Mirams, David Gamble (parish clerk), Tony Young (chairman of the parish council), Sarah Pitt (a producer of ‘Woman’s Hour’) and Brian Johnston

‘Down Your Way’ was a very long-running BBC radio series broadcast in the years 1946-92. It was on the Home Service, later Radio 4, on Sunday afternoons. The idea behind it was to visit towns around the UK, speak to residents and play their choice of music, thus evoking local and regional distinctiveness. Brian Johnston, otherwise remembered as a cricket commentator, was compère 1972-87. At one point ‘Down Your Way’ was the second most popular radio programme. 

The village hospital in 1981 (Cranleigh Guide)

And in 1978 the programme visited Cranleigh!

A local free magazine of the time celebrated this event with a special insert in its December 1978 issue. Many of the photos given here come from that issue.

The main room of the village hospital, 1980 (courtesy of Robin Williams)

Brian Johnston described the normal routine of programme-making in his autobiography, It’s been a Lot of Fun (1976). ‘The producer goes a day ahead and chooses six “victims” by talking to the town clerk, the Press, or possibly to one of the local taxi drivers or publicans who usually know all about everyone. The engineer and myself arrive a day later and the whole recording takes about six hours – or an hour for each interview which includes 20 minutes or so chatting up selected people in their homes or place of work and sometimes a cup of tea or a drink afterwards.’

Advert, 1972 (Cranleigh Guide)

He described the programme as a ‘non-knocking’ one. ‘When we visit a place we never look under the carpet for any controversy or scandal. We go for the good things and nice people and it is gratifying to find so many of both in our so-called sick society. It may all sound rather square, but it’s good fun.’ Add to this the friendliness of Brian Johnston and his genuine interest in people, and it is not hard to understand that the programme had already run to 737 episodes.

Brian Johnston’s autobiography, published in 1976

In Cranleigh, he was first given a guided tour of the hospital, ‘which he greatly admired’. At this time, although it was administered by the NHS, it still had resident patients in two four-bed wards. He had probably been told that in 1976 £35,000 had been raised by community efforts to ensure the future of the hospital. It was to be enlarged so that ultimately it would have 19 beds, new therapy rooms and a day hospital for 20 people. This sum of money, worth so much more now, is certainly an indication of Cranleigh people’s affection for their hospital.

Author Frank Swinnerton (1884 – 1982)

In the High Street, he was taken to the Book Shop and signed some copies of his book for customers. This was his autobiography, published just two years before this programme was made.

Brian Johnston with actor Oscar Quitak, proprietor of ‘Nuts’

From here, he went to the Common and visited Frank Swinnerton, the notable author of many books, who lived at Old Tokefield. Now 94, Frank was full of stories of his 55 years of living in Cranleigh. One assumes he would have entertained Brian Johnston with cricket incidents which had taken place on the cricket ground just outside his front gate. Frank was a passionate supporter of Cranleigh Cricket Club, and once described the club’s centenary match, when the 1st XI played a star-studded team including the great Len Hutton, as ‘the greatest day the village has ever known’.  Frank was a confident speaker and he ‘broadcast as if it were an everyday event’.

Geoffrey Howard and his ticking clocks

After the BBC team had had lunch with the chairman of the parish council and the parish clerk, they visited the health food shop ‘Nuts’, which had opened at no. 157 High Street in 1975 (now ‘Bella & Ben’). Here Brian Johnston interviewed the actor Oscar Quitak, who was the proprietor together with fellow-actor Andrée Melly.

The final stop was at the Clock House in the High Street where Geoffrey Howard repaired and sold clocks and watches (now the Hair Boutique). The shop had been founded by his father in the early 1930s. Brian Johnston admired a grandfather clock made in Cranleigh, and wondered whether the ticking of so many clocks would affect the quality of the recording.

About 1980 (courtesy of Mike Rackley)

One can imagine the excitement of Cranleigh people when they listened to this programme. A pity it was not on television!

The Cranleigh History Society normally meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8pm in the Band Room. This month there is a visit on May 9th at 2.00pm to Dorking Caves. To book a place, contact Michael Miller on 01483 274599.

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