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Third Division debuts

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

The issue of the Radio Times published on this day in 1949 carried a preview of a new series of shows on the BBC's Third Programme.


No Whimsy-Whamsy in the Third

The vexed question of whether to be funny in the Third Programme or not - and if so, how - may be answered on Wednesday, with a new departure in broadcasting under the title Third Division. The idea is a development of the provocative Listen, My Children broadcast last year.

There were only two reactions to Listen, My Children - violently for or violently against. The same producer (Pat Dixon) will be responsible for Third Division, and the programmes are being constructed on broadly the same lines, although there are some definite changes. The new series will be more satirical and there will be a greater element of burlesque.

Broadcasting entertainment of this kind in the Third tends to expose the material to criticism which would not be levelled at it if it appeared either in the Home or Light Programme. But, as Pat Dixon says, 'there is really no dividing line in humour. One cannot say: Because this appeals to A it will not appeal to B. The difficulty is to find just what is right for the particular audience we have in mind, especially with the music. We shall try above all to avoid the whimsay-whamsy, and the whole thing will be made as radiogenic as possible.'

Listing for the first episode, 26 January 1949

Subtitled "Some Vulgar Fractions", Third Division was a variety-style show with sketches, music, and stand-up. Penned by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, who went on to have a major radio hit with Take It From Here, the cast also featured a trio of Goons: Bentine, Secombe and Sellers. Pat Dixon - a driving force behind the comedy revolution of the late 1940s and early 1950s - was the producer.

Also listed among the cast was Carole Carr, co-star of Down Among the Z Men and one-time Goon Maid Marion. Margaret Lindsay is there too, a comedy actress who was slated to appear in the first episode of the Goon Show, but for whatever reason did not, and there her association with the cast and the show seems to have ended.

Patricia Hayes was an actress with a varied career, including a small role in the 1988 comedy classic A Fish Called Wanda, and also appeared in The Battle of the Sexes, a 1959 film starring one Peter Sellers. She also featured in The World of Beachcomber, a 1968 series co-created by Spike Milligan.

Benny Hill features, at the start of a long and very successful comedy career, along with Robert Moreton, who went on to appear in Spike Milligan and Larry Stephens' Bumblethorpe series.

Here's what Roger Wilmut had to say about the series in his Goonography:

Third Division was referred to (though not by name) in the Radio Times publicity at the beginning of the fifth series of the Goon Show as a 'super-intellectual advanced comedy show' giving the first outlet to Goonism. This is not quite an accurate description of the show's style, which was more restrained than the Goon Show. Unfortunately no recordings have survived.

Six episodes were broadcast in total, running from 26 January to 2 March 1949.

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