Radio review: 4 Extra At The Seaside - Pack my banjo, mother, we’re off to the beach


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The Independent Culture

When working-class Londoners boarded the coach to begin their summer holiday they would have a whip-round, and as they pulled away they would throw coins through the windows to the poorer kids left behind.

Then the banjos would come out and a sing-song would start. Mums and dads leaving their cares behind for a fortnight would hold hands and stare into one other’s eyes.

It was detailed memories like this, recounted in 1984’s Sand Between The Toes, that made 4 Extra At The Seaside, a package of programmes from the BBC archives, such a delight. It was nicely held together by Tony Lidington of Pierrotters, Britain’s last seaside troupe. Between programmes he met a variety of experts and enthusiasts, from those dedicated to Brighton’s piers, past and present, to the custodian of a museum dedicated to Max Miller in a posh Brighton chippie.

The programmes ranged from a 1937 live link-up between four seaside shows in Eastbourne, Hastings, Sandown and Llandudno to Mark Burgess’s 2004 play Casting Shadows, which imagined Miller, Terence Rattigan and Laurence Olivier passing an afternoon in the actor’s beach hut. It was an engaging mix, and my only quibble is that it’s late in the season – any time in the last month would surely have been ideal.

There was more revealing social history in The IT Girls, which recalled the fact that many of Britain’s computing pioneers of the 1950s and 1960s were women (fittingly, given that it was Ada Lovelace who wrote the first computer programme, for Babbage’s “analytical engine”). In such a new industry normal rules didn’t apply, and gals were paid (gasp!) the same as the guys. Even so, as one “girl” recalled, “you had to stand with your bottom against the wall”.

As computing entered the mainstream, core values returned, and when Stephanie Shirley found herself training men who were paid more than she was, she formed an all-female company of freelance programmers. Her first letters attracted few replies – until she signed them “Steve” Shirley. I think Ada Lovelace would have approved.