Meet the Huggetts


OFTEN films have been made as a spin-off from radio or TV series, but this week’s choice was the other way round: a radio programme that was a spin-off from a series of films.

As a taster, here is the theme tune from Meet the Huggetts:

The Huggett family first appeared in the 1947 film Holiday Camp, documenting a working-class family’s first visit to one of the then-novel resorts. There was factory worker Joe Huggett, played by Jack Warner, his charlady wife Ethel, played by Kathleen Harrison, and a host of stars and stars-to-be including Flora Robson, Alfie Bass, Charlie Chester, Jim Hanley and a young Diana Dors.

Jack Warner was already a big name. He was born Horace Waters in east London in 1895, and was the brother of Elsie and Doris Waters, who became popular performers usually calling themselves Gert and Daisy. They featured in a wartime programme called The Kitchen Front, which I wrote about here. Warner served in the First World War and subsequently made his name in music hall and radio comedy. For a while he was half of a piano act with Jeff Darnell.

He also recorded a lot of monologues, such as this one:

I think they are dire.

His film career took off during the Second World War, which broke out when he was 46. His first film was The Dummy Talks (1943) about the murder of a ventriloquist.

He also appeared in the BBC radio shows Garrison Theatre and Workers’ Playtime.

Kathleen Harrison (1892-1995) made her film debut in 1915 and subsequently appeared in 50 more, often several in a year. Here she is in Night Must Fall (1937).

In Bank Holiday (1938):

and A Girl Must Live (1939).

The critics were enormously sniffy about Holiday Camp but the audiences loved it, and it was the sixth most popular film of 1947.

Three more Huggett films followed. First was Here Come the Huggetts in 1948.

Warner and Harrison reprised their roles, and their three daughters were played by Petula Clark, Jane Hylton and Susan Shaw.
All three films included singing spots for Petula Clark and this is from Here Come the Huggetts, when she was 15.

Scriptwriters included Peter Rogers, who went on to produce the Carry On series of films, and Mabel Constanduros, who played Mrs Buggins on the radio programme The Buggins Family, which ran from 1928 to 1948.

Here is a scene with Warner, Clark and 17-year-old Diana Dors as Warner’s niece. Is it me, or is this dialogue a bit dubious?

Next was Vote for Huggett in 1949, in which Joe decides to be a local council candidate.

Petula Clark sings In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree in the film:

The team must have worked hard because the third film, The Huggetts Abroad, also came out in 1949. This concerned the family travelling overland to South Africa after Joe loses his job. Here is Petula Clark, now 17, with another song.

This one, A House in the Sky, became her first single released in June 1949.

That’s 70 years ago this month, and she is still going strong at 86, with plans to return to the West End stage this year as the Bird Woman in a new production of Mary Poppins.
And here is a scene with Anthony Newley, then aged 18.

The Huggetts Abroad was less successful than the previous oeuvres and a planned fourth film, Christmas with the Huggetts, was not made.
After a gap of four years the Huggetts were back, this time on the BBC radio Light Programme, with Meet the Huggetts, which ran for nine series totalling 168 episodes between 1953 and 1961. Kathleen Harrison and Jack Warner survived from the film series, but the family was reduced to a son and one daughter, Jane, who was played successively by six actresses, viz. Joan Dowling, Vera Day, Valerie Jene, Marian Collins, Cynthia Bizeray and Alona Royce. Some episodes featured Kenneth Connor. It was written by Eddie Maguire, who went on to script Ray’s a Laugh and Here’s Harry for Harry Worth.
The theme tune was Horse Feathers by Philip Green (1911-1982), who wrote more than 150 film scores.
Only six programmes remain out of the 168 which were made. They can be heard here.
Like the films, the radio show was disliked by the highbrow critics, but it was an immediate hit with the listeners who appreciated the aim of portraying an ordinary, respectable working-class family.
Throughout most of the radio run, Jack Warner had a parallel career on television.
After the Huggetts films came to an end, he had appeared in the 1950 film The Blue Lamp, playing a police constable called George Dixon.

The character in the film was shot dead but resurrected in 1955 as the title character of Dixon of Dock Green. I will write about the series at a later date. It ran until 1976, by which time Warner was 80. He died in 1981, aged 85.

Kathleen Harrison starred as a Cockney charlady who inherits a fortune in the ITV comedy Mrs Thursday in 1966 and 1967, and continued to take roles in films until 1979. Having always knocked six years off her age, she came clean in 1992 when she received a telegram from the Queen on her 100th birthday. She died in 1995 aged 103. Or 97, as she would have put it.

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