Ted Kavanagh - Popular Dynamo Of Radio

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Dave Homewood
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Ted Kavanagh - Popular Dynamo Of Radio

Post by Dave Homewood »

I had heard of Ted Kavanagh but I had no idea he was a Kiwi. This comes from the OTAGO DAILY TIMES, 5 APRIL 1950

Popular Dynamo Of Radio

New Zealanders In Britain No. 6:- TED KAVANAGH

Resident Correspondent LONDON, Feb. 28.

In radio, as in films, the scriptwriter seldom receives his full measure of credit. Too often the plaudits all go to the performers and none to the men who have devised and written the programme. Yet, as every radio actor and producer knows, the written word is vital, even in many of the shows which sound the most spontaneous.

One script-writer, however, who is known to millions of listeners in Britain and overseas is Ted Kavanagh, who, with the late Tommy Handley, founded ITMA, the BBC’s most popular programme through almost 10 years of war and peace. ITMA, of course, died with Handley in January, 1949, because Kavanagh decided it should not go on without him, but Kavanagh himself is still very much a live force in radio and in television for both of which he is at present writing humorous programmes.

He is also the manager of a concern called Ted Kavanagh Associated, an association of script-writers for radio, the stage, television, and the films. It is the biggest clearing house in Britain for scripts and many of the leading radio writers work there, including Denis Norden and Frank Muir, authors of today's top programme, " Take It From Here.”

Having read many articles about Ted Kavanagh describing him in such vivid phrases as “ Benign and balloon-faced,” “ square and monumentally three dimensional.” “ the ginger-haired dynamo,” and “ burly and big-domed,” I was prepared to meet a picturesque figure when I entered his West End office this week. I was not disappointed.

He is about 5ft 8in in height, has a large balding head with a thin thatching of sandy hair, a big face, wide shoulders, and an ample figure to match. His eyes are large and steady, his eyebrows ginger and tufted, his complexion florid, his voice deep. He smokes incessantly, even between courses.

Wherever he goes he is a most popular figure and at no place more so than at the Savage Club, famous rendezvous for authors, journalists, and actors. Like most successful men, Ted Kavanagh is a very hard worker. The road to fame and fortune has not been an easy one.

He was born in Auckland 58 years ago, and before coming to Edinburgh in 1914 to study medicine, was educated at the Sacred Heart College. The impact of war, however, soon unsettled him and he joined up with the 1st NZEF. In 1919 he returned to his studies but found he was so restless that he decided to abandon his ideas of becoming a doctor in order to write medical literature for a firm of druggists.

His first radio script, written in 1926 for the “ cat’s whisker ” wireless, earned him only £3 3s, a sum he did not exceed for many years. It was at this time that he decided to give up his job to return to New Zealand, but he was soon back in England writing hard for radio, the stage, films, and advertising firms., These were often bleak days, for he had a wife and family of two boys to support. It was not until ITMA, 1939, that he scored a real hit'.

Its success was largely due to his following the advice he always gives young writers: “Study a comedian and his style—then write a script to suit him." In this case the comedian was Tommy Handley, for whom he had been writing since 1927. In any history of British radio, Ted Kavanagh will certainly have a section to himself because of ITMA and its new technique. Until he started this programme, radio humour consisted almost entirely of music-hall patter and monologues. ITMA, however, with its rapid-fire succession of characters, sayings, jokes and sounds—all an echo of the public pulse—was something quite new.

Speed and topicality, a topicality which only those living in Britain could fully appreciate, were its keynotes. Some have described it as radio surrealism, but Ted Kavanagh thinks that is rather pretentious, and prefers to call it a “ cartoon in sound.”

One measure of its success is provided by the popularity today of two imitative BBC programmes, “ Take it From Here ” and “ Ray’s a Laugh,” both of which have more than 12,000,000 listeners every week in Britain alone.

Although he is sometimes acclaimed as radio’s master jester, Kavanagh, in normal conversation, is no sparkling fount of wisecracks. He is a serious but quick talker, who asks as many questions as he is asked. He is keenly interested in New Zealand and New Zealanders, and many young actors and writers from the Dominion have been helped and encouraged by him.

Is there any secret to being a successful humorous writer who really makes people laugh? First you must have a sense of humour, he says. This is not enough, however, for one man’s humour is another man’s misery—witness the man who tells a joke and then laughs his head off in a room full of otherwise silent people.

Nor is humour a sense of ridicule; the type of laugh that arises when someone skids on an orange peel. In his opinion, humour is a commentary which itself is based on a philosophy of living. A writer must meet people, like people and know people.

“To like people, then to see their good side, to sympathise with them in their inevitable difficulties, is essential to anyone who hopes to spend his life making others laugh,” he affirms. “This is not to say that all humorists are genial, jolly souls, always ready to convulse an audience. I have known and worked with well-known comedians who completely lacked humour in private life, and as for comedy writers, many border constantly on melancholia.”

ian b
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Joined: Sat Dec 08, 2012 9:58 pm

Re: Ted Kavanagh - Popular Dynamo Of Radio

Post by ian b »


Once you get the rhythm of IT’S THAT MAN AGAIN, it becomes much more than an historical curiosity - there’s a lot of good work there.

Kavanagh’s son, will be of interest too…


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Re: Ted Kavanagh - Popular Dynamo Of Radio

Post by Brock »

A confession: I had always assumed that Peter Cavanagh, "The Voice of Them All", who was famous for doing impressions of Tommy Handley and the ITMA cast, was also related to Ted Kavanagh. Not only was his surname spelt differently, it wasn't even the name he was born with (Coates). You live and learn!

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