15 June 1917|
Bloomsbury, London, England, UK
2 January 2013 (aged 95)|
Hampstead, London, England, UK
Charles Chilton MBE (15 June 1917 – 2 January 2013) was a BBC radio presenter, a writer and a producer. Born in Bloomsbury in London, England, he never knew his father – who was killed during the First World War – and when he was six his mother died as a result of having a botched abortion, with the result that Chilton was brought up by his grandmother. He was educated at St. Pancras Church of England School.
Chilton left school at the age of 14, and after a brief apprenticeship making electric signs, he joined the BBC as a messenger boy. A year later he became an assistant in their gramophone library. He had a passion for jazz music, and in 1937 formed the BBC Boys' Jazz band.
His first role as a producer was for I Hear America Singing, after which he moved to the BBC variety department. He then presented his own show between 11pm and midnight called Swing Time, and a weekly jazz programme called Radio Rhythm Club. Next came five years' war service with the RAF, after which he was sent to Ceylon to run the forces radio station with broadcaster David Jacobs, later to participate in Chilton's Journey into Space.
Back in the BBC he wrote and produced programmes for, among others, Roy Plomley, Michael Bentine and Stéphane Grappelli. He also met and married his wife, Penny, who was a secretary at the corporation. He was then sent to the United States to research, write and produce a number of series based on American western history. One of these, Riders of the Range, lasted for five years until 1953. During its run, Riders of the Range attracted audiences of around 10 million. Chilton wrote a comic-strip version of the series drawn by Frank Humphris for the Eagle which outlasted the radio version, and wrote another western series, "Flying Cloud", for the Eagle's sister comic Girl. Chilton was also briefly a producer on the comedy series The Goon Show.
However, major international recognition came with his science fiction trilogy Journey into Space which he wrote and produced between 1953 and 1958. His interest in space travel also led him to join the British Interplanetary Society.
He spent his last years acting as a tour guide for the Original London Walks company.
In January 2014, BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a selection of programmes to celebrate the life and work of Charles Chilton. This included The Long, Long Trail, Chilton's forgotten masterpiece telling the story of the First World War through the songs sung by soldiers, broadcast for the first time since its original transmission on the BBC Home Service in 1961.
On 4 January 2014, in conjunction with BBC Radio 4 Extra, BBC Radio 4 broadcast Archive on 4: The Long, Long Trail. Roy Hudd told the story of Chilton's ground-breaking 1961 musical documentary. Interviewees included satirist Ian Hislop, Chilton's widow Penny and their children Mary and David Chilton, and the producer was Amber Barnfather. In a five star review, the Financial Times said "Chilton ... merits this tribute – as does the British soldier's stoic humour that so movingly illumines the four-year hell." Archive on 4: The Long, Long Trail won a Silver Radio Award in the New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards 2014.
- Follow the Fun (writer) play.
- Fledgling (writer) play based on Follow the Fun (1940).
- The Long Long Trail (writer) – a musical about the First World War featuring popular songs of the time interspersed with scripted material.
- Oh, What a Lovely War! (originator and producer)
- Round the Bend in Thirty Minutes (producer, series 2 and 3, 1958 to 1960) – starring Michael Bentine
- Riders of the Range – a cowboy series that found its way into the 1950s Eagle comic book.
- Shakespeare's London
- Dickens' London
- London's Pleasure Gardens
- Cries of London
- Ballad History of Samuel Pepys
- The Goon Show (producer) – series 3 episodes 18 and 19, series 8 episodes 1–5 and 17–26, 'Vintage Goons' series episodes 1–2 and 9–14.
- How Jazz Came to Britain (presenter, 8 July 2000)
- Journey into Space (writer/producer)
- Space Force (writer/producer, 1984 and 1985)
- Whistle and I'll Come To You - The Life and Loves of Robbie Burns
Additional production/writing credits: These 30-minute radio programmes were broadcast on NZBC in the 1970s, presumably from transcription disks from the Overseas Service of the BBC / BBC World Service (these discs should still be available somewhere):
- Botany Bay by Charles Chilton. The founding of New South Wales, Australia.
- The Victory by Charles Chilton. A musical presentation about HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship.
- "Charles Chilton". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 January 2013.
- Interview with Charles Chilton, What Did You Do in the Great War, Daddy?, BBC Four, 2007
- "Charles tries to keep the past alive". Camden New Journal. 11 November 2004. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- Gillian Reynolds (15 April 2008). "On Radio: Journey Into Space". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Writer of Horse Operas Will Finally Visit West". Evening Citizen. 22 September 1950. p. 20. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Eagle Writers – Charles Chilton (1917 – )". eagle-times.blogspot.com. 30 July 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
- Jonathan Sale (27 May 2011). "The Goon Show must go on – 60 years since its first broadcast". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- Paul Donovan (6 April 2008). "Journey into Space – Frozen in Time". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- Interview with Charles Chilton, Round Midnight, BBC Radio 2, 1989
- The Charles Chilton Collection – BBC Radio 4 Extra – January 2014
- Archive on 4: The Long, Long Trail – BBC Radio 4 – 4 January 2014
- David Hepworth on the First World War centenary – The Guardian – 4 January 2014
- ‘The most influential radio programme ever’? – British Library English and Drama Blog – 6 January 2014
- The Diary: AN Wilson – ‘The obvious lesson of the 1914–18 war is not one we’d expect many politicians to have learnt’ – FT.com – 10 January 2014
- Radio choice, Martin Hoyle, Financial Times, 4 January/5 January 2014
- New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Programs