Radio legend Charles Chilton dies, aged 95
16:03 03 January 2013
Radio legend Charles Chilton, who created some of the most popular programmes of his era, has died aged 95.
Dubbed the “only genius to come out of the BBC”, during his 46-year career Mr Chilton wrote and produced hit shows Riders of the Range and Journey Into Space which was the last radio show in the UK to pull in a bigger evening audience than television. He also helped produce episodes of The Goon Show.
Mr Chilton, who was awarded an MBE for his services to radio in 1976, will be remembered for his conscientious approach to a broad range of subjects ranging from jazz to science fiction.
Wife Penny Chilton, who moved into Phyllida Law’s old home in Crediton Hill in West Hampstead 27 years ago with her husband, said: “He never really lost his cockney humour and he was a very good storyteller. Whatever he took up he took it on very enthusiastically.
“When he was working on Journey into Space he bought a telescope and joined the Royal Astronomical Society. That was the kind of man he was.”
Born into poverty in King’s Cross, Mr Chilton’s father was killed in the First World War and he lost his mother aged six.
Brought up by his grandmother, he left school aged 14 and took up an apprenticeship making electric signs, but was persuaded by an older colleague to get out of the business.
Attracted by the “spaceship-like” BBC building the 14-year-old was helped by a kindly security guard to get a job as a messenger boy, delivering the Radio Times to different BBC departments among other duties.
He joined at a time when the radio industry was booming and his fascination with the medium led him to newly-formed gramophone library department looking after the records.
A music lover from a young age and a self-taught musician, Mr Chilton set up the BBC Boys’ Jazz Band, playing the clarinet, flute and guitar before going on to write and produce the first ever jazz programme Radio Rhythm Club.
His first break as a presenter came on late-night show Swing Time. But after the programme first aired he was told by his boss that he “would never broadcast again, we will not have that cockney accent on the BBC”.
His burgeoning radio career was interrupted by the onset of the Second World War in which he served as a radio operator for the RAF before developing a case of the bends which prevented him from flying.
He returned to the BBC after the war, but this time to the BBC Light Programme station where he wrote and produced Riders of the Range set on the American frontier. The show attracted audiences of around 10million.
But he eventually decided “he’d had enough of cowboys” and was asked to write and produce Journey Into Space.
With his usual meticulous preparation, Mr Chilton bought a telescope and installed in the garden to stargaze and also joined the Royal Astronomical Society
Mrs Chilton, 91, said: “Even though it was fiction he wanted to know how rockets actually worked and tried to make it as accurate as he could be.”
Although he retired aged 60, he carried on contributing to the BBC and went on to help adapt his radio programme The Long, Long Trail into stage play Oh What a Lovely War!
Mr Chilton’s final project was to finish his autobiography Auntie’s Charlie, which was published last year.
Mr Chilton died from pneumonia at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead on Wednesday (January 2).
He is survived by wife Penny, children Anthony, Mary and David and 10 grandchildren.