I was just 13 when “Journey into Space” began on the BBC Light Programme, the precursor of Radio One. It was a science fiction series by Charles Chilton, and became the “must listen” of every schoolboy. Indeed, it reached audiences of 5 million, and was reportedly the last radio show to attract bigger audiences than those for television shows.
The series was originally broadcast on Monday evenings at 7.30pm, and featured the space-borne adventures of Jet Morgan, played by Andrew Faulds, supported by Doc (Guy Kingsley Poynter), and Lemmy, the cockney radio operator (David Kossoff, and later Alfie Bass). The first series, set 12 years into the future, in 1965, covered man’s first trip to the moon, albeit in a British rocket launched from Australia. Each episode ended with a cliff-hanger that encouraged the listeners to return next week.
The science was somewhat bizarre, in that after landing on the moon the crew was hijacked by a flying saucer and taken back to a prehistoric Earth peopled by savage cavemen. It all ended happily, of course. It occupied our school-day conversations, and we rushed to finish homework before it came on the air.
The series was so popular that it was extended to 18 episodes. Other series followed, including a strange one in which they kept getting flashbacks to the Great Exhibition, plus a Martian who had “conditioned” humans to assist him in his planned invasion of Earth. The series featured “space music” whose eerie tones conjured up alien settings.
In those balmy days we all still thought Britain would be at the forefront of technology and would take the lead in space exploration. Dan Dare, the Eagle’s “Pilot of the Future” was solidly British in the Biggles tradition. Andrew Faulds, who played Jet Morgan, was not, however. He went from being a boyhood hero to becoming a foul-mouthed left-wing Labour MP. And it was the USA and the USSR, rather than the UK, who took us to the final frontier.