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“Yes, What?” is the epitome of Australian radio comedy series. It is a classroom comedy, led by bumbling teacher Dr Percy Pym. His student cohorts constantly produce enough mayhem to drive any teacher mad, but Dr Pym was fairly close to that to begin with!
Produced from June 1936 through till the end of 1940, 520 episodes (or "lessons") were recorded, of which about 346 are accounted for today. The initial 50 or so went to air live, and are lost forever as this was before Radio 5AD in Adelaide, South Australia, had recording equipment. Lessons 50 (approx.) to 208 were apparently destroyed for some reason by the show's sponsor, Samuel Taylor (makers of the insecticide Mortein), so it is Lessons 209 to 520 which are commonly broadcast today.
Originally called “The Fourth Form at St Percy's”, “Yes, What?” was loosely based on English comic Will Hay's movie and record series about “The Fourth Form at St Michael's”. Will Hay played the part of teacher Dr Benjamin Twist, who led a similar classful of mischief-makers.
The long-awaited “Yes, What?” book has finally been published! 14 years in the making, "Yes, What? The Story of the Fourth Form at St. Percy's", is the definitive (well, in fact the only) work on the series. It's 148 pages, chock-full of anecdotes, biographical and historical information, photographs and data on the series, its cast and creators. It even contains a detailed synopsis of each episode - in short, a "must have" for anyone interested in “Yes, What?” and the golden days of radio. The authors are Vern Sundfors and Bob Hawker, and it is published by Mortarboard Books, Melbourne. ISBN 0 646 30153 5 (set) 0 646 30156 X (v.1). In case you can't find it at your bookstore, it can be purchased by mail order. The book cost is A$25. To find out how much postage is to your part of the world (and to be placed on the “Yes, What?” mailing list) first write to: Sundfors & Hawker, PO Box 109, Highett, Victoria 3190, Australia.
The authors are Vern Sundfors and Bob Hawker, and it is published by Mortarboard Books, Melbourne. ISBN 0 646 30153 5 (set) 0 646 30156 X (v.1). In case you can't find it at your bookstore, it can be purchased by mail order. The book cost is A$25. To find out how much postage is to your part of the world (and to be placed on the “Yes, What?” mailing list) first write to: Sundfors & Hawker, PO Box 109, Highett, Victoria 3190, Australia.
I have also included some excerpts in mp3 format.
The humour in “Yes, What?” is typically Australian for the 1930's. Much use is made of slang, some of which sounds odd today, but a lot of which still survives in the vernacular. Rapid-fire repartee, puns and one-liners characterised each lesson. Some of the humour could be really side-splitting.
Greenbottle constantly monopolises lessons with his wildly concocted excuses as to why he was late, stories of his father's latest inventions and his uncle's poems, not to mention his own zany theories and mathematical proofs.
Bottomley disrupts the lesson whenever he can, constantly leading Dr Pym off his chosen path for the day. Occasionally his girlfriend Daphne is found in the school grounds, much to Dr Pym's consternation.
Standforth is the dummy of the class, a quiet, well-meaning boy who understands nothing, and is often the butt of Dr Pym's barbs.
de Pledge joined the class for quite a while, a bright boy who provided a stark contrast to the rest of the cast. He had just moved into the neighbourhood, and had obviously chosen the wrong school. He is grammar school educated and knows more than the rest of the class combined - including Dr Pym!
Then there's the school caretaker, Mr Snootles, who, with his funny way of speaking, is a constant source of amusement for the boys, and annoyance to Dr Pym.
Each episode comprised one whole lesson, which lasted all of about 12 minutes, the boys often tricking Dr Pym into letting them go early. On two occasions the classroom was burnt to the ground, and lessons had to be conducted in the bike shed until it was rebuilt. One special double-episode featured the boys going to the Royal Show as a treat. Dr Pym ends up being tricked into going into the boxing ring to fight Dangerous Dynamite Dixon, and ends up black and blue.
By 1939 “Yes, What?” had blanketed Australia, emanating from countless country radio stations at the prime time of 7 pm.
“Yes, What?” has proved to be an evergreen Australian comedy. It is always being played on some radio station somewhere, not only in Australia, but also in New Zealand, South Africa and in the UK. Currently you can hear it each weekday at 5.30 pm on radio 2-CBA FM in Sydney (103.2 MHz).
Sony Music Australia has released five double CDs (also available on cassette) containing some of the best episodes, as well as historical interviews with members of
the cast. Ask for:
“Radio Revisited - Yes, What?” Columbia 472832.2
“Radio Revisited - Yes, What? Vol. 2” Columbia 473945.2
“Yes, What? Vol. 3 - The Lost Episodes” Columbia 486607.2
“Yes, What? Vol. 4” Columbia 488121.2
“Yes, What? Vol. 5” Columbia 489204.2
Rex Dawe played Dr Percy Pym
Some men cram into a few years what others struggle a lifetime to achieve. Rex “Waca” Dawe belonged to the former class. At the age of 27 when “Yes, What?” was being produced, he had already become a leading light in the world of radio entertainment. Rex not only played the part of Dr Pym to perfection, but also wrote and produced the show.
His practical knowledge of school life was gained at Prince Alfred College where he was a boarder for eight years. Later he was in residence at St Mark's College whilst studying Law at the Adelaide University. After completing his Law studies he was admitted to the South Australian Bar in 1936 as Barrister and Solicitor. Even then he would appear on stage at The Tivoli and The Theatre Royal, as well as on Radio 5AD broadcasting comedy skits. He later gave up his Practice to devote his life to radio work.
In the 1940's Rex had an illustrious career in Sydney radio, after his discharge from the Armed Forces. He was one of the regular comics for the Colgate Theatre both during and after the war. He wrote radio comedy for Roy Rene “Mo”, Jack Davey, Dick Bentley and many others.
Rex went to London around 1947 and attempted to revive “Yes, What?” with a new series called “Dr Pym's Progress”, featuring an Australian cast. 208 episodes were recorded, but the series did not achieve anywhere near the success of the original. He eventually migrated to Spain, reputedly buying a pub. There he died at the age of 60, on October 8th 1972.
Jack Craig-Gardiner played Greenbottle
At the time of production, Jack Craig-Gardiner was 25 years old, and had already been in radio for over five years. He first attracted attention in a P. & A. Parade, in which he gave a bracket of his famous impersonations. His elastic voice enabled him to perform a repertoire of around fifty entirely different people, including Richard Tauber, Sandy Powell, Jack Buchanan and Charles Laughton. The reason he had to leave the show for a while (being replaced by new character de Pledge) is that his voice went, due to a recurring throat ailment. When he recovered he returned to the show, and de Pledge stayed also, providing the means for some great gags. In later life Jack moved to Queensland where he became the Mayor of Maryborough. He died in Queensland on March 23rd 1973.
Ralph Peterson played Bottomley
Ralph was aged 18 at the time of production, and had been in radio for seven years. He initially attracted attention on radio 5AD's Children's Hour. His first big radio job was as the bad boy in the South Australian series “Following in Father's Footsteps”, and it was because of his excellence in that show that he was cast as Bottomley, the bad boy of the Fourth Form. He assisted Rex Dawe in writing about half a dozen of the episodes. He later went to London where his play “The Square Ring” was produced in the West End. He went on to become a script-writer of eminence, becoming Tony Hancock's first writer of gags. He also wrote the “Whiplash” TV series (1960) and the “My Name's McGooley” TV series (1966). The last surviving member of the “Yes, What?” cast, Ralph passed away recently in Sydney on November 2nd 1996. He was aged 75.
Jim Williams played Standforth
Jim was also 18 years old at the time, and had been doing radio work for about six years. He first attracted attention with his recitations. He played in a few sketches of “Kangaroos On Parade” which was a South Australian children's show. He played in several popular radio features other than “Yes, What?”. Jim passed away in Adelaide on May 2nd 1981, aged 59.
Richard Harding-Browne played de Pledge
Little is known of Richard, who joined the cast as an additional student when Jack Craig-Gardiner had to leave for a while due to his throat trouble. Richard was a cadet announcer at 5AD at the time. With the outbreak of World War 2 Richard was called up for service in 1940, and was killed in action on 15th January 1942, possibly in the Battle of Holland.
Frank McCarron played the school caretaker, Mr Snootles
Frank did not maintain a career in the entertainment industry after “Yes, What?”. He went on to work for W. C. Penfolds, the stationers. Frank died in Adelaide aged 83, on June 2nd 1992.
Alice Creed played Daphne, Bottomley's sweetheart.
Marjory Irving played Mrs Greenbottle and others.
John Dobbie played the Australian policeman.
Walter Dyer played the English policeman and the PT instructor.
Other casual parts were played by Kenny Brenna and Keith MacDonald, and Jack Craig-Gardiner played a variety of character parts.
Here are some excerpts from the show in mp3 format...
Click here to see the St. Percy's Photo Album
Click here to go to
Andrew's "Yes, What?" Page
- another great source of info about "Yes, What?"