Podcast Transcript: Mosen At Large episode 132, New Zealand broadcasting and entertainment icon, Don Linden
Jonathan: Welcome to another edition of Mosen At Large. I’m Jonathan Mosen. New Zealand’s most famous kids’ radio show, Small World is being revived later this week on Mushroom Escape. Today, it’s my honor to speak with its creator, New Zealand broadcasting and entertainment icon, Don Linden.
It was a New Zealand tradition that spanned generations. On Sunday mornings, the children would be nestled all snug in their beds, of course, listening to what was often called the Children’s Session. Sometimes mum and dad would take the opportunity to enjoy a sleep-in or have a break from the kids, at other times they’d listen in too. The same stories would keep coming up regularly because the kids liked it that way.
That tradition has its origins back in a time when New Zealand’s government-owned broadcaster was all there was. Then in the 1970s, after private radio had come to New Zealand, kids were given a choice on a Sunday morning. With this new show, not only were there stories and songs, but competitions and even a talk segment, the show was Small World, it soon became a beloved institution in its own right and it too spanned the generations.
Small World’s host was Don Linden, and it’s my great pleasure to be talking with him today. Don, its really good to talk to you. Thank you.
Don: Is it my turn now?
Jonathan: It is your turn now after all that big build-up.
Don: [laughs] Good morning, Jonathan. How are you? I must confess, I had to go back into a book of pay stubs and write-ups and all sorts to find out exactly when the program started. It was 1977.
Jonathan: I got it about right then. I thought it was about ’76 or ’77. So my memory’s all right. But before we come to talk about Small World, you were a well-established entertainer before Small World came along. You obviously have a love of the medium of entertaining. Where does that come from?
Don: I was born for radio. In fact, when I was a child, and that’s not so long ago, radios were not safe in our house, because [chuckles] I had to find out how they worked.
Jonathan: You took it apart, did you?
Don: Well yes when I could, when I got the opportunity. No, I always knew I was going to be in radio, but it was primarily the technical side. I had a real thing about how it all worked and not only radio but television.
I remember I had a lovely wind-up blue HMV gramophone, which I used to play my favorite records. My favorite record was, incidentally, You Can’t Help Laughing which is a brilliant one. Anyhow, I digress, but so I gathered this and I put a hole in the front and a hole in the back and I stuck it on a sort of wooden tripod [laughs] and that was my television camera.
So I always knew I was going to be in radio, but I was really only production. When I went to Seddon Tech later, I took the radio course and I did a radio apprenticeship. When I say radio apprenticeship, with a company but always fascinated by the technical side of things, tape recorders, and everything.
Jonathan: You were also acting weren’t you? I mean you’ve had a career in the acting profession as well. So you’ve got that mix there.
Don: Yes, I have been entertaining for quite some time, mainly in Auckland, but also toured New Zealand, toured with Harry Miller’s Showtime Spectaculars toured with Johnny Ray, all sorts of people. I won’t go into that now. That sort of opened another door for me, it was great. I really got a very good grounding in entertainment.
I’d started where I was working at The Colony, which was the nightclub in Auckland. That happened purely by chance. I was walking along Albert Street one day and Armstrong Sydney pulled up and Bob Sell got out, introduced himself and said, “Look, I’ve got a big wedding, Jewish wedding coming up here on Friday the such and such at The Colony, the nightclub and I’d like to book you for that–” Then the nightclub opened the following Saturday, “and perhaps you can go on the floor show.”
I remember saying quite clearly, yes that’s fine but I really don’t think the act will last. Well, I did The Colony floor show for five years.
Jonathan: Tell me about that act.
Don: It was lip sync. I called it Comedy Mime in those days because lip sync wasn’t a phrase that was really known. Basically, I lip-synced to a record. It started off quite by chance. I used to love standing in front of a mirror, which is always lovely and I would mime to things like The Drinking Song from the Student Prince. My favorite was Figaro from the Barber of Seville, and a dear friend of the family who lived nearby, called Reg Morgan, very well-known in musical circles in Auckland, organized a talent quest locally and suggested that I enter, which I did and subsequently won, and that bled off to other talent quests.
So for a while, I did a round of talent quests. You work with people like– and they were just starting, Tony Williams, Reg Hewitt, a whole lot of people, who were just in their starting days, and the breeding ground for a lot of that talent was a place called the Maori community center. It was opposite Victoria Park, right on that right corner there. It was a great place for Sunday entertainment, really good stuff there and that was sort of the beginning.
I went on to subsequently win the Auckland final for the Joe Brown Search for the Stars, and went down to Dunedin to appear in the final, which I did. I didn’t win, but that wasn’t the point. We also did a tour of New Zealand. So all this is a background, but you learn a lot of things. I mean, even just by standing and watching, you learn about staging and programming and this added to other things I got involved in.
Jonathan: By day, you were doing the Bond and Bond thing is that right? which is a retailer —
Don: I was yes. Although I left that, I didn’t complete the apprenticeship as I recall, I left about four years into it because entertainment just blossomed and that was it. That was my path, I knew I was going to go down– but that gave me the initial grounding in radio, and my fascination for things technical, which was a great plus because as I developed, I was also able to build my own amplifiers, which were portable and I took with me for a presentation of the show.
Another bonus of Bond and Bond was, I was fortunate enough to be able to take home tape recorders in the weekend. I guess that was the start of it because, with a tape recorder, I found I could record a song and I would take perhaps a commercial, a well-known commercial, it was Molenberg, that sort of thing, and you’d take out perhaps a short clip of 12 seconds or maybe 25 seconds that was popular because all these commercials were seen.
Then there was really only one station, maybe two television so everybody knew them. In the middle of a song, I would just drop in a commercial, which was something that brought a whole lot of laughter, became very entertaining. That’s how I built the act with a lot of editing. It wasn’t only commercials, I was dropping in other song and things like that. All this because I was able to have a tape recorder at home.
Eventually, I got my own tape recorder, second tape recorder, and indeed third tape recorder. When I was editing in my little studio, I’d have bits of tape that I’d cut out stuck on the wall in case I had to put them back because there was no such thing as digital editing. You had to physically put that little bit of tape back where you took it from.
Jonathan: So it sounds very similar to the kind of thing that Les Paul was doing in some ways and also, of course, Kenny Everett, who came later, who was a genius with the tape machine and would do multi tracks and overdubs and all kinds of crazy things.
Don: Well, of course Les Paul introduced multi-tracking.
Jonathan: Genius wasn’t he?
Don: He was the very first, and other people had done it but when Les Paul did it, there was no degradation of the tracks. The quality was exactly as it was exactly pure. Often when you dub to another tape, you lose quality prep, perhaps you lose the highs and things like that.
Les Paul never did that, and indeed, he invented the multi-track machine. He was a genius.
Jonathan: Yes, absolutely remarkable. We’ve been talking a lot, and we’ll get to why, over the last few months– You mentioned to me at one point that we might have you to thank for the Stardusters, which is a very famous New Zealand group.
Don: Yes. This is the advantage of having a tape recorder at home because the Stardusters, Jack, and Bill Langford were cousins of mine and the third member was a chap called Laurie North, a very dear friend from Rangitoto, where we had a holiday batch, still do, and when they Langfords Jack and Billy visited, they met Laurie North.
We had an afternoon tea at our place one day and the Langfords were there with their wives and Laurie and Doris North came along and it was great. It was only a matter of time before cousin Bill picked up the guitar and started strumming and they all started to sing and I said, “Have you guys ever heard yourselves?” They said, “No,” so I said, “Come on into the bedroom,” so into mum and dad’s bedroom, and I had set the machine up there and they made the first recording.
We did a couple of alterations, they changed their vocals, what they were doing, and just rechecked the microphone and then we took another take. That was the beginning of The Stardusters.
I can’t pinpoint the year, it’s around about ’55, I think and that was because I happened to have a tape recorder at home. Resulting from that one recording which they took away, one of them, I’m are not quite certain who, it may have been Laurie North because he was in advertising and he would have known people but within a few months, they were signed by Noel Peach at Astor Studios in Shortland Street, who had the Tanza label, and released their first song, which was The Greatest Feeling In The World.
Jonathan: Did you keep the tape?
Don: Next question.
Jonathan: [laughs] You could have released it as what they call a bootleg, these days?
Don: I could have kicked myself. This is not an invitation for you but my mother had a beautiful singing voice. She did the competitions in Hamilton and I’ve got the 1st, 2nd prize certificates, all that. She had a magnificent voice and her Bless This House was absolutely beautiful.
It wasn’t till years after she died, I thought, “Linden, you’re a bloody idiot.” Here I had a tape recorder, I recorded everything but I never thought to record my mother. That was one of my biggest regrets, particularly as her grandchildren had beautiful voices and they would have loved to have heard her.
Jonathan: No matter how hard we try, the voices of those who have gone just fade over the years, don’t they, from your memory?
Don: Well, fortunately, I do have other recordings of her in messages they sent to me when I was living in America, and the voices there. I also [laughs] have an old video clip, when I had my first camera at home, and mum and dad were in the kitchen and that’s a gem now. That’s a gem.
Jonathan: You were known affectionately as, ‘The mouth,” because of this act that you had perfected and it occurred to me thinking about talking to you that as a blind person. that is a very visual act. Can you describe what that was all about and what you did?
Don: Well, it just so happened I could stretch my mouth wide open, which I used to advantage in shows generally because I did them everywhere. At the right time with all the right music and lyrics, it just works well and that’s how it became known.
In fact, when they had the first telethon which was with St. Johns Ambulance Association, the closing shot was of me with my mouth open and the insignia of St. Johns Ambulance just coming right out of my mouth and filling the screen. [laughs]
That was the news item for that night. Just a sideline, some years later, I was driving a Jaguar, I don’t know why [laughs] but I liked it. I came to an intersection one day, a very well-known intersection in Auckland at Customs Street, and for some reason, I nudged the back of a small car in front of me you see, oh, calamity.
A woman got out, I wound down the window. She walked up and this is what she said, “You, I might have known you had a car as big as your bloody mouth.”
Jonathan: I remember that first telethon. TV2 had just started not very long before they had a go at that telethon and they were running on an Auckland [crosstalk].
Don: Yes, the first telethon was ’75.
Jonathan: ’75, that’s right. Yes, it was remarkable. I don’t think New Zealand had seen anything like that before.
Don: No, they hadn’t. I recall, a dear friend of mine Don Hutchings driving me up to the airport one day because I knew he was about to launch TV2 and he said, “When I come back, I will probably have a nice little job for you.” I said, “Oh, yes?” He never said any more. The job that he was talking about was I was going to be one of the people on the first telethon.
Jonathan: That was a remarkable thing about media then, you could bring a nation together with an event like that.
Don: Oh, you could. That first and second year and possibly the third, New Zealand per capita was the most generous country in the world.
Jonathan: The country just stopped.
Don: They did, they completely stopped. What was interesting, the other thing, which I think was incredible, suddenly, kids were aware there were other kids who were less fortunate than themselves.
This spurred demand to do their penny-trails, and all sorts of things at school and on the night, when they came in, some of them would come in with perhaps $100. Or some would come in with $10 or $5, because they’d had a lemonade stand outside their place but they were all very conscious of why they were doing it and what the money was for.
That was a great breeding ground, I think. The other thing about telethon is, when it started, there was no money involved in any way. Don Hutchings arranged for all the visiting talent from America. Again, no money, but they had a great holiday out here and they were really, really looked after, the TV facilities were made available, catering, there was no money, it didn’t cost Anything. All the money went to the cause and that was great.
Jonathan: You’d get the big stars out here from the UK, from Britain, from Australia. Huge acts.
Don: Yes, Don Hutchings had some great contacts and pulled on those. People that came out, were absolutely amazing. I’m trying to remember her name, oh, God, she was a tall English woman but they were all quite astounded. They’d had telethons in their own country, but they’d never seen anything like they saw when they were here, how everyone got involved. They were very moved by the charity and the collecting.
Jonathan: How was it then that from all of this, you came to be doing a kid’s show on a private radio station in Auckland in 1977?
Don: Put it very simply– and we’re going to jump back here a few years. My sister [laughs] had one, two, three lovely girls and suddenly the programs on ZB and that, they never changed it. They’re very predictable and look, we’re now in the age of Star Wars and there should be an alternate.
That was the genesis of the idea, which I worked on for a while and I spoke to Radio I, Chris Butcher at the time and yes, he came on board. That was good so we did our first show from the Little Rabbit Warren as it was known up in Newton Road.
Jonathan: Oh, yes. [laughs]
Don: That was the start of Small World, but there was a criterion. Basically, it was, if it wasn’t something I thought was good enough for my nieces to hear, I wouldn’t play it. In other words, that was the only editing, if you like, I made. In other words, I wasn’t going to put on anything that had language or anything like that. So long as it was entertaining, and I thought they’d enjoy it that was really the only edit criteria I put on it.
Jonathan: It was a brave thing to do because as you said, 1ZB had been doing this for such a long time and in Auckland, it was Les Andrews at that time, and he just seemed to be eternal. He had done it forever. You must have had to have a real careful think about what precisely you were going to offer that was different and why would kids change because kids are creatures of habit and their families had the radio on? It was a big bold move on your part.
Don: Yes, I do that sometimes. Star Wars, I guess was the motivator. Along with Star Wars, there was a whole world, a whole raft of other wonderful kids’ stories that very rarely got played. There was a classic, classic would be perhaps The Snow Goose, which may get a hearing very occasionally. It was a great story.
There were a whole lot of things that I wanted to put in there. I had some ideas and there was a bit of idiocy, which I like to work with. I often flew by the seat of my pants, I perhaps knew what I was going to play next and then I thought, “What?” and then I’d fiddle around and drop something in but it evolved very quickly.
There was another criteria which did come into it. It was a kids program but because mum and dad and maybe the grandparents were listening, there had to be little elements in, that they found enjoyable so that it was a total family show.
Jonathan: That was one of the unique things. You would play songs that weren’t necessarily children’s songs. They were family-friendly songs, but little novelty things.
Don: Yes, there was that. One of the things I love to play and it wasn’t PC. Wouldn’t be PC now, but I’ve never been PC and never will be. I love Puha and Pakeha, Rod Derrett. It was a fun song. I had contacts in America. I had been to America. I’d found some other stuff, which I brought back. I dug and found– I mean, there was a lot of beautiful stories and what was beautiful about them was they were wonderful stories.
There was a moral in there if you wished to take it on board, but they were produced by CBS and the big studios in America and England. They had big bands. Billy May would do the backing, Loretta Young, big names would narrate the stories. That was part of the secret of it. We featured a lot of that.
Of course, there was a live request. It had to be controlled so that kids could phone in, “Have you got so and so?” “Oh yes. Play that in a few minutes.” I introduced interesting elements, I thought. We had things like the Dressing Gown Club. This was very early in the show. Might’ve been perhaps the first hour, just for the kids in their dressing gowns. They could write in, they could ring in say hello, I could perhaps play a record or something for them.
That Dressing Gown Club actually developed into a fashion parade because they would write in I’d say, well, what are you wearing? What are you wearing Jonathan? This, that, or the other. I’d just make notes. Then I went home and I had a studio at home and I did a- it was a typical fashion parade voice. “Here we have-.” I’d put it all together. It was only about two a half minutes, but it really went well.
There were things like and here’s Jonathan in is lovely blue candlewick dressing gown and he’s wearing his new striking red slippers. They’re called striking red slippers because when he’s naughty, his mother’s strikes with them.
Next, we have so-and-so and I didn’t care what. It was just fun. This is what they liked.
Jonathan: Yes. I think that was one of the things that made it stand out, that you got the stories you’d grown up with as a child, you were still interested in hearing, but you also got this engagement, this interactivity, all of this new thing.
Don: It just reminded me. The other thing I did inject, and they weren’t on ZB or any other kids’ programs, nursery rhymes and those funny stories that parents would hand down. I had stories, my parents read to me. In fact, I put them on a CD later on but also nursery rhymes and things like that. I introduced those.
They might be short, little short things, but you drop them in and very soon they become a staple part of the thing. Something else occurred. Oh yes. We used a character called Arnold. Arnold was an interesting character because I’d just done a pilot for a television show called Arnold the Answer Man. I’m not going to go into details. It was a very specific type of presentation for kids. Here, kids could ask Arnold the questions and Arnold would always come up with the answers.
I said, let’s try this. I tried it a couple of weeks. Didn’t work. Really didn’t work. And I thought, “Why is it not working?” So I rested it. Then I said, “Kids, got some sad news. Dear Arnold, he fell had a bad accident and he’s been in a hospital, but he’s come back. One of the things is he can’t remember things. What I would like you to do, what I’m going to do is Arnold’s going to ask you a question and I’d like you to write in next week with the answer.”
This opened up a whole new world. Kids would if they didn’t know, they’d ask their mother or father or they’d look in the book they’d send in the answers. By turning it around, it suddenly worked.
Jonathan: The name Small World. Was that just a natural thing? Did you have other names in mind?
Don: Actually, no. I think that came from my sister because she had a Small World disk, the kids loved it. That was the name. That’s how it happened.
Jonathan: Space Coordinates was one of my favorites. This was like you brought the game of battleships to the radio.
Don: The phone would go absolutely mad. Yes. Battleships. So in Space Coordinates I had a square in front of me. The kids had a square I’d have letters along with the top with numbers and they had to try and sink the battleship. They’d come in with A5 placed on– or they might say B6, bang. They’ve hit different sound. Whoa, so we’re moving through, but eventually, I had to have two Space Coordinates. One for the kids and one for mum and dad because mum and dad just loved doing this.
Don: That really blossomed. [chuckles] it had its own slight little introduction musicals, the sound effects. The instant that went out, the phone lines went wild. They lit.
Jonathan: It was a rapid-fire, You would just rattle through those callers. I think Radio I in those days only had two lines, if I remember correctly. You would be talking on line one, by the time you’d gone to line two and was talking to the next person line one would already be ringing. You did not have any issue at all with keeping the momentum going.
Don: I think we had more because they used it for talkback. The other thing that happened was we worked in delay because it was talkback. This went on for a while. Then I suddenly realized I never had any problems with language with kids or anything so we went out of delay and that was good.
There were a few other things which were interesting spinoffs. I was made aware– In fact, I’d been to visit the Wilson home on the Shore for handicapped kids. We met the kids and they had wheelchairs they were talking about they wanted to get an electric chair for someone. I said, “Yes, all right.” A couple of weeks later I did a program for the whole two -, it was a two hour show. For that, I said what we were raising money for.
In two hours, we raised $1,000. Now that figure is important because I think the chairs at that stage were $2,000 and it was matched by the government, but the spinoff was the money kept coming in. We did in fact, raise $3,000 that day, which meant three kids at Wilson home got the new wheelchairs. That was great. It really was. In fact, I think we did, when we presented them, we did the show from there. You could do that in those days, take all the technically– not with a cell phone, but if I did an outdoor show, we had a lovely guy called Graham, nicknamed Pastry. He would know, he would go out the week sometime the week before check the signal was okay from wherever that location was to Mount Eden then eventually back to here so there was never any problem.
We did have a traveling desk. There was a couple of turntables, tape decks which were used. That was an– I enjoyed doing OBs. That was fun. You met all sorts of people. We did one at Princess Wharf one day when a new liner was in.
Jonathan: Your diligence was such that you even did one from your hospital bed.
Don: Oh, yes. I ran it. [laughs] I had to go into hospital for minor surgery, shall we say?, and it necessitated me being in there a couple of Sundays. I said, Graham can you– he said, “No no no, what we’ll do, I’ll bring the desk here. We’ll put a thing up on top of Mount Eden.” So we did two shows from my hospital bed in Mount Eden, which was really good, real fun.
Another thing that happened– and this was the Year of the Child. This is not Koru Care, it’s Air New Zealand cabin services. They decided they would like to raise money and take however how many kids it was to Disneyland and a trip to America.
There was a big ask they had a tremendous fundraising program and I got involved with it. I said, “Look, let’s do a Sunday. We’ll turn a whole Sunday over.” So we had Air New Zealand cabin services crew answering the phones and we raised a good amount. I can’t remember what it was that went to the fund. Eventually, they raised sufficient funds to charter the plane. I think it was a DC8 to America and make all the arrangements and they opened it up to the blind, crippled children. There were five groups. They said that these five groups, okay. You’ve got this many seats, you decide who goes.
That was a wonderful experience. I actually got to go along, not because I was being involved in fundraising, but they asked me would I like to go and I said, yes because I was going to report back live to Radio I. Also, it subsequently went to the Radio New Zealand network, the national Network. When we were at California Highway Patrol, which was Chips– the kids had seen it in those days, I had a rather biggish cell phone unit, mobile cell phone unit that I could connect and it would take me back to the studio and they could record it there.
Jonathan: One of the innovations you also introduce that I thought was very cool was, you did a thing for a while called Small World News, where you encouraged kids to be journalist reporters and report on things that were going on in their communities. That was great. Particularly for kids like me, who were really genuinely interested in doing radio.
Don: That was another thing. I forgot. There was a wonderful announcer called Geoff Sinclair at Radio I and he introduced me to this young kid called Jonathan Mosen, who would come in and do all– I said, “Oh, yes”. Anyhow, he sort of began, to hang on, Not that I objected. But that was how I first met Jonathan Mosen.
Jonathan: Yes. I remember being in the studio with you a few times on a Sunday morning.
Don: It was great for me.
Jonathan: It was great for me. I would always enjoy going in there. Was there ever a moment you can look back on where– I presume you started this, you thought, “I wonder if this is going to take off. Is it going to work?” Was there a moment when you suddenly realized we have a bit of a hit on our hands here?
Don: Well, we had 50,000 listeners. You mentioned me being in hospital, yes. This was in ’79. Two years later. I had a visitor who was on the board. He was also a very good friend of mine. He came to see how I was. Then suddenly he said, “We had a format change at the station. Next Sunday will be the last program for Small World.”
Couldn’t have picked a worse time. I was recovering. You feel. Suddenly my world was turned upside down. I was gutted. The program ended because they were going to a format called beautiful music.
Jonathan: It was basically elevator music, wasn’t it?
Don: Yes. Despite a 50,000-listener audience, they dumped it. There was a hiatus. I’m not certain, I think I had a call from Gordon Dryden, who was at Radio Pacific at that stage. Very soon, Small World was on Radio Pacific, but not for two hours. For three hours this time. We had a long run. Out in the studios at South Auckland.
Jonathan: Did you keep them? Did people come from Radio I to radio Pacific to keep listening to Small World?
Don: Yes. It didn’t take long. Yes. Gordon Dryden was an expert in marketing. Yes. Everyone knew about it. Of course, I think John Barry at the time, wrote the station change. Everyone knew.
Jonathan: Of course, Geoff Sinclair. I think he had gone slightly before you had. Geoff went to Radio Pacific at some point, about the same time. I was in there a lot too.
Don: It would have come after. No because I’m not certain what they did with talkback. If they changed format to beautiful music, they wiped the talkback. I don’t know. I’m not interested in it really now.
Jonathan: The Mini People, that was a talk part of the show, which would have gone well on Radio Pacific where you actually got kids to talk about things that were of interest or concern to them.
Don: That’s what I was saying. I never had a problem with kids. We didn’t work in delay. There was no limits. The kids could have a chat, whatever. I never had to, as I recall, chop anyone. That was probably done in delay, but I never actually had to push the button.
Jonathan: Where else has Small World been, because as you say, I remember it running on Radio Pacific for quite a long run.
Don: Its total life was just over 19 years. I’m not sure how long we lasted at Pacific. We may have gone back to Radio I. I don’t know. It was picked up later by Solid Gold and the format did change, we were held to an hour. Again, it was still very popular and worked.
I think that was round about 2006, I think. The other interesting spin off of that is Small World did disappear for a while, but I would walk down the street and people would say, “I want to get a copy of The Littlest Angel or The Small One.” Of course, these are all on EMI and at that stage, they had all been deleted from the catalog. However, I had the vinyls. This went all on and on. I was talking to Eldred Stebbing one day, who’s one of the recording pioneers of this country. He said, “Why don’t you have a talk to EMI?” He gave me the name of the chap, “and see if they’re interested?”
Went along with my lawyer, as one does, who was a musician anyhow. It was a very, very lighthearted meeting. It took a bit of convincing, but he said, “Yes. You know what? Let’s go with this.”
It was called Don Linden’s Favourites. We called it Volume One so we must have known something. EMI weren’t too sure. Well, I think as I recall this happened in the November, it hit platinum by the beginning of December when I was in America and before I came back, it went to double platinum, which is the equivalent then of selling something like 30,000. That was actually locked in with EMI. We subsequently in total did eight disks of Don Linden’s Favorite Stories, eight disks of those. We did two discs of kids. The Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer, Laughing Policeman and all those songs. Prior to this I had recorded two disks of my own, in which I told nursery rhymes and fairy stories if you like, as they were told by me by my parents. That was it.
They’re all still selling. They’re all still– EMI is now universal. They’re still on their current catalog. That was pointed out rather unusual for EMI because many local artists when they record, they have a very short life and the numbers are dropped from the catalog.
It is still on the catalog. I know certain shops you can go and those stock the records. If they don’t have them, they’ll order them and then they can send them to you.
Jonathan: I think that really was a message for a lot of program directors because I seem to recall, there was actually quite a gap between iterations of Small World at that time. The program directors were saying, there’s no need for this anymore. It’s outlived its time. Yet there’s all this pent-up demand for the content, when it became available.
Don: It was known because I suddenly was listening to national radio when they did their kids show. They said, we’re going to play whatever the story was. This is from a CD Don Linden’s just released. [laughs] And of course, the other popular story that really stood out was– What was it called? Spike Milligan.
Jonathan: Bad Jelly the Witch?
Don: Bad Jelly the Witch. Yes. Many people have done it since. It’s nothing. Spike Milligan is the absolute perfect recording of Bad Jelly the Witch.
Jonathan: Yes. It’s a perennial favorite.
Don: Perennial. I was looking for that word. I’ll write it down here.
Jonathan: There you go. Write that down. What about the process of getting those disks together? Particularly with those old stories. Did that come back from your vinyl? Or could they-
Don: Yes because I had the records in my library. I took them to Stebbing Studios, where they re processed them, cleaned them up. EMI looked after any clearances. Well, they owned nearly all the tracks. There was no problem.
Jonathan: What are some of your favorites? Of all the material that you’ve played over the years in this genre, what do you like?
Don: I think my favorite kid song would be, and this is interesting. I’d heard this in the film South Pacific, some wonderful songs. A song called, You’ve got to be Taught. It’s sung by Joe Cable, who lost his girlfriend and all sorts of things. He sings, you’ve got this, You’ve got to be Taught. It was really nothing outstanding. Until I heard– I got a disk called Kid Power and the kids sang it,
You’ve got to be Taught.
Now, if you listen to that track with kids singing, it takes on a totally different meaning. You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught. The way the kids sang it really stood out. That would probably be one of my absolute favorites.
Buckingham Palace I love oh Johnny Stanley It’s in the book. Love that. Played that a lot. Played a lot of Stan Freeburg on the show, Alan Sherman’s Hello mudda, Hello fadda and of course stories where there are so many stories. The Snow Goose, The Happy Prince, Johnny Appleseed, a lovely story. Great. Marlo Thomas’ Ladies First. That was a great story, but I think one of the really top stories was Danny Kay’s, The Little Fiddle. I love that story. Love that story. Again, it just goes on. Sometimes I’ll have a day and I’ll think let’s have some kids stuff, so I’ve got it all loaded on a track, I just play it, but I just love it.
Jonathan: What’s funny is that I’ve been talking to people over morning tea about what we’ve been working on and people will just mention stories that they remember listening to on a Sunday morning.
Then what inevitably happens is that people start quoting their favorite line from that story. Someone will mentioned Molly Whuppie and all of a sudden the whole tea– He ran and she ran and he ran…the whole tea room is doing it. It’s a remarkable thing, really. Particularly since in the ’70s and ’80s and the ’90s, those stories were old even then. Yet they’re timeless, aren’t they? They don’t really date.
Don: Yes. You know what happened? Sparky’s Magic Piano was a popular one. You know what happened to Sparky, don’t you?
Jonathan: What happened to Sparky?
Don: He grew up and became Liberace. Anyhow, [laughs]
Jonathan: I’m glad he got his piano sorted.
Don: Roger Moore did Aladdin and Lionel Barrymore Alibaba and the 40 Thieves, just so many great stories. An interesting spin off of the CDs, I found this out later, that they put the CD on for the kids to go to bed to but the parents suddenly got into telling the kids bedtime stories instead of playing the record, “Would you like mummy or daddy to tell you this story?” That would happen and that was a wonderful spinoff.
I’ll tell you a little story in closing. It’s probably time we closed. As I said, I had a real yearning for the radio and one of the things I really wanted as a kid was my own crystal set. I was probably about six, I think. Christmas morning, woke up early, found a crystal set there, headphones, put the headphones on. Also Father Christmas, for some reason had left me a boater hat, put the boater hat on. Mum and dad walked into the bedroom soon after, burst out laughing because what I didn’t know, me with my headphones and boater hat on, I had suddenly got mumps and my face was so big.
Jonathan: Oh, no. [laughs] For Christmas too.
Don: I know right. Right over Christmas.
Jonathan: Do you think good kids material is still being made? Is there good audio stuff for kids out there now?
Don: You have to look for it. I found stuff in America I’d never heard of. A crazy song like Abazaba Scooby Dooby. It’s a compelling song. There’s a whole lot of stuff there. There was a couple of– one station in particular who plays a lot of kids stuff and they do introduce some new stories.
Sometimes the older ones that had big studio, big Billy May orchestra or wherever it was, big star names telling these stories. In fact, I think it was– It wasn’t Phyllis Diller. It was a couple of these people, as I say, did a retell of Lucy, the Cow. Hit me with a name.
Jonathan: Bad Jelly?
Don: Yes, Bad Jelly. Get your memory back, Don. It was never the same. I think there are some stories, but I think they lack moral, they’re fun stories, feel good stories, but all those stories, there was a moral there.
Incidentally, other than stories, I played songs that I found. The classic example would be that You’ve got to be Taught, which is a song, but other fun stuff, which they could enjoy or if they wanted to listen, there was a moral there.
Jonathan: A fable, isn’t it?
Don: Yes. Then I’m thinking, I played a track called Opposition. “You can never know the good if you’ve never known the bad. It was a fun song, but there was something to be learned. You’ve got to be hungry to appreciate food.
Jonathan: The reason why we are talking about all this fun stuff and which is, I can talk about this stuff for hours. It’s serendipity, because you just happened to be watching the television. I got a message, one of the team on my call center, who said, “There’s this chap called Don Linden who wants to get hold of you.” That was what? About six months ago. We’ve been on a bit of a journey with this project.
Don: Yes, we have really. To tell the dear listener, the reason being, I have amassed a considerable number of stories and songs for kids. In fact, I think it would be fair to say I probably have one of the best collections in New Zealand and I’ve been wondering what to do with it because if it goes to a museum, it’ll get buried.
If it goes to something like archives, it’s available, but it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg and I didn’t want that. That was the reason I phoned this Mosen chap and he said, “Yes.” In the intervening period, I’ve sent a lot of material to Jonathan, stories, songs, and all sorts of bits and pieces. There’s more to come, so that in his own way, he can bring some of those songs and stories back.
Jonathan: I tell you what, not only did I say yes, but I was literally almost in tears. It’s like somebody had offered me the crown jewels and the idea that you would entrust me with this material is really humbling. What you’ve done is you’ve been a part of so many people’s childhoods in such a positive way and the idea that we can keep that legacy going, I’m sure that there will be people who will tune in who remember those days.
I’m hoping also that there will be younger people who haven’t had a chance to hear this material before, who will love it the same way that I loved it when you played it to me.
Don: That was the thing with the CDs. They were released at a time when the kids had not heard these before. We targeted the parent, mainly the grandparents with a nostalgia aspect and that’s how they grew. They were available in shops, but I also established my own website and they were available to buy off the website. I’m not talking to New Zealand, Australia, I’ve sent to China, I’ve sent to Europe, certainly the UK, all over the place.
Jonathan: I am going to do a Small World show on Mushroom Escape, which is the old time radio and comedy channel so it fits right in there for an hour every Sunday. What’s the secret to a good Small World show in terms of the mix of what you play? Did you have a feel for what proportion of it should be stories, how much would be songs? Is there a magic formula there?
Don: I flew by the seat of my pants young man.
Jonathan: [laughs] That’s all right then.
Don: I would try to make something. I might say coming up after the news, we’ve got such and such story or whatever it was so you just play some others, you can play other stuff. I often traded stuff, but sometimes I’d be listening and think, “Oh, this would go good on the end.” I’m like grab a sting or a filler or a song or something and just pop it on the end.
Jonathan: Well, it’s been a pleasure to talk with you. I know that a lot of people who are listening, who will be aware that this was coming up and want to hear the memories will want me to thank you for all your contribution. You’ve made a lot of people happy and there are so many great memories. Thank you for entrusting this material to me, I promise you we’ll look after it.
Don: I’ve just had a note. My lawyer is sitting at– he’s here for morning tea but he said– and I think I know the answer, he said, “Are there any royalties we’re going to get from this?”
I shook my head. [laughs] Jonathan, I shall be listening and thank you very much for taking over the Small World library.
Jonathan: Thank you for the honor and it’s great to talk to you today. If you would like to hear Small World, you can hear it on Mushroom Escape. To find out what’s on Mushroom Escape in your time zone, you can go to mushroomfm.com/escape. That’s mushroomfm.com/escape.
If you’d like to tune in, you can hear Mushroom Escape, almost everywhere that you hear internet radio stations. Ask your Amazon Echo, your Google device or Siri to play Mushroom Escape.
You can also find it on Sonos and in all of the radio apps and on the website at mushroomfm.com/escape, and be sure to tell your friends, your family and most importantly, the little people in your life. Small World is back.
Outro: To contribute to Mosen At Large, you can email Jonathan that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N, @mushroomfm.com by writing something down or attaching an audio file, or you can call our listener line. It’s a US number 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.
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