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Mr C H Middleton

Mr Cecil Henry Middleton (1886 – 1945)

“These are critical times, but we shall get through them, and the harder we dig for victory the sooner will the roses be with us.”
(Mr Middleton)

Mr Middleton is often referred to as the ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ of the 1940′s. He was the son of a head gardener in Northamptonshire and went onto contribute a gardening column for the Daily Express persuading thousands to take up the spade. He was Britain’s very first celebrity gardener and  launched the Dig for Victory campaign in September 1939 on the BBC World Service. The government hoped to avoid hunger by encouraging people to grow their own food.

Enter Mr C.M. Middleton. Even before the war, Mr Middleton had a huge following with his weekly radio programme ‘In Your Garden’. At the outbreak of war it was briefly taken off the air as the new Home Service channel was introduced. However, the government soon realised the benefit of having Mr Middleton, ‘the wireless gardener’, dispensing their advice for them. The Ministry of Agriculture’s proposal for reinstating ‘In Your Garden’ suggested ‘It would be very helpful to us if he (Mr Middleton) could get across the stuff we shall be putting out for the guidance of gardeners.‘ This Mr Middleton duly did, but in his own inimitable style; informal and chatty, with a great deal of sly humour and a certain empathy with the benighted and hard-pressed amateur gardener.

He addressed the listeners as if they were close friends, and continually referred to his own gardening failures and successes. When l read his books today l often find myself laughing out load at his references to the antics in the garden of friends or family. References to the weather (usually poor), and pests (usually voracious), provided both Mr Middleton and the unsuccessful gardener/listener with a sense of shared burdens and companionship as well as a series of excuses. I use exerts from his books throughout my blog highlighting this.

‘In Your Garden’ was broadcast on Sunday afternoons, throughout the war, eventually gaining 3.5 million listeners. In 1940, 9 million radio licences were issued, so the programme captured about a third of the entire audience!

First TV gardening programme 21 November 1936

Television gardening began on 21 November 1936 when Mr Middleton presented In Your Garden from a purpose-built garden at Alexandra Palace. The programme was in the first month of the BBC’s official television service, at a time when very few people had television sets. However, it inaugurated a programme genre that has remained an evergreen favourite.

Cecil Henry Middleton – invariably called Mr Middleton – was a well established voice on the radio, known for his relaxed tone at a time when many radio voices were stilted and formal. Introducing Mr Middleton to television was a move intended to provide more popular programming and encourage the uptake of televisions. By the end of 1937 some 2000 sets had been sold. When the war started the television service ended for the duration. Mr Middleton became involved with the war effort on the radio, and the Dig for Victory campaign that encouraged people to grow their own food crops.

Mr Middleton died in 1945 but television resumed after the war, and eventually programmes such as Gardening Club and In the Garden made new gardening stars, like Percy Thrower. Gardeners’ World began in 1968, and continues to flourish through changing fashions in horticulture.

Mr Middleton’s broadcasts were so successful that they were published as books, some being republished by Aurum Press.

Thank you to Twigs Way for allowing me to use extracts from her book ‘Digging for Victory’.

Did You Know? Mr Middleton was on Desert Island Discs with Roy Plomley back in 1943! I am on the lookout for links to some of those songs so if anybody can help it would be much appreciated.

Books written by Mr C H Middleton include:

  • Mr Middleton Talks About Gardening (1935)
  • More Garden Talks (1936)
  • Winter-flowering Plants for Outdoor Borders (1937)
  • Colour All the Year In My Garden (1938)
  • Mr Middleton Suggests (1939)
  • Your Garden In War-Time (1941)
  • Village Memories (1941)
  • Digging for Victory (1942)
  • Mr Middleton’s All Year Round Gardening Guide (1945)
  • Mr Middleton’s Garden Book (1950)

Short films featuring Mr Middleton:

See also:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/resources/in-depth/gardening.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr_Middleton

 

5 responses to “Mr C H Middleton

  1. Jill

    March 17, 2010 at 10:33

    What a great blog. I look forward to reading how it goes as the year progresses. I am new to allotment gardening. I think Mr Middleton’s broadcasts should be played now on Radio 4 for us all to follow.

     
    • trevorhunt

      March 17, 2010 at 18:05

      I agree Jill. Radio 4 needs a general weekly advice gardening programme. Gardeners Question Time is okay but doesn’t give us enough information on what jobs need doing each week. Mr Middleton’s books are great for this and are still relevant today.

       
  2. tony burleton

    April 29, 2011 at 04:53

    I remember listening to Mr Middleton on radio during the late ’30s and early 40s before I joined the RAF. His catch phrase was referring to his ‘herbaceous borders’ with the second syllable pronounced ‘by’, often mimicked by music hall impersonators. I agree that some of his programmes should be resurrected by the BBC if they still exist. Wonder if he was related to Princess Kate’s family?

     
    • trevorhunt

      April 29, 2011 at 08:16

      Hi Tony and a very big thank you for your comments. Fascinating to know you actually listened to his broadcasts and can remember them. Did he have a very pronounced accent or was it very much a typical BBC accent of that time? I love the catch phrase! So am l right in thinking it would have sounded like ‘herBYceous borders’? I have seen a small piece of film of someone mimicking Mr Middleton on a stage back in the 40′s on YouTube but unfortunately there was no sound with it. I keep searching the internet to try and find out if any of his recordings still exist. Now that would be great!
      You beat me to my next post! I am wondering the very same thing about the Royal Middleton connection. Who knows? Enjoy the wedding and thank you again for calling by.

       
  3. Liz Barrett

    November 4, 2011 at 10:15

    Hi there,
    I have found in a collection of old books in our house ( taken from parents after they passed) a book by C H Middleton More Gardening Talks published 1939/ It does have some provenance as whoever owned has made laborious pencil notes inside very neat and discrete. It also had book mark on how to get rid of earwigs which on the flip side has a picture of the Secretary to the Cabinet, I don’t recognise him. As an expert on this gent do you know how I can find more about him and about the book.

     

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