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 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:
- In Your Garden
- Radio Olympia
- Compost Heaps For Feeding
- Vine, More & Nevard
- The Passing Of An Old Friend