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Why Children's Hour's Cicely Mathews had no time for me

By Eddie McIlwaine

I was recalling the much-loved Cicely Mathews - presenter and producer of the old Children's Hour radio programme that used to come on the BBC Home Service every weekday afternoon at 5pm.

And, lo and behold, her niece, Margaret Mathews (now 83), read the story and came on the phone to thank me for remembering the lady who, in her time, was one of Northern Ireland's most celebrated broadcasters.

In its era, just after the Second World War, Children's Hour, with Cicely at the mic in Belfast and Uncle Mac in London, was a vital institution that had an extraordinary influence on young people.

There was sadness everywhere when Children's Hour was withdrawn in 1964 because of the impact of television, says Margaret, who appeared on the show many times herself in the I Want to Be an Actor feature written by Graeme Roberts, who eventually became Cicely's husband.

"I even played the sound of feet clomping up stairs in one episode," recalls Margaret, who lives in Knock in Belfast.

More than 1,300 children took part in 255 I Want to Be an Actor scripts over the course of two decades.

Another well-known broadcaster who appeared on Children's Hour with Cicely was Walter Love.

Actors James Ellis and Stephen Boyd (of Ben-Hur fame) made their debuts there, too.

My wife Irene (nee Watson) also made an appearance, playing the piano.

I was auditioned by Cicely in my time at Ballyclare High School, but my acting and singing voice weren't good enough for Children's Hour.

By the way, Cicely's sister, Dorothy, was a celebrated painter of miniatures, whose work can still be seen in exhibitions.

Cicely, who died in 1975, aged 65, was an elocution teacher to start with, and acted at the Group Theatre and in more than 100 BBC radio plays before taking over Children's Hour in 1945.

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