"It doesn't matter how old you are, you can still make your own special dream come true if you get in touch with Wilfred Pickles. Maybe you want to feed a lion or pat a giraffe on the tiny top of his head; or perhaps you'd rather see the lovely lights of London reflected on the Thames, or ride pillion on a motor bike. Maybe you want to meet a film star or you might even want to have a fight-all right! Just ask Wilfred Pickles. He'll try to fix it for you."-BBC publicity, 1954.
In May 1954, Wilfred Pickles bought a format to television that he'd spent years perfecting on radio. A show where the great British public were the stars. Pickles radio series Have A Go illustrated the Yorkshireman's innate ability to get the best out of the public and it won him a loyal following of over 20 million listener's a week and a mailbag of around 5,000 letters. In the series, contestants were asked to recall their intimate secrets and their treasured memories in return for 'having a go' at his money-winning quiz which promised to make them richer by £1/19/11d.
Developing the format further for the transfer to television, Ask Pickles gave the public the chance to reveal their dreams before Wilfred, with the help of his wife, Mabel, made those dreams come true. Some of those dreams may have been no more adventurous than the example of Carys Bowden, an eight-year old from Liverpool who complained she had to go to bed before eight o'clock every evening and therefore missed the sound of Big Ben on television. Wilfred's solution was to meet young Carys, and her sister Enid, in Palace Yard, where they went through the huge wooden doorway and up the narrow, twisting stairs to the bell balcony above the clock. One wonders if, having stood directly above the bells when they chimed, the poor girl ever managed to sleep soundly again!
Another aspiring guest was an elderly lady who had played a violin all her life but wanted to realise her ambition, just once, to play a Stradivarius. But these were much more innocent times and it would be years before the general public were appearing on television demanding "make me a millionaire."
The show was steeped in sentimentality and when not fixing their dreams Wilfred was surprising his guests by confronting them with long lost friends or relatives who they thought they would never see again. They cried tears of joy, of course, and so did the audience, who tuned in without fail week in and week out shooting the series to the top of the BBC's most watched chart. "If the Almighty writes the script," said Wilf, "it's got to be good."
For two years Ask Pickles continued to be watched by millions before the critics inexplicably turned on it accusing Wilfred of shamelessly exploiting the suffering of the innocent (an accusation which today would probably have producers clamouring for the international rights) and with the advent of ITV in 1955 the BBC decided that to do battle with commercial television's offering of historical adventures, US comedies and shoot-'em up Westerns, Wilfred's guns were just not big enough -and they scrapped the show. Younger viewers have probably already identified the format which became Jim'll Fix It, Ask Aspel, The Big Time, Surprise! Surprise!-and even the various model/media/pop idol contests that proliferate our screens today. Shows may have 'sell by' dates and formats may indeed be rested, but it seems that everything in TV land can eventually be revived.
Mrs Sybil Dickinson from Strood, Kent wouldn't have forgotten her experience of appearing on "Ask Pickles" too easily. The lady wrote in saying she'd like to fondle a lion. She was granted her wish. Was she expecting to come face-to-face with a small cuddly cub? Who knows. But what she was presented with was a half-grown ten-month-old monster. Her experience got worse. The creature was bought onto the studio floor where it promptly snapped at the studio managers legs and then savaged the sleeve (and thank goodness no more) of Mrs Dickinson's dress.
Published on November 28th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.