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Many modern TV shows owe a considerable debt to this show which began in May 1954 and was presented by professional Yorkshireman Wilfred Pickles and his wife Mabel.
Ask Pickles made dreams come true (a la Jim’ll Fix It). Although many of the requests were no more momentous than to hear some favourite song by some conveniently available singer, the show often reunited folk with long-lost relatives (the blueprint for Surprise! Surprise!?), and some of the more emotive segments included a little lame girl presented with the pony of her dreams and an old violinist realising his life-long ambition to play a Stradivarius.
Formerly a builder, Pickles had entered radio broadcasting in 1931, and by reading the news during the war he helped boost national solidarity. Whereas the other newsreaders had regulation BBC Home Counties South accents, Pickles deliberately set out to comfort Northerners by wishing them “Good neet, everybody”.
Pickles loved sentimentality: the more people that burst into tears in the studio each week, the better the show.
They cried when they were confronted with former classmates or workmates and they were completely overcome with emotion when faced with relatives they thought (or perhaps hoped?) they’d never see again. Viewers wept too – in their millions.
The show topped the ratings for two years; everyone was having a bawl. Well, almost everyone. Cynics accused Pickles of being shamelessly sentimental, of exploiting suffering: and a Mrs Sybil Dickinson of Strood in Kent had an experience she would rather forget.
She wrote to Ask Pickles saying she would like to fondle a lion. She was expecting to stroke a tiny cub but instead came face to face with a half-grown ten-month-old monster which promptly snapped at the studio manager’s legs, then savaged the sleeve of Mrs Dickinson’s dress.
Still, as long as they cried . . .