Junior Choice is a BBC Radio programme originally broadcast from 1954 until 1982 with Christmas specials from 2007 until 2015 and again since 2017. Originally broadcast on the BBC Light Programme on Saturday mornings from 9.10 to 9.55 (later, 9.00–10.00). and later BBC Radio 1, and BBC Radio 2. Its precursor from 1952 was entitled Children's Choice, echoing the weekday Housewives' Choice.
The programme played requests from children of all ages. For the first 11 years of its run, the programme was introduced by Derek McCulloch, Uncle Mac. McCulloch's grandfatherly tone was quintessentially 'old-school' BBC. His opening words "Hello children, everywhere!", his catch-phrase was a modification of his much earlier closing words "Goodnight children, everywhere" on Children's Hour.
Children wrote in with requests often just to get their names mentioned on the radio. McCulloch ensured that all types of music were played whatever the majority had requested: not just children's pieces but a wide range of music from pop to hymns to the light classics. The signature tune until the mid-1960s was Puffin' Billy by Edward White played by the Melodi Light Orchestra.
McCulloch made his last broadcast in 1965 and several other presenters were tried including Leslie Crowther. After BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2 were launched, the show was renamed Junior Choice and simultaneously broadcast on both stations and Puffin' Billy was replaced by an instrumental version of the Seekers' hit Morningtown Ride played by Stan Butcher, from his 1966 album a His Birds and Brass, which remained the show's theme until Stewart's last show, the 2015 Christmas day special. It was then revived on the 2020 Christmas Special with Anneka Rice.
In February 1968 Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart took over from Crowther and was the host for eleven years, attracting more than 17 million listeners. The style became less cosy and less reverent. As tastes changed, new favourites were added, pop records, as opposed to records specifically for children, were requested more frequently as the 1970s progressed. Some increasingly outdated and unpopular records considered by BBC schedulers as "old favourites" remained for years, such as "A Windmill in Old Amsterdam" by Ronnie Hilton, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" by Allan Sherman and "My Brother" by Terry Scott. The show was peppered with catch-phrase jingles such as "'Ello Darlin'", recorded by an unknown patient at a hospital in Billericay and "Happy Birthday to You" sung by an eight-year-old boy from a football club in Crosskeys, on the team coach after the match. The Ello Darlin jingle was featured until Stewart's last show in 2015.
In 1980 Stewart was replaced by Tony Blackburn and his "dog" Arnold but by this time the programme was seen as somewhat old-fashioned. The title Junior Choice was dropped in the early months of 1982, but similar programmes, now titled Tony Blackburn's Saturday Show and Tony Blackburn's Sunday Show continued until 23 September 1984, after which Blackburn left Radio 1, Peter Powell took over the weekend breakfast show, and the link with the "Uncle Mac" era was dropped.
In 2007, Stewart returned as host for a one off programme during Radio 2's 40th Birthday celebrations in September and then what has become a regular Christmas special starting on Christmas Eve that year and then every Christmas Day from 2008 onwards (except 2016). The last of these featuring Stewart as host was in 2015, as he died suddenly just 2 weeks later, aged 74, on 9 January 2016.
After Stewart's death and a hiatus in 2016, the show returned on Christmas Day 2017, with Anneka Rice as its new host, who since then has come back to present more editions on Christmas Day 2018, 2019 and 2020. For the 2018 and 2019 editions, Rice invited young listeners, named Junior Choosers, to call in to the show to play a game with her and pick a song. This was then dropped for the 2020 edition, which reverted more to the feel of the Stewart era, and had some fellow Radio 2 presenters choosing a song to be played on the show.
- Derek McCulloch (1954-1965)
- Leslie Crowther (1965-1968)
- Ed Stewart (1968-1979, 2007 birthday special, Christmas editions, 2007-2015)
- Tony Blackburn (1980-82, when Junior Choice name was dropped)
- Anneka Rice (Christmas editions, 2017-present)
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