Listen to KCOM’s Call Father Christmas phone line from 1963
KCOM, then known at the Hull Corporation Telephone Department, launched its first Call Father Christmas phone line where youngsters were able to ring Santa and listen to a festive tale.
A vintage tape of Father Christmas telling Hull children a bedtime story has brought back memories for the two youngsters who met Santa in the 1960s.
The newly digitised recordings, discovered on a reel of tape in an old box of archives, feature a story read by Santa which was part of the Call Father Christmas service run by KCOM – then the Hull Telephone Department – during the 1950s, 60s and 70s
And for Helen Cooper and her brother Nick Bulmer the tape has brought back a flood of happy memories of when they were invited to meet Santa in 1963 for a photoshoot to promote the service.
Now, 54 years later, Helen and Nick have reunited with former telephone engineer Jack Lloyd, who stood in for the real Father Christmas at the 60s photoshoot - as Santa himself was busy loading his sleigh.
“I remember more about being a child ringing Father Christmas from home than being photographed with Jack at the time,” says Helen, who was seven when she met Santa in 1963.
“But I do remember when it was bedtime we were allowed to ring the line and listen to the story.
“It was just exciting. We would ring up and there would be ‘Ho, ho ho!’ and we’d all crowd around the telephone and listen to the story. That was our bedtime story at Christmas.”
Brother Nick says his memories of meeting the big man in red are a little sketchy, but he does remember calling Kris Kringle was a big yuletide tradition.
He said: “I was only five at the time so I don’t have a vivid memory of doing it, but I do remember ringing up and listening to the story being quite magical at the time.
“What has surprised me more looking at the old cuttings is how far around the world the story went.
“There were pieces about it in the New York Times and others from Paris and Tokyo. I think my sister was more impressed that the picture went in the Brownie Annual.”
The Call Santa service was first launched in 1952 and was hugely popular throughout the 1950s and 60s when thousands of youngsters would call Father Christmas to hear about his festive preparations.
The idea came about when Councillor JM Stamper heard of a similar recorded message service on the continent and decided to replicate it in Hull, making it the first of its kind in the UK.
By dialling Hull 211 211 children could hear carol singing and stories written and performed by Hull Telephone Department employees.
The first story was a phenomenal success attracting 20,000 callers with 35,000 customers the following year, generating national and international media interest.
Jack, now 91, of west Hull, was one of two stand-in Santas KCOM used for the line, his dulcet tones deemed perfect for the role of bedtime storyteller.
He said: “I worked at the Hull Corporation Telephone Department as a telephone engineer working in the exchanges.
“The telephone manager had heard about this Father Christmas story that they used to do in Germany and a friend of mine put it to him that it would be a good thing to do in the three nights running up to Christmas in Hull – and that’s when it all started.
“My colleagues seemed to think I might have a voice that was low enough and sounded old enough to take the part of Father Christmas,” says Jack, who used to rehearse his Santa lines in the basement at the Guildhall, where his office was based.
“It’s been magical to hear the tapes again. It brings back a lot of happy memories. It was sheer joy at the time doing the recordings and then hearing children’s reaction to them.”
The success of Call Father Christmas led to the creation of other recorded information lines, such as Bedtime Stories, Teledisc and even a Ken Dodd joke line.
The Telechef recipe line was introduced in 1950s and was still going strong until the 1990s, with 50s recipes such as meat loaf and corned beef with cabbages being replaced over time by dishes such as Italian Chicken Bake.