Creator of Journey into Space and Oh!
What a Lovely War;
Born: June 15, 1917; Died: January 2, 2013.
Loading article content
Charles Chilton, who has died aged 95, was a BBC producer and writer who created the legendary science-fiction radio serial Journey into Space – the last radio show to record higher ratings than television. He also created the radio programme which led to the First World War stage show and film Oh! What a Lovely War. It was inspired by a visit Chilton made to the war grave of the father he never met.
He was born in Euston, north London, and by the time he was five had lost both his parents, his father at Arras. He was taken in by his grandmother and left school at 14 to start work as a sign-maker. However, he asked about jobs at the BBC and was taken on as a delivery boy and then an assistant in the gramophone department. By the 1930s, he was introducing records on air, becoming one of the country's first DJs.
However, it was as a writer and producer of evocative, memorable radio serials that he found his metier. His first hit was 1949's Riders of the Range, which told stories of the West Wild, and four years later, the first series of Journey into Space began.
In the age of television, it may be hard to imagine the impact a radio series about a trip to the Moon might have, but the series was massive, attracting five million viewers. With its optimistic outlook and mixed crew – including a Cockney Chilton based on himself – it was also a forerunner to Star Trek 10 years later. In all, there were two series and two reboots, The Return from Mars in 1981 and Frozen in Time in 2008.
Chilton's other great hit was The Long, Long Trail, which eventually gestated into Oh! What a Lovely War. The original radio serial combined music hall songs with accounts of the conditions in the trenches and was inspired by the search Chilton made for his father's grave in Arras. He eventually found his name inscribed on a memorial with 35,000 others. After the success of the programme, Joan Littlewood of the Theatre Workshop asked Chilton to developed it into a stage show and in 1969, it was made into a film directed by Richard Attenborough.
In all, Chilton worked at the BBC for 46 years and even after leaving, continued to freelance. He was awarded an MBE in 1972 for services to radio and is survived by his wife Penelope and their daughter and two sons.