Freda Hitchen was just 3 when she first appeared on the stage, tap dancing. It was the start of a life filled with theatre, music and song. Included in this were numerous performances in amateur groups of favourite shows such as Singing in the Rain, Cabaret and Guys and Dolls.
She met her husband Keith in the 1950s at a dance at Victoria Hall in Halifax, a popular venue for a sociable Saturday night out back in the day. “We used to jive and rock’n’roll to dance bands and swing bands. We were brought up with that,” recalls Keith. “We got married when we were 19 and 20 years old and people said it wouldn’t last, but we’re now 83.
“On a Sunday night we would go to concerts, also at Victoria Hall. National bands and singers of the day such as Johnny Dankworth, The Ted Heath Band and Jack Parnell would be playing. We had to sit on chairs in rows because we weren’t allowed to move on a Sunday.”
Freda was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2014 and now uses a wheelchair due to the disease. Recently, Keith – who is also Freda’s principle carer – discovered m4d Radio. “We listen to m4d Radio’s 50s era music on an Alexa. We really like the selections put together and it includes songs from the shows. It takes us back to that period of our life and also reminds us of our parents.
“Freda has always been brilliant at remembering the words,” says Keith, who is a County Councillor and chairs a Dementia Friendly Communities Group near their home on the West coast of Cumbria. “We were in shows together throughout our married life and she knew everyone’s lines, not just her own. She started to forget them which is how we found out she has dementia.
The couple listen to m4d Radio daily, preferring it to the local station that they used to tune into. While her short-term memory is now very short, Freda’s long-term memory is still in place, so the 50s music is helping to recall happy times of her youth.
“Once I found m4d Radio we have tended to use it instead of others. We were peeling apples this morning and doing a bit of jigging about to the music. Freda will say, ‘I like this one, I remember this one.’”
“We were really glad when we found the station, because we are really enjoying it,” Keith says enthusiastically. They have also passed on the information to Freda’s home carer, who comes for a few hours per week. “We told her about it, and she has told a friend of ours who she also cares for, so he’s become a listener too.”