Friday, 16 January 2015

I’m Listening

The Listener first appeared on newsstands this day in 1929. The new journal, published by the BBC, proclaimed itself ‘a necessary auxiliary to the microphone’, ‘an enterprise in the service of broadcasting, undertaken in discharge of an important part of the Corporation’s responsibilities towards the listener, the citizen’.

A circular sent to prospective advertisers and agents prior to publication outlined the lofty ideals of The Listener:
The BBC’s new literary weekly. It will be of interest to you to know that, partly in order to meet the constant demands of listeners for the text of broadcast talks, and still more to strengthen the general cultural influence of the broadcast programme, the British Broadcasting Corporation has decided to publish, commencing on Wednesday 16 January 1929, a new weekly illustrated journal, price 2d, under the title of The Listener.

This journal will be literary with a broad educational aim; that is, it will be such a paper as will appeal to every intelligent man or woman seeking for the best kind of entertainment and information. The Listener will not be confined merely to the publication of the principal broadcast talks of the week, but will also contain articles covering all the serious interests of the listening public.

The mere suggestion of a literary magazine from the BBC met with some considerable opposition from other publishers, led by the New Statesman who saw it as “thoroughly objectionable”. In order to appease these concerns Reith and his Board of Governors agreed that it consist of no more than 10% of “original contributed matter not related to broadcasting” and that it would only accept advertising necessary “to cover its total cost”. In the event it didn’t even do that, it made a loss every year in its first decade of publication and rarely made anything approaching a profit for most of its 62-year run.

Its peak years, in terms of circulation, were 1948 and 1949 when it achieved 153,090. By 1990 it could only claim a circulation of just 17,000 and the final issue was in January 1991.
Over the years, like its BBC stable mate the Radio Times, The Listener was a great patron of graphic artists. One such was Peter Brookes who was commissioned to draw many delightful and often humorous Radio Times covers – if you have the 2015 Radio Times calendar, check out July. From my own, admittedly small, archive of The Listener I’ve selected six covers by Brookes:

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Questions on a Postcard

Before they invented the World Wide Web and Google if you had a burning question you wanted answering, such as the origin of the phrase Dutch courage, you’d have to scurry off to your local library or bookshop (no Amazon remember). Or, this being the 1980s, you could pop your question on a postcard and send it off the John Dunn’s Answers Please on Radio 2 or to Radio 4’s Enquire Within.

Running for thirteen years Enquire Within offered listeners the resources of the BBC’s Reference Library to answer those “niggling little questions”. In charge of proceedings was Neil Landor (1978-87) and then Dilly Barlow (1987-1991).  In this edition from 21 March 1985 Neil Landor tackles that question of Dutch courage as well as gold braid oak leafs on the caps of senior officers in the armed forces. Riveting stuff or what!
The readers are Hilda Bamber and Christopher Douglas. Those of you with long memories may remember that both Neil and Hilda read the IRN news in the late 70s. The producer of this edition was Stephen Shipley, though I note that editions later that year were produced by a certain Andrew Parfitt, some years before his elevation to Controller of Radio 1.

Continuing this fine radio tradition Simon Mayo offers a similar service to bemused parents in his Homework Sucks feature on his Radio 2 drivetime show.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Percival at his Wit’s End

Over the years Lance Percival, who died earlier this week, must have written dozens of his topical calypsos; these often improvised songs were a feature of his appearances on TW3 and Start the Week  

Comic actor and singer Lance Percival’s career started on stage in revues such as Hand Me Your Sticks and One Over the Eight.  Those appearances eventually led to producer Ned Sherrin inviting Lance to join the cast of the hugely influential That Was the Week That Was, thus launching his TV, film and radio career.
On the radio Lance had a couple of music shows on the Light Programme in the mid-60s with him singing and introducing musical guests in Lance Percival (1964) and the delightfully titled Lance A’GoGo (1965) intriguingly billed as “some records, odd sounds and odd voices.”

Between 1972 and 1976 Lance was back with those topical calypsos as part of Radio 4’s Start the Week with Richard Baker. But the bulk of his radio work was on a succession of panel games where his quick wit and improvisational humour was invaluable. The shows included the word game Many A Slip, Pop Score, Just a Minute, The Law Game and Press Gang.
Between 1976 and 1983 Lance was in charge of the comedy game Wit’s End which offered the opportunity for club comedians to crack some hoary old gags.  By way of a tribute here’s an edition from the fourth series, first broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 6 July 1980. The comics are Dave Ismay, Mike Newman and Kenny Smiles. The announcer is Richard Clegg and the series producer Danny Greenstone.

Lance Percival 1933-2015

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Rolling Back the Year

We are, apparently, slap bang in the middle of what some call Merryneum. That post Christmas period when we’ve had our fill of pud, turkey leftovers and the sales and we’re girding our loins for the New Year’s Eve revelries and the return to work. It’s also a time for reflection on the past year, the highlights and the lowlights, the good and the bad.

As usual there are a smattering of review programmes in the current national radio schedules. I’ve spotted BBC Radio 4’s News Review of the Year with Sarah Montague hash-tagging the year and Pick of the Year with Lynne Truss. On Radio 5 Live there’s Chris Warburton’s news and sports highlights in 5 Live in Short and the excellent Radio Review of the Year with Jane Garvey and Stephanie Hurst. On the World Service you can hear highlights from across the language services in The Fifth Floor.      
But on the RRJ blog I like to dip into the archive and so its not the last twelve months I’m remembering but the events on 1982 when for much of the year the focus in the UK was on a forgotten group of islands in the South Atlantic.

News Review of the Year 1982 is presented by one of the BBC's then foreign correspondents, David McNeil. It was produced by John Allen and broadcast on Radio 4 on Sunday 26 December 1982.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Year Ending – 35 Years Ago

Do you recall the news events of 1979? No me neither, the General Election aside.  So to remind you, here’s the Week Ending team with their take on the year.

You’ll hear the voices of Bill Wallis, David Tate, Sheila Steafel and Chris Emmett with musical accompaniment from the David Firman Trio. The main writer is Guy Jenkin with other sketches, songs and news lines provided by Max Alcock, John Langdon, Roger Woddis, Peter Hickey, Richard Quick, Alan Nixon, Strode Jackson, Stephen Jacobs, Simon Rose, Vilnis Vesma and Andy Wilson.
This edition of Year Ending went out at 11.15 p.m. on New Year’s Eve (and no repeat) so goodness knows how many people heard it at the time. The BBC don’t have a copy but home recordings exist including this one from my archive.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Tip Top Christmas

Pull the master switch. All aboard for A Radio Tip Top Christmas.

Yes once again I crank up the Lunewyre technology to bring you this 1996 Christmas Day special hosted by Kid Tempo and The Ginger Prince for what was to be their last outing on BBC Radio 1.

May I wish a very Happy Christmas to all readers of the blog and offer particular thanks to all those that have kindly offered feedback, information and old recordings. I’ll be back with some year-end specials next week.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Big Holy Christmas

What was big and holy and appeared at Christmas? Answer: Simon Mayo’s Big Holy Christmas show on Radio 1. It was a seasonal version of the station’s mid-90s “irreligious religious” programme that was, according to Robert Hanks of The Times, “light on religion and heavy on the Mayo.”

The three Christmas Eve editions of Simon Mayo’s Big Holy Christmas in 1993, 1994 and 1995 are perhaps best remembered for the renditions of well-known Christmas carols in the hands of some unlikely pop stars. In this (edited) edition from 24 December 1994 you’ll hear Sparks perform Little Drummer Boy, Sandie Shaw attempts Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Squeeze with I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday, Donna Summer sings I’ll Be Home For Christmas and finally a specially composed, and untitled, tune from The Beautiful South.  

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