Friday, 11 August 2017

The Carnival is Over

'It shall not be lawful for a broadcast to be made from a ship or aircraft while it is in or over the United Kingdom or external waters, nor shall it be lawful for a broadcast to be made from a ship registered in the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man or any of the Channel Islands or an aircraft so registered while the ship or aircraft is elsewhere than in or over the United Kingdom or external waters'.

So begins one of the most significant pieces of UK broadcasting legislation, the infamous Marine, and &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967, enacted on 14 July 1967 and coming into force a month later, exactly 50 years this coming Monday.

Plenty has been written about that golden era of the offshore pirate stations and the machinations that ensued to kill them off - I have a large selection of such tomes on my bookshelf - so I'll not attempt to summarise it here.

What better way to celebrate the pirate radio days than with a couple of airchecks from two veteran broadcasters. I'm not sure how widely available these recordings are but they were given to me by ex-City and Caroline DJ Tom Edwards.

Firstly from 6 September 1966 its Roger 'Twiggy' Day "moving and grooving" on his evening show on Radio England.  

The second offering is Paul Burnett broadcasting on Radio 270 off the coast at Scarborough. This is part of the breakfast show from 14 February 1967.  

Over the weekend you can relive the Swinging Sixties on Pirate Radio Essex live from onboard the LV18. And on Monday evening over on BBC Radio 2 there's Johnnie Walker Meets ...the Pirates

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Life at the ZOO

The hundreds of shoppers who daily pass by Urban Outfitters and Schuh on London's Oxford Street will be unaware that the building above them played a part in Britain's wartime broadcasting effort.  Yet it was the place where George Orwell broadcast to India and Ed Murrow to the States. It was where John Arlott started his career as a radio producer, at one point working alongside a young David Jacobs. And it was where a girl in the typing pool called Jean Metcalfe got her first opportunity to be in front of the microphone.    

Behind 200 Oxford Street cut through Great Portland Street and then take a right down Market Place and there's a clue for those that spot the plaque on the wall just next to the entrance of what is now known as Orwell Studios. It reads: "From June 1942 for fifteen years, this building was the headquarters of the BBC Overseas Services. During the war direct broadcasts were made to America from the roof while air-raids were in progress, The BBC vacated the premises in November 1957".

In the early days of the Second World War the BBC was asked by the Government to treble its output abroad so increasing the scale of both its Overseas and European Services, then based at Broadcasting House.  Also for security reasons some departments were being re-located, hence the move out to Wood Norton in Worcestershire for the likes of the drama staff.

During 1940 the various parts of the BBC's Empire Service found itself split up over three sites. Most of what would be the European Services was shifted to Bush House - after having first being evacuated to Maida Vale - others were billeted to Aldenham House in Hertfordshire and Abbey Manor near Evesham.

In June1941 BBC engineers indentified the basement of what was then the Peter Robinson department store, just round the corner from Broadcasting House in Oxford Street, as suitable for wartime studios. A surprising decision perhaps as the store had been ravaged by bombing in September 1940 - Broadcasting House itself was hit the following month.

Anyway the menswear department moved out of the basement and the BBC moved in to build the nine (later thirteen) studios and a control room. Some office accommodation was then added to the floors above and from June 1942 staff from both Aldenham House and Abbey Manor moved in.

In fact, as the plaque in Market Place attests, this wasn't the building's first association with broadcasting. During those famous Ed Murrow rooftops descriptions of London throughout the Blitz, the US correspondent had used the top of 200 Oxford Street as one of his vantage points, though he never revealed this at the time.   

Although the upper floors of the building are now named after George Orwell, his time at the BBC as an Eastern Services producer and broadcaster were described by the novelist as "two wasted years." His diary reflects that "much of the stuff that goes out from the BBC is just shot into the stratosphere, not listened to by anybody".

Staff at 200 Oxford Street would jokingly refer to the building as the ZOO. The studios themselves were perhaps not best placed for noise pollution from the nearest tube line. Edward Pawley's history of BBC Engineering explains: "Just as the noise from the Bakerloo Tube could be heard in the basement studios of Broadcasting House when it was opened in 1932, the noise of the underground trains on the Central London Line could be heard in some of the studios at 200 Oxford Street, which were about 50 ft below ground level. It was, in fact, possible to distinguish the arrival and departure of the trains, and the opening and closing of their doors. One of the many overseas visitors who came to visit Bush House after the war claimed that he had been able to identify a particular studio when listening 5000 miles away by the sound of the underground trains — and he was right."

Before her time presenting Forces Favourites (later Family Favourites) Jean Metcalfe had joined the BBC's General Office in the summer of 1940. She soon moved across to the Empire Service to help deal with the fan mail that came in for the announcers. Jean takes up the story of how she got her break into broadcasting: "the Service was expanding with the need to keep overseas territories in touch with London and soon we were moved from our makeshift office in the Restaurant Annexe of Broadcasting House, with its food smells and plasterboard partitions, to 200 Oxford Street, the old Peter Robinson building. Now there were dozens of us working twenty-four hours a day on the Overseas Service. My work became more clerical than secretarial, thank God, and even brought me glimpses of the studios below grounds. One joyous day, May 24th 1941, Noel Iliff asked me to read Thomas Nashe's poem Spring, the sweet Spring in a programme he was producing, Books and People at 1500 GMT. The refrain 'Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo' would sound silly, he said, in the deep voice of the presenter, the novelist Gerald Bullet. It sounded pretty silly in mine too, I thought. However, it didn't matter if only a handful of homesick Kenyan planters would hear me, I was on the wireless - at last."

BBC producer Trevor Hill was one of the BBC staff, at that time a Programme Engineer, who made the move round the corner to Oxford Street where he worked on Radio Newsreel and many other programmes: "My job, when I started work at 200 Oxford Street in the Continuity Studios, was to play music on gramophone records besides complete programmes recorded by the BBC on seventeen-inch 'slow speed' discs. That was in the days before microgrooves had been invented. The BBC slow speed records would have things like Front Line Family recorded on them. Then there was the Epilogue. On a particular Sunday evening when I was working in the Continuity Studio for the Pacific Service I had a very nice Australian announcer on duty with me, Isabel Ann Shead. The trusting Ann turned to me and asked what was next on that day's Routine Transmission Schedule. I consulted the document. 'Oh, it's the old E-pill-o-gog,' I replied facetiously. Miss Shead went into action. 'This is the Pacific Service of the BBC.' We were allowed the slightest reverential pause for such a Sunday transmission. 'The E-pill-o-gog!' declared the good lady for all to hear."  

David Jacobs was briefly based at 200 Oxford Street after the war when he joined the BBC as an announcer in a team that included Jack de Manio, Jean Metcalfe and Mary Malcolm. His recollection of his time there seems to be full of japes: "for instance during a band show at Hammersmith Palais de Danse, where I was sharing announcing duties with Mary Malcolm, Mary turned to me before one number and said 'I can't think of anything, David - what shall I say?' 'Oh, say the next tune reminds you of the film Sweater Girl,' I told her. Mary had not time to sort this out. She trustingly stepped up to the microphone and announced to a large section of the English-speaking world: 'The next number always reminds me of the film Sweater Girl. ladies and gentlemen, The Jersey Bounce!' And her horrified 'Oh, David, you're dreadful!' also went winging out on the waves before she stepped back again."

But it wasn't all high jinks for David. For a while he was also one of the readers on Book of Verse, produced by a recent recruit to the BBC staff, one John Arlott. David recalls:"One of the things John taught me was how to get a story told in thirty seconds or a minute with a beginning, a middle and an end. he had me looking out of the window of his room overlooking Oxford Street and said, 'Righto, here's a watch. I want you to tell me what's happening in that street. You have to start when I tell you and when it comes to thirty seconds you've got to be halfway through and knowing you've got thirty seconds to finish and at the minute you've got to have finished. Not a minute and one second, a minute.' He had me doing that for quite a time, which I found very attractive for two reasons. One, that he should take the trouble to do it, and two, that he was concerned that I should learn. Ever since, it's been very useful, because if somebody says ' Will you give me thirty seconds,' I can count in my head and do it."

There's footage of the exterior of the buidling dating from 1953 on the Getty Images website.

The BBC continued to occupy 200 Oxford Street until late 1957 by which time any remaining staff were moved over to Bush House. The building then reverted back to retail use and was occupied by C&A for over forty years until the company closed down its UK business in 2001.   

In 2006 the site was redeveloped by ORMS Architectural Design on behalf of Redevco (the ultimate owners of C&A's property portfolio) to create the retail space for Urban Outfitters and Shuh and then apartments above named Orwell Studios. With that rooftop view from which those wartime broadcasts were made you can now occupy a 2-bedroomed penthouse apartment for £1.7m.  

Friday, 7 July 2017

Radio Lives - Paul Hollingdale

The recording of his voice will be played again this September. "This is Radio 2, the Light Programme". It was a moment in radio history of which he was justly proud. He was to make something of a career out of launching radio stations - later came Radio 210, Blue Danube Radio and Vienna International Radio. The voice is that of Paul Hollingdale whose death, at the age of 83, was announced this week.

Paul was born in Brighton in 1938. I can find nothing about his early upbringing or education other than the fact that as a lad he appeared as an extra in the 1947 film release of, aptly enough, Brighton Rock.

His National Service was in the RAF and he was eventually posted to RAF Wahn in Germany, fairly close to the headquarters of the British Forces Network in Cologne. He was keen to get into radio and after helping out in the gramophone library was offered the chance to produce a Latin American dance programme. Soon after he was in front of the microphone as one of the BFN's team of announcers looking after the early morning show Musical Clock. His passion was the cinema, perhaps spurred by that early dalliance with filming in Brighton, and he used to broadcast film programmes whilst with the BFN. It was in 1959 that he made his first appearance on the BBC as the host of the German leg of Two-Way Family Favourites.

Back in the UK in 1960 Paul was looking for work when he met up with Canadian DJ Doug Stanley, who'd also appeared on BFN Cologne. Stanley had set up the grandly named Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company Ltd - "your friendly host of the Dutch coast" - an English speaking pirate radio station based on Radio Veronica's ship the MV Borkum Rift. Paul, who by now has also found work in the London studios of  Radio Luxembourg on the Phillips sponsored The Six O'Clock Record Show, joined CNBC from autumn 1960 and stayed there to the summer of 1961.        

In late 1961 Paul was back on dry land working freelance both for the BBC on shows Teenagers' Turn, Playtime and Things are Swingin' as well as appearing on Radio Luxembourg as one of the announcers out in the Grand Duchy on shows such as The Big 'O' Show sponsored by Oriole Records.    

At this point I'll let Paul take up the story: "I had been working for Radio Luxembourg since the early sixties, either as a London based DJ presenting sponsored shows, or living as a resident on the Grand Duchy.  I was in fact there for two and a half years.  At Easter in April 1964 I travelled to Amsterdam with another DJ, a friend called Don Wardell, as we had heard that Radio Caroline was being launched that weekend. Because the signal would be inaudible, we decided on Holland because it was near the coast. We heard the first broadcast with Simon Dee and I told Don, that in my opinion, this launch would change the whole history of UK Radio. During the Summer we heard the impact that Caroline was having, and I made a decision to leave 208 and return to London in September of that year.  I heard that the BBC were looking for contract announcers and I applied and got a job".

Having joined the Presentation team, working for Andrew Timothy, he would do the usual rounds of news bulletins, continuity announcements, concert introductions and gramophone record shows like Morning Music, Delaney's Delight, Mack is Back, Swing Into Summer, Stay Late and the first editions of Nord-Ring.

Here's Paul again: "One of my first hurdles was to handle the death of Churchill which I announced with all the protocol that went with that on that Sunday morning in January 1965. Andrew Timothy told me that I would have to be de-luxembourgised  and I was directed to listen to various announcers like Colin Doran, Frank Phillips and Tim Gudgin.

Because of my versatility, during the next couple of years I was put to work presenting an eclectic mix of series like Music in the Peter York Manner and Mack is Back, a big band show with the then very popular Ken MacIntosh and his Orchestra broadcast from the Playhouse Theatre down by the Thames embankment. There were others like occasional programmes on the then Home Service with such groups as the Novelairs directed by Edward Rubach.  I was also involved in Nord-Ring, where I presented various light music concerts travelling around Europe which were aired on the Light Programme. In between all of that, I was a newsreader on Radio Newsreel and did occasional shows for the World Service.

I then began working with (producer) Doreen Davies on the show Swing Into Summer - a three hour afternoon segment. In fact I was used at every opportunity and from 1964 to the start of Radio 2 in 67 - I probably presented more shows than anyone else.  The reason for this was that many of the older brigade of announcers like Frank Phillips, Alvar Liddell, John Snagge, John Webster etc. couldn't quite believe that changes were in the air and so they didn't want to involve themselves and weren't in tune with the trends in pop music at that time. Apart from that they were all coming into the final furlong of their careers at the Beeb.

By 1965  the long running Morning Music sequence, which was un-announced except for time checks, news and weather, was in need of a change and Breakfast Special came in being. So some of the 'Light' announcers such John Roberts, Peter Latham, John Dunn and myself were given the show to  present on a turnabout basis.  It was then they decided to introduce a limited amount of 'needletime' into the shows -  one disc every fifteen minutes. And there were inserts of vocals from  groups like The Settlers, The Peter King Chorale, Lois Lane etc".

In September 1967 came that famous opening announcement, Controller Robin Scott having chosen Paul for the task. If the usual Saturday morning pattern had been followed that would have fallen to Bruce Wyndham.

Paul continued to appear on Radio 2's Breakfast Special, presenting his final show on Friday 2 January 1970. Remarkably an off-air recording exists of that show. "Hello and good morning everyone. This is yours truly Paul Hollingdale here for the very last time..."

No reason was given for Paul's departure but in 2012 he candidly told me what had occurred backstage and I hope that he wouldn't mind me repeating the story: "I have never mentioned this before but my departure was very curious.  The then Controller of the Network, Douglas Muggeridge, didn't particularly like me on the air, despite the fact that I was very popular with the listeners.  One day I was called to his office to say that I would be coming off Breakfast Special and that was it.  As there was no explanation - I told him that I wouldn't mind returning to announcer duties - but he was emphatic he wanted me out of the building. I had no confrontation with the man.  I hardly knew him as he was tucked away in his office most of the time together with all the other 'suits.'  My departure created a lot of problems at the time as there was no-where else to go.  I have to tell you that I felt a lot of anguish at the time of my leaving, as I had given every hour of my life to the station, even taking up residence In Hallam Street adjacent to Broadcasting House".

In the event Paul headed back to his home town of Brighton, for a while working freelance on BBC Radio Brighton and also meeting up with local singer Johnny Wakelin whom he ended up managing for a few years.

Regular radio work beckoned again when Radio 210 opened in Reading in early 1976, again Paul was the first voice on-air, or strictly speaking the first DJ, if you count Arthur Lowe's appearance as Captain Mainwaring. Paul recalled that "210 started very middle of the road. That didn't last long and a few months later we were playing Top 40 stuff."

In 1979 Paul helped found and launched the English-speaking service from ORF, the Austrian state broadcaster, Blue Danube Radio. Initially he would split his time between Vienna and the UK but eventually his beloved Vienna would become his home for many years. During the 1980s and 90s he was also heard on Chiltern Radio (audio here), presented film programmes and reviews on LBC, Radio Luxembourg and Sky TV and was part of the launch line-up for Country 1035.

Blue Danube Radio closed in 2000 but Paul continued to work for ORF and other companies such as Inflight Productions. In September 2007 he made a one-off return to the BBC for Radio 2's 40th anniversary to recall his role in the start of the network. (audio here) In October 2012 he launched his final radio project, an English-speaking news and music station, Vienna International Radio. Here's Paul on VIR on 14 November 2013.

In recent months Paul gave an extensive interview about the Light Programme and Radio 2 for inclusion in a couple of documentaries produced by Made in Manchester that are to air on Radio 2 this autumn. Ever the radio professional, whilst in his hospital bed he continued to record reports for Vienna International Radio. He died of cancer on the morning of 5 July.

Paul Trevor Anthony Hollingdale 1934-2017

I never met Paul but from 2012 onwards we had an email correspondence about his radio career and he was always more than willing to help me with my research for the blog. On occasions I was able to provide him with copies of some of his old shows and he was grateful for being reunited with his earlier self. He once told me that "I always enjoy your gems from the past. I think most people in radio in the UK think I have retired to Eastbourne and residing in the Home for the Bewildered DJs.  How wrong they are". I was saddened to hear of his death and I hope that this tribute goes some way to providing a more complete picture of the career of  a broadcaster whose role in radio history is assured.  

Monday, 5 June 2017

Why Vote? It Only Encourages Them

Whether you're voting for "strong and stable government" or "for the many, not the few" (other political parties are available) the thankfully short 2017 general election campaign culminates in polling this Thursday. The British public, perhaps weary of all the major votes over the last couple of years, may well resort to that old adage, why vote? it only encourages them - a saying whose originator is defined as 'anonymous', though the internet seems to think, erroneously, that it's Billy Connelly.

Thirty-eight years ago last month the UK voted in its first female Prime Minister. "A new satirical dawn is breaking" remarked wit and satirist Alan Coren. On the cusp of that seismic change in politics, just before, and immediately after, the close of polls on 3 May 1979 BBC Radio 4 broadcast this admittedly rather shambolic live comedy show to mark the change of guard from Sunny Jim (cue impression from Chris Emmett) to the Iron Lady (wheel on Janet Brown).

Why Vote? It Only Encourages Them was a combination of The News Huddlines and The News Quiz. From Huddlines comes the master of ceremonies for the whole show, Roy Hudd, together with the aforementioned Chris Emmett and Janet Brown. From The News Quiz are the regular team captains Alan Coren and Richard Ingrams joined by Willie Rushton and Peter Cook. David Jason, at the time a regular voice on Week Ending, also pops up. There are some bizarre, though nonetheless funny, interludes in which Brian Johnston and Bill Frindall describe what's going on the BBC1 TV coverage, a joke that works better in the studio.

The programme was broadcast live - and the gaps do sometimes show, ably covered-up by Hudd - from 9.35 pm, just before the close of polls, until 10.00 pm. Brain Redhead then appears for ten minutes in discuss the predictions on the final outcome, though this has been edited out on this recording. The comedy resumes again at 10.10 pm for half-an-hour with the comedians now off the leash a little more, as the ballot boxes have now been sealed. (Topical comedy shows had to tread a little more carefully during the election period, more so than it does now. Week Ending was pulled from the schedules as soon as the election was called).

To my knowledge Why Vote? It Only Encourages Them has never been repeated, not surprising given its topical nature. I'm grateful to David Mann who kindly supplied this recording.

Of course, I would encourage you all to vote this coming Thursday. 

Friday, 2 June 2017

Fun at One - Windbags

If the sound of Radio 1's early 90s comedy output was predominantly male - Morris, Lewis-Smith, Lee and Herring etc. - then the female riposte came in the form of Windbags.

Windbags saw the comedy pairing of stand-ups Jo Brand and Donna McPhail and ran for two short series in 1993 and 1994. Tim Worthington describes it as the perfect vehicle for their "established tongue-in-cheek acerbic view of dumb chauvinist attitudes an notions of conventional female deportment, and this made for a hugely entertaining show that strongly appealed to sympathetic listeners". 

In this, the series two finale, from 11 July 1994 joining Jo and Donna are Dawn French, Hattie Hayridge, Sarah Dunant and Sue Carpenter. The producer is Caroline Leddy. (Incidentally I've no idea why, at intervals, you keep hearing "who turned out the lights" during the first half of this recording).

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Answer Lies in the Soil - GQT at 70

We Brits are a green-fingered lot with apparently one-third of the nation spending some time each week gardening and forking out £1.5 billion a year on plants. No wonder that over 2 million of us catch Gardeners' World and over 1 million tune into Gardeners' Question Time.  

This week Gardeners' Question Time celebrates its 70th anniversary. I'll track its history shortly, but first a look at the programmes that sowed the seeds for GQT.

Gardening was the subject of talk programmes in the early days of broadcasting with members of the RHS invited to give a Chat on Gardening. And it was this pastime that created one of radio's first stars in the unlikely form of Cecil Henry Middleton, who eventually came to be known to listeners as  'Mr Middleton'. He first gave talks on the BBC National Programme in 1931 under the title The Week in the Garden and by 1934 he'd become the Corporation's first gardening correspondent with his weekly In Your Garden. He was also TV's first gardener and tended the plot at Ally Pally.

Mr Middleton's advice was of the much needed practical kind. "As a gardener he believed in gradualness and development, and he most of all disliked people with capricious ideas and importunate designs." In the era of tightly scripted progamming he was given some latitude by his BBC producers. One memo insisted: "There really is no need for you to submit a manuscript every time you talk, so long as you have sufficient notes and you can extemporise - I would be happy if you would endeavour to tell and not read your garden talks." A typical talk might have gone something like this: "Good afternoon, Well it's not much of a day for gardening is it? You know, we hear a lot of so-called witty remarks about the poor old humble cabbage. But how we should miss it if we hadn't go it."  

Mr Middleton was a key figure in the wartime Dig for Victory campaign, wrote a number of books and had a regular column in the Daily Express. His influence would have extended beyond the war had he not died suddenly in September 1945, the Times obituary noting that his name was a "household word".

Despite the death of Mr Middleton In Your Garden continued to inform listeners about their allotments and herbaceous borders for another five years with various presenters that included Roy Hay, Fred Streeter and Eric Hobbis.

Although now largely overlooked horticultural journalist Roy Hay enjoyed a lengthy broadcasting career. When In Your Garden ended in 1950 he became the main presenter of its Sunday afternoon replacement Home Grown  that was heard on the London Home Service and some other regions.  Home Grown ran until 1957 by which time Gardeners' Question Time was heard nationally. In 1957 the BBC resurrected the In Your Garden title for a weekly magazine show that Roy presented firstly on Network Three (as part of their lifestyle and learning slot sandwiched between the Music Programme and the Third Programme) until 1964 when it transferred to the Home Service (1964-67) and then Radio 4 (1967-1970). It was only finally dropped in March 1970 by network controller Tony Whitby following the Broadcasting in the Seventies schedule shake-up as he only had room for one gardening programme. In Your Garden was regarded as the more "serious professional affair" but its audience was only 200,000 as against GQT's one million or so.    

As the Home Service regions enjoyed a degree of autonomy in the 1940s and 1950s not all of the UK heard In Your Garden and Home Grown. Listeners in Scotland, for example, would for many years tune into The Scottish Garden as their regional alternative. But it was the North of England (and for a while by default, due to transmitter restrictions,  Northern Ireland) that first heard British radio's longest running gardening show. How Does Your Garden Grow? was the brainwave of Manchester-based talks producer Robert Stead. The first show was broadcast in the North on 9 April 1947 and had been recorded before members of the Smallshaw Allotment Association in Ashton-under-Lyme. Robert chaired the series that, for that first edition, included two gardeners who would become long-standing experts: local lad Bill Sowerbutts (always billed as "... of Ashton-under-Lyme) and Fred Loads ("of Burnley", later "of Lancaster") alongside Tom Clark and Dr E.W. Sansome. The first question was put by the chairman of the association, Mr Hopwood - about the merits of double digging in an area with wet soil - and the second by his wife. Apparently an 81-year old man in the audience was under the impression he was at a recording of Have A Go and insisted on playing the cornet.

This is the first edition of How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow? eventually became Gardeners' Question Time in 1951 and continued in the North only until 1957 visiting a different village hall or meeting room each week. Joining the panel in 1950 was Professor Alan Gemmell ("of Keele University") and together with Sowerbutts and Loads they became the mainstay of gardening advice for the next three decades. "All three men loved to banter, to try to out-persuade the audience with their recommendations for what to do with unresponsive aspidistras or rampant Russian vines".

The GQT panel 24 October 1958

The triumvirate of Sowerbutts, Loads and Gemmell hardly missed an episode but producers occasionally co-opted other panel members such as vegetable-grower supreme Arthur Billitt (Gardener's World cameras would later visit him at Clack's Farm, Worcestershire in the 70s), Eric Hobbis from the University of Bristol, Cornishman Fred Shepherd and Tom Matheson.

In 1957 GQT made the transition to national coverage, firstly appearing on the Light Programme over the summer as Down the Garden Path and then from September taking root in its now traditional 2pm Sunday slot.  

Here's an early 60s example of Gardeners' Question Time (kindly provided by Nigel Deacon) recorded at the Sanderstead Horticultural Society near Croydon. It's the regular panel of Loads, Sowerbutts and Gemmell. Of the voices you hear, Simon Elmes (author of Hello Again-Nine Decades of Radio Voices) wrote of Bill Sowerbutts that he had "an indelibly rich local accent and personality to match ... (he) had a swagger to him and his light voice with its cracking accent was a perfect match for his co-panellist, the darker and gentler voiced Fred Loads." Gemmell he describes as "a Scot with a twinkly sense of humour." This edition aired on the BBC Home Service on 16 December 1962.

There have been ten regular chairs of Gardeners' Question Time:  Robert Stead (1947-1953), Freddie Grisewood (1953-61), Franklin Engelmann (1961-72), producer Ken Ford who took over the presenting role following the sudden death of Engelmann (1972 and then again 1977-84), Michael (Nationwide) Barrett (1972-77), Les Cottingham (1984-85), Clay Jones (1985-1993), Dr Stefan Buczacki (1993-94), Eric Robson (1994- ) and Peter Gibbs (2005- ).  Others who briefly filled in were Rex Alston, Steve Race Gill Pyrah and Anna Ford.

Loads, Sowerbutts and Gemmell as featured in the Radio Times 4 March 1972
(Scan provided by Greg Bakun)

The panel always attempted to inject some humour into the proceedings but this didn't always go down well with management who seemed a little po-faced about the programme. A 1971 Review Board complained that the cast never varied and often dispensed inaccurate information. "When their inaccuracies become apparent even to themselves they fell back on music-hall jokes." David Hatch, then Network Editor in Manchester, described them as "a very elderly trio" and "a rather self-satisfied team". In the event nature took its course when Fred Loads died, aged 78, in 1981. With the team atmosphere at recordings having gone Alan Gemmell retired in 1982 (he died in 1986) and then Bill Sowerbutts left in 1983 (he died in 1990). 

By the late 70s other experts came on board, blunt Yorkshireman Geoffrey Smith, Welsh vegetable expert Clay Jones and, briefly, horticultural writer Chris Brickell. Then from 1982 the programme was given a bit of a shake-up with its first regular female expert Daphne Ledward who'd previously dispensed tips on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Also joining to become a regular member were Dr Stefan Buczacki. and TV's Peter Seabrook, already a familiar face on Gardeners' World and Pebble Mill at One.

Other gardening experts appearing on the programme in the 80s, 90s and 00s include: Sid Robertson, Fred Downham, Bridget Moody, Sue Phillips, Adrienne Wild, Walter Gilmour, Don Cockman, Bob Flowerdew, Pippa Greenwood, Geoff Hamilton, John Stirland, Crosbie Cochrane, Henry Noblett, Anne Swithinbank, Chris Beardshaw, John Cushnie, Matthew Biggs, Carol Klein, Bunny Guinness, Nigel Colborn, Roy Lancaster, Tony Russell, Carole Baxter, Matthew Wilson and Christine Walkden.

The panel for the 40th anniversary broadcast

For this 40th anniversary special in April 1987 the team visited the Old Palace, Hatfield in Hertfordshire where the horticultural questions come from some surprisingly familiar names. There's Germaine Greer (who used to write a gardening column as 'Rose Blight'), Molly Weir, John Humphries, Mary Whitehouse, Johnny Morris, Julian Pettifer, Penelope Mortimer, Penelope Keith and Richard Briers.

The panel are Daphne Ledward, Geoffrey Smith (who we still refer to as the 'mad axe man' as on Gardeners' World he always seemed to be advocating vigorous pruning of any shrub or tree), Fred Downham and Dr Stefan Buczacki.     

In 1994 there was trouble in the GQT garden, and it wasn't a case of powdery mildew or box blight but the threat of outsourcing. Radio 4 had decided that two programme, the other was Feedback, should be independently produced. Trevor Taylor, with Taylor Made Productions, won the contract. Trevor had previously worked as a BBC news reporter and producer on local radio and Radio 4 before setting up his company in 1985. However there was mutiny in the air as the existing team of Stefan Buczacki, Daphne Ledward, Fred Downham, Sue Phillips and Bridget Moody failed to secure guarantees of continuing to appear on the programme. They all left the BBC and shifted across to Classic FM for an hour-long show titled Classic Gardening Forum with the question and answer sequences "blended with popular classical music to fit themes such as flowers, fruit and the regions from where the programmes are broadcast". Classic FM's version was relatively short-lived, being finally put out to grass in September 1997.  

Classic FM's alternative 2 April 1994
The response from listeners to the changes at Radio 4 was mixed: "the programme has become complacent with some panellists promoting themselves as cult figures" one complained. "I don't believe any of the programme's followers want any changes, updates, zappy presenters, music quizzes or whatever other horrors lie in wait for us," wrote another.

Listeners needn't have worried, the new chairman was Eric Robson, already known to the Radio 4 audience from File on 4, with some new experts joining the panel including Anne Swithinbank, Pippa Greenwood and Bob Flowerdew; all, at the time, familiar to viewers of Gardeners' World and all still with the programme 23 years later.            

Since that upset things have been relatively quiet in the garden. In December 2000 the programme gained an extra 15 minutes on its running time. In 2005 meteorologist and keen gardener Peter Gibbs joined to share the chairing duties with Eric Robson. In 2009 producer Trevor Taylor retired and the contract was awarded to Somethin' Else - the same company behind Radio 3's Essential Classics and 5 live's Kermode and Mayo's Film Review

The show still plys the highways and byways of the UK to face questions from amateur gardeners but there are also regular correspondence editions, although these are rarely studio-bound. Recent specials have been recorded at 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

The gradual shift to add some new life to the programme has not been without its critics, although it's usually former chairman Stefan Buczkacki who's quoted, bemoaning the fact it "no longer offers any sense of location or identity."

The basics of GQT, the dispensing a gardening advice, eventually spread to other radio stations as the BBC opened its network of local stations, with most offering some form of gardening programme or feature. Some experts have enjoyed a long tenure, Joe Maiden on Radio Leeds, who sadly died in 2015, had been with the station for 40+ years whilst Radio Nottingham's John Stirland has also been on-air for a similar amount of time. Even the early ILR stations dabbled with gardening spots with Percy Thrower appearing on LBC for instance. GQT's Daphne Ledward ('Daffers') was for many years a regular on Jimmy Young's Radio 2 show. In a similar vein Jeremy Vine occasionally calls on Rhondda Valley allotment owner Terry Walton for his tips and advice.

For the programme's 70th anniversary there's a special edition this afternoon on BBC Radio 4 that gets a repeat in the time-honoured 2pm slot on Sunday afternoon. But as this weekend promises to be warm and sunny you may find yourself out in the garden deadheading those daffodils or tending your veg plot. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

It’s Country Style

From Americana to rockability, from bluegrass to the pop crossover of Taylor Swift, country music has never been more popular. This week BBC Radio 2, together with Chris Country, visits the C2C: Country to Country festival at the O2 and the digital pop-up station Radio 2 Country can be heard from the 9th to 12th.

US radio is flooded with country music stations - about 2,000 in all - that can trace their genesis back to station WSM's Barn Dance in October 1925, almost immediately renamed the Grand Ole Opry. WSM still broadcasts the Grand Ole Opry on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The Grand Ole Opry started by featuring what was generally termed 'hillbilly music', a fusion of folk and bluegrass with a bit of gospel thrown in. It was hillbilly music that started to be heard over the Atlantic on BBC radio in the late 1930s when shows such as Hill-Billy Round UpThe Rocky Mountaineers and Cabin in the Hills with 'Big Bill Campbell' were heard. This Canadian entertainer was perhaps the first person to popularise the American music form in the UK. In the Radio Times of 4 June 1940 we are told that "he has a terrific library of Hill-Billy songs - around 6,000 - and his friends in Canada keep sending him more. He used to broadcast a lot in Canada and the States and came over on a holiday in 1934. He went to see Eric Maschwitz, then Director of Variety, and Eric invited him to compere an All-American Variety programme. Within a year Big Bill had produced on the air the first  Rocky Mountaineers programme, which was to bring him fame".

Big Bill Campbell toured the theatres with Prairie Round-Up in 1950
Big Bill Campbell, real name Clarence Church Campbell - who often declared the music to be "mighty fine, mighty fine" and would close with "the clock on the wall says it's time to go home" - continued to broadcast on both Radio Luxembourg and BBC radio until his death in 1952. His BBC programmes included the popular Rocky Mountain Rhythm (1940-49) featuring "old log-cabin favourites" followed by the similar Prairie Round-Up (1950).

Meanwhile wartime listeners could enjoy National Barn Dance (1943-44) on the Forces Programme and, very much adopting the then popular cowboy persona, shows such as Home on the Range (1942-46) and The Call of the West (1939-46).  

In 1949 BBC producer Charles Chilton was using the music of the Wild West in a fictionalised story of cowboy Jeff Arnold, played by Paul Carpenter, called Riders of the Range (1949-1953). Such was the success of the series that it spawned its own comic strip in the Eagle. Chilton's other production from that year was Hill-Billy Hoe-Down introducing "the folks of Smoky Mountain".

Music for dancing, in the form of square dancing, featured in the programme Happy Hoe-Down (1950-53) with music from Phil Cardew's Cornhuskers. But this was no American outfit, Phil came from Wimbledon and had played in Jack Hylton's band.  

The next broadcaster to appear on the scene is yet another Canadian, this time Toronto-born DJ and actor Murray Kash. Born in 1923 he'd pursued a career as both an actor, initially in the theatre but later on TV and film - look out for him the next time Thunderball gets a showing - and as a DJ with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Arriving in the UK in 1955 he was initially in rep but picked up some minor film roles and began to appear in radio and TV dramas, both on the BBC and ITV. However, in late 1957 the BBC Home Service offered him a record show called Hill-Billy Hoe-Down which led to further shows in 1958 and 1959. In 1960, by now on the Light Programme, Kash's Hoe-Down shows are now billed as featuring "country and western music".  Throughout the 1960s he was the go-to person for country music shows on the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and British Forces Network.

On the Light Programme Murray Kash popped up on Sweet Dreams (1961) and Fine 'n' Dandy (1962), meaning it wasn't all country music, but was mainly introducing country and western records on Twelve O'Clock Spin (1962 & 1964). Walk Right In (1963 & 1965), On the Trail (1963), It's Kinda Folksy (1965-66) which "served up a lunchtime menu of folk and country music" and Call It Country Style (1966-67). Kash continued to organise and promote live country music shows but still made some radio appearances until 1971 reviewing records and providing the latest country music news on Country Meets Folk and Country Style.

National radio got its first regular country music show in the summer of 1967, although it had to share the hour with folk music. Country Meets Folk, running for five years on the Light Programme, then Radio 1 and Radio 2, (and often simulcast on BFBS radio) blended records, live performances and reviews of new releases and pretty much set the template for radio country music shows.

Both Wally Whyton and David Allan regularly broadcast on the
BBC World Service. Country and Whyton was heard in  October 1975
Country Meets Folk's presenter was Wally Whyton, already known to radio listeners for his skiffle performances with his group The Vipers. He'd also had a go at presenting on Folk Room (1965). In fact Wally's biggest fan base was probably amongst the children of Britain who'd seen him every week between 1959 and 1966 on ITV's teatime show The Musical Box as well as Huff Puff Junction and Five O'Clock Club where he created the puppet characters Pussycat Willum and Olly Beak. Such was Wally's connection with a younger audience that he presented Play School for a while and was deputising for Ed Stewart on Junior Choice in the 1970s.

This edition of Country Meets Folk, recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in London, comes from either 1969 or 1970. Thank you to Chris Brady.

This edition dates from 20 May 1972 and was recorded by Barry Alan Shaw who regularly attended the recordings that year.

The next name in the story is David Allan who presented a new show, Country Style, on Radio 2 from March 1968. David would become the voice of country music broadcasting on radio and TV for the next three decades. He'd started off on the offshore pirate 'sweet music' station Radio 390 where he also devised a country music show. 

David left Country Style in 1969 to concentrate on TV continuity work for BBC1 and BBC2, a role he maintained until 1994. He was replaced by Pat Campbell, another performer turned broadcaster. Irish-born Pat had been part of the singing group The Four Ramblers, a group that Val Doonican was in for a while. He became a promotions manager for RCA Records but also started to broadcast both for the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. On the Light Programme he'd filled in for Brain Matthew on Saturday Club, hosted Ring-a-Ding-Ding (1962) and over on BBC2 introduced the acts on  The Beat Room - a series for which only show has survived. Pat continued as presenter of Country Style until the end of its run in June 1973.

David Allan was back on Radio 2 in September 1972 for the series Up Country, following him, until it ended in 1974, were Dave Cash and Pete Brady. This short clip with Pete Brady dates from 1973.  

In July 1973 another far longer-running series hit the airwaves, Country Club. Over the years both Wally Whyton and David Allan presented the programme, and for a while in 1978 and 1979 it was a double-header. Between 1980 and 1995 Wally remained the main presenter. He was also in charge on Both Sides Now (1976-78), another mix of country and folk and had, until just a month before his death in January 1997, a regular show, Country Style, on the BBC World Service. In 1993 he spoke to Mark Goodier for a country music edition of the World Service programme An Essential Guide to ...   

Why not sit a spell and enjoys these recordings of Wally on Country Club dating from 1982ish (I can't trace the exact date), 1984 and 1985. His guests in the third clip are Kathy and Christy Forrester from Lookout Mountain, Georgia

David Allan meanwhile was back on Radio 2 in January 1980 with the record show Country Style (1980-82), running for 30 minutes on a Sunday afternoon and later getting a full hour on Saturday evening. He then introduced Country Greats In Concert (1982-83). This recording of Country Style dates from 15 March 1981.

From 3 February 1980 comes this recording courtesy of Noel Tyrrel. 

Moving away from national radio for a moment I mustn't forget that local radio, as many BBC and ILR stations used to  devote an hour or so a week to country music. Growing up in East Yorkshire I well recall  Radio Humberside's country music presenter Tex Milne, followed later by Tammy Cline and Bob Preedy. Until his death last year Dave Cash presented a country music show on Radio Kent and one of the best of the current crop is Steve Cherelle on BBC Essex. Nearly all the early ILR stations started off with country shows but the longest running is, of course, Downtown Country with Big T, still on the air 40 years later. So popular is country music in Northern Ireland that Downtown launched a DAB spin-off station Downtown Country in 2015. In the 1980s Metro Radio had a country music programme presented by Brian Clough, known for a while as The Friday Night Country Crowd. Brian was also heard on Radio Tees and later Great North Radio, Radio Newcastle and Smooth Radio. These days his The American Connection Country Show is on Radio Tyneside. Radio Cumbria's Paul Braithwaite, with the station since 1972, also has a weekly Braithwaite's Country programme.

Country-only stations are rare in the UK: in London there was the AM station Country 1035 (David Allan was an early presenter), the short-lived Clyde spin-off 3C and CMR, (Country Music Radio), a sister station of QEFM, broadcasting via satellite in the 1990s which still has an online presence as CMR Nashville with the original owner and DJ Lee Williams. More recently there's Chris Country which has DAB and DAB+ coverage in a number of regions.      

The new kid on the block in 1992 was Nick Barraclough. Country music was breaking through to the mainstream with artists like Garth Brooks and Mary Chapin Carpenter and his show, Nick Barraclough's New Country, reflected that. Nick had been a folk musician in the 1970s but started to broadcast in the early 1980s on his local station BBC Radio Cambridgeshire as well as introducing the Cambridge Folk Festival coverage on BBC2. He moved into radio production, working on a number of music documentaries for Radio 2 and joining the team of producers for Gloria Hunniford's show. He worked on programmes as musically diverse as Country Club and Alan Keith's The Golden Years. Running from 1992 to 2007 New Country was an independent production from Smooth Operations, a company of which Nick was a director. This short clip is from the 1990s, I seem to have mislaid the exact date.   

When Wally Whyton left Radio 2 in 1995 David Allan was back in the hot seat on Country Club. In January 1997 he had the sad task of informing listeners of Wally's death. Here's part of that show from 24 January.

Bob Harris had always played country music on his Radio 1 and Radio 2 shows but it was still a surprise when network controller Jim Moir asked him to present a show dedicated to the genre, to "explore the fringes of mainstream and unearth the new artists who were going to take the music forward". Bob Harris Country launched on 8 April 1999 and, of course, remains on air to this day, the station's only regular country show. In this special edition from 21 October 2010 Bob talks to Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Thanks also to Paul Bainbridge
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