Friday, 12 September 2014

Putting You Through


Phones and tablets are now practically welded to our bodies. Perhaps you are what Allison Pearson recently described as a fomo sapien. That’s Fear of Missing Out. A generation characterised by “an itchy thumb and short attention spans”.

Ironically the UK was initially slow to adapt to the telephone but its business and domestic use was recognised early on in the United States; by the end of the 1920s 40% of US households had one. An oft quoted statement by the then chief engineer of the General Post Office sums up the British attitude.

“There are conditions in America which necessitate the use of such instruments more than here,” he told a House of Commons committee. "Here we have a super-abundance of messengers, errand boys and things of that kind. The absence of servants has compelled America to adopt communications systems for domestic purposes. Few have worked at the telephone much more than I have, I have one in my office but more for show. If I want to send a message - I employ a boy to take it."

When businesses did adopt the telephone, rather than sending message boys or telegrams one presumes, they had to adopt the necessary telephone etiquette, what we would now call telephone techniques or customer service skills.  
Of course the BBC, being the BBC, cut a telephone training record for those working on the switchboard, all women at the time of course. Dating from 1953 here are extracts from it linked by Miles Kington (taken from a programme I recorded in July 1980).

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Dickie the DJ

Amongst all the plaudits for the cinematic highlights in the career of the late Richard Attenborough there was mention of some other interests: his lifelong support of Chelsea FC, his chairmanships at Channel 4 and the BFI.

There were also fleeting references to his involvement in Capital Radio. In fact his chairmanship of the station, when it launched in 1973, was key to getting it, and keeping it, on air; to the extent that he was prepared to sell his own paintings to help bankroll Capital when it struggled to hit its revenue targets in the opening months. Here’s Attenborough in conversation with Paul Burnett in 1993:
 


Famously he was the first voice heard on Capital when it launched in October 1973 (audio courtesy of Paul Easton):
 


Of the obituaries for Lord Attenborough that I’ve read only The Times mentions the rather surprising revelation that, for a while in the 1950s, he was “an immensely popular disc jockey”. He’d already made a small number of radio appearances as an actor. One of the earliest I can trace is the Light Programme drama The Silver Lining alongside his wife Sheila Sim (broadcast 16 September 1948).  In 1950 he appeared in Our Mutual Friend and Fairplay for Fatherhood. 

 
But that same year Richard was in front of the microphone with a Saturday night Record Rendezvous. Not that he was playing that many discs, the show ran, in not untypical BBC fashion at the time, for precisely 26 minutes from 11.30 to 11.56 p.m. It seems listeners and BBC bosses obviously liked him as later in 1950 he had a slightly longer programme from 6.20 to 7.00 p.m. each Friday over on the Home Service. Billed in the Radio Times as “playing some records from his collection”, though no doubt, in fact, carefully selected and scripted by Anna Instone’s Gramophone Department.   
 
We can only wonder what these shows sounded like but it seems that, as The Times said, he was “immensely popular” enough to feature some six years later as one of the faces in “A Cavalcade of Disc-Jockeys”, sandwiched in between Jonah Barrington and Sam Costa in the Radio Times illustration by Bob Sherriffs.  The accompanying article describes him as having “the happy knack of making difficult classic music sound easy”.


As an aside that same illustration includes actor Dirk Bogarde who was also doing the odd bit of record presenting. Posters to the DS radio forum constantly sniping that radio bosses, and in particular Radio 2, only seem to appoint TV stars as DJs might like to take note!

Anyway that week (in December 1956) Richard was one of the contributors to the Light Programme’s Record Week, a series of shows celebrating the popularity of gramophone record, with an appearance on Stay up with Sam in which Sam Costa and Jean Metcalfe “meet some of the personalities who, over the years, have brought you record entertainment.” 

At far as I can tell his stint as DJ lasted just a year. But who knows, if the acting career had taken a nose-dive, perhaps we’d have had Richard Attenborough as the housewife’s favourite or picking the pops.

Photo of Richard Attenborough from the Picture Show Annual 1951 published by The Amalgamated Press

Monday, 1 September 2014

Random Radcliffe Gubbins


The Guest List was Radio 1’s short-lived arts magazine show airing in 1993 with Mark Radcliffe as “the pathfinder in the cultural desert”. It ran for 28 weeks every Thursday night from 15 April to 21 October.

This edition from 20 May 1993 features a film review with Mark Kermode, Tom McGrath’s new play about boxer Ken Buchanan, talking about TV with Mariella Frostrup and comedy duo Trevor and Simon.


1993 was a significant year for Mark Radcliffe: the Sony Award-winning Out on Blue Six was also running, having started in 1991, there was the sketch show Skyman – “the Surrealchemist of Sound” – the Radio 5 series Cult Radio and then, from 25 October, the start of the Radio 1 late night show nicknamed The Graveyard Shift.

The new show “presented by a bloke who’s older than the last one” replaced the outgoing Nicky Campbell, who temporarily left the station. Here’s the start of the first broadcast with Mark and Lard.


Fast forward eleven years and Mark and Lard were now leaving Radio 1, Radcliffe heading to Radio 2 and Riley to 6 Music. The departure didn’t go unnoticed and the BBC1 North West arts show Powerhouse was there to witness the event. This programme was broadcast on 26 March 2004.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

Can you tell your frequencies from your wavelengths? Here’s help from the Ladybird book How It Works: Television.

 
Published in 1968, I’m guessing, from the stations on the radio dial, the artwork was commissioned the previous year. The text was written by David Carey. The illustration is by B.H. Robinson.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Ross on the Radio

I wonder if Bob Shennan had to complete extra compliance paperwork to get him back on-air? Yes, it won’t have escaped your notice that Jonathan Ross is making a (brief) return to Radio 2 this week, sitting in for Wrighty.

Looking back I’d forgotten that Ross did his Saturday morning show for about 11 years – not a bad run. In fact his radio pedigree goes back even further, to the summer of 1987, when he stood in for a holidaying Janice Long on Radio 1. This clip comes from 22 June 1987, where Jonathan seems unduly concerned about his thumb.


There were other Radio 1 appearances on Singled Out and My Top Ten and contributions to Radio 4’s Loose Ends. Then in 1988 Jonathan was part of the launch team for the overnight Super Station. This clip comes from 23 October 1988.



Wanting to re-create The Last Resort for the radio he was asked to bring a chat show to Radio 1. The Jonathan Ross Radio Show ran for 13 weeks in the spring of 1990 with a script co-written by Danny Baker, music from Victor Lewis-Smith and guests such as Hugh Laurie, Jools Holland, Punt and Dennis, Reeves and Mortimer and Jo Brand.
Ross didn’t return to the radio until 1998, this time on Virgin 1215 and then the following year there was the start of the Radio 2 Saturday morning shows. From about half-way through the run comes this programme from 23 October 2004. I’ve edited out the music from this 3-hour show, aside from a live acoustic performance by Graham Coxon, and it still runs at one hour and 20 minutes: he really did like the sound of his own voice!

It’s the usual mix of stream of consciousness, banter with producer Andy Davies and a quiz that sounds like it was made up during the show, and possibly was. Alongside Graham Coxon, the guests are Julian Clary and Russell Watson.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Farewell Smitty

Last weekend we heard the sad news about the untimely death of Mike Smith. ‘Smitty’ hadn’t been heard regularly on the radio for nearly a quarter of a century. But as the presenter of the breakfast show on both Capital and Radio 1 his time as DJ was fondly remembered.   

There are tributes from Mike Read, Johnny Beerling and others on this week’s Radio Todaypodcast and on this week’s Last Word.  You’ll find a couple of clips from Mike’s shows on Radio 1 over at Aircheckdownloads.com.
From my own archive comes this Radio 1 lunchtime show from 12 March 1984. There’s the Day-to-Day Challenge with Julie from Rhyl, a bit of chat with newsreaders Frank Partridge and Andrew Turner and some great 80s music. Listening back what does come across is Mike’s warm, professional style and one is struck by the clarity of his voice. This is a full hour with the music intact recorded on MW only in the days before Radio 1 had an FM service.  



Mike Smith 1955-2014

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Home of Radio


BH. Broadcasting House. How the BBC love their initials and love to tell us about their buildings. And the home of radio has had more than its fair share of programmes about its history and what goes on behind that famous fa├žade.

Within months of its opening in 1932 John Watt was offering A Tour of Broadcasting House. I’ve already posted about The Second Tower of Babel narrated by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas in 1982. From 1997 comes this BBC2 documentary One Foot in Broadcasting House in which historian and broadcaster follows one day in the life of the building. There’s a rare chance to hear part of George Posford’s specially composed music composed for the opening  and we hear some fascinating anecdotes about that famous Prospero and Ariel statue. The programme was broadcast on 7 November 1997.


In 2006 Sir David Hatch returned to BH for an edition of Radio 4’s The Archive Hour. This programme, The Home of Radio, was broadcast on 18 March.


For that week’s Radio Times Sir David Hatch recalled his time at Broadcasting House and wrote this article:


Every weekday morning for 15 years I walked into Broadcasting House (BH) at 6.55 am, en route as controller of Radio2 (CR2) to see Ray Moore coming to the end of his shift. By then his belt was undone and he was bantering with Terry Wogan on the inter-studio link, limbering up for the live handover.

Later, as CR4, I called in on Today during the 7 am news bulletin to chat with Brian Redhead and John Timpson. Later still, as MDR (By now you’ve cracked the code – all BBC jobs were known by their initials. An engineer in external services information and operations was known as EIEIO. I’m not kidding!) I went to all five networks. Terry Wogan, God bless him, had returned from his TV chat show and Redhead and Timpson had morphed into Jim Naughtie and Sue MacGregor. The last two speak affectionately of BH on The Home of Radio.  

My first programme from BH as a producer was called Roundabout, and went out live on 1 April 1964. The first record went on at the wrong speed – 45 rpm not 33⅓ - and I thought my career was finished. Fortunately, those were the days when you were promoted for incompetence in the hope that, eventually, they would hit on something you could actually do.

Walking under Eric Gill’s statue, through the heavy gold double doors into the imposing half-moon reception hall, thrilled me every day. Gill was asked to provide statues of Prospero and Ariel, but is that what he sculpted? The local MP, and Lord Reith too, thought Ariel’s willy over-generous. Was it snipped? It was said that on Prospero’s back Gill had carved a girl’s face. True or false? Myths and legends abound before one has even entered the building.

An old girlfriend of mine, who had unceremoniously dumped me 20 years previously to marry a dentist, turned up in reception to meet me one day. I had set my face to cool and indifferent, only to discover that she was excited and in awe of what she was seeing – Robin Day, Denis Healey, Kenneth Williams, Robert Robinson, and Jimmy Young all in the space of five minutes. “It’s an amazing place,” she said. “Yes,” I said nonchalantly. And I thought “And it’s a bit more glamorous than a dentist’s waiting room.”

There’s more about Broadcasting House as well as Savoy Hill, Lime Grove and Television Centre in The BBC Tour presented by Nick Baker on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Saturday 9 August.  

Broadcasting House illustration by Mark Thomas at Central Illustration Agency as used in the Radio Times 3 November 2012.
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