Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Any Questions?

Have you ever spent Thursday night shouting in indignation or exasperation at the telly? Then you've probably  been watching another edition of Question Time. That programme has been running for just over 39 years now and when David Dimbleby's tenure comes to end this year he'll have been just the third regular host. However, that's nothing compared to the programme that Question Time is based on, radio's Any Questions?  This week this venerable radio institution celebrates its 70th anniversary. It too is presented by a Dimbleby, Jonathan in this case, who's the fourth incumbent in the role of chairperson, and he's been in the job for 31 years.

To trace the programme's early history you have to go back to the post-war days of the Home Service which was very much run on a regional basis. The regions took programmes from the centre, what was known as the Basic Home Service, and supplemented this with their own locally produced material which may or may not have also gone on to enjoy a national audience.

Freddy Grisewood on the  cover of the Radio Times
for the 10th anniversary in 1958
Head of the West Regional Programmes was Frank Gillard, at the time best known to radio listeners as one of the team of War Correspondents on the BBC's War Report.  It was Gillard that was instrumental in getting Any Questions? on air and giving it the support to ensure that it was heard across the BBC on the Light Programme and the full Home Service.  

The programme had come about quite accidentally when in the summer of 1948 the West region had been thinking about an inter-county quiz to plug a gap in the winter schedule. The quiz idea was dropped in favour of a kind of Brain's Trust but one that, according to Gillard, was aimed at "the masses" and would have "an audience of millions". He was keen to "get away from the artificial atmosphere of the studio as much as possible and take the microphone among the people."

Producer Michael Bowen looks back after the first ten years

An initial series of just six programmes was planned and the inspiration for programme format came from another touring programme that had started in 1947 called Speak Your Mind in which chairman Gordon McMurtrie put a number of questions (sent in by listeners) to a representative audience in whatever town it was visiting. Audience members were encouraged to express their views openly and spontaneously at the microphone. Whereas Speak Your Mind posed questions on "matters which can be usefully discussed in terms of everyday experience and ordinary common sense" Any Questions? raised subjects "upon which the ordinary listener feels he needs help and guidance of expert opinion."

The first programme on 12 October 1948, came from the Guildhall in Winchester, with a team consisting of Naomi Royde-Smith, the novelist, who lived in the city, Honor Croome of The Economist, Jack Longland, then Chief Education Officer for Dorset, and Hampshire-born John Arlott at that time a BBC talks producer. The first question - from the Lady Mayor of Winchester - was "What effect would it have if women were able to exert more power in professional politics and diplomacy?"

The programme's second producer Michael Bowen, who worked on the programme for 25 years, takes up the story:

In the wartime Brains Trust (originally called Any Questions?) the team had sat in the cosy isolation of a studio. That evening in Winchester the presence of the audience and the fact that the team was confronted by the questioners revitalised the formula in precisely the way Frank Gillard had hoped, and he was sure they were on to a winner. At the end of the half-hour, while the members of the team were thankfully sipping drinks in the Mayor's Parlour, he was on the phone to the Radio Times printers, where the presses were already rolling, to extend the next programme, a fortnight later, to forty-five minutes.

There was soon no more thought of a limit to six editions. Frank's aim became more ambitious - to attract a mass audience and, by making the programme as entertaining as possible, to set up a wave of conversation in millions of homes where perhaps they wouldn't listen to conventional talks programmes. The first producer was Nicholas Croker, and he and Frank had eighteen months to develop and mould the programme in the comparative obscurity of Regional broadcasting. It gradually became more topical - hints to the audience that questions on current affairs were more likely to be selected than purely general ones had their effect - and this became an important factor in the programme's longevity. The number of politicians on the panel increased. teams were gradually persuaded t discuss issues rather than deliver four separate monologues. John Arlott appeared every week at this formative time, and with his producer's instinct was able to help shape the discussion by his own example. Jack Longland was also helpful.
In June 1950, the Friday evening broadcast moved on to the Basic Home Service, heard all over the country. But the real breakthrough came three months later on 22 September when Any Questions? moved to the Light Programme, with a repeat on the Basic Home Service on Tuesdays. Within quite a short time, sixteen million people were regularly listening to the programme. Frank Gillard had got his mass audience.   

Here's Frank Gillard talking about Any Questions? on the occasion of its 40th anniversary in 1988. 

Radio Times article marking the 40th in 1988

The programme's first presenter, initially billed as the "travelling question-master" was Freddie Grisewood. He'd been broadcasting since the mid 1920's firstly as a singer and then joining the staff of the BBC as an announcer and commentator in 1929. He presented hundreds of programmes including The Kitchen Front and The World Goes By during the War and Those Were the Days, Victorian Album and Film Times post-war. For many years he was one of the BBC's tennis commentators at Wimbledon, alongside Max Robertson and Dan Maskell on both radio and TV. As well as touring with Any Questions? he was also covering the country as the chairman of Gardeners' Question Time between 1953 and 1961.

Freddie's failing health in 1967 led the producers to search around for a replacement. Bamber Gascoigne was considered - he was an occasional panellist - before David Jacobs eventually took over in early 1968. John Timpson replaced David in 1984 when producers wanted a sharper more journalistic edge to proceedings.  From September 1987 Jonathan Dimbleby became the chairman, coming from a mainly ITV current affairs background.       

Panel for the 16 July 1982 programme: David Owen, Patricia Hewitt, chairman David Jacobs, Clare Francis
and John Hannam (Illustration by Richard Ansell for the Sunday Times Magazine)

There are extracts from Freddie's era on Any Questions? on the BBC Archive site.

These clips include some lively discussions during David and John's tenure and the introduction to Jonathan's first appearance.

Radio 4 is marking the 70th anniversary with a special edition this Friday evening. Coming live from the House of Commons the panel and the audience are all aged 18 to 30.

And then on Saturday night Archive on 4 includes plenty of archive recordings and features a discussion about the programme recorded in the Radio Theatre with a panel consisting of Bonnie Greer, David Blunkett, Matthew Parris and Ann Widdecombe.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

The Radio Show (Revived)

In October 1988 to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the national radio stations the BBC revived the old Radio Show format: an exhibition at Earl's Court to celebrate the medium. These national exhibitions had been running since the 1920s until the mid 60s, with a break for the war, styled as Radiolympia and later The Radio Show.

For the 1988 show the BBC had two working studios and a purpose built theatre for recordings of Gardeners' Question Time and Any Questions? The Radio Times joined in with a special cover designed by Bob Murdoch and six feature pages looking at each of the four radio networks, local radio, the World Service and the latest technology, Radio Data Systems.  

A number of shows were broadcast live or recorded at Earl's Court including Bruno Brookes, Gary Davies, Singled Out, Woman's Hour, You and Yours, Desert Island Discs, Folk on 2 and Friday Night is Music Night. On Saturday 1 October Adrian Juste was live on Radio 1 (in this recording uploaded by David Cunningham).

To celebrate 21 years of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 David Frost presented a live variety show on Radio 2 on the evening of Friday 30 September titled The Radio Show Radio Show. Unfortunately I've only got 30 minutes of the hour long show so if you a complete copy please contact me. The opening announcements come from Stuart Grundy for Radio 1, James Alexander Gordon for Radio 2, Piers Burton-Page for Radio 3 and Peter Donaldson for Radio 4. In this recording  you'll also hear the BBC Radio Orchestra, the Stephen Hill Singers, Richard Murdoch, the Week Ending team of Sally Grace, David Tate and Jon Glover and star guest Frankie Howerd.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

The Radio Show Exhibition

It was in 1922, just months after the launch of 2MT and 2LO, that the nascent radio industry held its first exhibition at the Horticultural Hall in Westminster. It offered the opportunity for the public to experience the new technology and encouraged the sale of wireless sets and all the various components for building your own receiving equipment. Further demonstrations were held at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in 1923 the Royal Albert Hall in 1925.

Annual shows were established in 1926 coming from the Empire Hall in Olympia organised by the Radio Manufacturers Association. When the BBC came onboard the Radiolympia exhibitions included live broadcasts from the hall and gave listeners the opportunity to meet the stars and to fill their autograph books. After the August 1939 Radiolympia there was an interregnum until 1947.  

In the 1950s the exhibition moved to Earls Court and it regularly generated a special cover on the Radio Times.  From my archive are these editions from 1955, 1959, 1961 and 1962.

These extracts come from the 1956 Radio Show booklet by which time it was organised by the Radio Industry Council. Exhibits and demonstrations weren't confined to radio of course as stands included BBC television and the newly launched ITV.

The Radio Show was discontinued in 1966 but there was a one-off revival in 1988. More on that tomorrow.     

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Like You've Never Heard It Before

"And now a choice of listening on Radios 1 and 2. For Radio 1 listeners on 247 metres and VHF John Peel is your host while on Radio 2 1500 metres there's the news summary followed by Brian Matthew with Round Midnight."

How quaint this now seems. Flicking between wavebands to continue listening to your station of choice and the nation's favourite allocation of stereo listening rationed to an hour a day last thing a night and Saturday afternoons. The sharing of the scarce VHF/FM resource continued for twenty years until the 1980s when the FM spectrum was eventually opened up. A low-key launch of Radio 1 on FM in London went ahead on 31 October 1987 but the big switch-on for vast swaths of the country took place nearly a year later. The FM switch-on date was 1 September 1988.

Robin Forrest bemoaning the lack of stereo Radio 1 in the
Radio Times letters column of  8 February 1986.
Throughout the day the band de jour Bros were helicoptered around and ceremoniously pushed the buttons in central Scotland, the north and the Midlands. The switch-on for South Wales and the west of England happened on the 29th, other areas followed in November and in December 1989.

The schedule for Radio 1 (and Radio 2) on 1 September 1988
This is most of what I recorded that day up in Yorkshire as 98.8 MHz went live from Holme Moss. First its Adrian Juste with an FM test transmission taped on 29 August and the barker announcing the switch-on on the 1st at 12 noon, though in fact it took place at 1pm. 

The lunchtime Newsbeat follows with Ian Parkinson and Sybil Ruscoe joined by Simon Mayo, though the messing about with left and right channels is lost on my medium wave recording.

With Gary Davies touring the south coast on the Roadshow it was Roger Scott covering the lunchtime show and he hands over to Dave Lee Travis and Bros for the 98.8 switching. We hear more of Roger in super stereo and then Steve Wright with a little help from Sid the Manager. Bruno Brookes (your compact disc DJ) follows before a complete recording of the BBC1/Radio 1 simulcast of Top of the Pops with Wrighty and Goodiebags. These simulcasts continued until August 1991.  

The evening listening continues with clips from the Kershaws, Liz and then Andy.

At 1 hour 26 minutes in its the moment when every radio nerd hit the record button to capture the 5-minute opening jingle sequence in stereo. These recordings come from 2 September and feature Adrian John, Simon Mayo and Simon Bates. At this point you'll gather that Jane Wiedlin's Rush Hour was getting plenty of radioplay. To round it off a couple of clips from Saturday 3 September with Robbie 'If it Moves, Funk It' Vincent and Mark Goodier.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Changes are being made

It was DLT's Network moment. But the Hairy Monster wasn't "as mad as hell" rather than miffed that the writing was on the wall for his Radio 1 career. "Changes are being made here which go against my principles, and I just cannot agree with them,' he told listeners towards the end of his Sunday lunchtime show twenty-five years ago today.

The Guardian reports on DLT's resignation 9  August 1993
Those changes were, of course, the incoming controller Matthew Bannister with a mission to bring down the average audience age of the station. Travis, then 48 years of age and with 26 years' service - along with John Peel the only member of the original line-up still on air at that time - in his own words  "snapped on air and thought, No, tell the listeners before I tell anybody else".

Speaking to The Sun's Piers Morgan  (Saturday 14 August 1993) . "I have sat back for the last two years and watched
 a once great organisation collapsing."
Chances are he could have stayed until the end of his contract in October 1993 but as he'd already spoken to the press, in this case The Sun and a certain Piers Morgan, outgoing controller Johnny Beerling had little option be to let him go immediately. Press speculation at the time was that DLT could have moved across to Radio 2 but he'd already met with controller Frances Line who'd nixed that idea. 

The Independent 11 August 1993
Although seen by many at the time as something of a radio dinosaur DLT's show was still immensely popular, attracting an estimated audience of 4 million. Beerling accepted that he was "a good DJ" but that he "continually showed he was out of touch with the direction in which Radio 1 was going".

The Sunday Times 15 August 1993
For many years DLT's on air resignation seemed to define his career, overtaken, of course, by more recent allegations. But surprisingly there's no recording of that show from Sunday 8 August 1993 in circulation other than the now famous 10-second "changes are being made here" extract, presumably taken from the logging tape; though Paul Donovan of The Sunday Times seemed to be aware that before that link he'd asked his producer Saira Hussain to record it on quarter-inch tape. "DLT clearly has a firm idea of his own place in pop radio history"

Following DLT's resignation from Radio 1 he moved to commercial radio, Classic Gold and so on, though he continued to work for the BBC World Service on A Jolly Good Show until 1999. Claire Sturgess was drafted in to cover the Saturday show and Nicky Campbell the Sunday one. By mid-October Matthew Bannister had signed up Danny Baker for both the weekend shows. Dave Lee Travis can be heard on the online station United DJs.

Here's DLT on Radio 1 in 1992. First my own recording from 12 January 1992 and a fiendish Think Link. Did you get the fourth record?

From my fellow collector Noel Tyrrel is this recording of the 29 November 1992 show with the Face Race quiz and the Garage Sale.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Durham

The eighth of the BBC's experimental local stations opened in Durham fifty years ago today. It enjoyed just a tad over four years on air, its final fate sealed by the introduction of two neighbouring stations based in Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

In January 1962 Durham had hosted one of the closed circuit experiments that Frank Gillard instigated to convince the government and the BBC of the need for local hometown radio. Six years later when the Corporation was still trying to get political, and financial, buy-in from local authorities   for a full broadcast service it was a toss-up between Lincoln and Durham. In the event Lincoln had to wait until 1980 for its station and another large potential player, Manchester, dropped out of the running so resources that had been earmarked for the city were shifted up to Durham.        

Radio Durham launched on 3 July 1968 on 96.8MHz (it later shifted to 94.5MHz) from studios based in Merryoaks on the southern edge of the city in an old country house called Peak House (pictured above). At the time the property belonged to the National Coal Board and nowadays houses the St Cuthbert's Hospice. 

The station was officially launched by Edward Short, the former Postmaster General who'd just taken up the post of Education Secretary and was a former Durham University student. The station used the theme The Lambton Worm, a tune based on the Durham folklore story of John Lambton. The first station manger was Kenneth Brown who was succeeded by Tim Pitt who later was Radio Carlisle's first station's manager before moving on to manage Radio Sheffield.     

Tony Baynes at the controls
Typical of the early local stations Radio Durham offered a variety of short programmes totalling about six or seven hours each day but in between times dipping in and out of the national programmes on Radio 2 and Radio 4 . It's breakfast opt-out from Today was The Daily Durham and the teatime news round-up Durham Tonight. There were the usual smattering of record request shows, coverage of local events, consumer news, children's programmes, sports news and its own version of Women's Hour called Bird's Eye View. Reflecting the areas' industrial cultural heritage meant the station gave prominence to farming , with regular livestock prices and a weekly review in  The Durham Farmer, and mining with coverage of the Durham Miners' Gala and performances from colliery and other brass bands in The Town, The Place and The Music (and later in Brasstime). Being just a stone's throw away from the university it also offered budding student broadcasters airtime on University Term Time - future BBC news correspondent  Gavin Hewitt was one such student.      

Here's an early Radio Times schedule for the week commencing 5 October 1968.    

Best known of the Radio Durham alumni was Kate Adie (pictured below) who spent a couple of years at the station before moving on to Radio Bristol. Her initial broadcast was supposedly reporting on a pigeon race. "My own minor part in this was to be stuffed into a pigeon loft on the outskirts of Ferryhill with the birds' owner."

Other broadcasters heard on the station include:
  • Mike Hollingsworth - had worked as a newspaper journalist and for BBC TV in Newcastle and Anglia TV before joining Radio Leicester in late 1967. At BBC Radio Durham he presented the opening programme.  Moved down to London to help set up the General News Service, working as an assistant editor on Today and then running BBC TV's Breakfast Time, TV-AM and BBC1's daytime output. 
  • Eileen McCabe - a former Northern Echo journalist who joined Radio Durham and moved on to Radio Newcastle. At Tyne-Tees Television she was a presenter and producer went on to be one of the anchors of Northern Life. Died in 2015.
  • Barbara Bailey - presenter of the station's answer to Down Your Way called Barbara's Travels.
  • Nigel Holmes - went to work at Radio Carlisle (later Radio Cumbria). Becoming a lay minister from 1985 to 2010 he worked for the Diocese of Carlisle.
  • John Forrest - moved to Radio Manchester in 1970 then LBC, Thames TV and BBC Network radio mainly producing religious programmes. Was a director on Songs of Praise.  
  • John Jefferson - moved over to Radio Carlisle, became Programme Organiser at Radio Humberside and then station manager at York and Leeds.
  • Geoffrey Lally - the programme organiser
  • Laurie Giles - a former teacher he was a music presenter with Radio Durham with a particular interest in classical music. Later appeared on Metro Radio and GNR.
  • Ken Franks - transferred over to Radio Carlisle
  • Tony Baynes - later had a long association with Radio Teeside (Cleveland)
  • David Self - listed as presenting Write About in the 1970 schedule below. A teacher and then lecturer he began to work freelance for the BBC mainly as a drama writer and feature maker for BBC Schools.
  • Keith Proud - later on Radio Teeside (Cleveland)
  • Geoff Coates - moved to Radio Carlisle and was Metro Radio's first Programme Controller.
  • John Stoker - later on Metro Radio.
  • John Pickles - moved into management firstly as head of radio at BBC Scotland, then station manager at Radio Birmingham (later WM) and Radio Hereford and Worcester
  • Chris Lewis - moved to Radio Carlisle (Cumbria)
  • Anna Duffy - the programme assistant for education
  • Ernie Brown, a news reporter who went on to work for Radio Teeside
  • David Broomfield - former Home Service and Radio newsreader who joined the station in 1972 and then moved over to Radio Carlisle. 
  • Philip Penfold
  • David Ward
  • John Reynolds
  • Peter Hawkins
This schedule from 30 May 1970 shows in some detail how the station weaved its service in between Radios 1, 2 and 4.

This documentary charts the history of Radio Durham. It appears to date from 1971 but I have no idea of the exact date nor who is narrating.

This schedule dates from 20 February 1971.

Following the opening on Radio Teeside on 31 December 1970 and Radio Newcastle on 2 January 1971 Radio Durham was effectively squeezed out and closed on Friday 25 August 1972. The Government had capped the number of BBC local stations at twenty and it was felt that the proximity of the neighbouring stations would hinder the expansion of the remaining proposed areas. This is how the  BBC Year Book reported the news: "The BBC took the decision to close down Radio Durham and to replace it with Radio Carlisle. It was felt that although Radio Durham had provided an excellent and worthwhile service since its opening in 1968, the arrival of Radio Newcastle and Radio Teeside had proved that there was no need for three stations in the North east. The whole of Radio Durham's area has now been duplicated by one or other of these stations. Radio Carlisle, however, will from its opening in 1973 fill a broadcasting gap in its locality. "

The station closed with a concert recorded a Durham Cathedral followed by The Programme to End All Programmes, 3 hours of  "nostalgia, reminiscences, humour and entertainment from one thousand five hundred and fifteen days of local broadcasting".

With thanks to David Ballard.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Inside the Enigma

Famously it was Winston Churchill who, speaking in 1939,  said of Russia that "it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma".

By 1988 it was becoming less of an enigma as Gorbachev was extolling the virtues of glasnost in a period of rapid change in what proved to be the dying days of the Soviet Union. In this Radio 4 documentary Erik de Mauny, the BBC's first Moscow correspondent, returned to the country to reflect on the changes in the intervening years since he first reported on Wynne-Penkovsky trial in May 1963. And there's a hint of the seismic events that are just around the corner as he talks about "repressed nationalist sentiments." 

Joining Erik (pictured above) on Inside the Enigma are a number of former BBC Moscow correspondents: Dennis Blakely, Daniel Counihan, Philip Short, Kevin Ruane, John Osman and Peter Ruff as well as the then-current incumbents Jeremy Harris, the radio correspondent and Brian Hanrahan who reported for BBC TV.  

Inside the Enigma was first broadcast on Thursday 28 April 1988 and was produced by Harry Schneider.   

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