Friday, 12 December 2014

Whittaker’s World

Broadcaster Mark Whittaker worked across a number of BBC radio stations for just over thirty years. A “thoroughly professional, thoughtful and clear broadcaster” who was, by all accounts great fun to work with.  

After training as a newspaper journalist Mark joined BBC Lancashire in 1983 before moving to BBC WM and then a long stint on Radio 1’s Newsbeat. In 1994 he was in the original line-up at BBC Radio 5 Live co-presenting a weekend show with Liz Kershaw (photo left). Moving to Radio 4 he hosted Costing the Earth and You and Yours. More recently he was a presenter on the World Service programmes World Business Report and Business Matters. Mark died on 1 October only a month after his final broadcast.
By way of a tribute this is Mark on Radio 1 in 1997 investigating the music business and the ways in which it could guarantee itself hits. Hyping the Hits was broadcast on a Sunday evening (23 February) immediately after Mark Goodier’s chart rundown.

Mark Whittaker 1957-2014

Read more about Mark on Bill Rogers’ blog Trading as WDR

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Christmas Laughalong

Two of the most popular radio comedies of the late 70s and early 80s were Listen to Les (74-85) and Castle’s on the Air (74-83). Both Radio 2 shows came from the BBC’s Manchester comedy outpost under the stewardship of James Casey.

Occasionally the two stars, Les Dawson and Roy Castle, would come together for ‘Laughalong’ specials.  This is one such seasonal offering from 1982. Joining them are Castle’s radio sidekick Eli Woods, who’d also co-starred alongside Dawson on his YTV series Sez Les, and Daphne Oxenford who was a regular on Listen to Les. The music is provided by Brian Fitzgerald and his Orchestra.
The Christmas Laughalong was broadcast on Friday 24 December 1982.  

When I dug out the Laughalong tape on the other side was The Grumbleweeds Christmas Party. However, containing copious amounts of Savile impressions and a guest appearance from Stuart Hall that particular show won’t get a release anytime soon.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lost Comedy Gems

There are a number of so-called “lost gems of the Light Programme and Home Service” airing on Radio 4 Extra over Christmas. As ever it’s great when the BBC dusts off (one somehow imagines the reels sitting on dusty old shelves rather than the temperature-controlled reality) these old comedy shows. All but one, the edition of Up the Pole, have not been heard on the radio in decades. And two really were “lost” as they come from off-air recordings provided by the Goon Show Preservation Society.     

This is what’s on offer in the week commencing 22 December 2014:
Over the Garden Wall was a Light Programme comedy in 1948/9 starring Lancastrian comic Norman Evans in which he brought his variety stage act of Fanny the garrulous gossip to the radio. His co-star was Ethel Manners (of the musical hall act Hatton and Manners) who played Mrs Higginbottom.

A Date with Nurse Dugdale was a six-part series that ran in 1944 starring Arthur Marshall as the eponymous Nurse Dugdale with her catchphrase “Out of my way deahs, out of my way instantly!” It was spin-off from the series Take It From Here, not the long-running Muir/Norden creation but an earlier 1943/44 series. Both Take It From Here and the Nurse Dugdale programmes also featured the May Fair Hotel Dance Orchestra conducted by bandleader and later renowned-DJ Jack Jackson.

Up the Pole ran for four series between 1947 and 1952 and starred Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss initially playing the cross-talking proprietors of a trading post in the Arctic. Later series shifted the action an apartment in a disused power station and a rural police station. Only one edition survives, from 1 November 1948, but has been heard again as part of Bill Oddie’s turn on Radio 7 and Radio 4 Extra as The Comedy Controller.     

It’s Great to Be Young was Ken Dodd’s first starring programme and ran between October 1958 and January 1961. It’s the one that gave rise to Doddy’s catchphrase “Where’s me shirt?” and co-starred impressionist Peter Goodwright.
Blackpool Night was a regular summer series of variety shows that ran from 1948 to 1967. It gave early radio appearances for Ken Dodd and Morecambe and Wise and its Eric and Ernie that star in this repeat from 18 August 1963.

The Naughty Navy Show was a one-off Home Service comedy from Christmas Day 1965 written by and starring Spike Milligan along with John Bird, Bernard Miles and Bob Todd.

Sid and Dora was another one-off show from 25 December 1965, this time over on the Light Programme. Described as a ‘domestic comedy for Christmas’ it starred Sid James, Dora Bryan and Pat Coombs. 

The Army Show also stars Spike Milligan and shares cast members with The Naughty Navy Show as well as Barry Humphries and Q series regular John Bluthal. The show was first broadcast on 16 June 1965 and has only been repeated once, and that was in 1966.
There’s more Milligan in the The GPO Show from Christmas Day 1964. The Radio Times unhelpfully describes it as follows: “Spike Milligan takes a benevolent but distinctly Milligoonish look at the work of that mighty institution the British Post Office. In fact he braves the hallowed precincts of Mount Pleasant itself, to report the merry, festive scene. With the stalwart shape of Harry Secombe and John Bluthal, to name but six, he will be giving listeners a seasonal view of Operation Mailbag in full swing.”  The GPO Show was recorded just five days before transmission and by then the Post Office had objected to the title on the grounds that GPO was a registered trademark so it was hastily changed to The Grand Piano Orchestra Show. The script, in part, was a re-working of an earlier Goon Show from 1954 titled The History of Communications.

And finally also worth mentioning, and of more recent vintage, is a repeat of the 2008 Archive Hour feature on Kenny Everett from music journalist Mark Paytress in Here’s Kenny. 

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Debussy Connection

So was a Debussy tune used as a radio jingle? I’m convinced so, and no it’s not one on Classic FM.

I was prompted to ask this question whilst listening to the current edition of Counterpoint – Radio 4’s music quiz with Gambo back in the chair this week. Up came a question in the specialist round about Claude Debussy:

The Snow is Dancing immediately triggered a memory. I was sure I’d heard it before used as a theme or jingle on BBC local radio, perhaps Radio Cleveland or Humberside. Guessing it was used in the 1970s then the chances were it was a version created by the Radiophonic Workshop, who seemed to be behind many early local radio idents.
An online search uncovered an electronic version, but from American composer Ruth White, rather than the Radiophonic crew. This is what I heard:   

By now I was convinced I remembered the tune from Radio Humberside. Fortunately I’d already digitised a number of my early Humberside recordings for their 40th anniversary in 2011 so I dug out one of my extra hard drives and after trawling through it I chanced on this short news clip:

That was it! A Radio Humberside news jingle based on Debussy’s The Snow is Dancing. If not it sure sounds very similar.    

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Band Aid – Thirty Years On

Thirty years ago today a group of pop singers and musicians were corralled into a studio in West London at the behest of Bob Geldof to record Do They Know It’s Christmas?  It quickly became the UK’s best-selling single of all time (until surpassed in 1997) and, if only briefly, suggested that pop music really could change the world.

This is the story of that day and how the track was put together at such short notice – the record was released just four days later. In Feed the World – The Band Aid Story you’ll hear from Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and others. This documentary was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 on 6 November 1994. It’s introduced and produced by Trevor Dann.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Back to Square One

Amongst the tributes paid to the late James Alexander Gordon, who died earlier this year, was that from Radio 5 Live’s John Murray:

He was always so friendly and charming, and interested in what you did. The funny thing is, he didn’t follow a team – he was no great football fan. The one time we went to a match together was in 2007. It was the 80th anniversary of the first football commentary, when a grid was printed in the Radio Times for listeners to follow. To mark the occasion we did a grid commentary together on 5 Live Sports Extra – James was so thrilled to be chosen to read out the numbers of the squares where the ball was. It’s a lovely memory I have of him. He loved being a part of what we did, a part of history of BBC Sport – and he played a very significant part in that history.
The 80th anniversary match was in recognition of the first radio commentary on Saturday 22 January 1927 – with Arsenal playing at home to Sheffield United. Commentary on that match came from Teddy Wakelam, but to help listeners follow the play a second, unnamed voice, called out the number of the square in which the ball was currently in play. The numbered grid, the idea of BBC producer Lance Sieveking, was printed in that week’s Radio Times (above). No recordings exist of that match but here’s Wakelam commentating in the 1930s:

The 2007 game again saw Arsenal at home, this time to Manchester United. Introducing proceedings on Sunday 21 January on BBC Radio Five Live was Eleanor Oldroyd. ‘Normal’ commentary on Five Live was by Alan Green whilst the ‘grid’ commentary on Five Live Sports Extra came from John Murray (above) with James Alexander Gordon calling the numbers and summaries from Bob Wilson and, oddly, singer David Gray. Here’s part of that afternoon’s coverage:

Those numbered squares are often cited as the origin of the phrase “back to square one”, but this is by no means certain. After all for one team passing the ball into square one would be moving play forward and not back.

For the record that 1927 game ended as a one all draw. The 2007 result was Arsenal 2, Manchester United 1. And by a fluky coincidence Arsenal play Manchester United this coming weekend. You'd almost think I planned all this!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Visual Radio

It’s a multiplatform world, we are told. The BBC is “reinventing radio for a new generation” with initiatives such as Radio 1’s launch on the BBC iPlayer last week and Radio 2’s Sounds of the 80s appearing on the Red Button – more of the latter on the recent Radio Today podcast 

But just sticking a camera in a radio studio doesn’t make great telly, and that’s the challenge for broadcasters. I’m reminded of such an experiment with Scott Mills’s Radio 1 drivetime show some seven years ago. It wasn’t live, but shown on BBC Three in the small hours of the following day. Here’s Mills, Chappers, Laura and ‘the one who doesn’t speak’ on Monday 17 December 2007, shown at 1.25 am on Tuesday morning. Not much danger of it being seen then, though I captured a copy. I’ve edited out the music videos.

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