Wednesday, 8 February 2017


He was the square-jawed news reporter with a nose for trouble investigating the criminal underworld where all the baddies sported a foreign accent and their evils plan were always thwarted with fisticuffs. Michael John O'Shea, known as Rick O'Shea (geddit?) was the Dick Barton of his day, the day being the mid-1970s. And mention of Dick Barton is apposite as in two episodes, much like one of those CSI crossover episodes, the retired special agent makes a guest appearance.

Ricochet was a drama series running on BBC Radio 2 in 1974 and 1975. Stripped across the week the stories unfolded at breakneck speed in their 15-minute timeslots, scenes punctuated by the dramatic theme or the sound of a ricocheting bullet.  

So what was Ricochet all about? Fortunately the Radio Times of 29 June 1974 fills us in:
"Not since the days of the mighty Dick Barton has there been a team like it: Rick O'Shea, the London Globe's ace newshound, backed by Dusty Miller. The glamorous Jan Paxton and lens-woman Penny Trinket. A team with a nose for trouble, an instinct for just which cupboard hides which skeleton. According to their creator, Tony Scott Veitch (who should know) they are quite a bunch. 'Dusty Miller is a reporter and a very good man with his fist. Penny, she's very trendy and comes from Liverpool. And Jan Paxton is O'Shea's assistant, a kind of Miss Oddjob. She has a very ambivalent relationship with her employer.' And Rick O'Shea himself? 'He'll do anything to get his story,' says Veitch. 'Expense is no object. He can charter a jet or whistle up a helicopter any time, and lives in a penthouse behind Harrods.'

So - what will happen when Rick and Co tangle with the devious Hugo de Witt? Can the Special Branch ever keep up with the O'Shea team. How much longer will the editor of the Globe put up with Rick's expenses?"

Playing O'Shea was pock faced Aussie actor Ray Barrett of The Troubleshooters fame and voice artist on numerous Gerry Anderson productions. Indeed in a delightful piece of synchronicity Barrett was the voice of DJ Rick O'Shea in an episode of Thunderbirds called Ricochet. Jan Paxton was played by Margaret Wolfit (daughter of renowned actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit) and Dusty Miller by Alexander John.   

Radio 2 scheduled Ricochet twice a day when it started on 1 July 1974; heard first as part of Late Night Extra with a repeat the following day at 13.45. By December of that year it was cut down to a 10-minute slot going out at 18.35, just before Sports Desk, with a repeat the following afternoon. The final episode aired on 27 March 1975.

Unfortunately it seems that the BBC didn't keep the tapes of Ricochet - its likely they were dumped in the 80s -  so don't expect any repeats on Radio 4 Extra. But at least two episodes have been saved by a private collector, the two episodes that included the guest appearance of Noel Johnson playing Dick Barton that were broadcast in Christmas week 1974. I was alerted to this search for old episodes by Fred Vintner when he first contacted me back in late 2014. Fred runs the Navy Lark Appreciation Society and the connection here is that long-time producer of The Navy Lark was Alastair Scott Johnston who also produced Ricochet. Some years ago Fred had been giving a book of cuttings by Alastair's daughter, Fiona Scott Johnston, that included some of the Radio Times billings and artwork for the show, this set him off on a quest to find out as much about the programme as he could and to unearth those elusive recordings.

Much of what we do have about Ricochet is the artwork and the theme tune. From the off the Radio Times would print a weekly strip cartoon on the Friday radio billing pages. I have an incomplete collection of the magazine for that period and a few of the strips are reproduced below. They are credited to Malcolm Harrison (about whom I know nothing) and scriptwriter Tony Scott Veitch. Veitch by the way was born in Scotland but lived for many years in Australia and wrote adventures series for both the BBC radio - Overland Patrol set in Oz (1965-7), Nicholas Quinn-Anonymous (1966), Six Steps in the Dark (1967), The Young Pioneers, again set Down Under (1967-8) and Mr Pybus (1970-71) - and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as well an penning many novels, mostly Westerns, under the pseudonym Scott McLure.

The theme tune was released as Ricochet with added gunshot effects in a recording credited to the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra conducted by Norrie Paramor. The single from BBC Records (RESL20) was released on 7 June 1974 as well as cropping up later in the year on an MRO album The most beautiful girl in the world (REB180). The track, under its original title Fasten Seat Belts, then appears years later on the CD compilation Girl in a Suitcase (Winchester Hospital Radio 2001) but here credited to the Gerhard Narholz Orchestra. Austrian composer Narholz, who also recorded under the name of Norman Candler, wrote the tune. It's this version that then ends up doing double theme tune duty when it gets used again on Radio 2 in 1980 as Pete Murray closes Open House and moves to a new weekend slot.    

Here's the MRO version of Ricochet in full and in use on the programme. 

And this is the Narholz version as used by Pete Murray together with a clip from his Saturday show.

And that's about as much as I know about Ricochet. Needless to say if you have a tape of the show lurking in the loft please contact me.

Thanks go to Fred Vintner. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Radio Lives - Desmond Carrington

Few radio shows feature both Al Bowlly and ZZ Top on their playlist, but Desmond Carrington's The Music Goes Round was such a show, a Radio 2 Friday night fixture for twelve years. Prior to that Desmond had hosted the Sunday lunchtime All Time Greats from 1981 to 2004 with a music selection, chosen by listeners, that could be equally diverse, even though it did tend to veer towards easy listening and the nostalgic. That 36 year run of weekly music shows finally came to a dignified and poignant end in October 2016 when ill-health forced Desmond to finally hung up his headphones.

Desmond Herbert Carrington was born and raised in Bromley where he attended the County Grammar School. Perhaps sensing that his future was in the arts his first job was as an office boy at Macmillan's the publishers for 18/- a week. But his calling was acting and his first professional role was as a Cockney schoolboy in Goodbye Mr Chips at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. He then secured regular repertory work with the Penge Court Players.       

In the early years of the Second World War Desmond joined the army, serving in the Royal West Kent Regiment, initially posted to Northern Ireland before serving out in India and Burma. Here he got his first opportunity to broadcast by opening up Rangoon Radio after the Japanese army had left. By 1946 he was serving as a commissioned officer out of Colombo in Ceylon and managed to wangle a job at the new forces station Radio SEAC (South Eastern Asia Command). Based in a palm grove some 15 miles outside Colombo the  coverage was immense, taking in India, East Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Indo-Chine, Japan, the Pacific and the west coast of the States. On the team with Carrington were David Jacobs - they would remain firm friends thereafter - McDonald Hobley, Charles Chilton and Alexander Moyes.

On demob Desmond knocked on the door of the BBC but they sent him away telling him that he was not of "sufficient promise" for them to offer him a job. However he would eventually secure a post as part of the BBC Drama Repertory company where he worked across a range of schools broadcasts and drama productions such as Children's Hour, Paul Temple and Mrs Dales Diary.    
In parallel to his acting career Desmond pursued his other great passion of cinema by carving out something of a specialism as an adapter of film screenplays for radio broadcast. He'd presented some film programmes on Radio SEAC and back in Britain he'd come up with the idea of recording the soundtrack from the film projector using a sound mirror and a tape recorder. With the agreement of the film companies he then used the edited highlights from the recording to form a radio programme. He took the idea to both Radio Luxembourg where the scenes would be linked together by Wilfrid Thomas in a series titled Movie Magazine. Later Desmond himself would present a number of shows for the station that included film soundtracks as well as interviews and film scores in programmes such as Hollywood Calling and the sponsored Alka-Seltzer Movie Parade. He continued to appear on Luxembourg into the mid-50s.

Meanwhile back at the BBC that same idea of film adaptations were featured in a number of programmes including Picture Parade (1948) and Sunday Cinema (1949-50). Desmond returned to cinema related work at the BBC when he and Spencer Hale (both pictured below) compiled and presented the Stargazing segment -basically star interviews with accompanying film clips - and then the quiz segment Sounds Familiar of the long-running film magazine Merry- Go-Round (Light Programme 1956-60)

Desmond's big break finally came in 1958 when he got a telephone call from a colleague who was now producing Emergency Ward Ten asking if he'd like to play the part of the son of a patient. Desmond leapt at the chance to do some live television over three months. His performance was deemed a success and he was invited back to play the part of a doctor - the part of Dr Chris Anderson. He remained in the show until 1964 appearing in over 200 episodes.

Of his time on Emergency Ward 10 Desmond would later recall the problems of having to memorise "some appallingly difficult and long medical terms, Then  I had the bright idea of writing them on the inside of the sink as we were always scrubbing up for the operations on the shows. During rehearsal, it worked fine, as there was no running water in the sinks. When it came to the live transmission I watched in horror as my medical terms were washed away as I started to scrub up. There was nothing for it but to improvise".

Ironically it was Desmond's TV fame that led to his future career as a disc jockey. In 1962 he was invited to compere Housewives' Choice for a fortnight whilst he was still appearing as Dr Anderson and, as the Radio Times billing adds, also appearing on stage in Doctor in the House at Streatham Hill Theatre. He got repeat bookings on Housewives' Choice for the remainder of its run between 1963 and 1967. In 1963 he was playing music from stage and screen on the Light Programme's Twelve O'Clock Spin. For the second half of 1964 it was more songs from the musicals in Record Showtime with the Radio Times billing helpfully informing us that he was appearing in Wanted on Voyage at the Grand Theatre, Leeds - by now he'd just left Emergency Ward 10. The following year it was a back to the world of film in Music from the Movies, a series scripted by Movie-Go-Round's Peter Haigh and produced by announcer Robin Boyle (a second series, produced by Tony Luke followed in 1966). And, in case you were wondering, Des was now in Face to Face at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.     

Throughout 1966 Desmond could be heard every weekend hosting Open House with "records of assorted speeds, sizes, and styles to suit people with assorted tastes". In 1967 he was back with more Music from the Movies, this time working with the future radio comedy producer Richard Willcox. There seemed to be no room for Desmond on Radio 2 when it replaced the Light in September 1967 but in 1968 he was back adapting film soundtracks with Spencer Hale for Radio 4's Disney Time that included Mary Poppins, Dumbo and Bambi. Finally, from December 1968, and running until September 1972, Desmond had a daily show on Radio 2 playing the latest releases in Album Time. Aside from three appearances in charge of After Seven in 1973 there was radio silence for the next eight years.  

Desmond was invited back into the Radio 2 fold in early 1981 to introduce a series of shows featuring The Magic of Stanley Black (other programmes would also feature Mantovani, Ronnie Aldrich and Robert Farnon, John Gregory, Geoff Love and John Fox). He owed his return to producer Paul Walters who, Paul reminded him on their first meeting, had swung the boom on some of those old Emergency Ward 10 broadcasts at the ATV's Highbury studios.

The success of the Magic of... shows led to an invitation to present the Sunday morning All Time Greats. Desmond expected it to run for a month or so but after the first recording producer Jack Dabbs told him, "well that's your pension, Desmond". He was right, it ran for 23 years!

In October 2011 Desmond gave listeners to The Music Goes Round and Round an opportunity to hear again the first edition of All Time Greats. Although the BBC hadn't kept a copy, Desmond had.

Initially just an hour in duration, All Time Greats was extended to 90 minutes and then two, and for a while three, hours and settled into what was more or less the old Family Favourites slot. It was a record request show too so anything went, but as Desmond told the Radio Times in October 1985, the music choice was often vintage:
"It's the listeners' programme, not mine. They choose the records". He gets about 500 suggestions a week requesting favourites pieces and reckons some 6,000 records have been chosen by Radio 2 listeners over the past four years. "Some people misquote the title as Old-Time Greats but it's certainly not that. We can play records right up to the present day, though I admit that most requests are for music from the 50s backwards. Most requested record? Without a doubt Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade. Bunny Berigan's I can't get started is a close second.

Still acting in the late 80s as evidenced by
this Radio Times article  17 January 1987
In August 2004 network controller Lesley Douglas decided to have a re-shuffle and the Sunday lunchtime All Time Greats came to an end. In this broadcast from 8 August 2004 Des tells his listeners that the decision was not his, "and I should like to make that clear".

In 1995 Dave Alyott and Desmond formed Foldback Media to
produce the shows for the BBC
The follow-up series, The Music Goes Round, now on a Tuesday evening, was the same eclectic mix condensed into an hour with each show adopting a theme for all or part of that hour. Come April 2010 Desmond moved to Friday nights where he remained until last year. For many years he'd been broadcasting from his home studio but by now the show's opening was always the memorable "Evening all from home in Perthshire, Scotland". Home being near Dunning where he lived with producer and long-time partner Dave Aylott and, often curled up at Des's feet during the show, cat Golden Paws Sam.

In 2013 Desmond spoke to Tim Blackmore about his radio career in a Radio Talk podcast for the Radio Academy.

In May 2016 Desmond celebrated his 90th birthday with this special edition of The Music Goes Round.

Golden Paws Sam taking it easy
What listeners didn't know. and for a while neither did Radio 2 management, was that Desmond's health was failing as he was battling with cancer and Alzheimer's disease. In December 2015 he'd suffered a second heart failure but was back at the microphone a few days later. However in October 2016 he announced that after 70 years on the air he was reluctantly having to "hang up my headphones" and say "enough is enough". Here is that final show from 28 October.

Yesterday, on the day Radio 2 had already scheduled a tribute to Desmond, it was announced that he'd died. The voice of a true radio all time great silenced.

Desmond Carrington 1926-2017 Bye just now

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Commentating Captain

Ninety years ago this month the first live sports commentary was broadcast by the BBC. That "first broadcast description", as the BBC Hand Book described it, was on the rugby match between England and Wales at Twickenham. The commentator was Captain H.B.T. Wakelam. But who was Captain Wakelam and how come he was given that task of covering that match. And, as it was the first ever such broadcast (at least on this side of the Atlantic) how did he know what to do? The answers can be found in Wakelam's 1938 autobiography Half-Time "The Mike and Me".

Firstly a brief biographical portrait. Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam, known as Teddy, was born in 1893 in Herefordshire were his father was the County Engineer, a very keen all-round sportsman and "an extremely good shot". The family moved to London when his father was appointed to a job in Middlesex. Young Teddy was educated at the Middleton School in Bognor where he was sent as a boarder. Here he developed his love for playing sport; he'd go on to play rugby, cricket, football, hockey and tennis which stood him in good stead years later when he was asked to commentate on a range of sports for the BBC.  He continued his education firstly at Marlborough College, Wiltshire and then Pembroke College, Cambridge where he initially studied medicine but due to "a very distinct aversion from corpse dissecting" switched to history. While at Pembroke he played rugby for a number of clubs before joining Harlequins for whom he turned out on many occasions over three years up until the war. Indeed he was so busy on the sporting field that he feared he was spreading himself too thinly: "I think ... that I attempted too much in those days. Four days a week I was playing either rugger or hockey for Pembroke, and my Saturdays were also fully taken up playing either for the Varsity at one of other game, or for the Quins. Perhaps had I concentrated more I might have been successful."    

On the outbreak of World War One, Teddy was accepted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers; by 1917 he'd been promoted to Captain of the 96th A.A. Section. He saw service in France, Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine. After the war there was a period of post-war liaison work for the Army in Poland and Germany and he started to play rugby again, initially for the Public Schools Services and then for a reformed Harlequins where he'd eventually captain the team. He gained employment with the contractors and building firm John Mowlem & Co, mainly working on contracts for the London County Council. In 1922 he married Vera Greenhill, the following year they had their only child Elizabeth. By 1924 Wakelam was forced to retire playing rugby due to a knee injury but he very much remained part of the sport as well as taking on duties as a Wimbledon umpire.   

Meanwhile over at Savoy Hill the British Broadcasting Company had become a Corporation on 1 January 1927 and gained some additional rights to broadcast reports of sporting events, rights that the press had previously jealously guarded. The BBC had already decided to introduce the type of live commentary that American radio was doing and it was on the lookout for possible commentators, broadcasters who would be pioneers in the field. On 7 January the Director of Entertainment, Roger Eckersley, issued a memo to Station Directors expounded on the subject, suggesting that the person giving the running commentaries "probably will be difficult to find, as he should have the journalistic instinct, a decent voice, a sound communicable knowledge of the subject, and the power to make listeners feel as though they were present at the event". 

Asking around the name of Teddy Wakelam came to the BBC's attention, especially useful as the first commentary game was to be a rugby match. Such were the hurried and last minute arrangements that the commentary, on 15 January 1927, was not billed in the Radio Times. Wakelam's autobiography takes up the story at this point in some detail and I've reproduced a few paragraphs of it below.  
The other players in this story are Lance Sieveking who joined the BBC in April 1926 with special responsibilities for topical talks and news. He'd recently returned from a trip to the States to witness how US radio covered baseball matches. He later work mainly in drama, producing and script editing for both BBC radio and TV. Wakelam's number two was a chap called Charles Lapworth who seemed to have no obvious connection to rugby. He was a former editor of the Daily Herald and had worked at other newspapers both in the UK and the USA. This was his one and only appearance as Wakelam's sidekick. The reference to "a St Dunstan's man" is the home for the blind for ex-servicemen and women, now known as Blind Veterans UK. 

"One afternoon I was sitting at my table working out some details of a tender, when my telephone rang. An unknown voice at the other end then asked me if I was the same Wakelam who had played Rugger for the Harlequins, and upon my saying 'Yes' went on to inform me that the owner of it was an official of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who would much like to see me at once on an urgent matter.

Turning up at the arranged meeting-place, I was welcomed by Lance Sieveking, the gentleman in question, who thereupon explained to me the reason for his call. Briefly it was this. Since the BBC in January 1927 had become a national institution, its scope had become considerably wider, and it had been decided to follow a recent American innovation, and to put out running commentaries on important sporting events. It was proposed a start should be made with the Rugby International at Twickenham, between England and Wales, on January 15, and would I be prepared to undergo there and then a studio microphone test in order to see if my voice was suitable, and then, should such prove to be the case, to take part in an actual field trial to be held the next day on the Guy's Hospital Ground at Honor Oak Park? On the principle of 'try anything once,' and also with the confined conviction that if an American could do it I could, I agreed, and duly passed the 'Mike' test. The next day, three days before the actual match, together with Sieveking, a man called Lapworth, who had the vast knowledge of the American film world. and two other competitors, I went down to the Guy's ground as arranged, but alas, something had gone wrong, and no engineers or microphones turned up! This was a bad start; but things grew even worse when eventually we did find them, in Greenwich Park, watching a game between Blackheath Wednesday and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, for no sooner had they started to get their elaborate and fearsome-looking gear when up came a large and very important park-keeper, full of righteous indignation, and we departed sadder but considerably wiser men. By this time it was too late to seek other fields, so we were asked by a most apologetic Sieveking to parade again the next day, if a match could be found upon which we could give a try-out. There proved to be one at the Old Deer Park, Richmond, an inter-schoolboy affair, where the same party again assembled, and after the lines and so on had been run out and fixed up, we started on our 'dummy run.' After it was over, Sieveking came up to me, and asked me if I would have shot at doing the match as proposed. I agreed, subject, of course, to suitable financial remuneration, a point upon which both of us very naturally were quite at sea. That, however, was put aside for the moment, and we set out straightaway for Twickenham to examine the selected position and to study the arrangements.   
Arriving at Twickenham, Sieveking and I were met by Commander Cooper, an old and valued friend of mine, and together we examined our perch, which was a somewhat rickety-looking hut mounted on a scaffold platform at the end of the then single-decker West Stand, in the south-west corner. Here the engineers were hard at work wiring up and installing the microphones, and we for our own part worked out in detail our proposed plan of campaign. here the first squared plan of the field came into being, the facsimile of which so often nowadays is printed for the benefit of listeners in the Radio Times, and here was put up a notice for our own particular benefit, a notice which, printed in large red letters, was 'DON'T SWEAR' (not that I any more than the rest of my fellow-men am addicted to the use of strong language, but sometime, watching Rugger, one is apt to get carried away!). The order of the seating was also decided upon, and Sieveking finally was struck with a most brilliant idea, which was to prove of the utmost worth to me on the day. He decided to get hold of a St Dunstan's man who, before his terrible misfortune, had been a keen Rugger follower, and to invite him to sit just in front of the open window of the box so that I could talk as if explaining the game directly to him, and so perhaps lose some of my very natural stage-fright. Having fixed these and other small details, we returned to town, and duly reassembled n the site an hour or so before the game on the fateful day. Then I learnt that Charles Lapworth should be my 'No. 2,' or, as someone immediately and appropriately remarked my 'Dr Watson.' In many ways he was very well suited to his job, for he was the personification of cool and calm collectedness, though his knowledge of the actual game itself was rather limited. In fact, the only football he really knew at all was the American game, as one of his remarks was to prove.

Ten minutes before the kick-off, we came on the air, Sieveking first to give the atmosphere, reading out the now familiar copyright notice and doing the introductions, and then a somewhat shy and diffident me, to give out the details of the game and the names of those taking part in it. On the stroke of the appointed time, the match was started, and we were off. Straightway I forgot all my nervousness and stage-fright, all my previously and arduously collected phrases, and all the, as I thought, snappy and pithy expressions which I had anxiously culled from the leading sporting writers of the day. I was so wrapped up in following the flight and fortunes of that ball, and so desperately keen to keep my St Dunstan's man fully informed, that I raced away like a maniac and then and there, I think, got into the habit which I still maintain is essential) of being just a fraction ahead of the actual game. By that I mean the necessity of starting to speak of a man as passing just as he is shaping to pass, a poor description and example to illustrate my point, but nevertheless a correct one, for it is actually the truth.

My memories of the actual game itself that day are, I am afraid, very vague indeed, in fact I do believe when it was over that I could recall one single football incident, though I do remember some of the gap-filling remarks which are, of course, essential when play is temporarily held up for this or that reason.   
Once Lapworth, doing a hero's work in all conscience, said to me in one of these pauses, 'Do they always play with an oval ball?' a remark which may to any Rugger player appear ludicrous, but it reminded me that many of my audience were not familiar with the game, and so helped me to keep away from being too technical (a most serious fault). Again, he said, after one of the Englishmen had been hurt, and had to leave the field, 'Who will they send on instead?' another apparent bloomer, but a chance for me to fill in b y saying that the practice of replacements had not so far (and I sincerely hope never will) become part of the Rugby football creed. And so, back to earth, and tempting my Celtic fervour, with Sieveking's commanding hand sometimes waving me back when I crowded on to the mike and so was in danger of blasting, and with the 'Don't swear' notice ever before my eyes, I got somehow to half-time. and a welcome breathing-space, filled in by atmosphere from the outside mike, and a few more remarks from Sieveking.
Hereabouts I am popularly supposed to have remarked, sotto voce (which of course makes no difference), 'What about having a drink?' but if such was the case, I have no recollection of it, and prefer to treat it as a canard.
In five minutes we were off again, and though towards the end I do recall becoming rather breathless and hoarse, my general memory of the second half is as blank as that of the first.

The press response to Wakelam's commentary was mixed: "Some were definitely hostile, talking about quick-fire football and even quick-fire comedians, being obviously and decidedly against such an innovation, which perhaps might tell against their circulation. Some were inclined to be a bit haughty and to damn with faint praise, and I must have gone through the whole gamut of a leading actor's sensations after a 'first night' until I opened the pages of The Times and read a most delightful little bit by Bernard Darwin ... (who) went on to say in his own inimitable way that he supposed that in the course of time all sports and leading outdoor events would be so reported."

The listening public was more positive though there was a letter of complaint from the wife of a Welsh ex-international who dubbed Wakelam a plague and a menace "for her husband had got so excited listening-in that he had started playing himself and had smashed up most of her sitting-room furniture".

Those first early experiments with running commentaries set the tone and style for what was to follow. The St Dunstan's man who'd sat in front of Wakelam observed "It seemed to me that you were just talking to me, and to me only, and just as if you were telling me something in an ordinary conversation." Wakelam  went on to list four basic rules which have stood the test of time:

The first: Simplicity - Use ordinary everyday sentences. Don't be too technical. Don't be too facetious. BE NATURAL.
The second: Continuity - Keep going as well as you can, without padding up with too much uninteresting and dry material. Wander away very occasionally on to something which is only remotely connected with the game, such as a helicopter overhead, or an outstanding figure in the crowd (it helps the atmosphere). Work in sympathy with your No. 2, and thus avoid double talking. BE CLEAR.
The third: Praise but don't criticise. BE FAIR.
The fourth: Know your man - 'Eye and brain' I have tried to explain, but the second and more important part of this fourth rule can be summed up in two words: BE FRIENDLY.

The BBC viewed Wakelam's commentary as a success and offered him a contract to cover a further ten events, in the event he remained with the BBC for another 12 years. For his next rugby match his No.2 was former Welsh international Rhys Thomas 'Rusty' Gabe, though, Wakelam notes "I am afraid we were guilty of a good deal of overlapping".

Next Wakelam was asked to do the first football commentary. Although he knew the game his knowledge of current players was lacking so he wrote a note to one of the team managers only to receive this unhelpful reply on a postcard: "Dear Sir, as you have been chosen to broadcast this match, presumably you already know all about the players".
In February 1927 Wakelam participated in what was a bizarre piece of experimental commentary. The match was a rugby international between Wales and France and he was asked if he could intersperse some short pieces in French for the benefit if listeners in France. Although he did speak a little of the language he set about looking up all the rugby terms and expressions in French that he could find. By a stroke of luck when he arrived at the hotel in Swansea, prior to the broadcast, he was greeted by a French businessman resident in the town who agreed to sit next to him in the commentary box and write down some of the salient features of play in colloquial French.

Commentaries on other sports followed. As he'd played a little tennis and was a part-time umpire at Wimbledon he was asked to cover the Championship games in the summer of 1927 (alongside another military-styled chap, Colonel R.H. Brand). Commentating on the men's semi-finals he recounts another incident that still occasionally affects live sports coverage, getting cut-off at a crucial stage in the match. At two sets a piece and six games to five in the final set the match was on a knife edge. "I made some kind of remark about a desperate prospective finish and how terribly exciting and thrilling it was. I was not destined to put that finish over though, for when the score reached 30-15, my companion touched me on the shoulder and held up his hand for silence. In his beautifully modulated and honey-toned voice he then gave out the announcement: We are leaving here now and going over to the Girls' Friendly Society Concert at the Albert Hall." Wakelam apparently "felt like throwing the mike through the window"

Cricket commentary followed on 6 August 1927 with the County Championship match between Surrey and Middlesex. Wakelam immediately encountered a perennial problem for cricket commentators when he recalled that batsman "Andy Sandham was holding the fort, perhaps one of the best men possible in such a case but the rate of scoring, from a broadcasting point of view, was the most distressing, and the high spots and desperately exciting incidents upon which we had gaily dwelt beforehand were absolutely non-existent". 

Finally another piece of bizarre broadcasting occurred when the BBC covered the 1929 FA Cup Final. The Corporation had been unable to get permission to provide a proper commentary of the Portsmouth Town vs Bolton Wanderers match so it was just billed as "Eye Witness Accounts". In practice this meant that the BBC rented a flat near the ground to install all the microphones and other equipment. They then purchased eight tickets for the eight reporters who would cover the game, each of them witnessing their allotted 15 minutes of play and then leaving the stadium and running at full speed to the flat and relaying what they had seen from their notes for about nine or ten minutes. Gramophone records were on hand to fill any gaps with music. One of the team had been a cross-country runner so his dispatch was given without him sounding breathless. Another, P.W. Adams, marred his report by talking about "Mr So-and-so then passed to Mr Someone-else". And finally an older member of the team, Tommy Usher, arrived a "trifle distressed" and told the audience that "Chelsea have scored", presumably momentarily mislead by the fact that Portsmouth were playing in blue.  One writer later described the coverage as "the most humorous item on the BBC programme of 1929."

As well as radio Teddy Wakelam also provided some of the first 'sight commentaries' when BBC TV covered Wimbledon in 1937. In addition he appeared on some of the pre-war Monthly Sports Bulletins broadcast from Alexandra Palace as well as writing on rugby for The Morning Post and providing commentaries for British Movietone News. He continued to work for BBC radio until early 1940 (as far as billings in the Radio Times are concerned). Post-war the biographical details are very sketchy though he continued to write about his beloved rugby and in 1954 published Harlequin Story. He died in July 1963 aged 70.     

Here's Teddy Wakelam in action:

Half-Time 'the Mike and Me' by H.B.T. Wakelam (Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1938)
The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume 1 The Birth of Broadcasting by Asa Briggs (OUP, 1995)
The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume 2 The Golden Age of Wireless by Asa Briggs (OUP, 1995)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Music Curated for You, Here on Radio 2

I go back far enough to remember when Radio 2 (and Radio 1) closed down at midnight and didn't come back on-air until 6am. There was nothing but dead air, save for the occasional test tone. Insomniacs and night shift workers (always the two 'groups' that are trotted out on these occasions) could only get their overnight radio on Luxembourg, until 3am, the World Service, one of the many foreign stations on medium wave and long wave or one of the few ILR stations that provided a 24-hour service.

All that changed, at least as far as Radio 2 was concerned, when You and the Night and the Music filled the 'gap' from January 1979 and there was a friendly voice, picked from the team of continuity announcers, to either lull you to sleep or keep you awake, depending on whether you were operating heavy machinery or not!

I mention this bit of radio history in light of the announcement from Radio 2 this week that from next month there will be no live overnight programmes on the station between midnight and 5 am. (And indeed from 10pm to 5 am on some nights of the week). All due to budget cuts of course. The fallout from this is the loss of Janice Long and Alex Lester, aka The Dark Lord, both of whom enjoy a loyal following. Those overnight shows apparently pick up an audience of about 900,000. Huey Morgan and Bob Harris's shows at the weekend remain unscathed, and re-scheduled at a more user-friendly hour.  

In their place we are promised the continuation of the repeat of some music shows, e.g. Pick of the Pops, Sounds of the 60s and, rather more curiously, Radio 2 Playlists "which are uniquely curated by our leading music presenters and music team and that our audience can enjoy on the radio or on demand". In other words a 3-hour jukebox service. The fact that it can be enjoyed "on demand" is a little disingenuous; so can the rest of Radio 2's output including the shows that currently get an overnight repeat. And while we're on the subject since when did "curated" replace "selected" or "chosen"?

So far the reaction to this announcement has, understandably, been critical. How can what is claimed to be Europe's top music station not offer live overnight radio?  Why cut the After Midnight shows when other presenters (insert name here) are paid mega-bucks? Given that the big commercial groups offer live radio in the wee small hours why can't the BBC?

By my reckoning this change pushes the total number of pre-recorded shows (or not live) from 19% to 32% of the station's weekly output - the actual figure depending on whether or not Paul O'Grady makes it into the studio and if Dermot O'Leary is on X Factor duty. 

After 38 years of night-time broadcasting it's a pretty sorry state of affairs when a substantial part of the station's listenership are disenfranchised and can no longer enjoy the intimacy and companionship that only live radio can offer.

As for Janice and Alex they will, we are told, continue to broadcast on BBC radio. The reality is, I suspect,  that we'll see them get a regular gig on BBC local radio.

You can hear Alex Lester talking candidly to Stuart Clarkson about Radio 2's decision on this week's Radio Today podcast.

For the record
The current schedule with two hours of overnight repeats started in October 2014 but Radio 2 wasn't averse to putting out repeats before, albeit limited to just an hour. When You and the Night and the Music (1979-84) started it was live music and chat with pre-recorded features. The budget was a pittance and needletime so restricted that it only allowed for two records in a 3 or 4 hour show. An hour's worth of repeats of the like of Two's Best or Folk on 2 started in 1982 but between 1985 and January 1990 it was music all the way with an hour long sequence called A Little Night Music filling the gap.  

Again there were repeats in 1990 and 1991 but the majority of the overnight hours consisted of Night Ride (which incorporated A Little Night Music until July 1992) and an early show kicking off at 4am, both presented by a roster of continuity announcers. Alex Lester started his reign as king of the overnights from September 1993 with a 3am show. The Night Ride title was dropped in 1995 but the presenters remained unchanged with either Steve Madden or Charles Nove taking the lion's share of the midnight to 3am slot. By late 1998 Katrina Leskanich was drafted into the post-midnight show until April 2000 when Janice Long took over. Alex and Janice have remained as the main weekday overnight presenters ever since.  

Monday, 2 January 2017

And now the classified football results

Ahead of this evening's classified football results on Sports Report I'm briefly going back to January 1969 when Liverpool and Leeds topped Division 1.

Sports Report, then running as part of the Sports Service on Radio 3, was beginning its 21st year on air and was still produced by its founding father Angus Mackay. "He is the brains and heart of the show. The man behind the microphone who leads and guides and inspires and cajoles".   

Taking a look behind the scenes of Sports Report in 1969 was Harry Brown writing in the January edition of Football League Review. I'm grateful to John Flitter who kindly scanned these pages for me.

Eagle-eyed readers will spot that the photos on page 17 have been transposed; the set starting with Vincent Duggleby are actually at the bottom of the page and vice-versa.

Read my history of Sports Report on It’s five o’clock. Time for Sports Report

Saturday, 31 December 2016

News Review of 1991

Exactly twenty five years and 1991 draws to a close. Radio 1's Newsbeat team review the year.

The Gulf War comes to an end. (A  long sequence is played over Oleta Adams's Get There: "You can reach me by caravan, cross the desert like an Arab man.") Right Said Fred get too sexy for their shirts. The death of Freddie Mercury. There's a  wind of change blowing through the Soviet Block (cue the Scorpions). Bryan Adams hangs onto the number one spot for an eternity. The grey Prime Minister has his first full year as PM. Terry Waite is released.    

News 91 Review of the Year was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 on 31 December 1991. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Here's a fascinating piece of analysis that, according to The Guardian, is the "most comprehensive analysis ever carried out of comedy panel shows". Conducted by Stuart Lowe of the Open Data Institute it concludes that "only once in the history of British TV and radio has a programme had an all-female line-up".

Lowe observed that few women appeared on panel games and was determined to undertake a more scientific approach to analysing whether or not this was actually the case. The Guardian report continues: "Of more than 4,700 individual episodes examined ... 1,488 programmes since 1967 have been made up solely of men. But only on one occasion in 49 years has there been a programme in which the presenter and all the panel were women – an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Heresy in January 2012 presented by Victoria Coren-Mitchell".

Whilst Lowe appears to overlook Petticoat Line (1965-74) which arguably became a more comedic show - a sort of all-women Does the Team Think - and was always 100% female then in theory this edition from the eighth series of Heresy is a piece of broadcasting history.

According to Coren-Mitchell “the thing that surprised me is that it turned out to be the silliest episode of the series. My theory is that, because productions usually put one woman on a panel show (or none) and stop there, women get used to having to (at some wearisome level) ‘represent’ female humour when we appear on these shows ... but with four women the pressure was off. It was nobody’s individual responsibility to prove anything. So we all got the chance to just mess about, relax and make free jokes like men do.”

So here is that edition of Heresy from 4 January 2012 (though I think my recording is of a subsequent repeat). With Victoria Coren-Mitchell are Sue Perkins, Cerys Matthews and Maureen Lipman.


Since I first drafted this blog post last week I've been in touch with Stuart about the Petticoat Line and he's now updated his data and created a Wikipedia article on the show. I was pretty sure I had a couple of audio clips but so far I've only tracked this one down from 1969.

Petticoat Line aside Stuart's basic arguments remain that on radio and TV "nearly all these long-running shows under-represent women even if you ignore the regulars. Few shows have equal representation amongst guests."    

You can drill down into Stuart's data here.
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