Monday, 3 August 2015

On the Light - Part 4 When Housewives Had the Choice

Whenever TV producers want to evoke an image of cosy 1950s British domesticity they will invariably reach for the music track In Party Mood. More than half a century after it was first used Jack Strachey's piece still has the ability to immediately strike the right nostalgic note. 
In Party Mood was the theme to the Light Programme's daily request show designed to accompany the morning chores after the menfolk had gone off to work - this was the 1940s after all - Housewives' Choice.

The idea for Housewives' Choice actually came from Sweden - the reference books make no mention of its title or its longevity - following a visit to the country by the Light's Programme Controller Norman Collins. It launched on 4 March 1946 (1) and lasted until the close of the station some twenty-one years later.

Musical requests ranged from the traditional - Greensleves and the Eton Boating Song - to the popular - Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me by the Andrews Sisters and Charles Trenet's La Mer. In 1956 the favourite artists were Perry Como, Ruby Murray, Percy Faith, Pat Boone and Doris Day. The programme's production office groaned under the weight of 3,000 postcard requests a week. At its height over eight million listeners tuned in.

The programme's first compère was the actor and broadcaster Robert MacDermot. Others who proved popular in the early days were Bryan Michie and Godfrey Winn. Presenters were generally  booked for a two-week stint; many returned again and again over the years. Some were not re-booked. There were also appearances from BBC staff announcers. You'll notice - in the list at the foot of this post - that of the 250+ names the majority are men. During the week it seems, in contrast to Sunday's Family Favourites, women were not allowed to play record requests.     

Of the four women who did present Housewives' Choice, three were on the BBC staff and had broadcast during the war. They all featured on the programme in the late 1940s and all were also associated at one time or another with Woman's Hour: Barbara McFadyean, Jeanne Heal and Joan Griifiths. The other woman presenter was Vera Lynn, who made a couple of one-off appearances in 1956 and 1962 and then did a fortnight in 1963. 

One of the best-known and most-loved of the regular hosts was George Elrick (pictured above), the former big band drummer and singer who would later combine his radio work alongside managing Mantovani and his orchestra. In his autobiography (2) he recalls that it was veteran DJ Christopher Stone that put his name forward to Anna Instone, the indomitable Head of Gramophone records whose domain included Housewives' Choice. (3)

When the programme first started the presenters were expected to help choose the records from the submitted requests (4) and turn up to the studio early for a complete run through, all scripted of course. But George Elrick enjoyed a little latitude to deviate from the script and one morning "after the last record had been played and I knew I was off the air, I removed my headphones, leaned back in my chair and began to la-di-da the signature tune which I could hear faintly from the room where they played the records. Unfortunately my engineer thought I was still talking and, unbeknown to me, hastily switched me back on". Concerned that he might get a ticking off from the BBC he was surprised to hear programme organiser Pat Osborne tell him: "Wonderful touch, old boy. Do it again tomorrow." In the following show he added the words "See you all again tomorrow morning..." and that sign-off became a programme institution.

In 1965 the BBC recorded an average daily audience for Housewives' Choice of 8.5 million, by far the largest weekday radio listenership. The following year this had dropped to 6.5 million - the impact of the pirate radio stations perhaps? But its days were numbered as in September 1967 the Light Programme came to an end, and with it Housewives' Choice. Final presenting duties were taken up by David Hamilton, his first and last appearance on the show.

Although the title disappeared on 29 September 1967 the programme format did not. The following week a 90-minute daily record requests show was back in the schedules of Radio 1 under the guise of Family Choice. (5) Like its predecessor it has hosted by figures from the entertainment world and disc jockeys. Family Choice ran until 26 September 1969, replaced the following week by Pete Murray's Open House on both Radio 1 and Radio 2.

Very little exists in the way of recordings of Housewives' Choice. The BBC kept just a few minutes of a 1964 edition with Kenneth Horne. Online you can find 40 minutes of a 1950s programme with Bob Danvers-Walker. And that's the sum total of 21 years of broadcasting.

In 1989 Russell Davies celebrated the programme in When Housewives Had the Choice - though the Radio Times billings suggest recordings from the original programmes were available - and in 1990 George Elrick was back at the helm for a one-off May Bank holiday special. I only recorded the first fifteen minutes of the show so I've no idea how he signed off this particular edition.

In 1995 to celebrate fifty years since the launch of the Light Programme there was another one-off programme, this time with Roy Hudd looking after proceedings. Roy hadn't presented Housewives' Choice first time round, but he had been on Family Choice. This is my recording of that complete show.

1- Although the regular series of Housewives' Choice started in March 1946 the BBC Genome site lists two earlier weeks: w/c 26 November 1945 with Roy Rich and then w/c 1 January 1946 with Franklin Engelmann. The programme was broadcast from 9.10 to 10 am, but later started at 9 am and finally 8.30 am.
2 - Housewives' Choice: The George Elrick Story by George Elrick (Mainstream Publishing 1991)
3 - George's first appearance was on 9 December 1946. Between 1946 and 1967 he hosted the show about 240 times.   
4 - Richard Murdoch, who was a regular DJ on the Light Programme alongside his comedy work, remembers that in the early days "we could take home the postcards and compile our own programmes. One could have filled a whole hour of requests for Gracie Fields singing Bless this House." As quoted in the foreword to The Golden Age of Radio by Denis Gifford (Batsford, 1985)
5 - On occasions in the 1950s and 1960s Housewives' Choice had been billed as Family Choice, usually on Bank Holidays.  Radio 1's Family Choice was also simulcast on Radio 2.

Housewives' Choice Presenters
This is a list of all the presenters in order of their first appearance:

Robert MacDermot, Geoffrey  Sumner, Bryan  Michie, Roy  Rich, John  Webster, Sandy  Grandison, Alvar  Lidell, Franklin Engelmann, Neal Arden, Joesph Lewis, George Elrick, Hector  Stewart, Christopher Stone, Spike  Hughes, Dennis Vance, Barbara MacFadyean, Gordon Crier, Jonah Barrington, Bob  Danvers-Walker, Jack Jackson, Sam Heppner, Roger Snowdon, Alan Adair, Robin  Richmond, Paul Adam, Roger Falk, Stanley Maxted, David Jacobs, Jeanne Heal, Joan Griffiths, Georgie Henschel, Harold Warrender, John  Watt, Jerry Desmonde, Bernard  McNab, Stephen Grenfell, Cliff Michelmore, Godfrey Winn, Alex McCrindle, Wilfred Thomas, Harry Parry, Edmundo Ros, Ernest Dudley, Michael Miles, Bentley Collingwood Hilliam, Bill Gates, Sam Pollock, Eamonn Andrews, John  Ellison, Teddy Johnson, Lou Preager, Gilbert Harding, John  Masters, Tom Masson, Maurice Denham, Richard Attenborough, Billy Cotton, Gordon Gow, Joesph Linnane, Steve Race, Peter Brough, Felix Deebank, Kim Peacock, Fred Yule, Bruce Belfrage, Roy  Bradford, Donald Peers, Alastair Dunnett, Victor Silvester, Peter Noble, Peter Bathurst, Duncan Carse, Bill Phillips, George Moon, Barry Delmaine, Benny  Lee, Peter Haigh, Leonard  Henry, James Norbury, Felix King, Elton Hayes, Alan Gibson, Chappie D'Amato, Lionel Gamlin, Peter Sinclair, Paul Martin, Robert Irwin, Donald Bisset, Reginald Dixon, Hamilton Kennedy, Jack Train, Harold Berens, Woolf Phillips, Roger Delgado, Gordon Bradley, Peter Lloyd, Arthur Bush, Mark White, James Urquhart, Rex Palmer, Frank Weir, Norman Hackforth, Ralph Reader, Jack Melford, Max Robertson, Edward Barnes, Sam Costa, Leslie Heritage, David Nixon, Peter West, Dennis Noble, Hubert Gregg, Geroge Melachrino, Howard Lockhart, Jimmy Hanley, Nat Temple, Alan Dixon, Dennis Castle, Huphrey Lestocq, Richard Murdoch, Noel Iliffe, Eric Phillips, Derek Prentice, John  Merrett, Frederick Allen, Len Marten, Hugh McDermott, John  Burnaby, Denis Moonan, Clarence  Wright, Keith Fordyce, Gary Miller, Douglas Blackwell, Donald Stewart, Ian Stewart, Frank Duncan, Bruce  Trent, Kenneth Best, Jimmy Young, Thomas Woodrooffe, Alan Dell, Leslie Parker, Jimmy Vivian, Kenneth Wolstenholme, Desmond Llewelyn, David Enders, Frank Chacksfield, Donald Gray, Peter Jones, Archie McCulloch, Maurice O'Callghan, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, Ken  Sykora, Pete  Murray, Don Lang, Wilfred Pickles, Cardew Robinson, Max Jaffa, Cyril Fletcher, Russ Conway, Bryan  Johnson, Brian Rix, Ian Wallace, Ted  Moult, Hughie Green, Cyril Stapleton, Alan Freeman, McDonald  Hobley, Charlie Chester, Alex MacIntosh, Malcolm Mitchell, Ted Ray, Desmond Carrington, Brian Matthew, John  Slater, John  Anthony, Frankie Vaughan , Harry Secombe, Vera Lynn, Andy Stewart, Tommy Steele, Alan Keith, Jon  Pertwee, Eric Robinson, David Hughes, Kenneth McKeller, Arthur Haynes, Rex Alston, Ted King, Tim Brinton, Kenneth Horne, Rupert Davies, Bob  Monkhouse, Ken Dodd, Tim Gudgin, Hattie Jacques, Eric Sykes, Don  Moss, Geoffrey  Wheeler, Stratford Johns , Lance Percival, Gay Byrne, Norman Vaughan, David Gell, Jack DeManio, Roger Moffat, Johnny  Morris, Bruce Forsyth, Val Doonican, Raymond Baxter, Ivor Emmanuel, Alun Williams, Brian Johnston, Richard Briers, Roy  Castle, Inia TeWiata, Jimmy Henney, Bill Simpson, Edric Connor, Bill Crozier, Denny Piercy, Kenneth Cope, Terence Edmond, Bob  Holness, Leslie Crowther, Martin Locke, George Martin, Joe  Henderson, John Benson, Peter Goodwright, Terry Scott, Geroge Chisholm, Arthur Murphy, Bernard  Miles, Joe Brown, Cy  Grant, Doug  Arthur, Dave Allen, Percy Edwards, Paddy Feeny, Barry Alldis, Jimmy Thompson, Rolf Harris, Edmund  Hockridge, Max Bygraves, Jim  Dale, Freddie Frinton, James Ellis, Terry Wogan, Corbet Woodall, Ian Carmichael, Simon Dee and David Hamilton

Sunday, 2 August 2015

On the Light - Part 3 "A Bumper Bundle"

"The time in Britain is twelve noon, in Germany it's one o'clock, but home and away it's time for Two-Way Family Favourites".

If ever a sentence can take you back to a time and a place it's that opening programme introduction which for over 30 years is firmly embedded in the memory of Sunday lunchtimes, a family meal of  roast beef and Yorkshires with the wireless tuned to the BBC Light Programme.  

The idea for a regular record request show came about during World War Two when the then head of presentation for the BBC's General Overseas, Tom Chalmers (later the second Controller of the Light Programme) received a postcard from three Army sergeants serving in the Western desert challenging the Corporation to provide a more "cheerful" programme.  They wrote:

Dear BBC, Just a line from three of the M.E.F. After almost drinking ourselves to death to get profits for the purpose of buying a wireless, we find to our dismay that your programmes as broadcast in the African Service hardly warranted our efforts.  We appreciate all that you are doing for us lads out here, but we honestly think your programmes could be a little more cheerful - so come on, BBC, let's hear from you! We remain your devoted listeners who suffer in silence. Can you take it? We lay odds that you can't.  

Thus, in 1941,  Forces Favourites was born. The presenters all worked as continuity announcers for the service: Marjorie Anderson, Joan Griffiths, Barbara McFadyean and Jean Metcalfe.  

It was Jean who would become the most famous of those voices and during the 40s, 50s and early 60s she became indelibly associated with the most listened to programme on the radio, Family Favourites.  

Jean started her career with the BBC as a typist in August 1940 in the General Office at Broadcasting House. By her own admission she was not the world's best typist so when a call from the Empire Service announcers came in that they needed help with their fan mail she moved across to that service working for the likes of Franklin Engelmann, Robert Beatty and Duncan Carse. In May 1941 she was given her first opportunity to appear on-air by reading a poem in the series Books and People. The following year Jean was offered the chance to audition as a continuity announcer. Apparently they were looking for more female announcers as "the higher pitch of their voices suited shortwave reception".  (1)

On the General Overseas Service Jean worked alongside Margaret Hubble and the aforementioned Joan Griffiths and Barbara McFadyean - all four would also be associated, post-war, with Woman's Hour.  Part of the announcing duties included Forces Favourites which then ran several times a week and had as its signature tune When You Wish Upon a Star. Unbeknownst to the announcers some of the requests from the war zones included some service slang that went over the heads of the presenting team. One day Tom Chalmers called them into his office and passed them a letter from a submarine engineer that read "me and my mates can no longer bear to hear your refined ladies saying such obscene things over the air" and enclosed a glossary translating some of the words into layman's language.

From 24 November 1943 Forces Favourites was also broadcast on the Forces Programme giving British listeners the chance to hear the show. For the duration of the war the show continued on both the General Overseas Service and at home on the Forces Programme and then the General Forces Programme (from February 1944) as an almost daily show (it wasn't heard on Mondays).

Following the launch of the Light Programme on 29 July 1945 Forces Favourites remained on air three times a week - always in the evening - until the final edition aired on  15 April 1946.  Though that was the last that UK listeners heard of the show it wasn't the end for Forces Favourites; it continued on the General Overseas Service until at least the mid 1950s. I can't be certain when it finally ended but it was still on air in December 1953 according to an old edition of London Calling that I acquired just recently. Going out twice a week at 11.30 for thirty minutes at a time, one of the presenters was Kay Sharman (pictured above).   

Meanwhile the idea for a request show linking Britain and Germany was assessed by Tom Chalmers, now having moved on to become the assistant head for the Light Programme. He put the idea to John McMillan over at the British Forces Network in Hamburg. Apparently John had "good contacts with the Royal Corps of Signals in the city and discovered that there was a direct telephone circuit from Hamburg to an exchange housed in an underground railway tunnel in Goodge Street. At the time it was being used for military traffic between London and the continent. John decided to see whether he could get through to the BBC and was delighted when he was connected to Langham 4468 and was soon talking to Tom Chalmers. They discussed the possibilities of a two-way request programme and Tom, using his contacts, found that it was now possible to get lines of sufficient broadcast quality through to Hamburg". (2)

Family Favourites launched on the Light Programme at 10.15 am on Sunday 7 October 1945. (3) Though not listed in the Radio Times the presenters were Marjorie Anderson in London and Sgt Alan Clarke (4) in Hamburg. From the start the signature of With a Song in My Heart was in place, the version by André Kostelanetz - other version appeared over the years.

The theme tune was the idea of Trevor Hill, later a renowned BBC producer, but at the time working for the General Overseas Service on Radio Newsreel. He was tasked with re-packaging editions of the programme for relay to stations in North America. They wanted to preface the usual Imperial Echoes sig tune with another short theme and opening announcement (from Canadian announcer Byng Whittaker - see note 5). On a 12-inch Columbia record by André Kostelanetz he found a recording of Melodies from Victor Herbert, the opening fanfare of which was used for the programme. On the flip side of that record was With a Song in My Heart. (6)     

The first record played on Family Favourites was Lilli Marlene played by Geraldo and his Orchestra. Lilli Marlene provided the link back to the armed forces as it was both the song of the Eight Army and the signature tune of the first British Forces Experimental Radio Service that had opened in Algiers in January 1944. (7)

BBC boss Tom Chalmers was keen to ensure that Family Favourites played plenty of record requests. He believed that on the old Forces Favourites programme the presenters had become to feel they were more important than the show and its content. In November 1945 he issued this rather kill-joy directive reminding presenters that "we must be very strict with this programme or it will become unmanageable. No anniversary requests. Nothing resembling a message e.g. play a tune 'with love from Joan', so is 'because it reminds me of happy hours with the Amateur Operatic Society'. No fiancées or girlfriends may be included. Families only. No names of schools or pubs may be mentioned because of indirect advertising. No noisy advanced jazz, e.g. Stan Kenton, is allowed on Sundays. Cut out the banter. This programme is not a vehicle for personality presentation". (8)  Despite this the programme endured for 35 years and a handful of the hosts became household names!

One of the first presenters at the London was Margaret Hubble, whose voice had closed down the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme on the eve of the launch of the Light Programme. She recalls that "the result of asking listeners to write in with their own requests was sackloads of letters and postcards, which the Post Room were totally unable to handle. They had never received so much correspondence before. This mess ended up in our office at the back of the fourth floor, which overlooked the empty space at the fore end of Broadcasting House". (9)    

Meanwhile in the studios of BFN Hamburg a number of broadcasters took turns on Family Favourites duty, they included Brian Whittle. Roy Bradford, John Jacobs (brother of David), Hedley Chambers, Don Douglas, Bob Boyle (later on the Light and Radio 2 under the name Robin Boyle) and Derek Jones (who in the 1970s was the presenter of Radio 4's Sounds Natural). 

But perhaps the best known presenting pair was Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore, even though their period on-air was fairly brief - about a year or so. Whilst Jean was working for the BBC in London, Cliff was doing his bit for king and country in the RAF and following the end of the Second World War,  by his own admission "drifted into the job" with the British Forces Network based at the Musikhalle in Hamburg. Like many broadcasters on the BFN at that time - Raymond Baxter, Brian Matthew and Jimmy Kingsbury for example - it was a case of mucking in with whatever was required: news reporting, sports commentaries, dramatic productions and, of course, record programmes. So it was no surprise when Cliff was asked at short notice to sit in on Family Favourites when Derek Jones was suddenly taken off to hospital. Cliff and Jean hit it off immediately. "Our patterns of speech fell into place like a well-made jigsaw and we seemed to have the same feeling for varying pace and length of announcements", recalled Jean. "We quickly became friends, though in voice only."  

Before they went on-air each Sunday Cliff and Jean would make use of the free line between London and Hamburg. Officially it was open 10 minutes before transmission to enable the presenters to make any last minute alterations to the running order but "soon we were using every bit of that time for more personal, day-to-day, conversation".  Although they continued to exchange letters and gifts - delivered by visiting BFN staff - they never met until Cliff decided to leave the RAF and take his luck as a freelance broadcaster in the UK. Back in London on leave he'd managed to make an appointment with John McMillan (who was now with the BBC as Deputy Head of the Light Programme), but more importantly to get the chance to finally meet Jean. Fortunately she was on duty that day in "Light Con" and inbetween programmes he popped into the studio. "You must be Jean", he said, to which she replied "You must be Cliff".

Cliff continued to work on Family Favourites until the end of 1949 but they were careful not to mention anything about their relationship on-air. Their engagement was finally announced in January 1950 by which time Cliff finally left Germany and the BFN. Apparently the last record on their final show together was I'll Be Seeing You. They married in March.

Jean remained the main London presenter of Family Favourites for the next 14 years (10) whilst at the same time working during the week on Woman's Hour. What made Jean a star and gave the programme its vast audience was, according to Simon Elmes "her ability to make ordinary record requests sound special, to connect with ordinary people and empathise with their situation without ever sounding mawkish". (11)

Over in Hamburg, and then Cologne from 1954 when the BFN, later the British Forces Broadcsting Service, moved their HQ, they needed a new partner for Jean. For the first three years this was Christopher Howland (12), followed by Dennis Scuse, who at the time was the station director. (13) In 1957 Bill Crozier took over the hot seat and stayed with the show for seven years. (14)

Bill Crozier had started with the British Forces Network in 1948 as a staff pianist before becoming an announcer and presenter. By the time he took over on Two-Way Family Favourites, as it was now billed, he was also hosting the daily BFN request show the 1800 Club. By the time that Bill and Jean presented their final show together in 1964 the programme has regularly getting 20 million listeners, the highest audience for any radio show, and receiving around 1,000 requests a week in London and 800 in Germany.

Jean Metcalfe cut back on her radio commitments from April 1964 and was able to alternate for six months at a time on Two-Way Family Favourites firstly with Judith Chalmers and later Muriel Young and Maggie Clews. Every week there was still the link-up with Germany with presenter Ian Fenner having taken over from Bill Crozier and then Jim Luxton in 1967. But the show's horizons expanded to become Three-Way, Four-Way or even Five-Way when they joined other BFBS outposts in Malta, Cyrus, Aden, Singapore, Tripoli and Gibraltar.

With the launch of Radios 1 and 2 in 1967 the programme took on a new shape from 1 October with Michael Aspel now being the main host, an extra 30 minutes to take it up to a 2-hour show plus a Commonwealth-wide audience with contributions from  ABC in Australia, NZBC in New Zealand, Radio Hong Kong and C.B.C. in Canada. There was also a new feature with requests from a different area of Britain. Producer Lonny Mather, writing in the Radio Times promised that "we have not forgotten, though, that locally around the British Isles people from all walks of life may be away from home and feeling cut-off from their friends". For the first show they went up to Scotland and joined Stuart Henry, the following week Tom Coyne in the Midlands, Derek Jones in the South West and so on. This idea quickly fell by the wayside and was dropped by the end of the year.

The introduction of Worldwide Family Favourites meant some rather controversial changes were made on the BFBS Germany version of the show. Not wishing to broadcast a two-hour programme in which they featured in every other week the acting head, David Lamb, dropped it in favour of their own request show Sounds Like Sunday that would include the half-hour link to Germany whenever that occurred. Dick Norton and then Sandi Jones presented Sounds Like Sunday and over time the links to other stations were restored.

This is the era of Family Favourites that I first remember. Like every other household in Britain it was the musical accompaniment to our Sunday lunch, the wireless on the sideboard tuned into Radio 2 on VHF. Apparently some of the most popular requests around this time were: I'll Be Home by Pat Boone, Doris Day's Secret Love, Home Lovin' Man by Andy Williams, Every Time We Say Goodbye by Ella Fitzgerald and The Green Green Grass of Home by Tom Jones. (15)  

Regular voices heard from around the world included Graham Webb and later Rod McNeil in Sydney, Bill Paul in Tornoto, Marama Martin and later Ian Thompson in Auckland and over in Hong Kong for many years was June Armstrong-Wright. Broadcasters with the BFBS who would go on to work for the BBC included John Hedges, Peter Donaldson and Don Durbridge. When troops started to be deployed in Northern Ireland the programme added a link-up with BBC Belfast from 1971 and saw the return of Michael Baguley who'd hosted the Cologne leg back in 1953.

From 8 April 1973 Sandi Jones became the next presenter, having previously appeared on the programme as part of the BFBS Cologne team. Sandi continued until 1976 when from 2 May Jean Challis took over as the final presenter.  Jean had also been on before, both from BFBS Cyprus in the mid-60s and standing in for Sandi in 1975.

The final stand alone edition of Family Favourites aired on Radio 2 on 13 January 1980. The BBC had previously denied that the show was to be axed and indeed it became part of Pete Murray's Sunday Show from the following Sunday.  Family Favourites stayed with Pete until May 1981, thereafter it became a daily and eventually a weekly part of Ed Stewart's weekday afternoon show before disappearing in 1984 (16) by which time the link-ups were confined to Australia with Bob Hudson (17) and Ian Thompson in New Zealand. Radio 2 has since revived the title on a handful of occasions with past presenters Jean Metcalfe, Cliff Michelmore, Sandi Jones and Michael Aspel all taking part.  Last year online station Solid Gold GEM AM briefly had a Sunday offering of Family Favourites with former Radio 2 and BFBS broadcaster Patrick Lunt.

Few recordings of Family Favourites exist from its Light Programme and Radio 2 heyday. From my own archive I'm publishing two of those revival shows. The first I've posted before was heard on 30 July 1995 as part of Radio 2's celebrations of the Light Programme years. The hosts are Sandi Jones in London and Glen Mansell in Germany.

This recording is a the last full edition of the show heard on 30 September 2007 as part of the station's 40th anniversary. Returning to the chair was Michael Aspel.

1 - This and other quotes from Cliff Michelmore and Jean Metcalfe are taken from Two-Way Story (Futura 1986)   
2 - This is the British Forces Network: The Story of Forces Broadcasting in Germany by Alan Grace (Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd 1996)
3 - Whilst this is the date of the first joint BBC/BFN show, according to the BBC Genome website the first programme with this title was broadcast on the evening of 1 August 1945.
4 - In 1947 Alan Clarke joined the BBC and would host the programme from the London end that year. He'd been a commentator for the BFN and would be one of the Corporation's football commentators until his death in 1969
5 - That opening announcement went: "Whilst Britain awaits another dawn, we bring you news from the Battle Fronts of the world in - Radio Newsreel!"
6 - See Over the Airwaves : My Life in Broadcasting by Trevor Hill (The Book Guild, 2005)
7 - The opening announcement for BFES Algiers had been made by Major Philip Slessor, later a well-known BBC announcer. When it was pointed out that Lilli Marlene was also used by the Germans it was dropped in favour of Rule Britannia.
8 - Quoted in Two-Way Story op.cit.
9 - Quoted in Action Stations by Colin Reid (Robson Books, 1987)
10 - Other looking after the UK side of the show included Sandy Grandison, Rhona Marsh, Patricia Hughes (now best remembered for her long stint as continuity announcer on Radio 3), Kay Sharman and Carole Carr.   
11 - Hello Again: Nine Decades of radio voices by Simon Elmes (Random House 2012)
12- After working for the BFN Christopher Howland remained in Germany as a broadcaster, singer and actor until his death in 2013.
13 - Dennis Scuse would go on to join the BBC in the late 50s mainly working in TV and later heading up BBC Enterprises. He died in 1998.
14 - Others deputising for Bill Crozier were John Mead, Michael Baguley, Alistair McDougall, Gerald Sinstadt, Paul Hollingdale, Derek Hale and Ian Fenner. 
15 - This is the British Forces Network: The Story of Forces Broadcasting in Germany op.cit.
16 - The last billed edition is on Tuesday 10 January 1984. Ed Stewart's afternoon show ended the following week.  
17 - Ed Stewart describes Bob Hudson as "so slow and laid back in his presentation style that I thought he was going to fall off his chair. Quoted in Ed Stewart: Out of the Stewpot (John Blake Publishing 2005). Readers should take heed that the details about Family Favourites on pp.190-1 in this book don't bear up to scrutiny.

Friday, 31 July 2015

On the Light - Part 2 "Give 'Em the Money, Barney!"

One the early successes on the BBC Light Programme, launched 70 years ago this week, was the travelling quiz show Have a Go!

The programme's popularity (1) was wholly due to the rapport that presenter Wilfred Pickles had with contestants young and old as he inevitably asked "What was yer most embarrassin' moment, loov?" Over time the chat with members of the public took precedence over the quiz element, though they were always encouraged and cajoled to win the full prize pot of "Thirty-seven and six!".

Wilfred Pickles had been born in Halifax in 1904 and from an early age was fascinated by showbusiness and went on to join a local amateur dramatic society, the Halifax Thespians. On one occasion, by which time his family had moved over the Pennines to Southport, Wilfred went across to visit them and ran into theatrical producer Arthur Belt. Would Wilfred care to read-through a part in his production of The Jeffersons he enquired? The part was playing opposite the young actress Mabel Mysercough. Wilfred and Mabel would marry in 1930 and would later work together on Have a Go! "How much money on the table, Mabel?".

In 1931 Wilfred successfully auditioned as an actor for the BBC's Northern region service in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. He would appear on programmes such as Children's Hour, Songs That Father Sang, King Pins of Comedy and Billy Welcome. Controversially in 1941 he also joined the rota of Home Service newsreaders where his non-BBC accent shocked some listeners. At the end of the day's broadcasting he'd sign off with: "Goodnight everybody, and to all you Northerners wherever you are - good neet".

The idea to use Pickles on the wartime bulletins came not from within the BBC but from the Ministry of Information. They felt that the "southerner" was having too much say over the airwaves for the northern listeners' liking. More intriguingly they also cited security reasons as his accent "might not so easily be copied by the Germans." To accommodate this the BBC moved Wilfred down to London and Bruce Belfrage up to Manchester and almost doubled his salary from £480 to £800. Apparently after his first bulletin there was a short interlude and announcer Franklin Engelmann cued in the record On Ilkey Moor Baht'At. In the event the news-reading experiment failed not only because of the listener complaints but, by Wilfred's own admission, the news bulletins were written "by a southerner for a southerner to read, which could make a lot of difference in the actual choice or order of words". (2)   

Have a Go! was the brainchild of Philip Robinson, a Programme Assistant based in Leeds, in response to a request from the North Regional Programme Director, John Salt, for ideas for a "quiz programme with audience participation". The titles of Quiz Bang (3) and then Have a Go, Joe were rejected in favour of Have a Go!, though the name "Joe" didn't disappear entirely. There was an opening and closing bit of community singing for the audience to heartily join in with: "That's the show, Joe, tha's been and 'ad a go; Now tha can tell thi friends as well, Tha's been on't Radio". As you can tell, to quote Russell Davies, the show was a "festival of ee bah gummery". (4)

The series was initially broadcast to listeners to the Northern Home Service. The first trial recording of Have a Go! was made in Bradford on 11 February 1946 and the first actual broadcast in nearby Bingley five days later.  According to Asa Briggs "the sense of popular participation was immediate and warm. Very quickly the original idea of a light-hearted quiz had been extended, for Pickles knew how to bring out the personality of each contestant and to reveal the human stories". (5)

The programme was a hit and "have a go" and "ow do - ow are yer?" started to become as popular as the catchphrase-laden ITMA. Within six months Have a Go! was moved to a national slot on the Light Programme with the first show, on 16 September 1946, coming from Bridlington.

In the early editions the producer was Philip Robinson but by 1947 he was replaced by Barney Colehan (6) giving rise to another catchphrase: "Give 'im the money, Barney". Musical accompaniment was initially provided by Jack Jordan but the following year Violet Carson joined the programme. Violet, a fine soprano as well as a pianist, had previously worked with Wilfred on many editions of Children's Hour and would, of course, go on to play the hair-netted harridan Ena Sharples in Coronation Street.  By 1953 the programme was broadcast live rather than  pre-recorded and production moved to London under the guidance of Stephen Williams with Harry Hudson at the piano. This was also the year that Mrs Pickles was roped in as "Mabel at the Table".

And here is a recording of that first live edition as broadcast on the Light Programme on 17 November 1953 coming from the town of Ramsbottom:

Have a Go! trundled on around the country - apparently they never re-visited a location - until the final edition on 10 January 1967.  By now the quiz element had totally gone and Wilfred would ask Mabel to pass over some unspecified pot of money to the best anecdote from some (usually) elderly resident of the town.

On the radio at least, Wilfred Pickles' easy-going, man of the people style meant he seemed destined to travel the highways and byways meeting the folk of Britain in series such as Pleasant Journey (1950) , Can I Come In? (1952-3)  and Afternoon Out (1956-61).  On BBC TV there was Ask Pickles (1954-56) in which he asks "for the things you'd like to see on your television screen", it was a kind of Wilf'll Fix It

Alongside all this the acting continued. His stage successes included The Gay Dog with Pickles as greyhound owner Jim Gay, a role he'd revisit on TV, radio and in the 1954 film version. There was also a long run at Blackpool in Hobson's Choice, again a play he'd star in on BBC TV and radio.  For the Home Service he appeared in Arnold Bennett's plays The Card and The Regent. Later there were roles in films such as Billy Liar and The Family Way and a starring role as ageing widower Walter Bingley with Irene Handel as Ada Cresswell in Thames TV's For the Love of Ada.   

For many radio and TV appearances it's noticeable the number of times that both Wilfred and Mabel appear. This arose through very tragic circumstances with the death of their seven-year-old son David, after contracting infantile paralysis. Later they would ask the BBC  to let them broadcast programmes on Christmas Day from various Children's Hospitals. In addition, Wilfred insisted that he and Mabel, who'd also lost one child in pregnancy, to appear as often as possible together on air and on tour. Such was the level of their national popularity that in 1955 the BBC Light Programme accorded them a special programme to celebrate their silver wedding.

Wilfred Pickles died aged 73 on 27 March 1978, Mabel passed away aged 82 on 28 March 1989. 
 1 - The BBC Year Book for 1948 quotes that the audience for Have a Go! topped 15 million. By 1958 it was still garnering 4.5 million.
2 - Quoted in Those Vintage Years of Radio by John Snagge and Michael Barsley (Pitman 1972).
3 - Quiz Bang had been its original title in the USA
4 - Let's Get Quizzical - Part 2 broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 9 April 2011.
5- The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom - Volume IV by Asa Briggs (OUP 1979)
6- Robinson became Head of Outside Broadcasts for the Northern region.  

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

On the Light - Part 1

The BBC Light Programme, launched 70 years ago today, so often gets a bad press. I've lost count of the number of times I've read or heard someone say that the station offered little in the way that was new and entertaining. Admittedly the view is often expressed by those that fondly remember the 60s pirates stations. And there's no denying that the BBC both wilfully and by dint of MU agreements and lack of needletime was spinning very few pop records. And when you heard programmes like this you can understand why:

In 1964 an editorial in the Sunday Express offered the opinion that Radio Caroline was providing millions of people with "lively and gay music" and asked why can't the BBC "turn over the Light Programme to just this kind of entertainment instead of the pompous, pretentious pap it so often purveys?"     

Does the much-maligned Light Programme deserve this slating? After all the most most-listened to shows on BBC radio in 1964 where all on the Light: Two-Way Family Favourites, (1) Housewives' Choice, Children's Favourites, Saturday Club and Easy Beat.  This is also the sound of the station:

The BBC Light Programme first went on air on Sunday 29 July 1945 as part of a promised "first step towards a return to normal broadcasting". For the Home Service there was a return to the pre-war regional service (2) whilst the Light succeeded, at least for British listeners, the General Forces Programme and also the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme. Indeed, as you'll hear in the programme below, the Light Programme borrowed from the AEFP its Orange and Lemons interval signal.  

During the planning stages, which had started back in 1943, the idea of a 'popular' station had been mooted to compete with "sponsored programmes from our neighbours", i.e. Radio Luxembourg. Whilst BBC bosses wanted the same kind of programme mix that listeners enjoyed on the Forces network there was an insistence that the new stations should be "firmly British in character" and that there should be "an effective resistance to the Americanisation of our entertainment".

The Radio Times promised that the service would have programmes that were new but there would also be "old favourites reintroduced in a new form." Some of those wartime programmes that continued on the Light Programme included ITMAMusic While You Work and Variety Bandbox. Comedy series badged under the Merry-Go-Round title split off to become Waterlogged Spa, Stand Easy and the much-loved Much Binding in the Marsh.

During the Light Programme's early years a number of programmes came on stream that would become stalwarts of post-war radio: Family Favourites (7.10.45), Housewives' Choice (4.3.46  see note 3), Have a Go (16.9.46 see note 4),  Woman's Hour (7.10.46), Dick Barton-Special Agent (7.10.46), Sports Report (3.1.48), Mrs Dale's Diary (5.1.48),  Jack Jackson's Record Round-Up (10.1.48), Take It From Here (12.4.48), Top of the Form (1.5.48), Ray's a Laugh (4.4.49), The Billy Cotton Band Show (1.5.49), Listen with Mother(16.1.50), Life with the Lyons (5.11.50), The Archers (1.1.51) and Friday Night is Music Night (25.9.53) 

Other long-running or fondly-remembered series included Journey Into Space (first heard on 21.9.53), Children's Favourites (23.1.54), Hancock's Half-Hour (2.11.54), Make Way for Music (13.5.55), Pick of the Pops (4.10.55), Movie-Go-Round (16.9.56), Semprini Serenade (29.9.57), Music Box (23.4.58), Saturday Club (4.10.58),  Roundabout (13.10.58), Go Man Go (23.12.58), The Navy Lark (29.5.59), Round the Horne (7.3.65), and I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again (4.10.65 see note 5).

Some of these programmes are recalled in this fiftieth anniversary tribute to the Light Programme presented by Chris Stuart. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 30 July 1995. Edits have been made for some copyrighted music.

This is how the BBC Year Book for 1946 described the new Light Programme service:

Some months before the end of the war the Director-General promised that within ninety days of the end of hostilities in the West, the BBC would provide its listeners in the United Kingdom with two full-scale alternative programmes ; and that regional programme services, necessarily interrupted for security reasons, should also return. VE-day came on 8 May, and the programme
and technical staff at once began to make good the promise, even while a week of special victory programmes was being broadcast. On 29 July the new programmes were launched ; the `Home'
service with its regional variations, and the new alternative `Light' programme.

THE LIGHT PROGRAMME- `Designed to appeal not so much to a certain class of listener -but to all listeners when they are in certain moods'
The Light Programme, latest -comer to the air, sets out to give British listeners a continuous service of information and entertainment, contrasting now with the various Home Services and in
future with the Home Services and the third programme that is to begin in 1946. It is broadcast nationally on long wave, backed up by medium -wave transmission in urban areas, where long -wave
reception may be subject to interference. The long wavelength is the famous 1500 metres used for the National Programme before the war, and devoted to the European Service from 16 November,
1941, to 28 July, 1945 ; now back at the service of listeners at home. The medium wavelength, 261 metres, is also that used for the subsidiary National stations before the war.

As a second programme for listeners in the United Kingdom, the Light Programme succeeds the General Forces Programme, which itself succeeded the original Forces Programme that catered for
the BEF from the days of the Maginot Line. Incidentally, the General Forces Programme continues on short waves for British troops outside North -west Europe.

Both these predecessors were addressed to specialized audiences, and the civilian listener at home knew that in listening to them he was virtually eavesdropping (which, by the way, is a popular
pastime with British listeners, as was evident with the European Service and the AEF Programme). Unlike them, the Light Programme is meant for civilians, and they have the right to expect
it to give them what they want.

The title `Light' Programme does not mean that everything broadcast in it must necessarily be frothy or frivolous. It does mean that the overall content of the daily or weekly programme contains
a higher proportion of sheer entertainment than either the Home Service or the third programme. More Variety shows, dance bands, brass bands theatre organs, popular orchestras, sport ; more `easy listening' in general, designed to appeal not so much to a certain class of listener but to all listeners when they are in certain moods. This does not exclude a proportion of more serious items -religious services of a rather different kind from the broadcast service that has become traditional, talks, fine music played by great orchestras (but not formal `symphony concerts'), plays, dramatic features on subjects with wide appeal. But these items will always form a minor element in the programme as a whole.

In two respects the Light Programme forsakes its special character in order to take its place in the BBC's general plan. It carries news broadcasts, at times which alternate with those of the Home
Service, and these news broadcasts do not differ in style from the Home Service news, although they are read by different voices. Also it carries an hour a day of Forces educational broadcasts planned in consultation with the Service education authorities. These are included in the Light Programme because its long -wave transmission brings them within the reach of the greatest possible number of Service listeners. Among these are the British occupation forces in Germany, and it is worth mentioning that there has from the first been close co- operation between the Light. Programme and the British Forces Network in Germany, run by Army Welfare. The BFN relays a large proportion of the Light Programme and in return contributes regularly to it. A notable example of this co- operation is the two-way 'Family Favourites' series, in which a tune requested by a civilian listener for a relative in the occupation forces is followed by a tune requested by a Service man in Germany for a relative at home, the whole programme being broadcast both in the Light Programme and by
the BFN.

1 - Family Favourites topped 18 million listeners, the biggest audience of any regular radio or BBC TV programme. (Source: BBC Handbook 1964)
2- The regions were London, Midland, North, West, Scotland and Wales  with Northern Ireland having to share one of the North regions wavelengths (285.7m) due to a shortage of available wavelengths.  
3- Although the regular series of Housewives' Choice started in March 1946 the BBC Genome site lists two earlier weeks: w/c 26 November 1945 with Roy Rich and then w/c 1 January 1946 with Franklin Engelmann.
4- In fact Have a Go  had started on the Northern Region of the Home Service some 6 months earlier on 4 March 1946 but was quickly transferred to the Light Programme where it ran until 1967. Of course the other programme transferring from the Regions, and still broadcast today, was The Archers from the Midlands. Another popular show was Welsh Rarebit, from Wales (naturally), that had started life as a magazine programme in 1940 but became a 60-minute variety show from 6 April 1949. 
5- The first 3-part series in 1964 had aired on the Home Service but the second and all subsequent series were broadcast on the Light Programme and then Radio 2.   

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Official Chart - A New Era

It won't have escaped your notice that the BBC's OfficialChart Show has shifted from its traditional Sunday slot to Friday afternoon. Whilst it's easy to get all misty-eyed about listening to (and in all probability recording) the Top 40 on a Sunday, most of those doing so are unlikely to still be listening to Radio 1 and would struggle to name the current number one.    

Greg James delivered an exemplary performance on Friday's new chart. Minimum chat and maximum music. With a running time almost half that of the old Sunday show there's only time to play the Top 25 but at least it cut back on the extraneous stuff that had crept into the show in recent years. Note how Greg welcomes in the "new era" with the full date, ideal for archive clipping, and refers to "the exciting new sound", a lovely touch I thought. This is "proper radio history."

That mention of "the exciting new sound" was probably on Greg's mind after speaking to Tony Blackburn earlier in the day on BBC Radio Berkshire.

The chart show had been a Sunday afternoon fixture since 7 January 1962 when Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops moved from Saturday nights. Two DJs stand out as imbuing the programme with energy and excitement: Bruno Brookes and Mark Goodier. Both have made appearances on BBC local radio in the last few days.  

John Foster, a self-confessed radio anorak, put together a montage of clips and played some classic JAM jingles as part of his chat with Bruno Brookes on BBC Radio Tees last Friday:

Meanwhile Mark Goodier, the man who's got the best music, spoke to Stephanie Hirst on her new BBC Radio Manchester show Nothing But the 90s:

And the current number one: David Zowie's House Every Weekend

Other chart shows are available ... on a Sunday!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Live Aid

"It's twelve noon in London, 7 am in Philadelphia and around the world it's time for Live Aid. Sixteen hours of live music in aid of famine relief in Africa".

Richard Skinner's opening announcement thirty years ago today launched the start of an unforgettable day for the "global jukebox" that was Live Aid. In this edited version of a Radio 1 documentary those involved in performing at the concert and those working behind the scenes on the mammoth broadcast operation recall that day, Saturday 13 July 1984.

Live Aid-One Year On: One Day That Shook the World is introduced by Simon Bates and features the voices of Bob Geldof, Stuart Grundy, Dave Atkey, John Keeble, Elvis Costello, Sting, Howard Jones, Michael Appleton, Chris Lycett and Elton John. It was produced by Roger Lewis and aired on Saturday 13 July 1986.

Tagged on the end of the recording are some of the Live Aid jingles produced by JAM Creative Productions. 

Sunday Times illustrations by Mick Austin

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Frequency Guide

I was always fascinated by the frequency charts that used to appear in London Calling, codifying and condensing all the shortwave and medium wave listening – VHF in Berlin, of course – to the BBC World Service. You can almost imagine someone having to draft them out on a sheet of graph paper. This one dates from July 1977.

Well even today, surprisingly, they still produce them. With just a little searching I found this page for West & Central Africa. It now looks like they work it all out on a spreadsheet.
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