Saturday, 2 November 2019

The Week in Westminster

On 6 November 1929 listeners to BBC radio heard the first ever programme to analyse the workings of Parliament. The 15-minute scripted talk billed as The Week in Parliament was the first in a new series to be presented by woman MPs and aimed at women voters. In the words of its producer Marjorie Wace the notion was to have "a woman MP to give a simple explanatory talk on the week in parliament, every Wednesday morning at 10.45; a time we find most busy woman can listen best when they have their cup of tea." 

The Director of Talks, Hilda Matheson, outlined the idea behind the series: "It occurred to me that it might help to stimulate a greater interest in parliament if during the session weekly talks were given by one or two women members of Parliament who would give a simple account of the week in Westminster. I believe that this would help perhaps to bring home to listeners that they had a stake in the Government of the country and that what was done there did concern their lives and futures."

From those humble beginnings the programme, re-titled The Week in Westminster in 1930 has been running during parliamentary sessions ever since making it the world's longest running political programme.

Billing for the first talk on 6 November 1929

That first talk was given by Labour M.P. Mary Hamilton in a programme billed as "the first of a series of weekly talks on the week's proceedings in Parliament, to be given by women M.P.s. Mrs. Mary Agnes Hamilton is, of course, M.P. for Blackburn. Many listeners will remember her talks when she was the B.B.C. book critic".

Further talks in the series in the 6 week series were given by Scottish Unionist M.P. Katherine Stewart-Murray, The Duchess of Atholl and Independent M.P. Eleanor Rathbone as well as Mary Hamilton.

The series returned to the air on 5 February 1930 as The Week in Westminster again with women M.P.s Ellen Wilkinson, Lady Astor and the first Welsh woman M.P. Megan Lloyd George (who appeared on the programme up until the mid-60s) and later Gwendolen Guinness, the Countess of Iveagh, Edith Picton-Turberville and controversially, at least in retrospect, Lady Cynthia Mosley. 

Megan Lloyd George  MP was a regular for 30 years

The talks continued to be heard mid-week in the late morning with the Radio Times advocating them as primarily intended for " unemployed groups" but also commanding  "wide attention among other listeners because of its topical interest".
Throughout the thirties male MPs were increasingly heard with only Megan Lloyd-George now offering the female perspective. Amongst those appearing were William Morrison, Clement Atlee, Robert Boothby, later a stalwart of the post-war Any Questions? panel, Frederick Watkins, Richard Acland, Ronald Cartland, Wilfrid Roberts, Fred Marshall and Quintin Hogg.

With the outbreak of the Second World War The Week in Westminster took a break until May 1941 when it was re-scheduled to Saturday evenings. Lloyd-George was told to keep the programme lively as it came at "a favourite listening time immediately preceding a highspot variety programme known as Oi". [A Flanagan and Allen variety show]. One of the programmes' producers during the war was Guy Burgess who used the contacts he made with politicians and journalists to secure a job at the Foreign Office and further his Soviet spying activities.

The Week in Westminster continued on Saturday evenings for the next 25 years with over 100 MPs appearing in the studio. The pre-war rota system which limited the number of speakers in any session was abandoned after 1945 "in order to infuse new blood". However, few woman MPs were given the opportunity to broadcast with perhaps Barbara Castle being the best known of the handful that did make it. Other noteworthy names from the post-war era include Woodrow Wyatt, James Callaghan, Peter Thorneycroft, Manny Shindwell, Richard Crossman, Enoch Powell, John Profumo, Denis Healey, Tony Benn, Bill Deedes, Jeremy Thorpe, Chris Chataway, Brian Walden and Roy Hattersley.

Marking the 40th anniversary in 1969 with a special Radio 4 feature
Parliament Through the Microphone

From January 1967 producer Bernard Tate had determined a different approach "to fit in with the modern developments in current affairs reporting", probably alluding to the more rigorous reporting on programmes such as The World at One on the Home Service and BBC1's 24 Hours, both of which had started in 1965. Now the programme would, instead of a single speaker,  have "interviews and discussions by several MPs under the guidance of a political journalist or presenter". The aim remained to "give a balanced account of the week's events in Parliament" and to still be "primarily the backbenchers' programme." 

The other major change was the shift to Saturday mornings, were the programme has remained ever since. Well almost. It was shunted off to Thursday nights from April 1998 to July 1999 at the behest of incoming controller James Boyle. The proposed change of day was even mentioned in the House of Commons with a motion tabled expressing dismay and that the "change would cut the number of listeners by half and reduce the value of the programme as an over-view of the whole Parliamentary week." After further pressure from MPs and listeners alike it was moved back to Saturday.

Robert Carvel with the Rt Hon Denis Healey MP photographed for the
1988 series Carvel in Conversation. (Photo credit Getty Images)

The first presenter under the new format was Ian Waller, political correspondent at the Sunday Telegraph followed by Robert Carvel of the Evening Standard who remained the main chairman for the next 20 years. Carvel, a newspaper journalist since the fifties, has already made regular broadcasts on The World at One and was seen as a potential replacement for William Hardcastle but he remained with the Standard until his death in 1990.

A large number of political correspondents have appeared since, mostly drawn from the heavyweight newspapers and the New Statesman. (Complete list below). From late 1970 and 1977 the programme was sequenced together with From Our Own Correspondent and The Weekly World under the title Saturday Briefing. Only after the start of radio broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings in April 1978 could the programme include any actuality of what was under discussion.

A Peter Brookes cartoon for the Radio Times
marking the 50th anniversary

The two longest serving presenters are Peter Riddell originally working for the Financial Times and then The Times who was regularly heard between 1983 and 2011. His final edition is available here.

Next is Steve Richards of the New Statesman and later The Independent who's been on the programme since 1997. The pool of potential presenters has shrunk in recent years and the current team includes Peter Oborne, George Parker, Anne McElvoy, Paul Waugh, Tom Newton Dunn, Isabel Hardman and Anushka Asthana. Online news sources are now represented with Paul Waugh working for the HuffPost UK and previously Jim Waterson of Buzzfeed (now at The Guardian).

Week in Westminster (the definite article was dropped from the title in 2003) continues today, though it'll be taking a short break for yet another general election.  Never has Westminster being more in focus; I'm not sure I've ever watched or heard as much coverage from the House of Commons as in the last two years. The political turmoil and the polarising of the political debate means the programme is as important as ever, offering a more considered, less frenetic reflection on events in Westminster than the rolling news services provide.    

In 2009 Peter Oborne marked the 80th anniversary of Week in Westminster

Apart from Ian Waller, Robert Carvel and Peter Riddell the following political journalists have presented the programme.

Andrew Alexander (Daily Telegraph)
Terence Lancaster (Daily Mirror)
David Watt (FT)
Alan Watkins (New Statesman)
George Gardiner (Thomson regional press)
Patrick Coggrave (Spectator)
David Wood (Times)
Peter Jenkins (Guardian later Independent)
Vic tor Knight (Sunday Mirror)
Hugo Young (Sunday Times)
Matthew Coady (New Statesman)
Andrew Neil (Sunday Times)
Elinor Goodman (FT later Channel 4 News)
John Harrison (Daily Mail)
Adam Raphael (Observer)
Simon Jenkins (Economist)
Peter Kellner (New Statesman)
Michael Elliott (Economist)
James Naughtie (Guardian)
George Jones (Daily Telegraph)
Julia Langdon (Daily Mirror)
Robin Oakley (Times)
Andrew Marr (Scotsman later Economist)
James Carvel (Guardian)
Michael White (Guardian)
Andrew Rawnsley (Guardian)
Philip Stephens (FT)
Alastair Campbell (Daily Mirror later Today)
Simon Heffner (Spectator then Daily Telegraph)
Sarah Baxter (Observer)
Boris Johnson (Daily Telegraph)
Anne Applebaum (Evening Standard)
Donald MacIntyre (Independent)
David Aaronovitch (Independent)
Trevor Kavanagh (Sun)
Ian Hargreaves (New Statesman)
Kirsty Milne (New Statesman)
Steve Richards (New Statesman then Independent) 1997 -
John Sergeant (BBC)
Kirsty Young (New Statesman)
Mary Ann Sieghart (Times)
Jonathan Freedland (Guardian)
Michael Crick (BBC)
Michael Gove (Times)
Sheena Macdonald (BBC)
Robert Shrimsley (FT)
Simon Water (Mail on Sunday)
Peter Oborne (Spectator) 2002 -
Jackie Ashley (New Statesman and Guardian) 2000-2014
George Pascoe-Watson (Sun)
Matthew D'Ancona (Spectator)
Andrew Pierce (Daily Mail)
Ben Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
George Parker (FT) 2010 -
Fraser Nelson (Spectator)
Sue Cameron (FT then Daily Telegraph)
Anne McElvoy (Economist) 2013 -
Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph then Times)
Isobel Hardman (Spectator) 2014 -
Helen Lewis (New Statesman) 2014 -
Paul Waugh (Huffington Post) 2014 -
Tom Newton Dunn (Sun) 2014 -
Jim Waterson (BuzzFeed) 2014 -
Beth Rigby (FT)
Anushka Asthama (Guardian)
Sam Coates (Times)
Kate McCann (Daily Telegraph)
Matt Chorley (Times)

Sunday, 27 October 2019

One Million Thank Yous

When I started this blog in 2010 I had no notion that it would take the direction that it did. From a few ramblings about radio shows that I used to listen to I now research and write about the less explored corners of UK radio history. I receive questions and contributions from listeners and broadcasters around the globe. I've written over 500 posts, tens of thousands of words and uploaded hundreds of audio clips.

Fortunately there are people out there that read all this, thank you.

If my blog stats are to be believed I've hit one million page views this month.  So I've dug into the stats to see what has most caught your attention.  Here's the top 10, in reverse order.

This was scheduled to mark the 25th anniversary of the launch of the largely overlooked national service, BBC Radio Five. This mash-up of news, sport, music, education, schools and children's  programmes enjoyed a short life of just under four years before Radio 5 live came along. Fortunately I'd taped some of the opening and closing shows so there's plenty of audio. The nature of the programmes means that little gets repeated, though some dramas have turned up on Radio 4 Extra.

I can't really explain why this appears in the top 10 but presumably someone linked to it on a website or Facebook group. Written to mark 90 years of the programme  that in truth I've hardly ever listened to. If you like this kind of thing try out the YouTube channel Archive of Recorded Church Music.

This was one of my first posts that required a fair bit of research. I chose the Radio 2's early show rather than the breakfast show as that show gets plenty of coverage elsewhere, though I eventually wrote about that in January this year. I was grateful to hear from three presenters who'd worked on those early morning shows: Tom Edwards, Colin Berry and Paul Hollingdale and they've continued to field my radio questions since, though sadly Paul died a couple of years ago.   

Of all the posts I've written this, including part two, involved the most work. An attempt to list all the announcers and newsreaders on Radio 4 since 1967 I started pulling together names, audio and photos in late 2014, some three years before it went live.

As I mention in the post this exercise wouldn't have been possible without the help of David Mitchell, a fellow enthusiast who'd religiously been noting names since the mid-60s. David and I exchanged countless emails swapping names and dates. I heard from a number of former and current announcers who were, quite frankly, surprised, and pleased, that someone was marking their on-air efforts. Chief announcer Chris Aldridge couldn't have been more helpful in explaining what he and his team did and passed my draft list on to his colleagues for comment and additions.  

If this previous post took the longest to research this one must have taken less than an hour. It was written in response to an interview on Alison Butterworth's late-night Radio Lancashire show with a 'Mark Dean' who purported to be a former Radio Caroline DJ. His story was already beginning to unravel when Paul Rowley. the BBC local radio Political Correspondent and pirate radio nut, challenged his grasp of the facts. This story was picked up by a number of websites and forums who linked to this post. Back in 2013 BBC radio output was only available to listen again for 7 days so my recording was the only place to hear what had occurred.

As a postscript to this it transpired that 'Mark Dean' was in fact Malcolm Coward and his only connection to the station was as a driver for the Radio Caroline Roadshow, a mobile disco run by fans in the 1970s. More on that story here.      

The sound of Out of the Blue on Saturday afternoons has been part of the broadcasting landscape for over seven decades and this post was my nod to the long history of Sports Report. Various Sports Reports books issued over the years helped immensely and fortunately I'd kept most of the recent anniversary specials. The voices of Peter Jones, Bryon Butler et al always seem to evoke warm memories.

You'll have gathered that I like to mark programme anniversaries, it helps to generate blog views if nothing else. This one was part of a series to celebrate the 70th anniversary since the start of the Third Programme in 1946. Inspired by the fact that one of my favourite radio comedies, Patterson, was first heard on Radio 3, I decided to explore other comedies heard on that station that, unexpectedly, used to schedule occasional sitcoms and comic plays.

The story was taken up by Tim Worthington in his exhaustive study The Larks Ascending  

Another common theme here is that of radio announcers. This 2011 was my attempt to list those I'd heard on Radio 2 from the mid-70s to the early 80s. This and the related post probably attract views simply because of the sheer number of names that they contain.

Sadly a number of once familiar voices have passed away since I wrote this post and a linked post:  Liz Allen, Don Durbridge, Len Jackson, Tim Gudgin, James Alexander Gordon, Paddy O'Byrne and Sheila Tracy.

More announcers in a post that found an appreciative audience on the Friends of Radio 3 forum, hence, I suspect, its appearance on this list. Audio of the bits in between programmes rarely survive in the official archive so these voices represent what is now a bygone age.  

In the top spot is this post published in September 2012 that attempted to fill in the gaps of the names of Radio 2 announcers and newsreaders with another 60 voices that hadn't featured in my 2011 round-up. It was timed coincide with the phasing out of the separate newsreader role in favour of broadcast journalists who also read the bulletins. Fortunately I'd had some insider knowledge of this plan which gave me a few months to pull this lot together. From the feedback I received I know this acknowledgment was welcomed in Western House.     

Other popular ones are anything to do with the late Ray Moore, my David Symonds article, the Shipping Forecast, World Service memories, Alan Freeman and some of the ILR Down Your Local posts.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Day War Broke Out

It was a day like any other Sunday. A cloudless late summer day. The sound of lawns being mowed. The smell of cooking drifting out of the kitchen. People in their finery attending church. Couples getting ready for afternoon wedding ceremonies.

It was a day unlike any other. A day of apprehension as families settled round the wireless set to listen to the expected announcement. The announcement of the outbreak of the second world war. Almost immediately after, in parts of the country, air-raid sirens sent folk scurrying off to the Anderson shelters. People looked east expecting German bombers to fill the skies at any minute. A young lad is sent off to buy 400 fags for fear they be put on ration. Gas masks and blackout material were brought out. Meanwhile for the rest of the day the radio broadcasts were filled with extra news bulletins and endless official announcements about the closure of theatres and cinemas, air raid sirens and the mass evacuation of children.

That day, Sunday 3 September 1939, is recalled in this 50th anniversary broadcast called The Day War Broke Out. Former war correspondent Frank Gillard sets the scene for Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's fateful announcement that "this country is at war with Germany", replayed in full. And then we hear from those that lived through that day, their memories and feelings as to what the war would bring.

The Day War Broke Out was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 3 September 1989 and was produced by Peter Griffiths. This is an edited version.

For the BBC war preparations, months in the planning, had come into effect on Friday the 1st when the orders went out to all the studios and transmitter sites. By six o'clock that evening announcer Robert MacDermott was playing records and telling listeners to tune in to either 391 or 449 metres, the wavelengths of the Scottish and North regions and at 8.15 pm it was announced, for the very first time "This is the BBC Home Service." Additional daytime news bulletins were introduced, breaching the long-standing agreement with newspaper proprietors not to broadcast any news before 6 pm for fear of affecting sales of the evening papers. Any major announcements made overnight would be preceded by a 5-minute Bow Bells interval signal.

On the morning of Sunday the 3rd announcer Alvar Lidell was on duty at 10 o'clock to prepare the country for Chamberlain's announcement: "Following the midnight meeting of the Cabinet, the British ambassador at 9 a.m. this morning gave the German government two further hours in which to decide whether they would at once withdraw their troops from Poland. This ultimatum expires at 11 a.m. The Prime Minister will broadcast to the nation at 11.15 a.m."         

Home Service programmes for Monday 4 September 1939 as listed in the
Daily Telegraph with little offered beyond news, announcements, records and
Sandy MacPherson

It was Lidell who was introduced Neville Chamberlain's broadcast from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street and was the only other person with him in the room whilst he made it. Hourly bulletins followed throughout the day read by Stuart Hibberd and Lionel Marson with the King speaking at 6 p.m. All this was interspersed with intervals of gramophone records, Sandy MacPherson at the console of the BBC Theatre Organ and, one scheduled programme which did make it to air, the first instalment of a reading of J.B. Priestley's new novel Let the People Sing.

The Home Service closed down for the night at 12.15 a.m. The day war broke out was over.    

Read and hear more about the early days of World War II on the BBC's archive pages.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Not the A to Z of Radio Comedy: H is for Hot Club

The Hot Club was a blink and you'll miss it 6-part series broadcast on Radio 2 in 1990 and not heard again since.

Billed as "wit, spit, music and madness" it starred Arthur Smith, at the time familiar face at the Edinburgh Fringe and on Channel 4 and a familiar voice on radio's The Good Human Guide and Peter Dickson's Nightcap. With Smith were Comedy Store alumni musician and comedian Ronnie Golden with Josie Lawrence and Richard Vranch, both regulars on Channel 4's improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Previewing the series for the Radio Times in January 1990 David Gillard wrote:

Putting the heat on in Radio 2's newly opened Hot Club are compere Arthur Smith and singing comics Ronnie Golden, Richard Vranch and Josie Lawrence. each week they'll be bringing their wit to bear on a different topic - from Romance and War to Holidays and Horror. There'll be pastiche musicals among the gags and sketches - 'all in a variety of styles: heavy metal , protest, flamenco, Mowtown, that sort of thing' explains Richard. There'll also be original numbers by the cast - like Josie's off-beat antidote to all those gushily Gallic songs of springtime sentimentality, Paris in March.   
Both she and Richard came to comic prominence through TV's Whose Line Is It Anyway? and London's Comedy Store. Richard has been the music director of the Cambridge Footlights revue whilst Josie has appeared on TV as an ad-woman in Campaign and a murder victim in Poirot before moving  on to the comic road. Wary of being pigeonholed, she insists: 'I'm an actress who happens to be doing comedy, not a comedienne.'
Meanwhile it's sizzling songs and sketches that are keeping both on the boil. Hot stuff, indeed.
There are some now familiar names amongst the writing credits: Mark Burton and John O'Farrell who jointly received the BBC Radio Comedy Writers Bursary in 1988 and worked on Week Ending and Spitting Image. Also from the Week Ending writer's room are Mark Brissenden, Simon Bullivant, Michael Dines,  Alan Whiting and Bill Matthews.

The producer is Lissa Evans.

I only have the third episode in my collection, taking war as its theme. This was broadcast on Radio2 on Tuesday 30 January 1990 and gets its first airing in 29 years.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Eagle Has Landed

Fifty years ago the world was going space crazy. All eyes were on what was going on 'up there' as three intrepid astronauts blasted off on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Back on earth we just couldn't get enough of all things astronautical. You could send away for a Weetabix Solar System Chart and as a young lad I well remember collecting small plastic models of the command and lunar modules found lurking in the bottom of packets of Corn Flakes. I too had a copy of the Ladybird book of The Rocket from the How it works series. 

Watching on our black and white telly- the pictures from Apollo 11 were in black and white anyway  - coverage of the moon landing itself went through the night of Sunday 20 July into Monday 21 July. I've a vague memory that my parents got me up super early to watch some of the historic event before setting off for school.  

Scheduled to run from 6.15 pm to 1.00 am the evening programme on ITV 

On ITV it was ITN that provided the programmes with Alastair Burnett presenting and Science Editor, Peter Fairley (I've still got one of his Peter Fairley's World of Wonders annuals)  and Paul Haney, a former voice of NASA's Mission Control. And because the final approach and moon landing happened on a Sunday evening London Weekend were in charge so we had the added glamour of David Frost and a 'starry' array of show business folk including Lulu, Cliff, Engelbert and Cilla. 

The commercial offering was a decidedly more glitzy affair than the Beeb's offering. Also on hand was Eric Sykes, Roger Bannister, Desmond Morris, Chris Bonnington, Dame Sybil Thorndike and the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. There was also David Threlfall, the man who back in 1964 had made a 1000-1 bet at William Hill that there'd be a lunar landing by 1970. During the show he was presented with his £10,000 winnings and promised half to his parents whilst with the remainder he'd take a Caribbean holiday and invest the rest. Tragically he died in a car crash in November 1970.  

The BBC1 evening line-up for Sunday 20 July 1969

Over on the BBC, mainly BBC1 but with some colour simulcasts on BBC2, it was Cliff Michelmore, Patrick Moore and James Burke in the Apollo Space Studio and Michael Charlton at Houston Mission control. No showbiz shenanigans here, though on that Sunday evening you could've watched The Black and White Minstrel Show and over on BBC2 the Show of the Week featured Lulu (again).

As we now know most of the live television coverage was either not kept or just wiped and some of what does remain comes from off-air recordings. However, it's great to hear and see James Burke back again and his radio appearances include tonight's Archive on 4 called James Burke: Our Man on the Moon. Last week James was selecting his favourite music and talking about science and his love of all things Italian to Michael Berkeley in Private Passions.  

What of the radio? Perhaps surprisingly most of the live coverage was on Radios 1 and 2 with only some shared output on Radio 4. That station wasn't yet as news driven as it would become but the Apollo mission was covered on Today, The World at One and Radio Newsreel and some news coverage is in the archive. I'm not aware of any surviving recordings of the Radio 1 and Radio 2 programmes but off-air recordings must surely be in a box in someone's loft.

To give a taste of the what you might have heard here's a rather ropey recording made during the Apollo 12 mission in November that year with Arthur Garratt and science correspondent David Wilson covering the second moon walk during Paul Hollingdale's Breakfast Special.

The Apollo 11 mission Moon Special radio programmes were presented by Arthur Garratt and Colin Riach with Reginald Turnill at Mission Control. Reg became very well-known as the BBC's aerospace correspondent and, on his retirement in 1976, he continued to keep young viewers to Newsround informed. Arthur and Colin would continue to present the radio coverage of the Apollo missions through to Apollo 17 in 1972. Colin went on to produce Tomorrow's World and Young Scientist of the Year. Arthur presented science programmes on BBC tv and radio for about 30 years and he was on hand for the radio broadcasts of the Skylab launch in 1973 and the Apollo Soyuz mission in 1975. 
Unfortunately BBC Genome doesn't show these panels online so here's the detail for
Sunday 20 July 1969

The Radio Times panel for Monday 21 July 1969

For more on the first moon landing listen to the excellent World Service podcast 13 Minutes to the Moon.
See also the BBC Archive page on the moon landings.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Arwisgiad Tywysog Cymru

With BBC Parliament re-showing the Investiture of The Prince of Wales from exactly 50 years ago I thought I'd look at how BBC radio covered the event.

Unlike today's royal event coverage we didn't have hours of build-up speculation and talking to the folk in the crowds in Caernarvon, at least not on the radio, BBC television started their programmes at 10.30 am. The afternoon ceremony, lasting a little over two hours, was, perhaps surprisingly, relayed on Radio 3 sandwiched between Test Match Special (with the fifth day of the second England v West Indies Test from Lord's). Commentating on the ceremony itself was the well-known broadcaster and entertainer Alun Williams, with Raymond Baxter describing events in Castle Square.   

Listeners to Radio 4 in Wales could hear commentary in both Welsh and English from Emyr Jenkins, John Darren and T. Glynne Davies. Elsewhere Radio 4 was providing coverage from Wimbledon (it would move over to Radio 2 the following year) as well as updates on the Test Match.

Radio 4 did, however, broadcast a 45-minute edited version of events that evening and, by a stroke of fortune, David Mann has contacted me to say that he still has his recording of that programme. So for those interested to hear the pomp, pageantry and Prince Charles's rather dodgy Welsh accent here it is. Recorded on long wave and missing the opening announcement I think I can safely say this hasn't been heard since.

The television coverage was in the safe hands of Cliff Michelmore. who'd taken over the mantle of these big events following the death of Richard Dimbleby. With Cliff were Richard Baker and Emlyn Williams. The BBC1 pictures were in black and white but if you could afford a colour set BBC2 offered a colour version.

ITV were also in Caernarvon that day with renowned broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, who'd joined HTV a couple of years before. Wynford, a former BBC commentator and war correspondent, had covered royal events since 1937 when he provided the Welsh commentary of the Coronation of King George VI. Also heard that day were Brian Connell and Richard Burton. Burton was to return to royal duties 12 years later for BBC radio's coverage of the marriage of Charles and Diana.    

With thanks to David Mann.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The Voices of D-Day

Operation Overlord had been months in the planning. A vast allied onslaught of men, machinery and armaments onto the beaches of Normandy that eventually got the go-ahead on D-Day Tuesday 6 June 1944. The official announcement on BBC radio came at 9.30 a.m. with the reading of Communiqué Number 1.

"This is London. London calling in the Home, Overseas and European services of the BBC
and through United Nations Radio Mediterranean, and this is John Snagge speaking.
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force have just issued Communiqué No. 1.
Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern
coast of France".

Facing something on an editorial dilemma the Corporation had already broken the news at 8 a.m. to forestall any rumours that may have started to circulate following an early morning announcement on German radio that had been recorded by the Monitoring Service in Caversham.

The logistical planning for Operation Overlord had started in early 1943 with a target set for the following May. By the end of the year SHAEF (the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) had been established and General 'Ike' Eisenhower appointed as Supreme Commander.

The BBC was playing its part too and in May 1943 established the War Reporting Unit with the team of correspondents undertaking courses of physical training, reconnaissance, weapons training, signals, aeroplane and tank recognition and map-reading. Before D-Day they were deployed so that they could cover every phase of the landings. On the day itself the first eyewitness accounts from onboard a bomber were heard after the one o'clock news.

That evening saw the first edition of War Report which pulled together first-hand reports from the War Correspondents. The voice of John Snagge was heard again: "War Report number one, the story of D-Day. Throughout the day the British Broadcasting Corporation has been telling the world that allied forces have crossed the Channel into France. With every arm of the liberating forces went a BBC correspondent and soon after the assault was launched reports began to come in."

The following day, D-Day+1 a new radio service, the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme, was launched by Franklin Engelmann complete with its famous Orange and Lemons theme.

Over the years BBC radio has regularly commemorated the events of that day, most notably for the 50th anniversary in 1994 when there was a whole bunch of extra programmes.  

Some notables programmes over the years include:

The Story of D-Day (Home Service 6 June 1948)- an account of events produced by Laurence Gilliam of the BBC Features Department and written by former war correspondents Chester Wilmott and Robert Barr. This retelling contained no actuality and accounts were read by actors. 
Five Years After (Home Service 5 June 1949) -memories from the war correspondents who reported at the time including Richard Dimbleby, Stanley Maxted and Colin Wills.
This Was D-Day (Light Programme 7 June 1953) - "A sound-picture ... compiled entirely from on-the-spot recordings made by War Correspondents and men of the Allied Forces"
D-Day Anniversary Programme (Light Programme, 6 June 1954) - a number of programmes throughout the day to mark the 10th anniversary
Dawn of D-Day (Home Service 14 June 1959) with Lt-General Brain Horrocks narrating
OK! Let 'Er Rip (Radio 4 4 June 1974) - taking its title from the supposed invasion order given by Eisenhower
D-Day: 6 June 1944 (Radio 4 6 June 1984) - see below
Overlord  (Radio 4 18 & 25 May 1994) - Christopher Cook tells the story of the military and diplomatic preparations
D-Day A Moment in History (Radio2 6 June 1994) - a collection of eye-witness accounts from British, allied and German ex-service personnel.
The People's D-Day (Radio 4 5 June 2004) - a two-hour sequence, presented by Libby Purves, of "short features and stories told by the people who made D-Day happen".
From Dunkirk to D-Day (Radio 4 5 June 2004) - Charles Wheeler recalls "the epic of survival and strategic success that made cross-Channel victory possible".

The finest of these commemorative programmes must be the 1984 documentary, D-Day:6 June 1944,  compiled and written by Alan Haydock and Dan Kelleher. It relies almost entirely on the voices of the men and women that were involved in the planning, logistics and invasion of the Normandy beaches, all recorded especially for the programme. They tell their story in a matter of fact way, and is all the more powerful for it.  There's minimal narration, in this case from actor Frank Windsor (of Z Cars fame) and only a little archive material with reports from Frank Gillard, Richard Dimbleby, Chester Wilmot and Colin Wills.

From that same day, 6 June 1984, comes this clip from Radio 4's Six O'Clock News marking the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Newsreader Eugene Fraser introduces reminisces from John Snagge and reports by Philip Short, Geoffrey Wareham, Clive Small, Martin Sixsmith and David Smeeton.  

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