Sunday, 17 April 2011

Radio 3 Announcers

This post concentrates on the Radio 3 continuity team of the late 1970s, simply because I have some small clips of audio from that period.

When the BBC’s Third Programme started in 1946 it had its own continuity announcing team consisting of Alvar Lidell, Patrick Butler (who made the opening announcement), Christopher Pemberton, Marjorie Anderson (later of Woman’s Hour renown) and, on a part-time basis Denys Drower. By the early 1950s Alvar and Marjorie had left and joining the team were Richard Baker (later of BBC TV news fame), Tom Crowe and Peter Fettes.

From around the mid 50s to early 70s announcers potentially worked across all the networks. From 1972 Radio 3 had its own Presentation team led by Cormac Rigby. The post of Presentation Editor was later held by Piers Burton-Page and Donald Macleod. 

In 1995 the then Controller of Radio 3 Nicholas Kenyon had ambitions to shake-up the network, partly driven by the imminent arrival of Classic FM. That shake-up included the announcing team who were told that “not all of their services will be required in the future”. Three of the team stayed as ‘presenter-producers: Piers Burton-Page, Chris de Souza and Andrew Lyle; three remained as announcers: Penny Gore, Paul Guinery and Susan Sharpe; but three long-serving members were made redundant: Peter Barker, Tony Scotland and Malcolm Ruthven. This move signalled the end of the separate announcer role as the remaining announcers eventually became programme presenters and/or producers.

Below are audio clips and ‘capsule’ biographies for the Radio 3 announcing team in the late 70s. I may add further team members at a later date by editing this post. Further audio and information may also be added and I would welcome any contributions from readers of this blog.

Radio 3 Presentation Team in 1972. Back row (l to r): Jon Curle, Victor Hallam, Tony Scotland, Donald Price, Cormac Rigby
Front row: part of Tom Crowe, Peter Barker, Patricia Hughes, Robin Holmes, Norman Mcleod

Peter Barker

Trained at RADA and worked for several years as an actor. Joined the BBC in 1962 as announcer across all the radio services. Presenter on Morning Melody on Radio 4 in the late 60s. Moved to the Radio 3 team in 1972 later presenter of Concert Hall. Reader on Quote…Unquote (Series 18). Retired in 1992.

Michael Berkeley

Principally a composer but joined the announcing team in 1974. Left the staff in 1979 but returned as one of the presenters of Mainly for Pleasure. Still on the air hosting Private Passions every Sunday.


Piers Burton-Page

Joined the BBC as a studio manager before becoming announcer/newsreader on Radio 4 and then Radio 3 in 1977. Music Organiser for the World Service until 1985 when he was back at Radio as Presentation Editor. Became one of the presenter-producers from the early 1990s. First presenter of On Air. Left the BBC in 1997.

Tom Crowe
Joined the BBC as announcer on the General Overseas Service in 1950. Moved to the Light Programme and then joined the Third Programme in 1952. Left in 1962 returning in 1967. Retired in 1982. Briefly an announcer with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Jon Curle

An actor recruited as an announcer in 1959 by Peter Fettes, by then Head of Staff Training. Worked on all networks but much featured on the Light Programme. Worked on programmes such as The Men  from the Ministry, Friday Night is Music Night, It’s One O’Clock, Night Ride, Matinee Musical, The Best of Broadway, Mainly for Pleasure, Sounds Familiar and Whacko.


Victor Hallam

No details available.

John Holmstom

Radio announcer from 1951 and with the Third Programme from 1954. Presented The Critics on the Home Service. Died in 2013.

Patricia Hughes
Joined the BBC as a secretary in 1944 before becoming an announcer on the General Overseas Service in 1946. Later on the Home Service, Light Programme and Third Programme. Left the BBC in 1962 to look after her family, returning in 1969 initially freelance and then back on the staff in 1970. Allocated to the Radio 3 team where she stayed until retiring in 1983. Claimed to be the first woman newsreader on BBC radio as Radio 3 announcers also read the news but this claim is usually attributed to Sheila Tracy on Radio 4 in 1974. Described as having a “dark brown voice” by The Listener (14 June 1979). In contrast one-time network controller Stephen Hearst wanted to “get rid of that terrible woman with the Kensington voice.” One of the readers on Quote...Unquote from 1994. Died in 2013.

Donald Price

No details available

Cormac Rigby
Joined the BBC as a radio announcer in 1965 in response to an ad in the New Musical Express. In 1968 attached as a programme planner for the Third Programme (by then part of Radio 3). Became the Presentation Editor in 1972. Presenter of Royal Repertoire and Come to the Ballet (on Radio 2). Left in 1985 to join the Catholic priesthood. Died in 2007.

Malcolm Ruthven
Worked in orchestral management including General Manager of the Ulster Orchestra. Joined Radio 4 in Northern Ireland in 1972 before transferring to Radio 3 as announcer and presenter of Playbill. Reader and narrator under the name Gregory York. Designed the Talking Notes service for the South Bank Centre.

Tony Scotland

Became a reporter on leaving school and then emigrated to Australia where he worked on the Sydney Morning Herald and then as a reporter for ABC in Tasmania. Returned to UK in 1968 joining the BBC reported on Look East and then as radio news sub-editor Joined the Radio 3 announcing team in 1972. Created and produced The Arts Worldwide. Worked at Classic FM from its launch in 1992 until 1998. Now freelance writer and author (The Empty Throne and Lennox and Freda) and still occasionally broadcasting.

Roy Williamson

BBC studio manager in 1956 becoming an announcer on the Light Programme in 1957. On the Music Programme in 64-65 with Your Midweek Choice. Was a newsreader on Radio 4 and presented Town and Around on BBC TV.

David Willmott
On BFBS in Egypt in 1950 before joining the BBC as a studio manager in 1953. Worked in both radio and television as a drama director. For a time at the BBC in Manchester where he gave Ray Moore his first job in radio. Written and read the Morning Story on Radio 4. Announcer and newsreader on Radio 4 and then Radio 3 from 1979.

Other Radio 3 announcers from this period were Robin Holmes, Anthony Sargeant, Anthony Burton and Andrew Lyle.

A continuity announcer from 1982, and now presenter of Composer of the Week,  Donald Macleod featured in a 1998 edition of the Radio Times.

Biographical information has been compiled from my own notes, internet research, Who’s Who on Radio by Sheila Tracy and The Envy of the World by Humphrey Carpenter.

Edit 23 April 2011: Add photos for Piers Burton Page and Cormac Rigby. Minor edit to David Willmott biog.
Edits 2013: Updated audio for Patricia Hughes & Cormac Rigby.
Edit 2015: Added Donald Macleod scan


Steve Morton said...

I think the 'Friends of Radio 3' are worth a mention too....

qxr963 said...

Many of these voices are almost musical in their own right. Much of what made Radio 3 special has been lost in the quest for 'accessibility'. We are now at the point where Rob Cowan and Sara Mohr-Pietsch are reduced to punting for texts and reading bits from the papers, in between ever-shorter chunks of music. And the great Radio 3 pause, sad to say, is a thing of history.

Nicholas said...

Thanks for sharing these clips, they bring back so many memories of the Radio 3 I grew up with, before they decided to emulate Classic FM in the early 1990s.

I will have to hunt for my tape of Tony Scotland(?) attempting to play a CD (sorry, "cmPACT" disc) of some Schubert piano works, battling with two faulty CD players, then upsetting his tea into the newly-installed mixing desk, and finally, after several minutes of silence, re-appearing from another studio, completely out of breath.

Andy Walmsley said...

Thank you for the feedback. Any audio clips are welcome. Comments about the over-reliance on texts could, of course, apply to many programmes these days. Whilst good at allowing instant feedback, especially on topical issues, they are used to excess on many DJ-hosted shows as a cheap way of filling airtime.

Charles Nove said...

Victor Hallam - a charming man, always immaculately clad in a 3 piece suit, with gold watch and chain. Marvellous plummy voice, wicked sense of humour.

Tom Crowe, quite possibly the thinnest man I've ever seen, and the only one who could sleep on the aged sofa in the Announcers' Lounge (those were the days) which sported a coiled spring, poking up through the upholstery. Tom could manage to kink himself round it and snore away, contentedly.

Andy Walmsley said...

Thanks Charles for your amusing anecdotes on this and other blog posts. Great to hear from you.

Unknown said...

From a former Manchester-based announcer for Radio 3 during the late 60s and then from 1983 to 1996.... So sad to hear of the passing Oct 2013 of the great John Holmstrom - he really was my hero and I enjoyed his company during my few Continuity shifts in R3 Con in the late 90s. I see you have his heroic fill-in at the Albet Hall when the piano-lift blew a fuse. Masterful. A great talent and will be much missed. ALAN SYKES, s.e. Spain

Andy Walmsley said...

Alan, lovely to hear from you. Even in those fairly formal R3 announcements John sounded like a great character.

By the way if you ever feel like writing about your days at the BBC please get in touch. A clip of you launching Radio Manchester made it into my BBC90 sound montage.

Unknown said...

How wonderful to hear some of these voices again. I remember catching the tail-end of this era of authoritative but inobtrusive announcers in the 1980s. I spent many a happy weekend with my Grandfather being introduced into serious (and not-so serious) music with Radio 3 being a chief tool in his technique. These announcers provided so much of the flavour of the station with their precise diction. The general decline on Radio 3 into a too-chummy (accessible?) version of Radio 2 is something to be mourned with seemingly endless sequences of recordings (often excerpts) strung tenuously together around listener requests and - worse still - texts and tweets.

Unknown said...

Was it Robin Holmes who used to read so beautifully john Clare's Shepherd's Calendar each month? It was wonderful but before the days of iPlayer, so you couldn't catch up on what you had missed.

cobweb said...

Robin Holmes was the father of Jeremy Holmes who is currently giving readings of Tolstoy from a psychodynamic perspective..he is a psychiatrist/ retired psychoanlytic psychotherapist and world renowned expert of attachment theor. Interesting that he is to some extent following in father's footsteps in a love of literature and giving talks readings and lectures though with a different twist
see the The therapeutic imagination

Garry Humphreys said...

In that much-circulated picture of the Radio 3 announcing team in 1972, on the right-hand end of the front row, is one Norman Macleod. I'd always assumed that this was a misprint for Donald Macleod, but it doesn't look anything like him (I knew him slightly at the time) and I don't recall a Norman. Can anyone throw any light on the identity of this person?

Andy Walmsley said...

Garry, I took the names from Humphrey Carpenter's book The Envy of the World but can't be 100% certain. He wasn't one of the team by the time I started listening in 1976.

Unknown said...

Towards the end of his career Peter Barker used to read the news just before closedown. His gentle, elderly voice was the last one heard before the national anthem, when he invariably signed off "That was the news, and that was Peter Barker reading it". One night - it must have been very shortly before he retired - he had made a few fluffs, and it was "That was the news, and I'm sorry I read it so badly". He sounded so apologetic I wished I could have told him not to worry about it.

Norman Pen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norman Pen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norman Pen said...

Sorry about the deletes, nothing untoward. My tribute to the peerless Robin Holmes. Introducing Ravel's Miroirs, he read Ravel's own description of noctuelles, 'as of butterflies draped over an old beam, like some sort of cravat.' But alborado del Gracioso was in his own words - 'described by some as a sort of Andalusian Petrushka, though it was of course written some years before Stravinsky's ballet.'
I still have the cassette.

Unknown said...

so very true

Unknown said...

Victor Hallam told me he had been "the forces sweetheart in Trieste" Although he didn't supply any other context. Tom Crowe had been a prisoner of the Japanese, which (we thought) explained his nervous twitch - a slightly worrying trope when he was putting on vinyl records.

Tim Atkinson said...

Readers interested in hearing the inimitable tones of Robin Holmes (I noticed someone mentioned him reading Clare's Shepherd's Calendar) might be interested in the following recording culled from an old cassette tape of a Radio 3 concert, in the days when the interval - however short - was filled with words (rather than recorded music). In this case, the words formed a long-running series of monthly poetry readings 'chosen and read by Robin Holmes'.

Unknown said...

Gosh, I distinctly remember that incident. Thanks for the reminder of it.

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