Friday, 20 October 2017

Today at 60

Today, which celebrates 60 years on air towards the end of this month, is the cornerstone of the Radio 4 schedule. It's one of the programmes, along with The Archers, Desert Island Discs and the Shipping Forecast that define the station. Thinking of itself as 'setting the agenda' for the day's news output it retains a healthily 7.6m weekly listeners in the face of numerous online news outlets and probably remains the most listened to show by the movers and shakers in Westminster and the City.

John Humphrys locking horns with the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a far cry from the programme's origins which didn't sully themselves with politics but instead offered stories of the 'gosh aren't people interesting' variety mixed in with reviews of the latest gramophone records and a bit of sports news (so at least the 1950s equivalent of Gary Richardson had a job). However, its original premise of broadcasting items "which can be said to have a topical interest for the average, intelligent reader of morning newspapers" would hold true today.

The creation of the Today programme stems from the deliberations of a BBC mid-1950s working party chaired by one Richard D'Arcy Marriott, the Chief Assistant to the BBC's Director of Sound Broadcasting. It proposed an alternative to the light orchestral music heard on the Light Programme with a Morning Miscellany, it's first working title, on the Home Service. It was to be the responsibility of the Talks department under the Chief Assistant Janet Quigley and producer Isa Benzie.

Naturally enough coming up with the programme's title caused a flurry of internal memos with, unbelievably, Up in the morning early, Background to shaving and Listen while you dress all floated before Isa Benzie came up with Today.   

Eventually the programme's brief was thrashed out and was summarised in a memo from H. Rooney Pelletier, Controller Programme Planning (Sound). The start date was fixed as 28 October 1957 with two daily editions as 7.15 am and 8.15 am (a pattern that persisted until 1970). Items would be short, no longer than 5 minutes, with material drawn from Talks, News, OB and the Regions. Likely topics would be: "Notices of new theatrical, opera or cinema productions. Various OBs under the general heading Going to Work Today. Reviews of gramophone record releases (both serious and light). Items about dress, fashion, cooking, shopping -and, if exceptional - weather. Brief personal stories of the Truth to tell kind. Previews of sporting events: cricket, racing, football. medical notes - usually suggested by items in the news. Notes on industrial developments - particularly in the field of consumer goods. Foreign correspondents and material from news Talks Section of News Division. Possibly a daily quotation. Notes about significant anniversaries".

This idea doesn't sound a million miles away from a similar programme idea that was proposed to BBC bosses by one of its Talks producers in 1955. Memos uncovered by Paul Donovan when we wrote his history of Today show that a certain Robin Day had written about a Morning Review that would give "intelligent, pithy comment and description of the sort found on the feature-page of newspapers and in the more serious dairy column". Day expounded on the idea in two lengthy and detailed memos but Home Service producers couldn't see the demand for such a programme and it was quietly forgotten. Day, meanwhile, went off the join the fledging ITN news service.  

When Today did finally make it on air it was presented by staff announcer Alan Skempton (pictured above).  No recording or script of the first edition survives but the Radio Times billing read: "A breakfast-time magazine, bringing you news, views, and interviews. Including: Briefing a pilot at London Airport, First Night at Liverpool: Robert Morley. Sale of Napoleon's letters. Out Today: gramophone records." It was something of a curate's egg according to an internal review. The interview of the pilot and a passenger by Raymond Baxter failed to raise little of interest, the talk by Mary Drummond was interesting but her voice was "soporific and/or irritating", Robert Morley was the best thing in it, the music was "all right" but the inclusion of pop "seemed awkward" whilst Eamonn Andrews report on boxing was good.   

The programme did, however, immediately make an impact, if only because nothing like it had been heard before. Pelletier was keen to stress "hard information - facts - are probably the most important single ingredients" and that the presentation should be seen as "clear, friendly, straightforward". That presentation style changed radically the following year when Jack de Manio, another staff announcer, joined the programme. Skempton had been dropped earlier in 1958 following an unfortunate unscripted comment - though BBC records fail to elaborate what this was - and Robin Boyle had continued as the main announcer.

It was Jack de Manio, he of the "port-wine voice", that steered Today throughout the next decade or so, his somewhat eccentric style endearing him to listeners but driving producers to distraction. If the few remaining snippets in the Sound Archives are anything to go by his main difficulty was telling the time, an issue for a breakfast programme were a reminder that you need to be off the work or school is a vital component. Apparently he was "a spendthrift" - there are numerous memos to-ing and fro-ing about his fees when he became freelance - wore Savile Row suits, drove a vintage Bentley and "was completely unmanageable for his production  team". On one occasion he got stuck in a Broadcasting House loo and reporter Tim Matthews had to cover for him. He was known to spread out his script over the desk and read out introductions at random with the poor producer having to anticipate what was coming next and adjust the timings accordingly.      

During the early 1960s there were the beginnings of a shift to change the nature of the programme to give it a newsy feel. In 1963 production transferred from Talks to Current Affairs under the guidance of Stephen Bonarjee. He thought Today had too many jolly magazine items and with audience figures falling wanted to add "sharper, harder material". Behind the scenes he introduced a daily 5.15pm editorial conference to discuss the next day's potential items and in 1968 changed the staff working patterns to create an overnight team to work on the programme and brought in equipment for allowing taped reports to be sent down telephone lines rather than physically brought into Broadcasting House. Despite this the programme in the mid-60s still had a slightly quirky reputation as airing, according to John Timpson, "eccentric octogenarians, prize pumpkins and folk who ate lightbulbs and spiders".     

Nigel Rees, first a reporter on Today and later a presenter, recalls some of the freelance reporters of the late 60s as Tim Matthews, Derek Cooper (later of The Food Programme), Malcolm Billings (for many years the presenter of The Merchant Navy Programme on the World Service), Derek Parker, Barry Brown, David Bellan (later on Radio 2's Star Sound) and Jeanine McMullen (later on You and Yours). A programme regular was Monty Modlyn "a rubbery-faced, little ball of a man and a Cockney 'professional personality'". Monty's contributions tended to be the antithesis of the hard current affairs stuff such as going up in a balloon, visiting a nudist colony, finding lost dogs and bringing lonely hearts together. Modlyn continued to appear on Radio 4 in the early 70s in his own programmes as well as being a regular guest on Start the Week before joining LBC as one of their presenters.

One of a number of exercise LPs released by Eileen Fowler.
Eileen had been encouraging housewives to exercise since the mid-50s
of BBC TV's About the Home.
Listeners to Today in the early 1970s could limber up each morning before heading out for the day when the Keep Fit feature with Eileen Fowler was introduced. Eileen had been encouraging the nation to swing into shape since the 1950s on BBC TV and her 5-minutes or so of exercises were heard weekly on Today until 1976.

By 1970 the Radio 4 controller Gerard Mansell was seemingly despairing of Jack de Manio's off the cuff remarks. "I think Jack de Manio's reference to 'Yoko Hama or whatever her name is' in this morning's second edition, and his comment to the effect that he didn't care whether or not she and John Lennon went to bed together went further than we ought to allow Jack to go."  Jack was dropped from the weekday editions of Today the following year, sadly missing his final edition due to being in hospital with gout. As a consolation he was offered an afternoon chat show Jack de Manio Precisely.

The 1970s witnessed a positive revolving door of presenters. When de Manio left John Timpson became the main presenter. John had originally deputised on the programme back in 1964 but then went off to BBC2 to co- host Newsroom with Peter Woods before returning to radio in 1970 to sit alongside Jack on Today. By 1970 the two editions had been united into one whole -apart that is from all the opt-outs for listeners in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, East Anglia and the South-West, the junctions for which the presenters had to hit with pinpoint precision - and the tradition of two presenters, that still exists today, was established. The editor, Marshall Stewart was finally able to introduce the harder current affairs edge that had first been mooted years before; such was his success that he was poached by LBC. 

Joining Timpson in 1971 was Robert Robinson and they became the mainstay of Today for the next three years. Robinson, according to Marshall Stewart "played a significant and influential part in accelerating Today's transformation from a whimsical magazine into a news and current affairs programme. His sharp intellect introduced an edge to serious interviewing that politicians, in particular, had not often met on radio before."  

Also joining the roster of presenters were Douglas Cameron (1971-74), Michael Clayton (1973-74), Desmond Lynam (1974-75), Barry Norman (1974-75), Malcolm Billings (1974-75) and Nigel Rees (1976-78) - for a full list see the end of this blog post.

Marc cartoon from the Radio Times 18 November 1978
From 8 October 1975 here is John Timpson reporting from the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool  and interviewing Geoffrey Howe, Des Lynam is in the studio in London. Des recalls that during his time on Today "although politics was very much part of the programme, overall it had a lighter feel to it. There was still time for the 'record egg-laying hen' type of story."; witness the New York food smeller (organoleptic analyser) in this recording. The sports reporter is Gerald Williams and the newsreader Colin Doran. Audio courtesy of Richard Tucker.     

It wasn't until late 1975 that the dream team of Timpson and Brian Redhead was first heard, the programme was about to enter its first golden era. Timpson is often referred to as avuncular, "genial, down-to-earth and very English", chortling at the amusing items that still peppered the programme and that he dubbed as a 'ho, ho'. Redhead, on the other hand, coming into the job straight from editing the Manchester Evening News, was seen as (according to a Sunday Times profile in 1987) "brash, cocky aggressively northern, good-natured, argumentative, talkative, honest, hard-working, bouncy, hugely enthusiastic and insatiably curious in how his friends, colleagues and critics see him."    

By the 1980s Today finally developed the hard-hitting reputation for which it is renowned. "If you want to drop a word in the ear of the nation", said Redhead, "then this is the programme to do it". Editor Julian Holland was keen to see the programme written about and noticed. His main aim was "to ensure a succession of serious and high-profile interviewees." Every set-piece interview was expected to create a 'news-line', i.e. "something that would be quoted in forthcoming news bulletins, or the Evening Standard, or the next day's papers".

From the Radio Times 18 November 1978.
Despite just getting the job presenting Today, Libby
had decided to sail off to America later that year.
Though staff announcer Joy Worth had presented the programme for four weeks back in 1959 it wasn't until 1978 that Today finally woke up to the fact that Women's Lib had actually happened and introduced the first regular female presenter, Libby Purves, who'd already been reporting and producing for the programme for a couple of years.

Here is Libby and John Timpson in clips from Today dating from 1979 and 1980.

There were some short-lived structural changes in the mid-70s. To provide a more balanced less London-centric programme the presenting was split between London and Manchester for a "new inter-city style of presentation". It was not particularly well-received but at least it gave Brian Redhead less of a commute from his home in Macclesfield. Not long after John Timpson made a temporary return to television so Nigel Rees anchored the London end with Michael Cooke (Look North and BBC Radio Sheffield) acting as Redhead's deputy in the north. 

Then there was the debacle of Up to the Hour in 1977. Network Controller Ian McIntryre (aka Mac the Knife) was keen to clip of the wings of news and current affairs in favour of more general programming. One of his decisions was the split the programme in two and fill the 25 minute gap up to the hour with a miscellany  of news headlines, sport, weather, paper reviews and Thought for the Day mixed with programme previews plus bits of comedy and music all linked by a staff announcer. Libby Purves remembers how demoralising it was: "We had all this material coming out of our ears, the whole world to report on, stories to tell, and we hungered and thirsted for the Today programme to be a proper Today programme".       

Reacting to the carving up of Today listeners were not happy and expressed their indignation in letters to the Radio Times. "An untidy bundle of mediocrities" was one description of Up to the Hour. "A waste of valuable broadcasting time" wrote another. "Up to the Hour is the scrappiest and worst-conceived 'news' programme it has ever been my misfortune to hear. If I wanted to listen to music I would listen to Radio 2." There was some support to the changes with one listener appreciating the fact "that Brian Redhead and Nigel Rees no longer feel impelled to be facetious". "I so enjoy the new programme Up to the Hour, especially the few minutes of recorded comedy chat. The weather forecast, too, is improved. I'll also add that my husband is upset that you have replaced the pips with Big Ben."

Libby Purves left Today in December 1981 and the role of third anchor was divvied out for a time between Wendy Jones, Hugh Sykes and Chris Lowe before Peter Hobday came over from Newnight in 1983, soon joined by a fourth presenter Sue MacGregor in 1984, initially splitting her time between Today and Woman's Hour.

At this point in the history we should, I suppose, stop for Thought for the Day. This has been the one constant feature on Today since April 1970 (prior to that it was billed as Ten to Eight). Most of the staff "detest" the interruption for "reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news" but it attracts "considerable affection" from listeners. One of the most popular contributors to the 'God slot' was the late Rabbi Lionel Blue. This is probably his final Thought for the Day from 20 June 2012.

By 1986 John Timpson was beginning to feel unhappy with the dominance of political news, he was, apparently, more interested "in explaining facts than challenging opinions" so in December of that year he bowed out. This is his final programme, co-presenting with Brian Redhead on 24 December 1986.

Under Thatcher the political landscape of Britain had changed dramatically and Today had to change with it. Redhead "relished the opportunities all this provided for infuriating ministers and pricking their pomposity". But it was the decision of Jenny Abramksy in 1987 to bring in former foreign correspondent John Humphrys with his "detached cynicism towards politicians" that was a game changer.

In January of this year John Humphrys reflected on the changing nature of political reporting and interviewing in the intervening 30 years.

Jenni Murray was also presenting in 1986 and 1987 and, like Sue MacGregor, also on Woman's Hour before it was decided that Sue would stay with Today and Jenni would be the main presenter on Woman's Hour, where she remains to this day of course. 

Celebrating 30 years of Today in 1987 with cover stars John Humphrys,
Brian Redhead, Sue MacGregor and Peter Hobday
Again looking to television rather than radio Anna Ford, at the time also reading the Six O'Clock News on BBC1,  joined the team in 1993. But not that many months later the programme was thrown off kilter by the news of the death of Brian Redhead. His failing health meant that what was to be his final programme went out on 7 December 1993. The intention was that he'd be back on air after an operation but sadly following complications after surgery he died on 23 January 1994.

The Today programme of 24 January 1994 was a rather subdued affair with news of Brain's death leading the news agenda. Presenting that morning was Peter Hobday and Sue MacGregor with tributes from John Humphries and Margaret Thatcher and heartfelt words from John Timpson.   

With the death of Brian Redhead it was John Humphrys who became the "voice of Today". By February 1994 editor Roger Mosey had drafted in, ahead of an already scheduled move, James Naughtie from The World at One to begin his 21 year tenure. Later Humphrys would describe Naughtie as being "absolutely fascinated by the business of politics, by the House of Commons. For Jim, politics is almost a kind of art form and he appreciates it almost like an artist".  

When Sue MacGregor finally left in 2002 journalist and occasional Today presenter Mark Coles wrote about her presenting style: "To many, Sue's style of interviewing is distinct from that of her fellow male presenters. She admits she often prefers the conversational to the cut and thrust of a full scale gladiatorial on air row. For former Labour leader Neil Kinnock it works. 'She's probably the most graceful of all broadcasters' he says 'very early in the morning to hear gracefulness coming out of the radio is a blessing....she's like a silken pin, sharp but decorous. She's not gentle, no-one should call Sue that. She can be very rough and very insistent - that's her duty, that's her job. But for those being interviewed even uncomfortably interviewed, the knowledge that someone has done their homework, the knowledge that they're not playing a game - not being adversarial just for the sake of it - is a source of comfort even when you walk out of the studio with wounds'".

Here's the last nineteen minutes of Sue's final programme including the inevitable 'best bits'. Audio courtesy of Charlie Cooke.

The programme itself occasionally hit the headlines, usually following some clash with a politician in the prime 8.10 am interview slot after the news. There were complaints of bias from Norman Tebbit, the infamous Nigel Lawson interview with Brian Redhead, Jonathan Aitken saying of Humphrys that he was "poisoning the well of democratic debate", accusations of 'smeary' questions from Brian Mawhinney, battles over who controlled the news agenda with New Labour's spin machine, the sexed-up WMD dossier reports of May 2003 and the uncomfortable interview, Humphrys again, of Director-General George Entwistle as part of the Savile fall-out in 2012.  

Some of these run-ins with politicians are covered in this 2007 BBC Four documentary Today: The Newspaper of the Airwaves. Narrated by Sheena McDonald it includes contributions from Mike Chaney, Reg Turnill (who appeared on the very first edition when he was one of the BBC's industrial correspondents), John Lloyd, Tony Benn, Sue MacGregor, Libby Purves, James Naughtie, John Humphrys, Rod Liddle, Jenny Abramsky, Norman Tebbit, Kenneth Clarke,  Rev Richard Harries, Rabbi Lionel Blue, Anne Atkins, Neil Kinnock, Jonathan Aitken, Michael Heseltine, Lance Price, Andrew Gilligan, Kevin Marsh and Greg Dyke.

The available pool of regular presenters has gradually increased to five with the last significant changes being the appointment of Mishal Husain in 2013 and Nick Robinson in 2015 and with James Naughtie stepping down in December 2015. This is the last hour of Jim's swansong, there's an interview with John Major with the inevitable loss of the line - the interview is picked up again later over the phone - and a tearful sign-off.     

In the last few months Today has again come under scrutiny with the gender pay gap between John Humphrys and his female co-presenters, and indeed between Justin Webb and Nick Robinson. More recently the incoming editor, Sarah Sands, formerly of the Evening Standard and with no broadcasting experience, was an appointment seen by many as tackling a programme that had become stale and complacent. However recent editions on London fashion week -leading to speculation that she had been instructed to give greater prominence to "girls stuff" - live reports by Nick Robinson from Silicon Valley and Puzzle for Today were seen as "lightweight" with one Labour MP accusing her of "destroying" the programme. Former editor Roger Mosey posed the question "whether a flagship like Today is the best place to experiment with magazine items, and particularly whether it’s right for these times".

The political mire that is Brexit, a government with a wafer-thin majority, a Tweet-happy President and a crazed despot keen on blowing us all up means that the presenters of Today always have plenty of big political stories to chew over. But perhaps the biggest change on the horizon is nearer to home, the potential loss of programme lynchpin, John Humphrys. Rumours have been circulating that John  might leave after clocking up 30 years of early rises but he's passed that milestone. Last year he said he wouldn't be there for the next general election, obviously not foreseeing unexpected snap elections.  

To conclude, in typical Today fashion, I should be racing headlong up to the 9 am time signal  without crashing .... pip ... too late!

Reference Material:
All Our Todays by Paul Donovan (Jonathan Cape 1997)
This is Today by Tim Luckhurst (Aurum Press 2001)
Life on Air by David Hendry (OUP 2007)
My Radio Times by Nigel Rees (Ambergate Press 2013)
I should have been at work! by Des Lynam (HarperCollins 2005)
Getting Out Alive by Roger Mosey (Biteback Publishing 2015)
BBC Genome

These are the programme editors since April 1970

Marshall Stewart (1970-74)
Alistair Osborne (1974-76)
Mike Chaney (1976-78)
Ken Goudie (1978-81)
Julian Holland (1981-86)
Jenny Abramsky (1986–87)
Phil Harding (1987–93)
Roger Mosey (1993–97)
Jon Barton (1997-98)
Rod Liddle (1998–2002)
Kevin Marsh (2002–06)
Ceri Thomas (2006-12)
Jamie Angus (2013-17)
Sarah Sands (2017- )

This is a work in progress as quite frankly I ran out of time before publication. I've attempted to list all the presenters of Today, both regular and holiday cover.  Until April 1959 the Radio Times didn't list the presenter. During the 1960s most of the cover presenters for Jack de Manio were staff announcers. The years refer to the dates they are listed as presenting even if this is for just a handful of editions. In some cases that person may have worked as a reporter on the programme during other years.    

Alan Skempton 1957-58
Robin Boyle 1958
Jack de Manio 1958-1972 (Saturday editions only from Aug 1971-Aug 1972)
Joy Worth 1959
Michael Brooke 1959
Wallace Greenslade 1960
Peter Bryant 1961-2
Michael de Morgan 1962
Ronald Fletcher 1962-63
Aidan MacDermott 1963
Brian Johnston 1963/1967-69
Tim Gudgin 1963
Andrew Gemmill 1963
Jim Vowden 1963
Robert Hudson 1964-68
John Timpson 1964-65/67/70-76/78-86
David Brown 1964
Martin Muncaster 1965-68
Corbet Woodall 1967
Liam Nolan 1968-69
John Tidmarsh 1968-69
Robert Williams 1969
Tim Matthews 1969-70
Derek Cooper 1969/77-78
Michael Aspel 1970-74 (Saturdays and Bank Holidays only)
Douglas Cameron 1970-74
Michael Parkinson 1971-72
Joan Bakewell 1971 (Saturdays only)
Robert Robinson 1971-74
Malcolm Billings 1971-72/74-75
Peter Woods 1972
Mary Marquis 1972-73
Desmond Lynam 1973-76
Michael Clayton 1973-74
James Burke 1973-74
Alan Coren 1974
John Anthony 1974 (2 Saturday editions)
Nancy Wise 1974
Barry Norman 1974-76
Alan Watson 1975
Brain Redhead 1975-1993
Gillian Reynolds 1975-76
Paul Barnes 1975-77
Heather Summerfield 1975-76 (2 Bank Holiday editions only)
Michael Cooke 1976-78
Nigel Rees 1976-78
Sylvia Home 1977
Libby Purves 1978-81
John Sergeant 1978/80/95
Margaret Howard 1978-79
Hilary Osborn 1978
Peter Ruff 1978-79
Hugh Sykes 1978-82
Mike Vestey 1978-79
Wendy Jones 1979-83
Mike Wooldridge 1979-80
Paul Burden 1980-81
Peter Mayne 1981-82
Chris Lowe 1982-93
Peter Hobday 1983-96
Graham Leach 1983/93-94
David Byrne 1983
Michael Stewart 1983-85
Bill Frost 1983/86
Alison Leigh 1984
Tudor Lomas 1984-85
Jon Silverman 1984/86/88/90/92
Sue MacGregor 1984-2002
Triona Holden 1985
Jenni Murray 1986-87
Susannah Simons 1992
Anna Ford 1993-99
James Naughtie 1994-2015
Edward Stourton 1999-2009
Carolyn Quinn 2004-08
Evan Davis 2007-14
Sarah Montague 2002-
Justin Webb 2009-
Mishal Husain 2013-
Nick Robinson 2015-
Christiane Amanpour 2017 (1 edition guest presenter)

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Two's Company - 50 Years of Radio 2

My first memories of listening to Radio 2 are those Sunday lunchtimes when Family Favourites, Michael Aspel hosting I seem to recall, was on the family Grundig wireless set. Yes, families really did have the radio on during the day and all sat down at the table for a meal, hard to believe I know. It was that and the comedy shows that followed with The Clitheroe Kid being a particular favourite- goodness knows why when I listen back to it now.

By the time I'd become interested in radio in the mid-70s I was fascinated by the way the station started each day: the test tones, then silence, the announcer - Colin Berry on weekdays and Tom Edwards on Saturday - playing the In Tune with You jingle ("the music's all here and waiting to spin, as we start to get ready to brighten your day") and welcoming listeners on 1500 metres long wave, 247 metres medium wave and stereo VHF.

I consumed as much of the station as I could even tuning in to those shows featuring the radio orchestras, I still have a couple of tapes with music arranged and conducted by Alyn Ainsworth for the Radio Orchestra. For years I was obsessed with tracking down a recording of Count Basie's Nice 'n' Easy, the theme for The Late Show, it was only when Amazon came along that I was able obtain the CD and hear the full track.

Little did I think that decades later some of those recordings I made of the station's output could be shared with the world via this blog. I know I can't possibly hope to communicate fifty years of Radio 2 in fifty minutes (actually fifty-two) but this is my audio tribute to mark the station's golden anniversary. It doesn't aim to be a comprehensive, the clips you hear, and most apart from some very early ones are mine, are what I could lay my hands on during three editing sessions earlier this summer. Enjoy this audio soundscape from Paul Hollingdale to Simon Mayo.

You'll hear: Paul Hollingdale, Robin Boyle, Jimmy Young, Michael Parkinson, Billy Cotton, Michael Aspel, Round the Horne, The Navy Lark, Pete Murray, The Dales, Waggoners Walk, Terry Wogan, Brian Matthew, Friday Night is Music Night, Colin Berry, Tom Edwards, Charlie Chester, David Gell, Len Jackson, Alan Dell, Benny Green, David Bellan, Tim Gudgin, John Dunn, Round Midnight, Ray Moore, Desmond Carrington, Gloria Hunniford, Sheila Tracy, Sport on 2 with Peter Brackley, Peter Jones, James Alexander Gordon, Jean Challis, David Hamilton, Wally Whyton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Pop Score (announcer Nick Jackson), The Monday Movie Quiz, The Law Game (announcer Peter Dickson), Hello Cheeky, The Grumbleweeds, The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket, The News Huddlines (announcer Richard Clegg), Sing Something Simple (announcer John Marsh), Richard Baker, Alan Keith, Hubert Gregg, Steve Race, Don Maclean, Nigel Ogden, Alan Freeman, Johnnie Walker, Fran Godfrey, Sarah Kennedy, Jeremy Vine, Paul Gambaccini, Russell Davies, Clare Teal, David Jacobs, Steve Wright, Tim Smith, Sounds of the 60s, Alex Lester, Paul Jones, Mike Harding, Bob Harris, Ed Stewart, Jonathan Ross, Andy Davies, Ken Bruce, Stuart Maconie, Mark Radcliffe, Tony Blackburn, Chris Evans, Alan Dedicoat and Simon Mayo.  

Friday, 29 September 2017

Time to Go, Home

Exactly fifty years ago today BBC announcer David Dunhill bade farewell to the Home Service "for today, and for all days". But he was prescient when he went on to say that the station was "like a bride on the eve of her wedding, we go on being the same person but we'll never again have the same name" for little changed when the Home Service became Radio 4. The same presenters presenting the same programmes at the same time. In this post I recall that final day of the Home Service on 29 September 1967.

Looking at the back issue of the Radio Times there are a smattering of programmes that the Radio 4 listener of today would recognise: Today, the Daily Service, Pick of the Week, The Archers, The World at One, Any Answers? and A Book at Bedtime. But what stands out are the whole chunks of the day given over to schools broadcasts, heard on both VHF and MW, a classical concert in the evening and all the regional variations.

In 1967 Today was still offered up in two editions at 7.15 and 8.15, with the second outing usually a reworking of the first. More often than not the regular presenter was Jack de Manio but this week it was Corbet Woodall, the former BBC television newsreader. A very small part of that Today programme was retained in the BBC archives as Corbet introduces some of the Radio 1 jingles made by Kenny Everett.

On newsreading duty that morning was veteran announcer Alvar Lidell and providing the continuity was Brian Perkins - he'd return to New Zealand a couple of years later but was back at the BBC in 1978.

Three names in the For Schools listings are worth picking out. Anyone listening to BBC languages programmes would have heard of Raymond Escoffey. Over the course of twenty years he wrote and/or produced dozens of  programmes for kids learning French as well as a Russian for Beginners course aimed at adults. In 1985 he co-authored the Penguin French Dictionary.

Those of us, myself included, that heard Music and Movement over the school wireless set in the late 1960s will probably have been listening to James Dodding. A drama teacher - who's claim to fame was that he taught David Bowie at the City Literary Institute in the mid-60s - he appeared on BBC radio between 1967 and 1973. He went on to be a drama director and specialised in writing about and teaching mime - he'd studied with Marcel Morceau and Ladislav Fialka.

Michael Smee introduces Learning About Life at 11 am. Michael was one of those general purpose broadcasters that popped up on a number of programmes across all the BBC's television and radio channels, including the World Service.  From 1963 to 1965 he was a co-presenter, alongside Nan Winton, of In Town Today, a Saturday lunchtime version of In Town Tonight. Over the course of about 30 years he narrated and introduced a whole host of schools programmes and further education programmes - including the magazine programme Fresh Start - on the Home Service, Radio 4 and BBC1. There were general reporting duties on Woman's Hour and Movie-Go-Round plus chairing We Beg to Differ - "an open discussion of subjects on which men and women tend to disagree"  and Be Reasonable!, the male reply to Petticoat Line. The only clip I have of Michael Smee dates from the 1978 repeat of Sound by Design that explores "some major developments in the technique of radio".   

Sifting through the Pick of the Week just after noon (and just ten minutes of announcements, what where they I wonder? SOS messages, programme news) was Gale Pedrick and John Ellison. The first bit of picking had been in 1959 so the programme is now a couple of years off its 60th anniversary. I don't remember Pick of the Week from this time, I'm more your Margaret Howard era, so I've always understood the Radio Times billing to mean that script writer Gale Pedrick chose the items but you only heard John Ellison on-air actually introducing them.  

The World at One was still pretty much in its infancy at this point, having started in October 1965, under the control of that old Fleet Street hack William Hardcastle (above). The daytime newsreader was Alexander Moyes whilst Michael de Morgan looked after the continuity.
Note that writing credit for The Archers. Bruno Milna was the nom de plume for Norman Painting aka Phil Archer.

The afternoon fare includes two repeats from the Light Programme with both Your Verdict? and Any Answers? The first of these, devised by John P. Wynn the brains behind Brain of Britain, sounds like a prototype for the later Radio 2 panel game The Law Game.    

At 4.45 pm it was time to cue in The Clog Dance from La fille mal gardée the theme for Home this Afternoon, a daily fixture on the Home Service and then Radio 4 from 1964 to 1970. Billed as "designed to attract the older listeners" it was a rather twee mix of talks and reports, the serious and the humorous. Ken Sykora was the most regular presenter but Jean Metcalfe, Polly Elwes and Steve Race also featured over the six year run. In the same way that Woman's Hour would come from the regions one day a week, so did Home this Afternoon. On this day it was the turn of Wales with former hill farmer turned broadcaster Harry Soan.     

The six o'clock news was read by Bruce Wyndham with Ronald Fletcher the continuity announcer. Bruce must have been on an overnight shift as he popped into the Light Programme studio to chat to David Hamilton during Music Through Midnight, probably after a quick pint or two at the Yorkshire Grey, and the following morning was reading the news on the newly launched Radio 4. Ronald Fletcher would also appear again that evening as he was the regular announcer on Listen to this Space (see below)  

Each of the regions had their own news programme after Radio Newsreel (the duration varied by region) but as my edition is for London and the south east it just lists Tim Gudgin with South East. These regional round-ups eventually shrunk down to a 5 minute bulletin before finally being dropped in 1980.

If the daytime output all sounds a little too earnest then the 7 to 8 pm slot offered some light relief. The light-hearted quiz Who? What? Where? When? was chaired by Ken Sykora and included Benny Green on the panel. It only lasted for one series but had a great guest list that would include Flanders and Swann, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Rather more successful was the topical comedy Listen to this Space. The brain-child of its star Nicholas Parsons it ran for four series and paved the way for Week Ending and The News Huddlines. I wrote about Listen to this Space in 2015 and put together these clips

And the final programme on the Home Service?  Well that was Jazz at Night. Yes, the presenter is the John Dunn, demonstrating just how versatile and busy the announcers were.  The next day John was on newsreading duty, famously starting the 12.30 news during Rosko's show with "Here is the news... in English."

Following Jazz at Night it fell to David Dunhill to read the forecast for coastal waters (the shipping forecast was over on the Light Programme) and say goodnight to listeners to the Home Service. This is how he signed off.  

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Radio 1 at 50 - Part 4 It's 1FM

September 1992 and marking a quarter of a century on air Radio 1 faces the end of an era - though little did we know it at the time. A year later DLT had gone. So had Bates, Bob Harris and Fluff. Beerling was out. Bannister was in. Still, the station was in celebratory mood and it would be the last time it would widely acknowledge its heritage until its 40th some 15 years later. 

So how did Radio 1 sound on its 25th birthday on 30 September 1992? Fortunately I recorded some chunks of that day's broadcasts. 

The main event was The Birthday Train, yet another excuse to get Simon Bates out of the studio. In this case it was on a train making its way from Edinburgh to London where it was to be officially named by Catherine Zeta Jones no less as 'BBC Radio 1FM'. 

Musically it's not a typical day - Cliff Richard and Sandie Shaw are amongst the artists on Bruno Brookes' playlist. From this week Radio 1 was renamed 1FM - a short-lived affectation - and there was the new Closer to the Music jingle package.

In this first sequence its Bruno and then Simon Mayo with the Breakfast Crew (Diane Oxberry and Rod McKenzie) with occasional link-ups with Bates. The its over to Simes on the train for part of The Golden Hour. (Does anyone have a copy of Vince Clarke's version of Theme One?) The 1FM Express was 45 minutes late into King's Cross - apparently a careless JCB driver cut through a signalling cable - so Jakki Brambles is late on air broadcasting from the Roof Gardens in Kensington. With Jakki is station controller Johnny Beerling, Tony Hadley, Midge Ure, Smiley Miley, Neil Arthur (ex-Blancmange) and Boy George. (All credit to Peter Powell as Tony, Neil and Boy George all mention him playing their records and encouraging them).       

This second sequence comprises the best bits of "the winning team" billed as Steve Wright So Far with some old sketches including Mr Angry from Purley, Laura's Second Love, John Bowles, Gervaise, Llama Man and Linda Lust plus archive clips of guests John Mayor, John Smith, Mel Gibson, Clive Anderson, Sylvester Stallone, Smashie and Nicey, Dame Edna Everage, Spike Milligan, Richard and Judy, Bruce Forsyth, Steven Wright, Phil Cornwell and Danny Baker.

In the third and final sequence from 30 September 1992 its Mark Goodier, first with Mega Hits, "the Top 10 you choose every day" and then after News 92 in comes the Evening Session. The Session includes current chart acts covering some of the biggest number ones of the last 25 years: The Wonder Stuff's version of Slade's Coz I Love You, Kingmaker's Lady Madonna, Blur's Maggie May, Boy George's My Sweet Lord, The Frank and Walters cover of I'm a Believer and, bizarely, Ned's Atomic Dustbin with Charlene's I've Never Been to Me. There's also The Mission with their version of Atomic, Billy Bragg with When Will I See You Again?, Carter USM's cover of Another Brick in the Wall, The Farm with Don't You Want Me? and Manic Street Preachers with Suicide is Painless. All these tracks were later released on the NME album Ruby Trax.   

For whatever reason I didn't record the Man Ezeke so we move onto "the man with musical plan" Nicholas Andrew Argyle Campbell. Nicky plays a selection of number hit singles and album tracks from 1967 onwards - my recording ends in 1977 with Way Down. Finally, to round off the day part of Bob Harris's classy overnight show.   

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Radio 1 at 50 - Part 3 On Show

A Teddy Bear's Picnic, Action Special trains, Peel in Russia, Bates in the desert, record-breaking discs transported by Eddie Kidd and Bit in the Middle T-Shirts. Yes it was all jinks on 80s Radio 1 and by now all in super stereo too.

These are the pages of Radio 1's 1988 publicity magazine On Show. Within its pages spot a fresh-faced Simon Mayo, a scary-looking Mike Read in drag, a Gary Glitter annual, Bruno looking like he's modelling for the Littlewoods catalogue, a 1FM badge-wearing giant bunny and giant chicken and a Corgi roadshow truck - did you buy one? And before you ask, no I've no idea what happened to Ro Newton either.

In the next and final Radio 1 at 50 blog post - the sound of the station on its 25th birthday. 
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