Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Battle for Breakfast on 2



In the battle for breakfast radio listeners (it seems almost obligatory to use the alliterative battle for breakfast beloved of headline writers) many of the major protagonists have moved on in the last few months. Christian O'Connell out at Absolute for new adventures down under. Greg in for Grimmy at Radio 1. Emma Bunton leaving Heart London. Shaun Keaveny making his #BreakfastExit at 6 Music. Over at Kiss Rickie, Melvin and Charlie are moving on to Radio 1. Meanwhile Bauer's new Greatest Hits Radio, replacing the City 2 brand this month, sees Simon Ross at breakfast across England. But of course the biggest headlines were reserved for Radio 2's news that Chris Evans was leaving  'Europe's most popular radio programme' for a new chapter at Virgin and that Zoe Ball was to become the station's first regular female breakfast show DJ.

When Zoe starts next Monday she'll only be the station's sixth breakfast show presenter in over 40 years, a statistic that does, of course, includes the 28 years in which Sir Terry was at the helm. I thought I'd take this changing of the guard as an opportunity to look at Radio 2's breakfast shows over its 50+ year history.

In fact we have to trace the history we have to go back a little further, back to the 1940s.

Early morning sequences of gramophone records first appeared on BBC radio during the Second World War as a way of kick starting a war-weary nation and there were also short sessions of calisthenics billed as Up in the Morning Early with exercises for men and for woman complete with piano accompaniment.  

Radio Times 16 January 1964 with Morning Music offering
a "pleasant background of melodic gaiety" 

Programmes titled Bright and Early and the self-explanatory Morning Music ran on the Home Service and the Light Programme from the mid-40s to the early-60s mostly featuring various in-house orchestras as well as other light orchestras and musical combos. Announcers were on hand to introduce the programme but were little heard apart from the occasional time-check

Recordings of some of these shows can be found on the Masters of Melody website. Listening to them you get the clear impression that the BBC wanted nothing raucous. It was all very civilised and designed to gently wake up the country and get them off to work or start the housework just in time to catch Housewives' Choice.

The big impetus for change was the arrival of offshore pirate radio in 1964 and the gradual shift towards personality-driven radio. The BBC responded in August 1964 with a named announcer assigned to each edition of Morning Music  and the introduction of a record show Family Fare at 8 a.m. As well as the recorded sessions listeners were promised the excitement of "some records."    

The Breakfast Special team in 1965

In October 1965 these different morning programmes were all lumped together in one show, known as Breakfast Special, that ran from 5.30 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. Needletime restriction meant that the bulk of the music was provided by orchestras and groups with the addition of singing groups plus some discs. More chat between items was allowed, even if some listeners didn't appreciate the wisecracks (see below) from the programme presenters who were drawn from the rota of continuity announcers.


Even with the introduction of Breakfast Special the notions of personality radio, familiar voices heard day in and day out, and of building a loyal audience  were ones that the BBC either avoided or just weren't bothered about. Eventually, by the time Radio 2 came on the scene in 1967, the team of announcers presenting the show was whittled down to a core of John Dunn, Paul Hollingdale, Peter Latham and, on Saturday morning, Bruce Wyndham. They were supplemented by Ray Moore following the launch of Radio 2. 
Meanwhile over on 'swinging' Radio 1 Tony Blackburn was pulling in large and appreciative audience for his lively new breakfast show. The difference was quite marked as these recordings of Breakfast Special in 1970 with Paul Hollingdale (and a little bit of Ray Moore) show.



The producers of Breakfast Special eventually cottoned on to the fact that listeners loved hearing the same voice everyday and that the show would become part of their daily routine. By the early 70s Ray Moore and John Dunn would take care of the programme for weeks at a time. This was years before the zoo format so Breakfast Special duties not only included presenting the three and a half hour show but reading the news (at least initially, later an additional announcer was drafted in to read the news and sports bulletin) and travel bulletins too, only throwing over to the likes of Vick Walters at the London Weather Centre for the forecast.         

The next big shake-up was in 1972 when Head of Music Mark White asked Terry Wogan to move from Radio 1's afternoon show to Radio 2's breakfast show. Mark was the man who had given the OK to Terry's audition tape back in 1966 and his first shows on the Light Programme. By 1972 the plan was to drop Breakfast Special and split it into two: opening the day with The Early Show hosted by a staff announcer (initially a number of them for a few weeks at a time and then from 1974 Simon Bates and from 1976 Colin Berry) and then Terry with a breakfast show.  

Terry recalls that "I was not to everyone's taste, though, over the wheatybangs. John Dunn had been the previous incumbent. Soft-spoken, urbane, with impeccable diction and manners, he was a perfect English gent; who was this Irish gobdaw, with his ridiculous exercises, upsetting the British Breakfast?"


Those "exercises" were the Fight the Flab feature he'd started on the afternoon show, shades of Up in the Morning Early. Another feature was to follow the morning racing bulletin with what became known as Wogan's Winner though the "nags I back rarely trouble the judge." Over 12 years Terry developed a rapport with his audience that had probably not been seen before, letters, poems and comic song lyrics poured in. Fun was to be made at the expense of BBC management and their bizarre Broadcasting House rooftop rituals and what was on the telly, especially US soap Dallas. There was the Floral Dance, son of Fight the Flab, Hello Chunky and pre-show chats with Jimmy Young.  

Here's an early example of Terry's show from April 1973.



All this ended in December 1984 when Terry stepped down from the breakfast show to prepare for the new thrice-weekly BBC1 chat show Wogan.  

Here's how Terry signed off.




Terry's replacement was a little unexpected, not least by the man himself. Ken Bruce had been working on Radio 2 for a couple of years covering the Early Show and presenting a Saturday late-night show when he got the call from controller Bryant Marriott. Initially unsure, "I was taking over from an icon", he accepted the gig. Others in the frame were his mate Ray Moore and David Hamilton.

Ken Bruce in 1985. "You won't be getting Wogan
with a Scottish accent" 
Starting on 7 January 1985 the show times were rejigged with a later start time of 8am, an odd decision for a breakfast show (in fact a long 8 a.m. bulletin meant that Ken didn't actually start the show until 8.07 a.m.), and ending at 10.30 a.m. in time for the JY prog. The new programme was pretty much music all the way with Radio 2 management reluctant to countenance many other programme elements. Ken recalls that a request to have a selection of newspapers in the studio to allow more current and informative subject matter was turned down "because Gloria Hunniford sometimes reads out snippets on her show". Perhaps the budget was spent on the lyric competition which offered winners a Ken Bruce eggcup!         

Here's Ken in action on 14 November 1985.



The next presenter was something of a left-field choice for Radio 2, that of former Fleet Street editor Derek Jameson. The head of music Frances Line was convinced that Ken was more suited to a mid-morning slot, which is indeed where he ended up and has been ever since, and she seemed to be instrumental in bringing Jameson into the fold.



Derek Jameson interviewed for the Radio Times w/c 5 April 1986


The reasons for Jameson's appointment  stem back to March 1980 and a sketch on Radio 4's Week Ending in which Jameson was described as "an East End boy made bad", who thought that "erudite was a type of glue". He didn't see the funny side of this and took legal action against the BBC. It took four years to come to court and in February 1984 Jameson lost the case and had to pay legal fees of £75,000. Apparently as a goodwill gesture the Corporation started to offer him work such as the BBC2 show Do They Mean Us? and a regular slot on Radio 4's The Colour Supplement. In November 1985 he was asked to cover for Jimmy Young for a week and provoked such a favourable reaction that he was offered the breakfast show.

Here's the first half hour of Derek's first show.  



If listeners had got used to Terry's whimsy and blarney followed by Ken's chuminess and dry humour then they were in for something of a shock with Derek Jameson. Now it was a gruff "mornin', mornin', Jameson 'ere!" and a show peppered with news items and interviews, though not with "the obvious bigwigs. I shall be talking to people who've got a story to tell." The BBC seemingly now had that newspaper budget.

Radio 2 listeners are (mainly) not a happy lot.
Letters to the Radio Times 3 May 1986

Reaction was mixed with letters to the Radio Times going from "raucous, uncouth ...indulging in news trivia and telephone conversations of toe-curling banality" to "a lovely man, full of merry quips and sideswipes at the way things are, is a real tonic."

This clip comes from 18 October 1989.



Programmes from the self-styled 'bunker' saw a step up personnel, both on-air and behind the scenes with former Radio 2 newsreader Vivien Stuart joining Derek as 'weatherwoman' and two (later three) producers, initially Brian Stephens and Anthony Cherry, plus a researcher, with another former Radio 2 newsreader Ruth Cubbin working on the show for the first year or so. There were a number of OBs including this pre-Christmas edition from Gatwick airport on 21 December 1990.



Amazingly Derek Jameson's tenure at breakfast lasted six years - his last show was on 20 December 1991 - before he was shunted off to a four nights a week late-night show with his missus. There were, according to Ken Bruce, two schools of thought on this move. One that Derek and Ellen would make a "quirky on-air team" and would be a way of diversifying production bases as it was to come from the Glasgow studios. Theory two was that they offered him a package "so insulting he would resign" due to the move north, the reduction in hours and the splitting of the fee. Nonetheless. they bought a flat in Glasgow as a base and the late-night The Jamesons ran for five years.       


Libby Purves speaks to Brian Hayes.
Radio Times w/c 4 January 1992

Next up was Brian Hayes, at the time best known to listeners in London for his long-running LBC phone ins and acerbic style. Brian had been introduced to national BBC listeners in 1991 covering for Jimmy Young (something he'd do almost a decade later when Jim was unwell prior to his 'retirement') and as a guest interviewer on Radio 4's Midweek.  This is the start of Brian's first Radio 2 breakfast show on 6 January 1992 which promised "more music and less speech" and adopted the title Good Morning UK.



The attempts at mixing news elements and music seemed, at first. a little half-hearted and missed some of the verbal jousting with callers and guests that Brian had built his reputation on at LBC. Whilst the shows did pick up during the year behind the scenes Terry Wogan was itching to get back to radio , his TV chat show having ended and replaced by the ill-fated Eldorado. As a result Brian's tenure was short lived and ended in the December. By way of consolation he was given a weekly phone-in on the station, Hayes Over Britain that ran for four years and later he appeared on Radio 5 live with a weekend breakfast show and other programmes until 2006.


And so it was that Terry returned to the breakfast show in January 1993 "my heaven it's good to be back....he lied". Here's how he sounded on day one.



For the next 16 years Terry was at the top of his game. The show developed from giving away alarm clocks (WUTWACs), to the near the knuckle Janet and John stories, the faithful band of TOGs, studio support from Dr Wally and then 'Barrowlands' Boyd, a coterie of newsreaders whose lives, real and imagined were woven into the show. 

I've uploaded just over 20 of Terry's shows (many as podcast versions) on YouTube and there are more than a dozen on Mixcloud from myself and other users. The latest upload from me is this complete show from 28 November 2006.  



Although Terry's position at breakfast was unassailable Radio 2 management were thinking about the inevitable day when he'd step aside as far back as 2005 when Chris Evans was bought into the BBC fold. Initially with a Saturday afternoon show, in 2006 he was offered drivetime by Lesley Douglas (the then Controller) and told, according to Evans, "if and when it [breakfast] becomes available, and if you've behaved yourself and things have gone alright on drivetime - who know?"   


Sir Terry bows out (for a second time).
Radio Times w/c 12 December 2009

Wogan later intimated that he would leave the show at the end of 2008 but when the so-called Sachsgate episode erupted he was asked to stay on a help 'steady the ship' for a little while. In the event Terry remained for another year and made bade an emotional farewell on 18 December 2009. It was the end of an era.  


It was inevitable that when Chris Evans took over the breakfast show many listeners would miss the calm, collected tones of Sir Terry and that Evans approach was just too shouty. In an attempt smooth the transition for TOGs that tuned in, Chris started the first show with The Beatles and Frank Sinatra,  assuring listeners that there'd be no "turbulence" and re-introducing Moira Stuart back to the station as the programme's newsreader - she'd read the news and presented overnight shows on Radio 2 back in the early 80s. Also as part of the on air team was travel reporter Lynn Bowles, who'd been such a major part of Terry's shows, and coming over from drivetime Jonny Saunders with the sports news.  

Fears that Radio 2's listeners would drain away proved unfounded but there's no doubt some of Terry's old listeners did tune-in elsewhere on the dial. The show slowly evolved with more studio guests, including the Friday editions packed with live music, 500 Words, CarFest and the continued support for Terry's beloved Children in Need. Sadly a tendency to trample all over the music didn't change. 

This was Chris's first show.          



2018 proved to be a difficult year for Radio 2 with the turmoil over the drivetime show which led to the departure of once of its best broadcasters, Simon Mayo and the shock announcement from Chris Evans that he was leaving to (re)join Virgin Radio. "I crave the uncertainty" he would say on his final show. There was much speculation as to his replacement with money going on Sara Cox (once described back in 1999 as "the next Zoe Ball") who did such sterling work when depping on the show. But instead Radio 2 plundered yet another of the Radio 1 breakfast show alumni, Zoe Ball.

This is Chris's last breakfast show as broadcast on 24 December.  



Zoe Ball's association with Radio 2 started in earnest in 2009 when she covered for Ken Bruce (although she'd first appeared briefly in 2006) and presented a Saturday early show between 2009 and 2012. She was back in 2017 with a Saturday afternoon show that ended just before Christmas.

In 1997 Zoe was employed on Radio 1's breakfast show to fall out of the clubs and into the studio, "blonde, bouncy but also ballsy" according to one headline of the time. Now her role for Radio 2 is critical: holding on to that large inherited audience and being the cornerstone of a new schedule that has, in part, been forced on the station and is, in part, self-inflicted. And in a neat bit of serendipity the 'battle for breakfast' mirrors the 1997 face-off between Zoe at the Beeb and Chris at Virgin. Fascinating times for radio. 

You'll be able to hear Zoe's first show next Monday at 6.30 a.m..  

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