Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Manchester

BBC Radio Manchester first came on air fifty years ago this week on 10 September 1970. In this post I look at some of the programmes and presenters in the first decade or so.

The city has a long history of broadcasting both regionally and nationally dating back to May 1922 when station 2ZY started test transmissions and became part of the BBC that November. Initially part of Metropolitan Vickers Ltd it operated from Trafford Park before moving into studios in an old cotton warehouse on Dickenson Street, then the Orme Building at The Parsonage off Deansgate before the BBC built a new broadcasting house in Piccadilly that opened in October 1928. 

The studios in Piccadilly would become the home of the Regional Programme for the north of England and the Northern Home Service after the War. When Radio Manchester launched it was also based at 33 Piccadilly before moving to the new centre on Oxford Road in September 1975. In October 2011 the station moved over to Media City.    

Initially on 95.1MHz only from the transmitter at Holme Moss, the area included Salford, Bury, Bolton, Rochdale, Oldham, Stockport, Macclesfield, Altrincham, Warrington and Wigan. It was a couple of years before the station was also heard on 206m medium wave.

The staff for the station were drawn roughly one-third from the ex-North region staff, one-third from existing local stations and one-third "outsiders who are brining other kinds of expertise".   

Here's the opening hour, We've Arrived!, heard between 6 and 7 am on Thursday 10 September. Alan Sykes was one of the ex-North region staff having been an announcer on the Home Service and Radio 4 in Manchester. He'd started with the BBC as a studio manager, working on shows such as The Clitheroe Kid and presented network radio shows including The N.D.O. Sound on the Light and Challenging Brass on Network Three. Alan continued to appear on Radio Manchester into the 1990s and over on Radio 2 compered many shows featuring the Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

Alongside Alan is Ian Murray who had previously worked at BBC Radio Merseyside. There are some attempts at humour and by the sounds of it they may have already opened some of the champagne they have on offer. There's a specially recorded theme from the Northern Dance Orchestra arranged by Peter Husband and sung by Jill Allison, Friday Brown, Terry Burton and Pat Keeters (sp?). Note too how there's no needletime allocation in this hour; the music is either non-commercial (such as the BBC coded music scheme discs) or from film soundtracks.

Also on air that day was another ex-North region announcer Sandra Chalmers (pictured below). She'd gained her first broadcasting experience on Children's Hour shows from Manchester. Sandy was a regular presenter of the Up and About breakfast show and later the mid-morning phone-in show Talk In. She left the station in 1976 to take up the post of manager at  Radio Stoke, the first woman to manage a BBC station. By 1983 she was the editor of Woman's Hour and subsequently became Head of Radio Publicity and Promotions. She left the Corporation in 1994 and for six years was Director of Communications for Help the Aged, offering media training and regularly acting as an expert contributor on TV and radio on over-50s issues.

Latterly Sandy ran Chalmers Communications, was on the Board of Directors at Saga Radio and presented programmes on Primetime Radio between 2000 and 2006 such as The Collection on Sunday afternoons.  Sadly she died in 2015.    

Manchester's station manager was Allen Holden, a former network radio producer, who went on to manage BBC Radio London. He was keen to put news at the centre of the schedule: " News is going to be the most important thing on Radio Manchester, and because Manchester is a national news centre we feel we ought to do world news, national news and local news - all from Manchester". On a typical weekday the early station schedules include a longer News Round North West bulletin most hours from 6am to midnight with a 30 minute news magazine at 6 pm followed by 30 minutes of Sports Round North West with sports editor and presenter Ian Frame.

Those news programmes were under the control of the first news editor Alec Greenhalgh. A news paper journalist, he'd started on  the Oldham Evening Chronicle, and later worked for Oldham Press Agency, the Daily Sketch and the Manchester Guardian. In the early 70s the reporting team included Eric Purnell (deputy news editor), Vic Crossland, Charles Guest, John Tait, Peter Everett (later a radio producer mainly on Radio 4 and head of network production in Birmingham and Bristol), Bob Wrack (formerly of the Manchester Evening News and in the early 80s manager at Radio Newcastle), David Hulme, Tony Donlan and Steve Taylor.

The education producer was Chris Walmsley (no direct relation) who later worked on the BBC2 documentary series Brass Tacks before becoming politically active in the Liberal Party, though ultimately failing to make it as an MP.

Presenting some of the sports coverage such as Kick Off and the Saturday afternoon Sports Round North West was former Oldham Evening Chronicle journalist Tom Tyrrell. Tom would move over to Piccadilly Radio when it started in 1974 and commentated on football for many years as well as providing the tannoy announcements at Old Trafford. Later he provided match commentaries for Today FM in Dublin. He died in 2017.

Joining the station from Radio Leeds was Diana Stenson who would present the early afternoon Midway from the mid-70s to the early 80s. She produced the Manchester editions of Woman's Hour when they still had regional editions and between 1985 and 1992 produced Gardeners' Question Time.

A DJ best known for his time at Radio City was Dave Eastwood. He'd started in forces broadcasting and did interviews on Radio 1 Club but appeared on Radio Manchester in 1973 presenting both Sunday Morning Manchester and  Music Match in which listeners could nominate a record they thought should be the North West's choice. Dave also worked for Radio Teeside and Piccadilly before moving to City followed by spells at Luxembourg and Essex Radio (1985-89).

Similarly a DJ more associated with Radio Clyde was Mike Riddoch. He was in Manchester in the mid-70s presenting various music shows including The All Crackling Steam Radio Show playing old 78 records, the mid-morning Piccadilly 33 and producing the arts magazine Scope.

Here's the programme schedule for the week commencing 22 March 1975.

A couple of programmes are worth highlighting here. Firstly, the nightly The Baron from the BBC. The Baron (pictured below), we never know his real name, had been a Manchester club DJ before passing an audition to join Radio Luxembourg where he appeared for eight months in 1967-68. Meanwhile over at Radio 1 producer Stuart Grundy, also ex-Luxembourg, offered him an 11-week Saturday show as The Baron from the BBC which was " a type of candid camera thing originally where I went round with my tape recorder hidden under my coast and asked stupid questions".  A further couple of short series on Radio 1 followed in 1972 and 1973 when The Baron joined Radio Manchester to present the weekday evening show City Scene. This became The Baron from the BBC and he encouraged a select group of  listeners, known as The Mob, to join him in the studio. There were also Sunday shows called Buzz the Baron and Out Talking with The Baron. He left the station some time in 1976 and seems to have disappeared without trace.   

The other show scheduled here for Wednesday night is Pedal, Percussion and Pipes which was something of a rarity, a show featuring the sound of theatre and electronic organs, little heard at the time aside from Radio 2's The Organist Entertains, Arnold Loxam on Radio Leeds and Charles McNichol on Radio Nottingham.  At the time the BBC's third theatre organ was in the Playhouse Theatre in Manchester but it was disposed of in the mid-80s and Alan's shows also came to an end, though you can still hear him online each month on Organ1st Radio.

Presenting the North West Picture Show on Sunday afternoon is Alan Nixon. Alan went on to be a prolific comedy producer on both radio and television with Week Ending, The News Quiz, The News Huddlines, Son of Cliche, The All-New Alexi Sayle Show, Absolutely and Hale and Pace appearing on his CV. Later he was Network Television Controller for Channel 5.

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation

A fair few local radio broadcasters came from teaching (must be something to do with keeping a class full of kids both educated and entertained). Radio Manchester's Iqbal Ahmad was one such broadcaster who, in 1970, was asked to help with programmes covering ethnic minority groups. Born in India in 1930 he qualified as an accountant in the UK, was an assistant editor of the Islamic Review and later trained to be a teacher. He presented Eastwards North-Westwards and Link but died in 1978.

Presenting On Stage is Natalie Anglesey. Natalie quickly gained a national profile co-presenting with Mike Riddoch the Radio 2 show Two in Mind that featured the music of the Northern Radio Orchestra. On TV she appeared on BBC1's Open Air (at one point co-presenting with another Radio Manchester presenter Mike Shaft) and ITV's This Morning. Other radio work included LBC, various Radio 4 programmes and Radio 2's The Arts Programme. Natalie has  written theatre reviews for the Manchester Evening News, The Stage and other publications.   

Moving on to October 1983 and its steeplejack legend Fred Dibdah who's on hand to help launch Radio Oldham, the first of the pop-up community stations that the BBC ran on 1296kHz in 1983/84. The others were Radio Bury, Radio Rochdale, Radio Trafford and Radio Wigan.

Looking after the main breakfast show Up and About is another familiar voice in the north west, Peter Wheeler. For BBC national radio he'd appeared on the Home Service (Home this Afternoon), the Light Programme (Music Through Midnight), Radio 4 (Plain Sailing and reading the regional news bulletins) and Radio 2 (shows with the NRO). On BBC tv (Call My Bluff and Come Dancing) and for Granada tv (the voice-over on Crown Court and What the Papers Say). Peter was on the station for about six years.

Hosting 206 Tonight is Jeff Cooper. Radio Manchester is just one of the many station's Jeff's worked for. His radio career started at Radio Veronica, he was a continuity announcer/newsreader on Radio2 then at Piccadilly, Trent, Clyde, City, LBC Music Radio in Italy, Beacon, Chiltern Radio, The Superstation, Rock FM, Hallam FM, Silk FM, Peak 107 and online stations Radio 2XS and Radio Trent. More recently Jeff has been providing pre-recorded public announcements for Stagecoach.

With Grundy's Grumbles on Saturday morning is Bill Grundy. He'd started his broadcasting career in the late 50s in the north west at Granada tv but after that Today incident on Thames tv in 1976 work was think on the ground though he did appear on tv for the BBC in the north west and here on Radio Manchester.

For the station's 40th anniversary in 2010 Sandra Chalmers, Diana Stenson and Martin Henfield joined heather Stott to remember the early days of Radio Manchester. Martin joined the station from Radio Birmingham in 1975 initially as deputy manager, becoming the manager for five years in 1988. On television he read the news on Look North and later North West Tonight.

Other broadcasters who have appeared (or appear) on BBC Radio Manchester (and its 1988-2006 incarnation as GMR) include Allan Beswick, Phil Trow, Becky Want, Mike Shaft, Phil ("Mind the gap") Sayer, Norman Prince, Richard Fair, Mike Kiddey, Tricia Newbrook, Dianne Oxberry, Susie Mathis, Fred Fielder, Phil Wood (ex. Picadilly), Victoria Derbyshire, Jimmy Wagg, Eamonn O'Neal, Michelle Daniel, Mark Edwardson, Michelle Mullane, Sam Walker and Mike Sweeney.  

And finally, because you can't beat a bit of Kenny Everett, here he is in 1973 talking to Pete Sharratt on The Week Ahead. Pete would go on to co-present Saturday Rocks with John Woodruff. 

With thanks to Ken Clark and David Ballard for their help in locating Radio Times back issues.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Bristol


2020 has been a challenging year for BBC local radio. Cuts were already on the horizon before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Emergency schedules were adopted which have now been accepted as the norm. Stations provided an invaluable service and a friendly voice during the lockdown and the Make a Difference campaign helped over a million people. All this in the year which sees the fiftieth anniversary of a raft of stations that first went on air in late 1970.

Launching on Friday 4 September was BBC Radio Bristol. The city already had a well-established broadcasting history. A small talks studio for the BBC's West Region (at the time based in Cardiff) existed in Bristol until new premises at 23 Whiteladies Road were occupied in 1934. By 1937 this became the hub for the redrawn West Region when Wales finally got it own regional service. The site was expanded, by buying up and converting the neighbouring Victorian properties when part of the BBC decamped from London during the Second World War. In the 1940s it became the home of the Natural History Unit and a television service started in the late 50s with the Points West news bulletins.    

A local radio service was first mooted in 1961 when Bristol was included in the closed-circuit trials as part of the evidence to the Pilkington Committee. When the BBC finally got the go-ahead to open new stations in 1967 Bristol was on the list but the city council didn't make a bid to help fund the running costs. In the second tranche starting in 1970 Bristol was the first station to open. It occupied yet another old house at 3 Tyndalls Park Road, round the corner from Whiteladies Road. Now a network production centre, part of the old premises were demolished making way for a new reception and production facilities for Bristol's Broadcasting House.

Radio Bristol's first manager was David Waine who had been a TV reporter for the BBC in Southampton before joining BBC Radio Brighton in 1968 as the programme organiser. After leaving Bristol he became the regional Television manger in Plymouth and finally head of Network Production Centre and then Head of Broadcasting BBC Midlands at Pebble Mill.

To open the station there was a familiar voice, one who was instrumental in bringing about BBC local radio. After some truly historic reports as a war correspondent Frank Gillard became Head of Programmes for the West Region and by 1963 was Director of Sound Broadcasting. He'd retired by the time Radio Bristol opened but he continued to make regular broadcasts for the next 28 years. This  audio sequence (with thanks to David Lloyd) features the station opening.    

Introducing Frank Gillard is Michael Buerk, one of the four Programme Assistants (News). Recalling the fact that it was initially a VHF-only service Buerk said that the "biggest problem was the phone-ins and record request programmes. We had a lot of these, partly because they were cheap, but also because they were a way of involving the community and turning us into the local notice-board, village hall etc. Nobody called. We had to line-up friends, landladies, Ron from the Coach and Horses... You always knew it was one of the station staff in vocal disguise, because we early always claimed to be phoning from Nempnett Thrubwell". Buerk reported to the news editor Brian Roberts who "wore cravats, pushed his polka dot handkerchief up his sleeve and said 'ahem' at the beginning of every sentence."

The earliest programme schedule I can locate is for the week commencing 7 November 1970.

Weekdays opened with the news magazine Morning West, a titled that was retained until 2003. For the majority of that run it was presented by Roger Bennett but in the early days the other presenters included John Walmsley who did a couple of spells at Radio Brighton and worked for Radio 1's Newsbeat (1974-79) and Jeremy Robinson who also presented the Radio 4 South and West opt-out of Today (later called Morning Sou' West). There's no name listed in this Radio Times but the first host was Jonathan Fulford who also pops up on arts magazine For Art's Sake and the inter-school quiz Question Marks.

Roger Bennett (pictured above) combined a journalistic career together with a love of jazz. Starting as a reporter on the Bristol Evening Post he joined Radio Bristol at the start and by 1974 was the main presenter of Morning West. He stayed with the show until 2002 and the station until his retirement in 2003. At the same time he was very much part of the Bristol jazz scene playing either soprano sax or clarinet with his group the Blue Notes Jazz Band. Roger died in 2005.

Most of the BBC local stations had their own version of Woman's Hour and Bristol was no different. Womenwise was presented by one Kathryn Adie. Now better known for her work as a BBC correspondent Kate Adie was already a local radio veteran by the time Radio Bristol opened. After her local radio training she'd had a short spell at Radio Brighton before heading back north to join Radio Durham when that started in 1968. At Bristol she was appointed the Woman's Programme producer and her brief included Womenwise but she also picked up production duties on the farming programme and the arts round-up Mosiac. Kate left the station in 1976 to work as a news reporter for the BBC's regional operation in Plymouth and Southampton before joining the national reporting team in 1979.

Both Kate and Roger can be seen in this early piece of film footage.

Looking after the Saturday morning sports and motoring magazine show Come Alive... is actress Daphne Neville. In 1968 she was working on Harlech TV as an in-vision announcer and presenting the children's show It's Time for Me, later working for HTV in Bristol with Jan Leeming on Woman Only, ATV's Women Today and Border TV as an announcer. On the acting front Daphne took the role of barmaid Nora McAuley in The Archers as well as numerous film, TV and theatre performances.  

Ex-teacher Ken Blakeson was the education presenter/producer and in 1970 was presenting the Saturday morning kids show Calico Pie (later called Calico Pie Rules OK?). One of the contributors was Ian 'Spike' Woods who is also featured in the programme The Last Lands (Friday am). Ken would write short dramatic pieces for the station, often roping in the other staff to perform. This kindled his interest in writing plays for radio and after coming third in the Alfred Bradley drama prize he started to write regularly for BBC Radio 4 including the series September Song and the Giles Cooper and Sony Award winning drama Excess Baggage.     

Calico Pie ran for about seven years, latterly presented by Marilyn Duker before being replaced by Hopscotch with Adrian Jay and then Cheryl Armitage and Rob Salvidge. 

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation

The best known name on the station in 1970 was Don Moss who'd started his broadcasting career with the British Forces Network before joining Radio Luxembourg and then from 1961 also appearing on the BBC Light Programme presenting disc shows like Twelve O'Clock Spin, Midday Spin, Pick of the Pops, Housewives' Choice, Newly Pressed and Disc Jockey Derby (which also continued on Radio 1). On Radio Bristol Don hosted a Saturday morning show for about five years and by 1976 he was on Radio Victory with Don Moss’s Sunday Jaunt as well as working for Radio 2 on shows with the Radio Orchestra and Radio 2 Top Tunes.

Radio Bristol's geographic coverage was substantial covering not only Avon and Somerset but into south Gloucestershire and west Wiltshire. Sports-wise that included the two Bristol football teams, the rugby union clubs in Bristol (now the Bristol Bears) and Bath, county cricket grounds in Bristol and Taunton and racing at Bath and Taunton. Saturday afternoon coverage in On the Ball and Sportsfinal was, in the 1970s, looked after by Douglas Chalmers, Peter Davies, Graham Russell (former football reporter for The People and the Western Daily Mail), Dennis Langley, Gerry Parker and Gerald Bennett. Preview programmes for the football alternated between Up Rovers and Up City depending who was playing at home.    

On Sunday afternoon you'll spot the name of Frank Topping with By Different Roads. A former actor turned Methodist minister Frank would go on to be a long-running contributor to Radio 2's Pause for Thought. 

At 12 noon on Friday is Call a Tune with Arthur Parkman at the studio piano together with his Lady Friend ready to play any tune requested on the phone by listeners. Kate Adie remembers: "Whether it was obscure jazz or a favourite hymn, Arthur would say 'Roight my lover' and launch himself at the keyboard. He was never fazed - he possessed a thick pile of sheet music, which he never referred to - so we were impressed by the entire performance, though with tow slight reservations: first, it was curious how Yellow Submarine and Alexander's Ragtime Band and In a Monastery Garden sounded so alike; and second, we weren't quite sure what the Lady Friend's role was".

Presenting Take It Away, Radio Bristol's swap shop, is Colin Mason. After gaining some early radio experience in the States Colin returned to the UK in the late 60s to become a continuity announcer for UTV before joining Radio Durham and then moving south to Bristol. When the ILR station network expanded in 1974 he became the programme director for Swansea Sound and later headed up the Chiltern Radio Network.   

Like all the BBC local stations they initially went out on VHF/FM only. It was a couple of years (4 September 1972) before Bristol added 194m MW.  

Moving on four years to the schedule for the week commencing 31 August 1974 and pictured as the presenter of Home Run is Chris Denham. By the time Chris joined the station he'd worked as a  reporter for a local paper in Southampton, a Winchester-based news agency and Radio Brighton as well as broadcasting on the BFBS out in Cyprus. After Radio Bristol Chris moved into TV news reporting, first in Norwich on Look East and then presenting Spotlight from Plymouth where he also presented Waterfront for BBC2. He set up Denham Productions Ltd to make TV lifestyle shows and documentaries and in 2004 was awarded RTS Lifetime Achievement Award.     

Saturday morning was Jay Time with Adrian Jay. He'd joined the station in 1972 presenting Scene Around (alongside Richard Nankivell ex-BFBS and later BBC Radio Cumbria) but left in late 1974 to work for Swansea Sound. By 1977 Adrian was back in Bristol initially on Hopscotch and then The Jolly Jay Show as well as the daily drivetime show Head for Home. This clip of The Jolly Jay Show (kindly provided by Karl Burtonshaw) dates from 1979.

Meanwhile on Sunday morning's the religious hour Genesis is produced by Andy Radford. The Right Reverend Andrew Radford combined radio production and presentation with the church. After Radio Bristol he appeared on Radio West with a Sunday gospel show and was the religious programmes co-ordinator for Severn Sound and media advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Ordained in 1975 he was made a bishop in 1998 Died in 2006 aged 62.

Radio Bristol was still carrying Radio 2 shows during the day as a sustaining service. The mid-morning programme Compass (9 am to noon) would fill part of this gap. Presenters included Jenni Murray and David Eggleston. David had moved down from Radio Humberside and would tragically die in a accident in 1976.   

Jenni Murray had joined Radio Bristol in 1973. After leaving university (reading French and Drama at Hull) she worked for the Brooke Street Bureau in Leeds and then Bristol before joining the BBC. Jenni had already attempted to gain employment at the BBC and recalled that: "Local radio was just beginning to burgeon, but when I applied to be a studio manager at the BBC I didn’t get past the initial interview. I’d spent the journey down from Barnsley reading about microphones and neglected to read the papers, so when they asked me what the Prime Minister was doing that day, I was stumped. I got a job at BBC Radio Bristol and that was it". Jenni left Bristol in 1980 by which time she'd also been presenting the Friday regional edition of Woman's Hour from Bristol. She became the programme's regular presenter in 1986 and on TV presented (very briefly) Look North from Leeds and then South Today from Southampton before graduating to BBC2's Newsnight and for a few months in 1987 the Today programme. After 33 years Dame Jenni leaves Woman's Hour next month. 

Other broadcasters that appeared on Radio Bristol in the first decade included:

Terry Mann also MD at Swansea Sound, Radio 210, Real Radio, BBC Radio Wales and community station GTFM. He married to Doreen Jenkins also on Swansea Sound

Al Read presented a rock show. He'd been a club DJ and later managed The Granary nightclub in Bristol. He joined the station in 1976 to present the Sunday afternoon rock show and later the weekday Al Read's Six O'Clock Rock, the Weekend Wonder Show and, in the 1980s, Till Midnight. Al left the station in  1990 to complete an A level art course and work for the Bristol Zoo graphics team. He retired in 2007 and died last year.   

Christopher Slade presented and produced a number of shows in 1977/78 including the student-based I Level. Between 1979 and 1989 he was on  Radio 4 as a continuity announcer and newsreader, presented BBC1's regional new edition Spotlight before going into media consultancy.  

Jeremy Orlebar was an education producer at the station before becoming a TV director, usually of education programmes, producer, freelance writer and lecturer.   

Peter Lawrence had first broadcast on some Children's Hour serials just before the war. After being made redundant from the British Egg Marketing Board he wrote a short straight piece in Bristol dialect which eventually became a weekly series of 3 minute pieces on Radio Bristol. That developed into a Saturday morning request show Pete 'n' Eval (but just who was his co-presenter Eva?). The monologues were released on record under the name Old Pete. For a while Pete also presented the weekday afternoon show.     

Andrew Harvey is perhaps better known as a TV newsreader on both the BBC and ITN but in the mid-70s he was a Bristol-based news reporter and presented shows on Radio Brsitol.

Rob Salvidge was on the station for 30 years and combined broadcasting with his love of sailing.

Louis Robinson was a songwriter and folk singer, at one point as part of the Green Ginger folk quartet, who also regularly appeared on Radio Bristol. Later wrote comedy for a number of TV series he's now resident in the USA.   

Jonathan Hewat, the one-time custodian of thousands of radio bloopers, first started collecting out-takes and on-air gaffes whilst working on Radio Bristol in the late 70s. Later appeared on Can I Take That Again? (Radio 2) and Bloopers (Radio 4). He died in 2014.   

Andy Batten-Foster started on Radio Bristol in 1977 and later presented RPM a weekly rock magazine for BBC1 in Bristol and then co-hosting Saturday Live on Radio 1 (1983-85) before moving into television directing and production.

Richard Lewis was working for Billy Butlin when he sent of an audition tape to Radio Bristol. Initially working on a Saturday morning show he would stay with the station until 1986 when he became a network TV producer (Telly Addicts being the first show he worked on).  He returned to the radio in 2000 and until earlier this year was presenting a weekly treasure hunt show  on both Radio Bristol and Radio Somerset called Clueless.  

Gerard (Ged) Clapson had joined the station in 1974 as the Gram Librarian and progressed to Programme Assistant presenting the hospital dedication show Bedside Manner. He produced Guideline aimed at blind and disabled listeners. Temporarily leaving the BBC to work at Liverpool's  Empire Theatre he returned as a freelance working on a number of programme until the late 80s including the religious affairs magazine Genesis.   

Norman Rickard joined the station from BFBS in the early 70s. He was a news reporter and later producer and editor and for many years read the bulletins on the breakfast show. He died in 2007.

John Turner started at Bristol in 1978 and for a few years co-presented Compass with Jenni Mills, Polly Lloyd, Fran Unsworth (now Director, News & Current Affairs at the BBC) and others. Left the station in 2007, he died in 2018.  

Kenny Everett. Yes even Kenny Everett presented four pre-recorded shows for the station to cover for Don Moss. Kenny had been fired by Radio 1 in 1970 but station manager David Waine took a chance on him which led to Cuddly Ken also making shows for Radio Medway, Radio Merseyside and Radio Solent.  

Broadcasting House Bristol

I've no time to mention in any detail some of the other Radio Bristol names such as Clinton Rogers, Steve Yabsley, Ali Vowles, Keith Warmington, Chris Morris, Trevor Fry, Susan Osman, Geoff Twentyman, John Darvall and so on.

In the meantime congratulations BBC Radio Bristol on 50 years of broadcasting.  

Listen to BBC Radio Bristol jingles at The Jingle Ark.

Emma Britton talks about how she got into radio on the Talking Radio Youtube channel.  

Listen to the Radio Bristol special about Kenny Everett's shows here.

With thanks to Ken Clark and David Ballard for their help in locating Radio Times back issues.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Sausages, A Lawn Mower and the Dwarf in Shakespeare

If I were asked to list my favourite radio comedies that list would include the largely-forgotten, and not heard since 1981, Radio 3 series set in the world of academe, Patterson.

Patterson (think Lucky Jim meets The History Man) was written by Malcolm Bradbury and Christopher Bigsby. It's Radio 3's only out and out sitcom, and that's more by chance than design. The series was originally commissioned for Radio 4 but at some point during its production they decided they didn't want it and Radio 3 controller Ian McIntrye picked it up. The series also enjoys the further distinction of being a the only Radio 3 series to get a repeat on Radio 2, and within months of its first transmission.

The central character is struggling English Literature lecturer Andrew Patterson, played by Lewis Fiander. His career is in the doldrums and so is his marriage to the long-suffering Jane, played by Judy Parfitt. In episode one he's interviewed for and obtains a job at some unspecified rundown Northern redbrick university. "Isn't that Henry Moore?" "Oh no sir, that's  Fred the cleaner  dusting a great hunk of metal".

During the interview we first meet two characters that will appear during the series, as well as two, Professor Amis and Professor Murdoch, that don't. The Vice-Chancellor is played in true CJ style (memories of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) by John Barron. "Hmm, Dr Patterson. In my experience, which is wide, women are not usually fellows called George". Richard Vernon puts in a superb comic performance as the absent-minded head of faculty Professor Misty. "Dreaming spires, appalling traffic, tea and crumpets, AJP wotsit."

Arriving for his new job Patterson finds his old friend from college Victor Evans (Hugh Thomas) is already in post. "I thought you were at Hull?" "I couldn't stand it, buses, people on the streets, living people walking about everywhere, giving me headaches..."

Victor introduces Patterson to the rest of the faculty: departmental secretary Mary played by Frances Jeator. "there's a letter for you already, an invitation from the Vice-Chancellor. Dinner next Monday night, 7 for 7.30, dinner jacket, RSVP, carriages at 11.30. I didn't like to open it". Then there's Amy Spade (Maggie Steed) prone to spying on her colleagues and then sending anonymous letters using newspaper clippings signed "the Holy Scout." And finally Melissa Murgatroyd "honeypot of the senior common room" vampishly played by Maureen Lipman - and showing just what a star cast Patterson enjoyed.

Other members of the cast during the eight episodes include Richard O' Callaghan the librarian on the issue desk Spencer Cuthbertson who comes round offering "bloody helpful herbs", university porter Probity played by Jack May (Nelson Gabriel from The Archers), Irene Prador as Mrs Vice-Chancellor ("Ach, to be Jung in Vienna"), Tariq Yunis as Victor Bannerji and Leueen Willoughby as Valerie Candle. Also appearing are Lisa Hayden, Philip Davis, David Tate, Patrick Barr and Patricia Hayes.    

Patterson was produced by Geoffrey Perkins, at the time co-starring in and co-writing Radio Active but already an experienced producer with Week Ending, Hitch-Hikers and ISIHAC under his belt. When the series first aired on Radio 3 (February to April 1981) it, in true Radio 3 form, over-ran its supposed half-hour timeslot by two or three minutes. By the time of its Radio 2 repeat (June to August 1981) some of the dialogue had been trimmed but at the same time some musical stings had been added. Unfortunately the BBC only kept the edited repeats, though off-air recordings of the originals do exist. For years I'd wondered what the theme music was called and the answer came to just a couple of years ago when quite by chance I was listening to an old In Concert featuring guitarist Gordon Giltrap. The theme is Jester's Jig and both it and The Tyger were used to provide the stings between scenes for the revised repeats.      

Here's an example of one of the edits between the Radio 3 original and the Radio 2 repeat. From the opening of episode one Patterson's monologue goes completely. Generally lines are cut rather than whole scenes going often in the longer domestic scenes with Patterson and Jane. I've left in the original Radio 2 continuity with announcer Liz Allen.  

Malcolm Bradbury had written The History Man some five years before Patterson came along but surely the character of Flora Beniform, with whom Howard Kirk shares many "desultory interludes", is a forerunner of Melissa Murgatroyd. "Flora is formidable, and she likes going to bed with men who have troubled marriages; they have so much more to talk about, hot as they are from the intricate politics of families which are Flora's specialist field of study."

Bradbury co-wrote Patterson with his friend and University of East Anglia colleague Christopher Bigsby. In fact they had already collaborated on a 1975 Play for Today titled The After Dinner Game. It too was set on in a university and there amongst the dramatis personae are 'Flora Beniform' and an idealistic young lecturer called 'Andrew Patterson'.       

Sharon Acker, Ian Carmichael (as Jim Dixon) and Terry-Thomas in the 1957 Boulting Brothers
film adaptation of Lucky Jim. A 2003 film featured Stephen Tompkinson in the main role. 

The parallels between Patterson and the Kingsley Amis novel Lucky Jim can easily be found. The first major post-war campus-based novel, Lucky Jim is set in some non-descript university, perhaps inspired by Amis's own teaching experience in Swansea or maybe his visit to see Philip Larkin in Leicester. (The novel is dedicated to Larkin). Like Patterson, Jim Dixon, a young history lecturer, has to deal with an absent-minded professor, Professor Welch,  whose sentences just ...err... trail off... Welch, like Misty, addresses Dixon by his predecessor's name of Faulkner, just as Misty confuses Patterson as Thistleberry. There's a lecture for which each of the main protagonists is ill-prepared: Dixon's on 'Merrie England', Patterson's on Milton's Lycidas. Whilst Dixon sets fire to the bed sheets, Patterson manages to set his jacket alight. "This man is on fire. Pour champagne on him Probity." Dixon, a bachelor, spends most of the novel failing to get off with Christine and instead returns to the dull but dependable Margaret. Patterson, after various sexual dalliances, returns home to Jane and the kids.

I said "not heard since 1981" but that's about to change. My tapes of Patterson (since digitised) were beginning to wear out so I'm delighted to say that a new audience can finally appreciate this comedy when, after a 39-year wait, it gets a repeat next month on BBC Radio 4 Extra (weekly on Friday from the 4th).

You can read more about Radio 3's comedy output in my 2016 blog post The Intelligent Chuckle and in Tim Worthington's book The LarksAscending.  

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Directed by John Tydeman

The credit 'directed by John Tydeman' was always an assurance of quality. Sometimes challenging. Often quirky. Always interesting.

John  Tydeman, who joined the BBC in 1959, was a drama producer for the best part of four decades, becoming the department's head before retiring in 1994 and continuing as an independent producer.

Early assignments for Tydeman included the usual run of Afternoon Theatre productions and even the daily serial The Dales. Under incoming head of drama Martin Esslin (replacing Val Gielgud) he worked with upcoming writers such as Joe Orton and Tom Stoppard. He directed Orton's The Ruffian on the Stair for the Third Programme in 1964 (available here). Tydeman was shown the script for Orton's stage play Entertaining Mr Sloane and passed it on to agent Peggy Ramsey and it soon became a West End hit. Tydeman said: "I would always encourage them to write for the theatre-rather than TV, which seemed to do them less good on the whole".

For Stoppard he directed the short play M is for Moon Among Other Things (a 1990 remake is here) and If You're Glad I'll Be Frank.  Later there was Where Are They Now?, Artist Descending a Staircase, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Dog It Was That Died, the award-winning In the Native State and The Invention of Love.  In the Native State was repeated earlier this year with an introduction by Tom Stoppard. The cast includes Felicity Kendall (who'd first worked with Stoppard in 1981 in On the Razzle and whose casting for this radio play bagged a rare Radio 3-related Radio Times cover), Saeed Jaffrey, and, in her final role, Dame Peggy Ashcroft. The piece is set in India in 1930 and London in 1990.         

Tydeman was also closely associated with the works of Rhys Adrian, producing 27 of his plays including Passing Through, Buffet starring Richard Briers and Outpatient (available here).

In 1981 Tydeman was sent a script by a new writer called Sue Townsend about a character called Nigel Mole. The script was accepted and The Diary of Nigel Mole, Aged 13¾ was broadcast in January 1982. This directly led to a book commission, but with the diarist renamed Adrian Mole, and several volumes and subsequent radio adaptations followed with Tydeman himself making cameo appearances in the stories.

'Tydey', as he was known to colleagues, died earlier this year. Over the summer BBC Radio 4 Extra have been digging deep into the archive and have found two series that he directed that haven't been repeated in decades.  Just concluded is the 1970 Radio 2 thriller series The Joke About Hilary Spite. Written by Christopher Bidmead, later a script editor on Doctor Who, it tells the story of a young woman, a mesmerising performance from Angela Pleasance, who gets embroiled in the world of the secret service, computer hacking and double-cross. The cast includes Dinsdale Landen and three Tydeman cast regulars Andrew Sachs (this time playing an Italian coffee shop owner), Nigel Anthony and Rolf Lefebvre.     

Coming up in mid-August is a 1966 sci-fi story by Victor Pemberton called The Slide involving the threat of a sinister mudslide on the New Town of Redlow. Pemberton had originally written it as a Doctor Who story but it was rejected; in time he'd would write for the TV show and become a script editor. David Spenser is in the cast as well as Maurice Denham, a very early role for  Miriam Margolyes and Roger Delgado (again providing another Doctor Who link as he played The Master in the 1970s). The series was released by BBC Audio in 2007 but this is it's first radio repeat. 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

60 Years of Swinging Cymbals

It's one of British radio's best known signature tunes. It has accompanied countless chart rundowns. It is forever associated with one DJ but remains part of the fabric of radio some 14 years after his death. It's At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbals and it's 60 years old this year.   

So how did this piece of orchestral music become such an iconic track?

It was composer and arranger Brian Fahey that wrote At the Sign of the Swingin' Cymbals (its original title) in 1960. It was released on the Parlophone record label (catalogue number 45R-4686) The title, if not the tune, was inspired, if that's the right word in this instance, by a crude song that he probably heard sung in the Forces that starts with the line "on the street of a thousand arseholes". This in turn was based on a dramatic monologue written and performed in the mid-30s by music-hall comedian Billy Bennett called The Street of a Thousand Lanterns (I'll not repeat the words to that here). 

Towards the end of 1960 it was BBC Light Programme producer Derek Chinnery who was tasked with producing a new show for the upcoming DJ from Australia, one Alan Freeman. Freeman had already been given a weekly try-out on the daily disc show Twelve O'Clock Spin and in January 1961 was to get his own weekly show Records Around Five, sandwiched between Mrs Dale's Diary and Roundabout. Chinnery thought that the recently issued record by Brian Fahey and his Orchestra was appropriate as a theme and Alan liked it too. And so it was first used as Fluff's theme on 5 January 1961 for a show that had a 14-week run.

In September 1961 Alan took over the role as presenter of the Saturday night best-selling record countdown Pick of the Pops from David Jacobs. Initially part of a longer show Trad Tavern it became a stand-alone Sunday afternoon fixture from 7 January 1962. It was Alan that suggested to producer Denys Jones that there were sections of At the Sign of the Swingin' Cymbals that he could use to punctuate the various sections of the show and so started its long-running association with a chart rundown.       

So popular was the new theme that Parlophone re-issued it in 1962 (catalogue number 45R-4909) labelled as the theme tune to Pick of the Pops under the title At the Sign of the Swingin' Cymbal and credited to Brian Faye (sic) and his Orchestra.

The theme was dropped in late 1966 in favour of Quite Beside the Point (a composition by Cliff Adams, he of Sing Something Simple fame)  and credited as being played by the Harry Roberts Sound.

By 1970 At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal was back in a brand new souped-up faster brass-led arrangement by singer, composer and arranger Barbara Moore, the version that's still played to this day. It was recorded in a session that saw the group of musicians, under the name of Brass Incorporated, also playing the Moore composition for Terry Wogan's Radio 1 afternoon show called Just Like That. Both were released on a Pye International single (catalogue number 7N.25520).

The theme was dropped when Fluff's reign on Pick of the Pops ended in 1972 and on his daily show he used Quincy Jones's Soul Bosa Nova. But Alan was so wedded to At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal that he used it again and again over the next 30 years: on his Rock Show, on Youth Club Call, on Pick of the Pops Take 2 at Capital and Pick of the Pops Take 3 at Capital Gold and again when the show came back to the BBC as a retro chart show, first on Radio 1 and then on Radio 2.  He played it for the final time on 21 April 2000.

Of course those cymbals are still swinging as the theme has remained with Radio 2's weekly Pick of the Pops since 2000 with Dale Winton, Tony Blackburn and Paul Gambaccini.      

Here in audio form is the story of At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal and Pick of the Pops with the voices of Alan's first BBC producer Derek Chinnery, his first POTP producer Denys Jones, Fluff himself talking to Steve Wright in 1997 and Barbara Moore in conversation with Tony Currie in 2014.

Though the Brian Fahey version was dropped in 1966 it has continued to appear on radio and TV and in 1975, by which time Brian was the conductor of the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra, he got to conduct another performance of it. This comes from the Radio 2 show Saturday Night featuring the BBC Radio Orchestra, presented from London by Ray Moore, with the SRO up in Glasgow with an introduction from the guest singer that week, Danny Street. 

The tune re-surfaced on Radio 1 in 1998 when Fatboy Slim got his hands on the Fahey original and re-mixed it for the Top 40 rundown with Mark Goodier. A couple of months later yet another re-mix, this time by The Propellerheads and titled Crash! was used and lasted four years. Their version also featured in the soundtrack to the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.  

Brian Fahey was born in Margate in 1919 had been taught to play the piano and cello by his father. He joined the territorial Army in 1938 and was called up the following year where he joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He was wounded and captured during the retreat to Dunkirk. He spent the next five years as a prisoner of war organising entertainment in the POW camps. His first job as a musician was as pianist with Rudi Starita's Band where he met his future wife Audrey Laurie who sang with the band. He arranged for Geraldo, Harry Roy, Billy Cotton, Joe Loss and Ken MacIntosh for whom he wrote The Creep (a chart hit in 1954). His 1955 composition for Eric Winstone's Band called Fanfare Boogie won him an Ivor Novello Award.

Between 1949 and 1959 Brian worked as a staff arranger for Chappells and Cinephonic Music before going freelance. He broadcast regularly with his own orchestra on the Light Programme (Saturday Club, Morning Music and Breakfast Special) and was Shirley Bassey's Musical Director 1967-72. Personnel playing in his orchestra included Danny Moss (sax), Stan Reynolds (trumpet), Freddy Staff (trumpet), Harry Roche (trombone), Ralph Dollimore (paino) and Dick Abel (guitar).

Other Fahey compositions that were used on BBC radio included Swinging Choice, the theme for the short-lived successor to Housewives' Choice on Radio 1 called Family Choice, Pete Murray's theme for Open House and the opening music for Late Night Extra.

Between 1972 and 1981 Brian was the conductor of the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra until it was disbanded in a round of cost-cutting. By this time he was living in Skelmorlie in Ayrshire. His own orchestra continued to appear for a few years on Radio 2 shows such as You and the Night and the Music and the weekend Early Show and Late Show and later he guest conducted the BBC Radio Orchestra and the BBC Big Band.  He died in 2007.  

For more about Barbara Moore see her website here and a page on the De Wolfe Music site.  

Friday, 10 July 2020

The Few

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." The words of Winston Churchill in August 1940 acknowledged the debt of gratitude to the fighter pilots and bomber squadrons that had driven the Luftwaffe back across the Channel. 
Britain had lived through the uncertainty of the Phoney War, the Dunkirk evacuation, Churchill becoming the new Premier in May, the march of German troops across Northern Europe and the fall of France in June and Hitler's plans for Operation Sea Lion: the invasion of England. 

Over the summer of 1940 the war had turned to the air. At the start of the conflict the odds were heavily stacked against Fighter Command by about five to one: the Luftwaffe's 3,600 bombers and fighters against 660 RAF fighter planes. But in the final analysis it was the one thousand or so young pilots - their average age was twenty - in the faster and more manoeuvrable Hurricanes and Spitfires, supported by a line of radar command, that won what became known as The Battle of Britain.

On BBC radio as early as June 1940 they produced a feature on the work of RAF Fighter Command called Spitfires Over Britain (25 June). An impressionistic reconstruction of combat it mixed sounds and voices recorded Cecil McGivern together with dialogue written by J.D. Kinross. It was followed by similar radio features produced by McGivern that included Bombers Over Germany (15 August), Fighter Pilot (5 November), The Battle of Britain (8 May 1941 and available online) and, after the war, RADAR (20 August 1945).

Hundreds of radio and television have followed to remember and commemorate the Battle of Britain. However, the last programme to be made with the traditional radio feature elements, a sound collage of actuality, dialogue, song but no narration, is probably this example from BBC Radio 4 heard on 12 September 1980.

For Battle of Britain new interviews were recorded by Norman Tozer with surviving fighter pilots and those that had worked behind the scenes. You hear the voices of Hubert 'Dizzy' Allen, Douglas Bader, Paddy Barthrop, Denis Crowley-Milling, Dennis David, Boleslav Drobinski, Christopher Foxley-Norris, Roger Frankland, Tom Gleave, Frank Hartley, Donald Kingaby, Brian Kingcombe, James 'Ginger' Lacey, Ludovic Martell, Vera Shaw, Bob Stanford-Tuck, John Tanner, Bernard West, Helen Watkinson and Innes and Bett Westmancott.

The songs, readings, and dramatic sequences are by Edward Arthur, Alison Christie-Murray, Michael Cochrane, Peter Howell, Polly March, Basil Moss, Jennifer Piercey and Gregory de Polnay with Bill McGuffie at the piano.

The 'sound realisation' is by Lloyd Silverthorne, a BBC sound engineer who worked in the Radiophonic Workshop (look out for his name if you have one of those BBC Sound Effects albums) and for the drama department (he recorded Andrew Sachs' play without words The Revenge).

It was produced by the award-winning drama and features producer Piers Plowright.

Monday, 15 June 2020

The Magic Playbox

15 June 1920 is a key date in British broadcasting history. It's the day when Britain began to realise that the radio waves could not only be used for radio telephony and ship-to-shore communications but for the broadcasting of entertainment. It kick-started a growth in the manufacture of radio receiver components and led to the formation of the British Broadcasting Company a little over two years later.

The events centred on Marconi's factory in New Street, Chelmsford which had already been dabbling in broadcasting experiments from its test station at the plant with the call sign MZX (Marconi Zulu X-Ray). Just a year earlier the Marconi Company had successfully transmitted across the Atlantic from a site at Ballybunion in Ireland under the supervision of engineers H.J. Round and W.T. Ditcham. It was Ditcham who had the honour to be the first European voice to be heard over the airwaves on the other side of the Atlantic.

Back at Chelmsford in January 1920 Ditcham and Round had built a 6 kilowatt transmitter (increased to 15 kilowatts in February) using an aerial slung between two 450 feet masts for more experimental broadcasts. Though chiefly used for speech test transmissions another engineer, G.W. White also organised some musical interludes. For this they roped in staff from the factory, two assistants, W. Higny and A. Beeton, played the cornet and oboe, a research engineer played a one-string fiddle and White could be heard at the piano. Vocalists were Edward Cooper, who worked in the mounting shop, the possessor "of a tenor voice of more than average quality" and soprano Winifred Sayer who worked at the Hoffman Manufacturing Co. in the town. Ditcham himself was back at the microphone where he gave "a nightly recital of the railways of Great Britain and their London termini (which) gave much amusement to those who listened".     

Onto the scene comes amateur radio enthusiast, and former wartime signals officer, Tom Clarke who just happened to work as an assistant to Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Daily Mail. The paper had already been reporting on some early wireless experiments and a receiving station was installed in their offices. Clarke had already established a good relationship with Arthur Borrows at Marconi so it's not clear who first came up with the idea of persuading Northcliffe that a public broadcast with a star name would help boost the fledgling media and provide some great publicity for the newspaper. That star name was the singing sensation of the age, Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, who was back in the UK after the war and performing at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Melba was enticed up to Chelmsford with a £1,000 fee, though she was initially reluctant to indulge what she saw as wireless enthusiasts and their "magic playboxes". On 15 June 1920 she took the train up from London accompanied by her son, daughter-in-law and her two piano accompanists Frank St Ledger and Herman Bemberg. The planned broadcast wasn't without its some technical hitches. The studio set up in the main building had to be abandoned following a power surge and they decamped to the experimental shed, taking some rolled-up carpet to help the acoustics in the concrete floored workshop.

On being showed around the plant and looking up at the masts Melba is supposed to have said to Burrows: "Young man. I am Dame Melba. If you think for one moment that I'm going to climb up there I'm afraid you are very much mistaken."     

In his The Story of Broadcasting Burrows described what happened next: " The few hundred experimenters who adjusted their receivers to 2,800 metres on the evening of June 15, 1920, heard promptly at 7.10 p.m. something infinitely more beautiful than a note of mechanical origin. It was a prolonged trill from the throat of one of the sweetest singers of the century. Five minutes later there rippled across the ether the stirring sounds of Home Sweet Home then Nymphes et Sylvains in French and Addio from La Boheme".

Although Burrows didn't relate this there was a break in the transmission and Dame Nellie was asked to return to the microphone where she continued with Chant Venitien, a reprise of  Nymphes et Sylvains and ending with God Save the King.

The short broadcast was heard all over the country by those that had built their crystal sets, including a fair share of wireless operators and electrical engineers, and by those Wireless Clubs that were starting to spring up. "It was a wonderful half-hour" proclaimed the Daily Mail.   

Those listening in mainland Europe also heard the broadcast. Burrows explains: "Next day there arrived from most European countries telegrams containing expressions of wonder and appreciation. At Christiania the signals were so strong that the operator at the wireless station some distance from the town relayed the music by telephone to the principal newspaper offices. In France a phonograph record was actually made in the operating room beneath the Eiffel Tower".

Marconi engineer Harry Dowsett was moved to write that the Melba broadcast was "a great initiation ceremony, and the era of broadcasting for the public amusement ... may be said to have completed its preliminary trails and to have been definitely launched on its meteoric career from this date".   

More successful trails were run by Marconi engineers over the summer of 1920 but it all came to a grinding halt that November following complaints, mainly from the Armed Services, made to the Postmaster General that they were "interfering with important communications" (not dissimilar to the responses made about the offshore pirates four decades later). Others opined that these "stunts" were a "frivolous" use of a national service." Whilst the Post Office continued to grant amateur licences for transmitting sets of 10 watts or less it wasn't until February 1922 that radio broadcast experiments resumed from 2MT from Writtle. Three months later 2LO from Marconi House in London took to the air and a new chapter in British broadcasting started.

You can hear more about the 100th anniversary of this famous broadcast today on BBC Essex and Chelmsford Community Radio.

Listen out too for the fourth episode of Paul Kerensa's new podcast series The British Broadcasting Century.

Tim Wander's play The Wireless Sings is on YouTube.

David Lloyd has written a blog post about Nellie's First Drivetime Show.

Read about this and much more in Charlie Connelly's excellent Last Train to Hilversum.

Monday, 8 June 2020

The Voice of Them All

Dead Ringers is back on air this week on BBC Radio 4 and yet again we can enjoy the searingly accurate and topical impressions from Jon Culshaw, Jan Ravens, Lewis MacLeod, Debra Stephenson and Duncan Wisbey.

The art of mimicry for satirical purposes really dates from the satire boom of the 1960s. But impressionists were heard on the radio prior to World War II, though they were sometimes referred to a 'character impressionists' offering comic voices of character types rather than specific people. Names such as Elizabeth Pollock, Lawrence Anderson, Herbert Douglas, Doreen Pullen crop up as well as Billy Carlyle, wife of comedian Claude Dampier aka 'The Professional Idiot'. But perhaps the best known of the pre-war impressionists were Florence Desmond and Beryl Orde who both took off Hollywood stars, with Mae West being a particular favourite.

From the mid-40s and throughout the 1950s the radio audiences were wooed by the vocal dexterity of impressionist Peter Cavanagh, billed as 'The Voice of Them All'.

Born in 1914 Cavanagh left school to take up an apprenticeship in the motor trade, later joining the sales team of an accessory firm and then an electrical manufacturers. At the same time he pursued his musical ambitions as a singer, winning a gold medal at the Guildhall School of Music and becoming a concert artist.

During the Second World War he was attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps Staff Band where he would compere some of their performances. Asked to tell the odd joke between numbers he also offered a to do a couple of impressions, one of which was Harry Hemsley's family of four children, at the time famous on Radio Luxembourg's Ovaltiney's Concert Party.

Radio fame beckoned after his debut on an Army series Private Smith Entertains. One of his most famous impressions was of Monty, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, who Cavanagh already bore an uncanny resemblance to. As his repertoire of impressions developed he would end his act by doing a rapid run through of his 'guest stars' saying cheerio and then end with himself as the voice of them all (not unlike Mike Yarwood's "and this is me"). His most famous routine was to do a potted ITMA show as all the regular characters; his voice for Tommy Handley being uncannily accurate. (He would play him in The Tommy Handley Story which was broadcast ten years after his death and impersonate him in a special edition of LWT's Frost on Saturday in 1969 ).    

Other voices he became well known for included Winston Churchill, Gilbert Harding, Robb Wilton, Jimmy Edwards, Norman Wisdom, Malcolm Muggeridge, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Henry Hall, Duke of Edinburgh, Bernard Miles, Harry Worth and Eamonn Andrews.

In the post-war period as well as theatre and summer season work Cavanagh was regularly heard on BBC radio doing the usual round of variety shows such as Variety Bandbox, Music-Hall, Workers' Playtime and Blackpool Night. In 1948 he co-starred with Peter Brough and the perennially naughty schoolboy Archie Andrews in Two's a Crowd. Recorded with no audience, no orchestra and no supporting cast it was set onboard the cruise ship S.S. Celebrity. All the crew and passengers were film radio and theatre stars all played by the two Peters.  

Peter starred in a number of occasional radio shows titled The Voice of Them All but his television work never went beyond guest appearances apart from a short BBC series in 1955 in which he "introduces an entirely new approach to the study of impersonation". During the 15-minute show he would "demonstrate by applying his own well-known talent of mimicry, not only by voice but in some cases by appearance, and one of his victims may even be present in person to be mimicked side by side and to join him in a vocal duet."    

His love of cars and motor sport came in useful in 1957 when he presented a series of features on motor racing as part of the children's BBC tv show Studio E, named after the Lime Grove studio from which it was broadcast. He seemed to be a hit with the kiddies as he also appeared on another children's show Focus.   

Radio appearances in the 1960s were infrequent and by which time the likes of Peter Goodwright and Mike Yarwood had picked up the mantle. But he was briefly back on air in the early 70s as one of the panellists on Radio 2's impersonation-fest The Impressionists alongside Goodwright and the nostalgia series Sounds Familiar and Funny You Should Ask.

In 1977 Cavanagh spoke to Mike Craig for his Radio 2 series It's a Funny Business. When the programme was repeated in 1986 Mike recorded a new introduction to recognise the fact that Peter had died some five years before. This recording comes from its 1990 repeat, the last time this programme was heard.  

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...