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.

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