Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Down Your Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio London


The capital had to wait until 6 October 1970 to get its own radio station. The station was based in Harewood House in Hanover Square, a building rented by the BBC and just a 10-minute walk from Broadcasting House. That proximity was important as many of Radio London's broadcasters would make the trip up Regent Street when they joined the national networks. Later the station moved to the old Radio Times offices at 35A Marylebone High Street and in 2009 to the redeveloped New Broadcasting House.

Radio London's transmission area was defined as that covered by the Greater London Council, then just five years old, and the largest of any of the BBC local stations. Initially just on 95.3MHz VHF from the transmitter at Wrotham in Kent it added 206m MW from Brooksman Park in September 1972 and moved to 94.9 MHz from the same site in March 1973. Stereo broadcasts started in February 1981 from the transmitter at Crystal Palace.  

The first station manager was Peter Redhouse who'd come from a news and current affairs background as part of the editorial team on Radio 4's Today. This was reflected in Radio London's schedule which offered three key news magazines each day: Rush Hour, Capital City and Home Run. Peter moved on in 1976 (replaced by Allen Holden) to become general manger of the local radio unit until his retirement in 1987. He then worked with his son to help set-up the communications agency Redhouse Lane Communications Ltd becoming the company secretary. Peter died in 2012.

Here's the opening day schedule for the station:


Fortunately a couple of recordings from that opening day have been kept.

This is Radio London presented by David Simmons provides a guide to some of the voices and programmes on the new station.

The opening show, after a short introduction from Peter Redhouse, is Rush Hour with a rather nervy Tom Vernon. Radio London retained the Rush Hour title for its morning show until it closed in 1988 to become Greater London Radio. As with most of the BBC local stations they called upon the services of the Radiophonic Workshop for their jingles, in this case composed by John Baker. The programme's opening theme is Burt Bacharach's Bond Street from the soundtrack of Casino Royale. Soundtracks remained an important part of the musical output - we hear a tracks from West Side Story and Darling Lili later in the show - as they weren't included in the virtually non-existent needletime allocation. 

This was Tom's first regular radio work. He'd previously had a career in teaching and PR and had dabbled in song-writing which led to occasional appearances on the Today programme where overnight he’d write a song about a current news story for broadcast the next day. Indeed he's written a song for the opening of the station heard at about 35 minutes.

Tom presented other programmes such as A Better Place to Live, Weekly Echo and Look, Stop, Listen and produced the classical music show In Concert which was hosted by Michael Oliver (later a presenter of Radio 4's arts magazine Kaleidoscope and Radio 3's Music Weekly). Tom continued to appear on Radio London for the rest of the decade but had spells on Radio 4 as a producer on Kaleidoscope and reviewing the weekly news magazines on News Stand. In 1979 Tom became the first presenter of Radio 4's Feedback and later that year undertook the first of his cycling adventures in Fat Man on a Bicycle. This series was produced by Joy Hatwood who had herself worked at Radio London as a the arts presenter/producer.

Providing some of the news reports in this first edition of Rush Hour were Charles Thompson, Gaynor Jones (who had her own programme That Jones Girl) and Stephen Ladd (who was also heard on Radio Northsea International under his real name Stephen Oliver). Others on the news team included Michael Vestey (joined from the Sunday Express and from 1973 was a BBC national news reporter and presented The World Tonight) and Laurie Mayer (who'd joined from the Press Bureau at New Scotland Yard and would go onto Radio 1's Newsbeat and then on BBC TV and Sky News).  

Radio London's mid-morning offering was aimed at housewives with a "lively and interesting topics linked by music". Woman in Town ran until early 1975 initially presented by Hilary Osborn who'd started at the BBC as a secretary then studio manager before joining the station. She went on to work as a television continuity announcer (LWT, TVS and Meridian) and announcer on Radio 4 (1984) and Radio 2 (1986-90). Hilary was succeeded by Chris Mohr who in turn appeared on Radio 4's Woman's Hour and became a BBC tv producer (Did You See? and Video Nation). 

Post-lunch musical entertainment was hosted by Canadian David Carter in his Lunch a La Carter show. David had been a music producer on the Light Programme and Radio 1 (Late Night Extra) as well as Thames TV. When Lunch a La Carter ended in 1972 David continued to present (Pop Shop) and also produce a number of music shows.

An early influential music show was Breakthrough presented by Steve Bradshaw. It offered a mix of live sessions, demos, poetry and live and recorded interviews. John Peel was a fan claiming that "that Steve and Breakthrough are doing is almost exactly the kind of thing I wish I were doing for Radio 1". Steve left the show in 1973 but it continued for another 15 years under the guidance of Mike Sparrow. Steve went on to report for Newsbeat, Radio 4's current affairs magazine File on 4 and for Panorama.

Here's a selection of Radio London jingles from John Baker, Paddy Kingsland and their first full package from EMISON.

These programme clips date from June 1971 and August 1972 and include the voices of David Carter, Hilary Osborn, Steve Barnard, Robbie Vincent, Steve Bradshaw, Laurie Mayer, Frank Dawes, Mike Sparrow, Bob Trevor and Susie Barnes.  (Audio has been edited from recordings uploaded by Things Found on Old Reels blogspot).

Moving on to the week commencing 27 March 1971 one of the most familiar names is that of Robbie Vincent here presenting Saturday's Messages and Music and on Sunday sticking his mic under the noses of hospital patients in Bedside Microphone. A year or so later started his long-running Saturday show imaginatively titled It's Saturday (later just The Robbie Vincent Show) which started as a general dedications show but morphed into a soul and funk show running until 1984 (after which Jeff Young presented a similar music show). In 1974 he gained a daily late show Late Night London and from 1977 a replacement to the existing daily phone-in show Call In known as the Robbie Vincent Telephone Programme "the lunchtime show that gets London talking. " He stayed with Radio London until it became GLR in 1988, though by then the daily phone-in was hosted by the Fred (former taxi driving Mastermind champion) Housego.  During his time at Radio London Robbie also worked for Radio 1 with a soul and disco show (1977-78), a youth-orientated talk show Talkabout (1982) and a soul, funk and fusion show ("if it moves, funk it!) between 1983 and 1989. he then joined LBC and later appeared on Kiss and Jazz FM.  


Looking after Home Run this week (and also the Wednesday night Sounds Good "for hi-fi enthusiasts" plus the daily show for under-sevens Listen Children) was David Simmons who was with the station at its launch having previously worked at pirate station Radio 390 and in West Africa and Switzerland. David would present Call In when it started in 1972 and the same year took over the Saturday evening from Mike Raven on Radio 1 playing r'n'b, soul and reggae. (There are a couple of airchecks on YouTube). David stayed with the station until the end of the decade taking over Late Night London and a number of soul shows (Soul 77, Soul 78 and, yes you've guessed it, Soul 79).    

Another member of the launch team was Susie Barnes (billed here on Sunday's Friends and Neighbours as Susan Barnes) who stayed with the station until it's 1988 rebrand, and indeed co-presented the final show with Mike Sparrow. Susie presented a number of programmes on the station including Rush Hour, the mid-morning London Live, a late-night 10 to midnight show and, by the mid-80s an afternoon show.

Starting a couple of months after this Radio Times listing was You Don't Have to Be Jewish with Michael Freedland which ran until 1988. The title came from a US poster advertising bread that read "You Don't Have To Be Jewish to enjoy Levy's Rye." The programme covered a variety of topics from religion and politics to comedy and music  and included phone-ins and documentary style reports. It continued on LBC until 1994. A newspaper journalist by trade Michael had started broadcasting in the mid-60s reporting for Woman's Hour and Home for the Day. On BBC Radio 2 over a period of four decades he wrote and narrated dozens of shows about American singers and songwriters and Hollywood stars. 


Radio London took its music programmes seriously as this schedule for the week beginning 29 September 1973 shows, just a couple of weeks before the launch of Capital Radio.

Sunday afternoons offered rock journalist Charlie Gillett's Honky Tonk which he presented between 1972 and 1978. This was followed by Steve Barnard's Reggae Time. Steve is credited with being the first black DJ to play reggae music on British radio. It was "required listening for fans of the music ... as there was no one else airing the music". He would later broadcast on London pirate station JFM. When Steve left in 1977 the show became Reggae Rockers (later Rockers FM) with Tony Williams and, for a year or so, the legendary DJ David Rodigan.

Sunday at 3pm it was London Country with Bob Powel. Bob became the editor of the  Country Music People magazine and ran a record shop in Saint Paul's Cray for a number of years. He presented London Country between 1971 and 1988.

"Progressive and contemporary pop music" show Fresh Garbage aired at 5 pm. Taking its title from a track on the debut LP by US rock group Spirit it was presented by Andy Finney from 1971 to 1973, indeed this billing is the final show. Andy recalls that Judy Collins was his live interview guest on that show which also featured a regular Obscurity slot with music journalist John Tobler. Initially Andy split his time between Radio Stoke in the week and Radio London at weekend. At London he was the voice of some of the test transmission announcements, he worked on the Saturday afternoon sports coverage, presented a number of editions of Breakthrough between 1973 and 1979 as well as Single File, the station's answer to Rosko's Round Table. In the 1980s Andy moved to work for BBC Television where he was one of the first people in the Corporation to research and develop interactive media, as part of the Interactive Television Unit and co-founder of the BBC's Domesday project.

Meanwhile for jazz fans there was All that Jazz with jazz writer Brian Priestley. Other specialist music shows that came along later include Stuart Colman's Echoes, Eastern Ear with Geetha Bala and Vernon Corea (previously on Radio Ceylon and later the BBC's Ethic Minorities Advisor), Mad on Jazz with Gilles Peterson, The Great Composers with Adrian Edwards and various funk and soul shows with Dave Pearce.

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation

A couple of other names to pick up on this 1973 schedule are Jeanine McMullen with Read All About It. Jeanine was one of the first presenters of Radio 4's You and Yours. Looking after weekday afternoons was Richard Vaughan. Richard was with the station for 8 years. He also had a brief stint on Radio 2's Early Show in 1978, reported for Radio 4's holiday show Breakaway, worked for LBC and BFBS and has commentated for numerous sporting events on a range of TV channels.

On Sunday morning at 10.02 am is Exposure, a magazine show about photography which can't have been easy on radio! One of the presenters is photographer Roger Clark who continued to broadcast on the station into the 1980s on Corridors of Power, Inside London and Hold the Front Page. You can see more of Roger's photos on his website.    


Presenting Rush Hour this week was John Toogood (who was also heard occasionally on Radio 2 in the '80s). Other presenters of Rush Hour over the years included Tony Fish (later in the BBC Training Unit, Programme Organiser at Radio York, Station Manager for Radio Newcastle and Managing Editor at Radio Shropshire), Susie Barnes, David Simmonds, Nick Lucy, Astley Jones (for many years a Radio 4 newsreader), John Waite (Radio 4's You and Yours and Face the Facts), Piers Bishop (TV announcer and on Radio Brighton and Radio Sussex), Anne-Marie Grey (who'd been filling in on Black Londoners and would later present Radio 5's Caribbean Magazine), Brenda Ellison (ex-Radio Hallam and later LBC News) and David Edwards.  

With the Saturday afternoon mix of music and football results The Other Programme is Paul Owens. Paul's main show from 1975 to 1979 was the weekday afternoon show 206 Showcase. He left to set up commercial station Devonair and was later on County Sound, Pirate FM, Fox FM, Star FM, The Eagle, The Quay and Time 106.


Jumping ahead to April 1986 many of the original names are still on the station but by now a very famous name was occupying the mid-morning show. Tony Blackburn had joined Radio London in 1981 to host an afternoon show whilst still appearing at the weekend on Radio 1. He left Radio 1 in 1984 by which time he'd already moved to the morning slot where he was getting saucy with London's housewives and whipping out a 12-incher to play; it was as well that the rest of the UK were spared this.

On Saturday's Jeff Young was getting all soulful and funky. Jeff was also on Radio 1 at this time where his Big Beat dance show was a Friday night regular in the last half of the '80s. He was later on Jazz FM, Kiss FM, Capital and XFM.  

Malcolm Laycock, here presenting Those Swinging Years, also moved over to national radio when he took over the Dance Band Days and Big Band Era shows following the death of Alan Dell. Malcolm had been with Radio London since 1974 initially producing a number of their education programmes (Getaway, In the News, What Now? and Know What I Mean?) and also co-producing Black Londoners which initially was also came under education programming . He eventually started to present show such as Track Record and was part of the team on London Live, a weekday afternoon show that " takes a look at people, events and ideas in London." In between leaving Radio London and joining Radio 2 Malcolm helped establish Jazz FM and formed an independent production company Encore Radio.

The two what's on guides London  Weekend and London This Week were presented by David Bartley and Guy Hornsby. Guy had been presenting a similar Saturday morning  guide Weekend What's On since 1979. He was also a reporter on the arts magazine Look, Stop, Listen (presented by Mike Sparrow) and would go on to produce Tony Blackburn's shows for the station and an award-winning documentary series for the World Service called Sweet Soul Music. Later he launched Ocean Sound in 1986 and was programme controller for the Southern Radio Group and MD then CEO for Faze FM Radio (with Programme Controller Mike Gray who had also co -presented with Guy on Radio London) which ran the Kiss stations in Manchester and Leeds.

Another reporter on Look, Stop, Listen was Sarah Dunant, a producer on Radio 4's arts magazine Kaleidoscope and later one of team presenting BBC2's The Late Show but now a successful novelist. 

By 1986 the arts programme was called Big City. The arts editor was Nick St George who'd started his radio career at the World Service before moving to Radio Birmingham and then  Radio London. Moving to tv he worked on the Channel 4 Daily, was joint MD for the production company Heavy Entertainment before returning to radio for Testbed Productions and a producer for Radio 4 Extra. His Big City co-presenter was Anthony Denselow, freelance at the time but joining the BBC as a full-time arts producer mainly on Kaleidoscope and Radio 3's Night Waves.  


Finally Black Londoners, a groundbreaking radio show that had started in November 1974, initially monthly then weekly from September 1976 and then every weekday from May 1978 for the remainder of its run to October 1988, thus becoming the first black daily radio show on UK radio. Keith Yeomans and Barry Clayton (brought over from Capital Radio) were asked to produce it and they found Alex Pascall, (pictured above) a Grenadian-born musician to present it.     

Black Londoners mixed news, discussion, interviews, reports, music and comedy. It proved so popular that one survey found that 59% of black Londoners listened to it. In time Pascall would help organise the Notting Hill Carnival and in 1982 he co-founded The Voice, Britain's first weekly Afro-Caribbean newspaper. By the time of this programme schedule Pascall was sharing presenting duties with Sonia Fraser and Hilton Fyle, best known for Network Africa on the BBC's African service. Reporters on the show included Vince Herbert and former Hackney Gazette journalist Juliet Alexander , both of whom worked on BBC2's Ebony.

Other broadcasters heard on BBC Radio London between 1970 and 1988 include Jill Evans, Louis Marriott, Jenny Thompson, Diana Rice, Michael Meech, Norman de Mesquita, Mike Field, Nick Handel, Nick Worrall, Roger Hurrell, David Kremer, Simon Reed, Tony Grant, Tony Freeman, Frank Dawes, Colin Maitland, Harold Bohla, Steve Walsh, Andy Peebles and Gary Crowley. 

The first incarnation of Radio London came to end at 7 pm on Friday 7 October 1988. After 17 days of test transmissions it re-launched as Greater London Radio (GLR). Matthew Bannister and Trevor Dann dropped virtually all the Radio London on-air team with the exception of Dave Pearce, Sonia Fraser, Andy Peebles and Gary Crowley. "This is a new station so we want to avoid any comparisons with Radio London", said Bannister.

The final show We're Just Stepping Outside, We May Be Gone Some Time was hosted by Susie Barnes and Mike Sparrow.

In time GLR relaunched as BBC London Live 94.9 in March 2000, became BBC London 94.9 in October 2001 and went back to its original name of BBC Radio London in October 2015.

In October 2010 marked its 40th anniversary with this special show presented by Tony Blackburn, though it does rather concentrate on the GLR era. 

With thanks to David Ballard for his help in locating Radio Times back issues.

4 comments:

Billy Smart said...

It's worth linking to this interview with Alex Pascall in the Guardian last month, in which we learn that 59% of black Londoners listened to Black Londoners and hear an archetypal radio archiving horror story about Pascall salvaging a historic Bob Marley interview out of the studio bin - https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/sep/03/alex-pascall-the-broadcaster-who-gave-a-voice-to-black-britain-and-is-now-taking-on-the-bbc

Scary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scary said...

They moved to Marylebone High Street, not Marylebone Road

Andy Walmsley said...

Thank you 'Scary', I'd missed that. Now corrected.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...