Sunday, 3 January 2021

The End of a Swingin' Affair


It seems that Radio 2 has had its fill of big band and swing music as it drops Clare Teal's Sunday night show (tonight at 10 pm). In doing so it brings to a conclusion five decades of programmes on the network devoted to the sound of the orchestras, musicians and vocalists of the big band period.

The programme The Big Band Sound with Alan Dell was first heard on Radio 2 in September 1969. Alan continued to host until 1995 and for many years also featured music from the British dance band era in the companion show Dance Band Days.

Malcolm Laycock picked up the reins in 1995 and by April 1998 the show moved to the now traditional Sunday night at ten slot. Clare Teal ("Clare without the 'i'. Teal as in duck") followed in August 2009. Between October 2013 and 2018 the show was expanded to a live two-hour show allowing more features and regular interviews in the second hour. The music policy may have broadened a  little too much at times - too many covers by pop artists - but it has remained popular. The BBC's decision to drop it is mystifying.

Those seeking the sound of the big band era can hear Johnny Beerling on Serenade Radio or listen online to Unforgettable Radio. Meanwhile Clare has promised "good news on the horizon". (Edit 5-1-21 Clare announces she is to join Jazz FM on Sunday nights starting on 24 January 2021)

From 6 June 1994 here's Alan Dell with an edition of Big Band Era to mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

What turned out to be Alan's last ever broadcast was made on 7 August 1995. During the show Alan recalls the early days of the show which was the idea of BBC producer Denis Lewell.

There are links to dozens of Alan's show on the Music Nostalgia website.

Moving on to 21 January 2007 and this show from Malcolm Laycock. The first half features the dance bands of Jack Hylton, Ambrose, Henry Hall and the like. He also marks the passing of Gracie Cole.

From 30 March 2008 Malcolm features the music of Ted Heath.

Here's Clare on 1 September 2013 with an hour on the theme of Come Rain or Come Shine with music from Ted Heath, Tubby Hayes, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie etc.

In Clare's show from 20 July 2014 the guest is singer and trumpeter Georgina Jackson.

[Clare's final show will appear here in February]

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Down You Local - 50 Years of BBC Radio Newcastle


Happy Birthday to BBC Radio Newcastle opening 50 years ago today.

Unusually for a station launch 2 January 1971 was a Saturday. Neighbouring Radio Teesside was also supposed to have started on the same date but in the end they squeaked in just a few hours before the end of 1970. The north-east was super served by BBC local stations as Radio Durham was still on air having gone live in 1968, though it would close in August 1972.   

Newcastle had a long history as a broadcasting centre with station 5NO going on air on Christmas Eve 1922. Three years later on 23 December 1925 the Corporation opened up its broadcasting centre at 54 New Bridge Street housed in a former maternity hospital. They remained there until the new broadcasting centre on Barrack Road, dubbed The Pink Palace, opened in 1986. The new radio station was originally based in Crestina House on Archbold Terrace (originally Archbold House) which it shared with an insurance company and a branch of the Midland Bank.

The first station manager was an old BBC hand Richard Kelly. Kelly has joined the BBC in 1948 and was a Newcastle based producer for the North Home Service whose credits included the variety show  Wot Cheor Geordie, Barn Dance and the ground-breaking Voice of the People with Harold Williamson. His deputy was programme organiser Ted Gorton, ex-Radio Sheffield who went on to manage Radio Oxford.  

Although the station officially went on air in January like the rest of the BBC local stations that opened that winter they had all unofficially appeared at intervals beforehand to provide public service on the weather conditions and power cuts. 

I've no Radio Times programme schedule for the start of Radio Newcastle but this is how  it looked in December 1971.


There's a very familiar name in the line-up, that of Frank Wappat with The Thirties Club. Frank was the station's longest-serving broadcaster until his retirement in 2010. The double Sony Award winning broadcaster is also remembered for Frank Wappat at Large, Songs for Singing, The Gospel Show and his show as part of the BBC Night Network.

An article for the January 1975 issue of Script magazine told us that Frank was a "leading light of the Al Bowley Appreciation Society and a leading expert in 30s music. The programme, covering music from the 20s to the mid-fifties, emerged from a memory lane spot and now is a twice weekly hour-long show. The club runs its own very successful twice weekly disco at a local venue, where members are encourage to reminisce. Title of the club Wappat stressed is The Thirties Club, not the over-thirties. In fact, over 50% of the club is under 30, having first heard the music on Frank's programme. The editor of the Al Bowley Appreciation Society Magazine is only 25. It's not treated as old music for old people, but simply good music, for all ages."  

To mark Frank's forced retirement due to ill-health Michael Poulter introduced this special programme in 2010. Frank died in 2014. 

Co-presenter of Day Off on Saturday morning was Fay Watson who along with Dick Godfrey were the first voices heard on the station. Dick would later produce the contemporary music show Bedrock that championed local music.

With Fay on Day Off is Ian Gardhouse who a couple of years later joined Radio 4 as a producer (Start the Week, Stop the Week and Loose Ends)

Presenting the breakfast show First Thing is news editor Stuart McNeil who later was political correspondent at Tyne-Tees. 

Others on the station at this time were Iain Wilson, Richard Dunn, Lynne Vaughan, John Guilfoyle, David Bell, Chris Johnson, Eric Caller, Phil Penfold (an arts reporter also on hospital station Radio Tyneside and on Radio Durham) , education producer Cliff Kitney, Sylvia Horn (later on Radio Wales), Linda McCullough (later on Tyne-Tees) and Ernie Brown (also on Radio Cleveland).

Moving on to September 1972.


Presenting the Saturday morning children's show (obligatory programming for all the BBC local stations) was Phil Martin. Phil was an offshore pirate broadcaster at Britain Radio, Radio England and Radio 355 before joining the Daily Express as a journalist. It was working out of their Newcastle office that brought him to the BBC. In 1978/79 he hosted the breakfast show AM with PM before joining Tyne-Tees.

The Saturday feature Val  in which she "tells you about her week and introduces her friends"  is actress Val Mclane (When the Boat Comes In, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and founder of Newcastle's Live Theatre Company) and sister of Jimmy Nail.

Co-presenting Five-Nightly with Frank Wappat is Richard (Dickie) Pigg. He'd joined the BBC in the 1960s in the Transcription Services before becoming a vision mixer. With Radio Newcastle from the start he took part in one stunt to promote the new service that "involved an on-air parachute jump. After an extended training course, Dickie was fitted with a radio mic to provide a running commentary all the way down, later joking the engineers were more concerned about the safety of their precious kit than how hard he hit the ground".

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation


Other voices you'll have heard on BBC Radio Newcastle in the 1970s include Railton Howes (also long time presenter of Howes Fishing until 2012), Geoff O'Connell, Richard Swallow, Andy Craig (also on Metro and a Tyne-Tees announcer), Jim Gibbons, George Bayley (host of sports programmes), June Barry, Howard Cockburn (presenter of North Country), John Lavis, John Smithson, Gordon Briggs, Eileen McCabe (ex. Radio Durham, later at Tyne-Tees) and Mike Marsh.

Later broadcasters have included George House, Bill Steel (TV announcer also at Metro and Century), Julia Shaw (previously on Radio Cleveland), David Wilson, Lee Brewer, Gerry Jackson, Chris Jackson, Mark Eccleston(with Club X), Kevin Rowntree (also on Metro), Tony Cartledge (ex Radio Humberside), Bill Weeks, Nicky Brown, Paul Bajoria (now produces Radio 4 quizzes such as Brain of Britain and Counterpoint), Sarah Miller, Kate Maze, Francesca Williams, Julia Hankin, Matthew Davies, John Oley, Jonathan Morrell (two spells on the station), Colin Briggs (later a newsreader on Look North), Tony Fisher (currently on BBC Essex), Simon Pryde, Dave Porter, Helen Spencer, Martin Emmerson, Marian Foster (presenter of Garden Mania), Kathy Secker, Jamie Wilkinson, James Clark, Baz Khinda, Jon Harle (ex Radio Scotland), Ian Robinson, Gilly Hope, Mike Parr, Paul Wappat, Simon Hoban, Sue Sweeney, Charlie Charlton, Alfie Joey, Anna Foster, Rebecca O'Neill, Peter Grant, Mel Crawford, Stephanie Finnon, Ingrid Hagemann, Anne Leuchars, Lisa Shaw, Michael Poulter, Nick Roberts, Fiona King, Simon Logan and Tamsin Robson.


And finally I must mention Paddy MacDee who was heard across the north-east for five decades. He joined Radio Teesside in 1973  then moved over to Metro Radio in 1978 and re-joined the BBC at Radio Newcastle in the mid-80s. His Sunday Solid Gold show came to an end in March when the schedules were paired down to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic and he retired in July.

Radio Newcastle is marking its 50th birthday with a specialone-hour programme with Simon Logan at 10 am today (with 3 repeats and also available on BBC Sounds).

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