Saturday, 24 September 2022

Steve Wright in the Afternoon

The standing joke is that his last name is Afternoon such is his long tenure on national radio in the mid-afternoon. A large percentage of listeners won’t be able to recall a time when Steve Wright wasn’t on in the afternoon as he’s made that his radio home for 35 of the last 40 years.

But all that is about to come to end this coming week as Wrighty steps down (or is gently pushed depending on how you read it) from BBC Radio 2’s afternoon show and Scott Mills finally makes a permanent move over to Wogan House.

In this blog post I’m posting a selection of Steve’s shows on Radio 1 and Radio 2 from the last four decades.   

Steve Wright's biog in 1988

Steve’s radio career is well documented so I won’t go into too much detail. After a number of jobs from telephone engineer, insurance agent and club singer he moved into journalism on a local paper and then at LBC. His first broadcasts were on the Belgium-based pirate station Radio Atlantis (do any recordings exist?). In 1976 Steve joined Radio 210 at its launch with some pun-laden programme titles such as Wright On and, in partnership with Mike Read, The Read and Wright Show. See the Radio 210 website for more on this.

In 1979 it was off to Luxembourg for a brief spell on 208. Some audio of his time is on this Luxy website.

By January 1980 Steve had been signed up by the BBC and took over the Saturday night slot from Peter Powell. He presented his first Top of the Pops a month later. Moving to Saturday mornings later that year he picked numerous holiday cover shifts, including the breakfast show, before berthing in the afternoon show slot, then 1530-1700, on 5 October 1981 where he stayed for the next 12 years.This was the era of ‘The Afternoon Boys’(later ‘the posse’), “I’m all right, you all right?”, “Get some therapy”, True Stories and the Celebrity Trivia Quiz. Characters such as Damian the Social Worker, Sid the Manager (“hello boy!), Gervais the Hairdresser and Mr Angry from Purley (the voice of TO Dave Wernham who also played Dave Doubledecks) would pop into the studio or be on the phone. Steve was instrumental in bringing the zoo format to British radio. Frequent visits to the States provided much of the inspiration with the likes of Scott Shannon and the Morning Zoo on Z100 and The Greaseman on WWDC.

Putting the record Wright (Radio Times 1 October 1983)

From the summer of 1982 Steve was part of the Radio 1 Roadshow and this is the first 25 minutes of his show from Morecambe on 5 August. There’s chance for you to have a go at Bits ‘n’ Pieces.

Here’s part of the afternoon show from Monday 2 May 1983. It’s a Bank Holiday so we get the show in super stereo on VHF (Radio 1 ‘borrowing’ Radio 2 FM frequencies for the afternoon) but we don’t get many of the regular features. There’s some Showbiz Gossip, a stupidly simple Celebrity Trivia Quiz and Tommy Vance advertising the virtues of Stench. And if you thought that Steve’s habit of  singing over the end of a record is a recent trait you’ll realise he’s been doing it for decades.   

Although this next recording from 18 February 1985 lasts only 16 minutes we get bags of characters and catchphrases plus an extra dose of Mezzoforte’s Surprise into the Showbiz Gossip.

Another Bank Holiday show on FM, this time Easter Monday 8 April 1985 as Gary Davies hands over to Wrighty. It’s  a heavily edited recording but listen out for Mr Angry, Laura’s Second Love, Where in the World?, a non PC The Boss (“yes Sir, Mr Wright”), loads of Ruth McCrum (“You’re listening to Steve Wright, the guy who has the perfect body for radio”) and Andy Peebles trailing the charity football match of Radio 1 vs BBC Radio Sheffield. By now the show template and the production values that made the show sound ‘big’ and that would endure for the next four decades is set. Canned applause, themes and music beds, custom jingles (by AJ Productions), interruptions from characters, portentous announcements (here voiced by Simon Bates), lots of teasers, bags of features and repeating the news headlines even though they’ve been on the last bulletin. The music is almost secondary, Steve hardly ever introduces or back annos a track.

Early on in this sequence of recordings from Radio 1’s big FM switch-on on 1 September 1988 is about 20 minutes of Wright. Listen out for Sid the Manager, Adam West and John Bole (voiced by Peter Dickson, part of the Steve Wright repertory company at that time along with Phil Cornwell and Gavin MCoy) sounding not unlike political correspondent John Cole.

Forward on to 1991 for this recording from 1 July of another afternoon show “extending the boundaries of radio”. We hear the end of Gary Davies’s lunchtime show before Steve. Keep an ear out for the Hopeless the Weather Girl and guest posse member Chris Eubank. The newsreader is Alistair Sandford.

For Radio 1’s 25th anniversary Steve was in a reflective mood so there are loads of old comedy bits including the shooting of Mr Angry plus guests Smashey and Nicey, Dame Edna Everage, Spike Milligan, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, Bruce Forsyth, Steven Wright, Danny Baker, John Major, John Smith, Mel Gibson, Clive Anderson and Sylvester Stallone.

Steve's Kind of Day (Radio Times 8 January 1994)

The last Radio 1 afternoon show aired on 24 December 1993. In January 1994 he was at the helm of the breakfast show with some of the old posse who were now Richard Easter, Julie De Rohan, producer Mic Wilkoyc, production assistant Nicky Hack and Ione Brown “the new dynamic breakfast posse”. Regular characters included Voiceover Man Peter Dickson and The Newsagent (“scuse me”). In this recording from 25 March 1994 the features include Star Trek sketches and Amazing But True (that would become Factoids on Radio 2). On news reading duty is Peter Bowes.   

Steve’s spell on Radio 1’s breakfast show was brief, just 15 months. He was unhappy with the changes at the station as part of Matthew Bannister’s new broom  and it seems that he was also not happy with the breakfast slot as it allowed him little show prep time during the day; the afternoon show gave him the time to prepare and do any pre-records etc. Plus there was a Saturday morning show on Talk Radio in the offing and he also acted as a consultant for the GWR Group, visiting the stations and offering encouragement and support to their staff.

Here’s Steve on Talk Radio on 6 January 1996 with Richard Easter and Georgey Spanswick. His guests are Jon Culshaw, Les Dennis, rugby union player Brian Moore and John Carter.

In March 1996 Steve was recruited back into the BBC fold by the new Radio 2 controller Jim Moir. He presented three shows: Sunday Love Songs (modelled on Gerald Harper’s old show Sunday Affair on Capital) , still running, of course, a Saturday morning show between 10 and 1 bearing a striking resemblance to his Talk Radio stuff and, at intervals in 1996, 1997 and 1998 Steve Wright at the Movies (later re-titled The Steve Wright Picture Show).     

With Steve on the Saturday shows were the Talk Radio team of Richard and Georgey. There’s less mucking about on these shows, the main focus is on the guests. This recording dates from 4 April 1998 and in the studio with Steve is novelist Jackie Collins. By now Georgey has gone back up to Yorkshire TV and its Liza Tarbuck in the studio.

From later in 1998 the guests are Griff Rhys Jones, Dick Francis, Robin Gibb and on the phone Noel Edmonds, though sadly he gets cut off in his prime as my tape ran out.  Liza is off on her holidays. The newsreader is Colin Berry. Recorded on 5 September. 

It was back to weekday afternoons from 5 July 1999 when Steve was moved to replace Ed Stewart. And he’s been there ever since. This is the era of the Big Quiz, the Non-Stop Oldies, the Old Woman, Factoids, Ask Elvis (my favourite feature) and Serious Jockin’ (with no g). Steve’s sidekicks are, no surprise here, Richard Easter and Janey Lee Grace, newly signed to the station from Virgin Radio. Before long Richard was off to Celador to write scripts for Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire? and in came Tim Smith. In this recording of the Big Show from 26 October 1999 the guests are journalist Matthew Parris and Shania Twain. Reading the news is Fran Godfrey, with the travel Pippa Sparkes and the sport Bob Ballard. As it did for many years the show ends with last chords of Wichita Lineman.

In January 1999 Steve was signed up to host a weekly show on the BBC World Service titled Wright Around the World. It replaced long-running popular shows A Jolly Good Show and Anything Goes. A mix of music, comedy, letters and dedications, a mystery voice, an entertainment quiz and a Pen Pal feature it ran until October 2003. This recording dates from around the 22 August 2002.

The final piece of audio, for the time being, is the afternoon show from 23 May 2008. With Steve is Tim Smith and his guests are Jack Bruce, Piers Morgan (sorry!) and Terry Wogan who previews the Eurovision Song Contest taking place the following day in Belgrade. You’ll also hear Sally Traffic, sports guy Jonny Saunders and Ricky Salmon reading the news.

Steve Wright in the Afternoon 1981-93, 1999-2022

“Love the Show”


Before the final afternoon show Steve issued a statement (full text here) which tantalisingly dangles the carrot that this is "our last SWITA for a while." Will he be back? Here's that final Radio 2 show.

Sunday, 14 August 2022

East Fife 4 Forfar 5

Last Saturday (6th of August) Mark Chapman introduced BBC Radio 5 live’s Sports Report with these words:  “We have full commentary of Everton against Chelsea at 5.30, so we have 25 minutes to get all of today’s results, and reports and reaction from as many players and managers as we can. We’ll round up the other sport that’s happened today away from the football. You can also find every single result on the BBC sport website from today as well as detailed coverage of your team”.

Here’s that edition of Sports Report.

And that was it. With no forewarning and no other announcement a 70 year tradition of having the classified football results read out by an announcer (or former announcer) had come to an end.  Whilst plenty of people realised what had happened there was no immediate social media storm and apparently no overnight complaints were made to the BBC. By Sunday a couple of sports journalists had picked up on the story and within a couple of days listeners, sports pundits and former sports presenters were all decrying  the decision of the BBC and likening it to “cultural vandalism” (Jim White in the Daily Telegraph).

Writing for The Times, Henry Winter concluded "By wanting to be in touch with a youth market that mainly doesn’t listen to sports radio, BBC executives have shown themselves out of touch with the millions who still wish to listen to the classified football results"

In a warm glow of nostalgia many people lamented the dropping of reading of the results and waxed lyrical about leaving the game with their dad, returning to the car and clicking on the radio just in time to hear Out of the Blue coming out of the speaker and James Alexander Gordon reading the results as only he could. Goodness knows how many people experience that today. By the time they’ve left the stadium they’re probably up-to-date on all the other scores in their team’s league and how their second team have done.  

To be fair during Sports Report Chappers did give all the results, albeit at intervals during the programme and at a fair old pace. Forced to retrospectively justify the decision the BBC said that “with the addition of the 5.30pm live Premier League match to our coverage, Sports Report has been condensed into a shorter programme.” Whilst true, the Everton vs Chelsea coverage did kick-off at 5.30, there have been many previous instances where the programme was cut to 30 minutes, such as the 2009-10 season, but the results were still read by JAG (see schedule from 15 August 2009 above). I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d made the decision some time ago and that the evening fixtures provided the perfect excuse.   

The BBC statement went on to say that “we will still offer a comprehensive goal service throughout the day on air and on the BBC Sport website as well as Final Score on BBC One. We would like to thank everyone who has read the classified football results on 5 Live over the years.” A statement that assumes that the audience possess smart phones or are otherwise hooked up to their IT, when a fair number will have neither, and then tells them that they can switch on the TV to get the full results. Surely 5 live should be servicing their listeners and not encouraging them to go elsewhere.  

The BBC’s own goal gave the commercial radio sector the opportunity to remind listeners that they still provided a reading of the classified football results. talkSPORT said “hear them always with us”. Over at LBC News managing editor Tim John announced “we already broadcast the football scorecard, so will be making a change to our schedule to ensure that football fans have the option of listening live to the Classified Football Results at 17.05 every Saturday afternoon during the season."

Here’s Colin Besley reading the results on LBC News.

Meanwhile on talkSPORT’s GameDay Live, rising to the occasion Adrian Durham prefaced the results like this: “We’re at the point where talkSPORT gives the football pyramid beyond the Premier League the respect that it deserves. Where the result of Manchester City is given the same time and prominence of Gloucester City. Where we honour the traditions of football that brought generations together in cars and kitchens across the country for decades and decades”.

Alan Lambourn, reading the results on Sky Sports started by saying “welcome to any former radio listeners”.

During the week many reports erroneously stated that only three people had read the results on BBC radio since the early 50s. Quite plainly this was nonsense but I’m guessing stems from the over-simplification of the history of Sports Report on Wikipedia which just lists John Webster, James Alexander Gordon and Charlotte Green. Though they were the main readers there were weeks were they weren’t available or on holiday and there was at least a two or three year gap between Webster’s retirement and JAG taking over.

Others who read the results in the 50s/60s include staff announcers Robin Boyle, John Hobday, John Wing, Colin Doran and Jimmy Kinsgbury. Jimmy became the chief announcer and took over when John Webster stepped down in late 1970. Other staff announcers reading the results in the 1970s included Simon Bates, David Bellan and Len Jackson. In about 1973 James Alexander Gordon became the main reader until 2013 but others did cover for him including Tim Gudgin and Paul Leighton. Charlotte Green took over in 2013 but when she was absent the results were read by others including Kevin Howells, Bob Ballard (he told me that he read it once “probably the most nervous I’ve ever been on the wireless”, Delyth Lloyd and Katherine Downes.

Special mention should also go to producer Audrey Adams who joined the BBC in 1983 and has looked after the Classified Footballs Result for decades.     

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Pirates Ahoy

Some 55 years after the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 came into effect it’s great to see that radio producers are still doffing their collective caps to the pioneers of offshore pirate radio.

This Friday Absolute Radio 60s will become Absolute Radio Pirates for the day (10 am to 10 pm, with the full 8-hour sequence broadcast twice). Taking part are two original pirate jocks, Tony Blackburn and Johnnie Walker. There are archive recordings of Kenny Everett and Tommy Vance with the last Radio London FAB 40. We’ll hear from Susan Calvert, daughter of Reg Calvert who was at the centre of the infamous Radio City incident. David Lloyd provides an historical perspective, whilst Tim Blackmore, Leona Graham and Shaun Keavney talk about the influence of the pirate stations. Adding a more up-to-date spin are Jordan and Perri from KISS Breakfast who look at more recent land-based pirate radio stations. Zeb Soanes will be reading some news bulletins from the original offshore pirate era.   

Absolute Radio Pirates has been part-funded by the Audio Content Fund and is produced for unsual by Laura Grimshaw, formerly of Radio 4 Extra.  Absolute Radio Content Director Paul Sylvester said “Modern radio wouldn’t exist without these titans of broadcasting who introduced British audiences to the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin. We’re proud to pay tribute in a typically unique Absolute Radio way, disrupting the airwaves with an incredible soundtrack, legendary voices, compelling archive and the recreation of vintage news bulletins and ad-breaks.”

You can hear Absolute Radio Pirates on the Absolute Radio 60s website here. I've also uploaded to Mixcloud with edits for adverts.

Not unsurprisingly Boom Radio is acknowledging the events of the 1960s and they have changed their schedule for Sunday 14 August. Making another appearance is Johnnie Walker and John Peters plays that final FAB 40.Boom regular Roger Day talks about his time at Swinging Radio England, Caroline and RNI. In the evening it’s the return of DLT, his first radio appearance since his time on United DJs and ends with Cardboard Shoes (just why did Radio Norfolk end Keith’s Sunday night shows?).  “We know this era really chimes with our listeners,” commented Boom Content Director Paul Robey. “The day is a chance to celebrate the influence of what happened back then on the radio we hear today.”

And of course Radio Caroline and Radio Caroline Flashback will also be marking the anniversary over the weekend.

Audio of some of the above programmes will appear on this page in due course.

Between 10 am and noon Johnnie Walker presented this show from his home studio in Dorset. 

From noon John Peters played records from the final Radio London FAB 40 singles rundown. This final chart rundown was played by Tommy Vance on 6 August 1967.


At 2pm Roger Day beamed in from his home in Spain to recall his time on air and play some of his favourite records from the time. He marks the timer at 3pm when back on 14 August 1967 Radio London went off air for the last time.

At 6pm DLT was back to talk about his time on the pirate stations and recalls a jam session with Bobby Vee.

And finally at 9pm Keith Skues introduced an hour of pirate stories, featuring Paul Burnett, Johnnie Walker, Tony Blackburn, Colin Berry, Roger Day, Tom Edwards and Nick Bailey.

Friday, 29 July 2022

Not the A to Z of Radio Comedy: M is for Marks in his Diary

Marks in his Diary
was a star vehicle for Alfred Marks, one of the old school of British comedy actors who'd come up through the Armed Services/Windmill Theatre route. The set-up was that Marks would be reading through the events of the week from his dairy which would lead to various comedy sketches and comic songs.  Supporting him in the first series were David Jason (still very much a regular radio voice on Week Ending, The Impressionists and The Jason Explanation), Miriam Margoyles and doctor turned comedian Rob Buckman.

Alfred Marks was 'discovered' as a radio star in 1946 in the series Beginners Please and got his first regular radio gig alongside Peter Sellers and Benny Hill in Starlight Hour. He continued to appear in Starlight Hour in the early 1950s as well as the usual guest spots on Music Hall, Worker's Playtime, Variety Bandbox and Show Band Show. He got joint star billing with singer Anne Shelton in Double Top, with comedy lines supplied by Sid Colin.

Diaries featured in the early 50s Home Service show Home at Eight which included a feature called Mrs Doom's Diary, a spoof on the hugely popular Mrs Dales' Diary, in which Hermoine Gingold was Mrs Doom and Alfred Marks her doom-laden husband Edmond. In the first series their son was played by one Richard Attenborough.

Work in the theatre, films and tv followed and when ITV started Alfred became one of its earliest faces thanks to the series Alfred Marks Times (1956-61). He was back on the radio in the late 60s/early 70s as an occasional panellist on Does the Team Think? and in 1972 Frank Muir chose him to read out some of the comedy lines and poems for the anthology series Frank Muir Goes Into... This ran at intervals until 1991.           

Scripts for Marks in his Diary were supplied by relative newcomers including Laurie Rowley (The News Huddlines) and Terry Ravenscroft (who'd been writing for Ken Dodd and Les Dawson) joined by some rising Oxbridge stars Jimmy Mulville, Rory McGrath and Clive Anderson. The series producer is Griff Rhys Jones, already with two years of radio LE experience under his belt mainly on Week Ending.       

The music was by David Firman, at the time already providing the musical support on Week Ending. and perhaps best known. certainly on the telly, for his work with Victoria Wood   

A further two series of Marks in his Diary followed in 1980 for which Miriam was replaced by Judy Carne (the ex-Laugh-In  actress who'd recently returned to the UK) and Rob Buckman by Hugh Thomas. For the final series in 1981 Miriam was back with support from Hugh and now Fred Harris or Chris Emmett. Taking over as producer was Jonathan James-Moore.      

Here's the first edition of Marks in his Diary as it was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on the afternoon of 1 July 1979.

From a couple of weeks later the third edition as heard on 15 July 1979. To my knowledge, other than the in-week repeats, neither of these programmes have been heard since.


Series 1: 1 July 1979 - 19 August 1979 (8 episodes)

Series 2: 16 March 1980 - 1 June 1980 (12 episodes)

Series 3: 15 November 1981 - 3 January 1982 (8 episodes)

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

The White Rose Wedding

In its 100 year history the BBC has provided live radio coverage of twelve British royal family weddings. All but one of those has been held in either London (Westminster Abbey or St Pauls Cathedral) or Windsor (Castle or Guildhall). That exception was the marriage of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Katherine Worsley, held in the summer of 1961 at York’s magnificent Minster.

There have been two royal weddings at York Minster, but you have to go back to ye olde medievale Englande and January 1328 for the first one when the new king Edward III married his young French bride Philippa of Hainault. There was more of a local connection for the 1961 ceremony as Katherine Worsley was born just 20 miles north in the picturesque North Yorkshire village of Hovingham.

The first radio royal wedding was in November 1934 this time for the previous Duke of Kent, Prince George, and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark. That ceremony was described by Howard Marshall, one of the BBC’s main commentators on state occasions and sports events, principally cricket, who would go on to be one of the Corporation’s war correspondents.  And that’s where there is an overlap with the broadcaster in this recording as Audrey Russell also served in that wartime team of correspondents. 

So it’s back to the afternoon of Thursday 8 June 1961 on the BBC Light Programme.  A home recording of the radio commentary of the wedding of Prince Edward and Katherine Worsley made by Eric Bartington surfaced last year and was donated to me by Gerad de Roo . Unfortunately it was too late for the 60th anniversary, but here’s an opportunity to hear it again as broadcast. Audrey Russell is on solo duty for this commentary. However, the old prejudices still persisted as a clergyman greeted her condescendingly with “Ah, Miss Russell, I suppose you’ve come to describe the hats.”  

Audrey Russell – Queen of the Commentators

Audrey Russell was born in Dublin in 1906 but would attend a boarding school near Harrow on the Hill. After going to a French finishing school she re-joined her parents, now living in Mortimer Street in central London, by coincidence just a 5 minute walk from where the new Broadcasting House would be built. With ambitions to join the theatre she took a number of small roles but increasingly found her organisational skills better suited to stage management and eventually worked for the theatre club Group Theatre founded by dancer Rupert Doone.

In the months leading up to the Second World War Audrey joined the Auxiliary Fire Service, a decision that was to change her life.  Following the declaration of war she was stationed at Chiltern Street. Its proximity to Broadcasting House meant that reporters often called in at the station to ask about the fire service’s response to the Blitz. The Station Superintendent was not averse to a little publicity and would welcome BBC staff with half pints of bitter from the nearby Wallace Head pub. On one occasion Audrey was on the beer run when news reporter Robin Duff and actor Terence de Marnay (at the time working on Radio Newsreel) were guests at the station. At Terence’s suggestion she was interviewed on her impressions as a woman in the fire service.  She then in effect became the BBC’s “tame firewoman...often called upon for a story”. One of her recordings heard by Air Commodore Harold Peake so impressed him that he requested she be seconded to the Air Ministry. The upshot was a series of six five-minute talks for the BBC on the work of the WAAF. Though Audrey returned to the fire service after the series it was only a matter of weeks before she was offered a job as a news reporter in the Overseas Service but without the ordeal of facing an Appointments Board.

Working for the Overseas Service from June 1942 she was based at 200 Oxford Street and assigned to Radio Newsreel under its first editor Peter Pooley. In readiness for D-Day  the War Reporting Unit was established  and she would eventually join the team as the first woman to be accredited as a war correspondent. In late 1944 and early 1945 Audrey would send dispatches from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway.

After the war she accepted a post as a news reporter in the newly formed Home News Reporting Unit, again the only woman on the team (she was replaced by Sally Holloway in 1951). Somewhat frustrated by now just getting domestic stories to cover she made a number of unsuccessful  attempts to join the Outside Broadcast department as a commentator. Even Richard Dimbleby saw little chance of this happening – though he was later a great supporter – saying that “there will never be a successful women commentator. Why? Because they haven’t got the stamina”.   

Her break into commentating came about because of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in November 1947. The OB team thought it might be a good idea to have a woman commentator on the route, if only to describe the wedding dress, so she was loaned out by the News Division for the event.

For the next four years Audrey split her time between news reporting and occasional commentating gigs both at home and abroad. Eventually, encouraged by her fellow commentators, in particular Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, she left the BBC in April 1951 so go freelance and secured a contract with OB at almost double her old salary. Within a year she was covering King George VI’s funeral and a year later was on the team for the Coronation. From then on Audrey – whom colleagues affectionately nicknamed  ‘Tawdry Bustle’ – was one of the first people that BBC radio would call on to cover royal and state events such as royal tours aboard (the first being the long Commonwealth Tour in 1953/54), visits by foreign royalty and leaders and royal weddings. She was also a regular contributor to Woman’s Hour appeared on In Town Tonight and the panel games Twenty Questions  and Two in One.

Her last royal engagement was the coverage of Charles and Diana in 1981. In her 1984 autobiography A Certain Voice she wrote: “I hope I never know I have done my last broadcast. Inevitably remembrance will be poignant when such things are out of reach”. She died five years later in August 1989.

For more on Audrey Russell see the BBC 100 website.

For those readers familiar with Marylebone, the fire station on Chiltern Street is now the 3-star hotel Chiltern Firehouse whilst the Wallace Head is now The Flowerhouse Pub.   

British Royal Wedding Radio Coverage

Some of the post-war ceremonies were also covered live on the BBC General Overseas Service, later the World Service.

29 November 1934 Prince George, Duke of Kent, and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark at Westminster Abbey. National Programme.

20 November 1947 Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten at Westminster Abbey. Home Service.

6 May 1960 Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey. Home Service.

8 June 1961 Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and Katharine Worsley at York Minster. Light Programme.

24 April 1963 Princess Alexandra and Angus Ogilvy at Westminster Abbey. Home Service.

14 November 1973 Princess Anne and Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey. Radio 2 & Radio 4.

29 July 1981 Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul’s Cathedral. Radio 2 & Radio 4.

23 July 1986 Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey. Radio 2 & Radio 4.

19 June 1999 Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones at Windsor Castle. Radio 2.

9 April 2005 Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles at Windsor Guildhall. Radio 4 FM.

29 April 2011 Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey. Radio 4 & Radio 5 live.

19 May 2018 Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle. Radio 4 & Radio 5 live.

Saturday, 4 June 2022

This is the Derby and this is the race


In this post its back 61 years to a beautiful early summer’s day at Epsom Downs for the 181st running of the Derby Stakes.

The first radio commentary on The Derby was on 1 June 1927 with George Allison setting the scene and race commentary from Geoffrey Gilbey, a racing journalist who’d worked for the Sunday Express as ‘Tattenham’, the Racing Specialist and, from 1927, as ‘Larry Lynx’ in The People. 

The following year Bob Lyle (always billed as R.C. Lyle) , racing correspondent for The Times, read the race – won by Felstead with Harry Wragg riding. Lyle continued to cover the Derby until 1937 when Geoffrey Gilbey was back, this time assisted by his younger brother, also a racing journalist, Quintin Gilbey.

For twenty years the BBC’s main racing commentator was Raymond Glendenning, the moustachioed fast-speaking (measured at clocking up 300 words a minute) all-rounder who also covered football, tennis and boxing. He called his first Epsom Derby in 1940, following a couple of years with Thomas Woodrooffe (he of ‘the Fleet’s Lit up’ fame) at the microphone. Glendenning was assisted by a number of other broadcasters and racing journalists including Wilfrid Taylor, Claude Harrison, Roger Mortimer, Frank More O’Ferrall, Tony Cooke (who went on the join ITV as their first racing commentator) and Peter O’Sullevan, who would, of course, become BBC TV’s voice of racing.   

The commentator for the 1961 Derby was Peter Bromley, for four decades the voice of racing on BBC radio. Bromley had been involved in racing since the early 50s, first as an assistant trainer and amateur jockey and then from 1955 as a course commentator (working for British Racecourse Amplifying and Recording Company, now known as Racetech) at a time when it was still a novel occupation.  He worked as a paddock commentator for ITV before moving to BBC television as third man to Peter O’Sullevan and Clive Graham.

In 1959 he took up the new post as BBC Racing Correspondent split between tv and radio. Radio, in particular Sports Report, wasn’t that keen to use him as editor Angus Mackay favoured ex-print journalists. Bromley recalled one run in with Mackay when he was asked to do a one and a half minute piece on the Gold Cup. However, Peter thought that Wednesday’s Champion Hurdle race provided what he and his producer, Tony Preston, thought was a newsworthy item as it had been won by a one-eyed horse and an amateur jockey. His report began with a 20 second mention of this before going onto the Gold Cup. Getting torn off a strip for departing from his brief he sent a memo to Mackay that pointed out: (a) I was convinced that there was a news story in the Champions Hurdle, (b) I suggested the 20 seconds to the producer before the programme, who accepted it, (c) I did not over –run and (d) I did tip the winner of the Gold Cup. His reply from Angus simply read (a) We weren’t, (b) He didn’t, (c) You’re not expected to and (d) You are expected to.

Radio did relent and within a year Glendenning had retired from racing commentary (though he continued to cover football until early 1964) and Peter was offered the position of BBC Radio Racing Correspondent starting in early 1961 providing the main commentary on the 50 or so races per annum as well as sports news reports, previews and reviews.         

Bromley’s first Classic was the Grand National that March and by the time the Derby came along he’d already covered the likes of the 1.000 and 2,000 Guineas, Royal Ascot and Goodwood. Helping Peter at that time, reading the starting prices (something the BBC had shied away from until ITV started reporting on the betting in 1958) and reviewing the race was Roger Mortimer. For 29 years (1947-75) he was the racing correspondent of the Sunday Times and continued to broadcast alongside Peter until 1971. The other voice, down at the paddock, is that of Michael Seth-Smith. Michael was also a course commentator but during the 60s and 70s (and as late as 1985) was BBC radio’s second racing commentator.      

By the 1970s Bromley was commentating on over 200 races a year, all viewed through his pair of German binoculars, a relic of the Second World War. By the time of his retirement in 2001, following that year’s running of the Derby, he’d commentated on over 200 Classics and 10,000 races. He died two years later in June 2003, just four days before the running of the Derby.    

Back to 1961 and radio coverage of the Derby was slotted into the schedule on the Light Programme between Woman’s Hour and Music While You Work on Wednesday 31 May. This is typical of the sports scheduling at the time which, aside from Saturdays or Test Match Special, had to jostle for position amongst the music shows, comedy and magazine programmes.  The continuity announcer introducing the coverage is Bryan Martin.   

Note how formal this coverage now seems to modern ears. Just the voices of the three broadcasters, no interviews with owners or jockeys, no real sense of atmosphere, no colour.

As to the race itself there was a very full field of 28 horses with Moutiers as 5-1 favourite, whilst the eventual winner, Psidium started at 66-1. He ran the first half of the race at the back of the field and it was only in the last furlong when French jockey Roger Poincelet pulled Psidium to the outside, that it made a finishing burst to the line winning by 2 lengths. The horse was trained at Newmarket by Harry Wragg, by a neat coincidence the jockey on that second broadcast Derby 33 years earlier.

Once again this recording was made by the late Eric Bartington and I extend my thanks to Gerad de Roo who rescued it and passed it to me.

The title of this post comes from the poem The Derby by Henry Birtles.


Thursday, 2 June 2022

Trooping the Colour


The annual Trooping of the Colour has been a part of British life for a little over 260 years and from the accession of King George in 1820 it’s been an annual event to mark the Official Birthday of the Sovereign. Radio coverage of the ceremony dates back 95 years to 1927 and it resumed again in 1930 continuing until 1994. Only the war years and cancellations for bad weather (1948) and a national rail strike (1955) stopped the Trooping.

That first broadcast on 5 June 1926 carries no detail in the Radio Times, indeed it is only listed as a simultaneous broadcast with London for stations 2ZY Manchester, 5PY Plymouth and 5SX Swansea. However, 2LO in London makes no mention of it but the BBC and the listings magazine were slowly recovering from the General Strike so this may account for it.

Throughout the thirties the Trooping of the Colour was narrated for BBC radio by the wonderfully named Major James Bourne Seaburne Bourne-May, late of the Coldstream Guards where he saw 20 years service and took part in the ceremony himself on five occasions.    

When it returned after the war in 1947 Wynford Vaughan-Thomas commentated. In 1949 and 1950 Brian Johnston was at the microphone and from 1951 to 1960 the master himself Richard Dimbleby. The post-war radio coverage, usually midweek or on Saturdays – it didn’t become a Saturday only fixture until 1966 – was on the Light Programme, shifting to the Home Service (later Radio 4) in 1959.

From 1961 to 1981 Robert Hudson (pictured above) was the radio commentator, also taking over the Remembrance Sunday service from the Cenotaph the following year. Preparations for the broadcast took Hudson two weeks and “included visits to the Regiment trooping the colour to the Household Cavalry at Knightsbridge Barracks and to the band rehearsals at Chelsea Barracks. In the course of these I would interview all the key figures in the parade and submit myself to the lavish hospitality of the Officers’ Mess. A Guard’s gin and tonic is quite unlike any other”.

For his final broadcast in 1981 he had amassed “sixteen pages of notes, pasted on cardboard” on an upturned box on the window ledge of his vantage point in the Horse Guards Building. “I plan to give fifty-two separate pieces of commentary during the ninety-minute broadcast. Each will be preceded by a cue-light signal to our engineers in a small room behind. Instantly they lower the volume of the sound behind my voice; a split-second operation”.

When Robert Hudson stepped down the commentary in 1982 and 1983 was provided by former cricketer turned commentator Neil Durden-Smith. The cricket connection was perhaps no coincidence as Hudson had been the producer of Test Match Special for many years. From 1984 to 1990 sports commentator (mainly golf, tennis and skiing) Julian Tutt covered the ceremony. He would go on to provide the Trooping the Colour commentary for BBC television. Finally between 1991 and 1994 it was the turn of Tom Fleming. BBC radio then dropped their coverage, but it continues as a tv event.

For this recording of Robert Hudson’s first commentary on the Trooping of the Colour we go back to 10.55 am on Saturday 10 June 1961 when listeners to the BBC Home Service heard this.

 Once again this recording was made by the late Eric Bartington and I extend my thanks to Gerad de Roo who rescued it and passed it to me.    

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...