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.  

Monday, 25 May 2020

We Stop for PopMaster

Today Ken Bruce is hosting an All Day PopMaster contest with DJs from the BBC and commercial radio taking part.

PopMaster was first featured on Ken's mid-morning show in 1998, although 1996 is quoted in the quiz book. Two years out! (Oh, how I wanted to type one year out). The idea for the quiz had been suggested by Ken's producer Colin Martin and they enlisted Phil 'The Collector' Swern to compile the questions.  

I've managed to find an example from 2004 where the format was slightly different from the current set-up. Part1 occurred at 10.30 but contestant number two didn't appear until 11.15 and then after another record the Three in Ten. See how you get on with these questions from 30 January 2004. They certainly seem easier than the current question level. 

All Day PopMaster starts during the Radio 2 breakfast show with Dermot O'Leary sitting in for Zoe and the final during Sara Cox's drivetime show.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Mercia Sound

Forty years ago the second tranche of local commercial radio stations came on-stream. CBC in Cardiff arrived in April and in May 1980 Mercia Sound. Based in a former working men's club in Hertford Place in Coventry it was the third station in the West Midlands, joining BRMB and Beacon.  

Bringing the team together was chief executive John Bradford, former MD at Radio Tees. That team included Gordon Astley, Stuart Linnell, Dave Jamieson, Ian Rufus, Tony Gillham, Mike Henfield, John Warwick, Andy Lloyd and Jim Lee.   

Though the Mercia name was subsumed into Free Radio in 2012 a 40th anniversary reunion had been planned for this month. The coronavirus pandemic put paid to that but, thanks to Coventry community radio station Radio Plus, based in those old Hertford Place studios, there was a six-hour Mercia Sound takeover last night. Taking part were John Bradford, Mike Henfield, Gordon Astley, Dave Jamieson, Stuart Linnell, Tony Gillham, Mark Keen, Andrew Lloyd, Julie Carter-Lowe, Paul Robinson, Clive Parker-Skelhon, Ian Shep Shepherd and Simon McAusland.

The audio has been uploaded by Kevin Sykes who provided much of the archive material.     

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