Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Third Girl Wanted

 

This week BBC Radio 4 Extra is repeating, for the first time in 55 years, episodes of a series of stand-alone dramas called Personal Column. Amongst the five episodes airing this week (selected from the original series of 28) is Jill Hyem’s Third Girl Wanted. The story setting is a familiar motif for Hyem’s radio scripts at this time, that of three flat-sharing girls. 

In Third Girl Wanted Gemma, played by Patricia Gallimore before she became Ambridges’ Pat Archer, packs her bags and leaves with her flatmates, played by Anne Stallybrass and Marian Diamond, having to work out why. 

Two years previously Jill Hyem (pictured above) and Andrew Sachs had written the 20-part serial Dear Girls in which job-hunting Tish Grant joins her fashion designing sister Biddy in her London flat. Tish is looking for a job whilst Biddy is looking for love.


Moving on to 1969 sees a Saturday Night Theatre production written by Jill Hyem and Alan Downer titled The Ropewalk, an Edwardian house that’s been converted into flats.  In the opening scenes we hear flat-sharing sisters Lynn and Tracey Dixon who are looking forward to welcoming their somewhat naive new flat-mate who’s on her first visit to London Heather Benfield, another role for Patricia Gallimore.  

The Ropewalk was a try-out for Radio 2’s daily soap Waggoners’ Walk that replaced the ailing The Dales later that same year. Again with scripts from Jill Hyem and Alan Downer the opening scene of the first episode is, as I’m sure you’ll have now guessed, set in a London bedsit, this time  with sisters Lynn and Tracey Dixon waiting to split the rent with a third girl, Barbara Watling (played by Heather Stoney) fresh down from Yorkshire.

The revisiting of this theme is no surprise given the social context of the time: increased employment opportunities for women, a more mobile workforce, changes in the controls on rented accommodation under the 1965 Rent Act and the Swinging London background. Hyem herself was committed to writing better parts for women after only gaining several bits parts in TV series and B-movies.

By 1961 Jill Hyem was combining acting with writing, providing short sketches for Monday Night at Home “a selection of recorded wit, music and humour” linked by Basil Boothroyd. Submitting drama scripts to the BBC she was warned to “never write more than two women in a scene. They catch each other's tone.” Obviously ignoring this advice her first Afternoon Theatre play Better Than Nowhere set in a rest home indigent old ladies featured parts for six women and one man. 

From 1964 until its demise in 1969 Hyem was one of the team of scriptwriters on The Dales (successor to Mrs Dale’s Diary). She’d secured the position – and in the process beating off competition from Tom Stoppard - when producer Keith Williams was seeking fresh blood to liven up the series. With fellow Dales writer Alan Downer, another actor turned writer, they were the lead writers for eleven years on Waggoners’ Walk until that was axed. Though she’d continued to write other dramas for radio, around thirty in all, television beckoned in 1980 when she was offered the chance to write for Tenko. This led to more tv scripts for shows such as Howard’s Way and another wartime drama series Wish Me Luck. By the millennium now tired of securing television commissions she returned to her first love of radio to write a number of plays for Radio 4, the last being Backtrack in 2007. Jill Hyem died in 2015.     

Personal Column was a concept devised by writer Philip Levine. Twenty-eight separate dramas by a number of writers were aired on the BBC Light Programme from March to September 1967.  

Third Girl Wanted will be broadcast this Friday. Another Jill Hyem drama from the same series titled Evening Out is currently online here.  

Monday, 11 April 2022

50 Years of Not Having a Clue


It's been fifty years since people were first given silly things to do with swanee whistles, song lyrics, London tube stations and sound charades with some of them accompanied by Colin Sell at the piano. Yes, radio's antidote to panel games I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue was first heard by an unsuspecting public this day in 1972.

The genesis of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue goes back to 1969 after the conclusion of series seven of I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again (it came back for a final eighth series in the summer of 1972). Writer and performer Graeme Garden was already committed to working on BBC2's Broaden Your Mind with Tim, Bill and Jo from ISIRTA. This was followed by The Goodies (starting in late 1970) and scripts for LWT's Doctor in the House (also 1970), Doctor at Large (1971) and Doctor in Charge (1972).  

Despite all the tv work Graeme was still keen to work on radio and was thinking of recreating something that brought the fun and anarchy of ISIRTA but without the chore of script writing. A comedy panel game looked like it could provide the answer. Just a Minute and My Word! were already very popular and others had come and gone such as The Tennis Elbow Foot Game (1966-68) - which may have provided the spark for Clue's Word for Word round - The Clever Stupid Game and You Don't Say (both 1970).

But could Gyles Brandreth have provided the inspiration for Clue? It's possible. In 1971 Graeme was a panellist on eight editions of A Rhyme in Time, a comedy word game with a poetry twist in which the other panellists, consisting of Cyril Fletcher, Caryl Brahms and June Whitfield, would "converse in verse".  The programme was devised and introduced by Gyles Brandreth. Just seven months later Clue came on air

Graeme discussed his ideas for a new show with producer David Hatch and together they worked up a format and recorded a pilot. Getting the green light for a series the pilot aired on 11 April 1972 and 12 episodes followed, though for these Hatch was busy elsewhere and John Cassels produced. Early editions were, according to Garden "rather messy and self-indulgent". It seemed that completely dispensing with some scripted elements and preparation didn't work. He continues: "In the first series it was all virtually ad-libbed - that was my mistake, and since then we've all learned a bit more about doing panel games. We know that the audience like it a) because you appear to be witty, and b) because you appear to be put 'on the spot' and have to sweat. And those are two different things; if you've got to make up, say, a calypso, it's almost impossible to do that on the spot, and so you spend an hour or so beforehand writing it ... but the team's increasing experience, particularly in knowing which sections they should prepare, has led to a much improved control over the show."     


The idea of riffing on a theme and the fact that they were both jazz fans probably led to Graeme and David thinking of Humphrey Lyttelton as the chairman, an inspired choice and a major factor in its longevity. Those early editions all featured ISIRTA alumni (Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jo Kendall and John Cleese) plus Barry Cryer filling for Humph as chairman when he couldn't make a couple of the recording dates. But Bill, Jo and particularly John were not entirely comfortable with winging it.  Only Bill returned for the second series in 1973, along with Barry now as a regular panellist and by the third in 1974 Willie Rushton had come on board and we entered the first golden era for Clue with the famous four of Messrs Garden, Cryer, Brooke-Taylor and Rushton. By the fourth series in 1975 Colin Sell had replaced Dave Lee at the piano.

From my own ISIHAC archive comes this recording, in fact it's the first one I ever recorded, of the Christmas 1980 special so you get an extra 15 minutes or so. It features all the regulars from that time and the producer is Geoffrey Perkins.

The passage of time has taken its toll on Clue participants with the deaths of series regulars Willie Rushton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Jeremy Hardy, Tim Brooke-Taylor, writer Iain Pattinson and, just a few weeks ago, Barry Cryer. But the formula is still proving durable as it marks its golden anniversary and recent series with a host of new voices to the programme are just as funny with plenty of laugh out loud moments.

Radio 4 will be marking the programme's anniversary this Saturday in an edition of Archive on 4 at 8 pm. 50 Years Without a Clue is presented by Greg James.    

Notes:

Quotes cited in From Fringe to Flying Circus by Roger Wilmut (Eyre Methuen 1980). For more on the programme's history see The Clue Bible by Jem Roberts (Preface 2009)

The Tennis Elbow Foot Game was devised by Norman Hackforth (the 'Mystery Voice' on Twenty Questions) and produced by David Hatch (series 1) and Bill Worlsey (series 2). Regular panellists were Sheila Hancock, Olga Franklin, Paul Jennings, Fenella Fielding, Hackforth himself and Max Robertson as the umpire. Series 1 October to December 1966 (13 episodes) on the Home Service. Series 2 November 1967 to May 1968 (26 episodes) on Radio 4. It then transferred to BBC2 for a series of 12 episodes July to October 1968.    

The Clever Stupid Game was devised and chaired by Robin Ray. John Cleese was a panellist on one of the 8 episodes broadcast on Radio 4 May to July 1970.

You Don't Say was devised by Jimmy Thompson, Johnny Whyte and Nicholas Parsons and chaired by Cyril Fletcher. A 12 episode series produced by Alastair Scott Johnson was broadcast on Radio July to September 1970.

A Rhyme in Time was broadcast over 8 episodes from July to September 1971. In this BBC blog Gyles Brandreth says there were two series, the first produced by David Hatch and the second by Simon Brett. I can only trace the one series with Brett producing. My guess is that an unbroadcast pilot was produced by Hatch.     

Monday, 28 March 2022

Hilda Matheson and the Battle of Savoy Hill


This week BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting the 5-part dramatised account of the story of pre-war BBC Talks Director Hilda Matheson and her working relationship with Director-General, John Reith, and the censorship of a talk by writer and politician Harold Nicolson in The Battle of Savoy Hill.

Matheson was effectively head-hunted by Reith in September 1926 to front the Talks Department, the first woman to be appointed to a senior role at the BBC.  During her brief 5-year tenure she effectively set the template for speech radio on authored talks (a style of broadcasts that has now all but disappeared with the exception of Radio 3’s The Essay), news and political coverage and debate and discussions on literature, history, social conditions, home economics, farming and so on. The Week in Westminster, started by Matheson in 1929 and still heard today, albeit under a much changed format on Saturday mornings, remains a testament to her pioneering work. Broadcasting, she saw as “a means of enlarging the frontiers of human interest and consciousness, of widening personal experience, of shrinking the earth’s surface.”  

It was Matheson’s entrĂ©e into the life of London’s cultural and intellectual elite that helped secure her BBC employment; she’d first encountered Reith at an event in March 1926. During World War I she worked for the secret service – recruited at Oxford where she’d been a home student, as women weren’t yet recognised as bona fide students at that time - where she was posted to Rome. She left her role as political secretary to Nancy Astor MP to take up her job with the BBC, then based at Savoy Hill. Lady Astor would, in time, contribute to some of the early editions of The Week in Westminster. 

The nature of speech radio was still being developed under Matheson and she was keen to get the key thinkers and doers of the time to speak to the nation, to help shape the way that scripted talks were written for the medium and how they would best be delivered to sound both natural and authoritative without being stilted and lecturing. Her remit also included adult education and news, when the small news section created under Education moved to Talks in 1927. Matheson would commission Philip Macer-Wright, formerly of the Westminster Gazette, to report on how news presentation could be improved at a time when the BBC was still relying on re-writing Reuters-provided bulletins.

One aspect of Hilda’s life that the puritanical Reith would surely have objected to – although apparently it was something of an open secret at Savoy Hill - was her relationship with author Vita Sackville-West. She’d met Sackville-West in December 1928 when she came into the studios to speak with Hugh Walpole on the subject of The Modern Woman (though she had already broadcast some talks earlier in the 1928 on poetry and her travels in the Middle East). Correspondence from Hilda to Vita, of which almost 100 letters survive, also feature in The Battle of Savoy Hill.  


By 1930 Matheson’s working relationship with John Reith was already somewhat fractious particularly with regard to any subject or speaker regarded as ‘controversial’, with the DG naturally erring on the conservative side. This all came to a head in late 1931over the series The New Spirit in Literature (twelve talks broadcast on the National Programme Sept-Dec 1931) in which Vita’s husband Harold Nicholson had been invited to speak. Reith and Director of Programmes Roger Eckersley wanted no mention of D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce. Nicholson threatened to pull out “pointing out the ludicrous nature of a programme on modern literature without reference to these two defining authors”.  A compromise was reached but Matheson felt severely undermined and tendered her resignation.    

What is also interesting, certainly from a current perspective, is that Matheson’s resignation was also seen as useful to Reith and the BBC over perceived left-wing bias in some of the talks’ subject matter and choice of speakers. The October 1931 General Election had led to the formation of a National Government under Ramsey MacDonald but the bulk of its support came from the Tories and there was growing criticism of the BBC in the right-wing press. Thus her leaving the Corporation helped Reith to be seen to be stamping out any perceived left-wing bias.

After leaving the BBC Hilda continued to be involved in radio. Nancy Astor tried to persuade her to become a BBC Governor but she declined. Instead she became a radio critic and columnist for The Observer and Weekend Review, wrote a book on the subject (Broadcasting , Thomas Butterworth Ltd, 1933) and at the outbreak of World War II became the Director of the JBC (Joint Broadcasting Committee) founded to “promote international understanding  by means of broadcasting”. She also worked for Baron Hailey in 1937-38 on producing The African Survey, eventually taking over the bulk of the work, for which she received an OBE. By now she was living with the poet Dorothy Wellesley – her relationship with Sackville-West had ended in 1931. Diagnosed with Graves’ disease Hilda did not survive an operation to remove part of her thyroid gland and she died in October 1940 aged just 52.

The BBC marked her passing in the annual BBC Handbook adding that “it was her zeal, and her ability to impart it to the wide circle of her acquaintance, that started broadcast talks and discussions, and began that process of bringing to the microphone the celebrity, the expert, the thinker, and the man-in- the-street which has continued since in ever-widening circles”.

Until just a few years ago Hilda Matheson’s pioneering role in radio broadcasting was largely overlooked. The 6’6” frame of John Reith tends to loom large over the pre-war BBC narrative. In 2018-2019 the BBC ran the Hilda Matheson Woman into Leadership regional development programme. Just last month even MI5 recognised her role in that organisation and with the BBC as part of their LGBT+ History Month events.


The Battle of Savoy Hill written by Jill Waters is broadcast on Monday to Friday this week on BBC Radio 4 at 12.04 and repeated at 22.45 and then available to listen again on BBC Sounds. Hilda Matheson is played by Romola Garai, Vita Sackville-West by Nancy Carroll, John Reith by Derek Riddell, Harold Nicholson and R.S. Lambert (a producer in the Adult Education section and the first editor of The Listener) by Richard Goulding and Lionel Fielden (a Talks producer) by Simon Paisley Day.  The narrator is Clare Higgins.

Hilda Matheson 1888-1940

Notes:

(1) When Hilda joined the BBC as a Talks Assistant (i.e. producer) in September 1926 the Talks division was part of the Education Department under the stewardship of John Stobart but was hived off in January 1927 under Hilda’s management. Broadcast talks were an early feature of BBC schedules with the first given on 23 December 1922 and the second on 27 January 1923 on the unlikely subject of How to catch a tiger.

 (2) The changes in the structure of the Talks department and the role of Education and News are too lengthy and involved to reiterate here. For more on this early BBC history see The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume II: The Golden Age of Wireless 1927-1939 by Asa Briggs and A Social History of British Broadcasting, Volume I 1922-1939 by Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff.

(3) Hilda Matheson’s successor as Director of Talks was her deputy Charles Siepmann. He was followed in 1936 by Richard Maconachie and in 1941 by George Barnes (later the first controller of the Third Programme and a couple of years later as the grandly titled Director of the Spoken Word which included the Talks division). Succeeding Barnes in 1946 was R.A. (Tony) Rendall and following his retirement on ill health grounds was Mary Somerville from 1950 to 1956. Former talks producer John Green was Controller, Talks (Sound) from 1956 to 1961 when it was merged with Current Affairs Talks under the management of J.A. Camacho. In 1972 it moved again to become part of Talks and Documentaries headed by George Fischer. Under Director-General John Birt it was finally subsumed into the mighty News and Current Affairs Directorate in 1987. The External Services also had an Overseas Talks department and a separate European Talks Department.   

(4) To read more about Hilda Matheson there are a couple of excellent books. Stoker: the Life of Hilda Matheson is a biography written by Michael Carney whilst Kate Murphy’s Behind the Wireless looks at the role of women at the BBC in the pre-war years. There’s also the fictionalised story of plucky BBC secretary turned Talks producer Maisie Musgrave as told in Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford in which Reith and Matheson are main characters.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

The Countryside in March

Descriptions of one of the more capricious months for many years. The song of the mistle thrush in the shadow of the South Downs. Turning the old mire of winter into a tilth. The appearance of the early summer migrants such as the little ringed plovers. The impact of toxic residues from agricultural chemicals on bird numbers. The realities of country living on the Kent-Sussex borders. 

These were the topics on offer in this recording from the Countryside in ... series, an overlooked series that ran on BBC radio for nearly four decades. It first appeared on air on the Light Programme on 30 January 1952 as The Countryside in January, running monthly until 1972 when it switched to a more or less quarterly review.

The Radio Times described it as a “nature diary” compiled by ornithologist Eric Simms, whose idea the programme was, indeed there had been a tryout of the idea the previous May called The London Countryside. An article in the magazine explained: “News of the events of the month comes to Mr Simms through his numerous contacts with naturalists and he hopes that titbits supplied by this ‘jungle telegraph,’ together with talks by visiting experts on natural history, farming, the weather, and country lore will make the new programme a lively commentary on many aspects of rural life”.  Simms continued to contribute to the series until 1987.  

Providing the linking narration was C. Gordon Glover (pictured above) who, apart from a spell in the mid 50s when David Lloyd James presented, was associated with the programme until just before his death in early 1975.

Glover is an interesting character. Born in Edinburgh in 1908 he was a writer and novelist who during the 1930s lived for a while in Majorca with his first wife Honor Wyatt. Honor would go on to work for the BBC, writing numerous programmes for BBC schools  during the 1940s. Glover himself also worked for the Corporation as a radio producer and then a scriptwriter and presenter.  He wrote a number of radio plays from the mid-40s on, including dozens for Children’s Hour, as well as scripts for series such as Journey into Romance and All Hale with Binnie and Sonnie Hale. During the war Glover was involved in a brief relationship with the friend of his estranged wife, the novelist Barbara Pym. In 1946 he married again to yet another novelist Modwena Sedgwick.  One of the two children from his first marriage was Julian Glover, a noted stage, film and TV actor.

The Countryside in... continued after Glover’s death in 1975 with Wynford Vaughan-Thomas presenting and with regular contributions from Bob Danvers-Walker, Martin Muncaster and actress Mollie Harris, best known as Martha Woodford in The Archers. Following the death of Vaughan-Thomas in 1987 Mollie Harris was the main presenter until the series was put out to pasture with The Countryside in Spring edition on 27 April 1991.


Very few of the countryside programmes were repeated so this is a rare opportunity to hear an example of the show. It came to me via a contact in New Zealand, Duncan Lockhart. Duncan acquired a stack of tapes from a guy in Wellington who went to New Zealand in the late 50s as a wireless operator in the Merchant Navy. He took an early Akai reel to reel with him all round the world for music and information and some of the tapes had been sent to him by his family back in the UK.  

This edition, The Countryside in March, dates from Sunday 29 March 1964 when it went out on the Home Service just after the 1 pm. News. As well as Gordon Glover and Eric Simms you’ll hear contributions from Bill Douglas with a metrological report, gardener Albert Butler, ornithologist James Ferguson-Lees, Stanley Cramp, Vice President of the British Trust for Ornithology and writer Elizabeth Gray. Providing the introductory and closing announcement is Jimmy Kingsbury.  Producing this edition is Arthur Phillips who’d started the programme in 1952. He continued to oversee the series for 21 years and amongst his other credits were Holiday Hour and Motoring and the Motorist.

If you’re wondering what that opening poem is, it’s Easter by Gerald Manley Hopkins.

Gather gladness from the skies,

Take a lesson from the ground,

Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes,

And a Spring-time joy have found,

Earth throws Winter's robes away,

Decks herself for Easter Day.

The theme used for these countryside programmes was, for many years, a piece originally composed by Lambert Williamson for the 1950 Home Service series Northern Rivers. It’s played by the BBC Northern Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves. 

And finally I’m happy to report that I’ve passed a copy of this recording on to the Glover family to be enjoyed once again by Gordon's son Julian and his grandson Jamie.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Roger Eckersley and All That

In the history of the BBC there are two members of the same family that figure in its early development. One of them was flamboyant chief engineer Peter Eckersley who’d started the experimental pre-BBC “Two Emma Toc” broadcasts from Writtle in a “spirit of farce and foolishness”. After eight years at the BBC he was forced to leave following an affair and subsequent divorce, thereafter working for Leonard Plugge’s IBC, MI6 and a period where his second wife Dolly was embroiled with Mosely’s British Union of Fascists and was instrumental in the Lord Haw-Haw broadcasts.

With a less colourful and much longer time at the BBC was his eldest brother Roger. (1) Details of Roger’s early life remain sketchy other than he was Charterhouse educated, failed at the law and had worked for the Foreign Office. By the time he’d been recruited to the BBC by his brother Peter in February 1924 (a case of nepotism that would send the current Minister at the DCMS into a frenzy) he’d had a spell as secretary of the Littlehampton Golf Club and a failed attempt to be a chicken farmer. Ideal BBC administrator material it seems.

Eckersley rose quickly through the ranks, starting as Assistant Controller (Programmes) where he also had responsibility for some early Outside Broadcasts, taking over chairmanship of the Programme Board in May 1926, appointed Director of Programmes in 1927 and, after a management re-organisation, Director of Entertainment in 1933. Subsequently he was Assistant Controller (Programmes), Director of Regional Relations and Assistant Controller (Regions). During the Second World War he headed up the American Liaison Unit.   

Another string to his bow was as a composer with his best known composition being It’s Just the Time for Dancing (2), the opening theme used by Henry Hall’s band that was, rather neatly, the first piece of music heard from the newly opened Broadcasting House in March 1932.

During his tenure at the BBC Eckersley was instrumental in some of the decisions that set the template for British radio broadcasting. When the General Strike was bringing the country to a halt he’d argued for the creation of a news team rather than exclusively rely on the news agency reports; he was part of the Pronunciation Committee alongside playwright George Bernard Shaw and poet Robert Bridges; he held protracted negotiations with Sir Thomas Beecham on the formation of a permanent orchestra for the corporation (this was to be the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Adrian Boult following Beecham’s withdrawal) and he helped persuade the theatre owners  and entertainment agencies to let their artistes  appear on the radio. On the other hand, showing something of a detachment from the majority of listeners, he did express the view that broadcasting should cease between 7 and 8 pm because everyone would be dressing for dinner. 

Eckersley was highly valued by Director-General John Reith. One of his contemporaries (speaking anonymously to Reith’s first biographer Andrew Boyle) said “he was a marvellously smooth operator in the field of social and public relations. He even taught Reith how to fasten a bow tie without turning a hair, and nobody resented his position as one of Reith’s favourites for several years. A select house at No. 21 Thurloe Square was leased, equipped, maintained and run at the expense of the BBC so that Roger could deploy his social graces officially and to the full.” Not all agreed with this practice; one of the BBC governors, Mrs Ethel Snowden, was of the opinion that “our employees should not be exposed to the danger of constant entertainment of people of artistic temperament.”

The early development of the BBC had seen the growth of regional broadcasting – partly out of a necessity due to the limitations of technology and transmitters. Chief engineer Peter Eckersley was particularly keen on developing this service to ensure that listeners could enjoy alternative programmes to the main radio station. Conversely his brother Roger was a proponent of greater centralisation, which is indeed what happened in the 1930s, and he was more metropolitan in his outlook. He wrote:”More has been made of civic pride and amour proper than has been necessary.” In a memorandum to station directors of November 1928 he argued: “Take from London what you cannot do better yourself, and do yourself what London cannot give you.”

In the view of David Cleghorn Thomson (Scottish Regional Director), Roger was “the greatest enemy of regional initiative and independence, and an enthusiast for just the bloated centripetal ‘mugwumpery’ that his brother feared.” Despite this, or maybe because of this, Eckersley became Director of Regional Relations in 1937 and Assistant Controller (Regions) the following year.

With the outbreak of World War II the National and Regional Programme were combined into one Home Service. Eckersley was put in charge of an American Liaison Unit and was therefore the man having overall responsibility for censoring American broadcasts, although he spent much of his time lobbying for greater access. That access included supporting Ed Murrow’s famous rooftop London After Dark broadcasts during the Blitz.

Eckersley retired from the BBC in 1945 and the following year wrote about his time with the Corporation in The BBC and All That. (3) For the BBC’s 90th anniversary extracts from this book were abridged by Neil Cargill and read by James Fleet.

Broadcast on 23 November 2012, in the first programme we hear of the rapid expansion of the BBC, why the performers in radio drama should remain anonymous and how to pronounce acoustics.

In the second programme, from 30 November 2012, we take a tour of Broadcasting House, hear about audience research and how not to address the Queen. 

Roger Huxley Eckersley 1885-1955

(1) There was also a third middle brother Tom who was also partly involved in radio as a research engineer at Marconi.

(2) Other tunes he wrote include The One in the World, Blue Lagoon, Pigtail Alley, Sentimental Moon, Just a Voice, Lake Isle of Innisfree, Deep Depression over Iceland Blues, Shopping, Three Encore Songs and a couple of two-step pieces Fire Flies and Gnats.

(3) Published by Sampson, Low, Marston & Co Ltd in 1946. I’ve been unable to source a reasonably priced copy so if you happen to have this book and are willing to sell it (for a reasonable price!) please contact me. The following year Eckersley published a book of humorous verses titled Some Nonsense. With rhymes like “She reads him naughty bit from Byron. That stimulating little siren. She says there’s something mute in him. And longs to rouse the brute in him,” it is perhaps best avoided.  

(4) Roger’s son Timothy also worked for the BBC and helped found the Sound Archives. He became Head of Recorded Services, was a Governor of the British Institute of Recorded Sound and founded the International Association of Sound Archives.   

 

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Archive Fever

 

This blog is often concerned with radio archive. But in this post I’m looking at an archive programme that doesn’t contain archive material. Moreover it was broadcast with the express intention of not being repeated and not being available to ‘Listen Again’.  Like the radio of old this was radio of the moment, never to be heard again. Until now that is.

Archive Fever is an edition of Radio 4’s Archive on 4 broadcast live in April 2017. Presented by cultural historian Matthew Sweet in what was billed as an attempt “to live in the moment and evade posterity as he pieces together an edition of Archive on 4 without the use of any archive whatsoever - and in a valiant attempt at auto-destructive radio, tries to remove all trace of this very programme from the world”.

The programme considers some of the practical and philosophical questions about archiving.  Are we over burdened by ‘stuff’? Should we keep everything? Or anything? How do we decide what to keep? What is important now and will it be in the future? Can we synthesise what we have into something new or interesting? If we lost our archive would we cease to exist?

Archive Fever takes its title from the 1995 book from French philosopher Jacques Derrida. He suggested that we are all archivists, though we are not necessarily any good at it - ask any trained archivist or librarian.  In the digital world ‘archive’ is all around us in call logs, web pages visited, Instagram photos, cloud storage and the like. But how do we make sense of it or use it?

In this documentary Matthew Sweet is live in the studio but the programme includes five pre-recorded sequences or interviews. At the end he rips up his script and destroys the recordings, held on memory cards, by taking a hammer to them.   Of course we know the BBC will have kept a copy, if only in the short term, for legal and compliance reasons. And of course I, as an amateur radio archivist kept it. After the passage of nearly five years perhaps its time to bring it back to life. Judge for yourself.

Archive on 4: Archive Fever was broadcast on Saturday 15 April 2017. There are contributions from William Basinski, Mike Figgis, Christopher Frayling, Aleks Krotoski, Hanif Kureishi, Andy Martin, Joanna Norledge, Caroline Shenton and Carolyn Steedman. The producer is Martin Williams.

Friday, 24 December 2021

Loudly proclaim with one accord

 

The sound of church bells ringing out on Christmas morning was part of the radio landscape (on BBC national radio) for just over four decades.  The peal of bells from British churches and cathedrals were featured in a short programme (10 to 20 minutes) on the Home Service and then Radio 4 between 1943 and 1986. For the almost half that time they were introduced by Robert Hudson (commentator mainly for cricket and numerous royal events) but earlier sequences were linked by staff announcers or former staff announcers.

From Christmas Day 1960 comes this recording of Christmas Bells. It’s another tape recorded at the time by Eric Bartington and re-discovered recently in New Zealand by Gerard de Roo. The first minute or so is missing but the bells included here are from Sheffield Cathedral, Ottery St. Mary Parish Church in Devon (pictured above), Parish Church of St. Patrick Ballymena in Co. Antrim, Parish Church of St. Mary Hampton in Middlesex, Birmingham Cathedral, St. Cuthbert's Church Edinburgh, Parish Church of St. Mary Swansea and, as was often the tradition on this broadcasts, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.


Introducing the bells is Stuart Hibberd (above), the former announcer best remembered for some of his important pre-war and wartime announcements. He retired from the BBC in 1951 but continued to present the weekly series The Silver Lining – talks designed to provide “comfort and cheer for all in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity” – until 1964.       

Church picture credit thanks to Sandra Wright at https://www.otterystmary.info/

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