Friday, 20 January 2012

Brian Matthew

Few of today’s radio broadcasters can boast a career that extends for over half a century. In that exclusive club is Brian Matthew, the subject of this post to coincide with The Brian Matthew Story on Radio 2 next week.

Brian’s early broadcasting experience was with the British Forces Network in Hamburg in 1948-49 under the leadership of Raymond Baxter. Already showing a thespian streak Brian took part in some of the radio dramas that the unit produced, most notable of these was Trevor Hill’s adaptation of The Adventures of Robin Hood. It was, in retrospect, a starry cast: Brian played King Richard, Nigel Davenport took the lead, Cliff Michelmore was Little John, Baxter was Guy de Guisborne, Geraint Evans was the minstrel Blondel, Tom Singleton the Sheriff of Nottingham, Keith Fordyce played Will Scarlett. Bringing up the rear as the Foresters were Roger Moore and Bryan Forbes. The presence of Keith Fordyce is interesting as over the years their careers would cross many times.

Back in civvy street Brian pursued his acting by training with RADA and then going into rep at The Old Vic (where he me this wife Pamela). Before long he was again trying his hand at radio with a job as presenter with Radio Netherlands Worldwide in Hilversum. In this clip you’ll hear Brian reporting on the effects of the winter floods of 1953.

Returning to the UK still harbouring ambitions to be at the BBC he had to earn money as a milkman in Coventry before getting an audition as a staff announcer. Brian joined the Beeb in July 1955, as announcer and newsreader alongside the likes of Jimmy Kingsbury and Robin Boyle who had also been at BFN Hamburg. Chances are you’ll still catch some of Brian’s announcements on the old comedy shows repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra, here he’s introducing Hancock’s Half-Hour (1955) and Take It From Here (1957).

The Saturday Club Years

Radio Times 9 August 1958
Brian had an interest in big band music and one of his duties was to compere a series featuring Johnny Dankworth and produced by Jimmy Grant. It was Jimmy who had the idea for a new music programme that would recognise the British skiffle revival of the time and Brian was to be the presenter – the show was Saturday Skiffle Club. Airing on the Light Programme from 1 June 1957 for just 30 minutes a week it proved a hit with listeners. It’s paltry budget of just £51 a show restricted the numbers and sizes of the groups that could perform and famously Lonnie Donegan’s fee of 40 guineas blew the budget and gained a rap over the knuckles for the show’s production team.  

When  the interest in skiffle  waned the programme transformed itself into Saturday Club from 4 October 1958 and now ran for two hours, in what would become its regular slot for the next decade, 10 am to midday. Musically it mixed skiffle, folk, jazz (Britain was now enjoying a trad-jazz boom) and rock ‘n’ roll.

Radio Times 21 February 1959
The importance of Saturday Club cannot be over-stressed. It introduced listeners to all the big stars on the music scene at a time when there were few outlets for popular music. It came to define the BBC’s attitude to rock and pop in the heady days of the early 60s, until the arrival of Radio 1 in ’67. The sessions, those that survive, provide an invaluable archive of the development of British music as well as capturing some of the greats from America. It secured Brian a place in broadcasting history.

Needletime restrictions meant that the two-hour show comprised of one-and-half hours of BBC recorded sessions and thirty minutes of records. Those appearing on the programme included Helen Shapiro, Cliff Richard, The Hollies, Kenny Ball, Dusty, Cilla, The Moody Blues, Manfred Mann, Georgie Fame and, from the States, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochrane, The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. As a showcase for new artists Saturday Club was also vital in breaking The Beatles, so much so that although they only made ten appearances on the show Brian is inextricably linked with the loveable Scouse mop tops.    

The early 60s was a busy time for Brian. In 1961he became the presenter of ITV’s Saturday night answer to Juke Box Jury: Thank Your Lucky Stars. The show had started in the spring with Pete Murray compering, he was replaced by Keith Fordyce and then for a while Keith and Brian co-presented, but from November 1961 to June 1965 Brian was the face of ITV pop at the height of the Merseybeat boom. 

TV Times 23 December 1961
Thank Your Lucky Stars had a number of guest DJs slots over its run, now familiar names such as Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman, Jimmy Young, Sam Costa, Don Moss and Kent Walton all appeared regularly. Aping its BBC opposition the show had a Spin-a-Disc slot with a teenage pop jury and made a star out of a 16-year old Janice Nicholls who would score the latest favoured pop release with “Oi’ll give it foive” – it became a national catchphrase.     
It was thought that only three editions of Thank Your Lucky Stars survived, but a 1962 programme turned up recently in the treasure trove of recordings saved by the late Bob Monkhouse. Let’s hope that one day some of Bob’s old tapes and films get an airing on television.

Brian was also a well-known voice internationally thanks to the BBC Transcription Service that sent its discs to radio stations around the globe. From 1964 Brian was the main presenter of the radio version of Top of the Pops which re-used BBC sessions from other domestic programmes, such as Saturday Club, interspersed with Brian’s recorded announcements.  Top of the Pops ran until the 1990s [1] although Brian ceased to be involved from the 1980s. The discs, which stations should, in theory, have returned to the BBC for destruction, but many didn’t, are now very collectable.


Another TS programme was Pop Profile which consisted of specially recorded interviews with pop stars of the day. Here are two examples featuring John Lennon and Steve Marriott.

Like many DJs of the time there was insufficient work on the Light Programme so appearances on Radio Luxembourg’s shows, recorded in their London studios, also helped pay the bills. Brian would host Brian Matthew’s Pop Parade, Speedy Disc Show, World Top Pops and Midnight with Matthew.

During the sixties Brian also found time to cut the odd record such as a duet with Maureen Evans of Goodness Gracious Me – hear it on the Embassy Records tribute site. Also worth looking out for is the short film UK Swings Again that I caught last year on Sky Arts. It features somewhat static studio performances from The Animals, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Hollies, Lulu and others all introduced by hip and happening DJs Brian Matthew, Alan Freeman and Kent Walton.  

Back at the BBC Saturday Club was continuing to pull in the listeners, in 1966 the show reported a domestic audience of 8 million supplemented by those overseas who could listen in on the British Forces Network (later the British Forces Broadcasting Service) and the General Overseas Service of the BBC (later the World Service) that carried the show for 30 minutes.  Here’s your “old mate” Brian introducing the fifth anniversary programme on 5 October 1963. This recording is a repeat broadcast as part of Radio 2’s celebration of the Light Programme on 29 July 1995.   

At the same time that Saturday Club was on the air Brian presented a new Sunday morning recorded music show, Easy Beat.  Starting on 3 April 1960 it had a musical remit similar to its Saturday counterpart, something of a shake-up for Sunday morning listeners who had previously enjoyed or endured Sandy Macpherson at the organ and a sequence of light music in Simple Melody. Brian would present Easy Beat for three years before handing over to, yes you’ve guessed it, Keith Fordyce. During the latter part of its run in 1967 the host was David Symonds. 

On 16 July 1964 the Light Programme launched a new late-night pop show, Top Gear, with Brian in the driving seat. Billed as “an express delivery of pop packages and discs” that first show included Producer Bernie Andrews described the show as being “sharper” than Saturday Club, “in other words it didn’t mix skiffle, trad-jazz, early rock – it was pretty hard rock right from the word go.” For programme one The Beatles who obliged with some programme trailers.

Top Gear ran until 24 December 1964. The following week, New Year’s Eve, Brian was seeing in 1965  with New Year’s Revels. Bernie Andrew would revive the Top Gear title at Radio 1 in 1967 as a programme for John Peel.

Brian’s last Saturday Club was on 23 September 1967. The following Saturday Radio 1 was launched and perhaps he was seen as too old for the thrusting new network. As he said some years later “The guillotine keeps on coming down but it’s never quite reached my neck.” Saturday Club remained on Radio 1 for another 16 months under the guidance of Keith Skues and finally Tom Edwards.  

The In-Between Years

We now enter a period of nearly a decade when Brian would not be associated with any one main programme, a period that often gets overlooked in any biogs. But come the big network changeover he  was still on the BBC,  now over on Radio 2 in its first week as one of the regular hosts of Roundabout, the drivetime (although such a term was not used back then) show that had been running since 1958. Brian would work on Roundabout, it never had one permanent presenter, until it got the chop in March 1970. At the same he was also taking turns on the daily record review show Album Time, this would run until September 1972.

In 1970 Brian also popped up on the Saturday morning LP Showcase and on Tuesday evenings on Late Night Extra. During 1972 and 1973 Brian was still on Radio 2 as one of the presenters of the weekday early evening magazine show After Seven. The show had a different host each day and included some well-known names like Ray Moore, Michael Aspel, John Timpson, Cliff Morgan, Alan Freeman, David Jacobs and Desmond Lynam.

If ever there was a natural person to narrate the story of The Beatles it was Brian. So in 1972 he was also working over at Radio 1 on the 13-part series that would eventually be sold around the world.

The following year saw the start of Radio 1’s answer to Desert Island Discs: My Top 12. In each show pop stars and those in the pop business would chat to Brian and choose their Top 12 records, presumably twelve just to fit the hour-long format. The show ran intermittently over three years with Brian’s final guest in December 1976 being Joan Armatrading. [2] The idea was revived, initially as My Top 12 and then  My Top 10, in 1983 with Andy Peebles as the interviewer.

London Calling September 1979
Brian was also an occasional contributor to the Radio 1 documentary strand Insight (1975-76), with programmes on Joe Meek and the Midlands music scene.  Meanwhile over on the BBC World Service a couple of years later he would host the “contemporary and progressive rock” show Matthew on Music (1978-1980).

The Round Midnight Years

From January 1977 Brian was working exclusively on Radio 2, where he’s remained ever since. In fact it was full circle and back to the big bands as his first regular assignment was as host of Band Parade, taking over from Teddy Johnson , and handing over the microphone to Colin Berry the following January.  In ‘77 Brian was also the regular cover for any holidaying jocks, sitting in for Terry Wogan and Jimmy Young.

Around this time the BBC was making plans for the wavelength changes in November 1978 and looking to extend Radio 2’s broadcasting hours back to their mid-70s position with a view to going 24-hour. In 1977 the day’s broadcasting closed with the 11pm to midnight The Late Show, with staff announcers [3] taking it in turns to host each day. (Over on Radio 1 medium wave and ‘borrowing’  VHF was John Peel). That changed from January 1978 when Brian took over as the permanent host of The Late Show. In fact the very first show went out on a Bank Holiday Monday from 11pm to 2am under the title Around Midnight. Here’s a clip of that opening programme. For the next three months it went out as an hour long The Late Show.

First Radio Times billing for Round Midnight
By 3 April 1978 Radio 2 reverted back to 2am closedown and Brian’s now 3 hour show gained the title by which it would become popular and well-respected, Round Midnight.  It was an attempt to re-create the mix of music, chat, reviews and interviews that Late Night Extra had brought to the early days of Radios 1 and 2. It developed from a mainly music based show into an arts magazine with a 60:40 music to speech ratio.

Round Midnight wasn’t just studio-bound and outside broadcasts from arts festivals and theatres were common; an annual fixture involved moving the show north for the fortnight of the Edinburgh Festival.  Brian always retained an interest in theatre – he had extended his home in Chelsfield, Kent to include a stage and seating for 50 so that he and Pamela could host their own productions.

During most of its run the show had three or four producers working under an editor to pull all the elements together.  Here’s how a typical show, in April 1980, was made-up:

Interviews with -
Jeremy Hayes about the Birmingham Rep production of Mother Dear
Recorded interview with Margaret Lockwood by Jeremy Hayes about her role in Mother Dear
Norman Thelwell about his book A Plank Bridge by a Pool
George Chisholm about his Salute to Satchmo at Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Anna Morrell with a review of As You Like by the RSC at Stratford
Peter Ford and Michael Howell interviewed by Phil Edwards about their book The Elephant Man
Tony Barnfield with the weekly tv and radio review

The above constituted just over an hour of airtime. On the music side the BBC still relied on a fair amount of in-house recordings by its own orchestras on shows such as Round Midnight – the Radio Orchestra, the Big Band and the Midland, Northern and Scottish Radio orchestras were all heard on the programme. This reduced the amount of needletime for music played on disc over the 3 hours to about 40 minutes.   

This is how Round Midnight sounded on 18 February 1985.

Parky claimed to have “lost on points” every time he interviewed Muhammad Ali. Here’s Brian’s effort in 1980.

Sitting in on Round Midnight when Brian was on holiday were, amongst others, Peter Clayton, Russell Davies and Richard Stilgoe.

Brian Matthew also had the honour to be the last voice on Radio 2 1500m long wave just before it switched over to Radio 4 on the evening of 22 November 1978.
New network controllers are apt to wield their new management brooms and when Frances Line took over from Bryant Marriott in 1990 it was Adrian Love’s afternoon show and Round Midnight that got the axe. “It’s time to do something different in the evenings” she told The Sunday Times.  This was something of a shock to Brian who’d been told that his show was “one of the jewels in the radio crown”. Round Midnight closed its doors on 29 March 1990 with an emotional goodbye from its host: “excuse me while I just nip out the back”.

The Sounds of the 60s Years

But that guillotine didn’t quite touch the neck again as just a couple of days later Brian Matthew was back with Sounds of the 60s. This programme had been running on Radio 2 since 1983, initially presented by one Keith Fordyce and then a number of guest presenters including a return to the Beeb for Simon Dee.

Brian’s first Sounds of the 60s aired on Saturday 31 March 1990 initially running for just an hour, a new series Sounds of the 50s with Ronnie Hilton started that same day.  Meanwhile the station’s coverage of the arts was picked up in a new series called, somewhat unimaginatively, The Arts Programme with Sheridan Morley being the main presenter.

Radio Times 31 March 1990
Sounds of the 60s was able to mine the rich seam of BBC session archives that Brian had presented  first time round 30-odd years previously, along with a mix of classic records and obscure tracks. Seemingly Brian is destined to constantly relive that decade.

You can catch the show every Saturday between 8am and 10am but for all you “avids” out there here’s part of the A side of a show first heard on 14 September 2002.

[1] Other hosts of Top of the Pops included Keith Skues, DLT, Simon Bates and Richard Skinner
[2] My Top 12 guests included (that I have been able to track down) Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, Alex Harvey, Johnny Nash , Ray Stevens, The Bee Gees, Manfred Mann, Gerry Marsden, Mickie Most, Noddy Holder, Eartha Kitt and Barry Mason, Bruce Johnston, John Miles, Buffy Saint Marie, Demis Roussos, David Soul and Linda Ronstadt . A few sports stars crept in such as Claire Francis and Joe Bugner.
[3] The Late Show - in the final week of December 1977 the announcers were Don Durbridge, Ruth Cubbin, Tim Gudgin, Sheila Tracy and Len Jackson.

Brian Matthew’s Themes
Saturday ClubSaturday Jump written by Jimmy Grant and performed by Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band. Re-recorded version by Ted Heath and his Music used later.
Top of the Pops – in the 1970s Machine Gun by The Commodores
Round Midnight – opening theme Matthew and Son by Apollo 100, closing theme ‘Round Midnight by Henry Mancini and his Orchestra featuring Doc Severinsen on trumpet
Sounds of the 60sFoot Tapper by The Shadows

Brian Matthew - A Postscript

Since I wrote this post in 2012 Brian continued to present Sounds of the 60s to a hugely appreciative audience. However, in November 2016 Brian was unwell and so Sir Tim Rice stepped in to look after proceedings. Thereafter, matters start to go awry for the BBC.

In January 2017 the Corporation announced that Brian had agreed to step down and that it felt like the "right time for him to step off the weekly treadmill of presenting the show".  The shows fans were in uproar, all the more when it was compounded by an interview in the press with Brian stating that this was "absolute balderdash" and that he was more than willing to carry on.

The following month it was announced that Tony Blackburn would be taking over SOTS and that - again much to the consternation of regular listeners - it would start two earlier at 6am. Brian did, however, return for one final time on 27 February. A series of further specials was announced starting on Easter Sunday.     

To make matters worse on 5 April the BBC announced that Brian had died earlier that day, an announcement that was quickly retracted a couple of hours later when it transpired that whilst he was ill in hospital, he was very much alive. Sadly just three days later the news came through that Brian had passed away. A true radio veteran would be heard no more.  

Here's Brian's final Sounds of the Sixties.

In 2012 Jim Moir celebrated Brian's career in The Brian Matthew Story.  

From your old mate Brian Matthew, that's your lot for this week.

Brian Matthew 1928-2017


entssouthwales said...

I never knew Brian had announced on Hancock's Half Hour - which episode was that on? Fabulous, I have a recording of Brian playing three in a row with my requests back in 1997 on SOTS, I'd only suggested he play one of the tracks but they played all three! Long since lost my SOTS baseball cap but still have the promo photo that was sent me!

Andy Walmsley said...

The particular episode of Hancock's Half-Hour I took Brian's announcement from was The Bequest s03e03

Alan Jarvis said...

Do you have any recordings of Sounds of The 60s with Brian Matthew?
I and some others have uploaded to Mixcloud every SOTS show from 2004 to 2016 except for the two that are missing. Can you help?
The two missing shows are;
15 April 2006 this will have the A to Z of the Beatles - Don't Pass Me By
15 July 2006 this will have the A to Z of the Beatles Get Back.
If you have these recordings I would be most grateful if you would contact me.
Thank you
Alan Jarvis

William McAlister said...

Brian Matthews hosted Roundabout Afloat aboard the ss Empress of Canada in 197O. Marion Ryan and Clinton Ford were the singers. I was Chief Radio Officer and was interviewed by Brian along with other senior officers. The ship was presented with a Roundabout Afloat pennant which she used to fly. Sadly the ship and many of the interviewees are long gone. I wondered what the BBC did with such recordings ?

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