Wednesday 29 February 2012

BBC World Service - Behind the Scenes 1

Whether you were a shortwave listener or in Europe on 648kHz, or indeed you worked at Bush House back in 1979, here are some of the people behind the programmes featured in this photograph taken from an edition of the London Calling magazine.

1 Bob Atkins (Current Affairs)
2 Gordon House (Drama)
3 Anne Theroux (Book Programme)
4 David Dixon (Agriculture)
5 Betty Jowitt (Planning)
6 Joy Boatman (Theatre Call)
7 Malcolm Billings (Presenter)
8 Derek Hoddinott (Drama)
9 Geoffrey Stern (Presenter)
10 Brian Salter (Current Affairs)
11 John Newell (Science)
12 Peter Beer (Science)
13 Alexander MacLeod (Presenter)
14 Penny Tuerk (Letterbox)
15 David Brook (Current Affairs)
16 Stephen hedges (Science)
17 Mary White (Current Affairs)
18 Ronald Farrow (Religion)
19 Geoff Parker (Sport)
20 Daniel Counihan (Presenter)
21 RegKennedy (World Radio Club)
22 Keith Parsons (Current Affairs)
23 Anne Dent (Popular Music)
24 Alex Turnbull (Sport)
25 Brian Stephens (Popular Music)
26 Tony Durham (Presenter)
27 Maurice Travers (Current Affairs)
28 John Thompson (Presenter)

Tuesday 28 February 2012

BBC World Service - 30 Years Ago

On Wednesday the BBC World Service has a special day of programming to celebrate 80 years of international broadcasting. In this post I turn back the clock 30 years to recall some of the English Service programmes from February 1982.

This is the summary of regular programmes from the February 1982 issue of London Calling.

An old warhorse still on-air was Radio Newsreel, no doubt sounding much like it did some forty years previous. The regular news magazine was Outlook presented by either John Tidmarsh or Colin Hamilton, both of whom had been with the programme since 1966.

More news analysis was provided by Twenty-Four Hours. Back in 1982 the regular presenters were Alexander Macleod and David Lay; during the ‘70s John Tusa and Nigel Rees had worked on the programme.

A fairly recent addition to the schedules was Meridian, an arts programme that started in May 1981 replacing Theatre Call, Play Choice and Take One. Amongst the rota of presenters were Michael Billington, Alexander Walker, Jim Hiley, Gillian Reynolds, Sarah Dunant, Peter Clayton and Humphrey Carpenter.

Peter Clayton also hosted Jazz for the Asking. Other music shows that month included John Peel, A Jolly Good Show with DLT, Anything Goes with Bob Holness, classical requests with Gordon Clyde in The Pleasure’s Yours, Classical Record Review with Edward Greenfield, The Sandi Jones Request Show and Sarah and Company with Sarah Ward. You could also hear the latest chart sounds in Top Twenty, at the time the resident DJ was Paul Burnett.

On of the most popular shows was Letterbox, the World Service equivalent of Points of View. On air for about 20 years, I'm guessing, it was always (holidays apart) presented by Margaret Howard.

Another World Service regular was Casey Lord, he worked on both New Ideas, with Sarah Mills, and Business Matters along with Bob Finnigan.

Missing from the list, it got a seperate section in London Calling, is Saturday Special the sports coverage that ran from 15:00 to 18:00 presented by the great Paddy Feeny.

Last, and by no means least, I must mention The Merchant Navy Programme that went out three times a week. This programme about, erm, the Merchant Navy was presented for years by Malcolm Billings. I suspect that its brief was a little wider than that and included all things nautical but did you ever listen? If so, please let me know.

There’ll be more BBC World Service posts over the next few months.

Friday 24 February 2012

Wake Up Easy

The majority of listeners get their radio 'fix' first thing in the morning, radio’s primetime. In this post I'll be looking at the history of early morning radio on the BBC Light Programme and Radio 2: Breakfast Special and The Early Show. The Breakfast Shows of Wogan, Blackburn, Moyles et al I'll feature at a later date.

Home Service 16 Sept 1948
Go back far enough through the Radio Times back issues and you’ll find that there was little choice on offer for the morning listener. On 16 September 1948, for example, the Home Service kicked off with Bright and Early at 6.30 am featuring Jose Norman and his Rumballeros followed by Morning Music at 7.15 am with music from the BBC Midland Light Orchestra. Over on the Light Programme they had a lie-in and didn’t start transmission until 9 am when, after the news, you’d hear Housewives’ Choice.

Home Service 8 Aug 1958
Fast forward ten years to August 1958 and the Home Service still offers up Bright and Early (David Shand and his Orchestra) but now after 7 am we get Today, considerably shorter and less news-driven that it would become and with no listed presenter, though it is likely to be Jack de Manio. Morning Music was now on the Light from 7 to 9 am.

To give a flavour of what these shows sounded like here’s a short montage created from longer recordings courtesy of Brian Reynold’s website Masters of Melody.
This was pretty much the pattern into the 1960s: the Home Service provided the talk with Today and the Light the BBC recorded sessions from orchestras, including its own in-house ones, and various ensembles playing light music, songs from the shows and popular classics before record requests in Housewives’ Choice at 9 am.  But by 1964 early morning music radio was slowly beginning to change. The BBC could no longer be immune to the commercial pressures of the pop world and the pirates were on the horizon.

In January 1964 the BBC sought public opinion on its programming and by way of a week-long experiment some programmes featured singers amongst the otherwise instrumental diet. Some shows had announcers whereas previously the music was played in sequence with no interruption or, as with Morning Music, confined to time checks every 10 minutes or so and hourly reminders of the contributing orchestras. (When on the Home Service Morning Music had an announcer providing a straight introduction to each piece).

Easter Sunday 1964 brought the launch of Radio Caroline. Pop music was now available, to at least part of the country, all day long.  Add to this the growing trend to enjoy music on the move with your portable ‘tranny’ and improvement in car radio equipment and you can see why the BBC needed to change, which it did, slowly. There had also been a shift in listening habits with less people tuning in during the evening due to competition from the television; the draw of Dixon of Dock Green and Emergency Ward 10 proved too great.  Larger weekday radio audiences would eventually be realised at breakfast time.

By the late 50s the BBC was looking to extend its broadcasting hours, there was a fear that unused airtime and frequencies might be hived off to any commercial competition. It took the results of the Pilkington committee and further negotiations with the Musicians’ Union for more needletime to increase the hours – the Light Programme would start earlier and closedown at 2 am and the Third Programme’s frequencies were used to provide the Music Programme service during the day. These changes were phased-in by late ’64.   

Light Programme 11 June 1965
From August 1964 the Light Programme started its transmissions at 5.30 am with Bright and Early (the old Home Service show had returned as a daily fixture from September 1963 and would run until December 1964) and Morning Music between 6 and 8 am. From now on weekday editions had a named announcer assigned on a daily rota  – Jimmy Kingsbury, Bryan Martin, Tony Raymont, Paul Hollingdale, John Dunn, Rodney Burke, Sean Kelly, Jon Curle, David Geary, Roy Williamson, Peter Latham, John Roberts, Brian Perkins and Bruce Wyndham. Vocal groups, such as The Rita Williams Singers, are gradually brought into the music mix. As with the orchestras and bands-of which 35 are used in any given week-most of the musical contributions are BBC recorded sessions, though we now see the addition of “some stars on records”.

At the same time the Light also introduced a new disc programme, Family Fare, filling the gap between Morning Music and Housewives’ Choice. It had a different presenter each week also drawn from the ranks of the staff announcers. Popping up on this show were Bryan Martin, David Geary, John Roberts, Martin Muncaster, John Webster, Roger Moffatt, Robin Boyle and Rodney Burke.
The last Morning Music went out on Friday 22 October 1965, introduced by Paul Hollingdale. The following Monday heralded a new start to the day: Breakfast Special.

Breakfast Special ran from 5.30 to 9 am, 6 days a week and, at 3½ hours in length, became the longest regular show on the radio. Presenting duties in that first week were split amongst three staff announcers: John Roberts took Monday and Wednesday, Paul Hollingdale Tuesday and Friday and then Peter Latham Thursday and Saturday.

Featured in that first programme with John Roberts were The Albany Strings directed by Reg Pursglove, The Albert Marland Sextet, Jack Nathan & his Band, The Des Champ Octet, The Richard Holmes Quartet, Harold Smart Trio and the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra conducted by Jack Leon. Light Programme chief Denis Morris expected the programme to be “friendly and relaxed, but not unduly talkative”.

The use of staff announcers on Breakfast Special continued for the whole of its run to 1972. The rotation of presenters at daily, weekly, then later monthly or quarterly intervals dominated both this programme and The Early Show until 1993 with some notable exceptions who enjoyed a longer tenure – Simon Bates (74-75), Colin Berry (76-77, 84-88) Bruce Wyndham (Saturdays 67-75), Tom Edwards (Saturdays 75-79) and Dave Bussey (weekends 86-91).

A member of that early announcing team, Paul Hollingdale (these days living and working in Vienna) told me that at the time “the Head of Presentation was a man called Andrew Timothy, a veteran announcer and father of the actor Christopher Timothy. One of my first hurdles was to handle the death of Churchill which I announced with all the protocol that went with that on that Sunday morning in January 1965. Timothy told me that I would have to be de-luxembourgised - and I was directed to listen to various announcers like Colin Doran, Frank Phillips and Tim Gudgin.”

The hosting of Breakfast Special, and the many other music shows that gradually appeared in the schedules more often than not fell to the newer guys, the reason, Paul Holligdale says, was that “many of the older brigade of announcers like Frank Phillips, Alvar Lidell, John Snagge, John Webster etc. couldn’t quite believe that changes were in the air and so they didn't want to involve themselves  and weren’t in tune with the trends in pop music at that time. Apart from that they were all coming into the final furlong of their careers at the Beeb.”

Musically Breakfast Special was a mix of the old Morning Music and Family Fare: pop records and popular/light orchestral pieces and small instrumental bands/groups. This was by necessity as the BBC still had its contractual agreements with the Musicians’ Union and with its own in-house orchestras and daily ‘needletime’ was in single figures. By the late 60s increasingly more records were played and the session pieces from each orchestra or band were spread across the week.  Paul Hollingdale recalls that that it was “decided to introduce a limited amount of needletime into the shows -  one disc every fifteen minutes. And there were inserts of vocals from groups like The Settlers, The Pete King Chorale, Lois Lane etc.”

Here’s a typical Radio Times billing:
Light Programme 24 Sept 1966

From the start Breakfast Special had its own signature tune. Initially this was Jumping Jupiter by the Ron Godwin Orchestra.

But apparently the producers didn’t think much of that and by 6 December it was changed to C’Mon In by Syd Dale, provider of many a theme over the years.  Later Syd recalled that when he wanted to branch out on his own he had enough money to finance the recording of four of his own compositions and that C’Mon In was one of them. Its use as a theme by the BBC led to his contract with library music publishers KPM.
Although by the 1970s needletime had increased the use of BBC recorded sessions and re-recordings of pop songs of the day in Breakfast Special and then The Early Show continued into the 1980s. These two extracts should help give a feel for the sound and style of Breakfast Special, by now on Radio 2. From 1969 here’s the familiar warm friendly tones of Ray Moore, who’d joined the programme in 1968.

Writing in his autobiography Tomorrow is Too Late, Ray had this to say about his time on the programme:

The show gave us a refreshing freedom, three and half hours on the air in front of a live microphone and virtually a licence to say anything we liked. Here was the opportunity to put a personal stamp on a show, to develop it any way we chose. It was a glorious ego trip for us all. We might not be part of the BBC delegated ‘to instruct and inform’ but we did carry out the BBC’s other mission, ‘to entertain’, and we worked hard to create a show which worked.
From 1 January 1970 this is Paul Hollingdale with the first Breakfast Special of the new decade and, in fact, his penultimate regular show for the BBC.
During its time on the Light Programme Breakfast Special continued to be presented by three different announcers every week. Included in the rota were the following with, curiously, something of a New Zealand link and its fair share of former actors.

Bruce Wyndham – long-time BBC announcer on the General Overseas Service and then the Light Programme. Left the corporation in 1976 and later worked for Radios 210 and Hallam. Read more about Bruce here.
Peter Latham – former TV actor who left the BBC in the early 70s to become a priest in New Zealand. He died after being run over by a train.
John Roberts – a New Zealander who was a relief BBC tv newsreader in the early 60s (most famously on duty the evening that the news of JFK’s assassination broke), a Home Service and Light Programme announcer 1964-67 and presenter of Cavalcade.
Paul Hollingdale – broadcasting career started with the BFN in Germany. On Radio Luxembourg for 2½ years both from the London end and the Grand Duchy before returning to London in September 1964 and applying for the job of announcer. See also Down Your Local – Radio 210.
Jon Curle – former actor who became an announcer in 1959, later on Radio 3.  See also here.
David Symonds – gained broadcasting experience in New Zealand before joining the BBC in 1965. Read more in this post.
Dwight Wylie – the BBC’s first black announcer who joined the BBC in 1965. Returned to Jamaica in the early 70s and headed the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. Died in 2002.
David Dunhill - former journalist and British Forces Network announcer who joined the BBC in 1946. For many years he was the resident announcer on Take It From Here. Worked behind the scenes between 1956 and 1965 before returning to the microphone. Closed down the Home Service in 1967 and opened up Radio 4 the next morning. On retirement he trained many BBC local radio staff. Died in 2005.
Robin Boyle – with the BBC from 1947, best known as the long-running host of Friday Night is Music Night. See also here.
John Dunn – announcer across all the networks from the early 60s who presented a wide variety of programmes. Later best known for his drivetime show on Radio 2.
Sean Kelly – another former actor in films and the occasional tv series between 1957 and 1964 (633 Squadron amongst his credits) on the BBC from 1964 until the early 1969 then at Capital Radio as one of the hosts of Night Flight.

By late 1967, just before Radios 1 and 2 launched, the pattern had changed to a different presenter each week, Monday to Friday, and usually Bruce Wyndham on Saturday morning. Most of the old Light Programme team  continued to work on Radio 1 and/or Radio 2 as announcers/newsreaders, presenters of Breakfast Special or of Night Ride - the exception was David Symonds who joined Radio 1’s main daily DJ line-up.

When Radio 1 and Radio 2 replaced the old Light Programme on 30 September 1967 the first show on air that Saturday morning was Breakfast Special with Paul Hollingdale.
Most of the old Light Programme shows transferred across to Radio 2, but as funding was tight the two new networks continued to share programmes across the week, a situation that remained to a greater or lesser degree into the late ‘70s. The BBC paid for a brand new set of jingles for the fledging Radio 1, actually familiar to listeners of the old pirate station Radio London as they included re-sings of many of their PAMS produced packages. No such luxury was afforded to Radio 2 who didn’t use jingles until 1969. But for a while Breakfast Special did use this generic morning jingle “Wake Up Easy, Start the Day Right”.
I’ve never been able to establish who produced this jingle, though I guess it’s also a product of PAMS. Mike Vincent, now of Mountain Group News in the States, told me that he recalled a New York morning personality playing this on their daily show. Others have said they heard it on 560 KMON in Montana and 1270 CHAT in Medicine Hat. (Edit Jan 2019: I'm now aware that the jingle comes from a Production Aid disc issued by SESAC and is credited to a J. Fegins)

Pepper Tanner provided Radio 2’s first bespoke jingles in 1969. Here’s the Breakfast Special one. 
Radio Times Oct 1968
On 1 October 1967 Radio 2 started a Sunday version of Breakfast Special, its name Sunday Special. The presenter was Robin Boyle, who stayed with this show for most of its run. The first programme offered listeners music on disc plus Clinton Ford, The Radio Band Show conducted by Paul Fenoulhet, Brett Stevens, Harold Smart and the Strumalongs. Sunday Special ran until March 1970 when Keith Skues took over the slot with Sunday with Skues and from July ’71 to March ’72 Barry Alldis. These Sunday programmes had a strange split existence, each show starting on Radio 2 and then concluding over on Radio 1 only.

By 1968 the number of presenters for the weekday shows was confined to just the three, Paul Hollingdale, Ray Moore and John Dunn, doing a week at a time. By 1970 Paul had left the BBC leaving  just Ray and John.  But the all that was to change from April 1972 when the King of Breakfast started his reign.

It was Easter Monday, April the 3rd, 1972 that Terry Wogan moved across, somewhat reluctantly at the time, from his afternoon Radio 1 show to the new Radio 2 breakfast show. Breakfast Special was gone, replaced by Wogan between 7 and 9 am and from 5 to 7 am by The Early Show.

Like its predecessor The Early Show was in the hands of BBC staff announcers. First in the hot seat was Barri Haynes. I’m not sure how long Barri was with Radio 2 but at the time he was a continuity announcer at LWT. Barri was followed in May by Peter Donaldson – later best known as Chief Announcer on Radio 4.

The programme had its own signature tune, Eye Catcher by Otto Keller. This sample isn’t the one used on air which was a little more souped-up.
By the summer of 1972 The Early Show took on a familiar pattern of a rota of presenters, so just when you got used to one voice along came another. Until August 1973 both Tom Edwards and Pete Brady took it in turns but when Pete left the BBC, Barry Alldis was the other half of the team.

It was all change again from 25 March 1974 when a certain Simon Bates became the resident morning DJ. The old theme was dropped, replaced by David Rose’s When You’re With Me, which may be more familiar as the theme to the US TV series Little House on the Prairie.
Simon Bates was briefly an announcer over on Radio 4 before joining the presentation team on Radio 2. He worked on The Early Show until December 1975 with holiday cover provided by a young Jeff Cooper and Tony Brandon, of whom more later.
Here’s a clip of Jeff Cooper from 18 December 1974. You’ll find more audio on Jeff Cooper’s website.
On 5 January 1976 it was all change again when the man who would be long associated with early morning radio took over: Colin Berry.  By now the show’s timeslot had been reduced to just one hour (this had happened the previous January) between 6 and 7 am but, as Colin told me “it being technically on Radio 1 as well and because there was pretty well only LBC, Capital and BRMB there was only minimal competition, consequently the audience was huge”.  The audience was bumped up further as most of the show was also carried by many of the BBC local radio stations, who would dip out of the show as and when they started their own programming with a pre-recorded message from Colin.
During Colin’s era there were another couple of music tracks that became closely associated with the show. For the weather bed a piece called Bikini Parade by the Pierre Lavin Pop Band was used, and continued to be used by Ray Moore. In this clip that I’ve edited together note the use of another song as a short jingle, Good Morning by Leapy Lee.
The second track was a delightful 1974 single from an Australian group, The Moir Sisters, with the title Good Morning (How Are You?), a gift of a title for morning radio and used by Colin as a jingle, as in this short sequence. The voiceover is provided by Rod Lucas.
After a couple of years Colin moved aside for his old mate Ray Moore. Ray’s voice first thing in the morning is the one that many listeners, and professionals, recall with great fondness from this period on Radio 2. In fact Ray’s stints on The Early Show were non-contiguous over the next six years until a schedule re-shuffle in 1984. Here’s a clip of Ray from April 1980.
By now the show had no fixed theme tune but Ray used various tracks over the years such as Here, There and Everywhere by The Mike Leander Orchestra (he brought this with him from his Saturday night shows) and For All We Know by Ray Conniff. In the above clip there’s a third theme, also used by Steve Jones in 1980. I’ve eventually identified this music, with a little help, as The Minor Bird by Syd Dale (from his 1970 album The Birds).    
The Minor Bird

Hear more of Ray's early morning shows in this post.
Ray’s time on The Early Show was interspersed by appearances from another of DJs:

Richard Vaughan – had worked at BBC Radio London hosting Home Run, In Town This Afternoon and Rush Hour. Later TV work includes BBC South Today, NBC Super Channel, Eurosport and voiceovers.
Steve Jones – started at Radio 1 then joined Radio Clyde’s start-up team. Back at the Beeb in 1979 on The Early Show and later promoted to weekday lunchtimes. Best know on TV for The Pyramid Game.
Steve Jones

Here's Steve on 8 July 1981.

David Allan – former pirate DJ on Radio 390 before joining the BBC as radio producer and then presenter specialising in country music on Country Meets Folk, Country Style and Country Club. BBC2 continuity announcer 1969-1994.

Bob Kilbey – ex-Radio 1 specialist music presenter and later on BBC Radio London.

Tony Brandon
Tony Brandon – one-time Radio 1 DJ who’d moved over to Radio 2 in 1971. Tony’s first broadcast was in 1952 in the Carroll Levis Show and he subsequently toured with the show as a comedian and impressionist. On Radio Luxembourg 1966-7 and a short stint on pirate Radio London before joining the new Radio 1 team on Midday Spin and Radio One Club.  Gained a daily afternoon show in January 1969 initially called Sounds Like Tony Brandon. Ousted by Dave Cash eight months later he was on at the weekend with a late-night Tony Brandon Meets Saturday People. Back on weekday afternoons from April 1970 before moving over to mid-morning on Radio 2 on 4 October 1971. Tony moved around the day with various weekday shows on the network until 3 January 1975. Between 1975 and 1978 he provided holiday cover for Terry Wogan and on The Early Show for Simon Bates as well as presenting Radio 2 Top Tunes and starring in his own sitcom The Brandon Family.  Tony was back on The Early Show in between August to December 1978 and February to December 1979. His was the first show on air on Radio 2 when it switched over to medium wave in November 1978. In this clip you’ll notice that Tony was still using his old sig tune Happy Music by James Last & his Orchestra.
During this period Tony was still working in the theatre and would regularly do panto, hence his “disappearance” from the schedules around the festive period. Tony was back on Radio 2 in 1981-83 (see below) before heading off to County Sound and Saga. Now retired from broadcasting he still does some voiceover work. 
Amongst those providing holiday cover in 1979 was former New Faces compere Derek Hobson who at the time was popping up on various shows on Radio 2.

Meanwhile let’s go back to the weekend. From late 1967 the Saturday morning seat at Breakfast Special was occupied by Bruce Wyndham. He continued on Saturdays when The Early Show came along in 1972 before hanging up his headphones in July 1975, after which he went freelance.

Taking over from Bruce on the Saturday shift was Tom Edwards who enjoyed a continuous run of nearly four years.  Tom’s show was a regular listen for me. With him came his old pirate radio theme Mitch Murray’s version of Skyliner but by now a more Radio 2-friendly version by German bandleader Bert Kaempfert was in use. Often newsreader James Alexander Gordon, “old haggis features” would pop into the studio and help read the wedding day requests, presumably he’d then hang around to read the classified football results in the afternoon. Here’s a clip of Tom’s show from the early 1980 presented, as he says, with “effervescent panache”.
By the early ‘80s the Saturday show was followed on Radio 2 by David Jacobs and on Radio 1 by Playground and then Tony Blackburn with Junior Choice so often Tony would pop in for a chat with Tom.
As Tom Edwards recalls, “I left the staff of the BBC in 1979 to go freelance so up until the late 80s I was working at Thames TV during weekdays and HTV in Cardiff at the weekends with Tyne Tees, Anglia, Southern and ATV when they needed me. Then I went to Los Angeles for a few years but got homesick and within weeks was back at BBC East doing Look East and BBC Radio Norfolk, coming full circle in a way as I started at BBC East when I had just left Radio Caroline for the last time in 1967”.

From March 1979 Paddy O’Byrne was the Saturday host for nine months before Tom Edwards returned for a further 16 months. He was back again for three weeks in December 1982 and you can hear part of Tom’s Christmas Day show here.

By May of 1981 Tony Brandon had returned to Radio 2 to present not just the Saturday show but also a new Sunday one, taking over from Sam on Sunday when Sam Costa “retired”. This was the start of a long period of chopping and changing on the weekend shows and I’ll leave the detail to the timelines at the end of this post. Throughout 1982 and 1983 hosts included Sheila Tracy (the trucker’s friend), Peter Marshall (who’d also worked on weekend Late Shows), George Ferguson (ex-Manx Radio, BRMB and Beacon Radio) and fresh from Radio 1, Paul Burnett.

This is Tony Brandon waking up the nation on Saturday 16 May 1981.

Notice the continued use of BBC-recorded session music and a preponderance of country music, which inexplicably seemed to feature widely on the Radio 2 overnight and early morning shows at the time.

From January 1984 the weekend Early Show was carved-up: now on between 4 and 6 am initially with George Ferguson and followed by Sheila Tracy with The Saturday Show (6 to 8 am) or The Sunday Show (6 to 7.30 am). This remained the schedule until 1992 by which time Dave Bussey (later a mainstay at BBC Radio Lincolnshire) and David Allan were regulars.
That same 1984 shuffle of the deck meant changes to weekdays too. After an absence of six years Colin Berry was back on The Early Show now on even earlier between 4 and 5.30 am followed by Ray Moore from 5.30 to 7.30 am and then Terry Wogan. Technically Ray was now neither on The Early Show or the Breakfast Show, but what we would now call “Early Breakfast” or Ray would refer to as “The Porridge Programme”.  As he remarked on the day of the station’s 20th anniversary, here he was all those years later still working the morning shift – “what a wonderful progress in my career”.  Sadly illness meant that Ray had to bow out unannounced on 28 January 1988. 
Here’s an opportunity to hear again part of Colin Berry’s show as broadcast on Monday 18 February 1985.

Of the 80s shows Colin recalls that it was “a hard show to live with for three or four years, it meant getting up at 3 am and leaving the house by ten past. So it was a case of living your life around the show really, though as a youngish feller I burnt numerous candles at both ends!” So after his last weekday programme on 13 May 1988 Colin got to enjoy a lie-in.

By this time (1988) Chris Stuart had taken over Ray Moore’s old time slot and The Early Show was back with the continuity announcer/newsreading team personnel – Alex Lester (still working through the night some 20+ years later), Charles Nove (still heard on Radio 2 reading the news when not on BBC Oxford), Steve Madden (nowadays walking up listeners in the Home Counties on BBC Berkshire) and "Voice of the Balls" Alan Dedicoat.
January 1993 beckoned in a new era, one regular presenter for The Early Show. That presenter was Sarah Kennedy. Sarah had been at the station before as an announcer and newsreader between April 1977 and February 1979. Then it was off to the telly with Game for a Laugh and Busman’s Holiday on ITV and Sixty Minutes and The Animals Roadshow for the BBC, with just the occasional foray back to the radio, such as holiday cover for Wogan in 1983.

Sarah takes The Early Show record with an unrivalled 17 years, though the show soon gained the subtitle of The Dawn Patrol, with the Radio Times adopting this billing from 17 July 1995. Inevitably all those early rises took their toll and Sarah struggled with a number of short-term absences in latter years, covered at short notice by Richard Allinson, Lynn Parsons or Aled Jones. The show was often dogged by controversy (though this was sometimes newspaper mischief-making) and she tended to polarise Radio 2 listeners. Here’s Sarah on 13 August 2007.

Her last Dawn Patrol was exactly three years later, she went off sick on the Friday and never returned, meaning she was unable to say a final farewell to her listeners. Effectively the weekday Early Show had fizzled out anyway when the title was dropped. The current early morning show just gets the billing of Vanessa Feltz; programme titles for the most part are little used these days.

Meanwhile back at the weekend, and winding back the clock to 1992, the Sunday Early Show was dropped in favour of a longer running The Sunday Show with new presenter Barbara Sturgeon.   The Saturday shifts fell to Alex Lester, Steve Madden and Bill Rennells before Colin Berry made his final return to morning radio at the station in April 1993.

For the rest of the ‘90s the Saturday Early Show was seen as something of a try-out slot with all manner of presenters from local radio, singers, writers, actors and sports people. A number of the shows were also independently produced. Worth mentioning are Mo Dutta who would also cover for Sarah Kennedy and eventually take up residency on Saturday and Sunday mornings on Radio 2 from 1994 to 2009; Lynn Bowles, now known for her travel bulletins and banter with Ken Bruce; Diane-Louise Jordan, the new presenter of Sunday Half-Hour; and Helen Mayhew, who would return to the station on Big Band Special.

Again like the weekday show the Saturday Early Show just kind of disappeared. It had long been dropped as a programme title and when Janey Lee Grace took over from February 2000 it eventually ended up in the Radio Times listings for the Friday night rather than the Saturday morning and from 2003 ran went out from 3 to 6 am.

So there you have it, the history of about 16,000 get-ups, waking up to sound of the wireless or just rolling over for an extra 10 minutes snooze. Raise your early morning cup of tea to Paul, John, Bruce, Simon, Sarah, Tom, Colin, Ray and all the rest.

“Wake up easy start the day right. Wake up easy smile and be bright. We’ll start the day off with music for you, the latest word on the weather and news. Wake up easy smile and be gay. Put on the coffee, start a new day. It’s time for music, so out of that bed and wake up easy don’t be such a sleepy head”.
I am indebted to the following for their assistance in writing this post: Colin Berry, Tom Edwards, Paul Hollingdale, Tony Currie, Brian Reynolds, Malcy B, Andy Howells, Noel Tyrrel and all the readers that commented on the first Early Show post.

Help Required. Do you have any audio clips of Simon Bates or Bruce Wyndham on the Radio 2 Early Show that you’d be willing to share? If so please contact me.

The Breakfast Show/Early Show Brief Timeline

For a more detailed timeline you can download a PDF document here.

1 November 1965 First Breakfast Special with John Roberts (Light Programme)
30 September 1967 First Breakfast Special on Radio 1 & Radio 2 with Paul Hollingdale
1 October 1967 First Sunday Special with Robin Boyle
29 March 1970 Final Sunday Special
31 March 1972 Final Breakfast Special with John Dunn
1 April 1972 First Saturday Early Show with Bruce Wyndham
3 April 1972 First weekday Early Show with Barri Haynes
Presentation eventually shared between Pete Brady and Tom Edwards for a month at a time
6 August 1973 Barry Alldis shares presenting with Tom Edwards when Pete Brady leaves the BBC
25 March 1974 Simon Bates takes over as host
26 July 1975 Tom Edwards takes over from Bruce Wyndham on Saturdays
5 January 1976 Colin Berry takes over as host
2 January 1978 Ray Moore’s first stint. Until 1982 presenting duties are shared with Steve Jones, Tony Brandon, Richard Vaughan, David Allan and Bob Kilbey
31 March 1979 Paddy O’Byrne takes over on Saturdays
19 January 1980 Tom Edwards back on Saturdays
9 May 1981 Tony Brandon regular Saturday presenter
10 May 1981 Tony Brandon on new Sunday Early Show
Weekend hosts alternate between Peter Marshall, Tony Brandon, George Ferguson, Sheila Tracy and Tom Edwards
28 June 1982 Ray Moore on weekdays
Weekend hosts are Sheila Tracy, Paul Burnett, Tony Brandon and George Ferguson
21/22 January 1984 George Ferguson at weekends 4-6am followed by The Saturday Show or The Sunday Show with Sheila Tracy
23 January 1984 Colin Berry on The Early Show 4-5.30am, Ray Moore 5.30-7.30am followed by Terry Wogan
There are numerous weekend hosts throughout 1984-1986
20 December 1986 Dave Bussey now regular weekend presenter
28 January 1988 Ray Moore’s final R2 show
4 April 1988 Chris Stuart takes over Ray’s programme slot
13 May 1988 Colin Berry’s last regular weekday show
The weekday show presenters change at intervals between Steve Madden, Bill Rennells, Charles Nove and Alex Lester from 1988 to 1992
15 January 1989 David Allan now regular Sunday presenter with Dave Bussey on Saturday only
30 March 1991 Saturday show presented by Steve Madden then Charles Nove and Alex Lester
4 January 1992 Sunday programme dropped for an extended The Sunday Show. Saturday hosts are Alex Lester, Bill Rennells and Steve Madden
4 January 1993 Sarah Kennedy now permanent host
17 April 1993 Colin Berry on Saturday mornings
2 April 1994 Saturday morning duties change at regular intervals from now on
12 February 2000 Janey Lee Grace takes over as regular Saturday host through to 2004.
13 August 2010 Sarah Kennedy’s last show
17 January 2011 Vanessa Feltz starts new show 5-6.30am

Thursday 23 February 2012

It’s the way I tell ‘em!

Comedian Frank Carson died yesterday aged 85. Frank, with his quick fire wisecracks, first came to prominence when he won Opportunity Knocks and he became a household name in the ‘70s on ITV’s The Comedians and Who Do You Do?.

Pull the Other One - Radio Times Jan 1987 
Mainly on TV Frank made occasional guest appearances on radio including being one of the regular participants in four series of the Radio 2 panel game Pull the Other One - kind of Does the Team Think meets Mock the Week but with the jokes loosely based on “daft but true” news stories. Alongside Frank was chairman David Frost and the other regular Ken Dodd. In this, the first ever edition of the series, they are joined by Leslie Crowther.   

This programme was first broadcast on 22 January 1987.

Frank Carson 1926-2012 “It’s a cracker!”

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Radio Lives - Kenneth Williams

or The Big Cult all the way from Great Portland Street

Surely there as few British celebrities who are so widely imitated – Frankie Howerd, Tommy Cooper and Jimmy Savile would be on the list – as Kenneth Williams. Everyone can do Kenny.  But the public face that he presented, and of course that voice, was a mix of the real Williams together with a dash of all those characters created for him by some of the best scriptwriters in the business.  

With the Radio 4 panel game Just a Minute celebrating its 45th year it’s perhaps timely to recall one of the great exponents of the game, the irrepressible and irreplaceable Kenneth Williams

Of course Just a Minute came relatively late in Williams’ career, he was already a veteran of some of the best known radio comedies of all time and a star, on no star money, of the Carry On series.

Kenneth’s appearance with Hancock and Horne are well represented by regular repeats on BBC 4 Extra and commercial releases so I’ll avoid reposting them here. [1] Instead I’m been rummaging in my ganderbag and I’ll be concentrating on his later shows including his last ever radio appearance in 1988.

Like many of his generation Kenneth’s first taste for performing came from his days with the Combined Services Entertainments, the successor to the famous ENSA. That was in 1947 where, as part of the Survey Section of the Royal Engineers, he was posted to the Far East. Here he also got his first taste of radio broadcasting on Radio Malaya and the Blighty Calling programme on the Forces Network of Radio Rangoon.

On demob Williams pursued his theatrical ambitions, and he remained dedicated to the stage for many years, with the Newquay Repertory Players.  Throughout the 1950s Kenneth’s regular work was mostly in local rep before moving into revues that allowed him to use that voice to more comedic effect. Later he would make occasional forays into “legitimate” theatre. 

According to Williams’ diary he earned his first BBC cheque in 1949 for a part in a John P. Wynn radio serial Gordon Grantley K.C. His first tv work came in 1952 in the role of the Angel in an H.G. Wells fantasy The Wonderful Visit. The first cinema role was the same year, a junior gardener in the murder thriller Trent’s Last Case.  But generally work was slow even though, as he saw it, “I am destined to be a good actor.”

Kenny’s big break came, as is well-documented and was oft-repeated by Williams himself, when he played the part of the Dauphin in Saint Joan opposite Siobhan McKenna. “In the Epilogue to the play”, he relates in his autobiography, “I used a heavily ageing make-up and a querulous old man’s voice and to my astonishment this led to a call from the BBC asking me to join the radio programme, Hancock’s Half Hour”.

Roger Wilmut, in Tony Hancock ‘Artsiste’, takes up the story:

Main Wilson needed one more regular voice, to play the succession of lower-middle class bureaucrats with whom Hancock was expected to get involved. He rang round various theatrical agents without success, until one of them suggested that Main Wilson should go to see an actor – not on the agent’s books – who was appearing as the Dauphin in Shaw’s Saint Joan at the Arts Theatre. It was the twenty-eight-year old Kenneth Williams.

Main Wilson went to see the performance. He was not disappointed- Williams imbued the Dauphin with comedy, sadness, and towards the end, a malevolence that deeply impressed Main Wilson.
The first episode of Hancock’s Half-Hour was recorded at the Camden Theatre on 30 October 1954 and transmitted three days later on the Light Programme.  In the show Williams plays the part of Lord Bayswater.

His diary entry for the recording states that it “went very well really, and I got through OK”, but the following week, ever critical of his own performances, he played a policeman and a judge “both badly”. A month later again he was “really very bad indeed” but also the Galton and Simpson script was “lousy”. This flipping of opinion from day to day, from show to show was not uncommon throughout his career and mirrored Williams’ own behaviour on shows such as Just a Minute: earnest and intellectual one moment and outrageous and lewd the next.  Kenneth was well-read in prose and verse (he would contribute to several Radio 4 poetry programmes in later years) but the baser Cockney humour often surfaced.

Williams and Hancock got on famously at first but the latter’s gradual self-destruction through his search for some form of comedic truth led to the dropping of Williams – “it’s a gimmick-a funny voice-it’s cartoon stuff. It’s not true to life and I don’t want it in the show.” – and Bill Kerr, Hattie Jacques, Sid James and eventually Galton and Simpson.

The ‘snide’ voice and the catchphrase “stop messin’ about” may have been dropped by Hancock but they gave Williams a fame, of a kind he did not seek, and led to the start of his greatest period on the radio working with Kenneth Horne, whom he adored and admired, on Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne.

For a while, in 1958 and 1959, Kenneth was on both Beyond Our Ken (the pilot had been recorded in 1957 but it went to series the following February) and Hancock’s Half Hour.  From the off he thought the scripts by Eric Merriman and Barry Took “v. good” and the opening moments of the first episode show the “snide” voice back in use.

Carry On publicity shot
1958 also saw the start of that other great British institution, the Carry On series. In Carry on Sergeant, taking its cue from the hit Granada TV series The Army Game, Williams played the “supercilious know-all” James Bailey. The series, which nearly all featured Williams, made him a household name and added to the list of his catchphrases and quotable lines : “oh matron”, “infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me”, “frying tonight!”. Eventually he came to loathe the “appalling” scripts but whilst enjoying the camaraderie and fun of the cast and crew.  He never got rich on these films, the fee for Sergeant was £800 and remained so until 1962 when it was raised to £5,000 and was little changed for the remainder of the run. Years later, from the mid-70s on, more lucrative work came from commercial voiceovers.

Beyond Our Ken came to an end in 1964 following a dispute between the BBC and writer Eric Merriman. The follow-up series, planned as It’s Ken Again but changed to Round the Horne, was scripted by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, who had both been working on The Army Game. Those shows, running from 1965 to 1968, gave Williams free-reign to use all the voices in his repertoire, to ham it up mercilessly and to seemingly come out of character (Williams was a great ad-libber) , though it was, of course, all scripted.

I demand a rewrite. Give me back my youth. Take no notice listeners – I’m still young and lithe – I am a gilded youth. Gilded. Gilded.
The Round the Horne cast and script were all top-notch and are still deliciously funny today. Williams’ regular characters of Rambling Syd Rumpo, J. Peasmold Gruntfuttock, Dr Chou En Ginsberg, MA (Failed) and Sandy, to Paddick’s Julian, are stand out comic creations.  

Typically Kenneth’s reactions to the series swung from a “marvellous series of scripts” to “moribund” but there’s no doubting that the sudden death of Kenneth Horne in 1968 was a blow; “I loved that man. His unselfish nature, his kindness, tolerance and gentleness were an example to everyone. God know what will happen to the series now”.

What happened was a series developed specifically for Williams, but seen as a rehash of RTH, called Stop Messing About. Barry Took, who dipped out of writing this series, concluded “it was not a great success and was soon abandoned”. Listening again to Stop Messing About you sense the loss of Kenneth Horne around whom all the madness used to happen. As if to compensate, announcer Douglas Smith gets more lines as the show’s straight man. The show lasted for two series.

Radio Times 1 Sept 1971
There followed a handful of short-lived comedy vehicles for Williiams: The Secret Life of Kenneth Williams (1971) and More of The Secret Life of Kenneth Williams (1973) written by R.D. Wingfield. These actually came from the BBC drama department, being produced by Keith Williams, the first producer on Waggoners’ Walk. The use of announcer Douglas Smith in the first series provided the link back to BOK and RTH. The Kenneth Williams Playhouse (1975) was four different shows one of which made it to a full series. That series was Oh, Get On with It! (1976) written by Pete Spence and co-starring his old mate Lance Percival and Miriam Margoyles. This was his last comedy series in a starring role, subsequent radio work was of the variety show style or as a guest panellist or speaker.

Another series around this time reunited him with his Carry On Teacher co-star Ted Ray, The Betty Witherspoon Show (1974).  The cast also included Miriam Margolyes and Nigel Rees. Williams judged the first recording as “just all right”. 

The panel game Just a Minute was first broadcast in December 1967 but it wasn’t until the second series the following year that Kenneth joined the show and stayed with it for the next 20 years, clocking up 346 appearances.  The ‘classic’ line-up of regulars would eventually become Williams, Clement Freud, Derek Nimmo and Peter Jones (in fact they appeared together in 38 programmes).

This edition from series sixteen in 1982 features the four regulars. All are on top form as we hear attacks on Parsons’ chairmanship and a running gag about his wife, Nimmo’s world travels, witty interjections from Jones which Williams always relished (hear his braying laugh), and Freud’s use of lists and buzzing-in with seconds to go. It also gives an excellent opportunity to hear how Kenneth played the game-  the swooping cadences, the change of voice mid-sentence, calls to “shut your row” and the final flourish, a full minute without interruption. You can just see those flaring nostrils.

On the whole Williams enjoyed these Just a Minute recordings though as he admitted he sometime behaved “outrageously” or “disgracefully”.  Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he was now a regular on panel games and chat shows on both TV – Parkinson, Wogan, Harty, Aspel, Give Us a Clue, Whose Baby?, Through the Keyhole etc. – and radio.

On the radio you could catch Kenneth on the likes of Quote…Unquote, The Law Game, On the Air and Dealing with Daniels. From 1980 here he is on the quotations game. On the panel is John Lahr biographer of Kenneth’s old friend, playwright Joe Orton. Williams himself seems a little subdued at first, unwilling to play the game until coaxed by Rula Lenska’s anecdotes. Providing good value is Wynford Vaughan-Thomas.  The chairman, as always, is Nigel Rees with Ronald Fletcher reading the quotations.

Kenneth Williams' Cabaret with
Julie Covington and Pat Coombs

In 1982 Kenneth was one of the hosts on the Radio 2 series One Man’s Variety [2] providing the links between the musical and comedy acts. He’d done this role before of course on the late 60s TV series International Cabaret, but there’s now a growing sense of ‘haven’t we heard this all before?’. Kenneth himself wrote that “for years I have been using my own material in chat shows or panel games, and I feel that I have become drained of all the ad-lib inventiveness.”

He was again Master of Ceremonies the following year in the four-part series Kenneth Williams’ Cabaret. [3] Here’s the third programme with guests impressionist Peter Goodwright and singer Lois Lane. This was recorded on a poor quality tape so apologies for the tape hiss.

Williams recorded his second appearance on Desert Island Discs in March 1987 and you can hear that programme online.

The Spinners
His last radio recording was made at the BBC’s Paris Theatre Studios on 7 March 1988 when he was a guest of The Spinners – they were celebrating their 40th and final year in showbusiness. Kenneth’s diary entry reads: “Met the Spinners in the narration booth & then rehearsed with Terry Walsh [guitarist]…oh! it was a delight to see him again. Alas! we have both grown old since the days of ‘R.T.H.’. Eventually I went on and did the spot in an enclosed space-they screened off the studio saying it made a good atmosphere but the truth was that it was a sparse audience.”

Here’s the show The Spinners and Friends as broadcast on 4 August 1988 with Kenneth doing an old Rambling Syd Rumpo song and reminiscing about his time on Round the Horne and Just a Minute.

A little over a month after making this recording Kenneth was found dead in his London flat. Although he’d been ill for a year or more and had contemplated suicide many times in his life an inquest recorded an open verdict.

His legacy to entertainment lives on in those classic shows from radio’s golden age and the Carry On re-runs. It may not be the great acting legacy he always wanted, but it’s a great comic legacy nonetheless.

Kenneth Charles Williams 1926-1988. 

[1] Hancock’s Half-Hour, Beyond Our Ken, Round the Horne and Stop Messing About are all available on CD from BBC Audio. Thanks to fellow radio enthusiasts I’ve been able to obtain copies of The Secret Life of Kenneth Williams, The Kenneth Williams Playhouse and Oh, Get On With It!. All the full length recordings in this post come from my own archive.

 [2] One Man’s Variety (or One Woman’s Variety) was broadcast  2202-2300 Tuesdays 02.02.82 to 23.03.82 on BBC Radio 2. Each programme hosted as follows: (1) Ray Alan & Lord Charles (2) Roy Walker (3) Roy Hudd (4) Colin Crompton (5) Vince Hill (6) Janet Brown (7) John Inman (8) Kenneth Williams. Producer Richard Willcox.

[3] Kenneth Williams’ Cabaret was broadcast  2130-2200 Tuesdays 25.01.83 to 15.2.83 on BBC Radio 2. All shows featured singing group Cantabile. (1) Pat Coombs and Julie Covington (2) Peter Hudson, Barbara Jay & Tommy Whittle (3) Peter Goodwright and Lois Lane (4) Isla St Clair and Jonathan Adams. Producer Jonathan James-Moore

Quotes taken from:
 Just Williams by Kenneth Williams, JM Dent & Sons 1985
The Kenneth Williams Diaries edited by Russell Davies, Harper Collins 1993
Round the Horne:The Complete and Utter History by Barry Took, Boxtree 1998
Tony Hancock ‘Artiste’ by Roger Wilmut, Methuen 1978

Web Links
Kenneth Williams Appreciation Society
Kenneth Williams on TV

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