Wednesday 29 May 2013

Coronation Day Radio

It was the first major television event in Britain and changed our viewing habits forever but what of the radio coverage of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II back in the summer of 1953.

“The ceremonial pomp and pageantry of June 2 will furnish a theme for storytellers and balladmakers who are not yet born”, proclaimed the special edition of the Radio Times. “How lucky are we who will be able to tell our children’s children that we had a part in the events of the great day. Thanks to broadcasting, none of us need be denied the opportunity of sharing in them”.

The TV audience was almost double that for radio: of the adult population about 56%, or 20,400,000, peered at those small TV screens whilst 11,700,000 followed the events on the wireless.

In 1953 the BBC offered three radio services: the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme (though this only broadcast in the evenings). On Coronation Day the Home and Light joined forces from 5.30 a.m. to 5.20 p.m. Before the main event listeners were offered sequences of light music with Music While You Wait, the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra, Victor Silvester, the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra and Commonwealth Melodies from Peter Yorke and his Orchestra.

Covering the procession and the ceremony were a group of commentators, many of whom would continue to work for the BBC over the next couple of decades or so. At Buckingham Palace was Jean Metcalfe of Family Favourites fame. At the Victoria Memorial were Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, from Australia Talbot Duckmanton and from Trinidad William Richardson. Stationed at Trafalgar Square was Raymond (Tomorrow’s World) Baxter and at Victoria Embankment Rex Alston, best known as a cricket commentator. At Middlesex Guildhall were former wartime reporter and future BBC manager Frank Gillard alongside Tom Fleming who would go on to describe numerous state events for BBC television.  BBC commentator Henry Riddell was positioned at St James’s Palace and Alun Williams at Stanhope Gate.  Announcer David Lloyd James was at Marble Arch and cricket commentator John Arlott at Piccadilly Circus. In the Annexe to Westminster Abbey were Audrey Russell and Canadian Ted Briggs. The service itself was described by Howard Marshall and John Snagge, both of whom had also covered the Coronation of King George VI in 1937.

Following the Coronation the Home Service offered Children’s Hour with David Davis, Henry Hall’s Guest Night, the guest being ‘Our Gracie’, Gillie Potter (with tales of Hogsnorton) and The Kingdom Dances. Over on the Light more music from the Majestic Orchestra, Rhythm is Our Business and the hit comedy Take It From Here.

The Home and Light combined again at 8 p.m. for Long live the Queen narrated by actor Robert Donat with music by William Alwyn. Just before 9 p.m. Sir Winston Churchill spoke to the nation and on the hour the BBC television service joined, in sound only, for the Queen’s message.

Events on the Home Service continued at 9.15 p.m. with Coronation Day Across the World narrated by Leo Genn, John Snagge and David Lloyd James. This programme is being repeated this weekend on BBC Radio 4 Extra.  A performance of resoundingly patriotic music followed in Land of Hope and Glory, Raymond Baxter described the firework display (yes, on the radio!), Rikki Fulton introduced the Show Band Show, a programme, incidentally, produced by Johnnie (Mr Top of the Pops) Stewart. Finally, in an extended day’s broadcasting through until 1 a.m. there was Let the People Dance featuring music from the likes of Geraldo and Jimmy Shand interspersed with commentary “on the street scenes of Coronation night”.

A programme described as “a living, instantaneous sound picture of rejoicings and
celebrations with song and dance, with ceremonial drums and loyal messages,
on a scale as great as anything attempted in the history of broadcasting”.
On the Light Programme there was a performance of the Basil Hood/Edward German comic opera Merrie England  before they re-joined the Home Service.   

Meanwhile over on the Third Programme from 6 p.m. there was music from Kirsten Flagstad, Solomon Cutner, a talk by Sir Llewellyn Woodward, concerts featuring works by Handel produced by the Canadian and Australian broadcasting services and rounding off with Esme Percy and Paul Scofield in Thomas Love Peacock’s Gryll Grange.

The Coronation issue of the Radio Times, with a circulation expected to exceed 9 million copies, made mention of its own special cover with its Eric Fraser illustration. “The coloured cover we have produced has been printed in a novel way: the yellow background was printed by a gravure process on 50-incg reels each of which had to be re-wound twice and cut into four 12 ¼-inch reels before being fed into our presses; the black design was printed over the background in the course of the run”. 

Thumbing through the rest of the RT programme highlights include a new production of The Tempest with John Gielgud as Prospero; on The Forces Show alongside Ted Ray, Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss was Betty Driver (aka Corrie’s Betty Turpin)and a gala performance titled Light Up Again in which Brian Reece (PC 49) and Noel Johnson (Dick Barton) introduce the stars of Hi, Gang!, Waterlogged Spa, Riders of the Range, Ignorance is Bliss, Much-Binding-in-the Marsh and Variety Bandbox.  And finally I wonder if As Millions Cheer ever made it to the archives? This hour-long programme was set in a newspaper office on Coronation eve and featured Eric Barker, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Marks, Roy Plomley, Pearl Hackney, Maurice Denham, Stanley Unwin, Graham Startk and Herbert Mostyn (i.e. Frank Muir and Denis Norden).

This weekend there are a number of radio and TV programmes celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Coronation:

1953: Those Radio Times on Radio 4 Extra (Saturday 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.)

A Royal Gala Programme of Radio Variety on Radio 4 Extra (Sunday 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.)

Coronation Day Across the World on Radio 4 Extra (Sunday 8 p.m.)

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II a complete re-run of the TV coverage on BBC Parliament (Sunday from 10.10 a.m.)

Coronation Year in Colour on ITV1 (Sunday 5.30 p.m.)

Thursday 23 May 2013

Eddie Braben

Scriptwriter Eddie Braben, who died earlier this week, is rightly lauded for his contribution to British comedy: the TV and radio scripts for Morecambe and Wise. What is often overlooked are the radio shows that Eddie both wrote and starred in during the 70s and 80s.

In 1975 there was The Worst Show on the Wireless followed by The Show with Ten Legs in 1978. This in turn spawned The New Improved Show with Ten Legs in 1979 and three years later The Show with No Name (1982-84). All the shows were produced by James Casey up in Manchester for Radio 2.

This is an episode of The Show with Ten Legs that I recorded on 28 August 1980. Starring alongside Eddie are the gormless Eli Woods, Alison Steadman (a radio regular at this time also appearing with Roy Castle and later on The News Huddlines and Week Ending ), David Casey and David Mahlowe.

This particular broadcast was billed in the Radio Times as a repeat, though the rest of the run wasn’t. My own notes state that it was first broadcast on 15 July 1979 which actually makes it the first episode of The New Improved Show with Ten Legs, though this isn’t mentioned in the recording. If anyone can offer a definitive answer please let me know.

Eddie Braben (1930-2013)
You can hear Morecambe and Wise’s last ever programme for the BBC, repeated this week on Radio 4 Extra, online at this link:

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Pop Over Europe

It’s Eurovision. This year yet again the UK rolls out one of pop’s golden oldies, as the raspy-voiced power balladeer Bonnie Tyler attempts to impress voters with Believe In Me.

For many years the voice and face of Euro-pop on the BBC was Catherine Boyle – later billed as Katie Boyle of Camay ad fame and the TV Times agony aunt column Dear Katie. During the 60s and early 70s she hosted the Light Programme/Radio 2 show Pop Over Europe and was compère on four occasions at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision 1968

Here’s Katie in 1990, broadcasting just before Zagreb contest, recalling some of the past winners in 35 Years of Eurovision. This show went out on Radio 2 on 5 May 1990.   

Wednesday 8 May 2013

State Opening of Parliament

Today’s State Opening of Parliament once again displays al the pomp and majesty in what is essentially a triumph of style over substance. The Queen’s Speech will, no doubt, have been well sign-posted in advance and is unlikely to contain any surprises.

Admittedly we can now be pretty blasé about the whole event but 55 years ago the State Opening was broadcast for the first time, on both radio and television.  The decision to cover the event was not taken lightly. During a Parliamentary debate in July of that year Prime Minister Harold MacMillan was adamant that it was not the start of regular coverage: “I should like to make it clear that the Government regard this ceremony as a State occasion, quite distinct from the day-to-day work of Parliament, and that they have no intention of proposing that facilities for the televising of those day-to-day proceedings should be allowed”.

The Government was also at pains to ensure that the public didn’t think that the Queen was sullying her hands with the dirty world of politics. The speech “is drafted by the cabinet and is a short, factual account of what the Government proposes to do during the coming session of Parliament”, wrote the BBC’s Parliamentary Correspondent Roland Fox. “The fear has often been expressed that this would not be realised by the viewing and listening millions if the speech were to be broadcast ‘live’. When the decision to allow the facilities for the first time was announced in the House of Commons, Mr Gaitskell said there was a possible danger that the sight of Her Majesty reading the speech might be misleading, and he emphasised how important it was that the Crown should not become involved in party politics”.  

That first broadcast of the Procession from Buckingham Palace and the State Opening was on Tuesday 28 October 1958. Explaining the proceedings to BBC viewers was, naturally enough for a Royal event, Richard Dimbleby. Meanwhile radio coverage on the Home Service was described by Audrey Russell from the Victoria Memorial, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas at Westminster Abbey, Raymond Baxter at the Entrance to the Palace of Westminster and David Lloyd James in the House of Lords.

That week’s Radio Times went into some detail not just about the ceremony itself but the engineering problems involved in bringing to the public, with the pictures also been fed to Independent Television.
As a broadcasting operation, the Opening of Parliament, for all its richness and splendour, does not compare with the Coronation in complexity and magnitude. It has its own problems, however. The engineers led by Alan Bray and his chief planner John Allport, have had to install and the test the equipment at odd moments when the Law lords were not sitting. Cameras have had to be conjured into positions where they don’t steal seating space for the distinguished gathering.
In the sound radio broadcast, the absence of music, except for fanfares, will thow a heavier load on the commentary.
Not to spoil the splendour and dignity of the Palace of Westminster, the three cameras covering the ceremony in the Upper House will be mounted inconspicuously on platforms built into doorways and galleries. Sound-proof cubicles have been set up for Richard Dimbleby and David Lloyd James, and for the Independent Television commentator.   (The ITA’s commentator was Robin Day).
Pictures are, of course, only half the story. The sound side, like television, will have its specially-built control panel in the Houses of Parliament. Charles Max-Muller, producing for sound, will have with him the veteran engineer R.H. Wood, for the past 22 years responsible for the Royal broadcasts from Sandringham on Christmas Day.
Microphones, though less eye-catching than television cameras, could still jar on the august Chamber. The engineers have tried their hands at camouflage. For instance, the tow microphones carrying the Queen’s Speech are hidden behind twin angels on either side of the Throne and gilded to match their wings.

The BBC TV coverage of the 1958 ceremony has cropped up on the BBC Parliament channel but here’s the Pathé Newsreel of the occasion.

Monday 6 May 2013

2Day - Journey Back to 1980

This Friday on BBC Radio 2 sees the return of 2Day for its third year in a row. And, as is now tradition, I delve into the station’s past and feature a day’s broadcasting condensed to just a few minutes.

So its back to Saturday 8 March 1980, all in just nine minutes. That day’s schedule ran as follows:

0200 You and the Night and the Music with Geoff Bennett
0500 Tom Edwards with The Early Show
0800 David Jacobs with Star Sounds
1000 Pete Murray’s Saturday Show
1300 The News Huddlines(not included)
1330 Sport on 2 with Peter Brackley
1800 Europe 80 with Colin Berry
1900 Beat the Record with Don Davis
1930 Big Band Special with Sheila Tracy
2000 Saturday Night is Gala Night(not included)
2200 Sentimental Journey with Carl Sheppard
2300 Bob Kilbey with The Late Show

You’ll also hear the voices of Tim Gudgin, James Alexander Gordon and Vivien Stuart.

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