Tuesday 30 December 2014

Rolling Back the Year

We are, apparently, slap bang in the middle of what some call Merryneum. That post Christmas period when we’ve had our fill of pud, turkey leftovers and the sales and we’re girding our loins for the New Year’s Eve revelries and the return to work. It’s also a time for reflection on the past year, the highlights and the lowlights, the good and the bad.

As usual there are a smattering of review programmes in the current national radio schedules. I’ve spotted BBC Radio 4’s News Review of the Year with Sarah Montague hash-tagging the year and Pick of the Year with Lynne Truss. On Radio 5 Live there’s Chris Warburton’s news and sports highlights in 5 Live in Short and the excellent Radio Review of the Year with Jane Garvey and Stephanie Hurst. On the World Service you can hear highlights from across the language services in The Fifth Floor.      
But on the RRJ blog I like to dip into the archive and so its not the last twelve months I’m remembering but the events on 1982 when for much of the year the focus in the UK was on a forgotten group of islands in the South Atlantic.

News Review of the Year 1982 is presented by one of the BBC's then foreign correspondents, David McNeil. It was produced by John Allen and broadcast on Radio 4 on Sunday 26 December 1982.

Monday 29 December 2014

Year Ending – 35 Years Ago

Do you recall the news events of 1979? No me neither, the General Election aside.  So to remind you, here’s the Week Ending team with their take on the year.

You’ll hear the voices of Bill Wallis, David Tate, Sheila Steafel and Chris Emmett with musical accompaniment from the David Firman Trio. The main writer is Guy Jenkin with other sketches, songs and news lines provided by Max Alcock, John Langdon, Roger Woddis, Peter Hickey, Richard Quick, Alan Nixon, Strode Jackson, Stephen Jacobs, Simon Rose, Vilnis Vesma and Andy Wilson.
This edition of Year Ending went out at 11.15 p.m. on New Year’s Eve (and no repeat) so goodness knows how many people heard it at the time. The BBC don’t have a copy but home recordings exist including this one from my archive.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

A Tip Top Christmas

Pull the master switch. All aboard for A Radio Tip Top Christmas.

Yes once again I crank up the Lunewyre technology to bring you this 1996 Christmas Day special hosted by Kid Tempo and The Ginger Prince for what was to be their last outing on BBC Radio 1.

May I wish a very Happy Christmas to all readers of the blog and offer particular thanks to all those that have kindly offered feedback, information and old recordings. I’ll be back with some year-end specials next week.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Big Holy Christmas

What was big and holy and appeared at Christmas? Answer: Simon Mayo’s Big Holy Christmas show on Radio 1. It was a seasonal version of the station’s mid-90s “irreligious religious” programme that was, according to Robert Hanks of The Times, “light on religion and heavy on the Mayo.”

The three Christmas Eve editions of Simon Mayo’s Big Holy Christmas in 1993, 1994 and 1995 are perhaps best remembered for the renditions of well-known Christmas carols in the hands of some unlikely pop stars. In this (edited) edition from 24 December 1994 you’ll hear Sparks perform Little Drummer Boy, Sandie Shaw attempts Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Squeeze with I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday, Donna Summer sings I’ll Be Home For Christmas and finally a specially composed, and untitled, tune from The Beautiful South.  

Monday 22 December 2014

Dates in Your Diary

For radio fans here’s the perfect gift, the Radio 1 diary, available at all good stockists.

This is the cover for the 1980 diary published by WM Collins and bought, no doubt, at WH Smith’s in Hull’s Prospect Centre. There are articles on Radio 1 in the eighties, How Hits are Made and biographies of the Radio 1 DJ line-up, from Bates to Vance. We also get a Pocket Disctionary (sic), an A to Z of all you need to know about the studio equipment and “deejay’s jargon” starting at “AM” stopping off at headings such as “Cartridges” “Quad” and “Turntables” and ending at “Zero Level”.

For the serious radio enthusiast who eschewed the fripperies of the nation’s favourite station there was always the Radio Diary. Again published by Collins, this (above) is my 1977 edition. This was aimed at the radio engineers with pages of features on transmitters, powers supplies and semi-conductor devices.  

Please note, these diaries may no longer be available!!

Friday 12 December 2014

Whittaker’s World

Broadcaster Mark Whittaker worked across a number of BBC radio stations for just over thirty years. A “thoroughly professional, thoughtful and clear broadcaster” who was, by all accounts great fun to work with.  

After training as a newspaper journalist Mark joined BBC Lancashire in 1983 before moving to BBC WM and then a long stint on Radio 1’s Newsbeat. In 1994 he was in the original line-up at BBC Radio 5 Live co-presenting a weekend show with Liz Kershaw (photo left). Moving to Radio 4 he hosted Costing the Earth and You and Yours. More recently he was a presenter on the World Service programmes World Business Report and Business Matters. Mark died on 1 October only a month after his final broadcast.
By way of a tribute this is Mark on Radio 1 in 1997 investigating the music business and the ways in which it could guarantee itself hits. Hyping the Hits was broadcast on a Sunday evening (23 February) immediately after Mark Goodier’s chart rundown.

Mark Whittaker 1957-2014

Read more about Mark on Bill Rogers’ blog Trading as WDR

Friday 5 December 2014

The Christmas Laughalong

Two of the most popular radio comedies of the late 70s and early 80s were Listen to Les (74-85) and Castle’s on the Air (74-83). Both Radio 2 shows came from the BBC’s Manchester comedy outpost under the stewardship of James Casey.

Occasionally the two stars, Les Dawson and Roy Castle, would come together for ‘Laughalong’ specials.  This is one such seasonal offering from 1982. Joining them are Castle’s radio sidekick Eli Woods, who’d also co-starred alongside Dawson on his YTV series Sez Les, and Daphne Oxenford who was a regular on Listen to Les. The music is provided by Brian Fitzgerald and his Orchestra.
The Christmas Laughalong was broadcast on Friday 24 December 1982.  

When I dug out the Laughalong tape on the other side was The Grumbleweeds Christmas Party. However, containing copious amounts of Savile impressions and a guest appearance from Stuart Hall that particular show won’t get a release anytime soon.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Lost Comedy Gems

There are a number of so-called “lost gems of the Light Programme and Home Service” airing on Radio 4 Extra over Christmas. As ever it’s great when the BBC dusts off (one somehow imagines the reels sitting on dusty old shelves rather than the temperature-controlled reality) these old comedy shows. All but one, the edition of Up the Pole, have not been heard on the radio in decades. And two really were “lost” as they come from off-air recordings provided by the Goon Show Preservation Society.     

This is what’s on offer in the week commencing 22 December 2014:
Over the Garden Wall was a Light Programme comedy in 1948/9 starring Lancastrian comic Norman Evans in which he brought his variety stage act of Fanny the garrulous gossip to the radio. His co-star was Ethel Manners (of the musical hall act Hatton and Manners) who played Mrs Higginbottom.

A Date with Nurse Dugdale was a six-part series that ran in 1944 starring Arthur Marshall as the eponymous Nurse Dugdale with her catchphrase “Out of my way deahs, out of my way instantly!” It was spin-off from the series Take It From Here, not the long-running Muir/Norden creation but an earlier 1943/44 series. Both Take It From Here and the Nurse Dugdale programmes also featured the May Fair Hotel Dance Orchestra conducted by bandleader and later renowned-DJ Jack Jackson.

Up the Pole ran for four series between 1947 and 1952 and starred Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss initially playing the cross-talking proprietors of a trading post in the Arctic. Later series shifted the action an apartment in a disused power station and a rural police station. Only one edition survives, from 1 November 1948, but has been heard again as part of Bill Oddie’s turn on Radio 7 and Radio 4 Extra as The Comedy Controller.     

It’s Great to Be Young was Ken Dodd’s first starring programme and ran between October 1958 and January 1961. It’s the one that gave rise to Doddy’s catchphrase “Where’s me shirt?” and co-starred impressionist Peter Goodwright.
Blackpool Night was a regular summer series of variety shows that ran from 1948 to 1967. It gave early radio appearances for Ken Dodd and Morecambe and Wise and its Eric and Ernie that star in this repeat from 18 August 1963.

The Naughty Navy Show was a one-off Home Service comedy from Christmas Day 1965 written by and starring Spike Milligan along with John Bird, Bernard Miles and Bob Todd.

Sid and Dora was another one-off show from 25 December 1965, this time over on the Light Programme. Described as a ‘domestic comedy for Christmas’ it starred Sid James, Dora Bryan and Pat Coombs. 

The Army Show also stars Spike Milligan and shares cast members with The Naughty Navy Show as well as Barry Humphries and Q series regular John Bluthal. The show was first broadcast on 16 June 1965 and has only been repeated once, and that was in 1966.
There’s more Milligan in the The GPO Show from Christmas Day 1964. The Radio Times unhelpfully describes it as follows: “Spike Milligan takes a benevolent but distinctly Milligoonish look at the work of that mighty institution the British Post Office. In fact he braves the hallowed precincts of Mount Pleasant itself, to report the merry, festive scene. With the stalwart shape of Harry Secombe and John Bluthal, to name but six, he will be giving listeners a seasonal view of Operation Mailbag in full swing.”  The GPO Show was recorded just five days before transmission and by then the Post Office had objected to the title on the grounds that GPO was a registered trademark so it was hastily changed to The Grand Piano Orchestra Show. The script, in part, was a re-working of an earlier Goon Show from 1954 titled The History of Communications.

And finally also worth mentioning, and of more recent vintage, is a repeat of the 2008 Archive Hour feature on Kenny Everett from music journalist Mark Paytress in Here’s Kenny. 

Friday 28 November 2014

The Debussy Connection

So was a Debussy tune used as a radio jingle? I’m convinced so, and no it’s not one on Classic FM.

I was prompted to ask this question whilst listening to the current edition of Counterpoint – Radio 4’s music quiz with Gambo back in the chair this week. Up came a question in the specialist round about Claude Debussy:

The Snow is Dancing immediately triggered a memory. I was sure I’d heard it before used as a theme or jingle on BBC local radio, perhaps Radio Cleveland or Humberside. Guessing it was used in the 1970s then the chances were it was a version created by the Radiophonic Workshop, who seemed to be behind many early local radio idents.
An online search uncovered an electronic version, but from American composer Ruth White, rather than the Radiophonic crew. This is what I heard:   

By now I was convinced I remembered the tune from Radio Humberside. Fortunately I’d already digitised a number of my early Humberside recordings for their 40th anniversary in 2011 so I dug out one of my extra hard drives and after trawling through it I chanced on this short news clip:

That was it! A Radio Humberside news jingle based on Debussy’s The Snow is Dancing. If not it sure sounds very similar.    

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Band Aid – Thirty Years On

Thirty years ago today a group of pop singers and musicians were corralled into a studio in West London at the behest of Bob Geldof to record Do They Know It’s Christmas?  It quickly became the UK’s best-selling single of all time (until surpassed in 1997) and, if only briefly, suggested that pop music really could change the world.

This is the story of that day and how the track was put together at such short notice – the record was released just four days later. In Feed the World – The Band Aid Story you’ll hear from Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and others. This documentary was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 on 6 November 1994. It’s introduced and produced by Trevor Dann.

Friday 21 November 2014

Back to Square One

Amongst the tributes paid to the late James Alexander Gordon, who died earlier this year, was that from Radio 5 Live’s John Murray:

He was always so friendly and charming, and interested in what you did. The funny thing is, he didn’t follow a team – he was no great football fan. The one time we went to a match together was in 2007. It was the 80th anniversary of the first football commentary, when a grid was printed in the Radio Times for listeners to follow. To mark the occasion we did a grid commentary together on 5 Live Sports Extra – James was so thrilled to be chosen to read out the numbers of the squares where the ball was. It’s a lovely memory I have of him. He loved being a part of what we did, a part of history of BBC Sport – and he played a very significant part in that history.
The 80th anniversary match was in recognition of the first radio commentary on Saturday 22 January 1927 – with Arsenal playing at home to Sheffield United. Commentary on that match came from Teddy Wakelam, but to help listeners follow the play a second, unnamed voice, called out the number of the square in which the ball was currently in play. The numbered grid, the idea of BBC producer Lance Sieveking, was printed in that week’s Radio Times (above). No recordings exist of that match but here’s Wakelam commentating in the 1930s:

The 2007 game again saw Arsenal at home, this time to Manchester United. Introducing proceedings on Sunday 21 January on BBC Radio Five Live was Eleanor Oldroyd. ‘Normal’ commentary on Five Live was by Alan Green whilst the ‘grid’ commentary on Five Live Sports Extra came from John Murray (above) with James Alexander Gordon calling the numbers and summaries from Bob Wilson and, oddly, singer David Gray. Here’s part of that afternoon’s coverage:

Those numbered squares are often cited as the origin of the phrase “back to square one”, but this is by no means certain. After all for one team passing the ball into square one would be moving play forward and not back.

For the record that 1927 game ended as a one all draw. The 2007 result was Arsenal 2, Manchester United 1. And by a fluky coincidence Arsenal play Manchester United this coming weekend. You'd almost think I planned all this!

Monday 17 November 2014

Visual Radio

It’s a multiplatform world, we are told. The BBC is “reinventing radio for a new generation” with initiatives such as Radio 1’s launch on the BBC iPlayer last week and Radio 2’s Sounds of the 80s appearing on the Red Button – more of the latter on the recent Radio Today podcast 

But just sticking a camera in a radio studio doesn’t make great telly, and that’s the challenge for broadcasters. I’m reminded of such an experiment with Scott Mills’s Radio 1 drivetime show some seven years ago. It wasn’t live, but shown on BBC Three in the small hours of the following day. Here’s Mills, Chappers, Laura and ‘the one who doesn’t speak’ on Monday 17 December 2007, shown at 1.25 am on Tuesday morning. Not much danger of it being seen then, though I captured a copy. I’ve edited out the music videos.

Friday 14 November 2014

The Original Offshore Station

Nearly four decades before the launch of Radio Caroline another offshore ship could be heard, well sort of, around the coast of Britain. That ship was the steam yacht Ceto. The year was 1928. Now largely forgotten it could, assuming they’d actually got the transmitter to work properly, have changed the history of commercial radio.

The initial idea sounds a familiar one: fit out a ship with a transmitter and sail it round the coast just outside territorial waters broadcasting music and adverts. It was the brainchild Valentine Smith, head of publicity for the Daily Mail Group. Essentially the whole exercise was to shift more copies of the Daily Mail, the Sunday Despatch and the Evening News.  
Unfortunately transmission tests didn’t go well. Moored three miles off the coast the swaying of the SY Ceto’s transmitter couldn’t produce a strong enough signal. Undeterred Smith decided on a Plan B: remove the mast and replace it with large amplifiers and four powerful Siemens speakers. The ship could then tour the coast of Britain just a mile or two out and ‘broadcast’ to holidaymakers with no more than a giant public address system.

They needed presenter to play in the records – supplied by HMV – and read the commercials. It was a young Cambridge undergraduate named Stephen Williams (pictured centre above in Bournemouth) whose name was put forward. He’d written to Leslie Mainland of the Daily Mail asking if there was anything he could usefully do over the summer recess. Little did he know that this early broadcasting experience would lead to such an illustrious career with Radios Normandy, Luxembourg and the BBC.    
The voyage of the Ceto started at Dundee in June 1928 and then down the east coast, along the south coast and back up the west before ending up off Blackpool by the August Bank Holiday. En route such was the publicity surrounding the vessel that they’d stop off at various resorts to be welcomed by civic dignitaries and ‘broadcast’ special concerts. The Ceto’s final tour of duty took her back round to London mooring up at Tower Bridge on 1 September, by which time Stephen Williams and the crew had visited 87 resorts and coastal towns and undertaken 300 broadcasts.     

The sound equipment on the ‘Musical Yacht’ was dismantled and she returned to pleasure cruising. Williams returned to Cambridge. From a publicity point of view it had been a great success but the technical difficulties were not overcome until a few years later when the short-lived station RKXR broadcast off the California coast in 1933. However, it was a further thirty years before the first true commercial offshore station, in the form of Radio Mercur, launched off the Danish coast, itself inspiring the launch of Radio Caroline some six years later.
You can read more about the SY Ceto on the pages of the Offshore Radio Museum website.

There’s an interview with the late Stephen Williams conducted by Roger Bickerton on the Diversity website.
The illustrations in this post come from the excellent book telling the story of a pioneer of early commercial radio, Leonard Plugge.  And the World Listened is written by Keith Wallis and was published by Kelly Publications in 2008.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Fade to Gray

I don’t know if you caught Pointless Celebrities on BBC1 at the weekend but on podium three teaming up with Michael Rosen was writer and broadcaster Muriel Gray.

These days Muriel devotes most of her time to writing but at one point she seemed to be all over the media, most notably on Channel 4’s The Tube and The Media Show. She was also an occasional Radio 1 DJ; in the mid-80s sitting in for Janice Long and John Peel and covering the evening show for a week following the departure of David Jensen.
Prior to her stint deputising for Peel in April 1985 she spoke to the Radio Times’s David Gillard:

That delightfully unpretentious pop picker Muriel Gray tells me she’s been forced to turn her back on one side of her schizophrenic professional life. The demands of broadcasting have been so great in the past few months that Ms Gray has, reluctantly, given up her job as assistant head of design at the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. Instead, she’s presenting a new, youth-orientated TV show in her native land, preparing a BBC Scotland Schools series and, this week, standing in for her hero John Peel. ‘I’ve given up the drawing board to become the full-time media person I never wanted to be,’ says Muriel. ‘Somehow it doesn’t seem like a job for a grown woman…’
Here, briefly, is Muriel in for Peel on the evening of 3 April 1985. And just in case you didn’t know she was Scottish…

Here’s a reminder of Muriel’s TV work from a time when Channel 4 was not stuffed full of Come Dine with Me and Embarrassing Bodies. This clip from The Media Show comes from 10 June 1987 and features a report on the coverage of the General Election.


Wednesday 5 November 2014

The Paramount Man of Jazz

One of Britain’s best known jazz musicians, instantly recognisable with his goatee beard, bowler hat and striped waistcoat, Mr Acker Bilk died at the weekend.

Acker was a radio regular over the best part of forty years on programmes such as Jazz Club and Saturday Club and the eponymously-titled Acker’s Away and Acker ‘Arf ‘Our. He also cropped up as a regular panellist on Radio 2’s Jazz Score.
By way of a tribute here’s my recording of the first programme from the sixth series of Jazz Score. Asking the questions is Benny Green, With Acker are fellow jazz musicians, all of a similar vintage: Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber and Alan Elsdon. The programme was broadcast on 7 September 1985.

Acker Bilk 1929-2014

Saturday 25 October 2014

Peel Reveals

On this the tenth anniversary of the death of John Peel I’ve been rummaging through my press cuttings box and came across this interview with Robert Chalmers from the short-lived The Sunday Correspondent.

In fact the interview later gained some notoriety, particularly when part of it was quoted in a Julie Burchill article. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. This is the full feature as published on 5 November 1989.



Saturday 18 October 2014

There’s No Place Like Genome

Christmas has arrived early! On Thursday the BBC’s GenomeProject released nearly ninety year’s worth of Radio Times listings. I predict many a lost hour, make that day, blowing the virtual dust off long-forgotten programme schedules.

Sadly, due to copyright problems, there are no scans of the actual magazines; so my collection at least retains some value. I can still drop in the odd article, piece of artwork or advert to blog posts (see above). And to be honest there’s something satisfying about seeing the different typefaces and layouts of the listings over the years. But the ability to search and order the programme details on this online Beta version is an absolute boon to researchers and the idly curious alike. 
The OCR software does throw up some odd spellings – this is one of many I’ve found in the first day. Readers are invited to submit edits – I’ve done a 100 or so already. Apparently there are some verification processes in place to ensure that the edits are indeed just corrections rather than an attempt to improve the entry, adding episode titles or missing cast members were none existed at the time of going to print for example.

So what random fact can I find this morning? Well Brian Matthew, currently on air as I publish this post started with the BBC in 1954. But in 1953 he presented a series of programmes on Music from Holland, presumably as at the time he was still working for Radio Netherlands.

Friday 17 October 2014

Fun at One – When It Ain’t Tip Top, Then It Ain’t Tip Top

The ‘facts’ are as follows: It was broadcast via the “magic of Lunewyre technology in total Spectrasound”. The hosts were the self-styled Kid Tempo and The Ginger Prince – whose real identity was, at the time, shrouded in mystery though we now know as Eli Hourd and Nigel Proctor. You could enjoy the delights of the Hammond Organ interlude and radio’s only dance troupe Peter Lorenzo and the Guys Now Dancers. It was Radio Tip Top.

It’s difficult to explain what was going on, even for those of us that signed up for Radio Tip Top membership. It was retro but played current hits. It was funny but had no discernible jokes. It aired at a time when loungecore and easy listening were cool. Think Radio 1 Club meets Phoenix Nights with a dash of Austin Powers.
Radio Tip Top had started life as a weekly pirate radio show in London in 1993 and 1994. There was press interest in the Tip Top phenomenon and in late 94 even an ITV pilot show set onboard a giant spaceship. By April 1995 they’d gone legit and moved to Radio 1 for a 12-week Wednesday night run. This is when I became hooked, although I was probably initially drawn in by the old Radio 1 jingles that punctuated proceedings. 

For all you Tip Toppers and Tip Toppettes here are three editions of your favourite show. From series one comes episode eight broadcast on 14 June 1995 with Star Time guest Sandie Shaw, redirection advice from Postman Patois, the Radio Tip Top Big Break Talent of Tomorrow featuring Ken Goodwin and the Radio Tip Top Cabaret Cavalcade with Ken Dodd “who always insists we pay him in cash”.

Episode nine of the first series features the vocal talents of Tony Blackburn, The Bowling Queens Margaret and Maureen, Norman Barrington with a TV Treat, rising talent Lenny Kravitz, the Reverend Ray Floods from the Church of What’s Happening and the headline act, Lulu.

And finally, for the moment, the tenth edition with the 1995 Radio Tip Top Summer Seaside Special. Star Time features Naomi Campbell,  get down with Mr Superbad and topping the bill is Britt Ekland.

I’ll be posting more Radio Tip Top shows over the coming months.

Radio Tip Top series details:
Series one: 12 weeks from 26 April to 12 July 1995
Radio Tip Top Christmas Cracker 25 December 1995
Series two: 14 weeks 3 January to 3 April 1996
A Tip Top Christmas 25 December 1996

Hip and here. Radio Times w/c 29 April 1995

This post was sponsored by the readers of Corsair magazine.

Friday 10 October 2014

Tokyo Memories

The opening ceremony of summer Olympics in Tokyo was fifty years ago today. With the distance and time difference involved it was possible for TV viewers in the UK to receives some same-day pictures via the Syncom III satellite over the Pacific.  Late night BBC coverage of an hour or so was in the capable hands of Cliff Michelmore, who also presented a results round-up at teatime. Any daytime programmes, and this was by no means every day, were hosted by Alan Weeks.

In addition to the satellite images TV pictures also took the Polar route where events were taped and flown from Tokyo each night over the Pole to arrive in Hamburg by 7 a.m. That tape was then transmitted over the Eurovision network to member countries and on the Intervision network in Eastern Europe. The BBC team lead by Peter Dimmock consisted of just twenty-five! Five commentators covered all the sports: David Coleman, Max Robertson, Harry Carpenter, Peter West and Frank Bough.

Meanwhile over on BBC radio the sound reached the UK via the Commonwealth cable, Compac, which linked Britain, Australia, and New Zealand via Canada and the Atlantic. Commentary from Japan joined Compac from the trans-Pacific cable. The radio team was a very small affair led by Head of OB Charles Max-Muller alongside three producers, an engineer and a secretary.

Seven commentators looked after the radio coverage: Harold Abraham and Rex Alston covered the athletics, Alun Williams and Pat Besford the swimming, John Snagge the rowing and sailing, Brian Moore the soccer and cycling and Raymond Brookes-Ward the equestrian events.

Radio programmes averaged about two hours a day across the Home, Light and Third, with the lion’s share of the commentary and reports going out on the daytime service of the Third Programme, known as the Third Network. Each day there was an Olympic Report from 8.10 to 9.00 a.m. and an evening round-up from 6.00 to 6.30 p.m.   

Some twenty years after the Games of the XVIII Olympiad the gold-medal winning long-jumper Lynn Davies recalled some key moments in Olympic Memories. You’ll also hear the voices of British athletes Robbie Brightwell, Mary Rand, Anne Packer and Basil Heatley, swimmer Bobbie MacGregor, US athlete Billy Mills, race walker Ken Matthews, and weightlifter Louis Martin.

Olympic Memories: Tokyo 1964 was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 25 March 1984. The producer was Emily McMahon.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Sheila Tracy – Girl with a Trombone

Though she’d have probably denied it Sheila Tracy was something of a feminist pioneer by working in what were, at the time, mostly male preserves: touring the country with a big band; broadcasting on the Light Programme when few other women hosted record shows; being the first woman to read the main news bulletins on national radio and being the trucker’s friend on an overnight music show. With a broadcasting career that spanned fifty years I remember Sheila Tracy who sadly died earlier this week.    

Born and raised in Helston, Cornwall Sheila went on to study piano and violin at the Royal Academy of Music “but soon realised I wasn’t going to become a concert pianist.” Noticing that the brass section of the Academy’s orchestra didn’t contain any women she plumped for the trombone, thus unwittingly launching a long career as a professional trombonist.

Leaving the Academy in 1956 Sheila joined the Ivy Benson All Girls Band. A year later she and Phyl Brown, a vocalist in the Ivy Benson outfit, formed the Tracy Sisters. They got their first break when they replaced the Kay Sisters on a Moss Empire Variety tour with Mike and Bernie Winters. Their first radio broadcast was on 24 May 1958 on In Town Tonight.  Other appearances followed on Workers Playtime, Mid-Day Music Hall and Saturday Club.

Her move into full-time broadcasting came in February 1961 when, with prompting from her mother, she successfully applied to become an in-vision announcer on BBC TV, joining the other women on the team: Meryl O’Keeffe, Valerie Pitts and Judith Chalmers. When the BBC stopped using in-vision announcers Sheila worked on a number of regional news shows: Spotlight South-West in Plymouth, Points West in Bristol and South Today in Southampton.

Sheila also worked with Michael Aspel on the BBC1 show A Spoonful of Sugar which was broadcast from hospitals and where they would surprise staff and patients with people they wanted to meet. She recalled on programme where “we had fixed for Mike Yarwood to be hidden in the corner of the ward while I was talking to the patient. The cameras started to roll and I go into my spiel about how much red tape we’ve had to cut to get this special guest on the programme. Mike then does his impression of Harold Wilson. ‘And who do you think this is?’ I ask the patient. Obviously very excited she goes….’Ooh Ooh…it’s…Freddie Frinton’ Poor Mike Yarwood was absolutely devastated. Harold Wilson was his favourite impersonation. However it was all quite hilarious and all went out just as it happened!”
An early Radio Times billing for Sheila from
March 1963. Late Choice was a 20 minute Sunday night show.

Meanwhile Sheila was picking up some radio work on the Light Programme. Her first solo broadcast was in February 1963 on the Sunday night show Late Choice. “I wasn’t allowed to play anything loud or fast”, she recalled. There were also appearances on Melody Fair, Anything Goes, Music for Late Night People and, in 1967, one of the presenters of It’s One O’Clock billed as “music for late night people” and produced by Aidan Day.  

In October 1973 Sheila joined BBC Radio 4 as a staff announcer – making her first appearance on the 8th of that month (most websites incorrectly state 1974). She later claimed that she had made the move with “the express purpose of doing a breakthrough in news.” That breakthrough came on the evening of 16 July 1974 with a certain amount of subterfuge on the part of Presentation Editor Jim Black. Colin Doran was reading the early evening news and Bryan Martin was due to take over the late shift, as was the pattern at that time. Sheila was already on the rota to do that evening’s continuity when at the last minute a switch was made with Bryan supposedly being ill Sheila stepped in to read the late-night news bulletin.  Thereafter she became a regular newsreader on the network.

Whilst the press made a fuss about Sheila reading the Radio 4 news she wasn’t, of course, the first woman to actually read a news bulletin on the radio. In the regions it had long being the practice to have female news readers and even on national radio Angela Buckland, Ann Every and Patricia Hughes, to name but three, had for years being reading the early morning bulletins on the Home Service and on Radio 3. However, it did open the way for the likes of Susan Denny, Pauline Bushnall and Laurie MacMillan to become regular readers on the station.

In 1977 Sheila moved across to BBC Radio 2, again as a continuity announcer and newsreader – making her first appearance on 21 January – but also having the opportunity to present a number of music shows. Firstly there was The Late Show and the overnight You and the Night and the Music as well as Saturday Night with the BBC Radio Orchestra and The Early Show (weekends in 1982/83).

This clip of You and the Night and the Music is from 4 April 1980. With apologies for the slightly dodgy tape.

But it was Big Band Special that proved to be the long-running success. Initially planned as a 12-part series it ran for 34 years (1979-2013), with Sheila at the helm for nearly 22 of them. For the first couple of programmes the featured band was Nelson’s Column before the BBC Radio Big Band took up residency under the baton of Barry Forgie, himself a trombonist, as was the show’s first producer Robin Sedgley and even the second producer Bob McDowall.

From 1987 the BBC Radio Big Band started to undertake a number of tours in addition to its regular recording commitments. Occasionally Sheila, who’d compere about 50 concerts a year, would herself fill the gap on trombone if an additional player was needed or even conduct the band if Barry Forgie fancied a turn on his trombone. She also played with the BBC Club’s Ariel Band and the Delta Jazz Band. The highlight of her time with the show was the 1992 three-week tour of America with guest star George Shearing. Sheila’s last appearance as host of Big Band Special was in 2001 when she was replaced by jazz singer Stacey Kent.

Here from 12 February 1990 is the 500th edition of Big Band Special. For these live concerts Sheila would put in lots of preparation and learn her script beforehand so that she wasn’t seen on stage behind a sheath of papers.

Sheila returned to the programme for its 25th anniversary to speak to Stacey Kent. This show was broadcast on 4 October 2004.

The other programme Sheila’s best known for was the late-night Truckers’ Hour. Initially this was just a segment of her weekly You and the Night and the Music show. Apparently she’d got the idea when on holiday in the States and read about the DJ Big John Trimble who would broadcast his show from a truck stop on KGA in Spokane, Washington and then WRVA in Richmond, Virginia. When in May 1981 Sheila went freelance she introduced Truckers’ Hour five nights a week between 1 and 2 a.m. It also cashed in on the use of CB radio amongst the truck driving fraternity and Sheila herself adopted the handle of Tiger Tim.

In May 1981 an hour was shaved off Round Midnight
to make way for a new series of Truckers' Hour
The first regular Truckers’ Hour was broadcast on Tuesday 12 May 1981. I originally posted this online in 2011 and it was included in a blog post over on 80s Actual but here it is again complete with mention of Jarrell’s Truck Plaza, a nod to Big John Trimble who broadcast from the stopover on WRVA.  

Eventually the show was pulled after Sheila was inadvertently reading out some racy messages. “Some of the blighters send me rude messages and I’ve read them out without realising”, she claimed. Signing off with “keep the lipstick off your dipstick” didn’t go down well with the BBC management. The show was dropped in April 1982, though Trucking with Tracy remained as a feature of YATNAM for a while.   

Leaving the BBC in 2001 Sheila joined Primetime Radio and then Saga Radio with her Swingtime shows.  More recently a similar show was broadcast in the States on Pure Jazz Radio in New York and in the UK on Age Concern’s The Wireless.

Sheila Tracy 1934-2014
“Tiger Tim saying thanks for the ride. I’m down and I’m gone.”

There were tributes to Sheila in this week’s LastWord on BBC Radio 4. Tonight’s Clare Teal show on BBC Radio 2 will also celebrate her life and career.  

Ivy Benson is remembered in a couple of week’s time on Radio 4 in Ivy Benson: Original Girl Power on Saturday 18 October at 10.30 a.m.

Sheila presented Big Band Special between 6 October 1979 and 26 March 2001.
Truckers' Hour ran as a stand alone show from 12 May 1981 to 3 April 1982.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

All Abroad

Tonight listeners in East Anglia get a chance to reminisce about the former commercial station based in Norwich, Radio Broadland. The celebrations are over on BBC Radio Norfolk during the last hour of MatthewGudgin’s show.

The reason? It’s thirty years ago today that Broadland launched and Radio Norfolk isn’t one to miss an anniversary, even if it’s for “the other side”. Not to mention the fact that Matthew worked on the station early in his career.
Radio Broadland disappeared in 2009 as part of the so-called “Heartification” by Global Radio. Here from the RRJ archive is an aircheck of Stuart Davies with Drivetime from the time the FM service was “Broadland 102”. The date: Thursday 5 August 1993.

Matthew Gudgin is on air today from 4 to 7 pm.

Read more about Radio Broadland here.

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Standby for Switching

“Standby for switching. Get tuned to Radio 1 or 2. 5, 4, 3, Radio 2, Radio 1, go!” Surely one of the most played pieces of radio archive: Robin Scott’s countdown to the launch of Radio 1 at 7 a.m. on Saturday 30 September 1967.  But what was happening over on Radios 2, 3 and 4? Was there an exciting new range of programmes as part of the biggest shake-up of the radio networks since the immediate post-war period? Or was it just business as usual?

The relabeling of the old Home, Light and Third had been prompted by the BBC’s promise to fund a new pop service to replace the offshore pirate stations. This had first been mooted in 1966 and work started in earnest in January 1967 when, Johnny Beerling recalls, producers in the Popular Music and Gramophone Departments were asked whether they wanted to work on Radio 1 or 2. Beerling would then work alongside Derek Chinnery, Teddy Warwick and Angela Bond in thrashing out ideas for the pop station, reporting to Robin Scott who was appointed controller a month later. 
In fact at that time the new station still didn’t have a name, that decision was made later that summer. Amongst the names considered by the BBC’s Sound Broadcasting Committee were “Popular Music Service”, “Radio 247”, “Radio 67” (which would surely be out-of-date come January 1968!), “Radio Elizabeth”, “Radio Skylark”, and “Radio Pam”. By May 1967 the use of numbers was first suggested such as “Radio One” and “Light One”.  The numbering of the networks led Home Service controller Gerald Mansell to express concern that the new Radio Four could “imply demotion”.

So what about Radio 1? As ever funds were short so to make the new service look like it had a full schedule there was loads of simulcasting with Radio 2. There was also the trick of billing former Light Programme shows as being on Radio 1, even when also going out on Radio 2. Confusing! This happened for Saturday Club (but dropping Brian Matthew in favour of Keith Skues), Family Favourites with Michael Aspel, Country Meets Folk with Wally Whyton and The Jazz Scene with Humphrey Lyttelton. Even that old warhorse Housewives’ Choice became a Radio 1 show re-titled Family Choice. Some Radio 1 shows such as Late Night Extra and Night Ride would later become long-running Radio 2 programmes.
This was the line-up on Radio 1’s launch day:

0700 Tony Blackburn with a Daily Disc Delivery
0832 Leslie Crowther with Junior Choice (renamed from Children’s Favourites that had ended the previous weekend with presenter John Ellison)
0855 Crack the Clue with Duncan Johnson
1000 Keith Skues with Saturday Club
1200 Emperor Rosko with Midday Spin (Midday Spin being an old Light Programme title)
1300 The Jack Jackson Show
1355 Crack the Clue
1400 Chris Denning with Where It’s At (a Light Programme transfer)
1500 Pete Murray
1600 Pete Brady
1730 Country Meets Folk
1832 Scene and Heard with Johnny Moran
1930 as Radio 2
2200 Pete Murray with Pete’s Party (another Light Programme refugee)
0000 Midnight Newsroom
0005 Night Ride with Sean Kelly
0200 News and closedown

You’ll find audio of Tony’s first show online so I’ll not post it again here. But imagine the shock of any Light Programme listeners who stumbled across Midday Spin – the previous Saturday it had been a special Holiday Spin with Michael Aspel -  and heard the whoops and shouts from Emperor Rosko. Here’s a scoped version of part of that show:

In 1967 the Light Programme was allowed to stay up late and didn’t close down until 2 a.m. It fell to announcer Roget Moffat to have the last word. He was that night’s presenter of It’s One Clock, a hour-long music show with a different host each weekday – in that final week you’d also have heard Jon Curle, Sean Kelly, Wally Whyton and Adrian Love. 

In contrast to Radio 1’s full Saturday schedule, Radio 2’s was a little light. It was continuity announcer Paul Hollingdale who was the first voice on the new networks when Radio 2 opened at 0530. He’d been chosen by controller Robin Scott to host that morning’s edition of Breakfast Special in place of the regular Saturday presenter Bruce Wyndham. In fact Bruce was working that morning anyway, but over on Radio 4 reading the early morning news, such was the swapping between networks of continuity announcers at that time. So the timings were:

0533 Breakfast Special with Paul Hollingdale
0832 as Radio 1
0955 Five to Ten with Paul Simon and Colin Semper
1000 Max Jaffa and Sandy MacPherson with Melody Time
1200 Marching and Waltzing introduced by Jimmy Kingsbury
1300 as Radio 1
1832 Those Were the Days introduced by Bill Crozier
1935 Million Dollar Bill with Joe Brown as that week’s guest speaking to Robin Boyle
2015 Spotlight 1 and 2 in which Kenneth Horne previews some of the shows and voices on the new stations
2115 Caterina Valente Sings
2200 as Radio 1

This is the intro to Spotlight 1 and 2:

In 2007 Paul Hollingdale recalled that first Radio 2 edition of Breakfast Special. And if you want to know the first record played on the station here’s the answer:  

Listeners to the new Radio 3 will have noticed absolutely no difference to their daily programmes. Saturday under the old regime was broken down into different strands: 0700-1230 Music Programme, 1230-1800 Sports Service and then 1800-2315 Third Programme. This continued on 30 September and remained the general format of the station until April 1970 when it became more of a cohesive network.
Friday 29 September had been The Third Programme’s twenty-first birthday and the whole evening was dedicated to a performance of The Tragedy of King Lear with John Gielgud in the title role. Closing down proceedings after the Market Trends report (an odd piece of scheduling with financial news on the Third whilst over on the Home Service they had a music programme) was announcer Cormac Rigby. He was also on duty the following morning to usher in Radio 3, whose schedule for the day was as follows:

0800 News and weather
0804 Record Review with John Lade
0900 News and weather
0904 La Clemenza di Tito, a performance of Mozart’s opera in two acts
1014 Ravel’s Piano Music played by Colin Horsley
1040 La Clemenza di Tito – Act Two
1200 Jazz Record Requests with Steve Race
1230 Sports Service introduced by Michael de Morgan with golf, swimming, racing from Ascot,  second-half football commentary and Sports Report
1800 Bach – four piano pieces played by Charles Rosen
1855 An Idea and Its Icon – a talk by Geoffrey Webb on theology and iconography in the Middle Ages
1910 Folk Music of Czechoslovakia compiled and introduced by A.L. Lloyd and produced by Douglas Cleverdon
2000 BBC Symphony Orchestra – a concert from the Berlin Festival with the Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez
2105 Personal View – John Maddox with a talk on current affairs
2125 Concert - Part 2  
2205 Abraham Cowley – selections of his poetry introduced by Anthony Thwaite
2235 Mozart – String Quartet in F major played by The Weller Quartet
2300 News
2315 Closedown
Closing the Home Service “for today, and for all days” on the Friday evening was David Dunhill, who’d obviously taken some care in preparing his final announcement.

The last programme on the Home Service was Jazz at Night with records played by John Dunn. Jazz at Night became the only show to move from the Home Service to Radio 1, finding a home just after midnight on Friday nights. John Dunn, of course, would then pop up during Saturday reading the news on Radio 1 and 2 and making that now infamous “here is the news, in English” intro to the bulletin during Rosko’s show (see above).

It was David Dunhill who opened up proceedings on Radio 4 the following morning welcoming listeners to “Radio 4, the Home Service”, a billing that remained for many months to ease the transition. The schedule was exactly the same as the previous Saturday with the sole exception of the renaming of Lightening Our Darkness as At the Close of the Day. Reviewing the line-up I’m struck by the sheer volume of, necessarily, short programmes. There must have been nearly fifty continuity junctions. This is the schedule for the London area, there were regional variations in the Midlands, North, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and South & West.
0635 Farming Today
0650 Ten to Seven – prayers and meditation
0655 Weather and Programme News
0700 News
0715 On Your Farm
0745 Today’s Papers
0750 Outlook – a Christian angle on the news  
0755 Weather and Programme News
0800 News
0815 From Our Own Correspondent
0845 Today’s Papers
0850 Voices – archive material introduced by Leslie Perowne
0900 News
0915 The Weekly World – a review of the weekly news magazine by Geoffrey Howe
0920 A Choice of Paperbacks chaired by Cliff Michelmore
0945 In Your Garden – introduced by John Hay
1015 Daily Service
1030 Science Survey with a talk on Protection Against Disease
1045 Study Session with programmes on The Artist at Work, Music Questions and Divertissement Francais
1200 Motoring and the Motorist – chaired by Bill Hartley
1225 All the Best from Today – clips from the week’s Today programme linked by Jack de Manio
1255 Weather and Programme News   
1300 News
1310 Round the Horne – repeat of an April edition on the Light Programme
1340 Desert Island Discs – Roy Plomley talks to castaway Roy Castle
1415 Afternoon Theatre – with Floral Tribute written by David Bartlett
1515 Home for the Day – a Saturday supplement to Woman’s Hour with Marjorie Anderson
1600 Music at Four – with music by Haydn, Mozart and Stravinsky played by the BBC Welsh Orchestra and a Ravel quartet played by the LaSalle String Quartet
1755 Weather and Programme News
1800 News and Radio Newsreel, followed by Regional News
1830 Sports Session (other regions had their own sports programmes)
1900 Steptoe and Son – a repeat of Crossed Swords from the Light Programme in July
1930 Gala Night at the Opera – Sandra Chalmers introducing a programme of music recorded at the Huddersfield Town Hall played by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Northern Singers
2030 Saturday Night Theatre with Paul Daneman and Maragret Rawlings in Adventure Story by Terrence Rattigan
2158 Weather Forecast
2200 News
2210 A Word in Edgeways presented by Brian Redhead
2255 At the Close of the Day – a meditation by Stanley Pritchard
2310 Music at Night – Scarlatti sonatas played by Alan Cuckston
2342 Weather forecast, news summary and coastal waters forecast
2348 Closedown
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