Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This is the Home Service

Regular readers of this blog will know of my fascination in the architecture of radio: all those component parts such as jingles, theme tunes, news bulletins, travel news and so on. I pay as much interest to the bits in between the programmes as the programmes themselves. It seems I’m not the only one. In this guest post David Mitchell (no not that one) tells of his life-long obsession that started fifty years ago:

15 March 1964 was an important day in my life as it was the start of a (ridiculous?) obsession with radio announcers. This joined my other obsessions: cricket, railways and buses. Numbers and shapes of the innings scores started my lifelong love of cricket. I did an entire County Championship with HOWZAT dice. Train numbers again fascinated me although, living in Canterbury, I had to put up with the numbers on the end of boring electric multiple units. My interest in buses was even odder. I kept a note of the three main adverts on each bus in the beautifully painted East Kent fleet. In case you are worried about the strangeness of my interests, I spent a great deal of time in the open air, cycling or playing cricket.
Enough of telling you how odd I was! Sometime in 1963/4, the BBC decided to revert to wartime practices and the newsreaders and announcers stopped being anonymous. There was an article in the Radio Times with a few pictures of staff which took my interest. (Memories of so long ago can obviously be flawed and this article has not been discovered so I wonder if it was in one of the newspapers - Sunday Telegraph?) So I decided to keep a record. To begin with, this was simply the Home Service. There was only one radio in the house - one of those old valve ones which took an age to warm up. Our family breakfast was always accompanied by the Home Service. I shall state my memories as facts but will happily be corrected. Before the start each day, we would hear an extract from Handel's Water Music. Then the announcer would welcome us, irritatingly not always giving his/her name. This was followed by the Farm Bulletin, normally read by the duty newsreader. On an odd occasion, I was caught out by someone reading this who, I assumed, was the newsreader, only to discover someone else on the 7o'clock. Perhaps it was recorded the night before although that seems highly unlikely. After Thought for the Day came the Weather Forecast region by region read by the duty continuity announcer; then Programme News. (None of these appalling trails we have to put up with nowadays). Then came the News, followed in my area by the South East news which was read by the continuity announcer in London. so that was a chance to pick up a new name or someone I did not recognise. After that, the Today programme and a repeated pattern.

Because of my obsession with numbers, I gave all the announcers numbers as well. So my records are all numerical.
1 Peter Barker
2 John Roberts
3 Robin Holmes
4 Alvar Lidell
5 Frank Phillips
6 John Spurling
7 Alexander Moyes
8 Sean Kelly
9 Michael de Morgan
10 Bruce Wyndham
11 John Nicoll
12 John Hobday
13 Ronald Fletcher
14 John Webster
15 Douglas Smith
16 Angela Buckland
17 Roy Williamson
18 Sandy Grandison
19 Bryan Martin
20 David Brown
21 John Dunn
22 Andrew Gemmill
23 Roy Williams
24 Tim Gudgin
25 David Broomfield  etc

Number 1 on the list, Peter Barker.
On 15 March 1964, the newsreader was Peter Barker and the continuity announcer John Roberts, so in my book was put 1 & 2. I obviously then thought of a few other names and allocated numbers as on Monday 16 March 1964 we have 5 & 20.
Tuesday 17 Match 1964 9 & 8
Wednesday 18 March 1964 15 & 1
Thursday 19 March 1964 2 & 17
Friday 21 March 1964 4 & 18
Saturday 21 March 1964 5 & 7

I looked for patterns. For example, Alvar Lidell was on most Friday mornings as a newsreader; Frank Phillips usually on a Monday and Saturday morning, quite often as the continuity announcer on a Monday morning with Ronald Fletcher as the newsreader. Robin Holmes was the regular Tuesday a.m. newsreader. Roy Williams was the normal Sunday morning continuity announcer. I shall always associate him with Lostwithiel as Sunday mornings had a ring of bells at the start of the day and he would come in telling us where the bells were from, but there was a lot of variety which made it interesting to me.
Bruce Wyndham, for example, although mostly based on the Light Programme, had about a month each year from 1964 to 1967 when he did newsreader duties on the Home Service. Tim Gudgin's appearances were very rare but he read the news twice in the week commencing 5 April 1964.

I suppose the event of most interest in 1964, apart from my being given a transistor radio for my birthday!, was the retirement of Frank Phillips with his last appearance on 24 October 1964 reading the news on the Saturday morning. In fact, by no means was this his last appearance as he popped up from time to time. Whether by design or coincidence, he was on duty overnight Saturday 23 January to Sunday 24 January 1965 and, as a result, announced the death of Sir Winston Churchill to the nation. In the following week, Thursday 28 January 1965, the duty announcer David Brown was clearly not in a fit state to read anything when he came on air at 0630. He was speedily replaced on continuity by the newsreader of the day Ronald Fletcher who was in turn replaced by Andrew Timothy - the only time he appeared in the morning in my records. I remember being excited to find out who was going to be the Christmas newsreader in 1964, assuming it would be the regular Friday man Alvar Lidell. But no, it was Peter Latham - his first early morning newsreading shift with John Hobday as the announcer.
So I have pages and pages of numbers all the way from 1964 to 1977 and 1985 to 2006, these include the other main BBC Radio channels.

Who were my favourite announcers?  Alexander Moyes - who once went on giving us Programme News long after the pips had gone. In recent years, undoubtedly the late Rory Morrison.


brian said...

I too was obsessed with BBC announcers as a teenager. In fact, Frank Phillips was one of my heroes. I rushed to the radio every time he read the news. He sent me out to school every Monday morning and games on a Saturday morning. I remember the death of Kennedy. it meant nothing to me really at that time, but Frank Phillips made it sound like the world had come an end. Apparently, during the war a listener sent a letter to the Director-General: "sack that man immediately; we'll never win the war while he is reading the news". He had it all: lovely voice, effortless fluency, pinpoint precision and made it sound important.

brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garry Humphreys said...

Brian, you might be interested to know that Frank Phillips began as a professional singer, as did Alvar Lidell; and Stuart Hibberd was a choral scholar at St John's College Cambridge when at university. Hibberd always maintained that he used a singing technique when speaking on the air. Shortly after they retired they were separately interviewed, in two half-hour programmes each ('The Announcers'), by Roger Clarke on BBC Radio London, which I recorded at the time.

My own favourites, of a slightly later period, were Colin Doran, Bryan Martin and John Hedges (men) and Laurie Macmillan and Jenny Lane (women).

In the 1945 Humphrey Jennings documentary, 'A Diary for Timothy', there are sequences showing Frank Phillips, Frederick Allen and Joseph Macleod announcing. Tim Gudgin and Wallace (Bill) Greenslade appear in the 1959 documentary 'This is the BBC'. Wonderful stuff!

brian said...

Garry, yes I knew that. I have seen an old Radio Times listing of a broadcast concert in the early 1930s where he was a singer and another idol, Ernest Ansermet, was the conductor. Actually, Frank and Ernest has some things in common. Ansermet's conducting was also characterised by clarity, precision and flow (both made it seem easy), and both did the same job for a long time: Frank was at the BBC for 30 years and Ansermet conducted the Suisse Romande for 50 years.

brian said...

By the way, for some reason Colin Doran is left out of the list. In fact, he was one of the 7 appointed in 1951 to read all the bulletins on all the BBC stations. The 7 also included Frank Phillips, Robin Holmes and Alvar Lidell. The other three were Lionel Marsden, Alan Skempton and Robert Dougall. But Marsden went soon after, Skemption, I think died, and Dougall went to TV. Doran continued as a regular newsreader until the 1970s.

Andy Walmsley said...

Thank you Brian. I suspect that Colin came after no. 25 on David's list. Colin continued to work for Radio 4 until 1982.

Unknown said...

Moving forward a touch to 1968, my recollection is that the newsreaders were usually : Monday, Roy Williamson; Tuesday, Robin Holmes; Wednesday, David Dunhill; Thursday, Colin Doran; and Friday, Alvar Lidell. This lasted till April 1969, when Alvar Lidell retired.

Ian Warburton.

Ken Foden said...

This takes me back as I was another who took a special interest in the Home Service . Radio 4 news readers and announcers.

I had an impression that there was a period - probably late 50's into the early 60's - when there seemed to be 6 regular newsreaders working in pairs. So we had Alexander Moyes & Douglas Smith who would cover say the morning bulletins including the 1 o'clock news, and say Frank Phillips & Wallace Greenslade for the evening bulletins. Following 'Bill' Greenslade's untimely death, it was Frank and Ronald Fletcher. For me, the latter pair was a case of a favourite and least favourite combination.

The third pairing was Robin Holmes and someone whose name I never really discovered. I suspect it could have been Alan Skempton, but all I can add is that it was the news reader of the 1pm news on that splendid documentary 'This is the BBC'.

So if it was a main 6 for a time, it meant readers like Alvar Lidell and Colin Doran (a favourite) were not as frequent or regular as the others on the Home Service. My own recollection of Alvar Lidell was his reading the 6pm news rather than morning bulletins, while Colin Doran sometimes popped up on the Light Programme - was there a 10.30pm news?

This was only for a limited period, and later the newsreader group was widened to include the likes of Roy Williamson and Brian Martin who previously had been mainly continuity.

I'd be most grateful if anyone can confirm, or correct, my recollection of the 6 and the pairings.

Andrew Timothy, who was the newsreaders boss I believe, had a splendid voice and I remember being surprised but delighted to hear him reading the news one Saturday evening and the following morning.

Good memories.

Ken Foden
22 December 2021

brian said...

In my teens (late 1950s, early 1960s), there was a pattern on the Home Service the newsreader who read the 6pm news went through the evening and then usually read the 7, 8 and 9 am bulletins the next morning. I wonder if he slept at the BBC. The 1pm news was the next bulletin, read by a different newsreader. Presumably he/she had to be at hand from 9am until 6pm in case there was a breaking news item. Frank Phillips normally did 2 long stints at the microphone and didn't do any 1pm bulletins: Sunday night and Monday morning, Friday night and Saturday morning. Alvar Lidell did one long stint Thursday night and Friday morning and one 1pm, Wednesday. Robin Holmes, did Monday night and Tuesday morning and, I think Thursday 1pm.
You are right about Ronald Fletcher: he usually did the programme announcing when Phillips read the news on Sunday night and Monday morning (occasionally doing the news while Phillips did the programmes). On the day of the assassination of President Kennedy on Sunday 22nd November 1962 Phillips read the news and Fletcher did the Radio Newsreel Review of the week. The death was actually announced by the Washington correspondent Leonard Parkin in the bulletin read by Phillips.

Both Wallace Greenslade and Alan Skempton died young, I think.

The bulletins were 7,8,9 am, 1, 6, 9, Home Service, 11 pm, Third Programme.

brian said...

1962 should read 1963 in my last comment.

Ken Foden said...

Thanks Brian. Yes, I do recall the evening newsreader being on the next morning. However, where my recollection is different - and probably wrong - was that the morning and the 1pm bulletins were shared between 2(the pairing). So one might do the 7am and 8am and the other the 9am and 1pm. I'm even less certain about the 6pm and later news during the evening. As you say, there must have been cover during the afternoon. I was usually not up for the 7am but again I thought the 8am newsreader also did the weather forecast at 07.55, rather than the programme/continuity announcer. I only seem to hear the regular newsreaders doing continuity occasionally and that usually it was folk like John Hobday, Michael Brooke and Michael de Morgan.

For some strange reason, I thought the newsreaders did 6 days on and 3 off but I may be getting that confused with Air Traffic Controllers (also voices of interest!) who at Manchester were rostered that way with at that time 4 teams 24/7. If, as others have said, certain newsreaders tended to do specific days of the week then 6 on, 3 off doesn't work.

The interest must have started earlier in the 50's as I recall Lionel Marson - a voice of gravitas but who spoke rather slowly it seemed to me. Incredibly, he appeared in a children's tv programme on one occasion and I even recognised his voice first.

In later years, the pattern and type of newsreader changed significantly. John Webster - who read the football results on Sports Report for many years - started reading the Home Service News (became R4 in 1967 I think) occasionally, as did Jimmy Kingsbury & Robin Boyle who were announcers previously associated with the Light programme. Then there were the new regulars like Bryan Martin and later the excellent Pauline Bushnell.

Perhaps it's just me, but I felt the authority / gravitas of those newsreaders in the 50's & early 60's was never quite matched by those who came later. I exclude Colin Doran who I think continued into the 80's and also John Hedges who someone has referred to. I found a brief recording of Doran and Hedges on some web site / forum a few years ago, but with my hearing not like it was I had trouble deciding who was who!
Colin Doran was doing continuity rather than reading the news I gather.

Must stop rambling on but I do appreciate the comments of those who no doubt have better memories than me.

brian said...

Presumably the BBC changed the pattern over the years, but I have no doubt that, during the period in which I was attuned, Frank Phillips read all the evening and morning bulletins in his normal stint, as did Holmes, Lidell, Doran, and the others. Indeed, the day he retired (a Saturday in October 1964, on his 63rd birthday), the Daily Mail carried a front editorial headed 'Losing our Voice', which began: "Mr Frank Phillips, the BBC announcer, is retiring today, and as he reads the 9 am news for the last time we want to wish him well and wave goodbye". It also referred to 'the voice, so effortless, yet precise', and also: "his was the voice to which we turned in the Blitz as the embodiment of the collective will to prevail", or words to that effect.

I agree with you about the authority and gravitas. Of course, some regarded it as elitist but, from a working class background in Belfast, I didn't see it that way. I viewed it as meticulous pronunciation (particularly important when reception wasn't as good as it is now) and giving the news a sense of importance. I listened to how Frank Phillips pronounced words and then aped him.

Ken Foden said...

Frank's superb voice was also heard in films such as "the Dam Busters"; and in "I'm All Right Jack",(I think) he also appeared on screen as he was reading the news.

In the documentary "This is the BBC", as well as Tim Gudgin and Bill Greenslade, Alvar Lidell was also seen reading the 6pm bulletin.

Bill of course was the much mocked announcer in "The Goon Show" while Douglas Smith suffered the same fate in "Beyond our Ken" and "Round the Horne".

Interesting you mention that some regarded the BBC voice as elitist. I didn't regard it that way either. The only newsreader I felt had that type of voice was Ronald Fletcher - not a favourite of an elderly great aunt who used to complain he rarely said "good morning everybody" before the weather forecast or 8am news, unlike Frank Philips and Robin Holmes for example.

brian said...

Yes, Ken, Fletcher's voice did sound snooty. As for Frank, perhaps your great aunt liked the fact that, at the end of the shipping forecast, he wished all men at sea, 'good night, gentlemen, good sailing'. Were they really all men then, though? Apparently, the Sea Captains' Club of Liverpool gave him a leaving gift on his retirement. You are right about 'I'm All Right, Jack'. He was the narrator and also appeared reading the news.

I also liked Alexander Moyes's voice. I read somewhere that he never really recovered after he was accidentally hit, I think, by an arrow in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

brian said...

Sorry, I’ve checked that. It was on Brighton beach in 1968 when an airgun pellet struck him in the eye and damaged his sight. On 14 August 1969 he was taken ill while reading the 8 am news summary on the Music Programme. Listeners heard his voice falter and then stop after a few sentences. The BBC said later that Mr Moyes had gone home to rest and would be off duty for some time. He died in 1973.

Ken Foden said...

Indeed Brian, I remember the way Frank signed off from the Shipping Forecast.

I hadn't heard about Alexander Moyes's mishap on Brighton beach. Initially, wasn't he an on-screen tv continuity announcer following thee likes of Sylvia Peters, Mary Malcolm and McDonald Hobley?

On radio, one slightly unusual incident was a morning when I was sat in the kitchen waiting for the 9am home service bulletin. After the pips, there was a slight delay and then an unknown, stuttering voice started to read the news. After a few sentences, he broke off and on came the familiar voice of Alexander Moyes with an apology and saying something like "that was one of our editors doing his best with the news". Was there a hint of Alexander being slightly short of breath as if he'd had to rush to the studio? I doubt we'll ever know just why it happened.

In later years, it was the voices of Brian Perkins (who later did a very funny parody of the shipping forecast you may have heard), Peter Donaldson and Charlotte Green who were heard reading news stories on comedy programmes.

As you may know, in the early days of tv in 1954 for a short period, some of the radio newsreaders would go up to Alexandra Palace to read the news. I was less than 10 at the time and it's not in my memory banks, and I don't know if they were on screen or just voice-overs. However I do recall the time when Richard Baker, Robert Dougall and Kenneth Kendall first started to appear regularly on screen.

Finally, I found this on Wiki about Andrew Timothy being the first announcer on the Goon Show before 'Bill' Greenslade. It was certainly something I didn't know.

"Timothy announced the show from its inception in 1951, but left part-way through the fourth series in 1953 "fearing for his sanity" and was replaced by Wallace Greenslade,[6] who remained on the show until it ended in 1960.[7] However, when The Last Goon Show of All was produced in 1972 Greenslade had died, and so Timothy came back to announce the special reunion show.[8] When a remake of The Goon Show (called Goon Again) was made in 2001, it was announced by Timothy's son Christopher."

Ken Foden said...

If anyone is interested, I came across this jotting about the Today programme. If you scroll down below the sections about Alan Skempton and Jack de Manio, there is a recording from Oct.1975 with John Timpson. At about 19min.25,Colin Doran reads the news headlines and at 27.30 there is the review of the papers - much longer in those days.


Doran's voice by then had acquired an older sound compared to what I remember from the late 50's and 60's. Not surprising perhaps but maybe it's my ears or the recording. Still a good reader though.

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