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.

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