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.
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