Monday 30 March 2015

Here’s Johnnie!

Happy 70th Birthday to Peter Waters Dingley, better known to the world as Johnnie Walker.

With a radio career spanning nearly half a century – his first broadcast was in May 1966 – I’ve chosen this show from 1995 when he left Radio 1 … for the third time! 
Johnnie first said goodbye to Radio 1 in the summer of 1976 when he said farewell to the UK and  followed his radio dreams in America. Back with the Beeb in the eighties, on The Stereo Sequence, he left again in 1988 for Branson’s Radio Radio, aka The Super Station.  Three years later controller Johnny Beerling invited him back to Radio 1 to resume his Saturday afternoon shows.

But changes were afoot at Radio 1. Johnnie and producer Phil Ward-Large set up their own independent company, Wizard Radio, to secure the Saturday afternoon slot under new controller Matthew Bannister. They were awarded a one-year contract. Come year two there were verbal assurances that Walker was still safe at the station but within weeks he was given his marching orders.  According to Walker’s autobiography he maintains he was dropped as Bannister was desperately looking of savings to fund Chris Evans’s move from GLR to the Breakfast Show.
Here is that full show from Saturday 21 October 1995, but missing the concert featuring Hole. So there is, you might say, a hole in this recording! Packed full of guests you’ll hear Nick Cave, Neil and Tim Finn, Emmylou Harris, Chrissie Hynde, Nanci Griffith, and Bruce Springsteen.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Parky at 80

Happy 80th Birthday today to Michael Parkinson.

Parky’s career is pretty well-known: cub reporter on the South Yorkshire Times, National Service (Private Parkinson RAPC, army number 23131269), back to Civvy street and reporting for the Barnsley Chronicle, Yorkshire Evening Post, Manchester Guardian, ABC Television (at their Didsbury studios), down to Fleet Street to work on the Daily Express, back north to Granada TV (Scene at 6.30 and Cinema), a stint with the Beeb on 24 Hours, sports column in the Sunday Times and a daytime show for Thames, Tea Break. And all this was before the start of his eponymously-titled chat show.

As Michael recalled in his autobiography; “Tony Preston was head of variety at the BBC. One day in the spring of 1971 he called and said he wanted to suggest me as the host for a new late-night talk show the BBC was contemplating, Would I be interested?” By then he was thirty-six and “never imagined the show I was about to do would define my working life for the next thirty-six years”.   

Meanwhile over on BBC radio Michael was fast becoming ‘Parky the DJ’ on Radio 2. In 1969 he was one of the presenters of Late Night Extra and a couple of years later on the rota for the daily magazine show After Seven. There were also stints deputising for Pete Murray on Open House.

On Radio 4 he was an occasional panellist on Any Questions and teamed up with wife Mary on the talk show Mr and Mrs Parkinson. In 1971 and 1972 he was an occasional presenter on Today. In late 1985 there was a six-part series titled Michael Parkinson, though you didn’t hear that much of him. Instead it was merely a vehicle for clips from the BBC’s Sound Archives. In this, the first edition from 12 November, you’ll hear Malcolm Muggeridge, Jonathan Miller, Round the Horne, Robb Wilton, Arthur Marshall, Peter Sellers and a classic interview about the delights of living in Tunbridge Wells that you’ll have probably heard before.    

When Parkinson himself had appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1972 he’d found it “a profoundly depressing experience.” So when some thirteen year later Radio 4 controller David Hatch asked him to take over the show following the death of its creator Roy Plomley he had “reservations”.
“The problem”, opined Parky, “was Plomley himself. He seemed bored with the show, not the slightest bit interested in the guest’s story, more in favour of a long lunch at the Garrick with a bottle of wine before the interview took place in what seemed like a broom cupboard at Broadcasting House.”  Plomley’s widow, Diana Wong, didn’t think much of the appointment, favouring either John Mortimer or Richard Baker, and thought Michael not “civilised enough”.

With his journalistic background the interview part of Desert Island Discs became more probing and enquiring, perhaps a little intrusive at times, but this was to become the template of the show ever since. Michael’s first guest when DID returned to the airwaves in January 1986 was the film director Alan Parker. This is my recording of the full show. 

Parky’s tenure on Desert Island Discs lasted until March 1988. Two years he was one of the re-launched LBC Newstalk team, along with his old TV-AM colleague Angela Rippon. His daily mid-morning show ran for a couple of years. 

Aside from the cinema and the Great American songbook Michael’s other passion was sport. Between 1994 and 1997 he presented the weekly Radio 5 Live show Parkinson on Sport.   
Parkinson’s Sunday Supplement first aired on 31 March 1996 as part of a number of schedule changes implemented by controller Jim Moir, who’d joined the station the previous November. Moir’s objective was “to gain listeners, especially among the group that every radio station in the country is fighting for – the fortysomethings. My first changes are to signal to them that Radio 2 is on the move on Saturdays and for two hours on Sunday. We want to share our music with a generation that feels a bit dispossessed and give them a radio station that doesn’t just play hits in a repetitive way.” For listeners to the Sunday Supplement this inevitably led to plenty of plays for Sinatra, Jamie Cullum and Diana Krall.

This is a full show from late in the programmes run and was broadcast on Radio 2 on 4 November 2007. Michael’s guests are John Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Helping to review the Sunday papers is Gillian Reynolds and the entertainment guide is provided by Hilary Oliver.

By 2007 Michael had announced his retirement from regular broadcasting, signing off from both the Sunday Supplement and his TV chat show, now over on ITV. Of course he never quite said goodbye. In the interim he’s spent much of the time popping on TV in perfecting his role as an old curmudgeon remarking how TV production at the BBC isn’t what it was and meantime offering daytime viewers of a certain age a free Parker pen. On Radio 2 there have been two series of My Favourite Things.   

Many happy returns Sir Michael!

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The Voice of the Station

Alan Dedicoat - aka Deadly for any TOGs reading this - the voice of BBC Radio 2, completes his last news-reading shift this Friday.

His is the voice of the daytime bulletins, delivered with such clarity and assurance. He’s also the first voice you hear when that emergency tape kicks in, an increasingly common experience of late.  But after 28 years with the station Alan is, as they inevitably say, ‘hanging up his headphones’. At least as far as Radio 2 is concerned that is. His ‘Voice of the Balls’, Strictly and Children in Need work continues as before.     

Alan joined the station in 1987 from BBC local radio, Birmingham (later WM) and then Devon, as a newsreader and continuity announcer. Back then newsreaders were also expected to take a turn on some of Radio 2’s music shows such as Nightride and The Early Show. As the presenting and continuity work was phased out Alan would become the station’s senior newsreader but continued to provide some of the pre-recorded station links and announcements. In late 2012 a number of long-serving newsreaders left Radio 2 and Alan became the last survivor of the old-school newsreader/announcers.   

In this montage you’ll hear Alan reading the news, providing station information, hosting The Early Show, enjoying some banter with Terry Wogan and Paul Walters and confessing all (well not quite) on Simon Mayo Drivetime.  

Monday 23 March 2015

Get Myself Connected

Image a world in which you could get “all your music and videos online without ever leaving your home”. I know. It’ll never happen!!

This vast explosion of change in cyberspace and interactivity was on the horizon when BBC Radio 1 presented their Interactive Radio Night in March 1995.  Twenty years ago cutting edge was a CD-ROM and the concept on sending an email was still a novelty.
Guiding listeners through the technology are Evening Session presenters Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq, with help from “space cadet” William Franklyn.

The three-hour show, that went out on Sunday 26 March 1995, is here condensed into a 45-minute slice.
Incidentally the web address of “” no longer works.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

That Was the Week – Part 1

In the wake of the early 60s satire boom you’d have been hard pressed to find anything on BBC radio that poked fun at the establishment or, Radio Newsreel apart, dissected the week’s news.

The saviour came in the unlikely guise of Nicholas Parsons. In 1964 Parsons and writer Alistair Foot, who’d worked with Nicholas on The Arthur Haynes Show, worked up a format for a show they called Listen to this Space. “We were going to quote from named newspapers, send up the politicians of the day with impersonations”, recalls Nicholas.
The idea got the green light from Roy Rich, Head of Radio Light Entertainment, and was assigned to established BBC producer Bill Worsley. The pilot was co-written with Anthony Marriott with a cast comprising Denise Bryer (aka Mrs Parsons) and Roger Delgado with songs by Libby Morris and music from the Tony Osborne Trio. 

The story goes that the pilot was not a resounding success, even the producer thought a full series unlikely. Apparently a tape of the show found its way to Director General Hugh Carleton-Greene who, seeing its potential, gave it the nod.
Listen to this Space finally aired on the Home Service on 23 April 1965 with the only cast change being the replacement of Delgado, who was unavailable for the series, for Bob Todd. With Denise providing the female voices, Nicholas was more than adept at covering the male impressions, though he was joined in later series by Peter Goodwright and Barry Cryer, who put in a fine performance mimicking Harold Wilson.  

Other cast members in subsequent series were actor David Cumming and former BBC announcer Ronald Fletcher who, being something of an old ham, took part in the comedy proceedings much like he’d done on Breakfast with Braden and would go on to do in Stop the World.
Though now largely forgotten and, of course, like all topical shows never having had a repeat, Listen to this Space proved popular and ran for four series, plus a 1968 follow-up Follow this Space. By all accounts the ‘Establishment’ loved it with Nicholas Parsons receiving invitations to visit the House of Commons from MPs that followed the show. In 1967 the Variety Club honoured him with the Radio Personality of the Year award.

To give you a flavour of what Listen to this Space sounded like here are extracts from second and fourth series together with an introduction by Nicholas taken from BBC Radio 7/4 Extra edition of the Comedy Controller that contained the only known repeat (other than the in-series repeats on the Light Programme/Radio 2) of the show. The combination of gags, impersonations and comic songs is redolent of the later News Huddlines (more of which soon). 

And before I leave the sixties there’s another long-forgotten and, more than likely, completely wiped series that took a sideways look at the week’s news: It’s Saturday.  Starting in June 1967 this was a Home Service/Radio 4 programme that aired in the Northern region only on Saturday morning between 8.15 and 8.45 (later 8.20 to 8.45 am) whilst the most of the country enjoyed From Our Own Correspondent.

The original host was James Hogg, at the time a Look North presenter and later on Nationwide. By 1969 he’d been succeeded by Bill Grundy, who’d been mainly at Granada TV, though he had done some radio work, on the North Home Service Sport Spotlight and representing the North on Round Britain Quiz for example.
It’s Saturday was noted for its “irreverent attitude to the news and to public figures” and remained a Radio 4 fixture until 1973. However it gained some notoriety in October 1970 during the Tory Party conference in Blackpool when it featured items that angered BBC bosses and led to the ‘resignation’ of Grundy, singer-songwriter Alex Glasgow, freelance producer/announcer Jim Walker and reporter David Bean. 

The man in charge of operations in Manchester, Grahame Miller (Head of Programmes, North) was unhappy with an announcement that went “Bill Grundy has just been to Blackpool, where apparently a group of people have taken a week off to hold a conference to condemn absenteeism.” There was also reference to delegates “rolling over like dogs waiting to be tickled” when Sir Alec Douglas-Home spoke. Finally Alex Glasgow sang a satirical song about selling arms to South Africa: “I’m going to sell a little bomb to South Africa. Just a teeny-weeny bomb to South Africa…”
Programme producer Barbara MacDonald was told to “restrict the political content”. Alex Glasgow was unhappy about being “pre-censored” and Bill Grundy was “appalled”. “It’s Saturday was”, he said, “acerbic about both main political parties. To try to treat it in this way is to knock all the life out of an extra-ordinarily lively programme”. It’s unclear why the Corporation chose that moment to administer a rap over the knuckles but at the time the press noted a recent letter in the Daily Telegraph from Tory MP Harold Soref who described the programme as “sneering”, “vitriolic” and a type of “public filth.”

It’s Saturday ran for another three years with various presenters: Stuart Hall, Michael Winstanley, the programmes’ former producer Bob Houlton, newspaper editor Barry Askew and finally Tony Eccles.

Listen to the Space
All first broadcast on Friday night on the Home Service (later Radio 4) with a repeat on Sunday on the Light Programme (later Radio 2)

Series 1: 11 episodes 23 April to 2 July 1965 (14 May edition not broadcast though a LP edition was scheduled for 16 May and listed as a repeat)
Series 2: 13 episodes 26 November 1965 to 18 February 1966
Series 3: 20 episodes 23 September 1966 to 3 February 1967
Series 4: 13 episodes 22 September 1967 to 15 December 1967
Follow this Space
Series 1: 13 episodes 11 October 1968 to 3 January 1969 (Radio 4)

With thanks to Dave Rhodes for alerting me to the existence of It’s Saturday.
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