Friday 31 July 2015

On the Light - Part 2 "Give 'Em the Money, Barney!"

One the early successes on the BBC Light Programme, launched 70 years ago this week, was the travelling quiz show Have a Go!

The programme's popularity (1) was wholly due to the rapport that presenter Wilfred Pickles had with contestants young and old as he inevitably asked "What was yer most embarrassin' moment, loov?" Over time the chat with members of the public took precedence over the quiz element, though they were always encouraged and cajoled to win the full prize pot of "Thirty-seven and six!".

Wilfred Pickles had been born in Halifax in 1904 and from an early age was fascinated by showbusiness and went on to join a local amateur dramatic society, the Halifax Thespians. On one occasion, by which time his family had moved over the Pennines to Southport, Wilfred went across to visit them and ran into theatrical producer Arthur Belt. Would Wilfred care to read-through a part in his production of The Jeffersons he enquired? The part was playing opposite the young actress Mabel Mysercough. Wilfred and Mabel would marry in 1930 and would later work together on Have a Go! "How much money on the table, Mabel?".

In 1931 Wilfred successfully auditioned as an actor for the BBC's Northern region service in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. He would appear on programmes such as Children's Hour, Songs That Father Sang, King Pins of Comedy and Billy Welcome. Controversially in 1941 he also joined the rota of Home Service newsreaders where his non-BBC accent shocked some listeners. At the end of the day's broadcasting he'd sign off with: "Goodnight everybody, and to all you Northerners wherever you are - good neet".

The idea to use Pickles on the wartime bulletins came not from within the BBC but from the Ministry of Information. They felt that the "southerner" was having too much say over the airwaves for the northern listeners' liking. More intriguingly they also cited security reasons as his accent "might not so easily be copied by the Germans." To accommodate this the BBC moved Wilfred down to London and Bruce Belfrage up to Manchester and almost doubled his salary from £480 to £800. Apparently after his first bulletin there was a short interlude and announcer Franklin Engelmann cued in the record On Ilkey Moor Baht'At. In the event the news-reading experiment failed not only because of the listener complaints but, by Wilfred's own admission, the news bulletins were written "by a southerner for a southerner to read, which could make a lot of difference in the actual choice or order of words". (2)   

Have a Go! was the brainchild of Philip Robinson, a Programme Assistant based in Leeds, in response to a request from the North Regional Programme Director, John Salt, for ideas for a "quiz programme with audience participation". The titles of Quiz Bang (3) and then Have a Go, Joe were rejected in favour of Have a Go!, though the name "Joe" didn't disappear entirely. There was an opening and closing bit of community singing for the audience to heartily join in with: "That's the show, Joe, tha's been and 'ad a go; Now tha can tell thi friends as well, Tha's been on't Radio". As you can tell, to quote Russell Davies, the show was a "festival of ee bah gummery". (4)

The series was initially broadcast to listeners to the Northern Home Service. The first trial recording of Have a Go! was made in Bradford on 11 February 1946 and the first actual broadcast in nearby Bingley five days later.  According to Asa Briggs "the sense of popular participation was immediate and warm. Very quickly the original idea of a light-hearted quiz had been extended, for Pickles knew how to bring out the personality of each contestant and to reveal the human stories". (5)

The programme was a hit and "have a go" and "ow do - ow are yer?" started to become as popular as the catchphrase-laden ITMA. Within six months Have a Go! was moved to a national slot on the Light Programme with the first show, on 16 September 1946, coming from Bridlington.

In the early editions the producer was Philip Robinson but by 1947 he was replaced by Barney Colehan (6) giving rise to another catchphrase: "Give 'im the money, Barney". Musical accompaniment was initially provided by Jack Jordan but the following year Violet Carson joined the programme. Violet, a fine soprano as well as a pianist, had previously worked with Wilfred on many editions of Children's Hour and would, of course, go on to play the hair-netted harridan Ena Sharples in Coronation Street.  By 1953 the programme was broadcast live rather than  pre-recorded and production moved to London under the guidance of Stephen Williams with Harry Hudson at the piano. This was also the year that Mrs Pickles was roped in as "Mabel at the Table".

And here is a recording of that first live edition as broadcast on the Light Programme on 17 November 1953 coming from the town of Ramsbottom:

Have a Go! trundled on around the country - apparently they never re-visited a location - until the final edition on 10 January 1967.  By now the quiz element had totally gone and Wilfred would ask Mabel to pass over some unspecified pot of money to the best anecdote from some (usually) elderly resident of the town.

On the radio at least, Wilfred Pickles' easy-going, man of the people style meant he seemed destined to travel the highways and byways meeting the folk of Britain in series such as Pleasant Journey (1950) , Can I Come In? (1952-3)  and Afternoon Out (1956-61).  On BBC TV there was Ask Pickles (1954-56) in which he asks "for the things you'd like to see on your television screen", it was a kind of Wilf'll Fix It

Alongside all this the acting continued. His stage successes included The Gay Dog with Pickles as greyhound owner Jim Gay, a role he'd revisit on TV, radio and in the 1954 film version. There was also a long run at Blackpool in Hobson's Choice, again a play he'd star in on BBC TV and radio.  For the Home Service he appeared in Arnold Bennett's plays The Card and The Regent. Later there were roles in films such as Billy Liar and The Family Way and a starring role as ageing widower Walter Bingley with Irene Handel as Ada Cresswell in Thames TV's For the Love of Ada.   

For many radio and TV appearances it's noticeable the number of times that both Wilfred and Mabel appear. This arose through very tragic circumstances with the death of their seven-year-old son David, after contracting infantile paralysis. Later they would ask the BBC  to let them broadcast programmes on Christmas Day from various Children's Hospitals. In addition, Wilfred insisted that he and Mabel, who'd also lost one child in pregnancy, to appear as often as possible together on air and on tour. Such was the level of their national popularity that in 1955 the BBC Light Programme accorded them a special programme to celebrate their silver wedding.

Wilfred Pickles died aged 73 on 27 March 1978, Mabel passed away aged 82 on 28 March 1989. 
 1 - The BBC Year Book for 1948 quotes that the audience for Have a Go! topped 15 million. By 1958 it was still garnering 4.5 million.
2 - Quoted in Those Vintage Years of Radio by John Snagge and Michael Barsley (Pitman 1972).
3 - Quiz Bang had been its original title in the USA
4 - Let's Get Quizzical - Part 2 broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 9 April 2011.
5- The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom - Volume IV by Asa Briggs (OUP 1979)
6- Robinson became Head of Outside Broadcasts for the Northern region.  

Wednesday 29 July 2015

On the Light - Part 1

The BBC Light Programme, launched 70 years ago today, so often gets a bad press. I've lost count of the number of times I've read or heard someone say that the station offered little in the way that was new and entertaining. Admittedly the view is often expressed by those that fondly remember the 60s pirates stations. And there's no denying that the BBC both wilfully and by dint of MU agreements and lack of needletime was spinning very few pop records. And when you heard programmes like this you can understand why:

In 1964 an editorial in the Sunday Express offered the opinion that Radio Caroline was providing millions of people with "lively and gay music" and asked why can't the BBC "turn over the Light Programme to just this kind of entertainment instead of the pompous, pretentious pap it so often purveys?"     

Does the much-maligned Light Programme deserve this slating? After all the most most-listened to shows on BBC radio in 1964 where all on the Light: Two-Way Family Favourites, (1) Housewives' Choice, Children's Favourites, Saturday Club and Easy Beat.  This is also the sound of the station:

The BBC Light Programme first went on air on Sunday 29 July 1945 as part of a promised "first step towards a return to normal broadcasting". For the Home Service there was a return to the pre-war regional service (2) whilst the Light succeeded, at least for British listeners, the General Forces Programme and also the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme. Indeed, as you'll hear in the programme below, the Light Programme borrowed from the AEFP its Orange and Lemons interval signal.  

During the planning stages, which had started back in 1943, the idea of a 'popular' station had been mooted to compete with "sponsored programmes from our neighbours", i.e. Radio Luxembourg. Whilst BBC bosses wanted the same kind of programme mix that listeners enjoyed on the Forces network there was an insistence that the new stations should be "firmly British in character" and that there should be "an effective resistance to the Americanisation of our entertainment".

The Radio Times promised that the service would have programmes that were new but there would also be "old favourites reintroduced in a new form." Some of those wartime programmes that continued on the Light Programme included ITMAMusic While You Work and Variety Bandbox. Comedy series badged under the Merry-Go-Round title split off to become Waterlogged Spa, Stand Easy and the much-loved Much Binding in the Marsh.

During the Light Programme's early years a number of programmes came on stream that would become stalwarts of post-war radio: Family Favourites (7.10.45), Housewives' Choice (4.3.46  see note 3), Have a Go (16.9.46 see note 4),  Woman's Hour (7.10.46), Dick Barton-Special Agent (7.10.46), Sports Report (3.1.48), Mrs Dale's Diary (5.1.48),  Jack Jackson's Record Round-Up (10.1.48), Take It From Here (12.4.48), Top of the Form (1.5.48), Ray's a Laugh (4.4.49), The Billy Cotton Band Show (1.5.49), Listen with Mother(16.1.50), Life with the Lyons (5.11.50), The Archers (1.1.51) and Friday Night is Music Night (25.9.53) 

Other long-running or fondly-remembered series included Journey Into Space (first heard on 21.9.53), Children's Favourites (23.1.54), Hancock's Half-Hour (2.11.54), Make Way for Music (13.5.55), Pick of the Pops (4.10.55), Movie-Go-Round (16.9.56), Semprini Serenade (29.9.57), Music Box (23.4.58), Saturday Club (4.10.58),  Roundabout (13.10.58), Go Man Go (23.12.58), The Navy Lark (29.5.59), Round the Horne (7.3.65), and I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again (4.10.65 see note 5).

Some of these programmes are recalled in this fiftieth anniversary tribute to the Light Programme presented by Chris Stuart. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 30 July 1995. Edits have been made for some copyrighted music.

This is how the BBC Year Book for 1946 described the new Light Programme service:

Some months before the end of the war the Director-General promised that within ninety days of the end of hostilities in the West, the BBC would provide its listeners in the United Kingdom with two full-scale alternative programmes ; and that regional programme services, necessarily interrupted for security reasons, should also return. VE-day came on 8 May, and the programme
and technical staff at once began to make good the promise, even while a week of special victory programmes was being broadcast. On 29 July the new programmes were launched ; the `Home'
service with its regional variations, and the new alternative `Light' programme.

THE LIGHT PROGRAMME- `Designed to appeal not so much to a certain class of listener -but to all listeners when they are in certain moods'
The Light Programme, latest -comer to the air, sets out to give British listeners a continuous service of information and entertainment, contrasting now with the various Home Services and in future with the Home Services and the third programme that is to begin in 1946. It is broadcast nationally on long wave, backed up by medium -wave transmission in urban areas, where long -wave
reception may be subject to interference. The long wavelength is the famous 1500 metres used for the National Programme before the war, and devoted to the European Service from 16 November, 1941, to 28 July, 1945 ; now back at the service of listeners at home. The medium wavelength, 261 metres, is also that used for the subsidiary National stations before the war.

As a second programme for listeners in the United Kingdom, the Light Programme succeeds the General Forces Programme, which itself succeeded the original Forces Programme that catered for the BEF from the days of the Maginot Line. Incidentally, the General Forces Programme continues on short waves for British troops outside North -west Europe.

Both these predecessors were addressed to specialized audiences, and the civilian listener at home knew that in listening to them he was virtually eavesdropping (which, by the way, is a popular pastime with British listeners, as was evident with the European Service and the AEF Programme). Unlike them, the Light Programme is meant for civilians, and they have the right to expect it to give them what they want.

The title `Light' Programme does not mean that everything broadcast in it must necessarily be frothy or frivolous. It does mean that the overall content of the daily or weekly programme contains a higher proportion of sheer entertainment than either the Home Service or the third programme. More Variety shows, dance bands, brass bands theatre organs, popular orchestras, sport ; more `easy listening' in general, designed to appeal not so much to a certain class of listener but to all listeners when they are in certain moods. This does not exclude a proportion of more serious items -religious services of a rather different kind from the broadcast service that has become traditional, talks, fine music played by great orchestras (but not formal `symphony concerts'), plays, dramatic features on subjects with wide appeal. But these items will always form a minor element in the programme as a whole.

In two respects the Light Programme forsakes its special character in order to take its place in the BBC's general plan. It carries news broadcasts, at times which alternate with those of the Home Service, and these news broadcasts do not differ in style from the Home Service news, although they are read by different voices. Also it carries an hour a day of Forces educational broadcasts planned in consultation with the Service education authorities. These are included in the Light Programme because its long -wave transmission brings them within the reach of the greatest possible number of Service listeners. Among these are the British occupation forces in Germany, and it is worth mentioning that there has from the first been close co- operation between the Light. Programme and the British Forces Network in Germany, run by Army Welfare. The BFN relays a large proportion of the Light Programme and in return contributes regularly to it. A notable example of this co- operation is the two-way 'Family Favourites' series, in which a tune requested by a civilian listener for a relative in the occupation forces is followed by a tune requested by a Service man in Germany for a relative at home, the whole programme being broadcast both in the Light Programme and by
the BFN.

1 - Family Favourites topped 18 million listeners, the biggest audience of any regular radio or BBC TV programme. (Source: BBC Handbook 1964)
2- The regions were London, Midland, North, West, Scotland and Wales  with Northern Ireland having to share one of the North regions wavelengths (285.7m) due to a shortage of available wavelengths.  
3- Although the regular series of Housewives' Choice started in March 1946 the BBC Genome site lists two earlier weeks: w/c 26 November 1945 with Roy Rich and then w/c 1 January 1946 with Franklin Engelmann.
4- In fact Have a Go  had started on the Northern Region of the Home Service some 6 months earlier on 4 March 1946 but was quickly transferred to the Light Programme where it ran until 1967. Of course the other programme transferring from the Regions, and still broadcast today, was The Archers from the Midlands. Another popular show was Welsh Rarebit, from Wales (naturally), that had started life as a magazine programme in 1940 but became a 60-minute variety show from 6 April 1949. 
5- The first 3-part series in 1964 had aired on the Home Service but the second and all subsequent series were broadcast on the Light Programme and then Radio 2.   

Tuesday 14 July 2015

The Official Chart - A New Era

It won't have escaped your notice that the BBC's OfficialChart Show has shifted from its traditional Sunday slot to Friday afternoon. Whilst it's easy to get all misty-eyed about listening to (and in all probability recording) the Top 40 on a Sunday, most of those doing so are unlikely to still be listening to Radio 1 and would struggle to name the current number one.    

Greg James delivered an exemplary performance on Friday's new chart. Minimum chat and maximum music. With a running time almost half that of the old Sunday show there's only time to play the Top 25 but at least it cut back on the extraneous stuff that had crept into the show in recent years. Note how Greg welcomes in the "new era" with the full date, ideal for archive clipping, and refers to "the exciting new sound", a lovely touch I thought. This is "proper radio history."

That mention of "the exciting new sound" was probably on Greg's mind after speaking to Tony Blackburn earlier in the day on BBC Radio Berkshire.

The chart show had been a Sunday afternoon fixture since 7 January 1962 when Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops moved from Saturday nights. Two DJs stand out as imbuing the programme with energy and excitement: Bruno Brookes and Mark Goodier. Both have made appearances on BBC local radio in the last few days.  

John Foster, a self-confessed radio anorak, put together a montage of clips and played some classic JAM jingles as part of his chat with Bruno Brookes on BBC Radio Tees last Friday:

Meanwhile Mark Goodier, the man who's got the best music, spoke to Stephanie Hirst on her new BBC Radio Manchester show Nothing But the 90s:

And the current number one: David Zowie's House Every Weekend

Other chart shows are available ... on a Sunday!

Monday 13 July 2015

Live Aid

"It's twelve noon in London, 7 am in Philadelphia and around the world it's time for Live Aid. Sixteen hours of live music in aid of famine relief in Africa".

Richard Skinner's opening announcement thirty years ago today launched the start of an unforgettable day for the "global jukebox" that was Live Aid. In this edited version of a Radio 1 documentary those involved in performing at the concert and those working behind the scenes on the mammoth broadcast operation recall that day, Saturday 13 July 1984.

Live Aid-One Year On: One Day That Shook the World is introduced by Simon Bates and features the voices of Bob Geldof, Stuart Grundy, Dave Atkey, John Keeble, Elvis Costello, Sting, Howard Jones, Michael Appleton, Chris Lycett and Elton John. It was produced by Roger Lewis and aired on Saturday 13 July 1986.

Tagged on the end of the recording are some of the Live Aid jingles produced by JAM Creative Productions. 

Sunday Times illustrations by Mick Austin

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