Sunday, 13 November 2016

Radio Lives - Jimmy Young

From The Man from Laramie and "What's the recipe today, Jim?" to the Grand Inquisitor of the Great and the Good and the consumer's champion. Jimmy Young's sixty year career moved from 50s crooner to one of the UK's best-known broadcasters. Surprisingly JY was offered a prime mid-morning slot amongst all the bright young things and homecoming former pirates when Radio 1 was launched in 1967. Soon becoming the housewives favourite,  his show was a jolly mix of records and chat but is perhaps best remembered for those daily recipes, "Let's Hear about Home Cooking" jingle and the voice of Raymondo.  All those elements transferred to Radio 2 in 1973 but the show gradually morphed into a mix of current affairs and consumer advice interspersed with music.  How did all this happen? Well first it's back to the beginning. "'Orft we jolly well go..."

Leslie Ronald Young was born on 21 September 1921 in Cinderford in Gloucestershire's Forest of Dean where his father, an ex-miner, and his uncle ran a successful bakers and confectioners business.  He never lost that Gloucestershire accent. He later admitted: "It's a nice soft burr that sounds warm and friendly. It's easy on the ear, and I have no doubt it's been an enormous asset for me in my broadcasting career".

"Our Jim" - for some reason his family never called him Leslie - was mad about music and he dreamed of a musical career. Both parents sang in choirs and his mother also taught piano and organ.  However, Jim's ambitions had to be put on hold as he was helping his father mixing the dough and driving the delivery van. When war was declared in 1939 he joined the RAF, though he was never pilot material. Eventually he saw service in India and Pakistan and managed to get his first taste of showbusiness taking part in the concert parties - presumably something not too dissimilar from It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

After the war Jimmy married his first wife Wendy Wilkinson - though the marriage was short-lived - and was employed firstly managing his brother-in-law's hairdressing salon and then as a civil servant at the Ministry of Education.  Still pursuing his musical ambitions, in 1948 he passed a BBC audition though the verdict was tempered with "it now remains to be seen whether you can be used in broadcasts". He wasn't, at least not for another year.

1949 proved more eventful. First Jimmy received a phone call from pianist Bill Williams asking him to stand in for him, leading to regular gigs at the Nordic Club. Secondly, performing at the nightclub he was spotted by BBC producer George Inns - later of The Black and White Minstrel Show fame - who recommended him to the Variety Department. Jimmy's first radio broadcast was on 9 August singing with the Ronnie Pleydell Orchestra. Further broadcasts  followed in Stars of Tomorrow and Look Who's Here and with Ray Martin and his Orchestra. He returned with Ronnie Pleydell in 1950 in Moonlight Reverie.  It was whilst appearing with Ray Martin that Jimmy met female vocalist Sally Douglas; she would become his second wife in a marriage lasting just six years. He met his third wife, Alicia Padstow, in the early 70s when she was working as a secretary at Broadcasting House. Together for many years they eventually married in 1996. 

On the recording front Jimmy was signed to Alan Freeman's Polygon label (that's the record producer not 'Fluff') alongside Ray Martin and Petula Clark. He cut his first disc Too Young - it was almost as if it'd been written for him. In the era of multiple recordings of the same song his performance was up against Nat King Cole and Steve Conway but there were no record charts in 1951 to show who was on top, though the sheet music hit number one.

Back at the BBC Jimmy continued to appear in the early 50s as the guest singer on many radio shows on both the Light Programme and Home Service. The list is long but includes Variety Bandbox, Variety Matinee, Workers' Playtime, The Memory Lingers On, A Midday Date, Enchanted Rhythm, Treble Chance, The Song Shop, The Show Band Show and Take It Easy. He also a DJ on Flat Spin (1953), appeared on BBC TV in How Do You View? and Off the Record and got main billing on the Light Programme's The Jimmy Young Show (1954).

Away from the radio Jimmy was continuing to appear in cabaret and on theatre tours and eventually left Polygon and signed with Decca. In 1955 he hit pay dirt with two records that made it to the top of the Hit Parade: Unchained Melody and The Man from Laramie. This time his version of Unchained Melody was definitely the best-selling; the version by Al Hibbler reached number 2 and Les Baxter's peaked at number 10.  Al Martino's rendition of The Man from Laramie made it to number 19. The NME's top-selling artists of 1955 listed Ruby Murray at number one with our Jim coming in second.

Those hit records led to Jimmy's first booking on Housewives' Choice in October 1955 - aside from established broadcasters this was a contract often offered to popular singers and actors who could cut it behind the microphone. 

In the second half of the 1950s Jimmy's radio appearances were less frequent but now he was at least getting top billing in The Song's the Thing and The Night is Young which enjoyed a short TV series and then a longer Light Programme run. 

Jimmy always credits his big break into radio as a presenter rather than mainly host and singer to a June 1960 re-booking on Housewive's Choice. "Before I'd even finished the first week my phone began to ring with offers of work".

Within a couple of months Jimmy was appearing on EMI sponsored show for Radio Luxembourg. He continued to work for the station until early 1968, programmes included The Night is Young (there's that title again), The Jimmy Young Hour, Record Romance and Like Young. Many of those EMI shows were produced by Harry Walters and then Ken Evans, both of whom would later produce The JY Prog on Radio 2.

Meanwhile Jimmy was very busy at the BBC with a ton of radio work including Time for Old Time (1960-61), Twelve O'Clock Spin (1960-63), Records Around Five (1961), Stringalong (1961), Younger than Springtime (1961-62), Teenager's Turn (1961), and, appearing with the Johnny Pearson Orchestra on Once in a While (1962-63) and In a Sentimental Mood (1963). On BBC TV he popped up on Juke Box Jury and in 1963 hosted the new talent show The 625 Show (it went out at 6.25 pm on Tuesday evenings). Over on ITV Jimmy appeared on Spin-a-Disc feature that was part of ABC's Saturday night music show Thank Your Lucky Stars (1961-64). 

Here's an extract from JY's Light Programme work introducing music from Johnny Pearson and singing the occasional song on In a Sentimental Mood. (With thanks to Peter Preston) 

Starting in December 1963 and running through to April 1964 was Jimmy's first unscripted radio work on Saturday Special. This Saturday afternoon mix of music, features (including Barry Bucknall's DIY tips) and live sports coverage was described by the Radio Times thus: "His job is to line up offbeat facts and fancies of the weekend from our regional correspondents, keep his ears glued to the line between us and BBC Sportsroom and cue the music of the Northern variety Orchestra and vocal stars on record".

Jimmy's next major radio project was Through Till Two (1964-65). This was a late night show occupying the four  hours either side of midnight, the first couple of hours in the company of Jimmy and the second with Steve Race. When Steve suffered a heart attack Jimmy looked after the full programme. Through Till Two was an interactive record request show. Unbelievably they had up to sixty operators answering calls who then typed up listeners' requests onto slips of paper that were passed through to the producer Geoffrey Hayden. Once he'd selected the next track from the requests someone would run into the nearby record library and pull out the disc for playing into the show.  Jimmy recalls that TTT was "an enormous success. In fact we achieved the highest-ever listening figures for a late-night radio programme."  

For the remainder of the Light Programme's life Jimmy was also presenting a 10 a.m. music show once a week (1965-67) introducing various musical acts and singing the odd song himself. In 1966 he joined the roster of DJs on Midday Spin (1966-67).

There's that famous 1967 photo of the Radio 1 DJs sitting on the steps of the steps of All Soul's Church. And who's the oldest of that swinging groovy group? Well apart from controller Robin Scott it's our Jim. On the launch schedule he was offered a plum mid-morning role each weekday in which he "plays discs, greets guests, sings songs, phones people."  Scott secured Jimmy for the slot as he wanted a safe pair of hands that would bring in an audience. Going out between 10 a.m. and noon, with the first hour simulcast on Radio 2, it was, by 1969, bringing in an audience of 5.75 million, outstripping all other weekday programmes including Tony Blackburn's breakfast show on 4.45 million.

The best remembered feature of those early Radio 1 years is the daily  recipe, the idea of JY's formidable producer and show editor Doreen Davies. The recipes were sent in by listeners and any selected had to meet the criteria that they used readily available ingredients and were easy to prepare. Doreen would road test the broadcast recipes at home, presumably trying them out on her husband, fellow producer Derek Chinnery.  In time the feature was introduced by the speeded up voice of producer Ray Harvey, as a character known as Raymondo, asking "What's the recipe today, Jim?" It also spawned four Jimmy Young cookbooks. Added to the mix Jimmy would occasionally burst into song himself and the show was interspersed with his bizarre panoply of verbal mannerisms: "TTT - through 'til twelve", "Orft we jolly well go", "MMMMFs - many millions of mid-morning friends" and, of course, his sign-off "BFN - bye for now". (And not TTFN as widely quoted online last week). 

Here's a taste of how those Radio 1 shows sounded.   

In July 1973 The JY Prog was moved from Radio 1 over to Radio 2, where it stayed for the next 29 years. The Town Talk theme and daily recipe slot transferred too - it was eventually dropped in 1981 - but the show's sound soon started to go off in a slightly different direction. In the early days the team would pick up on consumer issues - those that would directly affect his audience - and his first interview in 1973 was with Geoffrey Howe, the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs.

Back in his  Radio 1 days Jimmy had already shown that current affairs and music could mix in a series of shows broadcast from around Europe in the run-up to Britain's entry into the EEC. But increasingly Jim was interviewing politicians and experts on his Radio 2 show - sometimes much to the annoyance of his news and current affairs colleagues. Over time he developed an interviewing technique designed to put the interviewee at ease - he always used first names for instance - but always calmly and persistently asking the kind of questions that his listeners would wish to ask. There was no attempt to be clever or engage in point scoring, he always listened and responded to the answer. This was the period he moved away from the role of DJ to that of presenter and interviewer. Here are some show highlights with clips from a number of mainly political interviews.   

Cover star in March 1983 

It wasn't just politics of course. There were a regular panel of experts that Jimmy would invite into the studio to answer listeners' queries or problems. On medical matters were doctors Mike Smith, Bill Dolman, Gillian Rice and Mark Porter. Fielding legal issues were 'Legal Beagle' Bill Thomas and 'Legal Eagle' Andrew Phillips. Every Thursday Tony D'Angeli, editor of The Grocer, would talk about the latest food prices and tackle questions on the availability of products, food safety or whatever. Over the years others experts included gardener Daphne Ledward 'Daffers', on antiques Eric Knowles and vet Bruce Fogle. Between 1974 and 2001 Jimmy would also present Radio 2's General Election coverage and from 1981 on Budget days there would be afternoon specials with economic expert Dominic Harrod usually on hand. 

Interaction with 'the listener ' became increasingly important but they were never put on-air, there were no phone-ins. This stance at least helped things zip along. Jimmy explained:  "My producer would rush into my studio and hurl handfuls of paper at me, I would then select the most interesting, entertaining and controversial and read them out. By making the final one the most outrageous I ensured a further deluge. Comment fuelled further comment and kept the programme rattling along. "
In October 1981 Jimmy spoke to the Radio Times about his show: "Why interviews work so well is, he thinks, because he can shift away from his subject if the talk bogs down, to play music, then return to a relaxed aspect of conversation".  And on the subject of radio: "It's terribly important. So many people just cannot communicate and for them I've managed to open an area that was closed; the current affairs people were just a little bit elitist, saying in effect 'This is not for you; don't bother your head about it'. "

For many Radio 2 listeners one of the daily highlights was when Jimmy popped into Terry Wogan's studio to plug his show and participate in a bit of verbal thrust and parry. Tel wrote this in Banjaxed: "Sometimes, of a morning, I feel a surge of pity as the nurse wheels the grand old broadcaster into my studio in his bath-chair, and after wetting his dry, cracked lips with a sponge, we get a few weak, rambling sentences from him. Often the cry goes up 'Nurse! The screens!' But it's usually too late. Hard to believe that this shattered husk was once the Singing Baker's Boy, The Man from Laramie, the one who was Too Young, the Donny Osmond of his day".  

I've posted these clips of Tel and Jimbo before, they date from 1978 and 1980.

In an era of seemingly generous BBC budgets the programme would occasionally undertake OBs from around the UK and around the globe. The first major expedition was to Moscow in 1977 - the JY Progski - the first live BBC broadcast from beyond the Iron Curtain. Other overseas broadcasts come from around Europe, Egypt, Israel, the States, Japan, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and Zimbabwe.

In the 1980s the JY Prog came from Glasgow, Tokyo, Hong King
and Australia 

The only time I ever saw JY was when I was on holiday in Devon in the summer of 1978 where, for no particular reason, he presented the show from the quarter deck of a replica of The Golden Hind in Brixham harbour. My two abiding memories are how small Jimmy was and how impeccably dressed he was. Here's the start and end of the show together with a number of clips from the late 1970s and the 1980s.

Promoting Jim's World in March 1974

At this point it's worth mentioning some of Jimmy's TV work in this period. For BBC1 in 1972 he took consumer advice to the streets in Jimmy Young Asks. He told the Radio Times: "The thing is I get on well with people. I always have. If I go among ordinary people they'll ask talk to me. I find that anywhere."  Over on ITV in 1973 he was a regular panellist alongside Richard Coleman on the Thames produced panel game Whose Baby?  The following year he was the host of the lunchtime series from Southern TV Jim's World. Initially a light entertainment programme it broadened out to include current affairs as well. There was more advice on offer on BBC1 in 1979 in a guide to everyday maths called It Figures. When Thames ran its first Telethon in October 1980 Jimmy was one of the hosts. Between 1984 and 1986 Jimmy also recorded a number of topical discussion programmes at Yorkshire Television (recorded on Friday evening after Jim had signed off from his radio show and caught the train up to Leeds) for broadcast late on Sunday evening under the unimaginative title The Jimmy Young Programme. The 1985 and 1986 series were networked by ITV

The JY Prog remained a fixture on Radio 2 throughout the 1980s and 1990s in a late morning and then lunchtime slots.  Jimmy's eventual  departure from the BBC was a messy affair that played itself in public over about three years. Stories that JY was to leave Radio 2 had first appeared in the press in late 1998, although at the time he claimed that he'd continue until he dropped. It was suggested that Controller Jim Moir had approached Nicky Campbell, a fact Nicky later confirmed. Jimmy's contract was up for renewal in 2002 anyway. To complicate matters during that final year he was very poorly following complications from an earlier hip replacement operation and Brian Hayes was deputising for him. After about five months off-air Jimmy returned on 9 December to enjoy a fortnight's swansong.

JY signs off. The Times 21 December 2002
When the final JY Prog aired on Friday 20 December 2002 Jimmy was not a happy bunny. As you'll hear in this full recording (with thanks to Noel Tyrrel) he's a little scratchy during his pre-show chat with Ken Bruce.  In signing off he tells his listeners: "I don't want to leave you that's true to say, but nonetheless that's what's been decreed." At the end it's into the news with a final "And for the very last time I fear, bye for now."

Jimmy's replacement was Jeremy Vine, who'd done the occasional cover on the programme during 2001 and 2002. Radio 2 offered Jimmy a weekend show with the same mix of music and current affairs but, understandably, he turned it down. There was a theatre tour of An Audience with Jimmy Young and a regular column in the Sunday Express but he didn't return to radio apart from a some guest appearances. At Christmas 2003 he appeared on Ned Sherrin's Loose Ends and in 2011 he was finally welcomed back to Radio 2 to chat with Ken Bruce about his life and career on Sir Jimmy Young at 90. Here's that programme as heard on 20 September 2011.

In 2012 Jimmy was back on the second series of Desmond Carrington's Icon of the 50s. His contributions were spread over the four programmes but here I've stitched them together.

Jimmy's last radio appearance was earlier this year when he offered a few brief words in tribute to his old radio sparring partner Terry Wogan. Last Monday it was announced that Jimmy had died "peacefully at home". He was 95. 

Fulsome tributes were paid reflecting Jimmy's major contribution to British broadcasting and in particular recalling the unique way he skilfully blended music, current affairs and expert advice for the best part of three decades. On Tuesday lunchtime the first hour of Jeremy Vine's show was devoted to memories of Jimmy with contributions from Jim Moir, Dr Mike Smith, Andrew Phillips, Gordon Brown, Frank Field, John Gummer and Gillian Reynolds. 

Sir Jimmy Young 1921-2016 Bye for now!  

1 comment:

Robin Carmody said...

Interesting to read JY's comment in the second paragraph here - today, a West Country accent is an active *disadvantage* in broadcasting, the first era in the BBC's history when it has not been favoured over other non-RP accents (which is a factor in its decline). I would say this comes partially from a conscious desire on the BBC's part to balance out its previous bias towards anti-urbanism and to develop more of a standing (and indeed a physical presence, c.f. especially the Salford & Cardiff developments - in January 1979, a fairly representative month, Granada & HTV were ITV's strongest areas) in areas of the UK where it has historically been less well-regarded, and partially because Northern English and Celtic accents are no longer associated in the present tense (as they very much were when JY first made a name for himself as a serious interviewer) with industrial militancy which is perceived, by some, as an active threat to the security of the state and maybe even people's very lives. Also, there is a greater need now to give Scottish accents, at least, more representation now that secession is so much more of a live possibility. I don't begrudge Northern English and Celtic accents their greater representation - God knows that rural working-class accents have dubious associations with feudalism (as does the former accent of feudal lords which has also greatly declined, c.f. how Princes William & Harry speak compared to their father and paternal grandmother) which other working-class accents do not, and which made them more appealing within Reithianism - but I hate what has become of the Dorset accent so much that I can't help thinking broadcasting organisations have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Interesting to reflect on moments when JY let his mask slip, so to speak - there was an occasion when he interviewed Peter Hitchens who expressed his dislike for the Americanisation of Hallowe'en (and I'm with PH on that, certainly) and when JY announced "he's author of a book called Abolition of *Britain*!", there seemed to be a definite endorsement in his tone of voice. But then JY always showed disproportionate enthusiasm for the most mundane things - he once said "and then we will* have some *news*!" as if it were the most exciting thing in the world, and as if there had never been news on any radio station before.

"That was Raymond Lefevre, "Soul Coaxing", coaxing JY in the general direction of the grave ..."

*I think it was "will" rather than "shall", which makes it seem even more dramatic because in JY's generation at least "will" would only have been used after "we" to put a special emphasis on the importance of what you are saying

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