Sunday 31 December 2017

Ringing in the New Year - 1978

A Happy New Year to all the readers and supporters of the blog. As a special treat I'm taking you back exactly forty years and the overnight show on BBC Radio 2, seeing out 1977 and welcoming in 1978.

This was the third year that both Ray Moore and Jean Challis had hosted an all-night late show at a time when overnight broadcasting on the station was restricted to New Year's Eve, occasional overseas sports coverage and US elections. In 1977 Ray was coming to the end of a stint presenting the weekend late shows before moving into the early show seat vacated by his mate Colin Berry. Jean Challis was usually to be found linking families around the world on Family Favourites.

Live from Broadcasting House the programme also included a visit to the Hilton Hotel to hear Joe Loss and his Orchestra with Ray making the dash over to the hotel to introduce proceedings. Sadly that bit of the show is missing. But there's still just over an hour's worth of audio to savour.  
Musically speaking we're still in the period when needletime restrictions means that records - from the likes of Roger Whittaker and Peters and Lee so nothing too raucous for a party night - were interspersed with the BBC Radio Orchestra, the BBC Big Band and the Don Lusher Quartet.

Such was the rarity of overnights on Radio 2 that Jean mentions that listeners to BBC Radio Oxford have just joined and there's a hello to BBC staff working over in the Bush House newsroom.

John Ireland's illustration for the Radio Times. Whilst Ray and Jean were on Radio 2 over on
Radio 1 it was Pop Into 78 with Kid Jensen and Peter Powell
This recording comes from two sources. The bulk of it was recorded by Martin Ward, running from about 12.50 am to 1.50 am on New Year's Day 1978, so all the midnight shenanigans aren't here. Jimmy Kingsbury is heard reading the 1.00 am news bulletin. As Presentation Editor Jimmy often took these unsocial hours shifts and he would also have read the 12.33 am shipping forecast on 1500m long wave - not heard on this VHF recording.

Topping and tailing Martin's recording is my own off-air snippets of the show opening and then winding-up at 6.30 am.

The original All-Night Late Show ran at just under seven-and-a-half hours kicking off after 11.00 pm news read by Paddy O'Byrne and Sports Desk with Tony Adamson. Sarah Kennedy was on continuity duty that evening.

So here's a taste of how Radio 2 sounded four decades ago. Cue Count Basie with Nice 'n' Easy.

With thanks to Martin Ward

Wednesday 27 December 2017

The Blue of the Night

On 14 October 1977 Bing Crosby had just completed a round of golf. Par for the course, if you'll pardon the pun, as most days the old crooner could be found hitting it 'straight down the middle'.  After all this was the man that had invested in early tape recoding technology to allow his hugely popular radio shows to be pre-recorded so he could spend more time out on the course. 

Having played the 18th hole at Spain's La Morajela course Bing was heading back to the clubhouse when he was felled by a massive heart attack. It was a shocking, if fitting, end to the life of one of the century's most popular singers whose career had spanned the jazz age to the arrival of rock 'n' roll and beyond.

Just four days earlier he'd sung in what was to be his last public performance in concert at the Brighton Centre at the end of a short UK tour. The following day, Tuesday 11 October 1977, he was at the BBC's studios in Maida Vale to record some songs with the Gordon Rose Orchestra for a programme introduced by Alan Dell. That session was Bing's last recording.

The songs committed to tape that October were finally broadcast on Tuesday 27 December on BBC Radio 2 in an hour long special that also included songs, recorded at a separate session, by Rosemary Clooney who'd accompanied Bing on the UK tour.

Here's the full broadcast of Bing's radio swansong as heard on Radio 2 that holiday Tuesday complete with continuity announcer David Bellan. This isn't my recording and I don't recall how I came to be in possession of it, so I can't pass on the usual thanks. I've prefaced the show with the voice of Gordon Rose explaining how the BBC recording session came about, this extract is taken from the recent Bing Crosby in The Road to Rock and Roll broadcast earlier this year.

Monday 25 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 25 December - Just a Minute Does Panto

This year sees the 50th anniversary of that radio perennial Just a Minute. There are some special programmes this month marking the golden anniversary but on Christmas Day last year Radio 4 broadcast this extended version of the game with some added, if rather flimsy, panto elements. Joining the regulars of Paul Merton, Sheila Hancock and Gyles Brandreth are Tony Hawks, Tom Allen, Rufus Hound, Pippa Evans and Julian Clary. As ever the chairman is Nicholas Parsons.

The format reverts to a team effort, even if it does sometimes get undermined, a throwback to Just a Minute's predecessor One Minute, Please and there's a lovely nod to the days of Kenneth Williams.

Read more about Just a Minute in my recent post Just a Golden Minute.

Sunday 24 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 24 December - The Snowman

A Christmas treat from Classic FM from this day last year with a retelling of the Raymond Briggs story narrated by Aled Jones with music written by Howard Blake. 

Saturday 23 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 23 December - The Kate Moss Hour

The Sky EPG had this to say about the last hour of Shaun Keaveny's BBC 6 Music show on this day last year: "Style icon and fan of the show Kate Moss co-presents her very own 'Kate Moss Hour' and chooses some brilliant Christmas tunes. She also tells the 'dancing with James Brown' story." 

Friday 22 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 22 December - Mark Forrest

When I recorded the BBC local radio evening show on this day last year it had already been announced that Mark Forrest was stepping down, to be replaced in February 2017 by Georgey Spanswick. Since then the DG has recently announced that the networked evening show will be dropped from next summer and local shows will return.

Little has been heard of Mark since he left the show though I did catch him read the news on Radio 3 in September. 

Thursday 21 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 21 December - Tony Gillham

It was a special edition of Gillham's Gold on BBC Radio Jersey this time last year as Tony Gillham celebrated 50 years on the radio. Remarkably Tony had kept the tape of his first appearance behind the microphone, aged just 15, on hospital radio in Colchester. 

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 20 December - Adrian Chiles

On this date last year the day's news was dominated by the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. But the story I've selected from Adrian's 5 live Daily covers the events from five decades ago, the sinking of the TSMS Lakonia (above) which saw the greatest loss of British lives on a cruise ship since the Titanic. Eyewitness stories mixed with some contemporary archive material create a compelling and moving story of the events of December 1963.  

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 19 December - Matt, Polly & Geraint

To South Wales for the Capital Breakfast show from a trio rather than the usual duo of Matt Lissack, Polly James and Geraint Hardy. Goodness me, all this talk of Christmas parties, Snapchat and members of the  Kardashian clan makes me feel old. This is how it all sounded a year ago today. 

Monday 18 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 18 December - Big T

It's Father Christmas with a stetson as Northern Ireland's Downtown Country airs a year ago on a Sunday night. To my knowledge Trevor Campbell, aka Big T, is the only DJ from the original 19 ILR stations that is still working on the same station some four decades later. This is the first hour of the show in full.  

Sunday 17 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 17 December - Alex Lester

Little did I know that when I recorded this last year that Alex's days on Radio 2 were numbered, with just another few weeks of overnights before an automated Radio 2 Playlist kicked in. On this Best Time of the Day show the Virtual Musical Map concentrates on High Wycombe.  

Alex can now be heard presenting the weekday breakfast show on BBC WM 95.6

Saturday 16 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 16 December - Joel & Lorna

Great fun with Joel Ross and Lorna Bancroft on Heart North West a year ago today. On this show Lorna's feeling under the weather, producer Jordan Hemingway has been on a date but Joel has some upsetting news about his cat. Tomorrow the Dark Lord. 

Friday 15 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 15 December - JK & Lucy

I've not heard JK and Joel since their days on Radio 1, apart from once catching Joel on Yorkshire Coast Radio. So on this day last year I dipped into Heart London's drivetime show with Jason King and Lucy Horobin. This was a very slick affair: no talkie bit seemed to last more than a minute, it was mostly two or three record segues and editing out the ads, news and all but one traffic report I've reduced a three-hour show to just 18 minutes! Tomorrow Joel & Lorna. 

Thursday 14 December 2017

Just a Golden Minute

Welcome to Just a Minute! For five decades it's been a case of speaking without hesitation, deviation or repetition. A simple yet frustratingly difficult task that has led to some great comic moments over the 900+ editions that have been heard since Just a Minute first appeared on 22 December 1967.

The programme, devised by Ian Messiter, had had an earlier 1950s radio incarnation under the title One Minute, Please with Roy Plomley, and later Michael Jackson, chairing, though here it was a team game rather than pitting four individual players against each other.

In 1967 Nicholas Parsons was enjoying radio success in the topical satirical comedy series Listen to this Space. Seeking some new challenges he spoke to Ian Messiter who suggested Just a Minute. Getting the green light for the pilot producer David Hatch was called in - David would guide and help shape the programme for its first decade or so - and with Nicholas as one of the panellists it was Jimmy Edwards who was lined up as chairman. In the event Edwards couldn't commit to the show so Nicholas Parsons reluctantly agreed to step in as master of ceremonies, a role he's maintained, apart from some role swapping in early editions, ever since.
The pilot episode was recorded on 16 July 1967 and eventually scheduled as the first edition of a new series to start on Radio 4 that December, thus becoming the newly re-badged network's first bona fide hit.

Show producer David Hatch writes a humourous introduction
for the Radio Times of 22 December 1967
Here is that first outing of Just a Minute. The panel consists of two participants who would become  regular players and two who never appeared again. Chef, restaurateur, writer and nightclub owner Clement Freud would eventually clock up 544 editions between 1967 and 2009. His game play tactics were running off lists to fill the time, no mean feat without pausing, and buzzing in with a challenge with a second or two to go, though players couldn't see the clock. With him was actor Derek Nimmo (309 editions until 1999) whose regular foreign travels gave him plenty of material to talk for a minute. The third member was actress Beryl Reid who struggled with the concept, proving that actors used to performing from a script don't always make the best exponents of Just a Minute. I've always wondered who exactly the fourth panellists was as I've never heard the name before. In fact it turns out that Wilma Ewart was one of Nicholas's neighbours who had no experience of performing but who he found "witty and entertaining". Wilma makes a decent job on the show but was never asked back as her and husband had to move back to the USA.

The game as played in the early series is not what we now know. The rules took some time to bed in; repetition was counted as repetition of an idea as well as words. For a while you couldn't even repeat the words in the subject title and there were penalty rounds such as speaking on a subject without using certain words but these proved inhibiting.            

The third major player of the game joined for the second series when Derek Nimmo couldn't make the recordings due to filming commitments. Producer David Hatch had been convinced of Kenneth Williams' suitability for the game after seeing him on the panel of BBC TV's Call My Bluff and he asked Williams to initially do six programmes. According to Kenneth's diary it seems it was a somewhat reluctant agreement: "unfortunately it means working with that Parsons fellow, but I said yes, 'cos it will be a nice fill-in". His attitude to the chairman had mellowed somewhat by the time of the recording and it also touches on the fact that Hatch would have to had to continually keep Kenneth happy and praise his contributions: "... when we came to the performance I just about managed and scraped through. But Nicholas was a great help and so was Clemet Freud. David Hatch was very nice to me before (when I was actually v. nervous) and afterwards. I like him very much - always have actually".  

Parsons, Williams, Nimmo and Jones. Radio Times 7 February 1985
With Williams on board the show was increasingly played for laughs rather than just been a rules-based parlour game. His flamboyant style, his appeals to the audience, those elongated vowels and then rattling along at top speed became his game trademarks. Williams even unwittingly introduced some catchphrases that are remembered to this day and only recently were referenced by Paul Merton and Sheila Hancock: "I'm a cult figure". "I haven't come all the way from Great Portland Street...". "It's a disgrace" when, unreasonably to him, challenged or losing an appeal. And "we shouldn't have women on this show", initially aimed at the 'lovely Aimi Macdonald'. Kenny appeared on 346 radio episodes between 1968 and 1988.    

In 1992 the programme celebrated its silver anniversary with a 2-part retrospective, Silver Minutes. This is part one from 20 July 1992 (though this is the commercially released version).

The fourth member of what was seen for many years as the 'classic line-up' - was Peter Jones, who joined the show in 1971, again to fill a gap left by a busy Nimmo. He had a more laid back approach to the game and was often willing to sit back whilst the other fought it out only to buzz in with a very funny or acerbic comment. His talks always seemed to start with "well..." I recall. Peter made 326 appearances until 2000.

That so-called classic line-up appeared together in just 38 episodes so there were always guest slots to fill. Some became semi-regulars and the longest-serving of these is Sheila Hancock who, like Nicholas Parsons spans the five decades, appearing on the second edition of the first series in December 1967 through to a couple of shows in the latest series, the 79th, this autumn.

This is the second of the Silver Minutes programmes originally broadcast on 27 July 1992.

With the gradual loss of Kenneth Williams in 1988 there was a vacancy for a regular player. Comedian Paul Merton had been an avid fan of the show for years and had recorded and constantly replayed episodes to himself. Convinced that he could contribute to the show he wrote to the then producer Edward Taylor. At the same time he'd appeared as a panellist on the TV game show Scruples on which Nick also appeared (BBC Genome would suggest this was the 30 October 1988 edition) and he mentioned how much he loved Just a Minute. Paul's flights of surrealist fancy and running gags opened up the show and in recent years, alongside that other semi-regular Gyles Brandreth, it has tended to be comedians on the panel.

The programmes longevity can be put down to the fact that one, it is a simple concept and two, that it has slowly evolved. Nicholas Parsons, with a long history in the business has, to be fair, be very astute in recognising the fact that the show needed to change to survive. Indeed in his book on the programme he is very honest about the run-ins he had with Clement Freud who still wanted to play strictly by the rules as first laid down by Ian Messiter. Parsons recognised that much of the laughter comes from the challenges, whether valid or not.

The first series of Just a Minute that I committed to tape was the 14th that aired between December 1979 and March 1980. Playing alongside Williams, Nimmo, Jones and Freud were Sheila Hancock, Aimi Macdonald, Tim Rice, Patrick Moore, Lance Percival, Barry Cryer and John Junkin. Making their only appearances in the programme's history were Peter Cook, Bob Monkhouse, Rob Buckman and Kenny Everett.  

This is the first episode from series 14 from 11 December 1979. 

Of course the real star, and the one constant, throughout the run has been Nicholas Parsons, still sounding as strong, if a little less posh, as he did in 1967. "I enjoy the position of chairman so much", he says in next week's issue of the Radio Times. "It's the greatest effort of concentration of any job I have. I'm listening intently and can see the way people's minds are working when they have a subject. We, as professionals, make it look easy and sound fun, but it's an incredibly difficult game." 

I can't do justice to the programme's 50 year history in such a short post so I can direct you to the superb Just a Minute website. Nicholas Parson's own history of the programme Welcome to Just a Minute was first published in 2014 and is available in hardback, paperback and Kindle editions 

There are some special programmes over the holiday season marking JAM's 50th. On Radio 4 on Christmas Day Just a Minute: 50 Years in 28 minutes. On Radio 4 Extra on New Year's Eve a repeat of a 1952 edition of One Minute, Please. And on New Year's Day on Radio 4 Nicholas Parsons in Conversation with Paul Merton

Christmas Countdown - 14 December - John Foster

From the radio dynasty that is the Foster family here's John on BBC Tees mid-mornings from this day last year. The self-confessed radio anorak even name checks the old BBC HQ at Savoy Hill and can't resist a trip down nostalgia lane towards the end of the show.

In 2017 John appeared infrequently on Tees and in November announced that he was leaving the station for good due to the long commute. 

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 13 December - Jon Holmes

Jon Holmes and team on Talk Radio's afternoon show dissecting the news in haiku and W.H. Auden poetry. Plus loads of topical Christmas cracker jokes from newsreader Victoria Bourne, old Now Show mate Pippa Evans, celebrity-spotting, a work experience pundit, the diversity paper review and a chance to win some meat.

This is how the show sounded on 13 December 2016. 

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 12 December - James O'Brien

Mid-mornings on LBC it's James O'Brien. Talking to Buzzfeed in 2016 about his broadcasting style James had this to say: "I set out to excite an emotional reaction, which I guess the shock jock does. But I would distinguish myself from most shock jocks in America by saying I do it by a telling the truth, speaking up for the people who don’t have a voice, rather than the kind of traditional shock jock, which is pretending that you’re speaking up for the people who haven’t got a voice whereas in fact you’re endorsing the loudest, most privileged voices – usually angry white men, isn’t it – claiming that they are somehow victims of circumstances when it’s never been a better time in history to be an angry white man.”

A year ago James was picking up on the issues of the cost of social care and the working conditions of Amazon employees. Some of those lengthy O'Brien monologues (actually edited here) and some calls too.

Monday 11 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 11 December - Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross

If you've ever wondered what Deacon Blue's Ricky Ross is up to well the band are still touring and Ricky can be heard on BBC Radio Scotland as one of the presenters of the Sunday morning programme that is billed as "two hours of music and stimulating conversation from a faith and ethical perspective". The other presenters are Cathy Macdonald, Sally Magnusson and Richard Holloway.

A year ago Ricky's main guest on Sunday Morning with... was actor Gregor Fisher. Best known, of course, as street philosopher Rab C. Nesbitt but in December 2016 about to go into panto as one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella as Glasgow's King's Theatre. You'll hear that he now lives in France, just a little over an hour from me as it happens.    

Sunday 10 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 10 December - Mel Giedroyc

I write most of these little bits of description about the Christmas Countdown audio at the time I record or edit them. So as I drafted this in December 2016 Mel, Sue and Mary have left GBBO apart from a BBC1 Christmas special yet to be screened. Whether the Channel 4 version hits the mark will, I assume, have been revealed by the time this all goes live.

Here's Mel with Andy Bush on her Saturday afternoon show airing on Magic on this date last year.

Saturday 9 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 9 December - Jamie East

One of the big radio news stories of 2016 was the reappearance of the Virgin radio brand as part of the Sound Digital D2 launch. Joining the team for the mid-morning show was Jamie East. Here's what he was up to a year ago today. 

Friday 8 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 8 December - Tony Blackburn

2016 wasn't a great year for Tony. He was dropped by the BBC in February, a sacrificial scalp following the Dame Janet Smith review into the Savile scandal. But commercial radio stayed loyal and he continued to broadcast on the Greatest Hits Network, KMFM and, from the summer, the new station Thames Radio, run by the Welsh-based Nation Broadcasting.

In December Tony spent a week broadcasting from Barbados, a promotional event managed by Tim Jibson's Adventures in Radio company. These broadcasts are all about plugging the competition -listeners were offered a chance to win a week's holiday at the Sea Breeze Beach Hotel - but I've edited out a dozen or so mentions of this. Tony speaks to a number of guests including Eddy Grant.

The competition was won the following day by Jeff Paden of North Wales. The programmes also went  out on Dragon Radio.  In June 2017 Thames Radio dropped all its big name DJs in a station 'refresh' and started to play non-stop hits.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 7 December - In Tune

Radio 3 was just coming to the end of a two-month celebration of 70 years since the launch of its predecessor the Third Programme when In Tune hosted this finale from the Goonhilly Earth Station on this day last year.

Joining Sean Rafferty are Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp) with his suitably space-aged Moog Orchestra, members of the BBC Concert Orchestra, composer Graham Fitkin, boys and girls of Truro Cathedral Choir, and award-winning Cornish folk group The Changing Room. 

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 6 December - Sam and Amy

Sam Pinkham and Amy Voce had been keeping listeners entertained at breakfast for over ten years on Heart and then GEM 106. The award-winning duo were also 'in vision' on Notts TV. In September of this year they left GAM for Virgin.

On 6 December last year our duo were organising a stealth raid on the Christmas decorations, having a group hug and running an unusual feature that Amy was sure wouldn't work. 

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 5 December - Trish and Jo

At the 2016 Gillard Awards the station of the year went to BBC Coventry & Warwickshire. The station's breakfast show claims (or claimed) to be "the first fully female-fronted breakfast show in the UK". Trish Adudu and Jo Tidman took over the slot at the beginning of 2016. From March of this year it was just Trish presenting the show whilst Jo concentrated on the news reports. 

A year ago Coventry City had crashed out of the FA Cup and June Brown, aka Dot Cotton off of EastEnders was been asked to stay on  soap until she was 90. Despite what you hear in this edited version you'll have to trust me when I tell you that I cut out numerous references to Dot Cotton "hanging up her tabard". 

Monday 4 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 4 December - Forgotten 80s

My Twitter feed normally gets quite busy on a Sunday evening when Forgotten 80s airs on Absolute 80s. Presenter Matthew Rudd writes that the show "delves deeply into the annals of 80s music, featuring the underplayed and the almost completely forgotten, with the intention of rehabilitating the music of a decade that too many people are quick to scorn".

This time last year Absolute 80s was celebrating its seventh birthday. Unlike other posts in this series I've left all the music and adverts intact.

Sunday 3 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 3 December - Saint and Snods

You're either 'blues' or 'reds' as far as listeners to Radio City's football show are concerned. Ian St John (Liverpool) and Ian Snodin (Everton) get together to chew the fat and field listeners calls on Saturday lunchtimes. I love the reaction to Everton manager Ronald Koeman having to change his Christmas tree decorations because there was too much red (see photo below). Presenting the programme this time last year was Alan Irwin sitting in for Mick Coyle. 

Saturday 2 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 2 December - Jack FM (Oxfordshire)

Jack FM is an odd station. Multi-award winning yet essentially it's just a breakfast show; the rest of the day it's a radio jukebox. Mind you the breakfast show is a pretty lively affair with Trevor Marshall, traffic reports from a guy who's so laid back he's positively horizontal and sarcastic interjections from The Voice of Jack, Paul Darrow. Jack FM assume you won't be listening all the way through so some features are repeated such as the chat with Jack 2's Rich Smith. This is the sound of Jack's Morning Glory this time last year. 

Friday 1 December 2017

Christmas Countdown - 1 December - Chris Moyles

Welcome to the first if this year's audio advent calendar posts. Each day in the run-up to Christmas I'll be offering a slice of radio from exactly one year ago.

When I last did this kind of thing in 2012 (with shows from December 2011) Chris Moyles had just left his Radio 1 breakfast show. Since then he's played Herod, lost weight, spent time in the radio wilderness and then returned to launch Radio X in September 2015. Listening to this 1 December 2016 breakfast show it's as if we've gone back in time. The Cheesy Song intro, Dom, requests for Dominic the Donkey and even the old Music 4 Advent jingles. It either shows a degree of consistency or a lack of imagination.

When I edit these programmes down I cut out the music and retain most of the speech, but with Chris the first 40 minutes was all speech, this despite him having a cold, so I've edited this quite a bit. 

There's nod to Chris's radio pedigree with a mention of Carl Kingston from his Radio Aire days, some seemingly off-the-cuff fun with Jose Mourhino and Whigfield and a big plug for The Grand Tour

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Radio Lives - Frank Gillard

In the closing months of the Second World War Frank Gillard found himself at the centre of history in the making when General Montgomery insisted that he be present in his tent to witness the unconditional surrender of the German armies in Europe. As one of the BBC's war correspondents Gillard would broadcast on the nightly War Report mapping the progress of the liberating Allied Armies in north-west Europe. After the hostilities had ended he enjoyed a long career both on-air and behind the scenes at the Corporation where he oversaw events that would help reshape the broadcasting landscape of the post-war radio service. He espoused the principles of public participation in broadcasting and respected regional loyalties, a combination of views that led him to champion the cause of local radio.

Born in Devon in 1908 and educated in Somerset and Exeter Frank Gillard drifted into sound broadcasting quite by chance. He'd become a school master in his native Devon but by the late 1930s was making occasional broadcasts in the West Region. In 1941 he was asked to join the BBC full time though he was initially reluctant to do so until he was told that the government could direct people to join the BBC as part of the war effort. He was appointed as a Talks Assistant and then a War Correspondent (Southern Command) based in Bristol.  

Gillard had an eventful war witnessing the raid on Dieppe, following the Eighth Army as they moved northwards across the Mediterranean where he built up a friendship with General Bernard Montgomery, at one point even having to procure a puppy for Monty, which he named Hitler! Frank tried on several occasions to reclaim the £25 cost of buying the dog on his BBC expenses and only finally succeeded when he told the accountant that it was a payment in lieu of all the broadcasts that Monty had made on the BBC for which he'd not been paid.

He was on the front line with the Fifth Army for the invasion of Italy and spent six months covering the Italian campaign. In 1944 Gillard covered the Normandy landings and the momentous entry into Berlin. In May 1945 he covered the signing of the German surrender.

It had been in May 1943 that the BBC's front-line unit, of which Gillard was a member, was christened the War Reporting Unit and later that year took part in the full-scale invasion practice, Operation Pirate, and special training courses held at Wood Norton in March 1944. Before D-Day plans were already in motion to implement War Report with BBC engineers perfecting the new midget-recorder weighing 40 pounds and carrying twelve double-sided discs.

War Report was broadcast nightly between 6 June 1944 and 5 May 1945 and provided a rapt audience with first-hand accounts of events during the final year of the war. The team also included Chester Wilmott, Howard Marshall, Stanley Maxted, Guy Byram, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and Richard Dimbleby. The broadcasts still make fascinating listening and in 1985 Frank Gillard revisited France and recalled the War Report programmes in two documentaries broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

After the war Frank Gillard returned to Bristol where he would soon become the Head of Programmes for the West Region. One of the first issues facing him was the threat of a merger of the West and Midland regions, a recommendation in the 1946 White Paper on Broadcasting Policy and tied into a post-war shortage of wavelengths. The then West region director Gerald Beadle and his staff set about mobilising public and political support. Eventually after a brief but vociferous outcry a compromise was reached involving the re-use of an ex-German wavelength by the BBC's German Service. Beadle, backed by Gillard, congratulated West of England people in the way they had "served their own broadcasting service"   

At Bristol Gillard would oversee one of the BBC's most popular and long-running programmes, Any Questions? Gillard's policy was to "get away from the artificial atmosphere of the studio as much as possible and take the microphone among the people." He first set out to achieve this with the touring programme Speak Your Mind in which chairman Gordon McMurtrie put a number of questions (sent in by listeners) to a representative audience in whatever town it was visiting. Audience members were encouraged to express their views openly and spontaneously at the microphone.

Any Questions?, first heard in the West Region on 12 October 1948 - the panel included John Arlott-  was seen as complementary to Speak Your Mind and was a kind of Brains Trust, except one that broke free of the studio and toured the vast West Region, stretching as it did from Land's End to Brighton. The programme was eventually heard nationwide from June 1950 when it was carried across the whole of the Home Service, though it remained rooted in the west for its venues for the best part of two decades. It gained an even bigger audience of sixteen million from September 1950 when it was moved to the Light Programme with a Home Service repeat. Frank continued to oversee the programme, which was initially produced by Nicholas Crocker and then Michael Bowen, for the first seven or eight years, helping to select panellists and venues and even sitting on the main stage during the broadcasts. When he was appointed to a management post in London he was not averse to popping down to Bristol to sort out any problems such as the time in December 1955 when there was some criticism on the programme about what the Archbishop of Canterbury had or hadn't said about Communism and the use of the H-bomb.

Whilst heading up the West Region Gillard was still heard on air. He introduced Country Mixture billed as "the a programme of facts and fancies, legends, stories, and songs from the Counties of the West." He also covered major state occasions such as the 1947 Royal Tour of South Africa, the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip later that year, the Commonwealth tour of 1952 which ended abruptly with the news of the death of King George V and the Coronation in 1953.

In July 1955 Frank moved to London as Chief Assistant to the Director of Sound Broadcasting. Already he was considering what was beyond the horizon. In 1954 he'd been able to tour the United States and Canada to look at their radio operations and what he saw - detailed in his management report Radio in the USA: A Visitor's View - spurred his interest in promoting local radio. In February 1955 he wrote a report on The Extension of Regional Broadcasting that recognised that the coming of VHF transmissions would make it technically possible for the BBC to have as many channels as it required. Meanwhile, following his appointment as Chief Assistant he was asked to chair the new Sound Co-ordinating Committee to look at the future of the existing radio services as well as considering any response to the large audiences that Radio Luxembourg enjoyed. Gillard was also part of a BBC delegation that travelled to Moscow to look at the Russian radio and TV operation. Discussions on future co-operation foundering when the subject of Soviet jamming of BBC programmes came up but they did secure the names of two Russian broadcasters who spoke excellent English and would take part in radio hook-up discussions of current affairs.  

In 1956 Frank Gillard was back in Bristol as Controller, West Region when Gerald Beadle was promoted to become Director of Television in London. He took an executive role in the closed circuit local radio trials in 1961 and 1962 and was key in persuading the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting of the value of local radio.  By 1963 he was back in London as Director of Sound Broadcasting.

The 1960s saw a massive increase in the influence of television at the expense of radio audiences and Gillard was instrumental in steering through many of the changes that sound broadcasting needed to make.

The BBC's Features Department had been responsible for some remarkable radio productions since its formation in July 1945. It had been the home of creative types such as Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice, D.G. Bridson, Charles Parker and Douglas Cleverdon producing pure radio art forms such as the award-winning radio ballads. However by 1964 it was thought that the department had lost its way and was proving expensive to run. "The reasons for closing the department", said Gillard, "lay in the direction of good organization and the achievement of high professional standards." He thought them "amateurish" and undisciplined" and as "taking the BBC for a ride". The Features Department was closed in March 1965.

A Children's Hour favourite was Toytown
Causing even more of a ruckus was the ending of Children's Hour in 1964. In fact the die had already been cast in April 1961 when the title Children's Hour was dropped in favour of Junior Time, and later as For the Young. The reason? Kids would rather watch Blue Peter on BBC TV or ITV's Five O'Clock Club.  Children's Hour listening figures had dropped to a mere 25,000, and many of those were adults. Gillard's, albeit reluctant, decision to finally pull the plug in 1964 lead to a furore in the press, Slamming the Door on Wonderland headlined the Daily Herald for an article by Dennis Potter. And there were questions in Parliament: "Is the Postmaster-General aware that considerable public dismay has been expressed about the BBC's decision to discontinue the broadcasting of Children's Hour?"

During Gillard's tenure BBC radio was able to extend the hours for the Light Programme - something it had to get permission to do by going cap in hand to the government - and introducing the Music Programme, a daytime service of classical music using the Third Programme's unused wavelengths. But of course the biggest change facing BBC radio was one that was foist upon it.

It's possible that the corporation may have chosen to operate a popular music service even if the offshore pirates hadn't come along but a full head of political steam set the pace and by 1967 Gillard was publicising the introduction of Radio 1 and the re-numbering of the existing Light, Third and Home as Radios 2 to 4; something that was his idea by all accounts. (see Radio 1 at 50 - The New Popular Music Service). 

Around the same time as the national changes Gillard was putting the final touches to the new BBC local radio stations that would launch that year. Whilst he'd managed to sway the Pilkington Committee to see the benefits of local services it would take a few more years of behind the scenes persuasion and negotiation, led by Gillard, to obtain agreement in a 1966 White Paper for an experimental roll-out and to get local authorities onboard to secure funding. (see The People's Radio).

The Gillard Awards inaugurated by the BBC in 2000
Gillard retired from the BBC in 1969, having successfully seen the local radio experiment get the go-ahead to expand, though he continued to work for the Beeb for the rest of his life. His skills were sought by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the States and he also advised the Australian Broadcasting Commission. But for the BBC he made a number of broadcasts, often to recall his wartime experience but more importantly he persuaded the management to commit resources to an oral history project. The project sought to record the views and experiences of all the key players in the BBC's history, especially as many from the early years were starting to die off. These audio and visual testimonies have proved invaluable to historians and documentary makers alike and some will be made available online as part of the 100 Voices that Made the BBC - Radio Reinvented project.  

In 1997, as part of the BBC's 75th anniversary celebrations, David Dimbleby introduced an appreciation of Frank's career in Frank Gillard's BBC. This programme was heard on Radio 2 on 19 October 1997.

Almost a year after this broadcast Frank Gillard passed away aged 89. Two years later the BBC inaugurated the annual Gillard Awards for those working in local radio that would recognise the achievements and encourage excellence in programming. They are a fitting tribute to a man who did so much for local broadcasting. 

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Down You Local - BBC Radio Merseyside

Launch date: 22 November 1967

BBC Radio Merseyside was the third station in the local station network and marked a return to radio in Liverpool since the days on 6LV, the BBC relay station of the 1920s, though Liverpool retained a post-war presence at the Rylands Buildings on Lime Street (and later at Castle Chambers on Castle Street).

BBC Radio Merseyside's first studios were based in Commerce House on Sir Thomas Street under the guidance of station manager Michael Hancock who'd previously been working as a BBC TV presentation editor in London. He was a local newspaper journalist who'd joined the BBC as a sub-editor and reporter on Sports Report. Moving across to television he was a news reporter before taking up the presentation editor post. After Radio Merseyside he was based at Pebble Mill as a regional TV manager and then Press and PR before finally joining JCB as a PR director. Michael died in 2007.   

Ferry across the Mersey. A launch day OB with Tony Wolfe
Unlike other BBC local radio stations that relied on the work of the Radiophonic Workshop for the idents, Radio Merseyside commissioned Gerry Marsden to write the opening jingles sung by The Vernons Girls. Taking their cue from Gerry and the Pacemakers the opening day included an OB on a ferry across the Mersey; the ferry being the Royal Daffodil (originally the MV Overchurch). On board were presenters Tony Wolfe and Keith Macklin (best known as a rugby commentator for the BBC and then covering football for Yorkshire TV and later programme controller at Preston's Red Rose Radio). A number of acts from the city's Cavern Club also appeared on that opening show including club DJ Billy Butler who would, of course, become the voice of the station, first joining in 1971.

Launching at 12 noon on the 22nd Radio Merseyside's opening programme, linked by Ian Murray, had some ambitious OBs. As well as the Mersey ferry there was Victor Marmion and Jenny Collins in the Mersey Tunnel and Gerry Harrison and Joyce Timewell at the top of St John's Beacon - a broadcast not without some technical difficulties.  

Former teacher Vic Marmion was the deputy manager and was instrumental in bringing Kenny Everett and Alan Bleasdale (writing Scully) to the station. He left in 1974 to work for radio current affairs in London, producing The World at One and PM before moving to BBC TV in 1978 and working on Tonight, Question Time, Panorama and The Money Programme. He left the BBC in 1988 to run an independent production company in Liverpool but was back at the Beeb in 1994 in the Programme Complaints Unit. Retiring to Hastings in 2004 he died in 2012. 

Jenny Collins would work for Radio Merseyside for many years and married Steve Voce (see below).

Former footballer and Daily Express news reporter Gerry Harrison joined the station for its launch and would help with the sports coverage. A couple of years later he moved into full time football commentating for Anglia TV and remained with ITV until the early 1990s.

For this series of posts I've been digging out copies of the Radio Times from the first decade of local radio broadcasting but the earlier editions are a bit light on information. However, the earliest issue I could track down is from 7 March 1970 so if anyone is reading this in Merseyside and has some back issues lying around please let me know.

At the time of this schedule the station manager was now Rex Bawden. A very experienced newsman, he'd joined the station in 1968 from the Liverpool Echo to become the news editor and then replaced Michael Hancock as manager until his retirement in 1981. He died in 2012.

Typically at that time the station staff would pop up on more than one show. Ian Murray, for example, is listed on the Monday request show Date-a-Disc and Tuesday's Somebody in Particular, a show idea not a million miles away from Desert Islands Discs. Later in the year Ian would join BBC Radio Manchester for the start of their service.

Cropping up on a number of programmes, including the women's magazine Breaktime, is Jim Black. Liverpool-born Jim had joined the BBC as a studio manager in 1959, later working on SM duties for Woman's Hour. He took part in the local radio closed circuit experiments in the early 60s and when the service finally got the go ahead in 1967 he joined Radio Merseyside as a producer and presenter. In the early 70s he joined the Local Radio Training Unit based in the Langham. When presentation editors were appointed to each of the national networks in 1973 - Jimmy Kingsbury for Radios 1 & 2, Cormac Rigby for Radio 3 - it was Jim Black who was in charge of Radio 4, much to the surprise of some of the continuity announcers who'd applied for the post. Amongst his best known on-air changes was the introduction of Sailing By before the shipping forecast and to commission Fritz Spiegl, whom he'd worked with at Radio Merseyside, to arrange what would become known as the UK Theme. In the late 80s he was appointed as a Special Assistant to the managing director of network radio, David Hatch, and worked on a number of projects including the launch of Radio 5. He left the BBC in 1993 and died in 2008.      

Extract from the 1977 booklet Serving Communities and Nation
Radio Merseyside's longest-running programme (indeed the second longest running across all the local stations after Radio Leicester's Down to Earth) is Folkscene, initially billed as The Folk Scene. For 49 years the presenter was Stan Ambrose, listed here on Thursday evening. Stan sadly passed away last year. For most of the time he shared presenting duties with Geoff Speed, another broadcaster there from the start who only stepped down in 2014.      

Presenter Mike Gamble, in 1970 listed against Youthwise on Sunday and Thursday's Homeward Bound would later become a TV announcer on BBC1 and BBC2. 

The Scouse Show with "songs and stories from Scouseland" was presented by writer Frank Shaw. Frank had been writing about Liverpool for the best part of two decades and, in 1966, had penned the Lern Yerself Scouse book (it was edited by Fritz Spiegl). He'd appeared on the BBC and ITV and provided the research for  Denis Mitchell's acclaimed 1959 TV documentary about Liverpool life Morning in the Streets. He died in 1971.

Another Frank, this time Frank Unwin, is listed as presenting Thirty Minutes of Music and Memories which ran for many years and even spawned a book Mersey Memories in 1986. 

All the local radio stations had specialist music shows and Merseyside's Jazz Panorama was hosted by jazz writer Steve Voce. He appeared on the station for 35 years and had previously provided new record reviews for The Jazz Scene on the BBC Light Programme. In the 70s and 80s Steve appeared on Sounds of Jazz on Radio 1, later on Radio 2 and Jazz Notes on Radio2 , later on Radio 3.

Only one broadcaster could claim to have appeared on both 6LV and Radio Merseyside and that was naturalist Eric Hardy. Born in 1912 he'd been writing his Countryside column in the Liverpool Daily Post since 1929. During the war in North Africa he trained pigeons to fly with messages tied to their legs. He was a founding member of the Mersey Estuary Conservation Group and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust.. His Radio Merseyside programme The Countryside (billed in 1970 on the Thursday evening) ran for over three decades. Eric died in 2002. 

One of Radio Merseyside's best loved broadcasters was the larger than life character, Bob Azurdia (pictured above). Bob presented all manner of programmes but was particularly associated with the sports coverage. Born in Liverpool but of Guatemalan heritage he worked as a journalist on a number of local papers as well as writing for Melody Maker and Merseybeat, a job that brought him into contact with the Beatles at the start of their career. He was working for the Catholic Pictorial when he applied for a job at the new BBC station, landing the role of producer of religious programmes. As well as football commentaries he was a quiz master, presented daytime shows including breakfast, made documentaries and the The Azurdia Interview series. A keen long-distance runner and charity supporter he died unexpectedly in 1996 aged 60.  

A patchwork banner created by listeners to celebrate
the station's 50th birthday

BBC Radio Merseyside is celebrating its 50th birthday today with broadcasts live from the Museum of Liverpool and a local choir will be signing some of those original Gerry Marsden jingles.  
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