Saturday 25 February 2017

Sounds of the 60s

I don't think my Facebook feed has been quite so busy as it has been in the last couple of months following the enforced departure of Brian Matthew from Sounds of the Sixties.

I'm a member of the Sounds of the Sixties Facebook group and the fact that Brian was absent and replaced by Tim Rice, then the news that he'd wouldn't be returning, had the avids in uproar. To cap it all the show is to continue with Tony Blackburn but at the ungodly hour of 6am on Saturday morning, two hours earlier.

As if to rub salt in the wounds of Brian's devoted listeners, Radio 2 boss Lewis Carnie wrote in the current edition of the Radio Times the somewhat illogical statement that "Brian is irreplaceable at 8am on a Saturday, so we're moving the Sounds of the 60s to 6am, with a live show hosted by Tony Blackburn". So he's both irreplaceable and replaceable it seems.

Of course network controllers are perfectly at liberty to have a schedule shake-up and, it must be admitted, that until this year Radio 2's schedule has been pretty static of late. However, last month's overnight changes caused a ruckus and now Brian has publically declared that the decision to leave was by mutual agreement as "absolute balderdash. I was ready and willing and able to go back".  All very messy and sadly not untypical of the gulf between management and on-air talent - witness the shoddy treatment of Alex Lester who, after nearly 30 years with the station had no visit from an executive, nor even the offer of a farewell drink.

The furore surrounding SOTS was discussed on yesterday's edition of Feedback

Brian has been hosting  Sounds of the Sixties since March 1990. But he wasn't the first presenter; when it started in 1983 Keith Fordyce was in the hot seat. When Keith left in 1986 there was a string of guest presenters - all musicians and singers who'd enjoyed fame in the 60s - plus quite a few shows with Simon Dee.

When Brian took over there was a promise of "new, improved nostalgia" (see article above). The formula has been pretty much unchanged in the intervening 27 years. Brian's presence has always lent an air of authority to the show - he was there at the time on Saturday Club, Easy Beat and Thank Your Lucky Stars. When, today, Brian played a clip from the 60s BBC Transcription Service series Pop Profile featuring George Harrison it was Brian interviewing.  But let's not forget that Tony Blackburn has equally valid 1960s credentials - and still sounds as fresh as he did back then - and there's continuity too with producer Phil Swern compiling the show.

But today was the end of an era for Brian, doubly so as it not only marks the end of a 27  year run on Sounds of the Sixties but, including Round Midnight, it's the first time Brian hasn't been on the radio at least once a week in 39 years.  

From my own archive here's an edition of Sounds of the Sixties from 23 October 2004.

This morning's  swansong was a trip down memory lane with archive clips and mentions of past show features. This is the show in full.

"This is your old mate Brian Matthew saying that's your lot for this week. See you again soon"

Wednesday 8 February 2017


He was the square-jawed news reporter with a nose for trouble investigating the criminal underworld where all the baddies sported a foreign accent and their evils plan were always thwarted with fisticuffs. Michael John O'Shea, known as Rick O'Shea (geddit?) was the Dick Barton of his day, the day being the mid-1970s. And mention of Dick Barton is apposite as in two episodes, much like one of those CSI crossover episodes, the retired special agent makes a guest appearance.

Ricochet was a drama series running on BBC Radio 2 in 1974 and 1975. Stripped across the week the stories unfolded at breakneck speed in their 15-minute timeslots, scenes punctuated by the dramatic theme or the sound of a ricocheting bullet.  

So what was Ricochet all about? Fortunately the Radio Times of 29 June 1974 fills us in:
"Not since the days of the mighty Dick Barton has there been a team like it: Rick O'Shea, the London Globe's ace newshound, backed by Dusty Miller. The glamorous Jan Paxton and lens-woman Penny Trinket. A team with a nose for trouble, an instinct for just which cupboard hides which skeleton. According to their creator, Tony Scott Veitch (who should know) they are quite a bunch. 'Dusty Miller is a reporter and a very good man with his fist. Penny, she's very trendy and comes from Liverpool. And Jan Paxton is O'Shea's assistant, a kind of Miss Oddjob. She has a very ambivalent relationship with her employer.' And Rick O'Shea himself? 'He'll do anything to get his story,' says Veitch. 'Expense is no object. He can charter a jet or whistle up a helicopter any time, and lives in a penthouse behind Harrods.'

So - what will happen when Rick and Co tangle with the devious Hugo de Witt? Can the Special Branch ever keep up with the O'Shea team. How much longer will the editor of the Globe put up with Rick's expenses?"

Playing O'Shea was pock faced Aussie actor Ray Barrett of The Troubleshooters fame and voice artist on numerous Gerry Anderson productions. Indeed in a delightful piece of synchronicity Barrett was the voice of DJ Rick O'Shea in an episode of Thunderbirds called Ricochet. Jan Paxton was played by Margaret Wolfit (daughter of renowned actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit) and Dusty Miller by Alexander John.   

Radio 2 scheduled Ricochet twice a day when it started on 1 July 1974; heard first as part of Late Night Extra with a repeat the following day at 13.45. By December of that year it was cut down to a 10-minute slot going out at 18.35, just before Sports Desk, with a repeat the following afternoon. The final episode aired on 27 March 1975.

Unfortunately it seems that the BBC didn't keep the tapes of Ricochet - its likely they were dumped in the 80s -  so don't expect any repeats on Radio 4 Extra. But at least two episodes have been saved by a private collector, the two episodes that included the guest appearance of Noel Johnson playing Dick Barton that were broadcast in Christmas week 1974. I was alerted to this search for old episodes by Fred Vintner when he first contacted me back in late 2014. Fred runs the Navy Lark Appreciation Society and the connection here is that long-time producer of The Navy Lark was Alastair Scott Johnston who also produced Ricochet. Some years ago Fred had been giving a book of cuttings by Alastair's daughter, Fiona Scott Johnston, that included some of the Radio Times billings and artwork for the show, this set him off on a quest to find out as much about the programme as he could and to unearth those elusive recordings.

Much of what we do have about Ricochet is the artwork and the theme tune. From the off the Radio Times would print a weekly strip cartoon on the Friday radio billing pages. I have an incomplete collection of the magazine for that period and a few of the strips are reproduced below. They are credited to Malcolm Harrison (about whom I know nothing) and scriptwriter Tony Scott Veitch. Veitch by the way was born in Scotland but lived for many years in Australia and wrote adventures series for both the BBC radio - Overland Patrol set in Oz (1965-7), Nicholas Quinn-Anonymous (1966), Six Steps in the Dark (1967), The Young Pioneers, again set Down Under (1967-8) and Mr Pybus (1970-71) - and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as well an penning many novels, mostly Westerns, under the pseudonym Scott McLure.

The theme tune was released as Ricochet with added gunshot effects in a recording credited to the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra conducted by Norrie Paramor. The single from BBC Records (RESL20) was released on 7 June 1974 as well as cropping up later in the year on an MRO album The most beautiful girl in the world (REB180). The track, under its original title Fasten Seat Belts, then appears years later on the CD compilation Girl in a Suitcase (Winchester Hospital Radio 2001) but here credited to the Gerhard Narholz Orchestra. Austrian composer Narholz, who also recorded under the name of Norman Candler, wrote the tune. It's this version that then ends up doing double theme tune duty when it gets used again on Radio 2 in 1980 as Pete Murray closes Open House and moves to a new weekend slot.    

Here's the MRO version of Ricochet in full and in use on the programme. 

And this is the Narholz version as used by Pete Murray together with a clip from his Saturday show.

And that's about as much as I know about Ricochet. Needless to say if you have a tape of the show lurking in the loft please contact me.

Thanks go to Fred Vintner. 

Thursday 2 February 2017

Radio Lives - Desmond Carrington

Few radio shows feature both Al Bowlly and ZZ Top on their playlist, but Desmond Carrington's The Music Goes Round was such a show, a Radio 2 Friday night fixture for twelve years. Prior to that Desmond had hosted the Sunday lunchtime All Time Greats from 1981 to 2004 with a music selection, chosen by listeners, that could be equally diverse, even though it did tend to veer towards easy listening and the nostalgic. That 36 year run of weekly music shows finally came to a dignified and poignant end in October 2016 when ill-health forced Desmond to finally hung up his headphones.

Desmond Herbert Carrington was born and raised in Bromley where he attended the County Grammar School. Perhaps sensing that his future was in the arts his first job was as an office boy at Macmillan's the publishers for 18/- a week. But his calling was acting and his first professional role was as a Cockney schoolboy in Goodbye Mr Chips at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. He then secured regular repertory work with the Penge Court Players.       

In the early years of the Second World War Desmond joined the army, serving in the Royal West Kent Regiment, initially posted to Northern Ireland before serving out in India and Burma. Here he got his first opportunity to broadcast by opening up Rangoon Radio after the Japanese army had left. By 1946 he was serving as a commissioned officer out of Colombo in Ceylon and managed to wangle a job at the new forces station Radio SEAC (South Eastern Asia Command). Based in a palm grove some 15 miles outside Colombo the  coverage was immense, taking in India, East Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Indo-Chine, Japan, the Pacific and the west coast of the States. On the team with Carrington were David Jacobs - they would remain firm friends thereafter - McDonald Hobley, Charles Chilton and Alexander Moyes.

On demob Desmond knocked on the door of the BBC but they sent him away telling him that he was not of "sufficient promise" for them to offer him a job. However he would eventually secure a post as part of the BBC Drama Repertory company where he worked across a range of schools broadcasts and drama productions such as Children's Hour, Paul Temple and Mrs Dales Diary.    
In parallel to his acting career Desmond pursued his other great passion of cinema by carving out something of a specialism as an adapter of film screenplays for radio broadcast. He'd presented some film programmes on Radio SEAC and back in Britain he'd come up with the idea of recording the soundtrack from the film projector using a sound mirror and a tape recorder. With the agreement of the film companies he then used the edited highlights from the recording to form a radio programme. He took the idea to both Radio Luxembourg where the scenes would be linked together by Wilfrid Thomas in a series titled Movie Magazine. Later Desmond himself would present a number of shows for the station that included film soundtracks as well as interviews and film scores in programmes such as Hollywood Calling and the sponsored Alka-Seltzer Movie Parade. He continued to appear on Luxembourg into the mid-50s.

Meanwhile back at the BBC that same idea of film adaptations were featured in a number of programmes including Picture Parade (1948) and Sunday Cinema (1949-50). Desmond returned to cinema related work at the BBC when he and Spencer Hale (both pictured below) compiled and presented the Stargazing segment -basically star interviews with accompanying film clips - and then the quiz segment Sounds Familiar of the long-running film magazine Merry- Go-Round (Light Programme 1956-60)

Desmond's big break finally came in 1958 when he got a telephone call from a colleague who was now producing Emergency Ward Ten asking if he'd like to play the part of the son of a patient. Desmond leapt at the chance to do some live television over three months. His performance was deemed a success and he was invited back to play the part of a doctor - the part of Dr Chris Anderson. He remained in the show until 1964 appearing in over 200 episodes.

Of his time on Emergency Ward 10 Desmond would later recall the problems of having to memorise "some appallingly difficult and long medical terms, Then  I had the bright idea of writing them on the inside of the sink as we were always scrubbing up for the operations on the shows. During rehearsal, it worked fine, as there was no running water in the sinks. When it came to the live transmission I watched in horror as my medical terms were washed away as I started to scrub up. There was nothing for it but to improvise".

Ironically it was Desmond's TV fame that led to his future career as a disc jockey. In 1962 he was invited to compere Housewives' Choice for a fortnight whilst he was still appearing as Dr Anderson and, as the Radio Times billing adds, also appearing on stage in Doctor in the House at Streatham Hill Theatre. He got repeat bookings on Housewives' Choice for the remainder of its run between 1963 and 1967. In 1963 he was playing music from stage and screen on the Light Programme's Twelve O'Clock Spin. For the second half of 1964 it was more songs from the musicals in Record Showtime with the Radio Times billing helpfully informing us that he was appearing in Wanted on Voyage at the Grand Theatre, Leeds - by now he'd just left Emergency Ward 10. The following year it was a back to the world of film in Music from the Movies, a series scripted by Movie-Go-Round's Peter Haigh and produced by announcer Robin Boyle (a second series, produced by Tony Luke followed in 1966). And, in case you were wondering, Des was now in Face to Face at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.     

Throughout 1966 Desmond could be heard every weekend hosting Open House with "records of assorted speeds, sizes, and styles to suit people with assorted tastes". In 1967 he was back with more Music from the Movies, this time working with the future radio comedy producer Richard Willcox. There seemed to be no room for Desmond on Radio 2 when it replaced the Light in September 1967 but in 1968 he was back adapting film soundtracks with Spencer Hale for Radio 4's Disney Time that included Mary Poppins, Dumbo and Bambi. Finally, from December 1968, and running until September 1972, Desmond had a daily show on Radio 2 playing the latest releases in Album Time. Aside from three appearances in charge of After Seven in 1973 there was radio silence for the next eight years.  

Desmond was invited back into the Radio 2 fold in early 1981 to introduce a series of shows featuring The Magic of Stanley Black (other programmes would also feature Mantovani, Ronnie Aldrich and Robert Farnon, John Gregory, Geoff Love and John Fox). He owed his return to producer Paul Walters who, Paul reminded him on their first meeting, had swung the boom on some of those old Emergency Ward 10 broadcasts at the ATV's Highbury studios.

The success of the Magic of... shows led to an invitation to present the Sunday morning All Time Greats. Desmond expected it to run for a month or so but after the first recording producer Jack Dabbs told him, "well that's your pension, Desmond". He was right, it ran for 23 years!

In October 2011 Desmond gave listeners to The Music Goes Round and Round an opportunity to hear again the first edition of All Time Greats. Although the BBC hadn't kept a copy, Desmond had.

Initially just an hour in duration, All Time Greats was extended to 90 minutes and then two, and for a while three, hours and settled into what was more or less the old Family Favourites slot. It was a record request show too so anything went, but as Desmond told the Radio Times in October 1985, the music choice was often vintage:
"It's the listeners' programme, not mine. They choose the records". He gets about 500 suggestions a week requesting favourites pieces and reckons some 6,000 records have been chosen by Radio 2 listeners over the past four years. "Some people misquote the title as Old-Time Greats but it's certainly not that. We can play records right up to the present day, though I admit that most requests are for music from the 50s backwards. Most requested record? Without a doubt Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade. Bunny Berigan's I can't get started is a close second.

Still acting in the late 80s as evidenced by
this Radio Times article  17 January 1987
In August 2004 network controller Lesley Douglas decided to have a re-shuffle and the Sunday lunchtime All Time Greats came to an end. In this broadcast from 8 August 2004 Des tells his listeners that the decision was not his, "and I should like to make that clear".

In 1995 Dave Alyott and Desmond formed Foldback Media to
produce the shows for the BBC
The follow-up series, The Music Goes Round, now on a Tuesday evening, was the same eclectic mix condensed into an hour with each show adopting a theme for all or part of that hour. Come April 2010 Desmond moved to Friday nights where he remained until last year. For many years he'd been broadcasting from his home studio but by now the show's opening was always the memorable "Evening all from home in Perthshire, Scotland". Home being near Dunning where he lived with producer and long-time partner Dave Aylott and, often curled up at Des's feet during the show, cat Golden Paws Sam.

In 2013 Desmond spoke to Tim Blackmore about his radio career in a Radio Talk podcast for the Radio Academy.

In May 2016 Desmond celebrated his 90th birthday with this special edition of The Music Goes Round.

Golden Paws Sam taking it easy
What listeners didn't know. and for a while neither did Radio 2 management, was that Desmond's health was failing as he was battling with cancer and Alzheimer's disease. In December 2015 he'd suffered a second heart failure but was back at the microphone a few days later. However in October 2016 he announced that after 70 years on the air he was reluctantly having to "hang up my headphones" and say "enough is enough". Here is that final show from 28 October.

Yesterday, on the day Radio 2 had already scheduled a tribute to Desmond, it was announced that he'd died. The voice of a true radio all time great silenced.

Desmond Carrington 1926-2017 Bye just now
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