Monday 25 May 2020

We Stop for PopMaster

Today Ken Bruce is hosting an All Day PopMaster contest with DJs from the BBC and commercial radio taking part.

PopMaster was first featured on Ken's mid-morning show in 1998, although 1996 is quoted in the quiz book. Two years out! (Oh, how I wanted to type one year out). The idea for the quiz had been suggested by Ken's producer Colin Martin and they enlisted Phil 'The Collector' Swern to compile the questions.  

I've managed to find an example from 2004 where the format was slightly different from the current set-up. Part1 occurred at 10.30 but contestant number two didn't appear until 11.15 and then after another record the Three in Ten. See how you get on with these questions from 30 January 2004. They certainly seem easier than the current question level. 

All Day PopMaster starts during the Radio 2 breakfast show with Dermot O'Leary sitting in for Zoe and the final during Sara Cox's drivetime show.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Mercia Sound

Forty years ago the second tranche of local commercial radio stations came on-stream. CBC in Cardiff arrived in April and in May 1980 Mercia Sound. Based in a former working men's club in Hertford Place in Coventry it was the third station in the West Midlands, joining BRMB and Beacon.  

Bringing the team together was chief executive John Bradford, former MD at Radio Tees. That team included Gordon Astley, Stuart Linnell, Dave Jamieson, Ian Rufus, Tony Gillham, Mike Henfield, John Warwick, Andy Lloyd and Jim Lee.   

Though the Mercia name was subsumed into Free Radio in 2012 a 40th anniversary reunion had been planned for this month. The coronavirus pandemic put paid to that but, thanks to Coventry community radio station Radio Plus, based in those old Hertford Place studios, there was a six-hour Mercia Sound takeover last night. Taking part were John Bradford, Mike Henfield, Gordon Astley, Dave Jamieson, Stuart Linnell, Tony Gillham, Mark Keen, Andrew Lloyd, Julie Carter-Lowe, Paul Robinson, Clive Parker-Skelhon, Ian Shep Shepherd and Simon McAusland.

The audio has been uploaded by Kevin Sykes who provided much of the archive material.     

Friday 8 May 2020

VE75: 8 May 1945 Remembered

The official announcement of the end of hostilities in Europe came at 3 p.m. British Double Summer Time on Tuesday 8th May 1945. The country had been holding its breath for the announcement for nearly a week as the news of Hitler's suicide (1st), the German surrender in Italy and the fall of Berlin (2nd) and the surrender of troops in Denmark (4th) all filtered through. John Snagge had presented the final edition of War Report on the 5th.

By Monday 7th May news came from a German radio station at Flensburg near the Danish border of a broadcast by Foreign Minister Count Schwerin von Krosigk that the new Fuehrer Grand Admiral Doenitz had declared an unconditional surrender. In Britain this led to "a good deal of confusion, premature rejoicing and mystification" (Daily Sketch).   The Government had agreed to a delay in the formal declaration until a time that suited both the Russians and the Americans. At 6 p.m. the BBC broadcast that Churchill wouldn't be heard that day. Just over an hour and a half later came the news that the following day the Prime Minister would be speak in the afternoon and that it would officially be Victory in Europe Day. VE Day, and the day after, would be a public holiday and, just to top it all, the pubs would be allowed to stay open until midnight.      

The BBC put into place one of seven different advance schedules they'd drawn up for ten days of victory celebrations. There were special victory editions of some of the most popular shows at the time such as ITMA (V-ITMA for the occasion), The Will Hay Programme (Victory at St Michaels), the variety show Cap and Bells, In Town Tonight, Music Hall, Monday Night at Eight and a series "dedicated to those who made possible this great victory" called Their Finest Hour. The full Home Service schedule for VE Day can be found on the History of the BBC website.     

Writing in his diary BBC announcer Stuart Hibberd remembers how his VE-Day at Broadcasting House panned out:
I was up betimes and broadcasting before breakfast, and later came a busy period in the office of conferences, checking cues and schedules, inserting this and leaving out that, and at all time I was answering for John Snagge while he rehearsed 'Tribute to the King' and Victory Report.
Snagge announced the Prime Minister at three o'clock, I read the six o'clock News - twenty-five minutes of it - with the Prime Minister's recorded speech. The 'Tribute to the King' went excellently. His Majesty spoke very well indeed, but took thirteen and a half minutes, so that. with the National Anthem, played by the Symphony Orchestra in Bedford, it was almost 9.15 p.m. before I began the News.
After dark, we went out to see the flags and floodlighting. There were hundreds of flags, but only a few flood-lit buildings. It was a most impressive scene, with crowds everywhere in the streets and on the pavements. I returned to read the midnight News, which included the King's speech, the first sentence of which I can never forget: "As these words are being spoken, the official end of the war in Europe is taking place..."

And with a feeling of great relief and deep thankfulness for having lived to see the end of a Second World War, I went to bed, and to sleep at once.  (from This is London)

Forty years later former BBC war correspondent Stewart MacPherson (pictured above) presented this programme featuring memories of VE Day. In The Way We Were we hear actuality recordings including eyewitness reports from MacPherson himself. There are fascinating insights from those who lived through that day or played a part behind the scenes including Susan Hibbert who helped type up the surrender documents, Churchill's Private Secretary John Peck, RAF pilot Raymond Baxter, a Wiltshire school girl and a Bevin boy, POW Jack Fraser, Corporal Tom Thorpe and BBC reporters Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and Godfrey Talbot.

But the real coup for this programme was the interview with HM The Queen who, with her sister Margaret, went out onto the streets of London on VE Day on what she calls "one of the most memorable nights of my life". The young Princess had registered for National Service on her 16th birthday and had been commissioned in the Auxiliary Territorial Services.    

The Way We Were was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday 8 May 1985. It was produced by Caroline Elliott. I've made some minor music edits to this recording. 

This is the last in a series of four blog posts marking the 75th anniversary of VE day.

Thursday 7 May 2020

VE75: No Going Back

In this post I'm replaying the 1989 feature No Going Back in which former war correspondent Frank Gillard looks at the changes in British society brought about by the Second World War.

He says: "I see World War II as the great watershed of  my own life and a very considerable watershed in British social history. Every echo of 1945 delivers the same message: it wants to be a people's peace, a time for change, a time for communality and universality. Time for more mutual concern and fairer shares. A message arising sometimes out of reasoned argument, sometimes in heated  debate, sometimes in threatening challenge".

The programme looks at some of the major themes in post-war society: the rebuilding of  the economy, housing shortages, the Welfare State, the burgeoning interest in the arts, increased opportunities for secondary and higher education, an appetite for news and current affairs, the mechanisation of agriculture, the start of a new scientific age and the changing role of women.

There are contributions from Lord Asa Briggs, Barbara Castle, Arthur Court, Edna Healey, Tom Hopkinson, Professor Arthur Marwick, Spike Milligan, Professor Howard Newby, Jeffrey Richards, Sir Stephen Spender, Michael Swann & Professor Ted Wragg.

Gillard (pictured above) concludes "our society emerged from the conflict of war more considerate, more decent and more generous. The quality of life was greatly heightened. There was no going back to those bad old days. There was a new spirit abroad in the land after this war, and in my book that spirit still persists to a greater degree than many recognise who've no personal memories of pre-war Britain. The war was not fought in vain".

No Going Back was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 3 September 1989.

This is the third in a series of four blog posts marking the 75th anniversary of VE day. 

Wednesday 6 May 2020

VE75: How Radio Won the War

In early September 1939 a saloon car fitted up with recording equipment was loaded onto a cross-Channel steamer at Dover. It was driven down to Paris where it was hidden in an underground garage.  Just for weeks later the BBC's young news reporter Richard Dimbleby arrived in the capital to pick up the car. This was the start of frontline war reporting for which the Corporation would be justifiably commended.

In the event during this Phoney War period Dimbleby became bored with what he saw as a lack of action and asked to be reassigned to the Middle East. It fell to his colleague Charles Gardner to witness the air battles over France in the summer of 1940.

Despite some memorable reports from the front-line the BBC was frustrated with the access it was being given in preference to newspaper reporters; whilst at the same time there were internal frustrations within the BBC that it had failed to build up a corps of war correspondents. The turning point came in the Spring of 1943 with the invasion of Oxfordshire. In fact it was a six day mock invasion in an exercise code-named Spartan. The BBC was allowed to cover it with "a view to persuading the services that radio reporters could play a valuable role on the battlefield". To overcome censorship issues correspondents developed a style that evoked the atmosphere of the front-line, providing the colour and human interest without the detail that would worry the censor such as locations and troop numbers. The recorded despatches (which were never of course broadcast) helped convince Sir Bernard Paget, commander-in-chief of Home Forces to allow the BBC greater access. This allowed producers to finalise their plans for the establishment of the War Reporting Unit which would go on to be so crucial in the nightly War Report programmes that started after D-Day in 1944.   

In this programme, the fourth in the series How Radio Won the War titled At Last, Something to Cheer About looks at how the BBC's war reporting changed in the final phases of the war. Narrated by Robert Powell it includes contributions from the always interesting Frank Gillard and Sir Bernard Ingham, who, you won't be surprised to hear, mentions Thatcher and the Falklands.

How Radio Won the War was first broadcast on BBC Radio 5 live on 9 July 1995.

This is the second in a series of four blog posts marking the 75th anniversary of VE day.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

VE75: From Mind My Bike to Evening All

Although best known as the reliable bobby PC George Dixon, Jack Warner was one of the radio stars of World War II in the hugely popular Garrison Theatre.

Born Jack Waters (his sisters were the equally popular Elsie and Doris Waters aka Gert and Daisy) his early career was as a motor mechanic and as test driver at Brooklands. Coming from a showbiz family he became a  professional in the mid-30s partnering up with pianist Jeff Darnell as a comical version of the Western Brothers. He also teamed up with pianist Bobby Alderson who was to accompany Warner on his musical comedy routines for the rest of his life. The pair made a number of pre-war broadcasts on both BBC radio and the nascent television service.  

In late 1939 Warner was approached by BBC Variety Orchestra conductor Charles Shadwell to appear in a show he was putting together with producer Harry S. Pepper. That show was Garrison Theatre in which he played the role of a cockney private. Like that other wartime comedy ITMA, its catchphrases became common parlance: 'Mind my bike!', 'de-da-de-da' and 'little gel' (played by Shadwell's daughter Joan Winters). He would also read aloud letters to 'my bruvver Sid' which became famous for their 'P.S.' gags and the use of the term 'blue pencil' were swear words might have appeared which had the audience in stitches. "Yesterday the colonel caught his thumb in a tank. His only remark was twenty-four blue pencils"

Warner also wrote dozens of comic monologues and songs that he continued to perform for many years like He Didn't Orter-a-Et It, Sealions and Sills, Claude and his Sword, Frank and his Tank and Walkin' Hup and Dahn the Rollway Lines. One of the best remembered is the Funny Occupations song with its tongue-twisting references to a bunger-up o' rat-'oles, a fumper and flattener of fevvers and a caster-up of alabaster plaster. 

Although Garrison Theatre only ran for a year Warner was now a star name. He continued to appear in his comedy persona in Saturday Social, Jack's Dive, Music-Hall and Variety Bandbox. After the war he took up film acting in both comedy and serious roles with The Captive Heart (1946) being his first feature film. An appearance as Joe Huggett in Holiday Camp (1947) and three sequels led to a return to radio in 1953 to reprise the role in the cosy family sitcom Meet the Huggetts. Warner co-starred with film wife Ethel Huggett played by Kathleen Harrison. The series ran until 1961.   

Meanwhile the role in the Ealing film The Blue Lamp as PC George Dixon and the character's resurrection in the BBC series Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76) meant that Jack would be forever remembered as "an ordinary copper who's patrolling his beat, around Dock Green".

In 1978 as part of the Radio 2 series It's a Funny Business, comedy writer and producer Mike Craig talked to Jack Warner about his career. It's not had a repeat since 1990 so here's your chance to hear it again.

This is the first in a series of four blog posts marking the 75th anniversary of VE day.

Friday 1 May 2020

Ambridge Revisited

Disaster in Ambridge. No, so far the Borsetshire village remains COVID-19 free. But as a result of the pandemic the stock of recordings of the Radio 4 serial have run dry. New episodes are currently being recorded but with a difference as some of the actors record their lines at home (Tim Bentinck, who plays David Archer pictured above). According to The Archers website "Storylines will continue and you will still hear about the comings and goings in Ambridge, but you will hear its residents as you have never heard them before. Instead of multiple characters interacting each episode will have fewer characters and you will have an insight into more of their private thoughts".

These new episodes air from 25 May so to fill a three week gap this month we'll hear a selection of 'classic' episodes from the last twenty years. But while the programme takes a furlough, and for those with a longer memory, here's a chance to go back into the last century.

I've previously written about the night that Grace Archer died in 1955 and the passing of Doris Archer in October 1980. From just three months earlier comes this omnibus edition. The omnibus versions had started in January 1952 on Saturday evenings but moved to Sunday mornings in the summer of 1955. For 30 years they were introduced by Tom Forrest (played by Bob Arnold) who would directly address the listener and regale them with a countryside story and segue into the opening scene. This edition was heard on 24 August 1980 just days after the death of actor Norman Shelley who played Colonel Danby.

Moving on a few months the programme marked its 30th anniversary with this New Year's Day edition from 1981 as a party is about the start at Brookfield Farm.

The day before that 30th anniversary edition radio critic Gillian Reynolds explored the popularity of the serial in this edition of the Radio 4 arts magazine Kaleidoscope titled An Everyday Story.

In this omnibus edition from 14 February 1982 there's havoc on the roads of Ambridge - though it takes place 'off mic' - with the death of (spoiler alert) Polly Perks. 

From August 1983 Jack Woolley (played by the late Arnold Peters) is hit by the news that his former wife Valerie (they'd divorced in 1974) has just died.

This is a bit of a rarity called Vintage Archers from Christmas Day 1986 as various characters get together over the holiday period and remember times past leading to the replay of some old clips including a reappearance of Grace Archer.

From 1987 yet another programme celebrating the genesis of the The Archers. From the documentary strand The Saturday Feature Barry Norman looks behind the scenes of the programme that was originally introduced as a farming version of Dick Barton. An Everyday Story of Country Folk was first heard on 27 June 1987.

By May 1989 The Archers hit the magic 10,000 episodes. From 25 May this is edition number 9,999.

The following day the special edition features Terry Wogan who's staying at Grey Gables whilst taking part in a pro-celebrity golf tournament. He's greeted by Pru Forrest, played by Judi Dench, a character who was seemingly silent in the 70s and 80s though she'd previously been played by Mary Dalley After this episode Pru once again lost her tongue.

Roland White looks at the programme's history for that week's Radio Times. 

No special guests for the 12,000th episode on 24 January 1997 as we join the action at Grange Farm.

In this Radio Times article from the same week Alison Graham asks whether the serial has come too far away from its roots as "an everyday story of country folk".

A couple of documentaries about The Archers. From 1991 Archers fan and radio critic Gillian Reynolds looks at the first forty years. It includes the voices of creator Godfrey Baseley, BBC executive Jock Gallagher, editor William Smethurst, actors June Spencer (Peggy Woolley) and Tim Bentinck (David Archer) Susie Riddell (Kate Aldridge), scriptwriter Mary Cutler and agricultural advisor Anthony Parkin. Apologies for the iffy quality of this recording.

From December 2000 is this edition of The Archive Hour in which Simon Hoggart looks at the how the development of the characters and storylines has adapted to reflect changing social roles and attitudes.     

Finally some fun from 2001 when the Dead Ringers team pay an affectionate tribute to the show on its 50th anniversary. Starring Jon Culshaw, Jan Ravens, Mark Perry and Kevin Connelly this edition first aired on 1 January 2001.

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