Thursday, 20 October 2016

Pop Pickers and Music Vendors

Asked to choose your favourite British radio DJs the chances are one of them will be on this list: David Jacobs, Alan Freeman, John Peel, Tommy Vance and Roger Scott. All now sadly no longer with us. But all are the subject of this latest book, Pop Pickers and Music Vendors by John Van der Kiste.

John has traced the careers of these eminent DJs (and Eminent DJs was the working title for the book) because he rightly regards the five "as among the greatest in their field", observing that not only did they end their careers as radio presenters "but also that four of them were still broadcasting within weeks of their passing away." Old DJs never die, they just fade.....

Aside from Peel - who must surely be the most written about DJ, with Kenny Everett running a close second - the rest of John's cast of players have not received the same level of attention, at least not in printed form. There is much here to satisfy the casual reader as there is the ardent radio enthusiast.

Pop Pickers and Music Vendors is published by Fonthill Media and is available from them and all the usual places. One for the Christmas book list I think.

Here are the famous five in action:

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

On the Tube

Earlier this month I hit 1 million views on my YouTube channel. Now I'm not suggesting those stats are 100% reliable or that every minute of every upload has been viewed assiduously, but I thought it worth reflecting on what people have been watching and listening to.

I started the YouTube channel to accommodate any radio-related TV material and the One Day in the Life of Television clips for my Random Gubbins blog. I then began to upload radio programmes for two reasons: one to give them a wider audience than they might otherwise have got via this blog  and secondly I found some folk were copying my audio and uploading it wholesale without any credit. So, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

So what's been grabbing your attention over the last five years. Here's my Top 10 of most viewed uploads in reverse order.

10: Gulf War - BBC Breakfast 17 January 1991 (16k+ views)
It was all kicking off in the Gulf in 1990 and 1991 and I filled a couple of tapes with the ongoing news coverage. This recording includes the full opening sequence for BBC Breakfast News and the first quarter of an hour or so on the day Operation Desert Storm started.

9: News at Ten - 27 November 1990 (16k+ views)
At the time I was in the habit of filling up the end of my E180s with a bit of news or some continuity. This is News at Ten with Alistair Burnett and Julia Somerville on the day John Major became PM.   

8: DJ Heaven - Jimmy Saville (20k+ views)
DJ Heaven was a 1993 BBC2 series that was essentially archive clips from Top of the Pops all linked by the same DJ. Each programme had a mini biog at the start and it's these I uploaded in 2011 for Tony Blackburn, Simon Bates, John Peel, Mike Read, DLT and Saville. Little did I know that a few months later Saville would die and about a year later the full scale of his sexual abuse came to light. I've had comments clamouring for this, and the 20 Years of Jim'll Fix It programme, to be taken down but I've resisted wiping out this part of our popular cultural history no matter how distasteful it is in retrospect.  

7: Tim Gudgin on Grandstand (21k+ views)
I posted this clip of Tim Gudgin from an October 1998 edition of Grandstand about the time Tim retired from reading the classified football results. Consequently it got embedded in a few sports and news sites so bumping up the number of views. Type 'Tim Gudgin' into Google and it comes up as the second item. 

6: Classic Trucks - Ticket to Ride (24k views)
It may surprise you to see this 1995 Channel 4 documentary about post-war buses until you realise its narrated by John Peel. Consequently its had interest from transport websites and the John Peel wiki site

5: David Coleman on Grandstand (25k+ views)
More from Grandstand's 40th anniversary programme as David Coleman talks to Sue Barker. My viewings figures spiked in 21 December 2013 (nearly 9,000 views for this video) the day David passed away.  

4: BBC Coverage of the Grand National 1997 (25k+ views)
A chunk of Grandstand's coverage of the Grand National that had to be postponed and Des Lynam ends up been shunted into the Aintree car park. Fortunately I had a tape rolling.

3: Sunday Dinner - Radio Memories (51k views)
A heady dose of nostalgia here. This was an interesting piece to put together. It's taken from BBC2 and Radio 4's Arena Radio Night in December 1992. At this point in the evening the two soundtracks differed: on TV just the sounds of people preparing Sunday lunch (or is that dinner?) over some black and white film whilst Radio 4 listeners heard a selection of clips from radio programmes and reminisces from listeners about their Sunday memories. I put the two together to form this 12-minute sequence.

2: University Challenge - Pro-Celebrity Edition 1992 (77k+ views)
This is the programme that eventually saw the return of the venerable TV quiz to BBC2 in 1994. Here it's the original question master Bamber Gascoigne that returns for this one-off edition as part of a BBC2 Granadaland theme night. A team from Keble College Oxford, winners of the last ITV version of the show, take on a celebrity team of former winners: Alistair Little, John Simpson, Stephen Fry and Charles Moore.

1: Radio 4 Shipping Forecast (85k+ views)

Storming in at number one is the shipping forecast! To my knowledge this is the only time it's been read on both radio and TV. In this case the honours fell to Laurie MacMillan (who also does a bit of joint TV and radio continuity at the end). Again this is an excerpt from Arena Radio Night, with BBC2 viewers been treated to shots of crashing waves and fishing boats. It's amazing how evocative the forecast is, as evidenced by the many comments. 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Down Your Local - West Sound

Scotland's fifth commercial radio station, West Sound, launched 35 years ago today. Based in Ayr the original team included Bryce Curdy, Lou Grant, Sandy Webster, Kenneth Roy, Evelyn Elliot, Tom Jones, John McCauley, Allan Andrews, Tommy Truesdale and John Carmichael.

Now part of the Bauer 2 network little, aside from daytime news bulletins, is locally produced - the majority originates from Key 2 and Clyde 2.  

These DJ photo cards must date from the mid 80s and I'm grateful to Joseph McTaggart for sending them to me earlier this year.

The photos of some of the studio equipment at West Sound were taken in 1987.

Friday, 7 October 2016

70 Years of Woman's Hour

Woman's Hour "aims to stimulate woman's mind at a time of day when their hands are likely to be occupied with knitting, sewing, ironing, or the more routine household chores." So said the BBC Handbook of 1960 without a hint of condescension.

Now it is more succinctly described as "programme that offers a female perspective on the world". And if the household chores are proving too onerous you can always catch it on the Radioplayer or a podcast.  

Woman's Hour was first heard on the BBC Light Programme at 2 pm on Monday 7 October 1946, so today it celebrates its 70th anniversary.

Famously the first presenter was a man, Alan Ivimey, a London-born journalist and ex-RAF intelligence officer who "specialised in writing and talking to women". BBC bosses at the time were adamant that this was the right approach. "You are right, I feel, in putting a man in 'talking' charge. Woman can't bear being talked at by other women. What they will take from a man - I speak purely radiographically - they will resent from a woman." This was despite the original suggestion, from female listener J.M. Schofield of Rochdale, suggesting a show presented by a woman for women. "In view of the fact that the BBC pays large sums to dance bands and crooners, I think they might engage the woman with the right personality to host a woman's hour ... I assume the right type of person would make a big success of it."

The features on that first day included Mother's Mid-Day Meal by Mary Marton, Putting Your Best Foot Forward by Kay Beattie, Housewife's Choice of gramophone records and Part 1 of the serial reading, Under the Red Robe. The 15-minute reading (now a short drama) is the one items that has remained throughout.

At first listener reaction was not overwhelmingly glowing: "Surely it’s not too much to ask that we may have our minds removed from the monotony of housekeeping by a programme which gives us a glimpse of a wider existence.”

By way of contrast this week's editions have included items on the Columbian peace process, the Conservative Party conference, group texts etiquette, workplace rights, Zimbabwean music, columnist Julie Burchill and businesswomen Jo Malone.

In those austerity years Woman's Hour wasn't all cookery and thrift and would regularly deal with the serious issues of the day. Light Programme controller Norman Collins was clear that it should appeal to "intelligent women" and that the programme would be provide "a popular medium for talking about serious matters", even if that meant breaking the so-called 13 and a half minute rule on the minimum time you could devote to more challenging topics. Here's Collins talking to Marjorie Anderson on Woman's Hour on 2 October 1967. 

As was the case with many daily shows at that time each edition of Woman's Hour was heavily scripted; indeed the 2 pm start time allowed for a full morning rehearsal and a lunch break before returning to the studio. This is the opening script for an early 1946 edition:

Ivimey: Good afternoon. I have three ladies round the table to keep me in order today- Edith Saunders who has been to a fascinating exhibition of Second Empire Styles at a big West End store.
Saunders: Good afternoon.
Ivimey: Marion Cutler, who's been looking into the working of that splendid service to housewives and mothers begun during the war, the Home Help service.
Cutler: Good afternoon.
Ivimey: And Marguerite Patten, who wants to save some of those tea-time tragedies when the lovely cake you've baked comes out of the oven with a hole in the middle instead of a nice brown bulge...   

When Sue McGregor took over in 1972 she'd been working in the high pressure environment of The World at One: " I think up to the point I joined, the presenter of Woman's Hour always read the questions as they were written down for her by a producer. And this was anathema to anyone who'd come from news. It used to be heavily rehearsed - and that meant that the editor listened to the rehearsal in her office at 11.00 am and then sent down, probably on flimsy memo sheets, her instructions."

Editors Janet Quigley & Joanna Scott-Moncrieff
Under the editorial control of Janet Quigley (1950-56), Joanna Scott-Moncrieff (1956-64) and then Monica Sims (1964-1971) the programme broadened out and didn't shy away from tackling difficult subjects. On the occasion of its 30th anniversary the Radio Times listed "the firsts of Woman's Hour" under four categories:

Listener participation. In 1959 the Reading Your Letters slot (which began in 1951) discovered agoraphobia and helped found The Open Door self-help group for sufferers. The programme began to stage confrontations between listeners and experts (e.g. Margret Thatcher being asked about the school-leaving age). The Points from the Postbag slot where people discussed their personal problems was a forerunner of such programmes as If you think You've got Problems!

Breaking taboos. Many subjects particularly those to do with sex, were simply not discussed on the radio until Woman's Hour talked about them. Homosexuality was first discussed in 1958; the Pill in 1962; frigidity and impotence in 1965, transsexuality in 1970; and so on.

Consumerism. From the beginning the programme took up listeners' complaints and answered queries in Answer and Comment. Watchdog began in 1969; Checkout in 1971.

World events. Even before the CND marches Woman's Hour discussed the dangers of nuclear fall-out with Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd and a panel of experts. Under the title Press Conference women journalists grilled prime ministers and other leading politicians. From the early 60s Gladys Yang recorded talks from Peking. Special editions have come from all over the world including Moscow, Ghana and Mexico.

According to Sally Feldman (at the time acting editor in 1991) "not all listeners were thrilled by the programme's frank and fearless approach. One lady was puzzled by the mention of the word 'lesbian', with which she was unfamiliar. When she looked it up in the dictionary, she turned the radio off immediately in disgust. She did not listen again for 20 years, but then she finally did decide to switch it on again, the first word she heard was 'lesbian'. She switched off once more and wrote a bitter letter of complaint".

Womans' Hour continues to push the boundaries and make the news with, in just the last twelve months, the introduction of Late Night Woman's Hour with Lauren Laverne and an adaptation of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying complete with references to the "zipless f**k".

Olive Shapley & Joan Griffiths
For such a long-running programme there has only been a small band of regular presenters. Taking over from Alan Ivimey (dropped because he was considered "somewhat patronising") was Joan Griffiths (1946-49) and then Olive Shapley (1949-51). Here's Olive talking to June Knox-Mawer on the programme on 18 June 1976.

In the early 50s Jean Metcalfe and Mary Hill introduced the programme and a regular Friday regional edition was heard - a feature that remained until April 1998. There was also a chance to hear selected items again in a Sunday Woman's Hour Digest and then the much-longer running Sunday supplement (later moving to Saturday) called Home for the Day (1952-68, heard on the Home Service then Radio 4) which, from April 1968, became Weekend Woman's Hour.

Marjorie Anderson (above) joined Jean in 1952, eventually becoming the main presenter when Jean left in 1957. Other presenters in the 60s and 70s included Teresa McGonagle, Pamela Creighton and Judith Chalmers.

One of the long-forgotten elements of Woman's Hour is the signature tune. My research on this is far from conclusive but when the programme first started it was using the Light Programme's Oranges and Lemons sig tune. By 1948 it was the Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai. In the 1950s the Masque et Bergamasque Overture by Gabriel Faure was used. By the time I made this recording on 8 April 1980 a sig tune was still in use - anyone know the title/composer?  

In 1973 there was a major shake-up: firstly after two decades Marjorie Anderson retired through ill-health and was replaced by Sue McGregor, who'd already joined the team the previous year, and then from 2 July the programme bade farewell to Radio 2 and moved over to its new Radio 4 home. But not all the team welcomed the station change. Editor Wyn Knowles in a memo to the network controller: "Whilst recognising the case for transfer, we feel that there is much to be said for our remaining on Radio 2. First of all, we know that our present audience is predominantly working class and that while many of these may switch over to Radio 4 in order to hear Woman's Hour, a sizeable number may not be in the habit of switching channels and will lose us..."

Sue McGregor photographed for the Radio Times 
in 1976 (Credit: Tony Evans)
Perhaps more significant was the difficult task of Sue McGregor taking over: "Difficult , because Marjorie had been doing it for a very long time and was an entrenched favourite. But the Woman's Hour team was jolly nice to me and, if there were any nasty letters from listeners, I was never allowed to see them". Coming from a news background "meant that I had to slow down quite a lot in pace as well as in treatment, but I did it in the way I felt happiest and they left me alone to get on with it. I always did my own research for the interviews, in consultation with the producers, and the questions are very much mine, not fed to me, as was the case in the past." 

From the 1970s the Woman's Hour production team started to extend the brand, leading to the weekly phone-in Tuesday Call (1973-86), for the large part presented by Sue McGregor along with Judith Chalmers, Jill Burridge and Barbara Myers. There was also It's Your World (1984-87) a co-production with World Service that allowed listeners to question world leaders and royalty such as Margaret Thatcher, King Hussein of Jordan, Kenneth Kaunda, Pik Botha, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne.

Reflecting the fact that 42% of listeners to Woman's Hour are men there were occasional Man's Hour specials in 1978, 1986 with Terry Jones, 1988 with Willy Russell and 2004 with Jon Snow. Eventually the blokes got their own series of Men's Hour with Tim Samuels on Radio 5 Live between July 2010 and January 2016.  

In late 1986 Jenni Murray shared the presenting role with Sue McGregor (she'd already been on the regional editions from Bristol since 1979) before becoming the main presenter in September 1987 when Sue joined Today.

Interviewed for The Guardian in 2008 Jenni Murray once again addressed the issue of the seemingly perennial question as to what class of listeners was tuning in to Woman's Hour. "I tell you what I really get cross about - it's this middle class idea. To me, the only qualification you need to be a Radio 4 listener is an enquiring mind. An inquiring mind exists in the working class - and I know because I came from it - in the middle class and in the upper class. It's absolutely nothing to do with class at all. There's nowhere else where you find a programme that has the breadth of subjects that Woman's Hour has - and treats it with rigour." 

1990 saw a potential threat to the programme as Radio 4 controller Michael Green wanted to shake-up the schedule and address the mid-morning dip in audiences. From September 1991, he announced, the programme would be in a new time slot and, perhaps, with a new title. Radio 4 listeners, ever resistant to any tinkering with the listening habits, were not happy. Actress Anna Massey, a guest on many occasions summed it up: "To lose the 2 pm slot could be counted as a misfortune, but to lose the title as well must be counted as carelessness".

But Green was insistent: "Twice as many women are available to listen to the radio at 10.30 in the morning as at two in the afternoon - five million as against two-and-a-half million - so a programme directed at women in the mornings could win double the present audience. I'm not going to change the nature of Woman's Hour dramatically: the female perspective will continue to dominate. But the idea that middle-aged women stay at home to listen to the programme is outdated; partly because far more go out to work; but also because research shows that the age profile of the Radio 4 audience is getting younger."

The shift from 2 pm to 10.30 am occurred in September 1991 and the move to the current 10.00 start in April 1998.

Jane Garvey & Dame Jenni Murray
Alongside Jenni Murray the other regular hosts have been Martha Kearney (1998-2007) and Jane Garvey (2007 to date)

On the Boxing Day 2013 edition Jenni Murray was joined by Sue McGregor to launch the online archive of Woman's Hour audio clips, the oldest dating back to September 1957.  

At the start of this 70th anniversary year Jenni Murray and guests reviewed the history and considerable impact of the programme. This aired on 1 January 2016.

Woman's Hour celebrates its 70th anniversary on Monday with a live programme from the BBC Radio Theatre. Jenni Murray, Jane Garvey and a guest panel "discuss the results of a poll specially commissioned to find out about UK women's lives in 2016. How has life changed for women at home and at work from 1946 to the present day?" 

Life on Air: A History of Radio Four by David Hendy (OUP 2007)
And now on Radio 4 by Simon Elmes (Random House 2007)
The responsible woman: the BBC and women's radio 1945-1955 by Kristin Skoog (University of Westminster PHD thesis 2010)
Woman's Hour: three decades of pioneering radio by Wilfred D'Ath, Radio Times 2 October 1976
Move us if you must by Angela Lambert, The Independent 23 January 1991
Ideas above their station? by Russell Miller, Sunday Times Magazine 15 September 1991
National institution - I think not by Vicky Frost, The Guardian 14 April 2008

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Third at 70 - Part the Third: The Intelligent Chuckle

The BBC Third Programme offered listeners a rich diet of drama, classical music, concerts and talks but there was little in the way of a light repast. "Is it too much to hope," asked Alan Pryce-Jones writing for the BBC Quarterly in 1951, "that to all the other pleasures of the intelligence may be added during the next five years a more frequent experience of the intelligent chuckle?"

Comedy on the Third offered nothing in the way of belly laughs and recordings with a live audience. Indeed, as the then Controller, John Morris, observed in 1956 "it has been known for a listener to complain of the introduction of humour into the Programme".

But humour there was, mostly of the "intelligent chuckle" kind. Trawling through the BBC Genome site it is possible to pick out a number of comedy programmes that graced the schedules of the Third Programme and Radio 3. 

How to Listen

I've already written about the programme that launched the Third Programme on 29 September 1946 and the occasional series of How to programmes that followed.

Hilda Tablet

The Private Life of Hilda Tablet (1954) was a supposed investigation into the life of composeress Hilda Tablet from the pen of Henry Reed. Hilda had first appeared in Reed's 1953 play A Very Great Man Indeed billed as a mock-solemn account of a critic's research into the life of an imaginary novelist named Richard Sherwin.

Hilda Tablet, played with masculine gusto by Mary O'Farrell and her companion the soprano Elsa Strauss (Marjorie Westbury) were supposedly a spoof, all played deadly seriously, on the composer-singer ménage of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. However, is seems that Reed modelled them on composer Elizabeth Lutyens. So obvious was the connection that Lutyens and her novelist husband Edward Clark talked of suing Henry Reed.

The part of Henry Reeve, the critic whose voice is central to each of Reed's plays, was taken by Hugh Burden. Other characters were played by members of the BBC Rep including Carleton Hobbs, Norman Shelly and Deryck Guyler. Subsequent plays were: Emily Butter - An Occasion Recalled (1954), the occasion being the first performance of Hilda Tablet's opera; Through a Hedge - Backwards (1956); The Primal Scene, as it were (1958); Not a Drum was Heard (1959), being the war memories of General Gland as played by Guyler; and finally Musique Discrete (1959).
Recordings of all the Henry Reed plays are on YouTube.    

The Third Division

This is one of the great missing radio series as sadly no recordings exist. This 1949 comedy, a follow-up to the 1948 Home Service comedy Listen My Children, had a pre-Goons line-up that included Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine as well as Benny Hill, Robert Beatty, Benny Lee, Patricia Hayes and Carole Carr. The scripts were by Frank Muir and Denis Norden.

Interviewed recently about The Third Division Norden said: "We weren't given much guidance what the BBC wanted except that it shouldn't be like the Light Programme or the Home Service. It was a revue, to use a slightly old-fashioned term: we had two bands to provide the music."

Frank Muir, writing in his autobiography A Kentish Lad, recalls that he and Denis Norden "wrote a spot for Peter in Third Division; he played all the street traders in what we called Sellers' Market. We also used his extraordinary gift for character voices in sketches, one of which was a parody of those Fitzpatrick Traveltalks which seemed to be a part of every cinema programme in those days ('...and as the sun sinks slowly in the west we bid farewell to Bali, Isle of Enchantment...'). We called our version Bal-ham, Gateway to the South.

Peter was very quickly taken famous and was persuaded by George Martin (whom later produced the Beatles' records) to record a comedy LP. Peter asked us if he could include three of our sketches which he had enjoyed performing: the mad headteacher of a progressive school talking to a timid potential parent, an interview with a moronic pop star and his gaoler/manager ('Come back here! I've told you repeatedly, where the carpet starts, you stop!'), and Bal'ham, Gateway to the South".

Muir goes on to say how some forty years later a group of Balham businessmen decide to spruce up the centre of the neighbourhood and, in the belief that the sketch had put Balham on the map, decided to erect a statue in the likeness of Peter Sellers. Anxious to affirm their copyright Muir and Norden wrote a light-hearted letter of retort staking their claim and suggesting that the group would now "involve itself in the expense of putting up two statues". Offering a compromise they said that "for a trifling sum, we would be prepared to go along to the new shopping centre and stand there personally".  

In Third Gear

This was a one-off programme on the Third Programme's tenth anniversary in which Peter Jones and Peter Ustinov "pay homage to their betters". Based on the successful Home Service series In All Directions.

Hardluck Hall

This is the other Third Programme comedy that has failed to survive. Tantalisingly it's a 1964 collaboration between David Nobbs and Peter Tinniswood - at the time both submitting scripts to That Was the Week That Was - set in a "somewhat stately home somewhere in England" called Hardluck Hall

Nobb's, writing in his autobiography I Didn't Get Where I Am Today, has only a little to offer in the way of enlightenment about the series: "Peter and I achieved two other distinctions. We wrote the first comedy ever to be on BBC Radio's Third Programme. We also wrote the last comedy series ever to be on BBC Radio's Third Programme. You've guessed it. It was the same one.

Hardluck Hall - shades of my beloved Thomas Love Peacock - was satirical. The names of the characters - Priscilla Houseproud, Sir Sidney Servall, Tom Ology, Robin Robot, Doreen Nylon - fill me with dismay now, but it was better than it sounds, expolited radio techniques inventively, and was great fun to do. A splendid cast, including Valentine Dyall, Hugh Burden and Stephen Moore, seemed to enjoy it hugely. Peter, of course, went on to do a lot of marvellous radio work. The producer, Richard Thomas, emigrated to new Zealand, but I don't think it was as a direct result of the series".

David Nobbs may have been wrong on one account but he did, to my knowledge, write the last comedy for the Third as Radio 3 came along in 1967, though the label for the evening's listening still stuck until April 1970.

Tribute to Greatness

The Third/Radio 3 seemed to relish the cod biography, see Hilda Tablet above and The Atkinson People below. This three part series, tucked away on Monday nights in November 1969, was written by Myles Rudge and starred Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims and John Moffatt. The script for the second programme, a tribute to that fine thespian Plantagenet Runciman, is available online.

For once Kenneth Williams was not too scathing about this show. In his diary entry for 11 September 1968 he records: "To the Gratfon for this radio production. John Simmonds directing. It is called A Bannister Called Freda and again Myles has written a brilliant script and Ted Dicks two marvellous songs. Joan Sims & me playing all the parts & John Moffatt doing the Narrator - superbly. Of course this is a pilot show & we've yet to see if the powers approve it".

The Half-Open University

More send-ups, this time of the Open University, in these two comedy shows that were the precursor to The Burkiss Way. Airing in August and November 1975 it was written by Andrew Marshall, David Renwick and John Mason. Burkiss cast members Chris Emmett and Nigel Rees appeared alongside Timothy Davies and Christine Ozanne. According to Rees "Burkiss derived some of its half-academic, half-popular tone from the Radio 3 series".

The Atkinson People

This 4-part 1979 series saw the pre-Blackadder pairing of Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis as they took  "satirical and wry investigations into the lives of fictional great men". Unlike most of the programmes in this list this series is available to buy and gets repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra.


There'll be more on one of my all-time favourite comedies - this an 8-part tale of a university lecturer in English Literature struggling with his students and his marriage - in a future post. 

Broomhouse Reach

This 'suite in six parts' detailed "the adventures of a hapless young musicologist, who discovers some lost music by a composer 40 years dead but still living on as a malign influence, a sardonic witness to our hero's scholastic endeavours."

The series was written by Colin McLaren, at the time the Archivist and Keeper of Manuscripts to the Special Collections department at Aberdeen University, as well as the author of a number of novels, radio monologues and short plays - including the series 39 and Counting (1981) with Michael Hordern, Dinsdale Landen and Hannah Gordon. 

This is the first part of Broomhouse Reach as heard on Radio 3 on 23 November 1984. It stars David de Keyser as the composer Martin Mendl with Timothy Davies as Timothy Liripet, Cyril Luckham as Sir Hubert Fiske, Fanny Carby as Mrs Wix and Mark Jones as Nigel Scrote. The series was directed by Piers Plowright. This is my recording of that programme, not heard since its first outing.

A Selection of Plays

I won't attempt to list all the comedy plays that appeared on the Third and Radio 3 and I can't vouch for the comedic value of most of these productions; the only one I've heard recently is Outpatient.

Amongst the works of Rhys Adrian are: No Charge for Extra Service (1979) with Elizabeth Spriggs and Nigel Stock, Watching the Plays Together (1982) with Rosemary Leach and James Grout, Outpatient (1985) with Michael Aldridge and Andrew Sachs, Toytown (1987) with Peter Vaughan, Upended (1988) with Norman Bird and Eva Stuart and Why Leo? (1988) with Richard Briers.

Cartoonist Mel Calman wrote The Big Novel (1986) with Richard Griffiths and Peter Woodthorpe. Griffiths was also in the surreal Sweet Tooth (1987) in which Calman "wrote parts for a collection of cakes and pastries" and then in 1989 Rabbit Man with Jim Broadbent playing a taxi driver who grows rabbit's ears. 

One of Wally K Daly's earliest plays was also on Radio 3: Priest and Confessor (1975) starred Richard Briers and the priest and Tony Haygarth as the man making his first confession for many years.

Why Bother?

This 1994 series of five programmes was Peter Cook's swansong in which he again donned the persona of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, "the complacent aristocrat who'd wasted his whole life trying to teach ravens to fly underwater". Like the BBC2 series A Life in Pieces (1990/91) the premise was that Sir Arthur was reminiscing in a two-way interview; on TV it was Ludovic Kennedy but for the radio series he was more evenly matched with Chris Morris. According to William Cook, editor of a Peter Cook anthology, Morris "left Cook enough space to land his punchlines, but Morris also created a proper character of his own". All five editions are on YouTube. 

BBC Genome website
Various editions of Radio Times
The Envy of the World by Humphrey Carpenter (Phoenix 1997)
A Kentish Lad by Frank Muir (Bantam Press 1997)
I Didn't Get Where I Am Today by David Nobbs (William Heinemann 2003)
Tragically I was an Only Twin: The Complete Peter Cook edited by William Cook (Arrow Books 2003)

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Choral Evensong

Next week one of BBC radio's longest-running programmes will mark its 90th year on air. Choral Evensong was first heard on 2LO on Thursday 7 October 1926 billed (see below) simply as '3.0-3.45 Evensong relayed from Westminster Abbey'. Today at 3.30 pm on Radio 3 the programme makes a return to Westminster Abbey.

Choral Evensong (it was mostly billed as just Evensong until 1945) has been broadcast on various days of the week since 1926 on the National Programme, Home Service, Radio 4 and then, from July 1981, on Radio 3.

There's a large archive, approaching one hundred, of Choral Evensong recordings on the YouTube channel of the Archive of Recorded Church Music. The earliest surviving recording, taken from BBC Transcription Service discs, dates from 7 September 1948 (Radio Times billing shown above)    

Note: the BBC describes Choral Evensong as "the longest running outside broadcast" programme. In terms of programme duration it's only beaten by The Week's Good Cause which started in January 1926, though that's been known as Radio 4 Appeal since April 1998.   

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Third at 70 - Part the Second: Through the Mirror of the Third

The introduction of the BBC's Third Programme in 1946 can be seen as part of a movement in post-war British society to expand the range of 'culture' available to the masses. Rationing might mean that people would still go hungry but they could at least seek intellectual nourishment. The culture on offer was 'high culture' and the tone was decidedly highbrow. The Third demanded of its listeners that they actively listen as if attending an evening concert. This was not background noise.  

Writing the introduction to the tenth anniversary anthology John Morris, the then network controller, hammered home the fact that the Third was not easy listening:  

"It was decided from the beginning that the Third Programme should not compromise; it should make no concessions to popular taste. Sir William Haley, who was at the time the Director-General of the BBC, was asked if the Third Programme were to live up to such ambitious motives, might it not often become dull? 'Yes', he answered, 'let it often become dull. Let it often make mistakes. Let if often under-run and over-run. Let it always remember that it is an experiment, even an adventure, and not a piece of routine. Let it arouse controversy and not seek to muffle controversy. Let it enable the intelligent public to hear the best that has been thought or said or composed in all the world. Let it demonstrate that we are not afraid to express our own culture or to give our people access to the culture of others. Let it set a standard, and furnish an example, which will not only raise the level of our own broadcasting but in the end affect the level of broadcasting in other lands. Let it be something which has never been attempted hitherto in any country.'
During its ten year of existence the Third Programme has done all of these things; in its early days the timing of programmes was frequently erratic, and many of our talks are still not only dull but difficult to comprehend without considerable knowledge of the subject under review. This has been a deliberate policy, and I am sure a right one: any attempt to 'brighten-up' by 'talking down' to our listeners would inevitably have led to a lowering of intellectual standards. besides, we should cease to obtain the services as speakers of some of the best minds in our own and other countries".

This edition of BBC Four's Time Shift documentary strand examined the early years of the station. The Third Programme: High Culture for all in Post-War Britain was broadcast on 25 October 2005.

From the Third Programme: A Ten Years' anthology edited by John Morris (Nonsuch Press, 1956)
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