Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Sheffield

Launch date: 15 November 1967

BBC Radio Sheffield was the second of the experimental local stations to open in 1967 just one day short of the anniversary some 44 years earlier of the opening of the Sheffield relay 6FL on 16 November 1923.

The station's first manager was the former Home Service producer and presenter based in Manchester Michael Barton who'd played a part in the early 60s closed-circuit tests in Hull. His deputy was Tim Neale who would replace him as manager when he moved on in 1972. Michael went on to become the Controller, Local Radio. You can hear him talking about his career in this edition of Radio Moments:Conversations

The original line-up at Radio Sheffield included Geoff Sargieson (later in management roles at Radio Aire, BBC Radio Humberside and BBC Radio York), Jack Thompson, Michael Green (later taking a network production job in Manchester and then Controller of Radio 4), sports editor David Jones (later at Granada and Tyne Tees), Janie Griffiths (later children's programme director at ITV and Nickelodeon), Sheila Yeadon, Mary Redcliffe and Ted Gorton (later station manager at BBC Radio Oxford).

In this short sequence you'll hear Jack Thompson opening the station with an ident using the sound of Sheffield cutlery created by David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a link-up with Radio 4's Today programme presented by Jack de Manio, Ted Gorton with listener Dorothy Revell and her son Derek, another radiophonic piece, this time a news theme composed by John Baker, Michael Cooke and finally Tony Capstick.   

Here's the schedule from the Radio Times for the week commencing 27 September 1975.

The listings are packed with names that will be very familiar to Radio Sheffield listeners in the 70s and 80s. Dinah Maiden was Sheffield's phone-in queen. A station regular for 20 years Dinah (pictured below) had started out as a reporter and then sub-editor on local newspapers in the South Yorkshire area. She first appeared on the station in 1970 as a guest on a current affairs discussion and was subsequently asked to join the staff where she hosted the phone-in and then the breakfast show.

Edition One was the name of the station's breakfast show from the launch. Edition Two and Edition Three being the lunchtime and teatime news round-ups. The programme had been presented by Ian Masters (later of BBC Radio Norfolk and BBC TV's Look East) and Peter Harrison who even wrote a 26-page book about his shows - has anyone got a copy? Peter was another former newspaper man who also worked as a reporter on BBC TV's North West Tonight and as a producer on BBC Radio Manchester. At Sheffield in 1975 he was presenting the daily Personal Choice.  

The presenter of Edition One in 1975 is listed as Tony Wilkinson. Does anyone know if this is the same Tony Wilkinson that was a reporter on Nationwide or the presenter of Radio 4's Wlko's Weekly and The Street?

Looking after the 9 am requests and dedications were a number of presenters. On Monday it was John Leonard. Folk musician John had joined the station to present the folk show (see Saturday) He would also appear with Tony Capstick on Radio 2's Folkweave before leaving Sheffield and moving to network radio in Manchester in 1982 where he co-produced Janice Long's Radio 1 show and Stuart Hall's Radio 2 show alongside David Treadway (see below). In 1992 John left the BBC to form  the independent production company Smooth Operations with Nick Barraclough.

And speaking of folk singers that brings us to one of Radio Sheffield's best known voices, that of Tony Capstick (pictured above). His somewhat idiosyncratic style and self-deprecating Yorkshire humour endeared him to listeners for three decades. He'd first been heard on the station in 1969 with Capstick's Carve-Up and then, as listed here, a Sunday lunchtime request show. Later he added a Saturday show before moving to weekdays in 1978 where he stayed until a rather ignominious sacking in 2003, he died a few months later. 

Sheffield's afternoon show was Walk Right In. It had started in 1970 with Peter Crabtree and Ian Masters but by 1975 it was just Peter in the studio. He'd started in local hospital radio doing sports commentaries and before becoming a sports reporter on Radio Sheffield and then joining full-time in 1969, staying for 20 years.

One of local radio's longest-serving presenters pops up on Tuesday's request show and twice on Saturday with Are You an Early Bird? and the children's programme Crash's Wallop. Eric Smith had initially joined the station, "after many unsuccessful applications to the BBC", in 1973  as the record librarian. He later gained a daily show and then moved over to Radio Stoke in 1978, did a spell on BBC TV in the north east, was back at Sheffield in 1980 before joining the launch team at Radio Aire in 1981. Eric briefly worked at Radios Humberside and Cumbria before moving to Shropshire in 1988 and for the last 20 years he's presented BBC Radio Shropshire's breakfast show - the last 6 years co-hosting with Clare Ashford. 

Page from the 1977 publication Serving Neighbourhood and Nation
Michael Cooke was familiar to both TV and radio audiences in Yorkshire, appearing on Look North from Leeds alongside his radio appearances. He was a lecturer when he made his first broadcast on Radio Sheffield in 1968 and was subsequently invited to work for the station. In this schedule he presents Downtown Saturday but by 1978 he had a daily show on the station and remained on-air until the 1980s. On Radio 4 he also presented The World at One and PM Reports in 1973/4, Today 1976-8 and Sunday 1979-82.

Listed as both presenter and producer is David Treadway. Initially freelance he joined the staff of Radio Sheffield in the early 70s. Moving to Glasgow in 1978 he worked as a producer for BBC Scotland and managed the BBC Scottish Radio Orchestra. In Manchester he worked for both Radios 1 and 2 co-producing with John Leonard. He became Radio 2's Assistant Controller in 1983 before leaving the BBC in 1990 to join United Artists Communications. More recently he has worked for 3i plc, WRN Broadcast and, in 2016, appointed as an MD at RR Media.

Profile of Radio Sheffield's longest-serving presenter
Rony Robinson in  the current edition of the Radio Times
Radio Sheffield is marking its 50th birthday with a couple of special programmes today. At 10 am Paulette Edwards and Rony Robinson broadcast live from the City Hall and then at 2 pm Steve White looks back the big momentsin the station's history

To mark the anniversary the station's listeners were filmed performing this re-working of Pulp's Common People:

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Down Your Local - BBC Radio Leicester

Launch date: 8 November 1967

After much deliberation and negotiation it was Leicester that won the race to launch the first of the first "home town radio" stations in late 1967, just weeks after the national radio shake-up.

This is how the Leicester schedule looked nearly one year in taken from the Radio Times of 19 October 1968. (Image from a scanned PDF copy of the magazine so apologies for the quality). At the time the station could only be heard on 95.05 VHF and broadcast from studios at Epic House on Charles Street. 

This film from ATV's MidlandsNews has some establishing shots of the Radio Leicester studios and then an interview with station manager Maurice Ennals.

This was the era when every programme had a title so it's not always possible to tell who presented what. Some titles such as Leicester, Ten Ten Sunday with Ken Warburton seen unduly specific - you won't be surprised to know it went out at 10.10 am on Sunday!

The early stations were run on shoestring budgets and staff were expected to multi-task working as presenters, producers, commentators and newsreaders. On-air at this time were David Challis, Michael Murray (a former Home Service announcer), Roger Matthews and Ken Warburton. Others heard were Wendy Blair, Mike Hollingsworth, Hal Bethel (who went on the become local radio's Education Organiser), Terry Harris, Richard Thompson and the guys from Leicester News Service headed by Roland Orton. I'm also told that Dave Kirkwood and Eddie Vickers (later a presenter and programme controller at Severn Sound) may have also been on board by this date. Station boss Maurice Ennals could also be heard providing football commentaries.     

Amongst the general music and news shows were more targeted programmes for over-60s, the young with The Grain presented by Bert Patrick, the blind, gardeners, those wishing to keep fit, a Christian magazine and short reports on problem pets. There's no evidence yet of any programmes aimed at the city's large Asian population - that would follow with Programme for Immigrants, Milan and, from the mid-70s the influential Six O'Clock Show - though intriguingly there are short courses on speaking French, Spanish and German.

Rex Conway, here shown as presenting Who Cares?, was a Radio Leicester listener turned broadcaster. A probation officer from Ashby de la Zouch he'd been on the station talking about his tape recording club. He impressed producer David Challis and he that he was invited back to present a regular hobbies show.  

Dave Challis and Michael Murray
The station's resident gardening expert was Geoff Amos. Geoff was a professional gardener of many years standing and had been writing for Garden News since the early 1960s. He would later be one of the presenters of Central TV's Gardening Time. Leicester's gardening programme Down to Earth continues to this day on Sunday lunchtimes, making it local radio's longest-running programme. 

When the second phase of local stations started in 1970 Maurice Ennals - generally credited along with Frank Gillard as one of the founding fathers of BBC local radio -moved to become the station manager at Radio Solent, taking with him David Challis and Ken Bateman. Between station moves Ken was attached to the national radio presentation team at Broadcasting House for continuity and newsreading duties on Radio 2. He would later work at BBC Radio Nottingham, back in Leicester as MD at the ill-fated Centre Radio, programme controller at Radio 106 and one of the founding directors of Broadcast Media Services Ltd. 

Extract from 1977 BBC booklet Serving Neighbourhood and Nation
David Challis would also move into management and during the early 1980s was station manager at Radio Humberside.

Mike Hollingsworth had worked as a newspaper journalist and for BBC TV in Newcastle and Anglia TV before joining Radio Leicester. He then worked for BBC Radio Durham before a move to London to help set up the General News Service, working as an assistant editor on Today and then running BBC TV's Breakfast Time, TV-AM and BBC1's daytime output. 

You can read about Dave Kirkwood on this Pebble Mill site.

Former Radio Leicester broadcaster and producer, and now local historian, Stephen Butt has set up the BBCRL50 blog to mark the station's 50th anniversary. 

Listen out for a special programme on BBC Radio Leicester today at 12.45pm during Jonathan Lampon's show.

With thanks to Ken Warburton.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The People's Radio

In the spring of 1954 Frank Gillard was on a fact-finding trip across the United States. What he witnessed would change the shape of British broadcasting.

Gillard, at the time the Head of West Regional Programmes, was particularly impressed by station WVPO 'The Voice of Poconos' in Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania. It "spoke to its listeners as a familiar friend and neighbour" and the whole operation was conducted with "the utmost informality"

The role of Frank Gillard as godfather of the BBC's local radio service leading to the launch of the first station, Radio Leicester, fifty years ago, is told today at 12 noon in Friendly Radio, a one hour programme to be broadcast on all the BBC's local stations.

When the BBC had started radio broadcasts in the early 1920s it was on a local basis, aside from 2LO in London other stations launched in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Sheffield, Plymouth and Belfast. But by the end of the decade these and other relay stations had combined to form the Regional Programme, which continued after the Second World War as the model for the Home Service.  

Hidden in the Beveridge Report on Broadcasting (1949) was a hint of things to come: "Local broadcasting was abandoned in favour of regional broadcasting owing to a lack of wavelengths, and the increased supply of wavelengths promised by VHF or FM transmission makes it possible to revive it".

However, it wasn't until the mid-50s that the Corporation seriously began to think about how it might further develop its radio services beyond the existing Home, Light and Third in the face of the advent of commercial television and the possible threat of commercial radio together with a decline in radio audiences in favour of the gogglebox.

In 1955 Gillard (pictured above) was asked to chair the Sound Co-ordinating Committee. Whilst the Committee didn't specifically look at providing local radio a working paper drafted by Gillard, An Extension of Regional Broadcasting, did hint at the way things would go with a recognition of regional cultures, news-led services and making use of the VHF spectrum.

Little happened on the matter within the BBC until 1960 when it was seeking a number of proposals to put before the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting. It was Gillard that persuaded the management and governors to pursue the idea of local radio, with the support of incoming Director-General Hugh Carleton-Greene. Speaking in November 1960 Greene was already attempting to forestall any commercial radio competition: "we think the time has come for the extension of our existing regional and area services into local broadcasting ... we believe that the public service system would ensure for the local audience a more genuinely local independent programme than could be offered by any commercial arrangement."       

In 1961 and 1962 the BBC undertook sixteen closed-circuit experiments across the UK in order to test the water and to provide audio evidence to the Pilkington Committee. (For the experiences of 'Radio Norwich' see The Network That Never Was). It was believed that this so-called Fourth Service could, in the words of Director of Sound Broadcasting Lindsay Wellington "provide a friendly, companiable, reliable service which is closely in touch with the ordinary pre-occupations of people's lives, informs people about local affairs and discusses impartially the local questions which come close to home."

Early proposals were bold in their ambition with six initial stations followed by a further eighteen by 1964 with each station costing £17,500 to build and £28,000 per annum to run "without seeking an increase in the licence fee".  Pilkington accepted the BBC's proposals in principle but put them on ice - the Corporation would have to wait another four years.

Meanwhile Frank Gillard, by 1963 now promoted to replace Wellington as Director of Sound Broadcasting, was setting out his vision for the new service (though perhaps understating the equipment required to get the stations on air). "The station needs a few tape recorders and a radio-equipped car which would soon become a familiar sight to every citizen". Listeners should "come to regard their local station as 'our station' not as 'the BBC station in our town'".

In December 1966 the White Paper on Broadcasting gave a rather cautious go-ahead to local radio "by way of experiment" with a nine station project in VHF. Each station "would offer a full-scale local service ... and after a year or so of operation should have provided the information on which to found the final solution."

The funding provision didn't wholly depend on the licence fee and would instead seek input from local councils (though not from the general rates), universities, Chambers of Trade, churches and local associations, businesses and the like. "Since the essential purpose of the local station is to give expression to local interests and aspirations, it seems right that its income should derive so far as is possible from local sources and not from a general licence fee".

During the experimental period the BBC stumped up the capital costs averaging £35,000 per station whilst the running costs of about £1,000 a week were paid, for the most part, by community contributions.

The support of local authorities and other interests was important because the new stations were seen not only as vehicles for educating and informing listeners but in directly involving them in extending democratic debate. Access programming was a key aspect of the new stations with volunteers helping to make some programmes and phone-ins soon becoming a staple of the schedule.   

Following the green light for the experiment the BBC wrote to every local authority seeking their input, over eighty responded and a conference was held at Broadcasting House jointly chaired by the Director-General and, on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, Sir Mark Henig. Eight authorities agreed to proceed and it was then up to them to seek out groups and businesses that would stump up the cash. Thus the stations that would come on stream were to be Leicester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Nottingham, Brighton, Stoke, Leeds and Durham. (The ninth station area on the initial list was Manchester but it failed to proceed due t change in political control in the 1967 local elections and so had to wait for the second phase in 1970).   

Though each station manager would have a degree of autonomy as to what programmes went out, what specialist groups they addressed and what network programmes they selected to fill the gaps (in the early days they switched over to Radio 1, 2 and 4) the station's output was overseen by a Local Radio Council comprised of interested lay people appointed by the Postmaster-General, though lists of members in the 1969 BBC Year Book does seem to show a preponderance of Aldermen. 

BBC Radio Leicester was the first of the new stations to launch on 8 November 1967 - initially on 95.05 VHF only, transmissions on medium wave didn't come along until 1972. Leicester Corporation -it's Mayor was the aforementioned Mark Henig - had been particularly enthusiastic and put together a financial package totalling some £104,000 towards the running costs. The "home town radio station" was opened at 12.45 pm by the Postmaster General, Edward Short, and an opening theme based on Post Horn Gallop.  

The initial tranche of stations had, according to the BBC, and number of conditions to meet: "Has the experiment shown that local radio benefits a community? Has it informed and entertained people about the town in which they live? Has it opened their eyes to the defects, achievements and aspirations of their city? The only way of getting 'yes' to these questions is to broadcast news and other programmes of such compelling interest that people cannot afford to miss them". In the event, and before the expiry of the test period, the Government allowed the BBC to extend the network to twenty stations and to fund the expansion from the licence fee.

Reviewing the first two decades of local radio was this Radio 4 programme (which I have posted previously) presented by David Clayton and Neil Walker. The Switched-On Parish Pump includes contributions from Dennis McCarthy, Michael Barton, Allan Shaw, Jim Latham, Mick Wormald, Michael Buerk, Kate Adie, Tom Beesley and Billy Butler.

Clips of those 1961/62 closed-circuit experiments are much in evidence in this edition of Radio 4's The Archive Hour from 2007. Libby Purves celebrates the 40th anniversary of local radio. and we hear the voices  of John Snagge, Matthew Linfoot, Michael Barton, Michael Barrett, David Dimbleby, Lincoln Shaw, Ken Warburton, John Gillmore, Roger McGough, Rex Conway and Herdle White.

In 2007 the BBC Four documentary strand Nation on Film looked at the early days of BBC local radio .One of themes that comes out in this programme is how little the BBC in London paid heed to what the local stations were doing. Most of the media attention seemed to come from  the ITV news programmes, probably because they had half an eye on getting involved in local commercial radio. There are contributions from Des Lynam, Kate Adie, Michael Barton, Gillian Reynolds, Mike Hollingsworth, Tom Beesley, David Blunkett, Tony Cook and Gerald Jackson.

Friendly Radio can be heard on all BBC local radio stations today at 12 noon - some times vary if the station has sports coverage - and is narrated by David Lloyd and produced by Trevor Dann.  

You can hear Frank Gillard in conversation with Helen Fry talking about the lead-up to the launch of local radio in this recording made for the BBC's Oral History project in 1976.

Coming up this month a dip into the archives with blog posts on Radio Leicester, Radio Sheffield and Radio Merseyside plus the life and career of Frank Gillard. 

Friday, 20 October 2017

Today at 60

Today, which celebrates 60 years on air towards the end of this month, is the cornerstone of the Radio 4 schedule. It's one of the programmes, along with The Archers, Desert Island Discs and the Shipping Forecast that define the station. Thinking of itself as 'setting the agenda' for the day's news output it retains a healthily 7.6m weekly listeners in the face of numerous online news outlets and probably remains the most listened to show by the movers and shakers in Westminster and the City.

John Humphrys locking horns with the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a far cry from the programme's origins which didn't sully themselves with politics but instead offered stories of the 'gosh aren't people interesting' variety mixed in with reviews of the latest gramophone records and a bit of sports news (so at least the 1950s equivalent of Gary Richardson had a job). However, its original premise of broadcasting items "which can be said to have a topical interest for the average, intelligent reader of morning newspapers" would hold true today.

The creation of the Today programme stems from the deliberations of a BBC mid-1950s working party chaired by one Richard D'Arcy Marriott, the Chief Assistant to the BBC's Director of Sound Broadcasting. It proposed an alternative to the light orchestral music heard on the Light Programme with a Morning Miscellany, it's first working title, on the Home Service. It was to be the responsibility of the Talks department under the Chief Assistant Janet Quigley and producer Isa Benzie.

Naturally enough coming up with the programme's title caused a flurry of internal memos with, unbelievably, Up in the morning early, Background to shaving and Listen while you dress all floated before Isa Benzie came up with Today.   

Eventually the programme's brief was thrashed out and was summarised in a memo from H. Rooney Pelletier, Controller Programme Planning (Sound). The start date was fixed as 28 October 1957 with two daily editions as 7.15 am and 8.15 am (a pattern that persisted until 1970). Items would be short, no longer than 5 minutes, with material drawn from Talks, News, OB and the Regions. Likely topics would be: "Notices of new theatrical, opera or cinema productions. Various OBs under the general heading Going to Work Today. Reviews of gramophone record releases (both serious and light). Items about dress, fashion, cooking, shopping -and, if exceptional - weather. Brief personal stories of the Truth to tell kind. Previews of sporting events: cricket, racing, football. medical notes - usually suggested by items in the news. Notes on industrial developments - particularly in the field of consumer goods. Foreign correspondents and material from news Talks Section of News Division. Possibly a daily quotation. Notes about significant anniversaries".

This idea doesn't sound a million miles away from a similar programme idea that was proposed to BBC bosses by one of its Talks producers in 1955. Memos uncovered by Paul Donovan when we wrote his history of Today show that a certain Robin Day had written about a Morning Review that would give "intelligent, pithy comment and description of the sort found on the feature-page of newspapers and in the more serious dairy column". Day expounded on the idea in two lengthy and detailed memos but Home Service producers couldn't see the demand for such a programme and it was quietly forgotten. Day, meanwhile, went off the join the fledging ITN news service.  

When Today did finally make it on air it was presented by staff announcer Alan Skempton (pictured above).  No recording or script of the first edition survives but the Radio Times billing read: "A breakfast-time magazine, bringing you news, views, and interviews. Including: Briefing a pilot at London Airport, First Night at Liverpool: Robert Morley. Sale of Napoleon's letters. Out Today: gramophone records." It was something of a curate's egg according to an internal review. The interview of the pilot and a passenger by Raymond Baxter failed to raise little of interest, the talk by Mary Drummond was interesting but her voice was "soporific and/or irritating", Robert Morley was the best thing in it, the music was "all right" but the inclusion of pop "seemed awkward" whilst Eamonn Andrews report on boxing was good.   

The programme did, however, immediately make an impact, if only because nothing like it had been heard before. Pelletier was keen to stress "hard information - facts - are probably the most important single ingredients" and that the presentation should be seen as "clear, friendly, straightforward". That presentation style changed radically the following year when Jack de Manio, another staff announcer, joined the programme. Skempton had been dropped earlier in 1958 following an unfortunate unscripted comment - though BBC records fail to elaborate what this was - and Robin Boyle had continued as the main announcer.

It was Jack de Manio, he of the "port-wine voice", that steered Today throughout the next decade or so, his somewhat eccentric style endearing him to listeners but driving producers to distraction. If the few remaining snippets in the Sound Archives are anything to go by his main difficulty was telling the time, an issue for a breakfast programme were a reminder that you need to be off the work or school is a vital component. Apparently he was "a spendthrift" - there are numerous memos to-ing and fro-ing about his fees when he became freelance - wore Savile Row suits, drove a vintage Bentley and "was completely unmanageable for his production  team". On one occasion he got stuck in a Broadcasting House loo and reporter Tim Matthews had to cover for him. He was known to spread out his script over the desk and read out introductions at random with the poor producer having to anticipate what was coming next and adjust the timings accordingly.      

During the early 1960s there were the beginnings of a shift to change the nature of the programme to give it a newsy feel. In 1963 production transferred from Talks to Current Affairs under the guidance of Stephen Bonarjee. He thought Today had too many jolly magazine items and with audience figures falling wanted to add "sharper, harder material". Behind the scenes he introduced a daily 5.15pm editorial conference to discuss the next day's potential items and in 1968 changed the staff working patterns to create an overnight team to work on the programme and brought in equipment for allowing taped reports to be sent down telephone lines rather than physically brought into Broadcasting House. Despite this the programme in the mid-60s still had a slightly quirky reputation as airing, according to John Timpson, "eccentric octogenarians, prize pumpkins and folk who ate lightbulbs and spiders".     

Nigel Rees, first a reporter on Today and later a presenter, recalls some of the freelance reporters of the late 60s as Tim Matthews, Derek Cooper (later of The Food Programme), Malcolm Billings (for many years the presenter of The Merchant Navy Programme on the World Service), Derek Parker, Barry Brown, David Bellan (later on Radio 2's Star Sound) and Jeanine McMullen (later on You and Yours). A programme regular was Monty Modlyn "a rubbery-faced, little ball of a man and a Cockney 'professional personality'". Monty's contributions tended to be the antithesis of the hard current affairs stuff such as going up in a balloon, visiting a nudist colony, finding lost dogs and bringing lonely hearts together. Modlyn continued to appear on Radio 4 in the early 70s in his own programmes as well as being a regular guest on Start the Week before joining LBC as one of their presenters.

One of a number of exercise LPs released by Eileen Fowler.
Eileen had been encouraging housewives to exercise since the mid-50s
of BBC TV's About the Home.
Listeners to Today in the early 1970s could limber up each morning before heading out for the day when the Keep Fit feature with Eileen Fowler was introduced. Eileen had been encouraging the nation to swing into shape since the 1950s on BBC TV and her 5-minutes or so of exercises were heard weekly on Today until 1976.

By 1970 the Radio 4 controller Gerard Mansell was seemingly despairing of Jack de Manio's off the cuff remarks. "I think Jack de Manio's reference to 'Yoko Hama or whatever her name is' in this morning's second edition, and his comment to the effect that he didn't care whether or not she and John Lennon went to bed together went further than we ought to allow Jack to go."  Jack was dropped from the weekday editions of Today the following year, sadly missing his final edition due to being in hospital with gout. As a consolation he was offered an afternoon chat show Jack de Manio Precisely.

The 1970s witnessed a positive revolving door of presenters. When de Manio left John Timpson became the main presenter. John had originally deputised on the programme back in 1964 but then went off to BBC2 to co- host Newsroom with Peter Woods before returning to radio in 1970 to sit alongside Jack on Today. By 1970 the two editions had been united into one whole -apart that is from all the opt-outs for listeners in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, East Anglia and the South-West, the junctions for which the presenters had to hit with pinpoint precision - and the tradition of two presenters, that still exists today, was established. The editor, Marshall Stewart was finally able to introduce the harder current affairs edge that had first been mooted years before; such was his success that he was poached by LBC. 

Joining Timpson in 1971 was Robert Robinson and they became the mainstay of Today for the next three years. Robinson, according to Marshall Stewart "played a significant and influential part in accelerating Today's transformation from a whimsical magazine into a news and current affairs programme. His sharp intellect introduced an edge to serious interviewing that politicians, in particular, had not often met on radio before."  

Also joining the roster of presenters were Douglas Cameron (1971-74), Michael Clayton (1973-74), Desmond Lynam (1974-75), Barry Norman (1974-75), Malcolm Billings (1974-75) and Nigel Rees (1976-78) - for a full list see the end of this blog post.

Marc cartoon from the Radio Times 18 November 1978
From 8 October 1975 here is John Timpson reporting from the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool  and interviewing Geoffrey Howe, Des Lynam is in the studio in London. Des recalls that during his time on Today "although politics was very much part of the programme, overall it had a lighter feel to it. There was still time for the 'record egg-laying hen' type of story."; witness the New York food smeller (organoleptic analyser) in this recording. The sports reporter is Gerald Williams and the newsreader Colin Doran. Audio courtesy of Richard Tucker.     

It wasn't until late 1975 that the dream team of Timpson and Brian Redhead was first heard, the programme was about to enter its first golden era. Timpson is often referred to as avuncular, "genial, down-to-earth and very English", chortling at the amusing items that still peppered the programme and that he dubbed as a 'ho, ho'. Redhead, on the other hand, coming into the job straight from editing the Manchester Evening News, was seen as (according to a Sunday Times profile in 1987) "brash, cocky aggressively northern, good-natured, argumentative, talkative, honest, hard-working, bouncy, hugely enthusiastic and insatiably curious in how his friends, colleagues and critics see him."    

By the 1980s Today finally developed the hard-hitting reputation for which it is renowned. "If you want to drop a word in the ear of the nation", said Redhead, "then this is the programme to do it". Editor Julian Holland was keen to see the programme written about and noticed. His main aim was "to ensure a succession of serious and high-profile interviewees." Every set-piece interview was expected to create a 'news-line', i.e. "something that would be quoted in forthcoming news bulletins, or the Evening Standard, or the next day's papers".

From the Radio Times 18 November 1978.
Despite just getting the job presenting Today, Libby
had decided to sail off to America later that year.
Though staff announcer Joy Worth had presented the programme for four weeks back in 1959 it wasn't until 1978 that Today finally woke up to the fact that Women's Lib had actually happened and introduced the first regular female presenter, Libby Purves, who'd already been reporting and producing for the programme for a couple of years.

Here is Libby and John Timpson in clips from Today dating from 1979 and 1980.

There were some short-lived structural changes in the mid-70s. To provide a more balanced less London-centric programme the presenting was split between London and Manchester for a "new inter-city style of presentation". It was not particularly well-received but at least it gave Brian Redhead less of a commute from his home in Macclesfield. Not long after John Timpson made a temporary return to television so Nigel Rees anchored the London end with Michael Cooke (Look North and BBC Radio Sheffield) acting as Redhead's deputy in the north. 

Then there was the debacle of Up to the Hour in 1977. Network Controller Ian McIntryre (aka Mac the Knife) was keen to clip of the wings of news and current affairs in favour of more general programming. One of his decisions was the split the programme in two and fill the 25 minute gap up to the hour with a miscellany  of news headlines, sport, weather, paper reviews and Thought for the Day mixed with programme previews plus bits of comedy and music all linked by a staff announcer. Libby Purves remembers how demoralising it was: "We had all this material coming out of our ears, the whole world to report on, stories to tell, and we hungered and thirsted for the Today programme to be a proper Today programme".       

Reacting to the carving up of Today listeners were not happy and expressed their indignation in letters to the Radio Times. "An untidy bundle of mediocrities" was one description of Up to the Hour. "A waste of valuable broadcasting time" wrote another. "Up to the Hour is the scrappiest and worst-conceived 'news' programme it has ever been my misfortune to hear. If I wanted to listen to music I would listen to Radio 2." There was some support to the changes with one listener appreciating the fact "that Brian Redhead and Nigel Rees no longer feel impelled to be facetious". "I so enjoy the new programme Up to the Hour, especially the few minutes of recorded comedy chat. The weather forecast, too, is improved. I'll also add that my husband is upset that you have replaced the pips with Big Ben."

Libby Purves left Today in December 1981 and the role of third anchor was divvied out for a time between Wendy Jones, Hugh Sykes and Chris Lowe before Peter Hobday came over from Newnight in 1983, soon joined by a fourth presenter Sue MacGregor in 1984, initially splitting her time between Today and Woman's Hour.

At this point in the history we should, I suppose, stop for Thought for the Day. This has been the one constant feature on Today since April 1970 (prior to that it was billed as Ten to Eight). Most of the staff "detest" the interruption for "reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news" but it attracts "considerable affection" from listeners. One of the most popular contributors to the 'God slot' was the late Rabbi Lionel Blue. This is probably his final Thought for the Day from 20 June 2012.

By 1986 John Timpson was beginning to feel unhappy with the dominance of political news, he was, apparently, more interested "in explaining facts than challenging opinions" so in December of that year he bowed out. This is his final programme, co-presenting with Brian Redhead on 24 December 1986.

Under Thatcher the political landscape of Britain had changed dramatically and Today had to change with it. Redhead "relished the opportunities all this provided for infuriating ministers and pricking their pomposity". But it was the decision of Jenny Abramksy in 1987 to bring in former foreign correspondent John Humphrys with his "detached cynicism towards politicians" that was a game changer.

In January of this year John Humphrys reflected on the changing nature of political reporting and interviewing in the intervening 30 years.

Jenni Murray was also presenting in 1986 and 1987 and, like Sue MacGregor, also on Woman's Hour before it was decided that Sue would stay with Today and Jenni would be the main presenter on Woman's Hour, where she remains to this day of course. 

Celebrating 30 years of Today in 1987 with cover stars John Humphrys,
Brian Redhead, Sue MacGregor and Peter Hobday
Again looking to television rather than radio Anna Ford, at the time also reading the Six O'Clock News on BBC1,  joined the team in 1993. But not that many months later the programme was thrown off kilter by the news of the death of Brian Redhead. His failing health meant that what was to be his final programme went out on 7 December 1993. The intention was that he'd be back on air after an operation but sadly following complications after surgery he died on 23 January 1994.

The Today programme of 24 January 1994 was a rather subdued affair with news of Brain's death leading the news agenda. Presenting that morning was Peter Hobday and Sue MacGregor with tributes from John Humphries and Margaret Thatcher and heartfelt words from John Timpson.   

With the death of Brian Redhead it was John Humphrys who became the "voice of Today". By February 1994 editor Roger Mosey had drafted in, ahead of an already scheduled move, James Naughtie from The World at One to begin his 21 year tenure. Later Humphrys would describe Naughtie as being "absolutely fascinated by the business of politics, by the House of Commons. For Jim, politics is almost a kind of art form and he appreciates it almost like an artist".  

When Sue MacGregor finally left in 2002 journalist and occasional Today presenter Mark Coles wrote about her presenting style: "To many, Sue's style of interviewing is distinct from that of her fellow male presenters. She admits she often prefers the conversational to the cut and thrust of a full scale gladiatorial on air row. For former Labour leader Neil Kinnock it works. 'She's probably the most graceful of all broadcasters' he says 'very early in the morning to hear gracefulness coming out of the radio is a blessing....she's like a silken pin, sharp but decorous. She's not gentle, no-one should call Sue that. She can be very rough and very insistent - that's her duty, that's her job. But for those being interviewed even uncomfortably interviewed, the knowledge that someone has done their homework, the knowledge that they're not playing a game - not being adversarial just for the sake of it - is a source of comfort even when you walk out of the studio with wounds'".

Here's the last nineteen minutes of Sue's final programme including the inevitable 'best bits'. Audio courtesy of Charlie Cooke.

The programme itself occasionally hit the headlines, usually following some clash with a politician in the prime 8.10 am interview slot after the news. There were complaints of bias from Norman Tebbit, the infamous Nigel Lawson interview with Brian Redhead, Jonathan Aitken saying of Humphrys that he was "poisoning the well of democratic debate", accusations of 'smeary' questions from Brian Mawhinney, battles over who controlled the news agenda with New Labour's spin machine, the sexed-up WMD dossier reports of May 2003 and the uncomfortable interview, Humphrys again, of Director-General George Entwistle as part of the Savile fall-out in 2012.  

Some of these run-ins with politicians are covered in this 2007 BBC Four documentary Today: The Newspaper of the Airwaves. Narrated by Sheena McDonald it includes contributions from Mike Chaney, Reg Turnill (who appeared on the very first edition when he was one of the BBC's industrial correspondents), John Lloyd, Tony Benn, Sue MacGregor, Libby Purves, James Naughtie, John Humphrys, Rod Liddle, Jenny Abramsky, Norman Tebbit, Kenneth Clarke,  Rev Richard Harries, Rabbi Lionel Blue, Anne Atkins, Neil Kinnock, Jonathan Aitken, Michael Heseltine, Lance Price, Andrew Gilligan, Kevin Marsh and Greg Dyke.

The available pool of regular presenters has gradually increased to five with the last significant changes being the appointment of Mishal Husain in 2013 and Nick Robinson in 2015 and with James Naughtie stepping down in December 2015. This is the last hour of Jim's swansong, there's an interview with John Major with the inevitable loss of the line - the interview is picked up again later over the phone - and a tearful sign-off.     

In the last few months Today has again come under scrutiny with the gender pay gap between John Humphrys and his female co-presenters, and indeed between Justin Webb and Nick Robinson. More recently the incoming editor, Sarah Sands, formerly of the Evening Standard and with no broadcasting experience, was an appointment seen by many as tackling a programme that had become stale and complacent. However recent editions on London fashion week -leading to speculation that she had been instructed to give greater prominence to "girls stuff" - live reports by Nick Robinson from Silicon Valley and Puzzle for Today were seen as "lightweight" with one Labour MP accusing her of "destroying" the programme. Former editor Roger Mosey posed the question "whether a flagship like Today is the best place to experiment with magazine items, and particularly whether it’s right for these times".

The political mire that is Brexit, a government with a wafer-thin majority, a Tweet-happy President and a crazed despot keen on blowing us all up means that the presenters of Today always have plenty of big political stories to chew over. But perhaps the biggest change on the horizon is nearer to home, the potential loss of programme lynchpin, John Humphrys. Rumours have been circulating that John  might leave after clocking up 30 years of early rises but he's passed that milestone. Last year he said he wouldn't be there for the next general election, obviously not foreseeing unexpected snap elections.  

To conclude, in typical Today fashion, I should be racing headlong up to the 9 am time signal  without crashing .... pip ... too late!

Reference Material:
All Our Todays by Paul Donovan (Jonathan Cape 1997)
This is Today by Tim Luckhurst (Aurum Press 2001)
Life on Air by David Hendry (OUP 2007)
My Radio Times by Nigel Rees (Ambergate Press 2013)
I should have been at work! by Des Lynam (HarperCollins 2005)
Getting Out Alive by Roger Mosey (Biteback Publishing 2015)
BBC Genome

These are the programme editors since April 1970

Marshall Stewart (1970-74)
Alistair Osborne (1974-76)
Mike Chaney (1976-78)
Ken Goudie (1978-81)
Julian Holland (1981-86)
Jenny Abramsky (1986–87)
Phil Harding (1987–93)
Roger Mosey (1993–97)
Jon Barton (1997-98)
Rod Liddle (1998–2002)
Kevin Marsh (2002–06)
Ceri Thomas (2006-12)
Jamie Angus (2013-17)
Sarah Sands (2017- )

This is a work in progress as quite frankly I ran out of time before publication. I've attempted to list all the presenters of Today, both regular and holiday cover.  Until April 1959 the Radio Times didn't list the presenter. During the 1960s most of the cover presenters for Jack de Manio were staff announcers. The years refer to the dates they are listed as presenting even if this is for just a handful of editions. In some cases that person may have worked as a reporter on the programme during other years.    

Alan Skempton 1957-58
Robin Boyle 1958
Jack de Manio 1958-1972 (Saturday editions only from Aug 1971-Aug 1972)
Joy Worth 1959
Michael Brooke 1959
Wallace Greenslade 1960
Peter Bryant 1961-2
Michael de Morgan 1962
Ronald Fletcher 1962-63
Aidan MacDermott 1963
Brian Johnston 1963/1967-69
Tim Gudgin 1963
Andrew Gemmill 1963
Jim Vowden 1963
Robert Hudson 1964-68
John Timpson 1964-65/67/70-76/78-86
David Brown 1964
Martin Muncaster 1965-68
Corbet Woodall 1967
Liam Nolan 1968-69
John Tidmarsh 1968-69
Robert Williams 1969
Tim Matthews 1969-70
Derek Cooper 1969/77-78
Michael Aspel 1970-74 (Saturdays and Bank Holidays only)
Douglas Cameron 1970-74
Michael Parkinson 1971-72
Joan Bakewell 1971 (Saturdays only)
Robert Robinson 1971-74
Malcolm Billings 1971-72/74-75
Peter Woods 1972
Mary Marquis 1972-73
Desmond Lynam 1973-76
Michael Clayton 1973-74
James Burke 1973-74
Alan Coren 1974
John Anthony 1974 (2 Saturday editions)
Nancy Wise 1974
Barry Norman 1974-76
Alan Watson 1975
Brain Redhead 1975-1993
Gillian Reynolds 1975-76
Paul Barnes 1975-77
Heather Summerfield 1975-76 (2 Bank Holiday editions only)
Michael Cooke 1976-78
Nigel Rees 1976-78
Sylvia Home 1977
Libby Purves 1978-81
John Sergeant 1978/80/95
Margaret Howard 1978-79
Hilary Osborn 1978
Peter Ruff 1978-79
Hugh Sykes 1978-82
Mike Vestey 1978-79
Wendy Jones 1979-83
Mike Wooldridge 1979-80
Paul Burden 1980-81
Peter Mayne 1981-82
Chris Lowe 1982-93
Peter Hobday 1983-96
Graham Leach 1983/93-94
David Byrne 1983
Michael Stewart 1983-85
Bill Frost 1983/86
Alison Leigh 1984
Tudor Lomas 1984-85
Jon Silverman 1984/86/88/90/92
Sue MacGregor 1984-2002
Triona Holden 1985
Jenni Murray 1986-87
John Humphrys 1987-
Susannah Simons 1992
Anna Ford 1993-99
James Naughtie 1994-2015
Edward Stourton 1999-2009
Carolyn Quinn 2004-08
Evan Davis 2007-14
Sarah Montague 2002-
Justin Webb 2009-
Mishal Husain 2013-
Nick Robinson 2015-
Christiane Amanpour 2017 (1 edition guest presenter)

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Two's Company - 50 Years of Radio 2

My first memories of listening to Radio 2 are those Sunday lunchtimes when Family Favourites, Michael Aspel hosting I seem to recall, was on the family Grundig wireless set. Yes, families really did have the radio on during the day and all sat down at the table for a meal, hard to believe I know. It was that and the comedy shows that followed with The Clitheroe Kid being a particular favourite- goodness knows why when I listen back to it now.

By the time I'd become interested in radio in the mid-70s I was fascinated by the way the station started each day: the test tones, then silence, the announcer - Colin Berry on weekdays and Tom Edwards on Saturday - playing the In Tune with You jingle ("the music's all here and waiting to spin, as we start to get ready to brighten your day") and welcoming listeners on 1500 metres long wave, 247 metres medium wave and stereo VHF.

I consumed as much of the station as I could even tuning in to those shows featuring the radio orchestras, I still have a couple of tapes with music arranged and conducted by Alyn Ainsworth for the Radio Orchestra. For years I was obsessed with tracking down a recording of Count Basie's Nice 'n' Easy, the theme for The Late Show, it was only when Amazon came along that I was able obtain the CD and hear the full track.

Little did I think that decades later some of those recordings I made of the station's output could be shared with the world via this blog. I know I can't possibly hope to communicate fifty years of Radio 2 in fifty minutes (actually fifty-two) but this is my audio tribute to mark the station's golden anniversary. It doesn't aim to be a comprehensive, the clips you hear, and most apart from some very early ones are mine, are what I could lay my hands on during three editing sessions earlier this summer. Enjoy this audio soundscape from Paul Hollingdale to Simon Mayo.

You'll hear: Paul Hollingdale, Robin Boyle, Jimmy Young, Michael Parkinson, Billy Cotton, Michael Aspel, Round the Horne, The Navy Lark, Pete Murray, The Dales, Waggoners Walk, Terry Wogan, Brian Matthew, Friday Night is Music Night, Colin Berry, Tom Edwards, Charlie Chester, David Gell, Len Jackson, Alan Dell, Benny Green, David Bellan, Tim Gudgin, John Dunn, Round Midnight, Ray Moore, Desmond Carrington, Gloria Hunniford, Sheila Tracy, Sport on 2 with Peter Brackley, Peter Jones, James Alexander Gordon, Jean Challis, David Hamilton, Wally Whyton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Pop Score (announcer Nick Jackson), The Monday Movie Quiz, The Law Game (announcer Peter Dickson), Hello Cheeky, The Grumbleweeds, The Random Jottings of Hinge and Bracket, The News Huddlines (announcer Richard Clegg), Sing Something Simple (announcer John Marsh), Richard Baker, Alan Keith, Hubert Gregg, Steve Race, Don Maclean, Nigel Ogden, Alan Freeman, Johnnie Walker, Fran Godfrey, Sarah Kennedy, Jeremy Vine, Paul Gambaccini, Russell Davies, Clare Teal, David Jacobs, Steve Wright, Tim Smith, Sounds of the 60s, Alex Lester, Paul Jones, Mike Harding, Bob Harris, Ed Stewart, Jonathan Ross, Andy Davies, Ken Bruce, Stuart Maconie, Mark Radcliffe, Tony Blackburn, Chris Evans, Alan Dedicoat and Simon Mayo.  
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