Friday, 29 April 2016

As heard on radio

This year the Grim Reaper is, it seems, intent on populating his own light entertainment cast. Only last week we lost the supreme writer and comedienne Victoria Wood. Best known, of course, for her TV work I've had a  look at her radio appearances on the BBCGenome website.

Victoria never did have her own radio series and most of her broadcasts are guest appearances  often  singing her comic songs. Her first broadcast, at least on national radio, was a 1977 edition of Comedy Parade featuring Rob Buckman (at the time best known for YTV's Don't Ask Me working alongside Dr Magnus Pyke) and Chris Beetles. She appeared again with Rob Buckman five years later in Get the Most Out of Your Body. She popped up on Start the Week and Midweek and as a panellist on Just a MInute. Her only other panel game was I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue in 2009.

In the mid to late 1980s Victoria was heard reading stories for children on Listening Corner and Cat's Whiskers. She was a castaway on Desert Island Discs in 1987 and again in 2007 and guested on Woman's Hour and Kaleidoscope.  In 2005 she wrote a spoof version of The Archers for Comic Relief.

But the piece of archive I've dug out is one of her appearances on the Radio 2 comedy The Little and Large Party. As far as I know this show hasn't had a repeat since its first broadcast in 1981 so it's a bit of a rarity. It was Little and Large's only radio series and for each of the eight shows Victoria provided a comic song. In this, the first episode of the series, she recalls her school days with the wireless on.

Victoria Wood 1953-2016

Thursday, 28 April 2016

I once made a programme about that for Radio 4

BBC Radio Norfolk boss and regular presenter of Treasure Quest - a mad dash around the county by car in search of clues but without the Anneka Rice jumpsuit - has retired after 35 years at the station. 

David Clayton stood down as Editor last month and presented his final Treasure Quest last Sunday. Whilst not part of the Radio Norfolk launch team in September 1980 he started to guest as a showbiz expert and appeared on Juke Box Jury before being offered a Sunday breakfast slot in 1981. In 1983 he moved to a weekday mid-morning show, The Norfolk Airline, co-presenting with Neil Walker. They won a Sony in 1986 for Best Magazine Programme before graduating to national radio on Radio 4's The Local Network (1987-91).

In The Local Network David and Neil  linked up with "BBC Local Radio stations to investigate issues of common concern around the country" covering everything from tourism and bridge tolls  to puddings and pools winners. Years later there was a long-standing joke at Radio Norfolk that David would often claim "I once made a programme about that for Radio 4", much the way that Uncle Albert would preface his "during the war" anecdotes. 

A Radio Times article introducing the new 1987 series of The Local Network described the duo as the 'Timpson and Redhead' of Radio Norfolk. "Some people define it as chemistry and that's the basis of all good double acts", said David. "But it may have something to do with the fact that we have very little in common and rarely meet off the air."      

Also broadcasting from Norwich David briefly appeared as an in-vision announcer on Anglia TV and read the news on Look East for several years in the mid-80s. He also co-presented, again with Neil Walker, two short series for Radio 4 called Today's the Day (1990-92) that sought to "explore extraordinary days in people's lives".

Returning to Radio Norfolk in 1991 he was first Programme Organiser (what would now be called an Assistant Editor) and then Managing Editor in 1998. Although now management he still couldn't be prised away from the studio and continued to appear on air, usually on Sundays. When Treasure Quest started in 2008 David took over the 'Kenneth Kendall' style role

David had a big on-air send-off last Sunday in Goodbye to all that. The previous week one of those The Local Network shows got an airing. Last heard on Radio 4 in February 1988 it investigated regional differences in comedy. It's still online here.

You can hear another edition of The Local Network that I posted in 2012 here.

My thanks to Paul Hayes, aka The Questmaster, at BBC Radio Norfolk for his help with this post. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

Still Whispering at 70

Bob Harris celebrates his 70th birthday today. Music-loving Bob has always carefully crafted his radio shows and championed the cause of many musicians. This was more than evident in this weekend's Radio 2 show - for some mad reason tucked away at 3 a.m. 

Back in October 1972 Bob was interviewed for the new magazine Deejay and Radio Monthly and recalled how he got his break into radio.

He'd been playing records as part of an experimental evening at the Royal College of Art and four months later was interviewing Radio 1 producer Jeff Griffin for Friends magazine. Jeff "remembered this thing at the Royal College, talked to me about it and asked me to do a pilot show for Radio Three".

"I took the list of records and ran with Jeff through the way I'd presented them - so in fact the pilot I did was based on the programme I'd done at the College. We directed it at Radio Three initially because Jeff thought it might be a little heavy going for Radio One - but in fact they were at the time already running a pop music series, and they never run two simultaneously. So Jeff re-directed it to Radio One - not as a programme idea, but as an illustration of what I could do."

The BBC liked what they heard and Bob was offered holiday relief for John Peel in August and September 1970. This is his first Radio Times billing (via BBC Genome). The following month, following the departure of David Symonds, Bob was offered the Monday night edition of Sounds of the 70s.

Bob, now also presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test, left Radio 1 in 1975. Controller Derek Chinnery "didn't much like the kind of music we features on Sounds of the 70s". In fact the station was having to trim back its broadcasting hours as part of a round of yet another financial belt-tightening. After that Bob recorded some shows for Radio Luxembourg but wasn't regualarly back on air until 1978 when he joined Radio 210.

Keen to return to the Corporation Bob accepted a drive time job with Radio Oxford in 1981. By the mid-80s he was also appearing on LBC, Radio West and Radio Broadland, BFBS and The Super Station. In 1989 he was finally back at Radio 1 when executive producer Stuart Grundy invited him to sit in for Richard Skinner; he gained a regular Sunday night show the following January following the death of Roger Scott.  

Later in 1990 Bob's finally secured a daily show kicking off at midnight, following Nicky's Campbell's Into the Night.  Three years later, following a "repositioning" of the network, he was back out the door. Here is a large chunk of that final Radio 1 show from the early hours of Friday 22 October 1993. And if you don't already know Bob's final record you'd never guess it.

Part 1

Part 2

Bob secured more work with BFBS as well as regular shows on GLR. It was Jim Moir who invited Bob back to national radio with a Saturday night show on Radio 2 starting in 1997. He's been there ever since, adding Bob Harris Country in 1999.

Happy Birthday Whispering Bob.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Sound Digital

In March radio station launches were like buses, nothing for months and then a handful came along all at once. These new stations were part of the Sound Digital DAB multiplex, a joint venture company owned by The Wireless Group, Bauer and Arqiva.

The new offerings from Bauer were brand extensions of Magic: Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled. First out of the blocks on 14 March was Mellow Magic, "carefully programmed to provide a relaxed and laid back station" aimed at the 50 to 64 age group. Existing Magic DJs Paul Hayes, Gary Vincent and Martin Collins are joined by the station-hopping Lynn Parsons, Forth 1's Arlene Stuart and actors Patsy Kensit and John Hannah. The station also offers the chance to hear former BBC staffers Fran Godfrey and Alice Arnold. Indeed it was a welcome opportunity to hear Fran, one of Radio 2's best, and much missed, newsreaders reading the news again on the weekday breakfast show - the only live show.   

On the face of it there's little here that listeners can't get from Magic, the City 2 network or Smooth. The licence application suggests that the evening programmes may see a return of Saga Radio-type shows but, based on my admittedly brief review of one night's listening it was more of the same classic pop with a Billie Holiday track thrown in for good measure.

I'm not sure how much Bauer invest in their websites, very little it seems. Essentially both Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled offer one page without a full schedule, what happens overnight remains a mystery. Mellow only highlights nine musical artists: Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Dusty, Elton, Billie Holiday, Michael Buble, Simon and Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand and Rod Stewart. Neither website suggests anything they've actually played.

Magic Chilled - one of the stations on DAB+ as well as online - promises "a contemporary music escape with a playlist featuring fresh laidback hits". Although it lists an all female presenter line-up - Jade Ewen, Sarah Champion, Pips Taylor, Eloise Carr and Louise Molony - the links are all pre-recorded and kept to a minimum, every 3 or 4 records. So laid back was Chilled that it didn't really launch on 21 March as such; the test transmissions segued seamlessly into a breakfast sequence and then Jade Ewen's links from 10 am.  

Launched with far more sense of occasion, and offering something new, certainly for commercial radio, were The Wireless Group's talkSPORT2 and talkRADIO. Going to air on 15 March, just in time for the Cheltenham Festival, was talkSPORT's sister station with sports coverage that wasn't just football-focused: racing, cricket (there's been extensive coverage of the World Twenty20), rugby, tennis, golf and athletics, so offering some alternative to 5 Live Extra. In this montage there's actor Lewis MacLeod (Dead Ringers and  Wired News) declaiming "the prodigal son is ready". There's also talkSPORT2's Managing Editor Mike Bovill and the opening introduction from Ian Danter. 

talkSPORT2 benefited from cross-promotion from talkSPORT, the two stations share some programming anyway as there's not quite enough other sports to satisfy a full-time extra station.

The talk radio format very much remains a minority one in the UK so perhaps most keenly anticipated of the new stations was the launch of talkRADIO (I'm carefully typing those lower and upper case characters!). Less news agenda driven than 5 Live or LBC - though this was tested on day two with the bombings in Brussels - it benefits from an experienced and lively line-up: Paul Ross (the only one from the original Talk Radio UK), Julia Hartley-Brewer, Jon Holmes, Sam Delaney, Jonny Gould and Iain Lee on weekdays. talkRADIO posted this video of the station launch.

Unfortunately, at least for those of us listening online, the sound quality on day one was appalling; it had marginally improved the following day.

David Lloyd did a quick editing job to put this montage together.  

Judging by the listener reaction online there was much love in particular, and quite rightly so, for Jon Holmes and Iain Lee. Both started by knocking their former employers and their radio opposition - Holmes had only appeared on Radio X the day before whilst Lee had, of course, been dropped by 3CR last year - but they were asked to rein this in on day two, mind you both mentioned this management talking-too on air.

The only other observation is the lack of callers; the weekday shows, apart from Iain's, appear to be in single figures over a 3 or 4 hour show. Is the 0844 number putting people off (they do call back) or is it a production decision?

There was an exemplary lead-in to the launch (is that re-launch?) of Virgin Radio which went live on 30 March: "a broadcast legend returns". Online they had a fully operational website before the D-Day with presenter Q&As, press releases, schedules and playlists all supported by Twitter and Facebook. They then pushed the boat out, in fact pushed the train out - the Virgin Radio Star travelling from Manchester to London -  as part of a launch day hoopla, all produced by TBI Media. This provided great publicity but I'm not sure it contributes much to the listening experience, "it's moving" we were excitedly told. Let's hope they continue to support new talent such as Gavin James who provided the live opening track, his take on Bowie's Changes.

Here are those opening moments:

Virgin's Programme Director Liam Thompson spoke about the station's audience: "We feel that there is an opportunity amongst those who feel too old for BBC Radio 1, but not old enough for BBC Radio 2. Our audience will be music-lovers who want to hear great new music, as well as the classics".

Whilst there are elements of its previous incarnation in the new station , unlike its Virgin 1215 predecessor - predominantly aimed at the male guitar rock lover - Virgin offers "classic and contemporary pop and rock hits" for a 25-44 year old audience. It remains to be seen how it will fare against the Absolute stations that took over from Virgin in 2008.  

From the evidence of day one Virgin Radio, like its new Wireless Group stable mates, suffered from some technical issues, and that's not just the expected drop-outs during the train journey. It's almost as if they're trying to recreate the same reception conditions of the old AM service. I've read of audio quality complaints about both DAB and online steaming. Hopefully these will be fully addressed quickly before people switch elsewhere. Having said that it seemed fine to me over here in France via Radioplayer.

I should also name check the other new station to launch on D2, Premier Praise, the Christian music station that went to air on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately due to a combination of the shift to summertime and a late night I missed the station switch-on, though I did catch part of Steve Fanstone's show during the day.

And finally the other station launch that was part of the Sound Digital package was British Muslim Radio, now rebranded as Awesome Radio. Whilst an audio stream has been up and running since 29 February the website offers no clues as schedule or presenters and its only tweeted six times and has just 36 Facebook followers. Listeners are invited to submit their CVs to become part of the Awesome team. 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Take a Place Like Goole

For almost ten years my adopted hometown was Goole. At the time, roughly the mid-1980s to the mid-90s, I was both living and working there; my short, five minute, pedestrian commute from Broadway to the town centre offices of Boothferry Borough Council. Boothferry was still part of the much-maligned Humberside, both of which disappeared from the local government map exactly 20 years ago today. In this linked post - see also my Random Gubbins blog - I invite you to take an audio tour round the town. 

Goole's history is inextricably linked to the waterways that surround the town, though surely the term 'Venice of the North' should be taken with a large dose of salt. And speaking of salt those twin water towers in the photo above are nicknamed the Salt and Pepper Pots. There was a small fishing and agricultural settlement, in what is now known as Old Goole from the 14th century. In the 1600s the surrounding marshlands were drained by Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden, the Dutch being dab hands at drains and dykes. In 1826 the Aire and Calder Navigation Company opened the docks and canal basin to the north of the Dutch River, triggering an expansion of the town.  

In this programme from the BBC Radio 4 series Take a Place Like, Stanley Ellis, John Grundy and Dr Juliet Barker have poke around the town taking in the Lowther Hotel, Hilda's Fancy Dress in The Arcade, the port itself and Goole Hall. Take a Place Like Goole was broadcast on 7 August 1988 and repeated the following day, from which this off-air recording comes. Apologies for the interference in the opening minutes. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

What the Papers Say

One of the last vestiges of 1950s commercial television disappears this Sunday as What the Papers Say, residing on Radio 4 for the last six years, publishes its last edition.

For 52 years the Granada TV produced review of the week's press ran on ITV (1956-1982), Channel 4 (1982-89) and finally BBC2 (1990-2008). In March 2010 it was brought back from the dead for a special election run on Radio 4 as What the Election Papers Say, reverting to its original title from 16 May 2010.

On its move to the BBC in 1990 there was a fascinating look at the programme's past linked by the then producer Brian Armstrong. Thanks to Transdiffusion for this upload.

From my own archive comes this edition from 26 May 1990 with Mark Lawson of The Independent. The readers are Delia Corrie, David Mahlowe and Peter Wheeler.   

And here is that final radio edition of What the Papers Say, written and presented by Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror. The readers are  Colleen Prendergast, Graham Seed, Steve Critchelow and Rachel Atkins.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Radio Lives - Cliff Michelmore

Throughout the 1960s he was the unflappable safe pair of hands, equally adept at anchoring election coverage, moon landings, current affairs and global broadcasts. At the start of the decade he was the avuncular host who came into people's homes every evening on Tonight ("the next Tonight will be tomorrow night, until then good night") and ended it advising on the latest package deals in sunny Spain on Holiday 69.

Arthur Clifford Michelmore was born in Cowes on the Isle of Wight on 11 December 1919. On leaving school he trained as an RAF engineer in Loughborough. During the war he became a squadron leader and afterwards in 1947 began broadcasting as a sports commentator with the British Forces Network, then based in Hamburg. A year later he became the BFN's Head of Outside Broadcasts and Variety and a year later the Deputy Station Director. As I related in my post on Family Favourites, Cliff was called in to present the German end of the programme at short notice where he was partnered in London by Jean Metcalfe. By 1950 they had married and would become broadcasting's golden couple. Such was the media interest in Cliff and Jean that when their son Guy was born in 1957 Rory McEwen composed this topical calypso for Tonight:

Cliff Michelmore's in a lather
He's suddenly found out he's a father.
A brand new Michelmore's on tonight,
Shoving his father out of the light
He weighs 6 pounds
A bouncing lad,
Which is 16 stone lighter than his dad.

The Daily Herald reported that Woman's Hour had rung Cliff to say: "It's no good, old man. Woman all over the country are badgering us to broadcast a few burps from your offspring. Can we send a microphone along?" Poor Jean found her stay in hospital shattered by photographer's bulbs flashing and the reporter from Woman's Hour immortalising baby Guy's first gurglings on tape.

When Cliff left the BFN and returned to the UK it was as a freelance working for the BBC. On the television service he was both  behind the camera producing shows such as the children's magazine All Your Own, presented by Huw Wheldon, Playbox and Johnny Morris's The Horse Chestnut Man as well in front of them on the children's shows TelescopeWestward Ho! and Junior Sportsview. For BBC radio he was introducing music shows such as Top Score  and Housewives' Choice as well as providing sports commentaries. Indeed looking through the BBC Genome website throughout most of the 1950s and 1960s there's hardly a week where Cliff's name doesn't appear on either TV or radio either presenting, commentating or producing.

Cliff's break into mainstream TV came about following the arrival of ITV in 1955. The BBC decided to schedule a 20 minute Newsreel, news summary and weather forecast from 7 pm. leaving a 10-minute gap before the evening's entertainment kicked off at 7.30 pm. Producer Donald Baverstock jumped at the chance to fill the void and thus Highlight was born. Billed as "people, events, comments of today" in effect the formula was three short interviews, carefully balanced: "a hard interview at the start, a human interest story in the middle, and a pretty girl at the end". Woman's lib had not reached Lime Grove in the mid-50s.

Initially the presentation duties alternated between Macdonald Hastings and Geoffrey Johnson Smith. When Mac gave it up Cliff was drawn in, apparently following an introduction to Donald Baverstock in one of the pubs near the Lime Grove studios.

Cliff was worth his salt and readily adapted to this live evening broadcast. On one occasion, not long after he joined Highlight, the contents of an edition were the financial journalist Edward Westrop talking about the state of the economy, an interview over the circuit to Cardiff with  Welsh author Gwyn Thomas about a new production of Under Milk Wood and rounding off with a talk to a young Scot who'd just won the World Ham Slicing Championship. The journalist's train broke down at Notting Hill Gate so he was a no-show, the line between Lime Grove and Cardiff went down and so Cliff was left with having to fill the time discussing the finer points of ham slicing. His only consolation was that he went home with copious amounts of ham! 

Working on Highlight Cliff also learnt a valuable lesson that stood him in good stead for the remainder of his career. It came about when he was lined-up to interview Krishna Menon, a Minister in the Indian Government, who was in London to have talks with Harold MacMillan and had also caused ructions at the UN over their stance on Formosa (as Taiwan was then known). Each of Cliff's question was met with somewhat enigmatic rebuke "That question is not cast in the mould of my thinking." Years later Cliff would reflect: "You cannot go into any interview over prepared. Under prepared yes, but never over prepared".

By 1956 Cliff was not only working on Highlight but was still covering sporting matters on Today's Sport and Sports Round-Up was well as covering current affairs on Panorama. It was also about this time he acquired a new nickname. The story goes that he'd missed his train from Victoria Station and had retired to the Golden Arrow bar for a quick drink. He felt a tug at the bottom of his jacket, gazing up at him was a small girl. "Excuse me", she said. "Are you Clifflemore?" Answering yes she ran off and returned a minute later. "Clifflemore, this is my brother." He was carrying a bag of sweets and said, "Have a phweet, Clifflemore."

At the end of the year the Postmaster General, Lord de la Warr, extended the hours available to television (following pressure from the commercial channels rather than the Corporation) by opening up the closed hour between 6 and 7pm, the so-called Toddlers Truce. Donald Baverstock proposed that the Highlight team, with Cliff as presenter, bridge the gap with a nightly show called Man Alive. By February 1957 that title had been dropped in favour of Tonight. The programme was to be "very informal and relaxed in manner, the tempo brisk and competent." Crucially the use of filmed reports was to be an important element, a decision which led to the launching of the TV careers of Alan Whicker, Trevor Philpott and Fyffe Robertson. All this was promised on a very low budget of between £200 and £300 per day. Plus, as Lime Gove was unable to accommodate the expanded show, a temporary home was found in the old Marconi Studios in St Mary Abbott's Place in Kensington - a studio that had recently been vacated by ATV.     

Cliff introduced the first edition of Tonight on Monday 18 February 1957. It had a specially composed sig tune, Tonight and Very Night, written by Felix de Wolfe. The packed running order included the draw for the FA Cup, a press review by John Metcalf, Cy Grant with a topical calypso penned by Bernard Levin of all people, actor Derek Bond telling the story of 'Bulbous Betty' the statue of Aphrodite that was offending people in Richmond Park, Derek Hart interviewing the great Ed Murrow and (intriguingly) Jonathan Miller giving his impressions of shops in Charing Cross Road.

Appearing for the best part of an hour each night Cliff would become a household name, a kind of TV everyman. The Evening Standard likened him to being "the John Bull of the Small Screen" It went on to say "this avuncular pink-faced middle-brow with middle-class accent, occasional squeak in the voice and mid-as-cocoa manner has a very warm place in the hearts of millions of Britons". Behind the scenes he was well-liked by colleagues but apparently "he was not easy to get on with; he could be prickly and he did have bursts of temper, but these never lasted long."

Tonight ended its run in June 1965 but Cliff was soon back as main presenter of BBC1's new current affairs programme, Twenty-Four Hours, broadcast on weeknights at 10.30 pm - so in some ways a forerunner to Newsnight. He was cutting back on  his radio work, reports for the West region and football commentaries for the Light Programme, but was still much in evidence on the telly: "One way or another I got caught up in the Cuban missile crisis, General Elections, Olympic Games, early space shots, Royal Investitures, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Concorde's maiden flights, the Apollo Moon programme."

Cliff was chosen to anchor the programme with the biggest worldwide audience (at the time), the Our World satellite link-up of 25 June 1967 that pulled in at least 400 million viewers, some estimates say 700 million.  

In July 1968 Cliff left Twenty-Four Hours (the programme continued with Kenneth Allsop and Michael Barrett and later David Dimbleby by which time its title had slimmed down to 24 Hours). Ostensibly he left to "settle for a more predictable lifestyle" which would allow more time with the family. In fact he was also planning to move into industry and set up a corporate video programme production, as a subsidiary of EMI, with Gordon Reece. However, a return to TV was not far away.   
The edition of the Radio Times that ushered in 1969 was packed with the usual holiday ads: JetSet holidays offering 15 days in Majorca for £35.10.0, Hoverlloyd with Ramsgate to Calais in 40 minutes for £10 plus a new weekly column from travel writer John Carter. Meanwhile the centre colour pages showed the Michelmore family on holiday, in Scotland and on the Isle of Wight, though they had plans to visit Canada. All this was to promote the new BBC1 series Holiday 69, designed to "take the worry out of your holiday planning". The first edition covered the increasingly popular package holidays, week two looked at holiday camps. For the next seventeen years Cliff was the trusted programme host, offering viewers a mix of exotic, and not so exotic, travelogues plus a dose of consumer advice. Here, in 1994, he returned to the programme when it celebrated its 25th anniversary. The presenter at the time was Jill Dando.

After Twenty-Four Hours Cliff didn't leave current affairs entirely. In 1980 and 1981 he was one of the presenters of Southern TV's regional news show Day by Day. It wasn't an entirely happy period as the commute to the studio's in Southampton proved exhausting.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Cliff returned to radio. In 1982 and 1983 he sat in for both Jimmy Young and Ed Stewart on their Radio 2 shows. The latter now included a Family Favourites feature so it was full circle. There was Waterlines (1984-92), a sort of aquatic Going Places, on Radio 4 (later transferring to Radio 5) and Coastline (1991-92) also on Radio 4. He took over as chair from David Hamilton of Radio 2's nostalgia based quiz Some of These Days (1986-91). His last regular series was again mining a nostalgia seam in A Year to Remember.

Since Jean Metcalfe's death in 2000, Cliff's media appearances were infrequent. He was last seen on TV on BBC Parliament's 2007 theme night The Pound in Your Pocket and in 2009 he was reading listener's news on iPM.

In 1984 Cliff suffered a suspected heart attack which caused him to take stock of his life. In the joint autobiography Two-Way Story he imagined what his obituaries might read like: "They might say I had been extremely fortunate to have achieved a measure of success in broadcasting in spite of lacking the intellectual powers and education of some of my contemporaries and the physical attributes of others. Hopefully they would add that I was greatly blessed by the love of a wife and family who, with good humour and tolerance, overlooked, and even ignored, the deficiencies in my character."

Cliff Michelmore 1919-2016
"The next Tonight will be tomorrow night, until then good night."

Quotes taken from:
Two-Way Story by Cliff Michelmore and Jean Metcalfe (Futura, 1986)
Tonight: A Short History by Deirdre Macdonald (BFI Dossier 15, 1982)
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