Sunday, 4 December 2016

Radio Lives - Andrew Sachs

Tributes following the death last month of actor Andrew Sachs understandably lauded his masterful comic portrayal of the dim-witted Manuel. Surely there's no-one who can't verbatim quote lines from Fawlty Towers.

Although Andrew had a considerably lengthy television career spanning just over fifty years there was an even greater body of work on the stage and on radio. In this post I review his radio career.

Andrew's first professional acting engagement was in 1947 in a repertory theatre production at Bexhill-on-Sea of Ronald Millar's Frieda.  For most of the 1950s he was in rep and then in the West End in a number of  Whitehall farces (he appeared in a number of BBC televised Brian Rix farces 1958-62 and 1967-69).  Andrew also joined the BBC Drama Repertory Company, his audition report reading: " Very much like the voice, remarkable range as accents, direction, good voice control, very versatile, nice to see such a range, vitality, would be useful to have but his real resting place is with variety and features."   Initially he was cast in a number of minor roles in dozens of plays and Saturday Night Theatre productions as well as the 1957 radiophonic soundscape Private Dreams and Public Nightmares where Andrew played one of the ethereal voices alongside Frederick Treves and Joan Sanderson (decades later making a guest appearance as the hard-of-hearing Mrs Richards in an episode of Fawlty Towers).   

Private Dreams and Public Nightmares was first heard on the BBC Third Programme on 7 October 1957. 



German-born Sachs was an obvious choice to act out some of the scenes in the Network Three adult learning series Talking German and Improve Your German (1959-63). Occasionally he broadcast for the BBC's German Service. Meanwhile he continued to make almost weekly appearances for the BBC Drama Repertory Company in plays and serials on the Home, Light and Third, more often than not some way down the billing, though he did co-star with John Baddeley in the Afternoon Theatre comedy Slightly Off Key and with Barbara Leigh-Hunt in My Dearest Angel. He also appeared in, and for a while directed, episodes of the daily serial The Dales.

In 1962 Andrew started to write for radio. His first broadcast piece was One Man and his Dog, heard on the BBC Home Service. In 1964 he followed that with the black comedy Till Death Do Us Join in which Lance Percival's character Mr Ernest Wire is intent of bumping off his wife. Other productions that some year were Fearful Adversaries about a 'down-at-heel Soho busker' played by Sachs himself and Flat to Let for Midweek Theatre. The following year he co-wrote with Jill Hyem a daily serial broadcast over a month called Dear Girls about a group "who come to London to find their fortune but had to share a house in Belsize Park." The cast of Dear Girls included Melody Lang, who Andrew had married in 1960. Dear Girls was the forerunner to Waggoner's Walk as four years later Jill Hyem, now writing with Alan Downer, continued with the idea of a group characters in a bedsit in Belsize Park in the Saturday Night-Theatre play The Ropewalk, this in turn became the long-running Radio 2 daily serial.  Andrew himself appeared in a number of editions of Waggoner's Walk.

Other plays written by Andrew include Afternoon Theatre productions Pie and Pea Supper (1966),   Decline and Fall of the Empire (1969), Made in Heaven with Timothy West and future Fawlty Towers co-star Prunella Scales (1971), Home from Home starring Martin Jarvis (1972) and Cash Me a Portrait (1972). For Midweek Theatre there was Philately Will Get You Nowhere (1971) which has had a number of repeats. In 1985 he wrote The Art Lovers trilogy.

But perhaps Andrew's best-known original work is The Revenge, to date radio's only play without words. Recorded on location in binaural stereo it's a thriller telling the story of a man on the run. First heard on BBC Radio 3 on 1 June 1978 it gained a swift repeat a month later, twice in the same evening.

The original broadcast was preceded by a discussion with producer Glyn Dearman, head of drama Ronald Mason and Andrew Sachs. In this version you'll also hear Andrew talking to Peter Reed about the play taken from the Radio 7/4 Extra programme I Did It MyWay



Andrew was appearing on stage in No Sex Please, We're British in early 1975 when John Cleese and BBC producer John Howard Davies came to see a performance. Impressed by what they saw they offered him the part of Manuel in the sitcom that Cleese and Connie Booth were in the middle of writing. No doubt they recognised how well Andrew played farce, an element that would feature throughout Fawlty Towers. The rest, as they say, is history.

Andrew's non-Fawlty Towers RT cover for BBC1's
The History of Mr Polly (March 1980)
During the 1970s and 80s Andrew continued to work regularly on radio. He was a superb narrator and reader, what he termed "sitting down acting", cropping up on A Book at Bedtime, Story Time, Poetry Please! and Time for Verse. Now a star name he was a panellist on The Law Game, The Name's the Game, Give Us a Conch and others and was in the comedy shows Delve Special, Sloe Coaches, Week Ending, Going for Broke and Little Blighty on the Down. In 1987 he was also back helping listeners to learn a new language, this time Spanish in When in Spain, working on the premise that Manuel would step in and prompt Andrew on what to say.  

In this the first episode of Sloe Coaches Andrew Sachs plays the part of Gerhardt "a former Luftwaffe pilot who crash-landed his Heinkel and has been trying to repair it ever since". In the starring role is Roy Kinnear playing the scheming boss of a ramshackle Sussex coach company. Gerhardt is one of his drivers. The Radio 2 series was written by Charlie Adams and John  Lea. There was only one series of Sloe Coaches. It's not hard to see why.



Following in the footsteps of Alec Guinness and Kenneth More, Andrew took on the role of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown in a couple of series heard on Radio 4 between 1984 and 1986. On playing Father Brown he told the Radio Times "I've always thought of him as essentially English and I never think of myself as a very English actor, nor indeed a very English person. But he's a lovely man to play and, on radio, the stories stand on the style of the writing. The adapter, John Scotney, has caught Chesterton's style beautifully -and that's not easy when you have only dialogue to rely on."

Radio Times illustration by Robin Jacques for the radio adaptations
of the Father Brown Stories
This is the first story from the second series of the Father Brown Stories titled The Perishing of the Pendragons.



In the early nineties Andrew would become a familiar voice to a whole new younger generation reading the daily stories in Wiggly Park on Radio 5. Here's an example of his story-telling.



Andrew was also cast in another Radio 5 children's serial The Adventures of Tintin as Snowy but by now the majority of his radio work was as a reader on Poetry Please! and With Great Pleasure. There was also a reading of the French comic masterpiece Clochemerle and a role in the '"rock 'n' roll sitcom" Love 40 - New Balls Please, both on Radio 2. Over on Radio 4 he was in the comedy series Man of Soup (1999) and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (2007). His last starring role on radio was as Dr John Watson opposite Clive Merriman's Holmes in The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2002-04 & 2010).

In 2002 Andrew was featured on the Radio 4 series That Reminds Me in which actors and comedians reminisced about their life and career in front of a live audience.



Andrew (Andreas Siegfried) Sachs 1930-2016 "¿QuĂ©?"

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Billy May's Big Fat Brass


Billy May - he of the Big Fat Brass - was born 100 years ago this month.  Best known for his work with Frank Sinatra and his theme for the Naked City tv series, Billy was one of the elite of American arrangers and composers in the big band idiom.   

My copy of George Simon's The Big Bands provides this potted biography:
Billy May never had a band until well after the Big Band Era had gone. But the happy-sounding, highly danceable and almost always swinging outfit, which this former Charlie Barnett and Glen Miller arranger headed, became one of the few remaining joys for those of us who in the fifties were looking for good, new, big band sounds. May, a huge man with a dry wit that was reflected in much of what he wrote, featured slyly slurping saxes, voiced in thirds, which gave his music its distinctive style. Later he wrote mainly for others (made some great side with Sinatra), was musical director of many TV shows and of Time-Life's Swing Era recreation series.

I was first introduced to Billy May through listening to Alan Dell's Big Band Sounds shows.  So who better to interview Billy than Alan when he was visiting the UK in early 1991. The Radio Times billing for this programme reads: "During his recent visit to London, Billy May spoke to Alan Dell about his career. He recalls his early days as a trumpet player and arranger with the top American bands of the 40s, and his musical arrangements, that provided definitive settings of America's most popular songs, for Frank Sinatra".

This is an edited version of that interview that was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 1 April 1991.



Eight years earlier Billy May had again been on a visit to the UK, this time to conduct the BBC Radio Orchestra in a concert from the Royal Festival Hall. Alan Dell compered the show that featured some fine musicians such as Kenny Baker, Danny Moss, Henry MacKenzie, Roy Williams and Barry Forgie. The guest singer was Tony Christie. This live concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 2 April 1983. 



Billy May died in January 2004 but his music lives on. In this centenary year he was remembered in last Sunday's Clare Teal show on Radio 2.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Radio Lives - Jimmy Young

From The Man from Laramie and "What's the recipe today, Jim?" to the Grand Inquisitor of the Great and the Good and the consumer's champion. Jimmy Young's sixty year career moved from 50s crooner to one of the UK's best-known broadcasters. Surprisingly JY was offered a prime mid-morning slot amongst all the bright young things and homecoming former pirates when Radio 1 was launched in 1967. Soon becoming the housewives favourite,  his show was a jolly mix of records and chat but is perhaps best remembered for those daily recipes, "Let's Hear about Home Cooking" jingle and the voice of Raymondo.  All those elements transferred to Radio 2 in 1973 but the show gradually morphed into a mix of current affairs and consumer advice interspersed with music.  How did all this happen? Well first it's back to the beginning. "'Orft we jolly well go..."

Leslie Ronald Young was born on 21 September 1921 in Cinderford in Gloucestershire's Forest of Dean where his father, an ex-miner, and his uncle ran a successful bakers and confectioners business.  He never lost that Gloucestershire accent. He later admitted: "It's a nice soft burr that sounds warm and friendly. It's easy on the ear, and I have no doubt it's been an enormous asset for me in my broadcasting career".

"Our Jim" - for some reason his family never called him Leslie - was mad about music and he dreamed of a musical career. Both parents sang in choirs and his mother also taught piano and organ.  However, Jim's ambitions had to be put on hold as he was helping his father mixing the dough and driving the delivery van. When war was declared in 1939 he joined the RAF, though he was never pilot material. Eventually he saw service in India and Pakistan and managed to get his first taste of showbusiness taking part in the concert parties - presumably something not too dissimilar from It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

After the war Jimmy married his first wife Wendy Wilkinson - though the marriage was short-lived - and was employed firstly managing his brother-in-law's hairdressing salon and then as a civil servant at the Ministry of Education.  Still pursuing his musical ambitions, in 1948 he passed a BBC audition though the verdict was tempered with "it now remains to be seen whether you can be used in broadcasts". He wasn't, at least not for another year.

1949 proved more eventful. First Jimmy received a phone call from pianist Bill Williams asking him to stand in for him, leading to regular gigs at the Nordic Club. Secondly, performing at the nightclub he was spotted by BBC producer George Inns - later of The Black and White Minstrel Show fame - who recommended him to the Variety Department. Jimmy's first radio broadcast was on 9 August singing with the Ronnie Pleydell Orchestra. Further broadcasts  followed in Stars of Tomorrow and Look Who's Here and with Ray Martin and his Orchestra. He returned with Ronnie Pleydell in 1950 in Moonlight Reverie.  It was whilst appearing with Ray Martin that Jimmy met female vocalist Sally Douglas; she would become his second wife in a marriage lasting just six years. He met his third wife, Alicia Padstow, in the early 70s when she was working as a secretary at Broadcasting House. Together for many years they eventually married in 1996. 

On the recording front Jimmy was signed to Alan Freeman's Polygon label (that's the record producer not 'Fluff') alongside Ray Martin and Petula Clark. He cut his first disc Too Young - it was almost as if it'd been written for him. In the era of multiple recordings of the same song his performance was up against Nat King Cole and Steve Conway but there were no record charts in 1951 to show who was on top, though the sheet music hit number one.

Back at the BBC Jimmy continued to appear in the early 50s as the guest singer on many radio shows on both the Light Programme and Home Service. The list is long but includes Variety Bandbox, Variety Matinee, Workers' Playtime, The Memory Lingers On, A Midday Date, Enchanted Rhythm, Treble Chance, The Song Shop, The Show Band Show and Take It Easy. He also a DJ on Flat Spin (1953), appeared on BBC TV in How Do You View? and Off the Record and got main billing on the Light Programme's The Jimmy Young Show (1954).

Away from the radio Jimmy was continuing to appear in cabaret and on theatre tours and eventually left Polygon and signed with Decca. In 1955 he hit pay dirt with two records that made it to the top of the Hit Parade: Unchained Melody and The Man from Laramie. This time his version of Unchained Melody was definitely the best-selling; the version by Al Hibbler reached number 2 and Les Baxter's peaked at number 10.  Al Martino's rendition of The Man from Laramie made it to number 19. The NME's top-selling artists of 1955 listed Ruby Murray at number one with our Jim coming in second.

Those hit records led to Jimmy's first booking on Housewives' Choice in October 1955 - aside from established broadcasters this was a contract often offered to popular singers and actors who could cut it behind the microphone. 


In the second half of the 1950s Jimmy's radio appearances were less frequent but now he was at least getting top billing in The Song's the Thing and The Night is Young which enjoyed a short TV series and then a longer Light Programme run. 

Jimmy always credits his big break into radio as a presenter rather than mainly host and singer to a June 1960 re-booking on Housewive's Choice. "Before I'd even finished the first week my phone began to ring with offers of work".

Within a couple of months Jimmy was appearing on EMI sponsored show for Radio Luxembourg. He continued to work for the station until early 1968, programmes included The Night is Young (there's that title again), The Jimmy Young Hour, Record Romance and Like Young. Many of those EMI shows were produced by Harry Walters and then Ken Evans, both of whom would later produce The JY Prog on Radio 2.

Meanwhile Jimmy was very busy at the BBC with a ton of radio work including Time for Old Time (1960-61), Twelve O'Clock Spin (1960-63), Records Around Five (1961), Stringalong (1961), Younger than Springtime (1961-62), Teenager's Turn (1961), and, appearing with the Johnny Pearson Orchestra on Once in a While (1962-63) and In a Sentimental Mood (1963). On BBC TV he popped up on Juke Box Jury and in 1963 hosted the new talent show The 625 Show (it went out at 6.25 pm on Tuesday evenings). Over on ITV Jimmy appeared on Spin-a-Disc feature that was part of ABC's Saturday night music show Thank Your Lucky Stars (1961-64). 

Here's an extract from JY's Light Programme work introducing music from Johnny Pearson and singing the occasional song on In a Sentimental Mood. (With thanks to Peter Preston) 



Starting in December 1963 and running through to April 1964 was Jimmy's first unscripted radio work on Saturday Special. This Saturday afternoon mix of music, features (including Barry Bucknall's DIY tips) and live sports coverage was described by the Radio Times thus: "His job is to line up offbeat facts and fancies of the weekend from our regional correspondents, keep his ears glued to the line between us and BBC Sportsroom and cue the music of the Northern variety Orchestra and vocal stars on record".


Jimmy's next major radio project was Through Till Two (1964-65). This was a late night show occupying the four  hours either side of midnight, the first couple of hours in the company of Jimmy and the second with Steve Race. When Steve suffered a heart attack Jimmy looked after the full programme. Through Till Two was an interactive record request show. Unbelievably they had up to sixty operators answering calls who then typed up listeners' requests onto slips of paper that were passed through to the producer Geoffrey Hayden. Once he'd selected the next track from the requests someone would run into the nearby record library and pull out the disc for playing into the show.  Jimmy recalls that TTT was "an enormous success. In fact we achieved the highest-ever listening figures for a late-night radio programme."  

For the remainder of the Light Programme's life Jimmy was also presenting a 10 a.m. music show once a week (1965-67) introducing various musical acts and singing the odd song himself. In 1966 he joined the roster of DJs on Midday Spin (1966-67).

There's that famous 1967 photo of the Radio 1 DJs sitting on the steps of the steps of All Soul's Church. And who's the oldest of that swinging groovy group? Well apart from controller Robin Scott it's our Jim. On the launch schedule he was offered a plum mid-morning role each weekday in which he "plays discs, greets guests, sings songs, phones people."  Scott secured Jimmy for the slot as he wanted a safe pair of hands that would bring in an audience. Going out between 10 a.m. and noon, with the first hour simulcast on Radio 2, it was, by 1969, bringing in an audience of 5.75 million, outstripping all other weekday programmes including Tony Blackburn's breakfast show on 4.45 million.

The best remembered feature of those early Radio 1 years is the daily  recipe, the idea of JY's formidable producer and show editor Doreen Davies. The recipes were sent in by listeners and any selected had to meet the criteria that they used readily available ingredients and were easy to prepare. Doreen would road test the broadcast recipes at home, presumably trying them out on her husband, fellow producer Derek Chinnery.  In time the feature was introduced by the speeded up voice of producer Ray Harvey, as a character known as Raymondo, asking "What's the recipe today, Jim?" It also spawned four Jimmy Young cookbooks. Added to the mix Jimmy would occasionally burst into song himself and the show was interspersed with his bizarre panoply of verbal mannerisms: "TTT - through 'til twelve", "Orft we jolly well go", "MMMMFs - many millions of mid-morning friends" and, of course, his sign-off "BFN - bye for now". (And not TTFN as widely quoted online last week). 

Here's a taste of how those Radio 1 shows sounded.   


In July 1973 The JY Prog was moved from Radio 1 over to Radio 2, where it stayed for the next 29 years. The Town Talk theme and daily recipe slot transferred too - it was eventually dropped in 1981 - but the show's sound soon started to go off in a slightly different direction. In the early days the team would pick up on consumer issues - those that would directly affect his audience - and his first interview in 1973 was with Geoffrey Howe, the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs.


Back in his  Radio 1 days Jimmy had already shown that current affairs and music could mix in a series of shows broadcast from around Europe in the run-up to Britain's entry into the EEC. But increasingly Jim was interviewing politicians and experts on his Radio 2 show - sometimes much to the annoyance of his news and current affairs colleagues. Over time he developed an interviewing technique designed to put the interviewee at ease - he always used first names for instance - but always calmly and persistently asking the kind of questions that his listeners would wish to ask. There was no attempt to be clever or engage in point scoring, he always listened and responded to the answer. This was the period he moved away from the role of DJ to that of presenter and interviewer. Here are some show highlights with clips from a number of mainly political interviews.   

Cover star in March 1983 

It wasn't just politics of course. There were a regular panel of experts that Jimmy would invite into the studio to answer listeners' queries or problems. On medical matters were doctors Mike Smith, Bill Dolman, Gillian Rice and Mark Porter. Fielding legal issues were 'Legal Beagle' Bill Thomas and 'Legal Eagle' Andrew Phillips. Every Thursday Tony D'Angeli, editor of The Grocer, would talk about the latest food prices and tackle questions on the availability of products, food safety or whatever. Over the years others experts included gardener Daphne Ledward 'Daffers', on antiques Eric Knowles and vet Bruce Fogle. Between 1974 and 2001 Jimmy would also present Radio 2's General Election coverage and from 1981 on Budget days there would be afternoon specials with economic expert Dominic Harrod usually on hand. 

Interaction with 'the listener ' became increasingly important but they were never put on-air, there were no phone-ins. This stance at least helped things zip along. Jimmy explained:  "My producer would rush into my studio and hurl handfuls of paper at me, I would then select the most interesting, entertaining and controversial and read them out. By making the final one the most outrageous I ensured a further deluge. Comment fuelled further comment and kept the programme rattling along. "
  
In October 1981 Jimmy spoke to the Radio Times about his show: "Why interviews work so well is, he thinks, because he can shift away from his subject if the talk bogs down, to play music, then return to a relaxed aspect of conversation".  And on the subject of radio: "It's terribly important. So many people just cannot communicate and for them I've managed to open an area that was closed; the current affairs people were just a little bit elitist, saying in effect 'This is not for you; don't bother your head about it'. "


For many Radio 2 listeners one of the daily highlights was when Jimmy popped into Terry Wogan's studio to plug his show and participate in a bit of verbal thrust and parry. Tel wrote this in Banjaxed: "Sometimes, of a morning, I feel a surge of pity as the nurse wheels the grand old broadcaster into my studio in his bath-chair, and after wetting his dry, cracked lips with a sponge, we get a few weak, rambling sentences from him. Often the cry goes up 'Nurse! The screens!' But it's usually too late. Hard to believe that this shattered husk was once the Singing Baker's Boy, The Man from Laramie, the one who was Too Young, the Donny Osmond of his day".  

I've posted these clips of Tel and Jimbo before, they date from 1978 and 1980.



In an era of seemingly generous BBC budgets the programme would occasionally undertake OBs from around the UK and around the globe. The first major expedition was to Moscow in 1977 - the JY Progski - the first live BBC broadcast from beyond the Iron Curtain. Other overseas broadcasts come from around Europe, Egypt, Israel, the States, Japan, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and Zimbabwe.



In the 1980s the JY Prog came from Glasgow, Tokyo, Hong King
and Australia 

The only time I ever saw JY was when I was on holiday in Devon in the summer of 1978 where, for no particular reason, he presented the show from the quarter deck of a replica of The Golden Hind in Brixham harbour. My two abiding memories are how small Jimmy was and how impeccably dressed he was. Here's the start and end of the show together with a number of clips from the late 1970s and the 1980s.


Promoting Jim's World in March 1974

At this point it's worth mentioning some of Jimmy's TV work in this period. For BBC1 in 1972 he took consumer advice to the streets in Jimmy Young Asks. He told the Radio Times: "The thing is I get on well with people. I always have. If I go among ordinary people they'll ask talk to me. I find that anywhere."  Over on ITV in 1973 he was a regular panellist alongside Richard Coleman on the Thames produced panel game Whose Baby?  The following year he was the host of the lunchtime series from Southern TV Jim's World. Initially a light entertainment programme it broadened out to include current affairs as well. There was more advice on offer on BBC1 in 1979 in a guide to everyday maths called It Figures. When Thames ran its first Telethon in October 1980 Jimmy was one of the hosts. Between 1984 and 1986 Jimmy also recorded a number of topical discussion programmes at Yorkshire Television (recorded on Friday evening after Jim had signed off from his radio show and caught the train up to Leeds) for broadcast late on Sunday evening under the unimaginative title The Jimmy Young Programme. The 1985 and 1986 series were networked by ITV

The JY Prog remained a fixture on Radio 2 throughout the 1980s and 1990s in a late morning and then lunchtime slots.  Jimmy's eventual  departure from the BBC was a messy affair that played itself in public over about three years. Stories that JY was to leave Radio 2 had first appeared in the press in late 1998, although at the time he claimed that he'd continue until he dropped. It was suggested that Controller Jim Moir had approached Nicky Campbell, a fact Nicky later confirmed. Jimmy's contract was up for renewal in 2002 anyway. To complicate matters during that final year he was very poorly following complications from an earlier hip replacement operation and Brian Hayes was deputising for him. After about five months off-air Jimmy returned on 9 December to enjoy a fortnight's swansong.

JY signs off. The Times 21 December 2002
When the final JY Prog aired on Friday 20 December 2002 Jimmy was not a happy bunny. As you'll hear in this full recording (with thanks to Noel Tyrrel) he's a little scratchy during his pre-show chat with Ken Bruce.  In signing off he tells his listeners: "I don't want to leave you that's true to say, but nonetheless that's what's been decreed." At the end it's into the news with a final "And for the very last time I fear, bye for now."


Jimmy's replacement was Jeremy Vine, who'd done the occasional cover on the programme during 2001 and 2002. Radio 2 offered Jimmy a weekend show with the same mix of music and current affairs but, understandably, he turned it down. There was a theatre tour of An Audience with Jimmy Young and a regular column in the Sunday Express but he didn't return to radio apart from a some guest appearances. At Christmas 2003 he appeared on Ned Sherrin's Loose Ends and in 2011 he was finally welcomed back to Radio 2 to chat with Ken Bruce about his life and career on Sir Jimmy Young at 90. Here's that programme as heard on 20 September 2011.


In 2012 Jimmy was back on the second series of Desmond Carrington's Icon of the 50s. His contributions were spread over the four programmes but here I've stitched them together.


Jimmy's last radio appearance was earlier this year when he offered a few brief words in tribute to his old radio sparring partner Terry Wogan. Last Monday it was announced that Jimmy had died "peacefully at home". He was 95. 

Fulsome tributes were paid reflecting Jimmy's major contribution to British broadcasting and in particular recalling the unique way he skilfully blended music, current affairs and expert advice for the best part of three decades. On Tuesday lunchtime the first hour of Jeremy Vine's show was devoted to memories of Jimmy with contributions from Jim Moir, Dr Mike Smith, Andrew Phillips, Gordon Brown, Frank Field, John Gummer and Gillian Reynolds. 


Sir Jimmy Young 1921-2016 Bye for now!  

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Seeing by Wireless

"A mighty maze of mystic rays is all about us in the blue." So sang Adele Dixon in the opening programme of the new BBC Television Service, launching exactly 80 years ago today.

The opening night was the culmination of years of experiment, test transmissions, disputes about the preferred system and, ultimately, good old British compromise. This was an early example of a format war - a precursor to the VHS versus Betamax argument four decades later.


The pre-history of television can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century with a number of discoveries and inventions: the electro-chemical effects of light, the photo-sensitive properties of selenium, scanning discs and cathode ray tubes. 

It was left to others to realise how these discoveries could lead to a television system: Boris Rising in Russia and A.A. Campbell-Swinton in England, but the technical limitations of the time meant they never progressed. Campbell-Swinton announced that his idea "could not be got to work without a great deal of experiment, and probably much modification."

On the scene comes Scottish engineer and inventor John Logie Baird  - the archetypal 'mad scientist' who also invents the glass safety razor and thermal undersocks - who starts to grapple with the mechanics of what he called a 'televisor'. In June 1923 he inserts a notice in The Times : "Seeing by Wireless - Inventor of apparatus wishes to hear from someone who will assist (not financially) in making working model." His first model was a Heath Robinson affair built from an old tea chest to form the base for a motor which rotated a circular cardboard disc cut out from an old hat box. A darning needle served as a spindle and biscuit box housed the projection lamp. The lenses he bought from a bicycle shop at a cost of fourpence.

Over the next six years Baird continued to experiment and modify his television equipment and gave numerous public demonstrations However, he was met with naysayers and sceptics including the Post Office and the BBC. A BBC memo of 1928 concluded that "the Baird apparatus not only does not deserve a public trail, but also has reached the limit of its development owing to the basic technical limitations of the method employed."

The BBC relented and gave into political pressure in 1929 and offered Baird's company out of hours transmission time when 2LO wasn't on air with 30-line experimental broadcasts starting on 30 September. Those first tentative steps were seen, Baird estimated, by no more than thirty 'lookers-in' - a set was owned by Baird himself, one each at the BBC and the Post Office, about half a dozen sets in the country and probably about twenty or so on apparatus built by clever amateurs. Technically the first broadcasts were primitive, no more than a waving silhouette and, due to only one transmitter being available, no synchronised sound.

Synchronised sound and vision was eventually achieved on 31 March 1930. The Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald, had a set installed at number 10 The performers included Gracie Fields and playwright R.C. Sherriff who announced, with a degree of prescience, that "I am afraid if this invention becomes too perfect, it will cause most people to spend their evenings at home instead of visiting the theatre."

As the technology improved - early highlights included drama and coverage of the 1931 Derby - the BBC began to work more closely with Baird's company, installing television equipment in a studio at the new Broadcasting House. Interestingly the agreement included the clause that "we should be free to give transmissions by other Television methods, whether the Baird transmissions were continued or not." 

Meanwhile coming up on the rails was EMI with their swanky new Emitron cameras based on the new 'iconoscope' technology developed by Russian engineer V.K. Zworykin. EMI had first demonstrated their high-definition television to the BBC in late 1932 where it impressed them with its superior picture quality with three times as many lines per picture and twice as many pictures per second.  

Two competitive demonstrations were arranged in April 1933 with both the representatives of the Post Office and the Corporation agreeing that the EMI equipment was far in advance of Baird's. But the Postmaster-General demurred fearing a political backlash for any blame attached to "the inevitable bankruptcy of the Baird company". The issue wasn't really the provision of the television service but the considerable advantage it would give in the manufacture and sale of receivers.

Baird continued to provide test transmissions for the BBC whilst EMI was spending thousands developing its technology. Eventually, in the spring of 1934, someone concluded that the best way to decide which system to go with, and also to discuss how such a service would be funded, should be by a Public Committee. The House of Commons was told that committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Selsdon, was "to consider the development of television and to advise the Postmaster-General on the relative merits of the several systems and on the conditions under which any public service of television should be provided".

The Selsdon Committee's recommendations (reporting in January 1935) solved little. There was to be no increase in the licence fee nor an additional TV licence. There was to be a new public service from London. A Television Advisory Committee was to be established. No agreement had been reached with the manufacturers regarding their patents so there was to be further testing with Baird and Marconi-EMI (EMI had joined with Marconi in March 1934) under "strictly comparable conditions" with their systems used "alternately".

The BBC announced plans to base its television transmitting station at Alexandra Palace.  In the meantime the Baird 30-line tests ceased in September 1935 at the end of the previously agreed test period and there was a lull before the new service started.  

In November 1935 the BBC's newly appointed Director of Television, Gerald Cock, reported on the plans for the new service as featured in this edition of Popular Wireless magazine:

Ahead of the go-live date test broadcasts were arranged from Ally Pally to the Radiolympia Exhibition in August 1936. Cecil Madden was charged with planning the programmes and announcers Leslie Mitchell, Jasmine Blight and Elizabeth Cowell were on hand to guide viewers through what was on offer, a mixture of live performances and films such as the Queen Mary docking in Southampton and an Arsenal versus Everton football match.

During the interregnum between Radiolympia and the official launch some programmes went out to whoever happened to be watching. 8 October 1936, for instance, saw the first edition of Picture Page hosted by Canadian actress Joan Miller shown sitting at a switchboard supposedly plugging in the 'lookers' as they were still called. Picture Page would be TV's first popular hit running until 1939 and then again between 1946 and 1952.  

The new television service went on air at 3 pm on Monday 2 November 1936 with speeches on both systems (Baird first then Marconi-EMI) from the Postmaster-General, the Chairman of the BBC and Lord Selsdon. The chair of the Baird television Company, Sir Harry Greer and Marconi-EMI's chairman Alfred Clark were each televised by their own system. BBC Chairman R.C. Norman was spot on when he said: "We believe that these proceedings will be remembered in the future as an historic occasion, not less momentous and not less rich in promise than the day, almost fourteen years ago, when the British Broadcasting Company, as it was then, transmitted its first programme from Marconi House".

After an interval and a newsreel the day continued with variety with Adele Dixon and Buck and Bubbles and the newly formed BBC Television Orchestra. Adele Dixon was to feature later, when the evening broadcasts started, in the pre-filmed Television Comes to London complete with that oft-repeated clip of her carefully enunciating the lyrics "by the magic rays to light, that bring television to you." After Picture Page and another showing of a Movietone newsreel the historic day was over.

The launch of the television service 80 years ago is to be recreated tonight on BBC Four in Television's Opening Night: How The Box Was Born. "To find out just what went on, this 21st century team will attempt to piece back together and recreate every aspect of the show from scratch, from the variety acts to the cameras, using the original technology and filming techniques to capture the excitement of the day".

As to who won the battle of the formats, well that decision was made as early as December 1936 when Gerald Cock concluded that the BBC should make exclusive use of the Marconi-EMI system. The so-called 'London television standards' were set as 405-line pictures with 50 frames per second, making Baird's 240-line picture with 25 frames per second redundant. The official announcement was held off until February 1937 as the Post Office was still fearful of the monopoly that Marconi-EMI would enjoy unless adequate guarantees were forthcoming.

Recalling the life and work of John Logie Baird is this 1997 documentary Seeing by Wireless - the Life of John Logie Baird. Narrated by Joan Bakewell it features contributions from his son and daughter Malcolm Baird and Diana Richardson. We also hear first-hand from some of the engineers that worked with Baird: Ray Herbert , Philip Hobson and Paul Revely.

This programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on Sunday 21 October 1997. 


You can read more about Baird and the early days of television on the Baird Television website
The BBC have just launched some additional pages about the Birth of TV on their History of the BBC webpages

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Radio Lives - Dave Cash

Yesterday's news of the sudden death of Dave Cash silences a voice that has been an integral part of British radio for the last half century. His passing further reduces the number of DJs that have worked across the board: offshore radio, national radio, Luxembourg, local radio, both commercial and BBC, as well as ITV and BBC television.

The Cashman was born in Hertfordshire in 1942 but his family moved to Vancouver, Canada - hence that mid-Atlantic twang that was long evident in Dave's voice -  when he was a young lad. He got his break into broadcasting at station CFUN in Vancouver where he'd started making the coffee but eventually ended up hosting the overnight show from midnight until 6 am. It was whilst working as a holiday relief at CJAV in Port Alberni in 1964 that a mate of his mentioned that he should "get to England now" and join one of the new pirate radio stations that had just started up.   

Dave landed a job at the recently launched Radio London. There he broadcast under the name of Dave Cash, rather than his given name of Dave Wish, in honour of his one of his favourite singers Johnny Cash. He soon forged an on air partnership with fellow DJ Kenny Everett - the Kenny and Cash Shows became required listening.   

Dave jumped ship long before the Marine Offences etc. Act came into force, though it was quite by chance; an operation to remove kidney stones in early 1967 meant that he couldn't immediately return to the MV Galaxy, so his agent Chris Peers managed to get him some relief work at Radio Luxembourg and on the BBC Light Programme as one of the presenters of Swingalong. This led to further work introducing the Ray McVay Sound and guests on Monday, Monday and meant he was in prime position to join the new swinging Radio 1 when it launched in September.

As part of the launch team at Radio 1 - Dave's pictured in the famous All Soul's photo between David Rider and Pete Brady - he continued to host Monday, Monday as well as taking turns on What's New and then Midday Spin before gaining a regular weekday afternoon slot in July 1968 presenting "a swinging selection of studio sounds and the best of the rest on records", i.e. in BBC-speak for a show with minimal needletime. Dave's ever-so sixties catchphrase of "Groovy Baby" led to the unlikely hit (though it only reached number 29 in the hit parade) of the same title under the name of Microbe - the young voice provided by the 3-year old Ian Doody, son of Radio 1 and 2 newsreader Pat Doody.

In September 1969 Dave's show was shifted to a teatime slot to make way for the incoming Terry Wogan and then from April 1970 he was back to occasional duties on What's New and Radio 1 Club as well as Sunday afternoon chat show with musical guests Cash at Four. Dave left the Beeb in 1971 but continued to appear on both radio, working with his old ex-pirate chums Tommy Vance and Kenny Everett at Radio Monte Carlo International, and on ITV in the HTV produced The Dave Cash Radio Programme.

Early 1973 saw Dave briefly back at the BBC presenting Radio 2's Up Country. Later that year he was hired by Michael Bukht as part of the launch team at Capital Radio. At the station he was able to rekindle his pirate radio days on The Kenny and Cash Show at breakfast before moving onto lunchtime with the hugely popular Cash on Delivery.  

During the 1980s and 90s Dave worked on numerous commercial stations. He helped launch Radio West as Programme Director in 1980-82, was Deputy MD and presenter of the weekend breakfast show (1987-89) at Invicta Radio in Kent, again working for Michael Bukht. It was back to Capital on their Gold service 1989-1994 and brief stints at RTL Country 1035, Liberty Radio and Manchester's Fortune 1458 and its later incarnation Lite Radio. He also presented a weekly country music show on Primetime Radio. Dave's experiences in radio fed into his early 1990s novels The Rating Game and All NIght Long.

Dave returned to the BBC in 1999 working for Radio Kent on shows that were eventually heard on a number of stations in the south-east. Most recently he continued to pursue his love for country music on Dave Cash Country and the retro chart show The Dave Cash Countdown. What were to be his final shows only aired last weekend.

In 2014 Dave celebrated 50 years on the radio in this BBC Radio Kent special linked by Adam Dowling. This was broadcast on Monday 25 August 2014 and gets a repeat on a number of BBC local stations in the south-east this evening. 



Dave Cash 1942-2016 'Groovy Baby'   

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. 

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