Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Newsbeat 85

1985 was the year of Live Aid, the end of the miners' strike, riots on the streets and in football stadia and the rise of the Militant Tendency. These, and other events, are recalled in this end-of-year round-up from the Newsbeat team introduced by Frank Partridge.

This programme was broadcast on Tuesday 31 December 1985.

A couple of health warnings: It was recorded on Radio 1 medium wave in the evening so expect the sound to dip now and then. The original programme was 2 hours long but, for whatever reason, I only recorded one hour. I edited it as I recorded it, so apologies for any jarring edits or major stories I may have chopped out. 

Friday, 25 December 2015

After Henry ... The Queen

Whenever Radio 4 (or Radio 7 or 4 Extra) repeats the special Christmas edition of After Henry, The Season of Relative Goodwill, it never gets to pull off the neat scheduling trick of the original 1987 transmission.

Eleanor (played by Joan Sanderson): I really think you two should be getting dressed now.
Sarah (played by Prunella Scales): What?
Eleanor: Well it'll soon be the broadcast. You weren't thinking of lolling around listening to Her Majesty in your night things were you?
Sarah: Hmm.
Clare (played by Gerry Cowper): But Granny
Eleanor:  You have to have some standards.
Sarah: Yes. Yes of course. What's the time?
Eleanor: Well it's ... oh goodness, it's nearly half-past.
Clare: Well I haven't got time to get dressed.
Eleanor: No. Oh dear, you really should have set the alarm earlier Sarah, then you'd have had time to make yourself look respectable like me.
Sarah: Yes, you look very smart Mum.
Eleanor: Thank you dear.
Clare: I still think the hat's a bit much Granny.
Eleanore; We all show respect in our own ways Clare.
Clare: Of course.
Eleanor: That is those of us who have any idea what showing respect means.
Clare: Listen Granny ....
Sarah (interrupting): It's nearly time. We'd better switch on.
Eleanor: Yes. Er, Just a moment before you do. Clare. At least do your dressing-gown up. 
Clare: All right.
Eleanor: And empty that mouthful immediately. You can't listen to the Queen witgh your mouth full.
Sarah; Oh mother!
Eleanor: Quiet Sarah. And Sarah for heavens sakes sit up straight.
Sarah: Better?
Eleanor: It'll have to do. You might at least have run a comb through your hair. Now don't frown Clare. (clears throat) Very well Sarah dear, you may switch the wireless on now.
FX: Sound of radio clicking on.

And there the programme ends. But back on Christmas Day 1987, Radio 4 continuity announcer Laurie MacMillan comes in with "an almost merry Christmas After Henry. (pause) It's coming up to nine thirty. (longer pause). In a few moments, after Big Ben, Her Majesty the Queen". Followed by a short set of chimes and the Queen's speech to the Commonwealth. (One is always tempted to say "And, cue Queen.")

This is exactly how that half hour was broadcast with the complete edition of After Henry and The Queen's Speech.  

Thursday, 24 December 2015

A Royle Christmas

Time for a bit of religion. Well it is Christmas.

A festive radio fixture for the last 30 years is the mixture of music and religion offered by the Canon Roger Royle. By my reckoning he's had a Radio 2 Christmas Day show every year since 1985. (BBC Genome shows that the 1986 programme was on Christmas Eve but thereafter its always on the day itself).

For many years Roger offered wisdom and solace with a touch of good humour on Pause for Thought. For six years between 1984 and 1990 he presented Good Morning Sunday and from 1990 to 2007 regularly presided over Sunday Half-Hour. Nowadays the Christmas Day show, this year relegated to a 3 am slot, is Rockin' Roger's only radio gig. 

This is how that 1985 Christmas Day show sounded.

There's rather more of this Christmas Eve edition of Good Morning Sunday. Roger's guests are General Eva Burrows of The Salvation Army and, in the second part, Roy and Fiona Castle. This programme aired on Sunday 24 December 1989.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Practical Cats

Well I never!
Was there ever
A Cat so clever
As Magical Mr Mistoffelees!

T. S. Eliot's collection of feline-based poetry gets another airing this Christmas when Jeremy Irons reads Old Possum's Bookof Practical Cats on Radio 4. The BBC publicity tells us that they first appeared on the radio on Christmas Day 1937. Sure enough tucked away in the afternoon on the Regional Programme is Practical Cats. The billing tells us: "For some time past Mr. Eliot has been amusing and instructing the offspring of some of his friends in verse on the subject of cats. These poems are not of the kind that have been usually associated with his name, and they have not yet been published. With his permission, some of them have been arranged into a programme, and they will be read by Geoffrey Tandy ".

The collection was published two years later and they would soon find a young audience as they cropped up in Children's Hour and programmes For the Schools from 1940 through to the late 50s. I dare say they continued to be featured in English programmes for schools but these billings have so far fallen through the Genome net.

The Cats only put in occasional TV appearances; the first in 1952 on Children's Television when actor Anthony Jacobs read a couple of the poems. In 1971 they got the full Omnibus treatment as part of an appreciation of Eliot's work.

In 1954 Alan Rawsthorne set six of the poems in a work for speaker and orchestra, the studio recorded version featured the voice of Robert Donat. This has made several appearances on Radio 3  - it is first billed on Network Three in 1965 - right into the noughties.  A similar idea by Humphrey Searle only seems to get the one billing, in 1985.

Straight readings of the poems are heard on the Home Service in 1962, read by Val Gielgud and Hugh David. In November 1974 BBC2 closes down each evening with a poem read by either Sian Phillips or Richard Bebb; The Naming of Cats appears on the 27th.

Radio 4 broadcast the reading of all 15 poems in a five-minute slot just before the 9 am news during September and October 1988. It offers a starry line-up of readers: Alec McCowen, Anna Massey, Roger Daltrey, Richard Briers, Fenella Fielding, Wendy Hiller, Maurice Denham, Penelope Keith, Derek Jacobi, Michael Bryant, Max Wall, Charles Gray, Alan Bennett, Ian McKellen and Bernard Cribbins.  These are so successful that they get a repeat in 1989 and in 1994, though they have not, to my knowledge, been heard since. 

Here are five of those readings:

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Prospero and Ariel

The installation of Eric Gill's sculpture of Prospero and Ariel over the original entrance of Broadcasting House was mired in controversy from the moment it was unveiled in 1933.

The nude Ariel, or at least the size of his "organ",  caused maidens to "blush and youths to pass disparaging remarks", according to the Daily Herald. An unrepentant Gill retorted that he had only followed the Corporation's request: "I am only a servant of the BBC, and if a statue is placed under the responsibility of Sir John Reith and other directors then it must be all right. Supposing I want to erect an immoral statue outside Broadcasting House, I could not do so. Ariel, the boy, is only ten years old. He cannot be offending women, and are men going to be offended? I think not "

Local MP George Gibson Mitcheson passed the sculpture every day on his way home and is reported to have claimed in Parliament that the figures were "objectionable to public morals and decency". Eventually Gill compromised and chiselled a bit of the offending part of Ariel. He did, however, leave behind a hidden memento at the back of the sculpture, the face of a girl that "nobody will find until Broadcasting House falls down". In the event it was uncovered in 2004 when work began on cleaning and remodelling the building.

Referring to the carvings at Broadcasting House in his autobiography Gill viewed them as a "failure". Elaborating on this he said: "I mean simply that I don't much like looking at them. The idea was grand but I was incapable of carrying it out adequately. Prospero and Ariel! Well you think. The Tempest and romance and Shakespeare and all that stuff. Very clever of the BBC to hit on the idea, Ariel and aerial. Ha! Ha!"

As to why he chose to represent them as Father and Son: "I don't know anything about Shakespeare's intentions, but it didn't seem to me to be unduly straining the poem to see in the figure of Prospero much more than that of a clever old magician, or in that of Ariel more than that of a silly fairy. Had not Prospero power over the immortal Gods? At any rate it seemed to be only right and proper that I should see the matter in as bright a light as possible and so I took it upon me to portray God the Father and God the Son. For even if that were not Shakespeare's meaning it ought to be the BBC's".

He was pretty scathing about his fellow artists too: "My sculpturing experiments were, after all, only an extension of my lettercutting into another sphere - but it was a sphere into which the arts and crafts movement of William Morris and his followers had not only never extended, but had fought shy of and turned away from. My friends in the arts and crafts circles rather looked askance at me. I seemed to be deserting their homely fireside and going into brothels and dance-halls. They really are like that; they're terribly strait-laced and prim."

Gill was, and remains, a controversial figure, though his sculptures are much admired and his lasting contribution to typefaces - see Gill Sans etc. - and through to modern-day fonts is undeniable.

Seventy years after his death Gill was back in the news in the wake of the Savile scandal with the Daily Mail, never failing to hop onto any passing bandwagon, calling for the BBC to "remove sculpture of naked boy from outside Broadcasting House". This picked up on some disturbing revelations in a Gill biography, though this had been published some twenty-odd years earlier. Needless to say they still standing, overlooking Portland Place.  

You can hear more about Eric Gill and his work for the BBC when Radio 4 Extra repeats The BBC Tour on Saturday 12 December.   

Autobiography by Eric Gill (Jonathan Cape, 1970)
The Story of Broadcasting House by Mark Hines (Merrell, 2008)
Action Stations by Colin Reid (Robson Books, 1987)
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