Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Choral Evensong

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Third at 70 - Part the First: How to Listen

The Third Programme "will devote to the great works the time they require. It will seek every evening to do something that is culturally satisfying and significant. It will devote occasional series of evenings to some related masterpieces, a Shakespeare historical cycle, all the Beethoven quartets, or a series of Mozart operas. It will, so far as circumstances permit, be international. Concerts, operas, plays will be taken from abroad as landline conditions improve. Its talks will include contributions from the great European thinkers. Its whole content will be directed to an audience that is not of one class but that is perceptive and intelligent".

So ran the introduction from the BBC's Director-General Sir William Haley on the opening night of the Third Programme on 29 September 1946.  But the first programme chosen to open the new service wasn't a concert, an opera, a drama or a talk but a comedy from Stephen Potter and Joyce Grenfel.

"This is the BBC Third Programme," said announcer Patrick Butler. "How to Listen. Including how not to, how you ought to, and how you won't." The idea of launching with a send-up of highbrow listening was that of Leslie Stokes, the station's Assistant (Presentation and Publicity), who thought that "we ought to have a laugh at ourselves."

Stephen Potter had been writing and producing for BBC radio since the mid-30s. He'd already appeared in a few How to ... programmes on the Home Service: How to talk to Children, How to Argue, How to Give a Party, How to Woo and so on. Turning freelance after the war he wrote comic books on Gamesmanship and One-Upmanship that would later form the basis for the delightfully funny film School for Scoundrels with Alistair Sim and Ian Carmichael.

Recounting the events of that opening night Humphrey Carpenter, in his book, The Envy of the World, takes up the commentary:

Narrator (in a hushed tone): the programme is about to begin. We are rehearsing the opening announcement. The last details are being added. In the studio, last directions from the producer ... One minute to go ...
Amyot [Etienne Amyot, the Third Programme's Assistant (Planning)] says there was indeed such a mood as six o'clock approached that evening: 'We were terrified that something might go wrong. I remember George [George Barnes the Controller of the Third] saying to me, before we went on air, "Well, it'll succeed or it won't."'
In its opening moments, How to Listen exposed everyone's anxiety that no one would tune in to the Third. A radio producer, waiting eagerly for his live programme to go on the air, is suddenly granted a dispiriting vision of what is going on in listeners' homes:
Narrator: Are they ready? Are they listening? Here, the house is empty - there, the set is switched off - but here, Licence number 865432, Mrs Moss, is she listening?Old Lady: Turn up the wireless, Mrs Moss.Mrs Moss: Yes, dear, it is chilly tonight, let's turn up the wireless a bit ...Producer (anxiously): Yes, but is she really going to listen?Narrator: On to another radio set. Where are we now? Let's look in at the window of Baltimore Gardens.Man: It's your call.Woman: I said four clubs.Man: Four clubs...I say, could we have the radio down a little, please?
Woman: Yes, let's have it down a little. It's a bit difficult to concentrate on bridge.
This was all too realistic. A survey conducted by the Daily Telegraph during the third evening of the Third gathered these, among other responses:Housewife: Bottling apples when the play started and could not listen. Now playing bridge.Business Man: Not the time. I play bridge.   
How to Listen went on to poke fun at every kind of BBC cliche, from the inanities of Workers' Playtime on the Light Programme to 'poetic drama' at its worst. Then, in the final few minutes, it suddenly turned serious, quoting from The Anatomy of Melancholy and Robert Graves on the listening ear, and offering some mock-Shakespearean verse (spoken by Deryck Guyler) which was presumably thought appropriate to the opening of the Third: '...Admit me Chorus to this History, / Who, Prologue-like you humble patience pray / Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.'

The genesis of the Third Programme can be traced back to a 1943 memo from Senior Controller Basil Nicolls who proposed a general 'Home Service'. a 'light' programme, 'popular', but not 'rubbishy', and an 'Arts Programme', which would be devoted to high-quality performances of masterpieces 'in all the arts amenable to broadcasting'.

Controller of the Home Service, Sir Richard Maconachie, also attempted to carve up the radio networks to fit the available wavelengths. Programme A would be "cultural, for want of a better word" that would be directed to a "highly intelligent minority audience", Programme B would be 'Educational and Youth', Programme C would draw on regional material, Programme D would be like the wartime Forces Programme and Programme E would be 'light'. This proved too ambitious and all peacetime audiences got was just the Home, Light and Third, and they had to wait for over a year for the latter.

The Third Programme was at pains to emphasise that the schedule would have no fixed points, if a concert overran then so be it. "The Third Programme avoids annotation" explained the BBC Year Book for 1947. "Comment on a work about to be performed is avoided, and silence - a full ten-seconds' pause - is regarded as the best cushion for a masterpiece. This leisured presentation in which silent pauses of up to four minutes have been allowed is one reason why the Programme has been described as unexpected and different from what is customary".

Back to that opening night. How to Listen was billed as running from 6 pm to 6.45 pm but it under ran by seven minutes. "The timing was slipshod to say the least" said one newspaper. To fill the gap announcer Christopher Pemberton read some Henry James.  A later four minute gap just before 8 pm remained just silent, save for twelve words from Pemberton.

Bach's Goldberg Variations followed at 6.45 pm. Played by Lucille Wallace at the harpsichord they were introduced by yet another announcer on duty that evening, Marjorie Anderson.

At 7.30 pm came a talk: Reflections on World Affairs by Field-Marshal J.C. Smuts. They had wanted Churchill for the opening talk but he was ill.  

The first concert on the station commenced at 8 pm with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Chorus performing live at the Maida Vale studios with announcer Alvar Liddell introducing. The concert featured a specially commissioned Festival Overture by Benjamin Britten. The concert interval was Director-General William Haley's introductory talk referred to above.

Following the concert at 10.10 pm was Living Opinion, a heavily-scripted discussion between "ex-Servicemen and others". The Star was not impressed: "The handful of woolly-minded men discussing ... were obviously reading it all out and despite careful producing it did not sound real."

The rest of the evening consisted of Monteverdi madrigals on record, a repeat of a 1935 talk by Sir Max Beerbohm on London Revisited and, to close, the Epilogue.

There were bouquets and brickbats from the press and listeners. "Haley's Third Symphony for orchestra and two listeners" jibed the Daily Mirror. The Evening Standard liked "the look of it" whilst the Daily Mail though "it demanded no greater feat of endurance than two hours of choral and orchestral music ... and the fragments of talk and music which made up the rest of the evening were easy enough on the ear". One listener thought it left "no time to do anything else except listen and I can see a succession of evenings in which meals will be prepared in ten minutes' time and eaten in five minutes". Another exclaimed "Today is the high spot of my listening life."

So here is that opening programme, How to Listen. With Joyce Grenfel are Gladys Young, Betty Hardy, Louise Hutton, Carleton Hobbs, Geoffrey Wincott, Roy Plomley, Ivor Barnard, Deryck Guyler and Ronald Simpson. My recording comes from the Radio 3 repeat on 29 September 1986, hence the voice of  announcer John Holmstom.

As a bonus this is How to Broadcast that aired on the evening of the Third's fifth anniversary on 29 September 1951. The cast is Joyce Grenfel, Betty Hardy, Ronald Simpson, Deryck Guyler, Geoffrey Wincott, Alan Reed, Elwyn Brook-Jones, Carleton Hobbs and Roy Plomley. This recording is of the Christmas Day 1987 repeat on Radio 4 and includes an introduction from Laurie MacMillan.

The Envy of the World by Humphrey Carpenter (Phoenix 1997)
The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume IV Sound & Vision by Asa Briggs (OUP 1979)

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

It's a Hot Shot

"If you're slaving all at home or relaxing or you're working in a noisy factory, just set yourself free when the clock strikes three cos everything stops for tea".

Know the lyrics? And the tune? Chances are you too were enjoying a cuppa on a weekday afternoon sometime in the mid-1970s tuned into the David Hamilton show.

David Hamilton's career stretches back over 50 years from his time on British Forces radio and the Light Programme and as an announcer and presenter on ABC Television and elsewhere on the ITV network. Since then he's made hundreds of TV appearances and thousands of radio broadcasts on dozens of stations. Retirement? Not a hint of it.

I've been able to share some of my own off-air recordings of David and some press cuttings on the recently formed Facebook group David Hamilton's Hot Shots. Set up and administered by David 's friend, and supporter of this blog, Noel Tyrrel there are audio contributions, photos and rare TV footage from Diddy's own collection. The man himself is keeping a eye on proceedings. Launching the group David said: 

"I am very excited and flattered in equal measure at the prospect of a group in appreciation of my work past, present and future. I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome all members and hope that you will derive pleasure and stimulation from our interaction.

Each week I shall suggest a David Hamilton Hot shot. A record of the week featured on my past radio shows; I shall also give a little bit of background on the reasons for choosing it. Please feel free to add memories of your own too".

David continues to broadcast on The Wireless and pops up now and again on BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey. He's also fronting the live stage show Rock 'n'Roll Back the Years that has nationwide tour dates booked for the next twelve months. Members of the Hot Shots Facebook group will be offered a chance to win free tickets for one of the shows. So why not join?

Ploughing a similar furrow is the Facebook group Retro Radio. Stacks of unscoped airchecks, mostly from the 70s and 80s are available and up for discussion. I'm sure Stuart Busby will welcome more members. 

Friday, 26 August 2016

Can I Take That Again? - Part 3

Imagine playing the unexpurgated version of a record rather than the radio edit. And on Radio 2 daytime too! Poor old Stewpot got some stick when the explicit version of The Beautiful South's Don't Marry Her slipped through the net.

Not sure of the exact date of this incident though I'm guessing it was the year of release 1996. You'll hear Ed fade down the track and then the following day Ken Bruce and Jimmy Young have some fun at Ed's expense.

Thank you to whoever sent me this audio earlier in the year. Apologies but I've lost your name and email address.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Greene on the Screen

Novelist Graham Greene is celebrated this week on BBC Radio 4 in Our Man in Greeneland in which five correspondents follow in the footsteps of his novels. It's part of the network's tribute to Greene that has been running this year - 25 years after his death in 1991. We've already heard adaptations of The Honorary Consul and The Power and the Glory. Dramatisations of Monsignor Quixote and The Confidential Agent are due later this year.

My accompanying piece of archive material is an edition of the Radio 4 arts magazine Kaleidoscope. Dating from 1984, film critic Nigel Andrews examines the many film adaptations of Greene's work. Virtually everyone of his novels made it to the big screen or, as in the case of Monsignor Quixote and Doctor Fischer of Geneva, were made for TV.

I wrote about this association between Green's literature and the cinema back in April 1983 for my degree dissertation Fiction Into Film: the Works of Graham Greene. I went on to examine The Third Man, Brighton Rock and England Made Me. Here's part of my general introduction:

Greene made most of his novels historically specific so that each can be seen not only to evoke the mood of their particular time but to act as indirect records of world events. As most of the films were made shortly after the appearance of the novels - England Made Me, The Fallen Idol, The Man Within and The Honorary Consul being the only time difference in double figures - both serve as social records, though with differing slants on the world. Indeed it has been said that "if we have an imaginative sense of the violent modern world elsewhere, it is in part because of Greene's writing". That world has extended from Haiti to Vietnam through Mexico and Cuba and across Europe. But it is also a unique world which few of us would recognise: a world filled with little else but criminals, murders, drunkards, adulterers and, perhaps worst of all (according to Greene) innocents. This slice of the world is known as 'Greeneland' and, in many cases, can only be escaped through some kind of spiritual release - though there are more sinners than saints. This decidedly pessimistic outlook on life is an unusual source for film-makers - one might think that the entertainment value would be rather low. But, for a number of reasons (not always clear), Greene's work has proved a popular source. What this dissertation aims to do is look at how Greene's personal 'Waste Land' has been dealt with on film: is it recognisable as Green's original world, how has the mood been created, what has the film highlighted and what has it left out?

And so I continue for about 70 pages (notes and appendices included).

In Greene on the Screen we not only hear from Greene himself, he was celebrating his 80th birthday when this programme was made, but also film directors Peter Duffell and Roy Boulting, playwright Christopher Hampton and author Quentin Falk.  This edition of Kaleidoscope was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 31 August 1984.


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Pidgeon Post

If you've ever enjoyed listening to the music documentary series Classic Albums or The Record Producers, either originally on Radio 1 or their 6 Music repeats, you've John Pidgeon to thank. If you've laughed at Little Britain or Dead Ringers then you've John Pidgeon to thank.

John Pidgeon, whose death was announced earlier this month, was a rock writer turned radio producer and then comedy executive. He started writing for the NME and the new Let It Rock music magazine in 1971. A couple of years later he was helping Keith Skues knock the scripts of The Story of Pop into shape. In 1975 and 1976 he wrote a number of programmes for Radio 1's documentary series Insight.

One of The Story of Pop editions, Ship to Shore, was reworked for Insight as Reign of the Pirates. This programme aired on Radio 1 on 4 January 1976.

John would eventually follow The Story of Pop and Insight producer Tim Blackmore to Capital Radio where he would hook up with Roger Scott on his shows Jukebox Saturday Night and the mix of music and comedy that was Brunch (1986-88); working alongside Jan Ravens (later of Dead Ringers), Angus Deayton, Steve Coogan,  Paul Burnett, Steve Brown, Paul Burnett and Jeremy Pascall. There are 44 editions of Brunch available on the Roger Scott tribute website.   

By 1988 both John and Roger were back at the BBC and had co-devised Classic Albums, offering an opportunity to re-evaluate some seminal pop and rock albums combined with interviews from those concerned.  

There are 18 editions of Classic Albums on the Roger Scott tribute site but this is a later 1991 edition presented by Richard Skinner that revisits the Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake by The Small Faces. 

Classic Albums (1988-92) was followed The Record Producers, this time as an independent production (1993-94) as well as a number of other music documentaries for Radio 1 and then Radio 2. Turning to comedy he interviewed a number of comedians "about what makes them laugh for Talking Comedy (1996-99) 

In 1999 John was appointed as editor BBC radio entertainment which essentially meant he was in charge of radio comedy. On his retirement in 2005 Radio 4 commissioning editor Caroline Raphael commented that "The past five years has seen an unprecedented movement of radio comedy to television. John's Radio Entertainment department spearheaded this move with shows like Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh. This has undoubtedly helped Radio 4 to secure the best new and established comedy talent for our listeners and raise the network's profile." Tweeting on the news of John death David Walliams said "Thank you for believing in me. A smart and kind man who loved comedy".

John  produced a couple of short series for Radio 4: Music to Die For and Russ Noble On... and in more recent years he'd been a crossword compiler for the Daily Telegraph under the name Petitjean.

John Pidgeon 1947-2016
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