"The World at One. This is William Hardcastle with thirty minutes of news and comment this Monday lunchtime"
The notion of a radio programme covering both news and current affairs is so common that we regularly use the two terms interchangeably. But in 1965 it was novel and worthy of comment itself when on Monday 4 October, from Studio 3B at Broadcasting House, the BBC Home Service launched a brand new programme, The World at One.
By broadcasting a news bulletin within the programme and then following this with analysis and discussion about the main news stories at a stroke it blurred the lines between news and current affairs. This was an important distinction behind the scenes at the BBC, if not for the listener, as news was in the remit of the News Division and Current Affairs looked after any interpretive programming. And, up until that point, never the twain shall meet.
WATO, as it eventually became in the acronym-loving BBC, had a new hard-hitting Fleet Street edge thanks to main presenter, for its first decade, William Hardcastle (pictured above). He was a former Reuters Washington correspondent and editor of the Daily Mail. At the microphone his voice was breathless and rumbling. He was described by fellow journalist and presenter Anthony Howard as "an absolutely unorthodox broadcaster; he was an extraordinary phenomenon in that no-one could have been less suited to do what the BBC used to call 'microphone work'." His questioning style was, according to BBC editor Eleanor Ransome "relentlessly persistent, but seldom rude and abrasive".
The World at One was immediately popular and by the end of the year pulled in 2 million listeners. By 1968 it hit 3.9 million, making Radio 4's most listened-to programme.
On its launch Brian Bliss set out the programme's agenda in that week's Radio Times:
News is probably one of the most perishable, and at the same time most expensive, commodities of our age. As world communications improve so the news-man's life becomes more demanding. There is now a great appetite for news, but equally a need for information about the news - 'background' as the journalist calls it - and all too often not enough of it is given.
This aspect of the news will be just one of the many features of The World at One which begins on Monday this week and be heard every weekday from 1.0 to 1.30 in the Home Service. very simply, this new half-hour programme will set out to do just what the title suggests - to keep lunchtime listeners abreast of the news. But it will do so in two ways.
In the first place there will always be a news bulletin, but a flexible one of seven to ten minutes' duration according to the flow of news.
The other items in this topical half-hour will be for listeners who want to hear not only the news but also about the news. For this we shall exploit all the mobility and resources of sound radio to bring you voices and topics in and behind the headlines.
At the same time we hope to retain some of the flavour and character of This Time of Day (which ended on October1) and some of its most popular items and contributors will be heard in The World at One. The programme will be presented by the well-known journalist William Hardcastle.
You'll note that WATO didn't exactly appear out of nowhere but was a follow-on from the early lunchtime show This Time of Day. Broadcast weekdays at 12.10 pm starting the previous December it was a 30-minute "topical programme of sounds and voices" produced by the Radio Newsreel team. Its presenters were an unusual mix of William S. Churchill, the Earl of Arran, James Mossman, Ludovic Kennedy and William Hardcastle. For its replacement Home Service controller Gerald Mansell wanted a "harder, terser title" for a programme that would be substantially more "newsy" and altogther "brisker". WATO would also come from the Radio Newsreel team with Andrew Boyle as its first editor.
|Radio Times 4 October 1985|
It should also be recognised that the Home Service had already started to broadcast daily news and comment when an extended 30-minute news programme, billed as Ten O'Clock was launched on 19 September 1960 (initially gaining an audience of 700,000). But The World at One was the start of a gradual expansion of news and current affairs on the Home Service and subsequently Radio 4. It's spin-off programmes were The World this Weekend (1967) and PM (1970); all initially presented by William Hardcastle and all, of course, still running today.
It's perhaps not surprising that neither an audio recording or written record have been kept of that first edition of The World at One. I don't have any recordings of Bill Hardcastle presenting it either. The earliest complete edition I can lay my hands on is from 28 January 1986 during the tenure of Robin Day, who presented it between 1979 and 1987. The newsreader is Pauline Bushnell. Listen out for an appearance by Jim Naughtie, at the time the Chief Political Correspondent for The Guardian and later a presenter of The World at One.
Over the past fifty years there have been about a dozen regular presenters of WATO. Below I've listed 27 names that have been attached to the programme aside from Bill Hardcastle. This list is not exhaustive and excludes anyone who's just appeared on a handful of editions.
Ludovic Kennedy, William Davis, Jack Pizzey, David Jessel, Nicholas Woolley, Robert Williams, Gordon Clough, Michael Cooke, Brian Widlake, Robin Day, Peter Hobday, Nick Ross, Susannah Simons, Michael Charlton, John Sergeant, Nick Worrall, James Naughtie, Nick Clarke (to date the longest serving from 1994 until his death in2006), James Cox, Sheena MacDonald, Alex Brodie, Tim Franks, Mark Mardell, Guto Harri, Brian Hanrahan, Shaun Ley and Martha Kearney.