Monday, 5 June 2017

Why Vote? It Only Encourages Them

Whether you're voting for "strong and stable government" or "for the many, not the few" (other political parties are available) the thankfully short 2017 general election campaign culminates in polling this Thursday. The British public, perhaps weary of all the major votes over the last couple of years, may well resort to that old adage, why vote? it only encourages them - a saying whose originator is defined as 'anonymous', though the internet seems to think, erroneously, that it's Billy Connelly.

Thirty-eight years ago last month the UK voted in its first female Prime Minister. "A new satirical dawn is breaking" remarked wit and satirist Alan Coren. On the cusp of that seismic change in politics, just before, and immediately after, the close of polls on 3 May 1979 BBC Radio 4 broadcast this admittedly rather shambolic live comedy show to mark the change of guard from Sunny Jim (cue impression from Chris Emmett) to the Iron Lady (wheel on Janet Brown).

Why Vote? It Only Encourages Them was a combination of The News Huddlines and The News Quiz. From Huddlines comes the master of ceremonies for the whole show, Roy Hudd, together with the aforementioned Chris Emmett and Janet Brown. From The News Quiz are the regular team captains Alan Coren and Richard Ingrams joined by Willie Rushton and Peter Cook. David Jason, at the time a regular voice on Week Ending, also pops up. There are some bizarre, though nonetheless funny, interludes in which Brian Johnston and Bill Frindall describe what's going on the BBC1 TV coverage, a joke that works better in the studio.

The programme was broadcast live - and the gaps do sometimes show, ably covered-up by Hudd - from 9.35 pm, just before the close of polls, until 10.00 pm. Brain Redhead then appears for ten minutes in discuss the predictions on the final outcome, though this has been edited out on this recording. The comedy resumes again at 10.10 pm for half-an-hour with the comedians now off the leash a little more, as the ballot boxes have now been sealed. (Topical comedy shows had to tread a little more carefully during the election period, more so than it does now. Week Ending was pulled from the schedules as soon as the election was called).

To my knowledge Why Vote? It Only Encourages Them has never been repeated, not surprising given its topical nature. I'm grateful to David Mann who kindly supplied this recording.


Of course, I would encourage you all to vote this coming Thursday. 

Friday, 2 June 2017

Fun at One - Windbags

If the sound of Radio 1's early 90s comedy output was predominantly male - Morris, Lewis-Smith, Lee and Herring etc. - then the female riposte came in the form of Windbags.

Windbags saw the comedy pairing of stand-ups Jo Brand and Donna McPhail and ran for two short series in 1993 and 1994. Tim Worthington describes it as the perfect vehicle for their "established tongue-in-cheek acerbic view of dumb chauvinist attitudes an notions of conventional female deportment, and this made for a hugely entertaining show that strongly appealed to sympathetic listeners". 

In this, the series two finale, from 11 July 1994 joining Jo and Donna are Dawn French, Hattie Hayridge, Sarah Dunant and Sue Carpenter. The producer is Caroline Leddy. (Incidentally I've no idea why, at intervals, you keep hearing "who turned out the lights" during the first half of this recording).

Friday, 7 April 2017

The Answer Lies in the Soil - GQT at 70

We Brits are a green-fingered lot with apparently one-third of the nation spending some time each week gardening and forking out £1.5 billion a year on plants. No wonder that over 2 million of us catch Gardeners' World and over 1 million tune into Gardeners' Question Time.  

This week Gardeners' Question Time celebrates its 70th anniversary. I'll track its history shortly, but first a look at the programmes that sowed the seeds for GQT.

Gardening was the subject of talk programmes in the early days of broadcasting with members of the RHS invited to give a Chat on Gardening. And it was this pastime that created one of radio's first stars in the unlikely form of Cecil Henry Middleton, who eventually came to be known to listeners as  'Mr Middleton'. He first gave talks on the BBC National Programme in 1931 under the title The Week in the Garden and by 1934 he'd become the Corporation's first gardening correspondent with his weekly In Your Garden. He was also TV's first gardener and tended the plot at Ally Pally.

Mr Middleton's advice was of the much needed practical kind. "As a gardener he believed in gradualness and development, and he most of all disliked people with capricious ideas and importunate designs." In the era of tightly scripted progamming he was given some latitude by his BBC producers. One memo insisted: "There really is no need for you to submit a manuscript every time you talk, so long as you have sufficient notes and you can extemporise - I would be happy if you would endeavour to tell and not read your garden talks." A typical talk might have gone something like this: "Good afternoon, Well it's not much of a day for gardening is it? You know, we hear a lot of so-called witty remarks about the poor old humble cabbage. But how we should miss it if we hadn't go it."  

Mr Middleton was a key figure in the wartime Dig for Victory campaign, wrote a number of books and had a regular column in the Daily Express. His influence would have extended beyond the war had he not died suddenly in September 1945, the Times obituary noting that his name was a "household word".

Despite the death of Mr Middleton In Your Garden continued to inform listeners about their allotments and herbaceous borders for another five years with various presenters that included Roy Hay, Fred Streeter and Eric Hobbis.

Although now largely overlooked horticultural journalist Roy Hay enjoyed a lengthy broadcasting career. When In Your Garden ended in 1950 he became the main presenter of its Sunday afternoon replacement Home Grown  that was heard on the London Home Service and some other regions.  Home Grown ran until 1957 by which time Gardeners' Question Time was heard nationally. In 1957 the BBC resurrected the In Your Garden title for a weekly magazine show that Roy presented firstly on Network Three (as part of their lifestyle and learning slot sandwiched between the Music Programme and the Third Programme) until 1964 when it transferred to the Home Service (1964-67) and then Radio 4 (1967-1970). It was only finally dropped in March 1970 by network controller Tony Whitby following the Broadcasting in the Seventies schedule shake-up as he only had room for one gardening programme. In Your Garden was regarded as the more "serious professional affair" but its audience was only 200,000 as against GQT's one million or so.    

As the Home Service regions enjoyed a degree of autonomy in the 1940s and 1950s not all of the UK heard In Your Garden and Home Grown. Listeners in Scotland, for example, would for many years tune into The Scottish Garden as their regional alternative. But it was the North of England (and for a while by default, due to transmitter restrictions,  Northern Ireland) that first heard British radio's longest running gardening show. How Does Your Garden Grow? was the brainwave of Manchester-based talks producer Robert Stead. The first show was broadcast in the North on 9 April 1947 and had been recorded before members of the Smallshaw Allotment Association in Ashton-under-Lyme. Robert chaired the series that, for that first edition, included two gardeners who would become long-standing experts: local lad Bill Sowerbutts (always billed as "... of Ashton-under-Lyme) and Fred Loads ("of Burnley", later "of Lancaster") alongside Tom Clark and Dr E.W. Sansome. The first question was put by the chairman of the association, Mr Hopwood - about the merits of double digging in an area with wet soil - and the second by his wife. Apparently an 81-year old man in the audience was under the impression he was at a recording of Have A Go and insisted on playing the cornet.

This is the first edition of How Does Your Garden Grow?


How Does Your Garden Grow? eventually became Gardeners' Question Time in 1951 and continued in the North only until 1957 visiting a different village hall or meeting room each week. Joining the panel in 1950 was Professor Alan Gemmell ("of Keele University") and together with Sowerbutts and Loads they became the mainstay of gardening advice for the next three decades. "All three men loved to banter, to try to out-persuade the audience with their recommendations for what to do with unresponsive aspidistras or rampant Russian vines".

The GQT panel 24 October 1958

The triumvirate of Sowerbutts, Loads and Gemmell hardly missed an episode but producers occasionally co-opted other panel members such as vegetable-grower supreme Arthur Billitt (Gardener's World cameras would later visit him at Clack's Farm, Worcestershire in the 70s), Eric Hobbis from the University of Bristol, Cornishman Fred Shepherd and Tom Matheson.

In 1957 GQT made the transition to national coverage, firstly appearing on the Light Programme over the summer as Down the Garden Path and then from September taking root in its now traditional 2pm Sunday slot.  

Here's an early 60s example of Gardeners' Question Time (kindly provided by Nigel Deacon) recorded at the Sanderstead Horticultural Society near Croydon. It's the regular panel of Loads, Sowerbutts and Gemmell. Of the voices you hear, Simon Elmes (author of Hello Again-Nine Decades of Radio Voices) wrote of Bill Sowerbutts that he had "an indelibly rich local accent and personality to match ... (he) had a swagger to him and his light voice with its cracking accent was a perfect match for his co-panellist, the darker and gentler voiced Fred Loads." Gemmell he describes as "a Scot with a twinkly sense of humour." This edition aired on the BBC Home Service on 16 December 1962.


There have been ten regular chairs of Gardeners' Question Time:  Robert Stead (1947-1953), Freddie Grisewood (1953-61), Franklin Engelmann (1961-72), producer Ken Ford who took over the presenting role following the sudden death of Engelmann (1972 and then again 1977-84), Michael (Nationwide) Barrett (1972-77), Les Cottingham (1984-85), Clay Jones (1985-1993), Dr Stefan Buczacki (1993-94), Eric Robson (1994- ) and Peter Gibbs (2005- ).  Others who briefly filled in were Rex Alston, Steve Race Gill Pyrah and Anna Ford.

Loads, Sowerbutts and Gemmell as featured in the Radio Times 4 March 1972
(Scan provided by Greg Bakun)

The panel always attempted to inject some humour into the proceedings but this didn't always go down well with management who seemed a little po-faced about the programme. A 1971 Review Board complained that the cast never varied and often dispensed inaccurate information. "When their inaccuracies become apparent even to themselves they fell back on music-hall jokes." David Hatch, then Network Editor in Manchester, described them as "a very elderly trio" and "a rather self-satisfied team". In the event nature took its course when Fred Loads died, aged 78, in 1981. With the team atmosphere at recordings having gone Alan Gemmell retired in 1982 (he died in 1986) and then Bill Sowerbutts left in 1983 (he died in 1990). 

By the late 70s other experts came on board, blunt Yorkshireman Geoffrey Smith, Welsh vegetable expert Clay Jones and, briefly, horticultural writer Chris Brickell. Then from 1982 the programme was given a bit of a shake-up with its first regular female expert Daphne Ledward who'd previously dispensed tips on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Also joining to become a regular member were Dr Stefan Buczacki. and TV's Peter Seabrook, already a familiar face on Gardeners' World and Pebble Mill at One.

Other gardening experts appearing on the programme in the 80s, 90s and 00s include: Sid Robertson, Fred Downham, Bridget Moody, Sue Phillips, Adrienne Wild, Walter Gilmour, Don Cockman, Bob Flowerdew, Pippa Greenwood, Geoff Hamilton, John Stirland, Crosbie Cochrane, Henry Noblett, Anne Swithinbank, Chris Beardshaw, John Cushnie, Matthew Biggs, Carol Klein, Bunny Guinness, Nigel Colborn, Roy Lancaster, Tony Russell, Carole Baxter, Matthew Wilson and Christine Walkden.

The panel for the 40th anniversary broadcast

For this 40th anniversary special in April 1987 the team visited the Old Palace, Hatfield in Hertfordshire where the horticultural questions come from some surprisingly familiar names. There's Germaine Greer (who used to write a gardening column as 'Rose Blight'), Molly Weir, John Humphries, Mary Whitehouse, Johnny Morris, Julian Pettifer, Penelope Mortimer, Penelope Keith and Richard Briers.

The panel are Daphne Ledward, Geoffrey Smith (who we still refer to as the 'mad axe man' as on Gardeners' World he always seemed to be advocating vigorous pruning of any shrub or tree), Fred Downham and Dr Stefan Buczacki.     



In 1994 there was trouble in the GQT garden, and it wasn't a case of powdery mildew or box blight but the threat of outsourcing. Radio 4 had decided that two programme, the other was Feedback, should be independently produced. Trevor Taylor, with Taylor Made Productions, won the contract. Trevor had previously worked as a BBC news reporter and producer on local radio and Radio 4 before setting up his company in 1985. However there was mutiny in the air as the existing team of Stefan Buczacki, Daphne Ledward, Fred Downham, Sue Phillips and Bridget Moody failed to secure guarantees of continuing to appear on the programme. They all left the BBC and shifted across to Classic FM for an hour-long show titled Classic Gardening Forum with the question and answer sequences "blended with popular classical music to fit themes such as flowers, fruit and the regions from where the programmes are broadcast". Classic FM's version was relatively short-lived, being finally put out to grass in September 1997.  

Classic FM's alternative 2 April 1994
The response from listeners to the changes at Radio 4 was mixed: "the programme has become complacent with some panellists promoting themselves as cult figures" one complained. "I don't believe any of the programme's followers want any changes, updates, zappy presenters, music quizzes or whatever other horrors lie in wait for us," wrote another.

Listeners needn't have worried, the new chairman was Eric Robson, already known to the Radio 4 audience from File on 4, with some new experts joining the panel including Anne Swithinbank, Pippa Greenwood and Bob Flowerdew; all, at the time, familiar to viewers of Gardeners' World and all still with the programme 23 years later.            

Since that upset things have been relatively quiet in the garden. In December 2000 the programme gained an extra 15 minutes on its running time. In 2005 meteorologist and keen gardener Peter Gibbs joined to share the chairing duties with Eric Robson. In 2009 producer Trevor Taylor retired and the contract was awarded to Somethin' Else - the same company behind Radio 3's Essential Classics and 5 live's Kermode and Mayo's Film Review


The show still plys the highways and byways of the UK to face questions from amateur gardeners but there are also regular correspondence editions, although these are rarely studio-bound. Recent specials have been recorded at 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

The gradual shift to add some new life to the programme has not been without its critics, although it's usually former chairman Stefan Buczkacki who's quoted, bemoaning the fact it "no longer offers any sense of location or identity."

The basics of GQT, the dispensing a gardening advice, eventually spread to other radio stations as the BBC opened its network of local stations, with most offering some form of gardening programme or feature. Some experts have enjoyed a long tenure, Joe Maiden on Radio Leeds, who sadly died in 2015, had been with the station for 40+ years whilst Radio Nottingham's John Stirland has also been on-air for a similar amount of time. Even the early ILR stations dabbled with gardening spots with Percy Thrower appearing on LBC for instance. GQT's Daphne Ledward ('Daffers') was for many years a regular on Jimmy Young's Radio 2 show. In a similar vein Jeremy Vine occasionally calls on Rhondda Valley allotment owner Terry Walton for his tips and advice.

For the programme's 70th anniversary there's a special edition this afternoon on BBC Radio 4 that gets a repeat in the time-honoured 2pm slot on Sunday afternoon. But as this weekend promises to be warm and sunny you may find yourself out in the garden deadheading those daffodils or tending your veg plot. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

It’s Country Style

From Americana to rockability, from bluegrass to the pop crossover of Taylor Swift, country music has never been more popular. This week BBC Radio 2, together with Chris Country, visits the C2C: Country to Country festival at the O2 and the digital pop-up station Radio 2 Country can be heard from the 9th to 12th.

US radio is flooded with country music stations - about 2,000 in all - that can trace their genesis back to station WSM's Barn Dance in October 1925, almost immediately renamed the Grand Ole Opry. WSM still broadcasts the Grand Ole Opry on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The Grand Ole Opry started by featuring what was generally termed 'hillbilly music', a fusion of folk and bluegrass with a bit of gospel thrown in. It was hillbilly music that started to be heard over the Atlantic on BBC radio in the late 1930s when shows such as Hill-Billy Round UpThe Rocky Mountaineers and Cabin in the Hills with 'Big Bill Campbell' were heard. This Canadian entertainer was perhaps the first person to popularise the American music form in the UK. In the Radio Times of 4 June 1940 we are told that "he has a terrific library of Hill-Billy songs - around 6,000 - and his friends in Canada keep sending him more. He used to broadcast a lot in Canada and the States and came over on a holiday in 1934. He went to see Eric Maschwitz, then Director of Variety, and Eric invited him to compere an All-American Variety programme. Within a year Big Bill had produced on the air the first  Rocky Mountaineers programme, which was to bring him fame".

Big Bill Campbell toured the theatres with Prairie Round-Up in 1950
Big Bill Campbell, real name Clarence Church Campbell - who often declared the music to be "mighty fine, mighty fine" and would close with "the clock on the wall says it's time to go home" - continued to broadcast on both Radio Luxembourg and BBC radio until his death in 1952. His BBC programmes included the popular Rocky Mountain Rhythm (1940-49) featuring "old log-cabin favourites" followed by the similar Prairie Round-Up (1950).

Meanwhile wartime listeners could enjoy National Barn Dance (1943-44) on the Forces Programme and, very much adopting the then popular cowboy persona, shows such as Home on the Range (1942-46) and The Call of the West (1939-46).  

In 1949 BBC producer Charles Chilton was using the music of the Wild West in a fictionalised story of cowboy Jeff Arnold, played by Paul Carpenter, called Riders of the Range (1949-1953). Such was the success of the series that it spawned its own comic strip in the Eagle. Chilton's other production from that year was Hill-Billy Hoe-Down introducing "the folks of Smoky Mountain".

Music for dancing, in the form of square dancing, featured in the programme Happy Hoe-Down (1950-53) with music from Phil Cardew's Cornhuskers. But this was no American outfit, Phil came from Wimbledon and had played in Jack Hylton's band.  

The next broadcaster to appear on the scene is yet another Canadian, this time Toronto-born DJ and actor Murray Kash. Born in 1923 he'd pursued a career as both an actor, initially in the theatre but later on TV and film - look out for him the next time Thunderball gets a showing - and as a DJ with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Arriving in the UK in 1955 he was initially in rep but picked up some minor film roles and began to appear in radio and TV dramas, both on the BBC and ITV. However, in late 1957 the BBC Home Service offered him a record show called Hill-Billy Hoe-Down which led to further shows in 1958 and 1959. In 1960, by now on the Light Programme, Kash's Hoe-Down shows are now billed as featuring "country and western music".  Throughout the 1960s he was the go-to person for country music shows on the BBC, Radio Luxembourg and British Forces Network.

On the Light Programme Murray Kash popped up on Sweet Dreams (1961) and Fine 'n' Dandy (1962), meaning it wasn't all country music, but was mainly introducing country and western records on Twelve O'Clock Spin (1962 & 1964). Walk Right In (1963 & 1965), On the Trail (1963), It's Kinda Folksy (1965-66) which "served up a lunchtime menu of folk and country music" and Call It Country Style (1966-67). Kash continued to organise and promote live country music shows but still made some radio appearances until 1971 reviewing records and providing the latest country music news on Country Meets Folk and Country Style.

National radio got its first regular country music show in the summer of 1967, although it had to share the hour with folk music. Country Meets Folk, running for five years on the Light Programme, then Radio 1 and Radio 2, (and often simulcast on BFBS radio) blended records, live performances and reviews of new releases and pretty much set the template for radio country music shows.

Both Wally Whyton and David Allan regularly broadcast on the
BBC World Service. Country and Whyton was heard in  October 1975
Country Meets Folk's presenter was Wally Whyton, already known to radio listeners for his skiffle performances with his group The Vipers. He'd also had a go at presenting on Folk Room (1965). In fact Wally's biggest fan base was probably amongst the children of Britain who'd seen him every week between 1959 and 1966 on ITV's teatime show The Musical Box as well as Huff Puff Junction and Five O'Clock Club where he created the puppet characters Pussycat Willum and Olly Beak. Such was Wally's connection with a younger audience that he presented Play School for a while and was deputising for Ed Stewart on Junior Choice in the 1970s.

This edition of Country Meets Folk, recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in London, comes from either 1969 or 1970. Thank you to Chris Brady.


This edition dates from 20 May 1972 and was recorded by Barry Alan Shaw who regularly attended the recordings that year.


The next name in the story is David Allan who presented a new show, Country Style, on Radio 2 from March 1968. David would become the voice of country music broadcasting on radio and TV for the next three decades. He'd started off on the offshore pirate 'sweet music' station Radio 390 where he also devised a country music show. 

David left Country Style in 1969 to concentrate on TV continuity work for BBC1 and BBC2, a role he maintained until 1994. He was replaced by Pat Campbell, another performer turned broadcaster. Irish-born Pat had been part of the singing group The Four Ramblers, a group that Val Doonican was in for a while. He became a promotions manager for RCA Records but also started to broadcast both for the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. On the Light Programme he'd filled in for Brain Matthew on Saturday Club, hosted Ring-a-Ding-Ding (1962) and over on BBC2 introduced the acts on  The Beat Room - a series for which only show has survived. Pat continued as presenter of Country Style until the end of its run in June 1973.

David Allan was back on Radio 2 in September 1972 for the series Up Country, following him, until it ended in 1974, were Dave Cash and Pete Brady. This short clip with Pete Brady dates from 1973.  


In July 1973 another far longer-running series hit the airwaves, Country Club. Over the years both Wally Whyton and David Allan presented the programme, and for a while in 1978 and 1979 it was a double-header. Between 1980 and 1995 Wally remained the main presenter. He was also in charge on Both Sides Now (1976-78), another mix of country and folk and had, until just a month before his death in January 1997, a regular show, Country Style, on the BBC World Service. In 1993 he spoke to Mark Goodier for a country music edition of the World Service programme An Essential Guide to ...   

Why not sit a spell and enjoys these recordings of Wally on Country Club dating from 1982ish (I can't trace the exact date), 1984 and 1985. His guests in the third clip are Kathy and Christy Forrester from Lookout Mountain, Georgia


David Allan meanwhile was back on Radio 2 in January 1980 with the record show Country Style (1980-82), running for 30 minutes on a Sunday afternoon and later getting a full hour on Saturday evening. He then introduced Country Greats In Concert (1982-83). This recording of Country Style dates from 15 March 1981.

From 3 February 1980 comes this recording courtesy of Noel Tyrrel. 


Moving away from national radio for a moment I mustn't forget that local radio, as many BBC and ILR stations used to  devote an hour or so a week to country music. Growing up in East Yorkshire I well recall  Radio Humberside's country music presenter Tex Milne, followed later by Tammy Cline and Bob Preedy. Until his death last year Dave Cash presented a country music show on Radio Kent and one of the best of the current crop is Steve Cherelle on BBC Essex. Nearly all the early ILR stations started off with country shows but the longest running is, of course, Downtown Country with Big T, still on the air 40 years later. So popular is country music in Northern Ireland that Downtown launched a DAB spin-off station Downtown Country in 2015. In the 1980s Metro Radio had a country music programme presented by Brian Clough, known for a while as The Friday Night Country Crowd. Brian was also heard on Radio Tees and later Great North Radio, Radio Newcastle and Smooth Radio. These days his The American Connection Country Show is on Radio Tyneside. Radio Cumbria's Paul Braithwaite, with the station since 1972, also has a weekly Braithwaite's Country programme.

Country-only stations are rare in the UK: in London there was the AM station Country 1035 (David Allan was an early presenter), the short-lived Clyde spin-off 3C and CMR, (Country Music Radio), a sister station of QEFM, broadcasting via satellite in the 1990s which still has an online presence as CMR Nashville with the original owner and DJ Lee Williams. More recently there's Chris Country which has DAB and DAB+ coverage in a number of regions.      

The new kid on the block in 1992 was Nick Barraclough. Country music was breaking through to the mainstream with artists like Garth Brooks and Mary Chapin Carpenter and his show, Nick Barraclough's New Country, reflected that. Nick had been a folk musician in the 1970s but started to broadcast in the early 1980s on his local station BBC Radio Cambridgeshire as well as introducing the Cambridge Folk Festival coverage on BBC2. He moved into radio production, working on a number of music documentaries for Radio 2 and joining the team of producers for Gloria Hunniford's show. He worked on programmes as musically diverse as Country Club and Alan Keith's The Golden Years. Running from 1992 to 2007 New Country was an independent production from Smooth Operations, a company of which Nick was a director. This short clip is from the 1990s, I seem to have mislaid the exact date.   


When Wally Whyton left Radio 2 in 1995 David Allan was back in the hot seat on Country Club. In January 1997 he had the sad task of informing listeners of Wally's death. Here's part of that show from 24 January.



Bob Harris had always played country music on his Radio 1 and Radio 2 shows but it was still a surprise when network controller Jim Moir asked him to present a show dedicated to the genre, to "explore the fringes of mainstream and unearth the new artists who were going to take the music forward". Bob Harris Country launched on 8 April 1999 and, of course, remains on air to this day, the station's only regular country show. In this special edition from 21 October 2010 Bob talks to Mary Chapin Carpenter.


Thanks also to Paul Bainbridge

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Sounds of the 60s

I don't think my Facebook feed has been quite so busy as it has been in the last couple of months following the enforced departure of Brian Matthew from Sounds of the Sixties.

I'm a member of the Sounds of the Sixties Facebook group and the fact that Brian was absent and replaced by Tim Rice, then the news that he'd wouldn't be returning, had the avids in uproar. To cap it all the show is to continue with Tony Blackburn but at the ungodly hour of 6am on Saturday morning, two hours earlier.

As if to rub salt in the wounds of Brian's devoted listeners, Radio 2 boss Lewis Carnie wrote in the current edition of the Radio Times the somewhat illogical statement that "Brian is irreplaceable at 8am on a Saturday, so we're moving the Sounds of the 60s to 6am, with a live show hosted by Tony Blackburn". So he's both irreplaceable and replaceable it seems.

Of course network controllers are perfectly at liberty to have a schedule shake-up and, it must be admitted, that until this year Radio 2's schedule has been pretty static of late. However, last month's overnight changes caused a ruckus and now Brian has publically declared that the decision to leave was by mutual agreement as "absolute balderdash. I was ready and willing and able to go back".  All very messy and sadly not untypical of the gulf between management and on-air talent - witness the shoddy treatment of Alex Lester who, after nearly 30 years with the station had no visit from an executive, nor even the offer of a farewell drink.

The furore surrounding SOTS was discussed on yesterday's edition of Feedback


Brian has been hosting  Sounds of the Sixties since March 1990. But he wasn't the first presenter; when it started in 1983 Keith Fordyce was in the hot seat. When Keith left in 1986 there was a string of guest presenters - all musicians and singers who'd enjoyed fame in the 60s - plus quite a few shows with Simon Dee.


When Brian took over there was a promise of "new, improved nostalgia" (see article above). The formula has been pretty much unchanged in the intervening 27 years. Brian's presence has always lent an air of authority to the show - he was there at the time on Saturday Club, Easy Beat and Thank Your Lucky Stars. When, today, Brian played a clip from the 60s BBC Transcription Service series Pop Profile featuring George Harrison it was Brian interviewing.  But let's not forget that Tony Blackburn has equally valid 1960s credentials - and still sounds as fresh as he did back then - and there's continuity too with producer Phil Swern compiling the show.

But today was the end of an era for Brian, doubly so as it not only marks the end of a 27  year run on Sounds of the Sixties but, including Round Midnight, it's the first time Brian hasn't been on the radio at least once a week in 39 years.  

From my own archive here's an edition of Sounds of the Sixties from 23 October 2004.


This morning's  swansong was a trip down memory lane with archive clips and mentions of past show features. This is the show in full.



"This is your old mate Brian Matthew saying that's your lot for this week. See you again soon"

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Ricochet

He was the square-jawed news reporter with a nose for trouble investigating the criminal underworld where all the baddies sported a foreign accent and their evils plan were always thwarted with fisticuffs. Michael John O'Shea, known as Rick O'Shea (geddit?) was the Dick Barton of his day, the day being the mid-1970s. And mention of Dick Barton is apposite as in two episodes, much like one of those CSI crossover episodes, the retired special agent makes a guest appearance.

Ricochet was a drama series running on BBC Radio 2 in 1974 and 1975. Stripped across the week the stories unfolded at breakneck speed in their 15-minute timeslots, scenes punctuated by the dramatic theme or the sound of a ricocheting bullet.  

So what was Ricochet all about? Fortunately the Radio Times of 29 June 1974 fills us in:
"Not since the days of the mighty Dick Barton has there been a team like it: Rick O'Shea, the London Globe's ace newshound, backed by Dusty Miller. The glamorous Jan Paxton and lens-woman Penny Trinket. A team with a nose for trouble, an instinct for just which cupboard hides which skeleton. According to their creator, Tony Scott Veitch (who should know) they are quite a bunch. 'Dusty Miller is a reporter and a very good man with his fist. Penny, she's very trendy and comes from Liverpool. And Jan Paxton is O'Shea's assistant, a kind of Miss Oddjob. She has a very ambivalent relationship with her employer.' And Rick O'Shea himself? 'He'll do anything to get his story,' says Veitch. 'Expense is no object. He can charter a jet or whistle up a helicopter any time, and lives in a penthouse behind Harrods.'

So - what will happen when Rick and Co tangle with the devious Hugo de Witt? Can the Special Branch ever keep up with the O'Shea team. How much longer will the editor of the Globe put up with Rick's expenses?"

Playing O'Shea was pock faced Aussie actor Ray Barrett of The Troubleshooters fame and voice artist on numerous Gerry Anderson productions. Indeed in a delightful piece of synchronicity Barrett was the voice of DJ Rick O'Shea in an episode of Thunderbirds called Ricochet. Jan Paxton was played by Margaret Wolfit (daughter of renowned actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit) and Dusty Miller by Alexander John.   


Radio 2 scheduled Ricochet twice a day when it started on 1 July 1974; heard first as part of Late Night Extra with a repeat the following day at 13.45. By December of that year it was cut down to a 10-minute slot going out at 18.35, just before Sports Desk, with a repeat the following afternoon. The final episode aired on 27 March 1975.

Unfortunately it seems that the BBC didn't keep the tapes of Ricochet - its likely they were dumped in the 80s -  so don't expect any repeats on Radio 4 Extra. But at least two episodes have been saved by a private collector, the two episodes that included the guest appearance of Noel Johnson playing Dick Barton that were broadcast in Christmas week 1974. I was alerted to this search for old episodes by Fred Vintner when he first contacted me back in late 2014. Fred runs the Navy Lark Appreciation Society and the connection here is that long-time producer of The Navy Lark was Alastair Scott Johnston who also produced Ricochet. Some years ago Fred had been giving a book of cuttings by Alastair's daughter, Fiona Scott Johnston, that included some of the Radio Times billings and artwork for the show, this set him off on a quest to find out as much about the programme as he could and to unearth those elusive recordings.

Much of what we do have about Ricochet is the artwork and the theme tune. From the off the Radio Times would print a weekly strip cartoon on the Friday radio billing pages. I have an incomplete collection of the magazine for that period and a few of the strips are reproduced below. They are credited to Malcolm Harrison (about whom I know nothing) and scriptwriter Tony Scott Veitch. Veitch by the way was born in Scotland but lived for many years in Australia and wrote adventures series for both the BBC radio - Overland Patrol set in Oz (1965-7), Nicholas Quinn-Anonymous (1966), Six Steps in the Dark (1967), The Young Pioneers, again set Down Under (1967-8) and Mr Pybus (1970-71) - and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as well an penning many novels, mostly Westerns, under the pseudonym Scott McLure.


















The theme tune was released as Ricochet with added gunshot effects in a recording credited to the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra conducted by Norrie Paramor. The single from BBC Records (RESL20) was released on 7 June 1974 as well as cropping up later in the year on an MRO album The most beautiful girl in the world (REB180). The track, under its original title Fasten Seat Belts, then appears years later on the CD compilation Girl in a Suitcase (Winchester Hospital Radio 2001) but here credited to the Gerhard Narholz Orchestra. Austrian composer Narholz, who also recorded under the name of Norman Candler, wrote the tune. It's this version that then ends up doing double theme tune duty when it gets used again on Radio 2 in 1980 as Pete Murray closes Open House and moves to a new weekend slot.    

Here's the MRO version of Ricochet in full and in use on the programme. 

And this is the Narholz version as used by Pete Murray together with a clip from his Saturday show.


And that's about as much as I know about Ricochet. Needless to say if you have a tape of the show lurking in the loft please contact me.

Thanks go to Fred Vintner. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Radio Lives - Desmond Carrington

Few radio shows feature both Al Bowlly and ZZ Top on their playlist, but Desmond Carrington's The Music Goes Round was such a show, a Radio 2 Friday night fixture for twelve years. Prior to that Desmond had hosted the Sunday lunchtime All Time Greats from 1981 to 2004 with a music selection, chosen by listeners, that could be equally diverse, even though it did tend to veer towards easy listening and the nostalgic. That 36 year run of weekly music shows finally came to a dignified and poignant end in October 2016 when ill-health forced Desmond to finally hung up his headphones.

Desmond Herbert Carrington was born and raised in Bromley where he attended the County Grammar School. Perhaps sensing that his future was in the arts his first job was as an office boy at Macmillan's the publishers for 18/- a week. But his calling was acting and his first professional role was as a Cockney schoolboy in Goodbye Mr Chips at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. He then secured regular repertory work with the Penge Court Players.       

In the early years of the Second World War Desmond joined the army, serving in the Royal West Kent Regiment, initially posted to Northern Ireland before serving out in India and Burma. Here he got his first opportunity to broadcast by opening up Rangoon Radio after the Japanese army had left. By 1946 he was serving as a commissioned officer out of Colombo in Ceylon and managed to wangle a job at the new forces station Radio SEAC (South Eastern Asia Command). Based in a palm grove some 15 miles outside Colombo the  coverage was immense, taking in India, East Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Indo-Chine, Japan, the Pacific and the west coast of the States. On the team with Carrington were David Jacobs - they would remain firm friends thereafter - McDonald Hobley, Charles Chilton and Alexander Moyes.


On demob Desmond knocked on the door of the BBC but they sent him away telling him that he was not of "sufficient promise" for them to offer him a job. However he would eventually secure a post as part of the BBC Drama Repertory company where he worked across a range of schools broadcasts and drama productions such as Children's Hour, Paul Temple and Mrs Dales Diary.    
In parallel to his acting career Desmond pursued his other great passion of cinema by carving out something of a specialism as an adapter of film screenplays for radio broadcast. He'd presented some film programmes on Radio SEAC and back in Britain he'd come up with the idea of recording the soundtrack from the film projector using a sound mirror and a tape recorder. With the agreement of the film companies he then used the edited highlights from the recording to form a radio programme. He took the idea to both Radio Luxembourg where the scenes would be linked together by Wilfrid Thomas in a series titled Movie Magazine. Later Desmond himself would present a number of shows for the station that included film soundtracks as well as interviews and film scores in programmes such as Hollywood Calling and the sponsored Alka-Seltzer Movie Parade. He continued to appear on Luxembourg into the mid-50s.

Meanwhile back at the BBC that same idea of film adaptations were featured in a number of programmes including Picture Parade (1948) and Sunday Cinema (1949-50). Desmond returned to cinema related work at the BBC when he and Spencer Hale (both pictured below) compiled and presented the Stargazing segment -basically star interviews with accompanying film clips - and then the quiz segment Sounds Familiar of the long-running film magazine Merry- Go-Round (Light Programme 1956-60)


Desmond's big break finally came in 1958 when he got a telephone call from a colleague who was now producing Emergency Ward Ten asking if he'd like to play the part of the son of a patient. Desmond leapt at the chance to do some live television over three months. His performance was deemed a success and he was invited back to play the part of a doctor - the part of Dr Chris Anderson. He remained in the show until 1964 appearing in over 200 episodes.

Of his time on Emergency Ward 10 Desmond would later recall the problems of having to memorise "some appallingly difficult and long medical terms, Then  I had the bright idea of writing them on the inside of the sink as we were always scrubbing up for the operations on the shows. During rehearsal, it worked fine, as there was no running water in the sinks. When it came to the live transmission I watched in horror as my medical terms were washed away as I started to scrub up. There was nothing for it but to improvise".

Ironically it was Desmond's TV fame that led to his future career as a disc jockey. In 1962 he was invited to compere Housewives' Choice for a fortnight whilst he was still appearing as Dr Anderson and, as the Radio Times billing adds, also appearing on stage in Doctor in the House at Streatham Hill Theatre. He got repeat bookings on Housewives' Choice for the remainder of its run between 1963 and 1967. In 1963 he was playing music from stage and screen on the Light Programme's Twelve O'Clock Spin. For the second half of 1964 it was more songs from the musicals in Record Showtime with the Radio Times billing helpfully informing us that he was appearing in Wanted on Voyage at the Grand Theatre, Leeds - by now he'd just left Emergency Ward 10. The following year it was a back to the world of film in Music from the Movies, a series scripted by Movie-Go-Round's Peter Haigh and produced by announcer Robin Boyle (a second series, produced by Tony Luke followed in 1966). And, in case you were wondering, Des was now in Face to Face at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.     

Throughout 1966 Desmond could be heard every weekend hosting Open House with "records of assorted speeds, sizes, and styles to suit people with assorted tastes". In 1967 he was back with more Music from the Movies, this time working with the future radio comedy producer Richard Willcox. There seemed to be no room for Desmond on Radio 2 when it replaced the Light in September 1967 but in 1968 he was back adapting film soundtracks with Spencer Hale for Radio 4's Disney Time that included Mary Poppins, Dumbo and Bambi. Finally, from December 1968, and running until September 1972, Desmond had a daily show on Radio 2 playing the latest releases in Album Time. Aside from three appearances in charge of After Seven in 1973 there was radio silence for the next eight years.  

Desmond was invited back into the Radio 2 fold in early 1981 to introduce a series of shows featuring The Magic of Stanley Black (other programmes would also feature Mantovani, Ronnie Aldrich and Robert Farnon, John Gregory, Geoff Love and John Fox). He owed his return to producer Paul Walters who, Paul reminded him on their first meeting, had swung the boom on some of those old Emergency Ward 10 broadcasts at the ATV's Highbury studios.

The success of the Magic of... shows led to an invitation to present the Sunday morning All Time Greats. Desmond expected it to run for a month or so but after the first recording producer Jack Dabbs told him, "well that's your pension, Desmond". He was right, it ran for 23 years!

In October 2011 Desmond gave listeners to The Music Goes Round and Round an opportunity to hear again the first edition of All Time Greats. Although the BBC hadn't kept a copy, Desmond had.


Initially just an hour in duration, All Time Greats was extended to 90 minutes and then two, and for a while three, hours and settled into what was more or less the old Family Favourites slot. It was a record request show too so anything went, but as Desmond told the Radio Times in October 1985, the music choice was often vintage:
"It's the listeners' programme, not mine. They choose the records". He gets about 500 suggestions a week requesting favourites pieces and reckons some 6,000 records have been chosen by Radio 2 listeners over the past four years. "Some people misquote the title as Old-Time Greats but it's certainly not that. We can play records right up to the present day, though I admit that most requests are for music from the 50s backwards. Most requested record? Without a doubt Glen Miller's Moonlight Serenade. Bunny Berigan's I can't get started is a close second.

Still acting in the late 80s as evidenced by
this Radio Times article  17 January 1987
In August 2004 network controller Lesley Douglas decided to have a re-shuffle and the Sunday lunchtime All Time Greats came to an end. In this broadcast from 8 August 2004 Des tells his listeners that the decision was not his, "and I should like to make that clear".


In 1995 Dave Alyott and Desmond formed Foldback Media to
produce the shows for the BBC
The follow-up series, The Music Goes Round, now on a Tuesday evening, was the same eclectic mix condensed into an hour with each show adopting a theme for all or part of that hour. Come April 2010 Desmond moved to Friday nights where he remained until last year. For many years he'd been broadcasting from his home studio but by now the show's opening was always the memorable "Evening all from home in Perthshire, Scotland". Home being near Dunning where he lived with producer and long-time partner Dave Aylott and, often curled up at Des's feet during the show, cat Golden Paws Sam.

In 2013 Desmond spoke to Tim Blackmore about his radio career in a Radio Talk podcast for the Radio Academy.



In May 2016 Desmond celebrated his 90th birthday with this special edition of The Music Goes Round.


Golden Paws Sam taking it easy
What listeners didn't know. and for a while neither did Radio 2 management, was that Desmond's health was failing as he was battling with cancer and Alzheimer's disease. In December 2015 he'd suffered a second heart failure but was back at the microphone a few days later. However in October 2016 he announced that after 70 years on the air he was reluctantly having to "hang up my headphones" and say "enough is enough". Here is that final show from 28 October.


Yesterday, on the day Radio 2 had already scheduled a tribute to Desmond, it was announced that he'd died. The voice of a true radio all time great silenced.

Desmond Carrington 1926-2017 Bye just now

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Commentating Captain

Ninety years ago this month the first live sports commentary was broadcast by the BBC. That "first broadcast description", as the BBC Hand Book described it, was on the rugby match between England and Wales at Twickenham. The commentator was Captain H.B.T. Wakelam. But who was Captain Wakelam and how come he was given that task of covering that match. And, as it was the first ever such broadcast (at least on this side of the Atlantic) how did he know what to do? The answers can be found in Wakelam's 1938 autobiography Half-Time "The Mike and Me".

Firstly a brief biographical portrait. Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam, known as Teddy, was born in 1893 in Herefordshire were his father was the County Engineer, a very keen all-round sportsman and "an extremely good shot". The family moved to London when his father was appointed to a job in Middlesex. Young Teddy was educated at the Middleton School in Bognor where he was sent as a boarder. Here he developed his love for playing sport; he'd go on to play rugby, cricket, football, hockey and tennis which stood him in good stead years later when he was asked to commentate on a range of sports for the BBC.  He continued his education firstly at Marlborough College, Wiltshire and then Pembroke College, Cambridge where he initially studied medicine but due to "a very distinct aversion from corpse dissecting" switched to history. While at Pembroke he played rugby for a number of clubs before joining Harlequins for whom he turned out on many occasions over three years up until the war. Indeed he was so busy on the sporting field that he feared he was spreading himself too thinly: "I think ... that I attempted too much in those days. Four days a week I was playing either rugger or hockey for Pembroke, and my Saturdays were also fully taken up playing either for the Varsity at one of other game, or for the Quins. Perhaps had I concentrated more I might have been successful."    

On the outbreak of World War One, Teddy was accepted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers; by 1917 he'd been promoted to Captain of the 96th A.A. Section. He saw service in France, Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine. After the war there was a period of post-war liaison work for the Army in Poland and Germany and he started to play rugby again, initially for the Public Schools Services and then for a reformed Harlequins where he'd eventually captain the team. He gained employment with the contractors and building firm John Mowlem & Co, mainly working on contracts for the London County Council. In 1922 he married Vera Greenhill, the following year they had their only child Elizabeth. By 1924 Wakelam was forced to retire playing rugby due to a knee injury but he very much remained part of the sport as well as taking on duties as a Wimbledon umpire.   


Meanwhile over at Savoy Hill the British Broadcasting Company had become a Corporation on 1 January 1927 and gained some additional rights to broadcast reports of sporting events, rights that the press had previously jealously guarded. The BBC had already decided to introduce the type of live commentary that American radio was doing and it was on the lookout for possible commentators, broadcasters who would be pioneers in the field. On 7 January the Director of Entertainment, Roger Eckersley, issued a memo to Station Directors expounded on the subject, suggesting that the person giving the running commentaries "probably will be difficult to find, as he should have the journalistic instinct, a decent voice, a sound communicable knowledge of the subject, and the power to make listeners feel as though they were present at the event". 

Asking around the name of Teddy Wakelam came to the BBC's attention, especially useful as the first commentary game was to be a rugby match. Such were the hurried and last minute arrangements that the commentary, on 15 January 1927, was not billed in the Radio Times. Wakelam's autobiography takes up the story at this point in some detail and I've reproduced a few paragraphs of it below.  
The other players in this story are Lance Sieveking who joined the BBC in April 1926 with special responsibilities for topical talks and news. He'd recently returned from a trip to the States to witness how US radio covered baseball matches. He later work mainly in drama, producing and script editing for both BBC radio and TV. Wakelam's number two was a chap called Charles Lapworth who seemed to have no obvious connection to rugby. He was a former editor of the Daily Herald and had worked at other newspapers both in the UK and the USA. This was his one and only appearance as Wakelam's sidekick. The reference to "a St Dunstan's man" is the home for the blind for ex-servicemen and women, now known as Blind Veterans UK. 

"One afternoon I was sitting at my table working out some details of a tender, when my telephone rang. An unknown voice at the other end then asked me if I was the same Wakelam who had played Rugger for the Harlequins, and upon my saying 'Yes' went on to inform me that the owner of it was an official of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who would much like to see me at once on an urgent matter.

Turning up at the arranged meeting-place, I was welcomed by Lance Sieveking, the gentleman in question, who thereupon explained to me the reason for his call. Briefly it was this. Since the BBC in January 1927 had become a national institution, its scope had become considerably wider, and it had been decided to follow a recent American innovation, and to put out running commentaries on important sporting events. It was proposed a start should be made with the Rugby International at Twickenham, between England and Wales, on January 15, and would I be prepared to undergo there and then a studio microphone test in order to see if my voice was suitable, and then, should such prove to be the case, to take part in an actual field trial to be held the next day on the Guy's Hospital Ground at Honor Oak Park? On the principle of 'try anything once,' and also with the confined conviction that if an American could do it I could, I agreed, and duly passed the 'Mike' test. The next day, three days before the actual match, together with Sieveking, a man called Lapworth, who had the vast knowledge of the American film world. and two other competitors, I went down to the Guy's ground as arranged, but alas, something had gone wrong, and no engineers or microphones turned up! This was a bad start; but things grew even worse when eventually we did find them, in Greenwich Park, watching a game between Blackheath Wednesday and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, for no sooner had they started to get their elaborate and fearsome-looking gear when up came a large and very important park-keeper, full of righteous indignation, and we departed sadder but considerably wiser men. By this time it was too late to seek other fields, so we were asked by a most apologetic Sieveking to parade again the next day, if a match could be found upon which we could give a try-out. There proved to be one at the Old Deer Park, Richmond, an inter-schoolboy affair, where the same party again assembled, and after the lines and so on had been run out and fixed up, we started on our 'dummy run.' After it was over, Sieveking came up to me, and asked me if I would have shot at doing the match as proposed. I agreed, subject, of course, to suitable financial remuneration, a point upon which both of us very naturally were quite at sea. That, however, was put aside for the moment, and we set out straightaway for Twickenham to examine the selected position and to study the arrangements.   
Arriving at Twickenham, Sieveking and I were met by Commander Cooper, an old and valued friend of mine, and together we examined our perch, which was a somewhat rickety-looking hut mounted on a scaffold platform at the end of the then single-decker West Stand, in the south-west corner. Here the engineers were hard at work wiring up and installing the microphones, and we for our own part worked out in detail our proposed plan of campaign. here the first squared plan of the field came into being, the facsimile of which so often nowadays is printed for the benefit of listeners in the Radio Times, and here was put up a notice for our own particular benefit, a notice which, printed in large red letters, was 'DON'T SWEAR' (not that I any more than the rest of my fellow-men am addicted to the use of strong language, but sometime, watching Rugger, one is apt to get carried away!). The order of the seating was also decided upon, and Sieveking finally was struck with a most brilliant idea, which was to prove of the utmost worth to me on the day. He decided to get hold of a St Dunstan's man who, before his terrible misfortune, had been a keen Rugger follower, and to invite him to sit just in front of the open window of the box so that I could talk as if explaining the game directly to him, and so perhaps lose some of my very natural stage-fright. Having fixed these and other small details, we returned to town, and duly reassembled n the site an hour or so before the game on the fateful day. Then I learnt that Charles Lapworth should be my 'No. 2,' or, as someone immediately and appropriately remarked my 'Dr Watson.' In many ways he was very well suited to his job, for he was the personification of cool and calm collectedness, though his knowledge of the actual game itself was rather limited. In fact, the only football he really knew at all was the American game, as one of his remarks was to prove.

Ten minutes before the kick-off, we came on the air, Sieveking first to give the atmosphere, reading out the now familiar copyright notice and doing the introductions, and then a somewhat shy and diffident me, to give out the details of the game and the names of those taking part in it. On the stroke of the appointed time, the match was started, and we were off. Straightway I forgot all my nervousness and stage-fright, all my previously and arduously collected phrases, and all the, as I thought, snappy and pithy expressions which I had anxiously culled from the leading sporting writers of the day. I was so wrapped up in following the flight and fortunes of that ball, and so desperately keen to keep my St Dunstan's man fully informed, that I raced away like a maniac and then and there, I think, got into the habit which I still maintain is essential) of being just a fraction ahead of the actual game. By that I mean the necessity of starting to speak of a man as passing just as he is shaping to pass, a poor description and example to illustrate my point, but nevertheless a correct one, for it is actually the truth.

My memories of the actual game itself that day are, I am afraid, very vague indeed, in fact I do believe when it was over that I could recall one single football incident, though I do remember some of the gap-filling remarks which are, of course, essential when play is temporarily held up for this or that reason.   
Once Lapworth, doing a hero's work in all conscience, said to me in one of these pauses, 'Do they always play with an oval ball?' a remark which may to any Rugger player appear ludicrous, but it reminded me that many of my audience were not familiar with the game, and so helped me to keep away from being too technical (a most serious fault). Again, he said, after one of the Englishmen had been hurt, and had to leave the field, 'Who will they send on instead?' another apparent bloomer, but a chance for me to fill in b y saying that the practice of replacements had not so far (and I sincerely hope never will) become part of the Rugby football creed. And so, back to earth, and tempting my Celtic fervour, with Sieveking's commanding hand sometimes waving me back when I crowded on to the mike and so was in danger of blasting, and with the 'Don't swear' notice ever before my eyes, I got somehow to half-time. and a welcome breathing-space, filled in by atmosphere from the outside mike, and a few more remarks from Sieveking.
Hereabouts I am popularly supposed to have remarked, sotto voce (which of course makes no difference), 'What about having a drink?' but if such was the case, I have no recollection of it, and prefer to treat it as a canard.
In five minutes we were off again, and though towards the end I do recall becoming rather breathless and hoarse, my general memory of the second half is as blank as that of the first.

The press response to Wakelam's commentary was mixed: "Some were definitely hostile, talking about quick-fire football and even quick-fire comedians, being obviously and decidedly against such an innovation, which perhaps might tell against their circulation. Some were inclined to be a bit haughty and to damn with faint praise, and I must have gone through the whole gamut of a leading actor's sensations after a 'first night' until I opened the pages of The Times and read a most delightful little bit by Bernard Darwin ... (who) went on to say in his own inimitable way that he supposed that in the course of time all sports and leading outdoor events would be so reported."

The listening public was more positive though there was a letter of complaint from the wife of a Welsh ex-international who dubbed Wakelam a plague and a menace "for her husband had got so excited listening-in that he had started playing himself and had smashed up most of her sitting-room furniture".

Those first early experiments with running commentaries set the tone and style for what was to follow. The St Dunstan's man who'd sat in front of Wakelam observed "It seemed to me that you were just talking to me, and to me only, and just as if you were telling me something in an ordinary conversation." Wakelam  went on to list four basic rules which have stood the test of time:

The first: Simplicity - Use ordinary everyday sentences. Don't be too technical. Don't be too facetious. BE NATURAL.
The second: Continuity - Keep going as well as you can, without padding up with too much uninteresting and dry material. Wander away very occasionally on to something which is only remotely connected with the game, such as a helicopter overhead, or an outstanding figure in the crowd (it helps the atmosphere). Work in sympathy with your No. 2, and thus avoid double talking. BE CLEAR.
The third: Praise but don't criticise. BE FAIR.
The fourth: Know your man - 'Eye and brain' I have tried to explain, but the second and more important part of this fourth rule can be summed up in two words: BE FRIENDLY.

The BBC viewed Wakelam's commentary as a success and offered him a contract to cover a further ten events, in the event he remained with the BBC for another 12 years. For his next rugby match his No.2 was former Welsh international Rhys Thomas 'Rusty' Gabe, though, Wakelam notes "I am afraid we were guilty of a good deal of overlapping".

Next Wakelam was asked to do the first football commentary. Although he knew the game his knowledge of current players was lacking so he wrote a note to one of the team managers only to receive this unhelpful reply on a postcard: "Dear Sir, as you have been chosen to broadcast this match, presumably you already know all about the players".
In February 1927 Wakelam participated in what was a bizarre piece of experimental commentary. The match was a rugby international between Wales and France and he was asked if he could intersperse some short pieces in French for the benefit if listeners in France. Although he did speak a little of the language he set about looking up all the rugby terms and expressions in French that he could find. By a stroke of luck when he arrived at the hotel in Swansea, prior to the broadcast, he was greeted by a French businessman resident in the town who agreed to sit next to him in the commentary box and write down some of the salient features of play in colloquial French.

Commentaries on other sports followed. As he'd played a little tennis and was a part-time umpire at Wimbledon he was asked to cover the Championship games in the summer of 1927 (alongside another military-styled chap, Colonel R.H. Brand). Commentating on the men's semi-finals he recounts another incident that still occasionally affects live sports coverage, getting cut-off at a crucial stage in the match. At two sets a piece and six games to five in the final set the match was on a knife edge. "I made some kind of remark about a desperate prospective finish and how terribly exciting and thrilling it was. I was not destined to put that finish over though, for when the score reached 30-15, my companion touched me on the shoulder and held up his hand for silence. In his beautifully modulated and honey-toned voice he then gave out the announcement: We are leaving here now and going over to the Girls' Friendly Society Concert at the Albert Hall." Wakelam apparently "felt like throwing the mike through the window"


Cricket commentary followed on 6 August 1927 with the County Championship match between Surrey and Middlesex. Wakelam immediately encountered a perennial problem for cricket commentators when he recalled that batsman "Andy Sandham was holding the fort, perhaps one of the best men possible in such a case but the rate of scoring, from a broadcasting point of view, was the most distressing, and the high spots and desperately exciting incidents upon which we had gaily dwelt beforehand were absolutely non-existent". 

Finally another piece of bizarre broadcasting occurred when the BBC covered the 1929 FA Cup Final. The Corporation had been unable to get permission to provide a proper commentary of the Portsmouth Town vs Bolton Wanderers match so it was just billed as "Eye Witness Accounts". In practice this meant that the BBC rented a flat near the ground to install all the microphones and other equipment. They then purchased eight tickets for the eight reporters who would cover the game, each of them witnessing their allotted 15 minutes of play and then leaving the stadium and running at full speed to the flat and relaying what they had seen from their notes for about nine or ten minutes. Gramophone records were on hand to fill any gaps with music. One of the team had been a cross-country runner so his dispatch was given without him sounding breathless. Another, P.W. Adams, marred his report by talking about "Mr So-and-so then passed to Mr Someone-else". And finally an older member of the team, Tommy Usher, arrived a "trifle distressed" and told the audience that "Chelsea have scored", presumably momentarily mislead by the fact that Portsmouth were playing in blue.  One writer later described the coverage as "the most humorous item on the BBC programme of 1929."

As well as radio Teddy Wakelam also provided some of the first 'sight commentaries' when BBC TV covered Wimbledon in 1937. In addition he appeared on some of the pre-war Monthly Sports Bulletins broadcast from Alexandra Palace as well as writing on rugby for The Morning Post and providing commentaries for British Movietone News. He continued to work for BBC radio until early 1940 (as far as billings in the Radio Times are concerned). Post-war the biographical details are very sketchy though he continued to write about his beloved rugby and in 1954 published Harlequin Story. He died in July 1963 aged 70.     

Here's Teddy Wakelam in action:


Sources:
Half-Time 'the Mike and Me' by H.B.T. Wakelam (Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1938)
The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume 1 The Birth of Broadcasting by Asa Briggs (OUP, 1995)
The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume 2 The Golden Age of Wireless by Asa Briggs (OUP, 1995)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...