Monday, 23 November 2015

Ol' Blues Eyes Is Back (Again)

This year has seen the celebrations of the Sinatra Centenary marking one hundred years since the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra in, as every quizzer knows, Hoboken, New Jersey.

Sinatra's meteoric rise to worldwide stardom happened over  just a few months between the autumn of 1942 and the spring of 1943 and coincided with the Golden Age of US radio.    

Frank's musical ambitions were set a decade earlier in 1933 after watching a well-known crooner in concert. "I saw Bing Crosby tonight and I've got to be a singer", he told his parents. Most of his early performances were in local talent contests but by September 1935 he made his first broadcast whilst singing as part of The Hoboken Four. The show, at New York's Capitol Theatre, was carried by one of the local radio stations.

His time with the singing group was brief and he was soon back to touring the clubs and theatres. But he realised that he'd only make the big time with radio exposure so he'd offer to sing for free whenever a station had a vacant spot. WNEW provided him with a number of opportunities but seemingly only WAAT in Newark paid him a fee - the 70 cents bus fare home.

His break came when he filled a vacancy for a singer and compere at the Rustic Club, a local roadhouse on Route 9W in Alpine, New Jersey. Quickly building up a repertoire of songs and a neat line in audience repartee, Frank's shows were wired into the local stations. The Rustic Club's management relished the publicity and upped his weekly wage from $15 to $25.

Those early broadcasts proved invaluable. In the summer of 1939 Benny Goodman's former trumpeter, Harry James, was establishing a new band and was looking for a vocalist. Hearing one of the Rustic Club shows James asked who this kid was. Young Frank was signed up just days later. His first performance with Harry James was on 30 June and he cut his first record just a fortnight later.    
Sinatra's time with James was brief, by January 1940  he'd been poached by Tommy Dorsey and was touring, recording and regularly appearing on the radio. With Dorsey he honed his craft and learnt his distinctive musical phrasing, though he was still unnamed on the records they released with their generic credit to "with vocal chorus". Ambitious to the last he eventually flew the Dorsey coop in September 1942.

It was Marnie Sachs at Columbia Records who found Sinatra his first solo break, a twice weekly slot on CBS titled Songs by Sinatra. Next he was the "Added Extra Attraction" on the bill of a New Year's Eve Benny Goodman show at the Paramount Theatre in New York. The screams that greeted the scrawny young singer stopped Goodman in his tracks. A star was born. It was the start of the infamous bobby-soxers period. Time magazine proclaimed that "not since the days of Rudolph Valentino has American womanhood made such unabashed public love to an entertainer".

The impact of the Paramount shows, which eventually ran for a recording-breaking eight weeks, was immediate. In January he negotiated a film contract with RKO and was then signed up to replace Barry Wood on the weekly networked Saturday night concert show, Your Hit Parade. By February the programme had doubled its audience.

Sinatra's fame was also spreading across the Atlantic. He'd first appeared on BBC radio in 1940 when it broadcast a recording of a Harry James show. But in 1944 the General Forces Programme relayed a joint production with NBC called Atlantic Spotlight that featured Frank. From December 1944 to May 1945 the BBC also carried the Your Hit Parade shows, though it just billed them under the name of the show's musical director as Mark Warnow and his Orchestra.

By 1947 Frank was earning $12,000 a programme even though his career was now on the wane. The mainly Republican press laid into Sinatra; they frowned upon politically committed stars, his private life came under the spotlight, especially his dalliances with actresses like Lana Turner, and there were verbal and physical punch-ups. Even his radio appearances were coming under fire with Metronome describing them as "alternately dull, pompous and raucous". He gave up the shows in May 1949 fed up with both the songs he was given to sing and the style in which he had to sing them.

Frank starred in a  number of other US radio shows in the early 1950s, these are listed in this Wikipedia entry. Meanwhile, in the way that Sinatra would continue to make several comebacks during his lifetime, by 1953 his fortunes had revived: he signed up with Capitol Records and established his superb musical relationship with Nelson Riddle and Billy May and there was a successful tour of Britain.

That British concert tour led to a couple of appearances that summer on the Light Programme's Show Band Show as well as an interview with David Jacobs on his Radio Luxembourg show Portrait of a Star - David recalls this meeting in All or Nothing At All below. Apart from a 1954 disc jockey show on NBC that seems to the end of Frank's radio career. After that its programmes about the man himself, some concert recordings and film reviews and soundtracks (see the BBC's Movie-Go-Round for instance).

I mention all this as tonight on BBC Radio 2 Paul Gambaccini explores Sinatra's US radio career in Frankand the Golden Era of Radio. It's part of a season of Sinatra Centenary programmes to be broadcast between now and the middle of December.

From my own archive I've chosen three programmes:

Firstly, on the occasion of Frank's 70th birthday, comes this appraisal of his life and career from American novelist and screenwriter Clancy Sigal, All or Nothing at All. It aired on BBC Radio 4 on 8 December 1985.

Secondly a programme presented by the British DJ that knew the man himself, David Jacobs. This is the first edition of a 13-part series titled Frank Sinatra: The Voice of the Century. It was broadcast on 4 October 1998.

And finally all I have of a 3-part series written and presented by Benny Green, Sinatra! A Man and his Music. This was first broadcast in December 1985 but my recording comes from a November 1986 repeat.

Reference: Frank Sinatra by John Howlett (Plexus, 1980)

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

That Was the Week - Part 6

So far in this series of posts I've gone back to the 1960s with Listen to the Space and It's Saturday, to the 1970s and 80s for Week Ending, The News Quiz and The NewsHuddlines. So it's time to bring things up-to-date.

By the late 1980s it was, perhaps surprisingly, ITV that dominated the satirical news landscape with Spitting Image. This was followed in 1990 by Have I Got News for You over on BBC2. Meanwhile it was Radio 1 that was leading the way with shows such as The Mary WhitehouseExperience and Loose Talk - both transferring to TV of course.  The newly launched Radio Five Live offered The Treatment initially with Simon Hoggart (later to chair The News Quiz) bur for most its run (1994-2001) with Stuart Maconie.

We'll come to The Now Show and It's Been a Bad Week in a moment but by the time we get to the noughties there were a flurry of shows that took at least some of their inspiration from current events:

Dead Ringers (Radio 4, 2000-2007/2014 to date)

Parsons and Naylor's Pull-Out Sections (Radio 2, 2001-2007) starring Andy Parsons (now a team regular on BBC TV's Mock the Week) and Henry Naylor with musical interludes from Richie Webb.

Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive (Radio 4, 2005-2007). According to Iannucci "the aim of Charm Offensive is to take the talking points of the week and address them as a team of colleagues having a chinwag, in front of a studio audience."  (RT 110807)

I Guess That's Why they Call it the News (Radio 4, 2009), a short-lived panel show hosted by Fred McAuley.

Newsjack (Radio 4 Extra, 2009 to date) which extends the open door policy of Week Ending to any budding comedy writing willing to email their sketches and one-liners.

7 Day Sunday (later 7 Day Saturday) (Radio Five Live 2010-2015) with Chris Addison and then Al Murray picking over the week.

But the regular purveyors of topical comedy for nigh on 30 years have been Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis.

Steve and Hugh's first on-air collaboration was the 1988 series for Radio 4, Live on Arrival. This was a rare venture into live comedy, previously done by the In One Ear team (1984-86), coming each Saturday night from the old Paris Studios. With Punt and Dennis was Flip Webster and singer/songwriter Guy Jackson. Here's the first edition from 30 April 1988.

In fact Punt and Dennis had worked together previously on a Radio 4 comedy, Project Santa Claus, with Hugh in the cast and Steve providing the script. Indeed Steve's comedy writing pedigree was well-established by the time they came to perform together. He'd submitted sketches and quickies to Week Ending since 1983, contributed material to the Jeremy Hardy comedy Unnatural Acts (1987) and to Loose Ends (1987-90) as well as writing for Jasper Carrott and Rory Bremner's TV outings in Carrott Confidential and Now-Something Else.  

On Radio 4 in 1988 Punt and Dennis wrote and starred in a two-part comedy about "the oddities of Olympic antics" called Olympiod 88. Meanwhile Live On Arrival's producer David Tyler proposed a 15-minute edit of the show for a try-out on Radio 1. Controller Johnny Beerling turned the idea down but did ask David to develop a new comedy show for the network. The result was Hey Rrradio!!! (1988-89) with Patrick Marber acting as host  and during the series Punt and Dennis popped up as guests. Following Hey Rrradio!!! on Radio 1 was The Mary Whitehouse Experience (1989-90) featuring the combined talents of Punt and Dennis and Newman and Baddiel. It was this that helped secure them more TV work: the TV version of The Mary Whitehouse Experience itself, Canned Carrott and The Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show. Whilst Hugh has continued to regularly perform on TV, e.g. Mock the Week and Outnumbered, Steve has largely remained behind the scenes acting as script associate, i.e. writing the gags, on many shows including most of the run of Mock the Week.

However, on radio Punt and Dennis have remained consistently employed, and consistently funny, since 1998 on two series that have relied heavily on topical comedy.

On Radio 2 from 1999 to 2006 there were fourteen series of It's Been a Bad Week, perhaps best remembered for Van Man and the Worst Week of the Week Award, Awarded Weekly on a Week-by-Week Basis.     

It's Been a Bad Week was an independent production from Celador, who described the programme thus: "Hosts Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis trawl the world’s media outlets in search of tales of woe, disaster and misfortune – and then have a good laugh at them. From gigantic corporate cock-ups to the sad failures of the humblest individual, It’s Been a Bad Week is unflinching in its search for stories that reflect the calamitous misfortunes which occur daily around the globe. Drawing on a mixture of sketches, songs, impressions, guest contributions and scripted news items, the show targets the week’s well-known bad news stories, governmental disasters, royal excesses, celebrity misbehaviour as well as a myriad of less well-publicised stories from Britain and abroad".

From 2005 this is the fifth programme in the eleventh series. With Punt and Dennis are Sue Perkins, Simon Greenall and Mitch Benn.

Starting in 1998, and still running to this day - the 47thseries kicks off this week - is The Now Show. Make that The Noooow Shoooow! A typical edition would go like this: Steve and Hugh pick on the week's top story for a routine invariably involving Hugh doing a comic voice or impression with support from Laura Shavin; a comic rant from someone like Marcus Brigstocke or Andy Saltzman; a song from Mitch Benn; a routine from vertically-challenged Jon Holmes ("his dream is to be the present in a Kinder egg") and rounding off with answers from the audience to a question set before the show.

This is first ever edition of The Now Show from 26 September 1998. With Punt and Dennis are Jane Bussmann, Dan Freedman, Simon Munnery, David Quantick and Nick Romero. Of the initial cast only David Quantick has remained a semi-regular guest.   

This next audio upload concludes this series of posts. It's another Now Show from 2012, the final show of series 36. With Steve and Hugh in this pasty and petrol-fuelled edition are John Finnemore, Jon Holmes, Mitch Benn and Laura Shavin.

That Was the Week That Was

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Voice of Radio 4

You'll have no doubt heard or read the news last week of the passing of Peter Donaldson, the former newsreader and announcer on BBC Radio 4. His voice was part of the fabric of the network for over four decades. This is my tribute to Peter:

Whilst Peter is mainly associated with Radio 4 I thought it would be interesting to look in a little more detail at his early radio career in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

He first started broadcasting for the British Forces Broadcasting Service in 1967 - a year earlier than I posted in the above video and as quoted in a number of obituaries. Working for BFBS Aden he was there during the Aden Emergency and was on-air when the station was forced to close in November. His next posting was with BFBS Dhekelia in Cyprus, the island on which he'd grown up before leaving in 1960 to continue his education in the UK. Subsequently he worked for BFBS Tobruk in Libya and, in 1969, BFBS Malta.

Family Favourites billing, 29 September 1968

His first appearance on the BBC's airwaves was actually on an edition of Family Favourites on 29 September 1968 whilst he was at BFBS Tobruk. He made further broadcasts on the show in 1968 and 1969.  

Peter joined the BBC on 6 April 1970 as an announcer and presenter on Radio 2. His first Radio Times billing was on 7 May when he hosted an afternoon of Davis Cup coverage, playing the music between Maurice Edelston's commentary. He joined the team of Night Ride presenters in June 1970, taking care of the Monday night editions until the following January. In the summer of 1970 he covered for Bruce Wyndham on Saturday's Breakfast Special.

By December 1970 he was doing the occasional continuity shift over on Radio 4, and continued to do so throughout 1971. Meanwhile on Radio 2 in 1971 he popped up on Saturday Night with Peter Donaldson and Strings by Starlight and was back on Night Ride, this time the Tuesday night slot, from August through to the following May. In addition he presented a short mid-morning series called All Kinds of Music on Radio 4.

Radio Times profile from 1990

When Radio 2's Breakfast Special ended in March 1972 it was replaced by both The Early Show and Terry Wogan. Announcers took turns on The Early Show with Peter's initial stint starting in May. Again more Night Ride programmes followed from September 1972 to September 1973.    
From November 1973 Peter was now permanently on Radio 4, first as an announcer and than from 28 December reading his first news bulletin on the station. In 1974 reading and narrating on The Weekly World was added to his duties.

But by June 1974 he'd disappeared from the airwaves. What Radio 4 listeners didn't know is that he'd agreed to head north to Sheffield and be part of Keith Skues's team at Radio Hallam, due to launch that October. Although he got round to recording a trail for his weekday afternoon show Roundabout he never made it on-air. In fact he was back on continuity duty at Radio 4 by 20 September, about a fortnight before Hallam launched. The commercial sector, it seems, was not for him. Or perhaps it was the thought of being away from, or uprooting, his family.

From November 1974 Peter was back on news-reading duties and then it was Radio 4 all the way: chief announcer from 1988 to 2003, retiring from the Corporation in 2005 and working freelance until his final bulletin just after midnight on 1 January 2013. Here's that final bulletin in full.

Peter Donaldson 1945-2015

You can donate to the Macmillan Cancer Support on JustGiving. This page has been set up by Peter's daughter as a thank you to the Macmillan Nurses who looked after him during his illness.  

With thanks to David Mitchell.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Round Britain Quiz

A power-hungry citizen; the rent paid in kind by a 12th-century Scottish farmer; and Hollywood Brit ... all sound the same but are spelt differently. Who (or what) are they and why should the lattermost's catch-phrase be appropriate to Round Britain Quiz?

Regular listeners to radio's longest-running quiz will recognise the question style: three cryptic crossword-style clues providing the link to an overall question. And, in typical RBQ style even if you know the answer the trick is, according to one-time exponent of the quiz Irene Thomas, that "it's really a matter of thinking aloud. If you know the answer and say it straight out, it's no fun. You have to amble towards it, and the fun always come when you get lost on the way".

A new series of Round Britain Quiz kicks off today on BBC Radio 4. Starting in 1947 its five-years older than  Brain of Britain, but its roots go back to a wartime cultural exchange between the US and the UK. Here's my brief history of RBQ, which, quite neatly, fits into three parts.

Part 1 The Hale Years

In  April 1944 the BBC's North American Service and the American Blue Network (formerly part of NBC) launched a joint programme called Transatlantic Quiz. The quiz consisted of a chairman and two team members who "traded questions between London and New York with the idea of testing one team's knowledge of the other's country. Some of the questions were cryptic, but many were plain general knowledge." The chairman in New York was Alistair Cooke whilst back in London it was Lionel Hale (both pictured below). Cooke had already appeared in a similar venture the previous year, a transatlantic discussion programme called Answering You

Transatlantic Quiz featured some well-known participants such as David Niven, Peter Ustinov and Joyce Grenfell. But the unlikely star was Professor Denis Brogan, a man who "could identify the most obscure political quotations, or plumb the shadiest depths of American literature." In July 1945 home listeners got a chance to hear the quiz when the Light Programme started to broadcast it. It ran for as further six years, ending its run in 1951.

Meanwhile in 1947 the Light Programme was looking for a similar UK-based quiz and in November Round Britain Quiz was launched, This set the basic programme format for the next fifty years. Each week the two-person London team took on a two-person team from one of the regions -  Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the West, the North and the Midlands. There were two chairmen, with the London team it was always Lionel Hale (he remained with the programme for twenty years) and with the regional teams Gilbert Harding. Like its predecessor the mainstay of the London team was Denis Brogan, like Hale he put in a twenty year stint. Others on the London team included Hubert Phillips and Cedric Cliffe. Long-time participants for the regions included Jack House and Sir James Fergusson in Scotland and Welsh novelist Wyn Griffith. Following Gilbert Harding's death in 1960 there were a number of short-term replacements before Roy Plomley became the regular second question-master.

Inexplicably following the 1968 series Round Britain Quiz was dropped from Radio 4's schedule. It would be a five years hiatus.

Part 2 Revival and Expansion into Europe  

RBQ's revival was due, in part, to the persistence of a former contestant Irene Thomas (pictured left), the Queen of Quizzes long before Daphne Fowler came onto the scene. Irene, a former Brain of Britain winner , had joined the programme before the end of its 1960s run as one of the London team. Apparently she wrote some "nice but persistent" letters to Radio 4 controller Tony Whitby to bring the programme back. He agreed and assigned the production to BBC Manchester under the guidance of Trevor Hill. The programme returned on 1 April 1973.

Hill recalled that he slightly tweaked the format which saw the introduction of more cryptic "verbal crossword" questions that have become the programme's trademark. "I discovered ... that it was no use for one person to set the questions, however inventive and amusing they might be, and then for another person to pose them. When contestants are seeking clues and guidance the quizmaster has to know all he can about the background in order to 'feed' the teams and often to get their minds working on another tack so that they see the common link between one part of the answer and the other parts".

Setting and asking the questions at the London end was Professor Anthony Quinton and with the regions it was Jack Longland, at the time well-known to listeners for Any Questions and My Word!  The regular London team consisted of Irene Thomas and Professor John B Mays - can their ever have been so  many professors on the same show since the days of The Brains Trust? Later Irene's team mate was Eric Korn.

Jack Longland left the programme in 1976, to be replaced by Gordon Clough. Familiar to Radio 4 listeners for PM and The World at One, Gordon contended that RBQ was "one of the hardest jobs I have to do in radio. I have to aim at creating questions which contain at least one part that the audience at home can answer without too much trouble". 

Here are a couple of recordings from the mid-80s. From 19 August 1984 this first programme features Irene Thomas and Eric Korn on the London team and Patrick Nuttgens and Paddy Fitzpatrick representing the North. Asking the questions are Gordon Clough and Louis Allen, who replaced Anthony Quinton between 1983 and 1991.

I recorded this edition on 26 September 1985 when the competing team for the Midlands was John Julius Norwich and Peter Oppenheimer. The London team had a fearsome reputation for winning, but here the Midlands team, and in particular Peter Oppenheimer, show their mettle.    

Such was the success of the revived Round Britain Quiz that it spawned two spin-offs. First there was Round Europe Quiz (3 series 1977-81) with Irene Thomas and John Julius Norwich representing England taking on teams from France, Italy Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark Austria and Poland. Gordon Clough and Anthony Quinton continued in their inquisitorial roles. Producer Trevor Hill recalls that the idea came from network controller Ian McIntryre who asked him to widen his quiz horizons. "needless to say each European I saw had to have, in the first instance, a very good knowledge of the English language plus the ability, when I tested them, to take part in and enjoy that essentially English pastime of doing crossword puzzles."    

The second spin-off was our old friend Transatlantic Quiz (7 series 1976-86). Again it was populated with the usual suspects: a London team of Irene Thomas and John Julius Norwich, questions posed by Louis Allen and Anthony Quinton (later Gordon Clough). In the States the team was Brendon Gill and, for the most part, Shana Alexander.  

When the 1995 series of Round Britain Quiz came to an end it dropped off the schedules. The death the following year of Gordon Clough seemed to finally have put paid to the programme's return.

Part 3 Slimmed Down but Not Dumbed Down

But you can't keep a good quiz format down and in 1997 RBQ returned reinvigorated and with further tweaks to the format. Gone was the resident London team, they now had to compete on an equal footing like everyone else. Gone indeed was Irene Thomas ("I loved every minute of it" she told Sue Lawley, "I could have gone on doing it all the time"). This slimmed down version now had just one question master, Nick Clarke who was not expected to devise the questions himself. There was some debate as to whether the questions had been dumbed down with Roland White noting in the Radio Times that "the pool of knowledge has been widened". Listening again to the 1980s editions I'm inclined to agree with him.

Nick Clarke's tenure lasted until 2005 (he died the following year) when again the programme's future hung in the balance. It did return, of course, from June 2007 with Tom Sutcliffe now posing the questions.

Tom is back at 3 pm today when Round Britain Quiz returns with Scotland and Wales competing.

And the answer to the question posed at the start of this post, culled from a Radio Times article written  by Nick Baker in 1985, refers to a power-hungry citizen, think of Citizen Kane played by Orson Welles in 1941 film. The rent paid by Scottish farmers was called, assuming you know your Gaelic, as Cain. That Hollywood Brit is one Michael Caine (who back in 1985 had yet to return to live in the UK). All of which should lead you to his supposed catchphrase "Not a lot of people know that", though he has denied ever saying it.

The UK Game Shows website lists some of the Round Britain Quiz question masters but then they didn't have the benefit of the estimable BBC Genome, The full list is as follows:

Lionel Hale 1947/1949-68
Gilbert Harding 1947-60
Leonard Sachs 1948
Robert McDermott 1948
Philip Hope-Wallace 1948
Peter Watson 1949
Howard Marion-Crawford 1957
Lionel Gamlin 1957
Stephen Potter 1960-61
Kevin Fitzgerald 1961
Edward Ward 1961
Michael Flanders 1961
Roy Plomley 1961-68
Patrick Harvey 1962-66
Anthony Quinton 1973-82/92-95
Jack Longland 1973-76
Gordon Clough 1977-95
Louis Allen 1983-91
Nick Clarke 1997-05
Tom Sutcliffe 2007-

Transatlantic Quiz by Lionel Hale in The World Radio and Television Annual (Sampson Low, Marston & Co 1947)
Alistair Cooke: The Biography by Nick Clarke (Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1999)
Over the Airwaves by Trevor Hill (The Book Guild 2005)
Riddled with clues by Nick Baker, Radio Times 5 October 1985
Blimey, even I could get that one by Roland White, Radio Times 16 August 1997

BBC Genome website

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The World at One

"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.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

That Was the Week - Part 5

If Week Ending was the Oxbridge Review then The News Huddlines was the end of the pier show. Though poking fun at the week's news, the music hall tradition was never far away from Huddlines, Radio 2's longest-running, and sorely missed, comedy show that first aired 40 years ago today. 

In fact both Week Ending and The News Huddlines are inextricably linked. Huddlines' first producers Simon Brett and John Lloyd had both worked on Ending; Chris Emmett provided the impressions and the same scriptwriters provided sketches and quickies to the two shows.

The story goes, according to Brett, that in 1975 Radio 2 was a comedy desert, full of quiz shows, and "people kept saying 'we need a kind of red-nosed Week Ending', And Roy's was the nose". Co-producer Lloyd, remembers the problems with casting. "We had this title you see - The News Huddlines. And we had to rack our brains for somebody called Hudd who could fit the bill!"

When The News Huddlines launched its star was probably better known on the telly- if only for those Quick Brew adverts ("it's me little perforations") - rather than the radio. Roy Hudd's career had already overlapped the end of music hall and touring variety - he'd worked with his hero Max Miller - and the 60s satire boom with Not So Much a Programme More A Way of Life, so for a weekly, fast-paced "topical review" in front of an audience he was a natural.

Young Roy Hudd got the showbiz bug from his Saturday morning visits to the children's film shows at the Croydon Hippodrome and trips to the Croydon Empire with his Gran to see the her idols - Max Wall, Bud Flanagan, Sandy Powell, Jimmy James, Hettie King and Max Miller. "Even when we were hard up, we'd spend one-and-six on two hours of bloody marvellous escapism".

Called up for National Service in 1955 he got the chance to perform in a revue show titled The Rafter. "The lads liked it - especially my impression in drag, of Lita Rosa." On demob Roy and his mate Eddie Cunningham (they'd first met at a boy's club in Croydon) signed up to join Butlins as Redcoats at Clacton. They billed their double act as Hudd and Kay "as we agreed that Hudd and Cunningham sounded more like a firm of solicitors."

After leaving Butlins Hudd and Kay started touring the variety circuit and managed to get a TV appearance on ABC's talent show Bid for Fame. "Alas we were outbid".  According to Roy the best week's variety they did was at the Finsbury Park Empire in 1959. Topping the bill was Max Miller. "Very good boys", he commended them, and offered to buy them a drink in the theatre bar. Renowned for his parsimony they took him up on his offer. Miller continued to talk about their act and made suggestions on how to improve, but no drinks were forthcoming. More help and stories followed until the doors of the bar burst open at the first interlude. "The first bloke in spotted Max and said, 'Blimey" he's here" What will you have Max?' 'I'll have a large gin and tonic,' Max replied like a flash. 'And what will you have, Roy? And you Eddie?'"

Roy Hudd recalls those early days in conversation with Mike Craig in this edition of It's a Funny Business first heard on Radio 2 on 16 August 1976.   

Post-Butlins the double act split and Roy toured the country in revues and pantomime and, on 17 November 1960, made his first radio appearance on an edition of Worker's Playtime. More radio and TV work followed with further appearances on Worker's Playtime, Music-Hall and The Billy Cotton Band Show but his major break was to be asked by producer Ned Sherrin to join the cast of the TW3 follow-up Not So Much A Programme More A Way of Life(1964-65).

Working alongside David Frost, Willie Rushton, Eleanor Bron and John Bird Roy felt a little daunting. "I was petrified, and really did feel completely out of place with this collection of university-educated, ex-Footlights Revue members, who read newspapers and knew real politicians. They were certainly a clever lot of smart Alecs".  

Roy also appeared in the follow-up series BBC3 (1966), but his first star vehicle was the BBC1 situation comedy Hudd (1965), written by George Evans and Derek Collyer. Roy was an admirer of Jacque Tati and the writers told the Radio Times: "We had in mind the sort of character who could do visual jokes with a minimum of dialogue, rather than the usual verbal jokes, and Roy fitted like a glove".

The BBC were keen to do a second series of Hudd but Roy wasn't. Instead he preferred a revue-style show with sketches and so The Illustrated Weekly Hudd (1966-67) was born.  The cast included Sheila Steafel, Patrick Newell, Doug Fisher and Marcia Ashton (series 2) and contributing to the scripts were Dick Vosburgh, Eric Davison, Barry Cryer, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Dave Freeman. Even so, Roy remained unhappy with the finished product: "I wasn't ready or good enough to be able to headline a show as myself, and not clever enough to do sketches that required top-rate character work".      

Roy continued to appear in summer seasons, panto, West End plays and shows such as Danny La Rue's long run at the Palace Theatre. In 1968 he got his first starring radio series, imaginatively titled The Roy Hudd Show which also featured Sheila Bernette. Yet again Roy seems unhappy with the finished result: "Somehow it didn't quite gel".

The following year there was a 6-part series for Yorkshire TV again titled The Roy Hudd Show and again lacking something:" ...the people hated it." He was on safer ground with his 1971 and 1972 Charles Chilton produced series for Radio 4 Roy Hudd's Vintage Music Hall that built on his love of the old theatre traditions and for which he would later write about and amass a collection posters and song sheets.  

The first inkling that Roy got about the start of The News Huddlines was a call from BBC producer Simon Brett asking "Are you doing anything next Wednesday  lunchtime?" The idea was for a topical revue type show with Hudd as a kind of Kenneth Horne figure doing a monologue at the start and then introducing the sketches. Joining him were Week Ending's Chris Emmett and Janet Brown who'd been in the business since the 40s and had recently been perfecting her impressions on Radio 2's comedy panel game The Impressionists. One wonders if Brett had Roy in mind having seen him on the late-night BBC2 satire show Up Sunday.

The pilot show was recorded on 9 June 1975 and the first edition of the series was heard on Wednesday 1 October that year. The News Huddlines was a hit and proved to be a breath of fresh air amongst Radio 2's array of panel games and indifferent sitcoms. Initially the billed scriptwriters were Peter Spence and David Renwick but like Week Ending it relied on a core of commissioned writers and a whole list of people who would send in gags and sketches.

One such writer was the late Debbie Barham (she died tragically young in 2003 at the age of 26) who submitted lines to Week Ending under the name of DA Barham, as she'd heard that radio comedy was still very much a male preserve. At the age of 19 she sent in a sketch to Huddlines regarding the Holbeck hotel in Scarborough which fell into the sea. "Have you reserved a room?" the receptionist asks. "No, we just decided to slip away for the weekend", replies the guest. "Yes, unfortunately, so did our foundations".  Speaking in 1994 Debbie said "There are certain subjects that fit the formula. Pot Noodles, Jeremy Beadle, Germans and British Rail are perennials".

Reviewing the programme's success in 1994, Richard North of The Independent observed that it "sends everybody up rotten with special attention paid to their race, creed and gender, and yet remains affectionate. The Huddlines style of comedy is wholly un-PC ... the Japanese and the Germans remain fair game, deliciously perpetuating the ridiculous war-comic images a generation, now middle-aged, so enjoyed at school. All theatrical agents are Jewish ('Well Jew-ish,' as Hudd has it)."

The early shows were recorded on Tuesday lunchtimes but eventually the programme settled into a Thursday recording/broadcast pattern with a Saturday lunchtime repeat. The scripts were pulled together in the first half of the week and put in front of the cast at 10 am on the Thursday. There was one complete run through and then at 1 pm a recording in front of an audience at the Paris Theatre in Lower Regent Street. "The result is a mixture of high polish and breathless, occasionally hysterical spontaneity".   That Paris audience was generally filled with coach load of pensioners prompting producer John Lloyd to quip: "What has 64 legs and one pair of dentures? The front row of the Paris!" 

In 1994 Huddlines reached a comedy milestone as it became the BBC's longest running scripted comedy show in front of an audience, knocking The Navy Lark off the top spot.  By now Janet Brown  had long left the show, replaced along the way by a number of actresses, including  Norma Ronald and Alison Steadman and, from 1984, June Whitfield, an inspired piece of casting. "No smut could conceivably pass Whitfield's lips," wrote Richard North. "Even in real life , Roy Hudd and the team are forever scheming to sneak serious filth past her scrutiny. They often shock her with their enthusiasm for farts, curries and private parts. 'Oh, they will have their vindaloo jokes' she says".

Chris Emmett presented this history of the show titled Behind the Huddlines. It aired on Radio 2 on 24 March 1994. Taking part are Roy and June, Simon Brett, John Lloyd, Jonathan James-Moore, Mark Robson, Richard Quick, Jeremy Brown, Andy Hamilton, Nick Revell, Alan Nixon, Dirk Maggs and Paul Spencer.

There were two spin-offs series with long-form situation comedy formats. In 1986 Huddwinks from Huddlines writer Laurie Rowley featuring Roy, Chris, Denise Coffey, Fred Harris and David Gooderson. And in 1995 Crowned Hudds, six historical romps penned by Michael Dines, with Roy, Chris, June and Jeffrey Holland.

The News Huddlines clocked up 51 series between 1975 and 2001 and over 20 specials but its demise was in no way planned, or indeed ever recognised on air. By the 1990s Roy was also in demand as actor - see Lipstick On Your Collar and Common as Muck for example - and in 2002 he joined Coronation Street as undertaker Archie Shuttleworth. "The Beeb reassured us, and the listeners, that the radio show would return once I finished my stint in the Street", recalled Roy. "To this day", according to Chris Emmett, "nobody has had the guts to write to Roy and tell him that they were dropping the show". Roy himself relates that a BBC executive took him out to lunch and "told me that they wanted me to be more like Jonathan Ross".

A week after Behind the Huddlines the 36th series of The News Huddlines kicked off. All the elements are there Roy's cheeky asides to the audience and his opening  monologue "so it's snow jobs, no jobs, glow jobs and ...", June Whitfield playing Norma Major as Eth and the Queen Mum as Irene Handl, non-PC jokes about Germans and the Japanese, parody songs, Friggins  (cue whoosh sfx) and Richard Clegg's breakneck reading of the closing credits.  This edition aired on Thursday 31 March 1994 and I recorded the repeat on Saturday 2 April.

The 'replacement' for Huddlines was already on air by the time it came to a halt in 2001. For topical comedy Radio 2 had been offering Punt and Dennis in It's Been a Bad Week since 1999. More on that programme in a future post.

A Fart in a Colander by Roy Hudd (Michael O'Mara Books, 2010)
Prime Minister, You Wanted to See Me: A History of Week Ending by Ian Graves and Justin Lewis (Kaleidoscope Publishing, 2008)

Roy Hudd is not just a funny face by Angela Wilkes (Sunday Times Magazine 8.8.82)
Still Hitting the Huddlines by Richard Johnson (Radio Times 26.3.94)
Heard the one about? by Jonathan Margolis (Sunday Times 27.3.94)
Have they got news for you! by Richard North (The Independent 30.3.94)

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

That Was the Week - Part 4

How well do you remember the news events of 1982? September 1982 in particular? Yes Thatcher was in power. Yes there'd been the Falklands War earlier that year. But beyond that...

On a personal note I was just about to start the third and final year of my degree so was no doubt getting ready to knuckle down to some hard studying!! But not too busy to commit these three classic long-running topical comedy shows to tape. Yes, this is a rare opportunity to listen to The News Huddlines, The News Quiz and Week Ending all from the same week in 1982.

Firstly a typically lively Thursday night edition of The News Huddlines from 23 September. With Roy Hudd is Chris Emmett and Alison Steadman. There'll be more about The News Huddlines next month.  Amazingly even six years after resigning as PM, the team still wring some humour out of Harold Wilson, but then Chris did a great Wilson voice. A highlight is Alison's reading of Di's Diary.

Next up is Week Ending from Friday 24 September with David Jason, David Tate, Nicky Henson and Tracy Ullman.  Subjects for comedy include the TUC day of action, the Middle East, unemployment and a certain Royal Wedding.  There's that old standby of comic observations in the David Attenborough style.  In all honesty there's little here that raises a smile, not sure if it's the passage of time or that this is a duff edition. 

Finally the Saturday lunchtime edition of The News Quiz. In the chair is Barry Took. Taking part are Russell Davies, Hunter Davies,  Sue Cook and, here amply demonstrating  the comedy value that he imbued, Alan Coren.  Reading the headlines, complete with accents, is Peter Donaldson.  Note that the panel totally fail to answer what Took acknowledges as a "difficult question".  

Anyone checking the BBC Genome listing for this edition of The News Quiz will spot that Stan McMurtry was billed to appear rather than Hunter Davies. I've submitted this information to the Genome team. 
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