Friday, 27 May 2016

The Great Gambo

News this week that Paul Gambaccini is to be the next regular presenter of Pick of the Pops. He's probably in the studio now practicing those rundowns to At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal.  
The announcement is steeped in irony: the post only becoming vacant because Tony Blackburn was, for some inextricable reason, caught up in the flak from the Savile Inquiry. Gambo himself was off-air for a year as part of a 'Yewtree' investigation.

Paul's move to Saturday lunchtime means another show comes to an end as, on 2 July, he'll present his final American Greatest Hits, a radio regular, on and off, for over 40 years. "Until next week's Paul Gambaccini show plays next week's American hits, Bruce Springsteen is number one ...."

It's a show I first used to listen to in the mid-70s on  Saturday afternoons after Fluff had finished his rock show. That Radio 1 run ended in 1986. In 1998 he was back, this time on Radio 2. Here is that first return show from Saturday 18 April 1998, with Gambo following Johnnie Walker who was also back at the Beeb. The first record, inevitably, is Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, the track that both started and ended the original run of America's Greatest Hits on Radio 1.   

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

European Pop Rendezvous

This week you can get your annual dose of European pop as the Eurovision Song Contest rolls into Stockholm. But you didn't always have to wait so long for your fix of Europop. For twenty years BBC radio offered monthly, and for a few years weekly, get-togethers with our EBU counterparts. In this post I recall Pop Over Europe, European Pop Jury, Nord-ring and Europe 74 to 82.

The European Broadcasting Union had been formed in 1950s and many of the broadcast exchanges tended to be sports events and concerts or outside broadcasts that allowed viewers to marvel at the new technology, such as the 1950 link-up for Calais en fete. The Eurovision Song Contest came along in 1956 and this led to German radio station Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne organising a monthly programme showcasing the latest popular music called Music Knows No Frontiers.

By 1963 the BBC had decided to join the party, by which time the programme was known as Music Has No Frontiers. The shows were broadcast on the Light Programme and introduced by Catherine Boyle, presumably chosen on the back of her two appearances as host of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1960 and 1963.

The four programmes in the series were not just confined to pop. The Radio Times billed it as covering "operetta to pop-chart songs." Seven countries took part: West Germany, Monaco, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Yugoslavia and the UK.  

Pop Over Europe 1 February 1964
By the time the series returned in February 1964 it had a new title Pop Over Europe and was heard pretty much monthly for the remainder of its life. Writing for the Radio Times, BBC producer Edward Nash was keen to portray a scene of Euro-harmony, even if he's confused about the number of countries taking part; it was seven not eight.

Aren't people kind?' said Catherine Boyle after the second programme in the Music Has No Frontiers series, back in October. prompting the remark was the fact that, unknown to her, the compere of the Geneva contribution, Vera Florence, had brought to the studio Catherine's fifteen-year-old brother, Enrico, who is at school there, to greet her during our pre-broadcast rehearsal.
This friendly, family kind of atmosphere has characterised every programme; in fact, when we meet in Broadcasting House each month the initial greetings to and fro across Europe, in a bewildering assortment of languages, have to be heard to be believed! Gunter Krenz, who holds the reins of the whole enterprise in West German Radio's studios in Cologne, thrives on the challenge of this multi-lingual programme and is always seeking to extend the radio circle - latest newcomers to the chain being the BBC and, from last month, Radio Ljubljana, Yugoslavia.
The object is simple - a top pop song of the month, introduced and played from each of the eight stations taking part, adding up to a programme which gives a cross-section of the European pop scene.

In December 1965 Nash again wrote for the Radio Times:

In two years at the London end of the Pop Over Europe series, it has always been fascinating to watch the trends and influences in pop styles in the seven countries involved. One thing stands out--come Beatles, Presleys, Stones, and Hermits - national characteristics in this type of music remain as ineradicable as ever. The clangorous Liverpool sound may have conquered many a foreign capital, yet, strangely, it has left in its wake no local imitators in any way worthy of the name. In Monte Carlo, for instance, 'yeh-yeh music,' as they call it, aroused only transitory interest, leaving such adored favourites as Sacha Distel and Charles Aznavour, albeit joined by newcomers like France Gall, in serene control.

Throughout West Germany and into Austria the star names on disc are the romantic balladeers, velvet-voiced Peter Alexander and popular Freddy Quinn. In Italy the local partisanship is even stranger, the hit parade being dominated by home-bred stars like Gianni Morandi, Gabriella Cinquetti, and Nino Rossi.

This is not to say that the British pop song no longer makes the grade in Europe-it's still a rare Top Ten there that hasn't a British group in it, as you may very well hear if you listen to Pop Over Europe this afternoon.

Pop Over Europe continued monthly on Saturday nights throughout the 1960s and 1970s, on the Light Programme and then Radio 2,  and changed very little of the years. By late 1966 the countries taking part dropped by one as Belgium bowed out but by 1969 Hungary and then Ireland joined the line-up. Portugal's Radio Lisbon was added in 1970, and then Poland the year after. Whilst Catherine Boyle remained the regular host - she wasn't billed as Katie until 1971 - David Gell would occasionally take over the hot seat.

Presumably tired of saying bienvenue and willkommen every week, Katie's stint ended in January 1980 and for the next four years Pop Over Europe was introduced by Marina von Senger of the BBC's German Service. This is the only clip I have Marina, indeed it's the only clip I have from the programme's 20-year history. It dates from 12 July 1980.

The final edition of Pop Over Europe aired on 16 December 1984, by which time it went out on a Sunday afternoon.   

Katie Boyle - A Short Biography

Mention the name Katie Boyle and you might be reminded of Eurovision, the TV Times agony column Dear Katie and Camay soap. It's perhaps no surprise that she was a regular Eurovision Song Contest presenter and host of Pop Over Europe when you consider her background and upbringing.

Born in 1926 Caterina Irene Elena Maria Imperiali de Francavilla had a father who was half Neopolitan and half Russian. Her mother was half English and half Australian. She was raised in Tuscany and schooled in England, Italy and Switzerland. On her parent's divorce she also gained Hungarian nationality as in Italy divorce was still illegal and Hungary seemed to be a "hospitable and uncritical country".

In 1946 she arrived, with her mother, in London. After learning shorthand and typing and looking for a job she was spotted by someone from Woman's Own and offered modelling work. Catherine continued to model and take occasional acting roles. Bizarrely her first role was in the film 1950 Old Mother Riley, Headmistress billed as Catherine Carelton - by now she'd met and married her first husband, army officer Richard Boyle who also sat in the House of Lords as Baron Carleton.    

It was BBC producer Richard Afton that helped launch Catherine's TV career. He invited her to appear in the Beauty Spot on a new show called Quite Contrary (1953-55). After a couple of a appearances Afton offered her the presenting role and she was on the way to being one of Britain's early TV personalities.

Under her first agent Maurice Winnick she became a panel game regular, a younger version of Barbara Kelly if you will, on BBC and ITV shows such as The Name's the Same, I've Got a Secret, Tell the Truth and Pick the Winner plus the Italian version of What's My Line? known as Che cose fa il Signor X?   She was also a frequent panellist on Juke Box Jury and had a star vehicle (plus a Radio Times cover) in two series of Golden Girl (1960-61). Catherine was 'dropped' by the BBC for a while in 1955 whilst going through a divorce and then second marriage to Greville Baylis. For ITV she appeared on, amongst other things, Associated-Televison's admags such as The Posh Shop and as a Countess in a  1957 Armchair Theatre production of It Pays to Advertise (for which, ever photogenic, she gained a TV Times cover).   

In late 1959 Tom Sloan, Head of Light Entertainment, Television, called Catherine into his office. "I've heard how you switch from English to French to Italian with the family", he told her. "So I'm going to let you introduce the Eurovision Song Contest". Sure enough she presented the show in 1960 and again in 1963, 1968 and 1974. In each case, apart from 1968, the BBC had to step in to host the contest when the previous winning country backed out with financial difficulties. 

During the 1960s Katie (her billings now varied between Catherine and Katie) regularly appeared on the BBC Light Programme on disc shows such as Rendezvous (1962), Just Me (1963-64), Melody Fare (1964 & 1966) as well as Pop Over Europe. On TV she popped up on the panel games Pick the Winner (1964-65), Call My Bluff (1967-70) and even as one of the commentators alongside David Vine on It's a Knockout. On BBC Radio 4 Katie frequently joined in the discussion on the all-women show Petticoat Lane, the Loose Women of its day. 

For many years, eighteen in fact, Katie was a TV Times columnist. The original intention of Dear Katie when it launched in the 3 October 1970 edition was to provide general advice about health, the home, fashion, cooking and so on. "Let me make it quite clear that if this turns out to be any kind of agony column, the agony will be strictly mine and confined to the physical slog of keeping up with your letters." Needless to say that within months she was the magazine's agony aunt. She penned her final column on 17 September 1988 before handing over to Dr Miriam Stoppard.

There was less TV work for Katie in the 1980s and 90s though inevitably panel game invites were still on the cards, e.g. Blankety Blank and Punchlines. However radio was once again keeping her busy. On BBC Radio 2 she was a panellist on Where Were You in 62? and Back to Square One and then back as a DJ for a week in 1988, deputising for Desmond Carrington and Gloria Hunniford before getting her own Saturday afternoon show in January 1990. By the summer of 1990 Katie succeeded Judith Chalmers on the mid-morning show, in what is now Ken Bruce's timeslot. Those daily shows ran until April 1991. She continued to broadcast for the station with Katie and Friends "a weekly magazine programme for animal lovers of all ages". (1991-95) The idea for this programme was no doubt triggered by Katie's long involvement with the Battersea Dog's Home, a charity she'd supported since the late 60s and continued to do so as a director until 2004.

Katie's last TV appearance, suitably Eurovision-related, was in a celebrity special edition of The Weakest Link back in 2004. She celebrates her 90th birthday on the 29th of this month.

I've posted this audio before but here's Katie presenting 35 Years of Eurovision as heard on BBC Radio 2 on 5 May 1990.


If you imagine a Venn diagram of Europe then there was a second set of countries, with some overlap with Pop Over Europe. These were the members of the Nord-Ring: the UK, West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

The Nord-Ring programme history is a little more complicated but for a large part of its twenty-two year history, 1964 to 1986, it mainly consisted of joint broadcasts of concerts which, in the 1970s, were part of the Nordring Festival with entries competing for the Nordring Radio Prize.

The first programme in the series that provided a "popular music passport to Northern Europe" aired on the Light Programme in September 1964. It was a concert from Oslo that included in the line-up world renowned Belgian harmonica-player Toots Thielmans and Britain's Mark Wynter, best-known for his cover of Venus in Blue Jeans. Representing Sweden was the folk singing group The Hootenanny Singers whose number included one Bjorn Ulvaeus.

Radio Times caption for 17 October 1967
Aside from that concert, the first batch of Nord-Ring shows were broadcast as part of the Saturday afternoon sequence Saturday Swings, introduced for the BBC by Don Wardell, at that time a regular DJ over on Radio Luxembourg, but it was Paul Hollingdale who looked after proceedings for most of the 60s.

The umbrella title of Nord-ring covered a number of series: Nord-Dance featuring some of Europe's top orchestras coming from venues ranging from Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens to Butlins in Bognor Regis!  A similar series went out at intervals between 1965 and 1969 titled Dancing Round Europe.
BBC producer Geoffrey Owen and John Billingham looked after most of the early shows. In September 1966 Geoffrey Owen wrote for the Radio Times:

The radio organisations of the seven countries of Northern Europe which ring the North Sea have formed themselves into an association called Nord-Ring. The countries of Nord-Ring are Britain, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. 
The aim of this association is to promote and encourage the interchange of popular music between the member countries for the mutual entertainment of listeners throughout this large community. This year, so far, the Light Programme has broadcast Nord-Ring productions on New Year's Day and at Easter, as well as the recent Dancing Round Europe series. Now Nord-Ring Tour is presenting, in turn, a concert from each of the seven countries. Tonight the first programme from Broadcasting House, London, will be simultaneously transmitted throughout the Nord-Ring area. 
The British representatives in tonight's concert are Edmundo Ros and Janie Marden. They are joined by three young girl singers from Holland, Norway and Denmark, Conny van Bergen, Elisabeth Granneman and Lise Reinau; by instrumentalists Henry Arland and Etienne Verschueren from Germany and Belgium; by the top singer from Sweden, Lasse Loenndal; and Paul Fenoulhet conducts the Radio Show Band. Paul Hollingdale introduces tonight's concert; he will help you to share this gay international event with our neighbours across the water. 

Nordring productions seem to disappear from the schedules in 1970 and 1971, it's not clear why, but make a brief re-appearance in the summer of 1972 when Ray Moore introduces Wonderful Cophenhagen live over three nights. 

From 1973 Nordring got all competitive with countries seeking to nab the Nordring Radio Prize over a series of specially commissioned concerts. The BBC's entry in that year, for instance, was arranged by Les Reed, had a script by Benny Green and was narrated by Marius Goring. These festivals ran every year until 1984 - the 1983 series being broadcast as part of Saturday Rendezvous.

Dolf van der Linden (left) would often conduct for
the Nordring Festival concerts
Meanwhile Radio 2 started another related series in 1976 called Nordring Roundabout in which David Gell "introduces a selection of music from the countries of Northern Europe; followed by some of the top records from other Continental countries". When David left the BBC the following year,  Andy Cartledge took over and from 1978 to 1982 Nordring Roundabout became a feature on the Europe programmes (see below) with Colin Berry.

To add to the mix, in 1978, in addition to the Nordring Festival 1978 series, there's a series of concerts introduced by Len Jackson under the title Nordring Rendezvous. These programmes ran at intervals until 1986, with Len also presenting them as Saturday Rendezvous in 1983 and 1984 and then reverting back to their original title in 1985 and 1986 with Sheila Tracy.

I'm not clear what happened to the whole Nordring partnership after 1986. BBC Genome only makes two more references to it: a 1988 recording of the Finnish Radio Big Band on Peter Clayton's Sounds of Jazz and a 1989 Nordring Gala Concert featuring the BBC Big Band, a German singer and a Dutch pianist. Nor do I have a single second of any of the Nordring shows. If you happened to tape one please contact me.

European Pop Jury

Alongside David Gell (right) is David Lucas of the BBC
Gramophone Library and scorer Tricia Madden who went on to join
BBC2's Promotion Team as the 'Colour Television Girl' 
European Pop Jury was radio's equivalent of Juke Box Jury, but instead of a celebrity panel passing their verdict on the discs it was 200 'jurors' in each country with a push button voting mechanism.
The programme was a Swedish idea, as indeed was the 'mentometer' voting system, introduced for the EBU's 1965 Radio in Europe Week. BBC producer Johnny Beerling wrote this for the Radio Times when the first one-off edition aired on the Light Programme in November 1965:

To the non-fan one pop disc may sound very like another. To the fans, who know the difference, how do British discs compare with those from other parts of Europe? This afternoon, a Swedish device called the mentometer will be installed in Belgium, Britain, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland to measure the response of 1200 jurors to two records from each of those countries.
The programme will be broadcast simultaneously in the countries taking part, and the six juries will vote, giving scores to each record played. The one that is awarded the most votes will become the top pop of Europe for this week. 
 In Sweden the mentometer has been used for four years to pick the regular hit parade, and it was from that idea that our own Top Ten Game was devised. The European Pop Jury was suggested by Swedish Radio as part of the European Broadcasting Union's Radio in Europe Week. Since English is understood in the participating countries, it was decided to direct the proceedings from London, and Klas Burling will be coming from Sweden to produce the programme with me. David Gell will link the other comperes, who will supply local scores and translations into their own languages where necessary. 

David Gell and scorer Jillian Comber
As Johnny says European Pop Jury wasn't an entirely original idea as the BBC Light Programme already had a home-grown version called The Top Ten Game that had started in June 1965, again using the Mentometer and again with David Gell presenting and Johnny producing. Johnny told me that he'd got the idea of sifting through the 60 or 70 weekly new releases and selecting some of the best for the programme to be put to the public vote. To help with the pre-election process was he roped in a young Phil ('The Collector') Swern. Johnny had heard about the voting system from Klas Burling during an EBU meeting. For the recordings the BBC engineers had to wire up each of the seats at the Paris Cinema studio with the push-button console. He provided this explanation for the Radio Times in 1965:  

Few of the many records released every week have that special something which catches the ear and makes for a place in the best-sellers. In The Top Ten Game we hope to find out which new records have that special sound, and how they compare with those already established in the Top Ten. To help us we are using a new Swedish device called a Mentometer-a sort of opinion-meter-which has two hundred individual push-buttons: these are distributed to our studio audience. At a preliminary session, a panel of record-buyers select their ten best new releases of the week and in the first programme you will hear these ten records as well as the established Top Ten. After each of the records has been played our voters will use their push-buttons to register a score on the Mentometer. At the end of the game the ten records with the highest scores become our 'top-ten' for that week. The following week they will be challenged by ten more newcomers. 
David Gell will attempt to keep order, read the Mentometer, and chat to one or two guests who may look in, while Jillian Comber from Television's Crackerjack will look after the scoring. We don't aim to produce yet another Top Ten chart as our show is only a game but it will be interesting to see how our results compare with the published charts.

The Top Ten Game ran weekly - every third week coming from one of the BBC regions - until January 1966. 

A one-off programme, now called European Top Ten, was broadcast in November 1966 but after that the programme format lay dormant for a little over a year, returning as European Pop Jury on Radio 2 in February 1968 and then just a further three shows, this time on Radio 1 in October 1968, June 1969 and October 1969. Keeping score was Tricia Madden, recently voted as Radio 1's Disc Jockey Derby Dolly  - well this was the 60s!

Radio Times article for the programme on
5 October 1968
Yet again the programme disappeared from the schedules only to re-appear in January 1971 and then monthly for the rest of its run until December 1983. Initially seven countries took part each time, drawn from the pool of the UK, France, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Later Spain and Yugoslavia joined. By the end only six countries participated on each show.

Very little of European Pop Jury exists but there is a full version of the show from 18 September 1976 in circulation amongst collectors. Here's a taste of that edition in which the jurors vote in Tina Charles above Abba's Dancing Queen. They didn't get that one right! The theme is Wishbone Ash's Blind Eye. Readers in Ireland will recognise the voice of RTE's Larry Grogan.

In 1977 David Gell gave up the show and returned to his native Canada. Filling his shoes were BBC TV announcer Andy Cartledge and Radio 2 presenters Nick Page and Don Durbridge. Producer Mel House then auditioned for a permanent host, Andy, Nick and Don were considered as was David Allan and Colin Berry. It was Colin that got the gig and with it the Europe magazine show (see below).

This is a clip of European Pop Jury from 17 January 1982. By now the show was recorded in the Concert Hall at Broadcasting House, though Colin recalls that he had to present two shows from BRT in Brussels owing to a GPO strike in London.

David Gell - A Short Biography

Born in Calgary, Canada in 1929 David was already working for a local radio station by the time he was fifteen, as both a record library assistant and on-air announcer. He continued to work for a number of stations in Calgary and Edmonton whilst studying for his degree, ending up as senior announcer at CKUA in Edmonton.

It was at Calgary station CFAC that he got a posting to Europe as a foreign correspondent. Based in Paris he travelled widely across Europe and ended up taking a part-time position as an announcer at Radio Luxembourg. In the event he stayed with the station for three years (1955-58) before going freelance.

At Luxembourg he presented various shows including Top Twenty, 208 Swing Club, The Six O'Clock Record Show, Monday Spin, Hits for Six, Friday Spin, Sound Off and Request Shows. After 1958 he continued to work for the station until the mid-1960s presenting recorded programmes  such as Record Rendezvous, Meet David Gell and Time to Meet in which he interviewed the pop and film stars of the day.

Radio Luxembourg programmes for
12 May 1956
Now based in the UK David appeared on commercial TV on Concentration (a Granada quiz show in which contestants "can win fine prizes if they can remember which objects lie behind which number on the Concentration board), Criss Cross Quiz, Ready Steady Go, Thank Your Lucky Stars and Needle Match. For the BBC Light Programme and subsequently Radio 2  he presented over 40 different shows including Music for Sweethearts (1958-61), Transatlantic Bandbox (1959-61) and Twelve O'Clock Spin (1961-64). There were also late-night music like Pop to Bed (1962), Music to Midnight (1963), Music Before Midnight (1964),  Music to Midnight (1964) and Music Through Midnight (1967). He had stints on Housewives' Choice in 1964, 1966 and 1967. There was The Top Ten Game (1965-66), Swingalong (1966-67), Music Session One for the Home Service (1967) and then Radio 4 (1969), Big Band Sound (1967-68), Album Time (1968-69), After Seven (1972-73) and Let's Go Latin (1973-75). All these were in addition to European Pop Jury, Nordring Roundabout and Europe 74 to Europe 77.

Here's a clip of David presenting a 1965 edition of the Top Ten Game:

For BBC Radio 2 David wrote and narrated the 4-part story on Tommy Steele, Flash, Bang, Wallop! and a 4-part portrait of Max Bygraves simply called Max. Both series sold around the world as a Transcription Services release. He also worked behind the scenes as a producer; he's listed on Pete Murray's Open House for instance.

David returned to Canada in 1977 where he was offered the position of anchorman for the CBC television Evening News. He continued to broadcast on both TV and radio with programmes such as Sunday Arts, Saturday Side Up and the popular and successful Mountain Top Music. He retired in the early 2000s  but continued, up until a couple of years ago, to record documentaries and provide voice-overs.

Europe 74 to Europe 82

Europe 74 was introduced in July of that year essentially to fill the weeks of the schedule when Pop Over Europe or European Pop Jury weren't on. It seems likely that the programme was David Gell's idea, he both introduced and produced the early shows. By 1975 John Meloy and then Steve Allen produced, with Mel House taking over later.

The Europe programmes were usually based around a particular country or theme and included music from performers from that country and interviews (in English), most of which would be provided under reciprocal arrangements with other EBU broadcasters. Colin Berry remembers that tapes would arrive from the selected country and that he'd have to make up features to fit the content - not strictly his job as a staff announcer!    

Colin's first Europe 78 on 4 February 1978
David Gell continued to present until July 1977 when Andy Cartledge and then Nick Page and Don Durbridge filled in. Colin Berry took over as permanent host of Europe 78 in February and remained with the programme until its demise in 1982. It's interesting to note that both Colin's first show in 1978 and his last in December 1982 focussed on Australia, surely foretelling their coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest from 1983 and their eventual entry into the competition itself last year. 

This clip, from a full programme that's in circulation, comes from 2 July 1977 so I make this David Gell's penultimate Europe 77.

This clip of Europe 80 with Colin Berry dates from 8 March 1980. 

And finally honorary mentions of some other European music related shows on BBC radio:

International Spin

Between 1963 and 1967 Clive Roslin, later a BBC TV announcer and on LBC and Radio 4, regularly presented shows featuring "the pick of international pops" on the Light Programme. Initially this was on Twelve O'Clock Spin and then Pops Around the World and finally International Spin.     

Music from the Continent

The shortage of needletime on BBC radio meant that producers had to rely on BBC in-house sessions and foreign orchestras. Music from the Continent (1965) offered recordings made available by other EBU broadcasters to fill a half-hour slot. The (uncredited) producer of this Light Programme show was Johnny Beerling whose abiding memory of it hearing lots of music by German zither player Rudi Knabl. Similar orchestral shows ran on Network Three as From the Continent (1965) and a Home Service filler programme called Continental Style (1965-66)

European Song Cup Contest

This is the now-forgotten song contest that was held in the Belgian resort of Knokke every year between 1959 and 1973. Although the UK entered all the contests - with singers ranging from Wally Whyton and Anita Harris to Engelbert Humperdink and Dave Berry - it was never properly covered by BBC radio apart from in 1971 when Brain Matthew introduced a week of programmes called Knokke Nights.

The contest was revived in 1980 (running until 1986 I think) as the Knokke Cup. Colin Berry introduced a handful of programmes in 1980 and 1984.

European Music Game

This was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 between 1976 and 1982. Contestants would take part in UK only heats and progress to the full European quiz. Initially these were drawn from BBC local radio stations and then from those that progressed through David Hamilton's Music Game. Quizmasters were David Gell, Tim Rice and then David Hamilton himself. The full Europe-wide quiz was usually chaired by RTE's Larry Gogan. Countries taking part tended to be from the Nordring group.

Hilversum Greets Radio 2

The name Hilversum was already familiar to anyone with one of those old radio dials. By the late 1960s it was home to the Dutch public broadcaster Nederlandse Omroep Stichting. Between 1979 and 1983 Radio 2 and NOP co-produced a series of concerts featuring British singers (Nick Curtis and Danny Street were regulars) accompanied by the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Dolf van der Linden, a regular from the Nordring series.  Hilversum Greets Radio 2 was presented by Aad Bos (pictured left).


This was Radio 5's look at life and music across Europe. Initially presented by Caron Keating and then Robert Elms it ran from 1990 to 1994.

My thanks go to Johnny Beerling, Colin Berry and Rosemary Gell for their help in piecing together this history.

Friday, 29 April 2016

As heard on radio

This year the Grim Reaper is, it seems, intent on populating his own light entertainment cast. Only last week we lost the supreme writer and comedienne Victoria Wood. Best known, of course, for her TV work I've had a  look at her radio appearances on the BBCGenome website.

Victoria never did have her own radio series and most of her broadcasts are guest appearances  often  singing her comic songs. Her first broadcast, at least on national radio, was a 1977 edition of Comedy Parade featuring Rob Buckman (at the time best known for YTV's Don't Ask Me working alongside Dr Magnus Pyke) and Chris Beetles. She appeared again with Rob Buckman five years later in Get the Most Out of Your Body. She popped up on Start the Week and Midweek and as a panellist on Just a MInute. Her only other panel game was I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue in 2009.

In the mid to late 1980s Victoria was heard reading stories for children on Listening Corner and Cat's Whiskers. She was a castaway on Desert Island Discs in 1987 and again in 2007 and guested on Woman's Hour and Kaleidoscope.  In 2005 she wrote a spoof version of The Archers for Comic Relief.

But the piece of archive I've dug out is one of her appearances on the Radio 2 comedy The Little and Large Party. As far as I know this show hasn't had a repeat since its first broadcast in 1981 so it's a bit of a rarity. It was Little and Large's only radio series and for each of the eight shows Victoria provided a comic song. In this, the first episode of the series, she recalls her school days with the wireless on.

Victoria Wood 1953-2016

Thursday, 28 April 2016

I once made a programme about that for Radio 4

BBC Radio Norfolk boss and regular presenter of Treasure Quest - a mad dash around the county by car in search of clues but without the Anneka Rice jumpsuit - has retired after 35 years at the station. 

David Clayton stood down as Editor last month and presented his final Treasure Quest last Sunday. Whilst not part of the Radio Norfolk launch team in September 1980 he started to guest as a showbiz expert and appeared on Juke Box Jury before being offered a Sunday breakfast slot in 1981. In 1983 he moved to a weekday mid-morning show, The Norfolk Airline, co-presenting with Neil Walker. They won a Sony in 1986 for Best Magazine Programme before graduating to national radio on Radio 4's The Local Network (1987-91).

In The Local Network David and Neil  linked up with "BBC Local Radio stations to investigate issues of common concern around the country" covering everything from tourism and bridge tolls  to puddings and pools winners. Years later there was a long-standing joke at Radio Norfolk that David would often claim "I once made a programme about that for Radio 4", much the way that Uncle Albert would preface his "during the war" anecdotes. 

A Radio Times article introducing the new 1987 series of The Local Network described the duo as the 'Timpson and Redhead' of Radio Norfolk. "Some people define it as chemistry and that's the basis of all good double acts", said David. "But it may have something to do with the fact that we have very little in common and rarely meet off the air."      

Also broadcasting from Norwich David briefly appeared as an in-vision announcer on Anglia TV and read the news on Look East for several years in the mid-80s. He also co-presented, again with Neil Walker, two short series for Radio 4 called Today's the Day (1990-92) that sought to "explore extraordinary days in people's lives".

Returning to Radio Norfolk in 1991 he was first Programme Organiser (what would now be called an Assistant Editor) and then Managing Editor in 1998. Although now management he still couldn't be prised away from the studio and continued to appear on air, usually on Sundays. When Treasure Quest started in 2008 David took over the 'Kenneth Kendall' style role

David had a big on-air send-off last Sunday in Goodbye to all that. The previous week one of those The Local Network shows got an airing. Last heard on Radio 4 in February 1988 it investigated regional differences in comedy. It's still online here.

You can hear another edition of The Local Network that I posted in 2012 here.

My thanks to Paul Hayes, aka The Questmaster, at BBC Radio Norfolk for his help with this post. 

Monday, 11 April 2016

Still Whispering at 70

Bob Harris celebrates his 70th birthday today. Music-loving Bob has always carefully crafted his radio shows and championed the cause of many musicians. This was more than evident in this weekend's Radio 2 show - for some mad reason tucked away at 3 a.m. 

Back in October 1972 Bob was interviewed for the new magazine Deejay and Radio Monthly and recalled how he got his break into radio.

He'd been playing records as part of an experimental evening at the Royal College of Art and four months later was interviewing Radio 1 producer Jeff Griffin for Friends magazine. Jeff "remembered this thing at the Royal College, talked to me about it and asked me to do a pilot show for Radio Three".

"I took the list of records and ran with Jeff through the way I'd presented them - so in fact the pilot I did was based on the programme I'd done at the College. We directed it at Radio Three initially because Jeff thought it might be a little heavy going for Radio One - but in fact they were at the time already running a pop music series, and they never run two simultaneously. So Jeff re-directed it to Radio One - not as a programme idea, but as an illustration of what I could do."

The BBC liked what they heard and Bob was offered holiday relief for John Peel in August and September 1970. This is his first Radio Times billing (via BBC Genome). The following month, following the departure of David Symonds, Bob was offered the Monday night edition of Sounds of the 70s.

Bob, now also presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test, left Radio 1 in 1975. Controller Derek Chinnery "didn't much like the kind of music we features on Sounds of the 70s". In fact the station was having to trim back its broadcasting hours as part of a round of yet another financial belt-tightening. After that Bob recorded some shows for Radio Luxembourg but wasn't regualarly back on air until 1978 when he joined Radio 210.

Keen to return to the Corporation Bob accepted a drive time job with Radio Oxford in 1981. By the mid-80s he was also appearing on LBC, Radio West and Radio Broadland, BFBS and The Super Station. In 1989 he was finally back at Radio 1 when executive producer Stuart Grundy invited him to sit in for Richard Skinner; he gained a regular Sunday night show the following January following the death of Roger Scott.  

Later in 1990 Bob's finally secured a daily show kicking off at midnight, following Nicky's Campbell's Into the Night.  Three years later, following a "repositioning" of the network, he was back out the door. Here is a large chunk of that final Radio 1 show from the early hours of Friday 22 October 1993. And if you don't already know Bob's final record you'd never guess it.

Part 1

Part 2

Bob secured more work with BFBS as well as regular shows on GLR. It was Jim Moir who invited Bob back to national radio with a Saturday night show on Radio 2 starting in 1997. He's been there ever since, adding Bob Harris Country in 1999.

Happy Birthday Whispering Bob.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Sound Digital

In March radio station launches were like buses, nothing for months and then a handful came along all at once. These new stations were part of the Sound Digital DAB multiplex, a joint venture company owned by The Wireless Group, Bauer and Arqiva.

The new offerings from Bauer were brand extensions of Magic: Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled. First out of the blocks on 14 March was Mellow Magic, "carefully programmed to provide a relaxed and laid back station" aimed at the 50 to 64 age group. Existing Magic DJs Paul Hayes, Gary Vincent and Martin Collins are joined by the station-hopping Lynn Parsons, Forth 1's Arlene Stuart and actors Patsy Kensit and John Hannah. The station also offers the chance to hear former BBC staffers Fran Godfrey and Alice Arnold. Indeed it was a welcome opportunity to hear Fran, one of Radio 2's best, and much missed, newsreaders reading the news again on the weekday breakfast show - the only live show.   

On the face of it there's little here that listeners can't get from Magic, the City 2 network or Smooth. The licence application suggests that the evening programmes may see a return of Saga Radio-type shows but, based on my admittedly brief review of one night's listening it was more of the same classic pop with a Billie Holiday track thrown in for good measure.

I'm not sure how much Bauer invest in their websites, very little it seems. Essentially both Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled offer one page without a full schedule, what happens overnight remains a mystery. Mellow only highlights nine musical artists: Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Dusty, Elton, Billie Holiday, Michael Buble, Simon and Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand and Rod Stewart. Neither website suggests anything they've actually played.

Magic Chilled - one of the stations on DAB+ as well as online - promises "a contemporary music escape with a playlist featuring fresh laidback hits". Although it lists an all female presenter line-up - Jade Ewen, Sarah Champion, Pips Taylor, Eloise Carr and Louise Molony - the links are all pre-recorded and kept to a minimum, every 3 or 4 records. So laid back was Chilled that it didn't really launch on 21 March as such; the test transmissions segued seamlessly into a breakfast sequence and then Jade Ewen's links from 10 am.  

Launched with far more sense of occasion, and offering something new, certainly for commercial radio, were The Wireless Group's talkSPORT2 and talkRADIO. Going to air on 15 March, just in time for the Cheltenham Festival, was talkSPORT's sister station with sports coverage that wasn't just football-focused: racing, cricket (there's been extensive coverage of the World Twenty20), rugby, tennis, golf and athletics, so offering some alternative to 5 Live Extra. In this montage there's actor Lewis MacLeod (Dead Ringers and  Wired News) declaiming "the prodigal son is ready". There's also talkSPORT2's Managing Editor Mike Bovill and the opening introduction from Ian Danter. 

talkSPORT2 benefited from cross-promotion from talkSPORT, the two stations share some programming anyway as there's not quite enough other sports to satisfy a full-time extra station.

The talk radio format very much remains a minority one in the UK so perhaps most keenly anticipated of the new stations was the launch of talkRADIO (I'm carefully typing those lower and upper case characters!). Less news agenda driven than 5 Live or LBC - though this was tested on day two with the bombings in Brussels - it benefits from an experienced and lively line-up: Paul Ross (the only one from the original Talk Radio UK), Julia Hartley-Brewer, Jon Holmes, Sam Delaney, Jonny Gould and Iain Lee on weekdays. talkRADIO posted this video of the station launch.

Unfortunately, at least for those of us listening online, the sound quality on day one was appalling; it had marginally improved the following day.

David Lloyd did a quick editing job to put this montage together.  

Judging by the listener reaction online there was much love in particular, and quite rightly so, for Jon Holmes and Iain Lee. Both started by knocking their former employers and their radio opposition - Holmes had only appeared on Radio X the day before whilst Lee had, of course, been dropped by 3CR last year - but they were asked to rein this in on day two, mind you both mentioned this management talking-too on air.

The only other observation is the lack of callers; the weekday shows, apart from Iain's, appear to be in single figures over a 3 or 4 hour show. Is the 0844 number putting people off (they do call back) or is it a production decision?

There was an exemplary lead-in to the launch (is that re-launch?) of Virgin Radio which went live on 30 March: "a broadcast legend returns". Online they had a fully operational website before the D-Day with presenter Q&As, press releases, schedules and playlists all supported by Twitter and Facebook. They then pushed the boat out, in fact pushed the train out - the Virgin Radio Star travelling from Manchester to London -  as part of a launch day hoopla, all produced by TBI Media. This provided great publicity but I'm not sure it contributes much to the listening experience, "it's moving" we were excitedly told. Let's hope they continue to support new talent such as Gavin James who provided the live opening track, his take on Bowie's Changes.

Here are those opening moments:

Virgin's Programme Director Liam Thompson spoke about the station's audience: "We feel that there is an opportunity amongst those who feel too old for BBC Radio 1, but not old enough for BBC Radio 2. Our audience will be music-lovers who want to hear great new music, as well as the classics".

Whilst there are elements of its previous incarnation in the new station , unlike its Virgin 1215 predecessor - predominantly aimed at the male guitar rock lover - Virgin offers "classic and contemporary pop and rock hits" for a 25-44 year old audience. It remains to be seen how it will fare against the Absolute stations that took over from Virgin in 2008.  

From the evidence of day one Virgin Radio, like its new Wireless Group stable mates, suffered from some technical issues, and that's not just the expected drop-outs during the train journey. It's almost as if they're trying to recreate the same reception conditions of the old AM service. I've read of audio quality complaints about both DAB and online steaming. Hopefully these will be fully addressed quickly before people switch elsewhere. Having said that it seemed fine to me over here in France via Radioplayer.

I should also name check the other new station to launch on D2, Premier Praise, the Christian music station that went to air on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately due to a combination of the shift to summertime and a late night I missed the station switch-on, though I did catch part of Steve Fanstone's show during the day.

And finally the other station launch that was part of the Sound Digital package was British Muslim Radio, now rebranded as Awesome Radio. Whilst an audio stream has been up and running since 29 February the website offers no clues as schedule or presenters and its only tweeted six times and has just 36 Facebook followers. Listeners are invited to submit their CVs to become part of the Awesome team. 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Take a Place Like Goole

For almost ten years my adopted hometown was Goole. At the time, roughly the mid-1980s to the mid-90s, I was both living and working there; my short, five minute, pedestrian commute from Broadway to the town centre offices of Boothferry Borough Council. Boothferry was still part of the much-maligned Humberside, both of which disappeared from the local government map exactly 20 years ago today. In this linked post - see also my Random Gubbins blog - I invite you to take an audio tour round the town. 

Goole's history is inextricably linked to the waterways that surround the town, though surely the term 'Venice of the North' should be taken with a large dose of salt. And speaking of salt those twin water towers in the photo above are nicknamed the Salt and Pepper Pots. There was a small fishing and agricultural settlement, in what is now known as Old Goole from the 14th century. In the 1600s the surrounding marshlands were drained by Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden, the Dutch being dab hands at drains and dykes. In 1826 the Aire and Calder Navigation Company opened the docks and canal basin to the north of the Dutch River, triggering an expansion of the town.  

In this programme from the BBC Radio 4 series Take a Place Like, Stanley Ellis, John Grundy and Dr Juliet Barker have poke around the town taking in the Lowther Hotel, Hilda's Fancy Dress in The Arcade, the port itself and Goole Hall. Take a Place Like Goole was broadcast on 7 August 1988 and repeated the following day, from which this off-air recording comes. Apologies for the interference in the opening minutes. 

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