Being a notoriously dour Scotsman, Lord Reith’s famous proclamation that the BBC’s role was to inform, educate and entertain meant that the last of that trio wouldn’t have got much of a look in had Reith’s tenure as DG lasted way beyond 1938. His austere Presbyterian idea of entertainment would have driven a war-weary listening audience away from the BBC in their droves during the 1950s; they’d already turned to Radio Luxembourg for a lighter evening in front of the wireless before the war, and chances are they’d have continued to do so had not Reith’s successors at the helm reorganised the Beeb’s network when hostilities ceased in 1945.

Taking over from the General Forces Programme, the Light Programme debuted on the airwaves just two months after VE Day and quickly established itself as the most popular of the BBC stations for the next couple of decades. Whenever a documentary requires a piece of music to accompany footage of the 50s and wants to evoke a certain Home Counties ‘cosiness’, chances are the piece of music in question is the theme tune from a Light Programme mainstay such as ‘Housewives’ Choice’, ‘Workers’ Playtime’ or ‘Listen with Mother’. It’s also worth noting radio institutions like ‘The Archers’, ‘Woman’s Hour’ and ‘Pick of the Pops’ formed part of the Light Programme’s line-up along with a rash of memorable comedies such as ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ and ‘Round the Horne’. And then there was the music – fittingly light with soupy strings and melodies so unobtrusively polite they almost asked for permission to rent the airwaves. By the mid-60s, however, the music was the problem.

With the Beeb belatedly attempting to swing along with the rest of the 60s, the rebirth of radio on 30 September 1967 saw the teen pop offerings of the Light Programme shift over to the new Radio 1; what of Radio 2, though? How would it differ from the station it succeeded? Not that much, really, which I suppose was part of the strategy to hold onto the Light listeners. Amongst the offerings on Radio 2’s first day (a Saturday) were Pete Murray, Kenneth Horne, Max Jaffa, the BBC Midland Light Orchestra, Sidney Davey and his Orchestra – Light Programme veterans all. It seemed the only real change was the name.

Come Monday morning, though ‘Housewives’ Choice’, ‘Music Box’ and ‘Music While You Work’ had all vanished and the station shared the shows of Jimmy Young, Simon Dee and Pete Brady with Radio 1, ‘Mrs Dale’s Diary’ (now ‘The Dales’) clung on, as did ‘Woman’s Hour’ – albeit considerably longer than ‘The Dales’. Musically, the presence of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, Frank Chacksfield, and the wonderfully-named Reginald Leopold and the Palm Court Orchestra suggested familiar fare. Dotted through the schedule of the first Radio 2 week were other stalwarts of the Light such as ‘Family Favourites’, ‘Sing Something Simple’, ‘Top of the Form’, ‘The Navy Lark’, ‘Any Questions?’, ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, and plenty of sport, which remained a fixture of Radio 2 until the launch of Five Live in the early 90s.

There was a good deal of channel crossing between Radio 2 and Radio 4 in terms of genres and repeats in the early days, as there had been between the Light Programme and the Home Service; there was a distinct lack of identity where both stations were concerned, something that led to ‘Broadcasting in the Seventies’, the BBC’s far-reaching 1969 review of its radio output. As a result of the changes recommended in the report, the four networks began to morph into recognisably individual entities from the early 70s onwards. When Radio 1 transferred Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan to Radio 2 around the same time, the classic morning schedule had finally taken shape.

Although a few quizzes and comedies lingered on 2, along with a solitary soap (‘Waggoners’ Walk’), my own childhood memory of the station is of its playlist, largely derived from staying at my grandparents’ house in the 70s. For me, it presented a curious alternative to the pop diet of Radio 1 so familiar at home and served as an introduction to Easy Listening, Jazz, Big Bands and the song stylists of the pre-Rock n Roll era, none more so than Sinatra. By the late 70s, a combination of Simon Bates and Punk (awkward bedfellows, to say the least) had seen my dad switch his listening allegiance from 1 to 2, something the soccer coverage on the latter helped.

Aside from Wogan and Young, the voice I associate most with childhood exposure to Radio 2 is that of the superb football commentator, the late great Peter Jones; at a time when football coverage on TV was at a minimum unimaginable to today’s Sky subscribers, radio provided an essential service, and the theme tunes to ‘Sport on 2’ and ‘Sports Report’ respectively still evoke the old spirit of Saturdays for me as much as the sight of Tom Baker’s hat-&-scarf ensemble. When VHF – as FM radio was always called then – first appeared in our household, the wavelength was shared between 1 and 2, so any listen to a Radio 1 documentary in my teens was generally followed by a Radio 2 Jazz or Folk show.

The old joke about Radio 2, that it was a retirement home for Radio 1 DJs, is as relevant now as it ever was. Chris Evans, Jo Whiley, Zoe Ball, Sara Cox, Trevor Nelson and Simon Mayo were all still on Radio 1 twenty years ago, whereas they now comfortably slot in alongside ex-Radio 1 stars of a far older vintage such as Bob Harris, Johnnie Walker, Tony Blackburn, Paul Gambaccini and Steve Wright. However, the daytime playlist is usually geared towards listeners suddenly feeling nostalgic about their 20s for the first time, something that tends to creep in when people hit their 40s; therefore, the station’s presenters and musical selection reflect this for each generation. One thing Radio 2 has continued to do far more successfully than Radio 1 is to gently lower the average age of its audience every couple of decades.

In recent years, the blend of old and older broadcasters has helped make Radio 2 the nation’s most listened-to station and it appears to have finally shed its pipe & slippers image in the process. There does seem to be a worrying reliance on TV personalities presenting programmes, with Graham Norton, Paul O’Grady, Dermot O’Leary, Claudia Winkleman, Clare Balding, Craig Charles, Vanessa Feltz, Liza Tarbuck and the Partridge-esque Jeremy Vine all making the journey from television to radio; but former Radio 2 presenters who now reside in that great Broadcasting House in the sky, such as Terry Wogan and David Jacobs, also had a foot in both camps. And Radio 2 can still boast the archetypal broadcaster with a great face for radio, the indestructible Ken Bruce.

© The Editor


libertyWe think we’ve got it bad over here. I’ve got friends in Canada – can you imagine what it must be like for them? They’re the next-door neighbours of the country upon which the world’s attention is focused today, yet they’ve no more ability to participate and affect change than we have. It’s akin to the Scots voting in an independence referendum in which the rest of the UK has no say and…oh, sorry, I forgot; we’ve already been there. Anyway, the disqualification of one half of North America in deciding the fate of the western world aside, the fact that the USA has to choose between a devious upholder of Washington’s status quo and a misogynistic billionaire narcissist is surely something nobody would envy. Suddenly, having to weigh-up the respective merits of David Cameron and Ed Miliband just last year doesn’t seem like such a terrible dilemma after all. The fact that both are now parliamentary toast shows how far we’ve travelled since the spring of 2015, whereas the US is now confronted with a similar scenario, albeit on a Hollywood blockbuster scale.

The first Presidential Election I was aware of took place forty years ago, when the incumbent occupier of the White House, Gerald Ford, took on the virtually unknown Georgian peanut-farmer Jimmy Carter. The former probably stands as the luckiest man in American history, becoming Vice President due to the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973 and becoming President due to the resignation of Richard Nixon the year after. I remember the Ford family being photographed during a visit to Disneyland in 1976, an image reproduced in the weekly I was subscribing to at the time, ‘Mickey Mouse’; but Ford’s luck ran out not long thereafter. He was defeated in November by Carter. Since Jimmy Carter ingratiated himself in the collective memory of my generation via his visit to the UK the year he was inaugurated, I have been a long-distance witness to nine further Presidential Elections, and this is the tenth. I can’t remember another like this one, though.

We’ve become accustomed to our own excessive political circuses in the age of 24-hour news media – two General Elections and two Referendums in the last six years – but being bombarded by Trump and Clinton these past few months has been especially frustrating in that we can look but not touch. Many comparisons have been made between the northern industrial wastelands that voted Brexit here and those poised to vote Trump there, and it’s hard to avoid such comparisons when the impact of globalisation has hit traditional providers of British and American economic prosperity with such devastating ruthlessness. Figures were bound to emerge to speak on behalf of those deprived of a voice, though it’s a shame they had to be figures like Nigel Farage or Donald Trump.

Donald Trump I find fascinating, if only as a classic American sitcom character ala Archie Bunker or Homer Simpson; that he’s actually on the cusp of being elected leader of the free world places this fascination in a state of disbelief. This can’t be for real, can it? So it would seem. History has taught us that a vacuum can be exploited by any opportunist, and if that opportunist be a reality TV star, that seems perfectly in tune with twenty-first century sentiments. In many respects, it’s a miracle Trump didn’t select Kim Kardashian as his running mate.

Trump may have attached himself to the Republican Party, but he has no real affiliation with the issues that have dominated Republican politics over the last decade or so; he certainly hasn’t played the God card, which has been the default position of every Republican candidate since Reagan, and one wonders if he’s hitched a ride on the Republican express simply because starting his own party would have rendered him a minority independent with no chance of gaining the keys to the White House. That he managed to blow the true Republicans (and their fanatical obsession with what their fellow Americans do below the waist) out of the water says all you need to know about that party.

Yes, he has galvanised the majority of fervent blue-collar Republicans who couldn’t get excited over John McCain or Mitt Romney, but he has also caught the attention of non-partisan voters in desperate search of someone to offer an alternative to the production-line politicians Washington produces with the same slick ease as Westminster.

Hillary Clinton’s FBI reprieve last weekend places the decision of the organisation that named and shamed her the week before in a curious situation; did the FBI announce the reopening of the email investigation to simply cover their backs on the off-chance that, should Trump become President, they could point to that announcement as evidence they were prepared to pursue it and therefore weren’t politically biased? The haste with which they subsequently declared there was no foul play on Clinton’s part makes their initial announcement appear even stranger. Why bother intervening in the campaign if there was nothing to report anyway? If that was the FBI’s strategy, it has ultimately backfired, as changing their minds just a couple of days before polling merely gives fresh ammunition to Trump’s avowed belief that ‘the establishment’ is against him.

Oh, well. Time’s up for speculation now. Come this time tomorrow, we’ll know where we stand – more of the same or a leap into the unknown. And no one here will have any say either way.

JIMMY YOUNG (1921-2016)

youngThe death of Jimmy Young aged 95 is yet another passing to add to an increasingly long list where 2016 is concerned. Coming just a few months after the death of Terry Wogan, this latest annotation to a dismal year’s catalogue of obituaries is especially poignant for anybody who recalls a time when a particular kind of diction dominated the airwaves. The handover between the two broadcasting mainstays that formed a crucial element of Radio 2’s morning schedule for years was one that those of us who grew up with grandparents or parents whose loyalty to old Light Programme routines governed breakfast listening habits cannot help but mourn the loss of.

The 50s chart-topping crooner may have been an unlikely addition to the original Radio 1 line-up, but Young helped make the journey from the ‘housewives’ choice’ school of 60s daytime broadcasting to the 70s concept of pop radio a largely painless exercise. He represented a bridge between the pre-pirate era and the generation that found fame on the high seas, an old-school personality DJ whose reassuring presence during the uncertain, formative years of Radio 1 was essential to the tricky transition. Transferring to Radio 2 in 1973, Young continued to speak to the same demographic for whom DLT or Johnnie Walker, and their insistence on spinning chart sounds, were anathema. As with Radio 2 listeners today, what Radio 2 listeners in the 70s wanted to hear were the sounds of twenty years before. In the 70s, that meant Doris Day or Guy Mitchell, precisely the kind of soundtrack I will always associate with Jimmy Young, courtesy of my grandma’s listening habits when I stopped at her home as a child.

Jimmy Young’s tenure on Radio 2 lasted until as late as 2002, when the periodical revamp tactics of new radio controllers finally caught up with him. But he had made an indelible mark over 35 years, and the station with which he will always be linked was poised to embark upon its most radical shake-up, for better or for worse. He belonged to a broadcasting era that was already drenched in nostalgia by the turn of the Millennium, and for anyone whose aural memory connects Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan with happier, more innocent times, this is indeed a sad day.

© The Editor