Life with Radio 2 

3 October 2007 tbs.pm/3221

It’s not just for Sunday Lunchtimes any more

The opening of Radio One had no impact at all in our house. This was hardly surprising, as my father was in his mid-fifties by this time, and would frequently rail against the modern pop scene. “You hear them wailing ‘I love you, I love you!'”, he would growl, “then the next week in the papers – “Divorce!”.” My mother would profess amusement at such rants, but wasn’t really that far behind them herself. Add to this the fact that the only record player we had in the house at that time was – and I swear this is true – a wind-up gramophone, and it is scarcely any wonder that the dazzling teeth of Tony Blackburn found no purchase on my life. Indeed, my only contact with the station would come when my elder brother and his first wife would visit from distant Shrewsbury for the weekend, and bring with them their Cossor transistor set, which looked – literally – like a breeze-block with knobs on.

Instead it was Radio 2, as it was now called, which was our only source of broadcast music. “Housewives’ Choice” (which must have been one of the first radio programmes I ever heard) had fallen victim to the revamp, but “Family Favourites” had not. To put it in Proustian terms, that programme is my madeleine cake: even today, to hear that Kostelanetz recording of “With A Song In My Heart” is enough to bring back the aromas of Sunday lunch cooking (Oh ma, I miss your gravy!), and hearing Judith Chalmers chatting with someone sitting in the studios of the mysteriously-named BFBS in Cologne, or introducing a request for someone stationed at RAF Akrotiri (which might as well have been in another solar system for all I knew at that age).

But Radio 2 was for life – albeit a rather sedate one – not just for Sunday lunchtimes. It was an era of classic comedy shows, ‘The Clitheroe Kid’, ‘The Navy Lark’ (“Oooh, nasty!”), Ken Dodd and – favourite of favourites – ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’, which was probably my first case of a ‘must hear’ programme.

(Would you like to hear about how Bill Oddie saved me from a beating? I’ll tell you anyway. Imagine the scene at the Saturday lunch table: I’m sitting on a chair with a cushion on it to bring me up to the required height (I was about seven years old). Sitting opposite me is my father, a steelworker in his late fifties. In comes my mother with the food. She hands me my plate. The hot gravy runs onto my thumb. “Bloody!”, I yelp. My mother blenches. “WHAT did you say?”, she shouts menacingly, back of hand ready to strike. Thinking with uncharacteristic swiftness, I say, “Bill Oddie!”. Mum looks at me, thoroughly unconvinced. “I-i-it’s a man on the radio!”, I pleaded. She still isn’t convinced, but decides to let it lie, and lunch progresses. It was wasn’t until some four years later, when she first saw ‘The Goodies’, that she finally believed me. So, thanks Bill, if you should ever read this!)

But Radio 2’s main remit was music, and in my case it was the evening line-up which provided the main attraction, because all that pop stuff held little attraction to me as a child. As I’ve mentioned in another article, I would sometimes have the use of a bulky Marconiphone transistor radio for a while when I’d gone to bed of an evening. As this tended to cover the period between about 8 and 10pm, I was introduced to a wide variety of music from presenters such as Wally Whyton (country) and Humphrey Lyttleton (jazz). Heck, I even listened to ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’!

(A small plea for information here, chums: what was the name of that slow, saxophone tune Humph used to open his show with in the early 70s? This inquiring mind would like to know).

And then there was ‘Late Night Extra’. As I grew older, I could listen later – especially so once I got my own set – and my own under-the-bedclothes memories consist largely of listening in (via one of those awful earpieces which – either due to cause or effect – was the same colour as earwax) to this late-night miscellany hosted at various times by such luminaries as Barry Aldiss and Bob Holness. And do you too remember Ray Barrett in ‘Ricochet’?

I carried on listening to Radio 2 well into my teens, although seldom the music programmes by that time. For a decade from the mid-70s, it was my main source of light entertainment. There were still good comedy shows to be had: ‘The Show With Ten Legs’, featuring Eddie Braben – the man who took Eric & Ernie to the top – and the glorious Eli Woods (who also featured in Roy Castle’s series for the station); ‘Hello Cheeky’ with fine ensemble work from Brooke-Taylor, Cryer, Junkin and King; set-piece shows such as ‘You’ve Got To Be Joking’ and ‘The Impressionists’; and the long-running ‘News Huddlines’, where satirical sallies were melded with music-hall style. True, Radio 2 also had The Grumbleweeds, but it couldn’t get everything right.

There were also quiz shows, some of which also lasted well into the 80s: ‘Fair Deal’ (firstly with David Nixon, with Paul Daniels taking over after his fellow magician’s passing); ‘The Law Game’ chaired by (who else but) Shaw Taylor; and ‘Jazz Score’, where the score really didn’t matter, as it was a glorious excuse for jazzsters young and old (mostly the latter) to provide the listeners with wonderful anecdotes.

There was ‘Sport On Two’ as well. In 1981, I got involved in running one of the top amateur football clubs in Wales. This meant spending every Saturday afternoon in varying conditions (i.e. varying from uncomfortable to appalling) at ‘pitch-side’, but always accompanied by my radio to keep my fellow committee-members informed.

Gradually, as often happens, I drifted away from Radio 2 during the 1980s. In contrast to most such journeys, though, mine was in the direction of Radio 1. I had realised that my musical tastes had all but calcified, and the only place I could think of where I could get them loose again was by starting to listen to John Peel. This set the pattern for my radio listening for the next eighteen years, until we lost The Sage Of Stowmarket in October 2004.

I still listened to Radio 2 from time to time though, especially ‘Folk On Two’ during the closing overs of the Jim Lloyd era, as I had got ‘into’ folk music again by the mid-90s. That programme’s successor, however, has not been to my taste, and so – occasional documentaries apart – my Radio 2 experiences are now minimal.

Curiously, though, I find that the station’s music policy may be more in tune with my own than I had suspected. Twice in the last three years I have been coming back from business meetings in the office car when the driver has had Radio 2 on, and have heard wonderful records which I just had to track down: ‘Electron Blue’ by R.E.M. being one, and the other being The Editors’ recent single ‘An End Has A Start’. Having these songs drawn to my attention has almost been worth having to endure the eternally infantile Steve Wright (I did say ‘almost’) . So Radio 2 can still surprise!

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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1 response to this article

Nigel Stapley 21 May 2015 at 9:30 pm

Just to pop back in here to say that someone kindly told me what Humph’s early-70s theme tune was: “Wanderlust” by Duke Ellington & Coleman Hawkins. I found it online and wallowed!

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