The Chimes of Big Ben
30 January 2017
Late last year a young girl wrote to Radio 4's PM show to offer her services as the Chimes of Big Ben, as urgent repair work was needed on the Elizabeth Tower and the bell, Big Ben, would fall silent. Various articles suggested that this was only the third time in 150 year that the bell had been silent, but digging through the Radio Times, it isn't the case.
On the 2nd July 1956, much was made of the fact that the bell Great Tom, housed in St. Pauls Cathedral clock tower, was taking over for two or three months, whilst Big Ben was being repaired. A mere slip of a bell at 4.5 tons (Big Ben is three times that) it is the older of the two bells, being made in 1716, and chimes differently to the familiar Big Ben. Wynford Vaughn Thomas was at St Pauls, and John Snagge was at Westminster to feature the handover of responsibility of chiming to the World.
The article also mentions that this wasn't the first time that Great Tom had come centre stage. Back in 1934, again when the Westminster clock was undergoing repair, the chimes came from St Pauls. I can only assume that the understudy performance was so good that no-one really noticed the difference.
1st January 2017 - Happy New Year
There were big changes afoot for the Radio Times in the mid 1930s. The magazine had originally been edited and printed by Newnes and Co. with a profit share arrangement until 1926, when editorial control was moved to the BBC. Newnes continued the printing and presumably had a 10 year contract to do so, but towards the end of this Waterlows offered a more attractive tender, and a purpose built factory was established at Park Royal, opening 1st January 1937 - 80 years ago today.
Offering state of the art presses, larger capacity, this would be the printing home of The Radio Times (and The Listener) until the mid 50s when it reached full capacity, even after doubling the number of presses, and another factory was opened at East Kilbride to handle the Scottish and Northern editions.
Even so, it still handled the lions share of the print run for the entire lifespan of the hot metal process and into the photopolymer plate era. The presses finally came to a standstill in the mid 80s when printing moved over to web-offset when the days of smudgy greys on absorbant newsprint were replaced by clean blacks on white paper and more colour thrown in throughout.
The building still stands and is in use daily, albeit for a different purpose entirely. The current owners are aware of the heritage of the site and are planning to embrace it.
HAPPY 80th BIRTHDAY, BBCtv
2nd November 2016
7 April 2016 - STOP PRESS!
Quite literally it would seem. It has been announced that the printer of the Radio Times has changed with immediate effect and the 80 year old involvement of the company Waterlow and Sons (through its immediate successors) has come to an end.
Waterlow and Sons gained the printing contract in the mid 1930s and constructed a new works at Park Royal to handle the increasing circulation of the magazine, and the first editions came off the presses in January 1937. By the mid 1950s further expansionw as required and another plant was built in the New Town of East Kilbride near Glasgow, with editions for Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England coming off the presses in August 1956.
Waterlows, like many other major printers, became part of the British Printing Corporation, but the name lived on. Rupert Maxwell had gained control off the BPC in a 'dawn raid' and by the mid 1980s the newsprint presses were replaced with web offset: The Park Royal site was closed, and East Kilbride moved a little way up the road to a new home and new presses.
Printing was, by this time, spread around the BPC group (now BPCC, as Maxwell had added Communications to the name) and it wasn't long before BPCC became the Maxwell Communication Corporation. After Maxwell came to a mysterious end, it was evident that his business practices were less than satisfactory, and administration followed, with the company broken up and a management buy-out created Polestar.
Having printed the Radio Times for the last 25 years, Polestar moved the production from their Leeds site (what was Petty and Sons) to a new facility in Sheffield at the end of 2014, and it is there that the last Polestar edition came off the presses - with the late Ronnie Corbett gracing the cover.
The Wyndeham Group have taken over the responsibility of the 3/4 million copies per week and will printing it at their Peterborough site.
HAPPY 92nd BIRTHDAY, RADIO TIMES
Isn't it always the same, birthdays don't come along for ages, then two appear at once! Not quite a milestone number, although in my mind anything after 90 is a milestone, the Radio Times turns 92 today (28th September), the first edition (available as a PDF here) being published in 1923. A lot has happened in that time, including competition, but it still has a reasonable circulation (around 712K for Jan-Jun 2015*). It's commercial counterpart (60th last week - see below) is less than a third that (213K, same period*).
Happy Birthday Radio Times, long may we see you on the shelves.
HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY, TV TIMES
Yes, this is the Radio Times Archive, and yes, that is a (cough) TV Times, but it isn't every day that you turn 60, and on this day in 1955 the very first edition of the TV Times was sitting snugly next to the Radio Times on newsagents shelves in readiness for the broadcasting revolution that was to happen, to the 100,000 or so people in the London area anyway, a couple of days later - commercial television, or ITV.
Since 1922 the BBC had had a monopoly on broadcasting in the UK, and there was very little competition from anywhere else - Radio Luxembourg was the most serious. Television was in the accendence - the Coronation a couple of years earlier certainly did a lot to make people aware of the box in the corner of the room, but it was still a single national service and not available to the whole country by the time ITV was announced, and that was to be regional.
Outwardly the BBC was stoic, why would a brash upstart affect them? Inwardly they were concerned. Staff had left with enthusiasm for a new service and wanted to try out new ideas that an established and trusted (some might say stuffy) organisation wouldn't let them. The BBC were so concerned that they took action by killing off a main character in a hugely popular radio soap, The Archers. Grace Archer was to die shortly before Associated-Rediffusion, serving the London region, took to the air on the 22nd September. There were sombre faces up and down the country, and what promised to be a party atmosphere in some London homes welcoming to new, was more like a wake, mourning the loss of an old freind.
The opening ceremony was from the Guidhall, London, and began at 7.30pm with the Halle Orchestra and a commentary by John Connell - guests were seen arriving from a start of braodcasting at 7.15pm. About 500 of the great and the good were there, including Sir Ian Jacob, Direcetor General of the BBC! Speeches by The Lord Mayor Of London, The Postmaster General, Dr Charles Hill, and Sir Kenneth Clark followed, and then the real programmes began - 8.00 VARIETY, 8.40 DRAMA, 9.10 PROFESSIONAL BOXING, 10.00 NEWS and NEWSREEL, 10.15 GALA NIGHT AT THE MAYFAIR, 10.30 STAR CABARET, 10.50 PREVIEW, and 11.00 EPILOGUE.
The franchise for the London station (channel 9) was split between two companies, Associated-Rediffusion on weekdays and Associated Broadcasting Company at weekends. The Independent Television Authority (ITA) didn't want to hand monopolies of potentially huge earning capacities to any one station so split some franchises in this way. The only one to survive in this form was the London franchise, with Thames and LWT sharing for the majority of the life of regional ITV.
Associated-Rediffusion, a joint venture mainly between British Election Traction and its subsidiary Broadcast Relay Services Ltd, and Associated Newspapers, took the former Air Ministry building, Adastral House, on Kingsway and renamed in Television House. It was far bigger than their own needs, so it was easy to house the news service ITN, and the offices of the TV Times - making it a one stop shop of ITV.
The Associated Broadcasting Company didn't actually last long under that name as The Associated British Corporation who ran a large chain of cinemas under the ABC initials, forced a change, so a few weeks later Associated TeleVision Ltd (ATV) was born. ATV also held the Midlands weekday franchise which began the following February.
So the first edition of the TV Times was actually less than half filled with times for television. A-R had got in first with the Thursday launch, but ATV had two full days of transmission rather than the 1 and a bit. Without the need to include radio or regional information, the TV Times was far more spacious - two wide columns compared to the normal 4 of Radio Times. There was spot colour (a pinky red) on the cover of the TV Times - the Radio Times had last seen spot colour on the masthead in 1944 when the red ink disappeared, and apart from the yellow paper stock for the Coronation Issue, wasn't to see spot colour again until 1958.
Like ITV, TV Times was bold, brash, and muscling in on established territory. The BBCs answer was to keep calm and carry on, and essentially ignore the existence of ITV. This became increasingly difficult as regional stations appeared, but the BBC was unified across the country, whereas ITV was almost a loose affiliation of warring tribes, each wanting to protect its own advertising revenues, get value out of its programming, and in the first few years at least, try to survive. The TV Times as a single magazine for the entire ITV network wasn't to arrive until 1968. Inevitably with many of the original regional company shareholders being newspaper groups, there were several listings mags: TV Times, The Viewer, and Television Weekly to name a few, TV Times was definitely the first and the one that endured.
Happy Birthday TV Times!
WALTER FULLER: THE MAN WHO HAD IDEAS, Letterworth Press
I was fortunate to be sent a copy of this fascintating volume covering the life of the second editor of the Radio Times, Walter Fuller and his family. I make a point of mentioning the latter as his life is heavily intertwined with his sisters, so the majority of the book reads more like 'The Fullers' than just a biography of the man himself.
Sadly, his untimely death means that for those who are interested in his short time at the BBC and Radio Times in particular, it is only really the last couple of chapters, a small part of the book, that will hit the mark.
A very in depth, and academic, read, I have to confess that when I originally tried to fit in reading the book in short snatches it was easy to get lost amongst who was who and who did what, that I quickly went back to the start and set aside quality time for it. This isn't a complaint about the book, but more an observation that most books these days are aimed at an audience with little attention spans, and something a bit meatier can be a jolt.
As I say, the first two thirds of the book, whilst interesting in its own merits, covering the Fuller Sisters touring America to sing the folk songs they collected and researched, World War I and the peace and propaganda movements, and Walter's not insignificant contribution to both, is only a sideline to the story that readers here will be interested in, but it is well worth spending the time to get to know the man, his almost limitless ideas (hence the title of the book) and his ideals, as they are what made his contribution to Radio Times something special in its formative years.
New technology has also been embraced with this publication, as much more than could be included within the covers is available on the associated website, and I found myself flitting between the printed covers and the web.
For those of you unsure about buying, you can readily access the web based material, read the first 20 pages, browse the index and more.
I like to think of myself as an authority on the history of the magazine, but the research behind the book has been so thorough that there are items new to me. Highly recommended.
The Radio Times has been a constant companion to those listening to the radio or watching television since September 1923.
It has adapted to the many changes in broadcasting during its nearly 90 year lifespan, and has embraced new services as they arrived.
This site is intended to provide a general overview of that rich history and cover some areas in much more detail.
It overlaps with the BBCs own site covering their history and you are encouraged to take a look there, but not before you have explored this one a little more.