Sunday, June 7, 2015


For those of you interested in the sort of BBC Alan Yentob joined as a general trainee in 1968, here's some stuff on the Overseas Regional Services, where he had his first placement. The department was then, I think, run by George Steedman (with the unfortunate title acronym of HORS), who was also the inventor of Topical Tapes.

From the BBC Handbook, 1968

The Overseas Regional Services mount special operations for re-broadcasters in countries of the English-speaking world, notably in North America, the West Indies and Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Output is divided between airmailed recordings on tape, programmes via cable link and direct radio transmissions, according to need. The North American Service produces regional programmes rebroadcast by Canada (including French Canada) and by American stations and networks. It makes available special editions of Radio Newsreel, including `World Round -up', and other topical programmes to rebroadcasters. The Caribbean and Colonial Service provides transmissions and tapes for the West Indies, transmissions to the Falkland Islands in English, and to Malta daily in Maltese, as well as a programme in English and French for Mauritius. 

The Overseas Regional Services are responsible for Topical Tapes - the general service of radiotapes in English, inaugurated in 1962.  It airmails to subscribing stations a regular weekly supply of topical programmes on world affairs, British life, the arts, science, techniques for developing countries and sport. Some 300 hours of topical programmes are available annually, including some 3,000 short magazine items. These tapes are rebroadcast every week by 47 countries around the world, including more than 200 stations in the United States. 

The average time between the production of a BBC Topical Tape and its appearance on the rebroadcaster's air is something like ten days. This presents a special problem for the producing service, which has to `think its output into the future' so that it will still be topical when the listeners hear it. 

Programmes broadcast by BBC Topical Tapes include the current affairs magazine `International Call From London' (30 countries); the general interest magazine `Dateline London' (27); `BBC Sports Magazine' (22); `BBC Science Magazine' and `Frontiers of Knowledge' (12) ;` Tropical Farmer' and `Techniques for the Tropics' (17). The domestic service news programme `From Our Own Correspondent' is re- edited for rebroadcast use as `Overseas Assignment' (11 countries). A recent addition to the repertoire, appropriate to a topical service from London, is `The Young Scene'. 

The mechanics of  Topical Tapes - the recordings made on one-way trip discs in the 60s and 70s - were conducted at Kensington House, Richmond Way, on the southside of Shepherds Bush. It's entirely possible Alan visited the operation, where he would have come across the tiny studio T1, which was used for recording sessions for Radio 1.

Genesis recording a Peel Session in T1, 1972

In the late 70s, Yentob and like-minded souls generated Arena from Kensington House, out of sight and mind of the suits of Television Centre - and much handier for Notting Hill. Kensington House is now an hotel.

By 1977, the non-English output of the ORS had reduced to 15 minutes a week in "French for Canada", and 30 minutes in Maltese.  Topical Tapes eventually became cassettes, and lasted until 1996.

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