Sunday, April 9, 2017

Brian Matthew RIP

It wasn't just the Beatles that cut their teeth in Hamburg. Brian Matthew found himself at an ordnance depot in Germany during national service in 1948, and applied to join the British Forces Network, based at the city's Musikhalle. He managed nine months as an announcer before his demob. Raymond Baxter was the chief announcer; others running the station included Cliff Michelmore, also on air for Family Favourites.

Everyone pitched in - they tried some radio dramas, including The Adventures of Robin Hood - with Brian as King Richard, Nigel Davenport as Robin Hood, Cliff Michelmore as Little John, Baxter as Guy de Guisborne, and Keith Fordyce played Will Scarlett.

Clearly acquiring a taste for drama, Brian enrolled at RADA after the army, but struggled to get beyond a contract at the Old Vic.  So in 1952, he signed up for Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep (Worldwide) broadcasting regular English programmes on shortwave from Hilversum.

Back in the UK in 1954, things were pretty desperate - he was working as a milkman when he wrote to the BBC suggesting programmes on Dutch jazz - and got offered part-time work as a trainee announcer, across the Home Service, The Third Programme and The Light Programme. The first Radio Times billing I can find had a Dutch connection - and, when you talk about range and diversity on Radio 2, crikey, there used to be more...

THE LIGHT PROGRAMME: 5.30PM Tuesday 16th March 1954
'At the Wooden Shoe'
Cabaret from a Dutch roadhouse
Introduced by Ken Haslam
also Music of the Dutch West Indies played by Lex Vervuurt and his Zapacaras
Introduced by Brian Matthew.

In 1957, Brian got a full time contract: he was booked as regular announcer on Frank Muir and Denis Norden's Take It From Here - and then came the Saturday Skiffle Club, launched by jazz producer Jimmy Grant, starting in June of that year.

'Skiffle' was soon dropped from the title, but the format became established as the only regular way of hearing chunks of 'pop' at the BBC for twelve years. Most programmes had four 'live' acts, usually pre-recorded with four or five songs each, six record requests and three new releases to fill two hours. It followed Children's Favourites, and the Club, at its peak, had 5 million listeners, including yours truly.

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