Tag: Desmond Hawkins

National contributions

A FAVOURITE SPOT FOR WILD GEESE – At Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, Peter Scott has established the Severn Wild-fowl Trust. A world authority on wild geese, Peter Scott is heard in ‘Bird Song of the Month’ and ‘The Naturalist’ which Desmond Hawkins produces.

The contribution which each region makes to national programmes is naturally influenced by local characteristics. In the West we have not got the full-blooded music-hall traditions of the North Country or the wide industrial interests of the Midlands. Ours is primarily a rural area, famous for its magnificent scenery, its rich and varied wild life, and its pleasant country speech. West Region plays its part in every sort of programme, but it is those dealing with the countryside which are in most frequent demand — dramas of the countryside, like The Farmer’s Wife and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and country programmes like The Naturalist and Country Questions.

FANCY MEETING YOU – For three years the wild musical notes of the curlew have introduced each edition of ‘The Naturalist’. Desmond Hawkins says ‘It’s my favourite bird – naturally’.

‘AND YOU CAN JUST HEAR A COCK-PHEASANT IN THE BACKGROUND’ – Ludwig Koch, whose amazing recordings are a feature of West Region nature programmes, listens critically to the day’s results.

The predominance of westcountrymen among the most popular broadcasters about the English countryside is remarkable — one thinks immediately of Ralph Wightman, A. G. Street, Brian Vesey-FitzGerald, Ralph Whitlock. It is natural therefore that most of the BBC’s main series of country and nature broadcasts come from West Region. No less than four series of this kind, with national coverage, originate from the West. The veteran among them, The Naturalist, continues an unbroken run which began three years ago and has now established itself as an authoritative voice which can hold the attention of a wide audience. With the lively and popular Country Questions and Bird Song of the Month it forms a successful trio of regional contributions to the network of Home Services. And for Light programme listeners West Region now originates a monthly nature ‘magazine’ — Out-of-Doors.

‘THE VERY FISH I WAS AFTER’ – Sir Grimwood Mears, whose commentaries by the Wiltshire Avon have become radio classics. Here he is with the man who catches the fish, Frank Sawyer.

So much then, for the scope and content of West Regional programmes. But how are they made up? What happens between the first discussion of an idea and the broadcasting of it in its completed form?

EATING OUT OF HIS HAND – Swans – and listeners – take kindly to the easy manner of Brian Vesey-FitzGerald, the BBC’s No. 1 naturalist broadcaster.

The best way to reply to that is to trace the stories of two people — let’s call them John Wood and Ruth Drake — who happen to walk up Whiteladies Road together to Bristol’s Broadcasting House. Ruth Drake is a young actress. She has had some professional repertory experience and she feels she is now well enough equipped to face the test of an audition. Mr. Wood is a man with an idea. He knows that a Wiltshire factory has just perfected a rocket capable of reaching the moon and of automatically transmitting scientific-instrument readings. The invention has been secret, but news of it is shortly to be released. Mr. Wood has come to Broadcasting House to point out that the invention and construction of this rocket — the M32 as it is called — would be a good subject for a broadcast.

‘YOU STAND ABOUT HERE’ – A tense moment for the would-be broadcaster. When she has been shown how to work to the microphone she has the attention of a panel of producers for a ten minutes’ audition.

While Mr. Wood is discussing his project, Miss Drake is having her audition. It is rather impersonal, and she is a little disappointed at not seeing any of the producers who are listening to her. A secretary explains to her what to do, and a voice from the invisible panel of producers talks to her through the studio loudspeaker. Rather impersonal — but fair and proper, because Miss Drake’s visit is not a social one and it is only her voice that matters. She performs her own selection, and is then asked to read at sight some passages handed to her; after which the voice from the loudspeaker promises that she shall have a letter within a few days. When Miss Drake departs, Mr. Wood is also leaving — with the promise that his idea will be considered for development in whatever form suits it best.

That is how the raw material of broadcasting comes to West Region. What happens next? Miss Drake gets her promised letter, and in her case it says that her audition was successful and she is therefore being added to the casting file. Let’s open the casting file and look at her card —

DRAKE, RUTH. Chewton Cottage, Queens Stanton, Somerset. No phone. Voice-age — 25-35. Pitch — mezzo. Tone — clear, warm, flexible. Normal accent — neutral. Dialects — authentic Somerset, stage cockney. Verse — no. Straight — yes. Character — no. Experience — professional rep., no broadcasting. Remarks: a fresh and pleasant personality, diction a bit untidy in emotion, no serious affectations, has attack and a well-varied range of feeling. Excellent Somerset and considered promising as straight juvenile.

WHAT ARE THE WILD WAVES SAYING? – Plymouth’s Features Producer, Brandon Acton-Bond, goes to Land’s End with Stan Comms in search of programme material.

Having read that, let’s put it back in the file for the producers to scan when they are casting. It is Mr. Wood we want to follow now because that M32 rocket idea of his is developing fast. West Region’s Head of Programmes, Frank Gillard, has been considering various sorts of M32 broadcasts. A news item, a spot in Week in the West, a straight talk by the inventor, a documentary feature, a recording-car visit to the factory. All possible, but which shall it be? Obviously it will be a big story; the national press will report it; people everywhere will discuss it. News-cover is therefore essential on the day the rocket takes off. Apart from West Region’s own interest, other news departments will want to come in on it — London Home News, Light Programme’s Radio News Reel, Television, Overseas, and so on. West Region’s News Editor will deal with all that. In addition there ought to be a full-scale documentary beforehand, giving the whole story of what is clearly a sensational west-country achievement. Listeners will want to know the background, the personalities, the difficulties, the prospects of success, the whole dramatic context of M32. And since that will involve all the main resources of radio — and that is our only reason for inventing M32 — let’s follow the construction of that documentary programme.

First, Gillard discusses the idea with one of his producers — let’s call the producer Brian Tate — and waits to see if he ‘warms’ to it. Like most things, radio programmes can’t be done well without enthusiasm. However, Tate is impressed by the M32 story, so he and Gillard start to consider how long the programme should be and what it should cost.

Duration is settled as one hour, and it is Tate’s job to decide how to fill those sixty minutes. Shall he use ‘actuality’ voices — the voices of the people actually working on M32 — or shall he use actors? If he uses actuality shall he record them on the job, speaking spontaneously; or shall he script them and bring them to the studio where he can rehearse them? Is he to use literal sound-effects recorded in the factory? Is this a programme that wants music to heighten the dramatic effects? Professional actors will give a greater range of expression, a more gripping performance. Actuality voices will be convincingly genuine; but if they are recorded spontaneously they will be diffuse and matter-of-fact, while if they are scripted they may lose — by a woodenness of delivery — what has been gained in coherence and dramatic point. ‘Real’ noises have a treacherous way sometimes of sounding unreal or meaningless; and music, which heightens the atmosphere for one listener, may be considered a worthless intrusion by another.

Every technique has its disadvantages as well as its advantages, and some do not mix with others. However, Tate has now got to make up his mind — and for the sake of illustration let us assume that in a moment of exhilaration he decides to use as many methods as possible.

Having made those decisions, Tate goes off to the M32 factory.

The show goes on

While he is choosing his cast Brian Tate studies the card of DRAKE, RUTH (who was beginning to feel forgotten). There is a part that would suit her, but it’s a fairly big one and it might be risky to try her out on an occasion like this. On the other hand, newcomers will always remain question-marks if we never gamble on them. After some hesitation Tate decides to book Miss Drake. She gets her second letter from West Region — enclosing a contract to take part in ‘M32′.

‘THIS BIT WANTS PLENTY OF VOICE’ – Owen Reed talks over the script during rehearsal. Norman Kendall, Dorothy Holloway, Phyllis Smale pencil in a note. Leaning behind them Hedley Goodall studies his lines. George Holloway listens, and sketches in between times.

On the morning of the broadcast Ruth Drake enters Broadcasting House at 9.45 a.m. and the commissionaire directs her to Studio 2. Rehearsal is called for 10 a.m., and she has come determined not to be late. Other actors and actresses in the cast soon join her, and she begins to identify some of those she has often heard in West Region broadcasts — Phyllis Smale, bright, trim, golden-haired — the bearded, courteous, soft-voiced presence of Hedley Goodall — George Holloway, gravely humorous, with a modesty that belies his long experience of over six hundred broadcasts.

‘TAKING NO CHANCES’ – One ‘repeating groove’ is remembered when ninety-nine faultless shows are forgotten. ‘Smithy’, a West Region maintenance engineer adjusts a gramophone turntable.

WEST OF ENGLAND EDITION? ‘Tiny’ Wildsmith, West Region’s Publications Assistant, sees that newsagents have no difficulty in supplying your weekly copy of the ‘Radio Times’, West-of-England edition.

Rehearsal begins with a read-through. Minor errors in the script are corrected, occasional phrases are altered as the speaking of them shows a fault, and there is a lot of talk about studio positions and ‘flicks’. ‘On page three you’re out of doors, Ruth, so you’ll be in Studio 2 — and you wait for a “flick”.’ Studio 2 has a dead out-door acoustic, and a ‘flick’ is a green light on the studio wall which flashes as a cue for the next line to be spoken when it is not an immediate reply to another actor in the same studio. Any transition from music or effects disc to speech, or from one studio to another, is controlled by a flick because in such cases the actor will not usually be hearing what precedes his lines.

While the rehearsal proceeds Ruth looks through the double glass window into the control cubicle. There are three people there — the producer talking into a microphone which carries his voice to the loud-speaker in the studio; a ‘jeep’ (alias JPE, alias a Junior Programme Engineer who works the effects discs on the gram-bank; and a Programme Engineer who ‘mixes’ and controls the programme by means of a series of knobs. Each knob is linked with a microphone which it can bring into play. Labels over the knobs show that the engineer on this occasion is mixing two drama studios, an orchestral studio, a land-line to the M32 factory, and a second landline combined with radio-link to one of the Scilly Isles where a model of the rocket is being tested. The remaining knob — labelled GRAMS — brings in effects noises (in this case, factory sounds). A switch below the knobs controls the green cue-light in the studios; and a final controlling instrument with a needle indicator governs the volume of the total mixture of sound — the programme output — as it travels to the central Control-Room on its way to the transmitters. Delicate and sensitive work is the Programme Engineer’s. During the actual broadcast he — or she — is the nerve-centre of the whole show. A flick to the wrong studio, a twist of the wrong knob — and a smooth production is suddenly thrown into confusion. Nervy work, that needs both the temperament of the artist and the cool precision of the engineer.

‘THE PROGRAMME WAS RECORDED’ – But the fact shouldn’t be noticed. High quality reproduction is vital in broadcasting, and the recording engineers work to exacting standards.

‘FARMER’S GLORY’ – Arriving at Bristol’s Broadcasting House, the familiar figure of A. G. Street brings a Wiltshire voice and a love of argument to the microphone. Arthur Street is one of the outstanding personalities in West-country broadcasting.

Ruth Drake has plenty of time to look into the control-cubicle, while others are rehearsing parts of the programme in which she is not involved. And then it is her turn. ‘We’ll take page 8 now. Ruth, you’ll have to get through fairly quickly into studio 5 — you’re in 2 at the bottom of page 7, but you should have time because there’s a music section in between.’ She runs through her lines, with interruptions through the loudspeaker. ‘You’ll have to use more voice there, because you’re over music. We’ll get you some “cans” (headphones) after lunch, so you can hear what’s going on in the orchestra. You’ve got it all right otherwise, but it wants more punch.’

THE SHOW GOES ON – The rugged Lundy coast is often inhospitable. Frank Gillard lends a hand as the engineers hump their gear through the surf. One of the microphones has been drowned already, but the show will go on.

During the morning the orchestra has been rehearsing separately. After lunch the music sections are ready to be woven in with the speech. The atmosphere of the rehearsal becomes a little more tense, the programme begins to feel tidier. Over the ‘talk-back’ the producer’s voice comes up on the loudspeakers in studios 2, 5, and 1, talking first to Reginald Redman who is conducting the orchestra — ‘O.K. then, Rex, let’s take music section A. Hedley’s been doing that speech in 42-43 seconds, so you should have no need to hang it out. He’ll be finished where the strings swell up. Are you with us studio 5? And 2? Stand by for a flick — half-way down page 2. Flick coming.’ Gradually the orchestra takes its place in the pattern, and then there is a break while the outside lines are tested. The M32 factory comes through at once on the turning of a knob but there is a hitch on the line to the Scillies. Ruth sits down and relaxes. George Holloway sits quietly making pencil sketches on his script. The talk-back voice drones on. ‘Hello Nicky. Hello Nicky. Hello Scillies. Bristol here. Bristol here. Come in please, Bristol calling you.’

‘DELICATE AND SENSITIVE WORK’ – Programme Engineer, Joan Vaughan, mixes and controls the varied ingredients of the broadcast. Actors, orchestra, recordings, and outside microphone respond to the touch of her fingers and blend together. Beside her Desmond Hawkins directs the rehearsal.

At length there is a reply, followed by an exchange of comments on technical quality. ‘We’re hearing you O.K. but apparently you weren’t getting us. Roy says our signal was pretty lousy this morning at his end, but it’s improving all the time, and it will be O.K. on the show.’ The producer now settles the time for his final run-through — radio’s equivalent of a dress-rehearsal. ‘A short break for tea now, and we’ll run through at five o’clock.’

THE LUSCOMBES BREAK FOR TEA – A welcome interlude during rehearsal. In the Bristol canteen Brandon Acton-Bond heads the queue at the cash-desk. Following him are Phyllis Smale (with Michael Holloway behind her) Peggy Ryalls, Pat Roberts, Lewis Gedge, Nell Oxley, and Sally Lahee.

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