Tag: Hugh Shirreff

‘This is the West of England Home Service…’

‘This is the West of England Home Service.’ Three voices, familiar to listeners in the Forest of Dean and the Channel Islands, in Penzance and Swindon, in Weymouth and Southampton. Daily the three announcers of the BBC’s West Region — Hugh Shirreff, Elsie Otley, and Douglas Vaughan — identify over the air the programmes which originate in the west country. Concerts, plays, and features, talks, news bulletins, church services, broadcasts from farm and factory and village hall, programmes for children: a complete radio service in miniature, reflecting the life of seven English counties and the bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey.

‘This is the West of England Home Service.’

‘THIS IS THE WEST OF ENGLAND HOME SERVICE’ – Douglas Vaughan launches a West Region programme on the air.

But what exactly, from the listener’s point of view, do those words mean? What have they got to do with the London programme and the other Regions, with the Light Programme and the Third? Which broadcasts are ‘regional’ and what is the point of them? The answer given by West Region’s Controller, Gerald Beadle, is that the regional contribution is ‘one thread in the whole pattern of British broadcasting’. A thread which adds distinctive colour and emphasis, is insufficient to stand by itself, but gives richness and variety to the whole.

How then is the pattern made up, and where do the several threads fit in? British broadcasting starts as a national service. London, as the capital and cultural focus of the country, originates a continuous service of programmes intended to have a nation-wide appeal, to be as intelligible and pleasing to Yorkshiremen and Cornish-men as to Highlanders or men of Kent. Saturday Night Theatre and Twenty Questions and ITMA are designed for all listeners who have in common the simple fact of being British (or, wider still, of understanding the English language). This London programme is fed out to a network of Home Service transmitters throughout the United Kingdom. With its allied Services, the Light and the Third, it is the staple of Home listening.

But it is not enough to satisfy all our needs. Few people are content to be undifferentiated ‘British’ all the time. We each have our national interests and our local interests. We want sometimes to be Scotsmen and Welshmen and north-countrymen. Even if we look a bit standardized it is no use pretending that a ‘Geordie’, a Cornishman, and a ‘Norfolk dumpling’ have identical ideas and hobbies and interests.

‘GIVE US SOME TONE, SOUTHAMPTON’ – Testing lines with outside broadcast engineers in the region. Hour by hour Bristol Control Room feeds out programmes to the transmitters.

Bristol’s Engineer-in-Charge, Gerald Daly.

As the ‘national’ programme spreads out from London, therefore, it is modified and adapted to local audiences. The thread of regional broadcasting is woven into the final pattern. In each region the programme planners discard those items in the national service which are of least value locally and replace them with regional material. If they plan well, they offer their listeners a blend of national and local interest—neither insipidly cosmopolitan nor narrowly parochial.

And so through the day the Control Room engineers switch to and fro, from the London ‘pipe-line’ to local studios in Bristol or Plymouth, or to outside points where West Region engineers have set up temporary microphones. The transmitters at Start Point and Clevedon and Bartley take up the result and spread it from Portsmouth to the Scillies. And what comes out of your radio when you tune to 307 or 217 is the West of England Home Service, addressed to you as a Briton and a westcountryman — as both.

Of Special Interest

What then goes into regional broadcasting? What is there in it that has any special interest for west-country folk? First of all, there is the reflection of day-to-day life. The London news bulletins tell us what is happening on the national scale, at home and abroad. A treaty signed. A change in coupon values. New wage-scales for railwaymen. Things like that — equally interesting to Scotsman, Englishman, or Welshman. But that is not all the news we want to hear. Events in our own city or island or county — housing plans, local sports results, an industrial exhibition opening, council elections — these are important to those whose lives are connected with them. And so every evening, except Sundays, the West comes on the air with a regional news bulletin.

‘THIS GOES AFTER THE FALMOUTH ITEM’ – Assistant News Editor Stuart Wyton and Senior Announcer Hugh Shirreff make a last-minute change in ‘Tonight’s News from the West Country’.

Throughout the day the Bristol News Room has been receiving reports contributed by some of the 130 correspondents who ‘cover’ the region. An average day will bring in about fifty items, of which anything up to twenty may be used. The news editor selects, condenses, decides which items have the greatest importance or public interest, and drafts the bulletin in its final form. In the studio the news reader runs through it and checks its length for precise timing. A last-minute item is slipped into place hurriedly and, as London signs off with the words ‘That is the end of the General News’, Bristol takes over with the familiar opening words ‘And here is tonight’s news from the West Country’.

The network of correspondents provides the basis of the day’s news. Their reports on what is happening in their home districts build up the general picture of the day’s events. But the modern listener wants something more than a factual bulletin. He wants interviews, eye-witness descriptions, expert commentaries. This means two kinds of supplement to the straightforward bulletin: the prepared talk by someone well informed on a current topic, and the use of recordings made ‘on the spot’.

START POINT – Heard from the Scillies to Dover and far inland – West Region’s main transmitter, on the Devon coast near Start Point.

The prepared talk — the News Talk, in other words — is a regular adjunct to the bulletins, and the speakers include art critics, sports journalists, farming authorities, BBC commentators—men and women of distinction in every field with something to say on a topic that’s in the news. Taken together, the bulletins and news talks give the listener a broad, comprehensive picture of what’s going on in the public life of the West. The world of sport is dealt with similarly in a Saturday review of the day’s events and in an advance talk on Friday evenings.

CITY BY NIGHT – On Plymouth quay, Bill Duncalf records the night scene of a west-country water front.

Recordings are used to give personality, animation, colour, and graphic reality to the studio broadcasts. The BBC’s recording cars — a familiar sight in hundreds of west-country villages and towns — can truly be called ‘the ears of the listener’. Through them he hears the voice of a statesman at a banquet in Southampton, the bustle and excitement of Bampton Pony Fair, the conversation of a Wiltshire shepherd, the roar of a new engine on test in an aircraft factory, the street scenes at Helston during the Furry Dance, sounds which give the feeling of ‘being there’, sounds which tell us what it was really like. These ‘on-the-spot’ recordings are the pictures, the illustrations, of radio. Though used in many programmes outside the news field, they are heard chiefly in The Week in the West and as ‘inserts’ in the daily news.

‘UP IN THE MORNING EARLY’ – Through the night a West Region recording-car drives to Stonehenge to be there in time to greet the dawn – and the Druids.

Overture and Beginners Please

During that last run Brian Tate checks his timing of the programme with a stop-watch, jots down notes of any last-minute alterations and corrections he wants to make. At the finish he is still a minute and a half over length. Cuts to make, therefore, and a final inquest on everyone’s performance. ‘Speech 8 on page 14 can go. Rex, we’ll shorten the music link there too — come out where we marked it earlier. And we must cue-in the effects more quickly — we were losing time on them.’

‘QUIET PLEASE’ – The red light flickers. Senior Announcer Hugh Shirreff prepares to announce the programme. Reginald Redman waits for his cus.

The crisp, clean scripts of the morning are now rumpled and scrawled with deletions, amendments, and strange hieroglyphics. Everyone is beginning to feel weary. The studio air is dry and smoky. Ruth is relieved to hear at last the words — ‘Let’s break now till transmission’. Out in the fresh air for a bit, then a meal in the canteen, a drink at the BBC club, and it is time to go back to the studio. Now for it.

‘ON POINT DUTY’ – In the announcer’s continuity studio Elsie Otley watches the flow of programmes, fills each gap, and takes over if a programme line fails. A split-second job in which every decision has to be a quick one.

Nine minutes to go. An engineer is testing the studio, checking each microphone point and plug with Control Room, watching for the flick of the red light as each link in the circuit is approved. ‘Leads at the back’, he murmurs, fingering the mike terminals. Flick. ‘Plug in the Wall.’ Flick. ‘The time by the studio clock is seven fifty-one, and eighteen seconds . . . nineteen . . . twenty . . .’ Flick. To a broadcaster that familiar ritual is as evocative as the call-boy’s ‘Overture and Beginners Please’ to an actor.

CANTEEN CONFERENCE – Across the canteen table yesterday’s programmes are discussed and tomorrow’s are debated. Celebrities from different spheres meet together: Freddy Grisewood (left) has a cup of tea with Mrs. Good, mother of the Bristol quads. Opposite them are Rosemary Colley and Hamilton Kennedy.

The last minutes tick away. Everyone is keyed up now. Tate says ‘Good luck. Enjoy yourselves. I’ll be listening,’ and retreats into the control-cubicle. Beside the green light on the studio wall a red light begins to flicker — signalling that the studio is about to become ‘live’. There is a hush, and the red light stops flickering, steadies. The announcer raises his script and leans slightly forward.

‘This is the West of England Home Service. . . .’

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