The stuff that doesn't fit into my main blog Random Radio Jottings

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jim’ll Fix It

Jim’ll Fix It ran on BBC1 tv from 1975 to 1994. Back in 1982 the BBC went behind the scenes of the programme:

The philosophy of Jimmy Savile OBE is simple. ‘If you want anything spontaneous to happen, ‘ he says, ‘organise it.’
Each year Roger Ordish in his sixth-floor office at Television Centre sits a large plastic bag of lost causes. ‘This is the “confidential waste” as it is called,’ he says. ‘We are always getting letters from boys who want to train with their favourite football team and girls wanting to ride with show-jumping stars,’ says Ordish. ‘And then pop music-you can data a letter by pop music. The perfect formula he says should make the audience say ‘Isn’t she lucky, isn’t she brave and isn’t it funny.’

One suggestion which came very close to this was the bride whose sister asked Jim to organise an elephant ride for the happy couple from the church to the reception. Not only did the BBC’s Special Effects Department build a howdah for the elephant’s back on which the bridal couple was seated but Tom Fleming, the man who did the commentary for the Royal Wedding, was engaged for the occasion.
The youngest person to appear on Jim’ll Fix It was a three-year-old boy who wanted to do precision formation driving with earth-moving equipment, and when a mere lad of 104 asked to ride in a racing car, that too was arranged.
The show was the idea of Bill Cotton, then Controller of BBC1. Despite its great success in this country, it has failed elsewhere. Jimmy has no doubt why his show has always captured large audiences. For him the most important consideration is never to take advantage of anyone.  
‘There are certain rules which I impose on the production team,’ he continues, ‘although of course Roger Ordish, my producer, chooses the letters. I won’t have violence, lavatory humour or sexual innuendo-it is not a slot for that sort of thing.’
Jimmy has not forgotten himself in all the fixing that has been going on over the years. At 4 pm every studio afternoon he has served in his dressing-room on a silver salver, poured from a silver tea-pot and accompanied by cucumber sandwiches.

Film items are shot throughout the year for the 13-part series and incorporated into the programme which is recorded every Tuesday from the end of December for transmission the following Saturday week.  The recording takes place in the newly decorated Shepherds Bush Television Theatre, previously the Shepherds Bush Empire, an old variety theatre. ‘It is excellent from the audience’s point of view,’ says Ordish. ‘And I rather like being there because you are away from Television Centre and it’s your own ship whereas in the Centre you are just one of the programmes.’
I’ve uploaded 20 Years of Jim’ll Fix It presented by Andi Peters and broadcast on 2 January 1995.

Quotes taken from Inside BBC Television: A Year Behind the Camera (Webb & Bower 1983)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A View from the Grandstand

Grandstand was the BBC’s Saturday afternoon sports programme that ran between 1958 and 2007. I recently unearthed a tape that I’d recorded of the programme’s 40th anniversary in 1998 as it included some footage of Tim Gudgin reading the football results – Tim retired from this job just last month. Since posting that clip on YouTube I’ve gone through the rest of the programme and edited down what I hope will provide a nostalgic glance at Grandstand’s past.

An early Radio Times billing from 8 November 1958
with illustration by Victor Reinganum

The early days of Grandstand were featured in a Radio Times article written by George Bruce and published in March 1959, just six months into the programme’s run.

Grandstand was first mooted early in 1958. An idea arose in casual conversation and as a result (Bryan) Cowgill, producer of Sportsview and a former editor of a Lancashire weekly newspaper, was asked to make a careful study of the possibilities of the idea. His investigations showed that given technical backing on an unprecedented scale viewers could be offered what amounts to a living newspaper of sports and news.
The article goes on the outline the technology behind the programme in those pre-satellite days:

Every Saturday nearly two hundred BBC staff are directly involved in the production-doubtless a record. In the studio itself there is an average of seventy, including three sound and camera crews, an engineering unit, three sub-editors who process sports and general news from the nine teleprinters; sixteen scoreboard attendants, a varying number of messengers and caption artists, three secretaries, six telerecording technicians, two commentators, and the production team of seven.
Up to seventy sound and camera technicians plus commentators are recording live sports events at three or four outside broadcast locations. Finally, there are extra telephone operators employed at Lime Grove specifically for Grandstand and forty technicians at the switch centres at Manchester and elsewhere.
A limiting factor when there is more than one event to be transmitted from the North is the existence of only one visual link with London. It means that only one event at a time can be transmitted to London. While the producer can view the one event being transmitted on his monitor screen, he must visualise the other as best he can on the basis of known timings. At the right moment-the start of a race, a new bout in a series of boxing contests, for instance-he instructs the switching centre to bring in the event he believes offers the best entertainment.
Grandstand’s first presenter for just a couple of shows was Peter Dimmock, at the time Head of Outside Broadcasts and presenter of the Wednesday night’s Sportview (later known as Sportsnight).  In this clip you’ll see the opening of the 40th anniversary show (broadcast 10 October 1998) and presenter Steve Rider talking to Peter Dimmock. Note the reference to what would lead to the programme’s demise, Dimmock admits to having become a Sky subscriber and that Grandstand now lacks “some big events”. 

Dimmock handed over the presentation to David Coleman. The 1959 Radio Times article describes how the use of the talkback system helps the flow of the programme:

(Coleman)…must be able to walk constantly about the studio from scoreboards to teleprinters and back to his desk unhampered by cables trailing from him. Co-operation between BBC technicians and a Savile Row tailor has achieved this freedom and made of Coleman a camouflaged transmitting and receiving station.
Without a foot of cable linking him to any static equipment, he carries two radio microphones with midget transmitters to send out his commentary and a midget set to receive the flow of talkback – all concealed in specially made pockets in his suit. And in a slot inside his trouser-leg, the aerial hangs neatly. All that’s visible of this array of equipment is a small earpiece with a thin wire leading to the lapel of his jacket. Many viewers have mistaken this for a hearing aid, while some have written congratulating Coleman on his splendid performance-for a deaf person.
Here’s Coleman in action, having some problems with that technology, and then chatting with Sue Barker, including reference to that famous suit.

Coleman mentions that in those early days Grandstand would also cover any news events that happened on the Saturday, hence the need for sub-editors to process both sports and general news.

The article above appeared in the Radio Times for 1 November 1963. The programme still has those “nine teleprinters” but the number of staff involved has increased to 250. The football results are read by Leonard, better known as Len, Martin – he continued to read them until 1995. The racing and rugby results are read by John Langham, who used to do the job before Tim Gudgin joined in around 1965. In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph Gudgers explains the extraordinary circumstances under which he got the job:

“The time was about quarter to five, I think, with the results due at five. They were supposed to be read by John Langham, but he never appeared. He had financial difficulties, and it turned out that he had gone upstairs and jumped out of the window.”
“John was a charismatic man: he ran a Bentley, had two restaurants in London, and a sequence of beautiful women on his arm. But I suppose he thought it was the only way out.”
None of the BBC’s studio team knew what had happened until a police officer came to the door and asked “Is there anyone missing from your crew?”
Back to Grandstand’s 40th anniversary and time for Football Focus.  By 1998 the presenter was Gary Lineker, but for many years it was Bob Wilson. In this clip you’ll see Wilson along with Ray Stubbs, John Motson, who came up with the title, Jimmy Hill and Mick Channon.

For 50 years the “voice of racing” was Peter O’Sullevan. He’d retired in 1997 but here he is talking to Clare Balding.

By 1968 Frank Bough was a regular presenter, along with Coleman and Harry Carpenter.

The racing results boards in 1958

Time for another glimpse behind the scenes. Here’s George Bruce writing about the results service back in 1959:
For viewers, the results indicator is the programme’s jackpot. Small as it appears, it’s a framework thirty-two feet long by nine feet high, containing eight sections four feet wide showing the results of each football division, plus the rugby league and union fixtures; that is, twelve games or twenty-four teams a section, and ninety-six games altogether. The names of 250 football and rugby teams were painted on plywood panels for display in each section, together with 1,520 numeral cards from 0 to 9 for football, and 2,980 different score cards for rugby. Two attendants service each section. Scores are written on fixture slips and handed to them by messenger.

Here’s graphics producer John Tidy and artist Jack Harris demonstrating how the racing and football results were produced.

This video clip features some of the sports events from the 1950s and 1960s.

Moving forward to the 1970s.

Cup Final Day Radio Times billing  complete with a
special Jim'll Fix It - 9 May 1981
 Grandstand’s first woman presenter was Helen Rollason, joining the programme in 1990. Tragically she died of cancer in 1999 aged 43. Here she is talking to Steve Rider.

Time to bring in Mr. Smooth, Desmond Lynam. Des presented the programme between 1979 and 1999, moving across from Radio 2’s Sports Report.

And now the classified football results. Here’s Tim Gudgin.

The 40th anniversary programme ended with this montage of clips before launching into that very familiar and much missed theme from Keith Mansfield.