Brilliant Buffoonery

Written by Louis Barfe

Sometimes it seems churlish to seize upon howlers in documentaries, especially when they stick out from an otherwise excellent production. Feel free, then, to call me a massive churl. My enjoyment of Friendly Radio (available on iPlayer), the documentary networked across all the BBC’s local radio stations to celebrate 50 years since BBC Radio Leicester went on the air, was marred by a silly mistake. The inaugural boss of BBC Radio Sheffield, Michael Barton, credited the station’s original jingles to Delia Derbyshire of the Radiophonic Workshop. Unfortunately, the clever tunes, created using Sheffield steel cutlery and tape trickery, weren’t Delia’s doing. They were the work of her colleague, David Cain. I’d have thought that producer Trevor Dann would have known better.

Gawd, I feel rotten now. It was a fine programme. Lots of cracking archive material and interviews with those who were there at the start. They shared memories of request shows that were contingent on the listeners turning up with their own copies of the records, begging saucily for unwanted pianos (‘Have you something capable of giving pleasure to millions?’) and only being able to play one hour of commercially-released music a day, owing to Musicians’ Union rules.

This was circumvented by the use of a now infamous thing called the Canadian Talent Library, free records issued to promote Canadian musicians. Some of it was good, some of it was rotten, none of it was the Beatles, all of it got an airing on BBC Local Radio.
It was a time of innovation and maverick managers. Not least of these was Phil Sidey, who founded BBC Radio Leeds and pursued a strategy of ‘buffoonery with a ruthless purpose, survival’. It seems to have worked.

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