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This is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
To most, Caversham is simply a sleepy Berkshire suburb.
To those who work for the BBC, however, it's the guardian
of their travails and triumphs.
Contained within the walls of this unassuming building,
the BBC has locked its secrets away in file upon file of correspondence.
Words written to its stars.
Words written by its stars.
Words written about its stars.
Four and a half miles of words, stretching all the way back to 1922.
These are the secret files of the BBC.
Fresh out of drama school, to me and thousands of other hopeful actors,
work at the BBC felt like an unattainable dream.
In those days, of course, there were only two channels,
and competition was fierce.
I wrote what felt like hundreds of letters to anyone I thought
might help me get a foot in the door.
The Caversham vaults have preserved them all.
"Dear Mr Bennett, I am writing to ask if I may have an interview
"or an audition with you.
"I have worked for six months at the Civic Theatre, Chesterfield
"under the direction of Richard Scott,
"and also at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln for six months.
"I played a great variety of parts, mostly juvenile character.
"I have also appeared on the Michael Medwin show on ITV.
"I am 5' 8" tall, my photo is in Spotlight.
"Hoping to hear from you soon, Yours faithfully, Penelope Keith."
What I didn't know at the time
was someone else had also had the same idea.
Until I looked through my own file for this programme,
I had no idea my mother put in a word for me.
And I found it very touching after all these years.
"My daughter, aged 20, unfortunately has chosen
"the stage as her career -
"she's just finished one year in repertory.
"She had two years' training at the Webber Douglas school
"and ran off with all three cups - for Shakespeare, modern
"and for the best all-round student, boy or girl,
"over the two years.
"She's got the talent, all she needs is that little extra push.
"Could you help her?
"Perhaps you could be good enough to give her an interview?
"I do so want her to get on.
"She's always wanted to do this, since the age of five,
"and will work extremely hard to get to the top.
"Hoping so much to hear from you, Yours sincerely,
"Constance M Keith."
The production files held at Caversham
are equally as fascinating as the personal ones.
Although many have been destroyed, the best offer an insight
into some of the BBC's most iconic programmes.
CHEERING AND BANGING
And so, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure
to introduce our guest of honour,
one of Walmington-onSea's most distinguished citizens...
A man of many parts, a banker, soldier, magistrate,
alderman... And secretary of the Rotary Club.
A good fellow all round - Alderman George Mainwaring...
To start the story of Dad's Army, we need to begin
with the programme's star, Arthur Lowe,
who wrote 25 letters to the BBC between 1946 and 1948,
apparently on the advice of one Nan Macdonald,
producer of Northern Children's Hour.
"Previous broadcasting experience includes work with
"the Forces Broadcasting Unit,
"and the Egyptian State Broadcasting during the war.
"Character acting is my line of country, all accents, any age.
"Yours sincerely, Arthur Lowe."
There follows a slew of internal memos concerning his ability,
and skill at accents in particular.
His big champion, Nan Macdonald, is asked for a reference,
and rather surprisingly writes -
"We only used him once, before he moved to London.
"We were sorry, as we felt he might be useful.
"His dialects on audition were not very convincing,
"apart from broken English."
Another producer, Douglas Cleverdon, agreed with her.
"He's very good at a Derbyshire accent, for which I used him
"last week. He claims to do other accents, but they didn't
"sound very convincing to me - probably OK for Midlands."
RD Smith, however, saw greater merit in him.
"This man is a first-class dialectician.
"He did for me a wonderful Black Country role,
"and Black Country is an extremely difficult accent, as you know."
Noel Ayliff was much more to the point.
"Sorry, I don't remember him."
While Arthur Lowe was struggling to get work,
his future co-star already had his foot firmly through the door.
However, even a successful actor like John Le Mesurier
regularly wrote to remind producers of his presence.
"Dear Harold, I'm playing at Richmond Theatre the next few weeks,
"but if after that there is anything in any of your productions
"I should be awfully pleased. Working at Richmond is a bit of bind.
"I find that about three weeks at a stretch is just about enough
"I hope all goes well with you up there, sincerely,
"John Le Mesurier."
Both men forged ahead with their careers -
John Le Mesurier becoming a well-known film actor,
and Arthur Lowe finding fame on Coronation Street,
before winning the roles that would forever define them.
# Blue skies around the corner
# Walk round the corner with me... #
But the early days of Dad's Army
were marked by a particularly spiky correspondence
between the then head of Comedy and the controller of BBC One.
It concerned the opening titles.
"As requested by you, the amendments listed below
"will be made to the opening and closing titles of this series..."
" 1) The shots of refugees in the opening titles will be replaced.
" 2) The shots of Nazi troops will be replaced by something
"Having established that your wishes are going to be carried out,
"I would like to record my profound disquiet over your decision.
"The whole object of this comedy series is to contrast the
"pathetic but valorous nature of the Home Guard, who believed
"that this, the Nazi hordes, was what they were up against."
-The massive Nazi war machine is pushing
its way across Europe, laying waste neutral countries
with a savagery unmatched in history.
"Looking, as I do, at the abrasive nature of some
"of the output of other departments in the BBC television service,
"I cannot help wondering whether we in the Comedy Department
"are controlled by different standards,
"ie clowns must stay clowns.
"In any case this decision cannot help but have a depressing effect
"upon me and upon some other people working in this department.
"The thought that other departments in television
"are allowed to advance their output into new areas, while we,
"apparently, are not, can only have a bad effect in the long run,
"Quite frankly, I was surprised by some points in your note
"of 23rd May. Although I feel it would be more profitable
"to continue our discussion from two armchairs,
"I'm quite prepared to say this on paper.
" 1) I felt slightly uneasy about this series, as you know,
"when it was first discussed. The titles underlined this view.
"I am sorry we differ.
" 2) A comparison with the output of other departments
"is both invidious and irrational.
" 3) 'Different standards' for Comedy department, you allege.
"From the department that produced 'Till Death', that's pretty rich.
" 4) After what I've seen so far, I think one must be allowed to wonder
"whether 'Dad's Army' does indeed
"'advance Comedy's output into new areas.'
"Is this really breakthrough territory?
The audience response to the first episode was almost-unanimous praise.
And this is reflected in the minutes of the programme review panel.
Its use of military-style acronyms could themselves
have been lifted from a Dad's Army script...
"H.V.L.E.Tel. thought this new comedy had started well.
"It was funny in its own right,
"as well as doubly funny for those viewers
"who remembered the start of the Home Guard in 1940.
"D.Tel. thought it particularly encouraging that his three sons
"(all under 30) should have enjoyed the programme so much."
It soon became apparent that the show was a huge success.
Even the BBC One controller had to do a volte-face,
although it did take him 18 months.
"From Paul Fox to David Croft. I am sorry it has taken me
"so long to write a note of thanks
"to you for Dad's Army. You made an enormous success of it
"and like millions of others, I am only sorry it has come to an end.
"Temporarily, I hope.
"Looking back to that first programme, I am glad to say
"you were right 100%.
"Thanks to your persistence - and despite that title change -
"the show became a great hit.
"To you - and all who've been associated
"with this splendid series - many congratulations
"and grateful thanks, Paul Fox, Controller, BBC1."
As the show drew to a close, its elderly cast faced the prospect
of their careers coming to an end.
"Dear Mr Mason, I doubt if we've met, but I'm presuming
"to bother you because Dad's Army is finished
"and I don't feel I am, quite.
"Within the last four weeks I've taken part in radio discussions,
"a leading role in a Finlay's Casebook
"and two radio commercials.
"Because I believe I was good value may I ask you, please,
"to remember me. Yours truly, John Lawrie."
Although performers and their families often wrote to the BBC
themselves, producers were regularly alerted to new talent
by members of the public.
"Dear Ron, excuse my calling you by your Christian name, won't you?
I'm sending you this short note, first time I've written
"to the BBC, by the way. But I must let you know about this
"future star of television - and I know you need one or two..."
# Grey skies are gonna clear up
# Put on a happy face
# Brush off the clouds and cheer up
# Put on a happy face
# Take off that gloomy mask of tragedy
# It's not your style
# You'll look so good you'll be glad
# You decided to smile... #
"When I say he's funnier than Norman Wisdom, I mean it.
"And don't tell Wisdom.
"I'm one of his fans and, by the way, he doesn't know me from a crow.
"You'll be missing a real find if you let this boy go undiscovered.
"Well, Ron, that's the name - Ken Dodds.
"Even if you're not interested, remember the name
"and try not to reproach yourself."
A personal recommendation might help to get you over the threshold,
but once there, it was down to talent alone.
"Mr Graham called here on Tuesday. I feel I must tell you
"I am greatly distressed and angered as a result of the interview.
"It is most displeasing when a gentleman
"of the Dance Band profession
"endeavours to force a bottle of whisky on me during the interview,
"which, in the ordinary way one would expect to be conducted in a
"businesslike manner. I would certainly take objection to any
"engagement being offered to the band in question."
With so much competition, writing a letter that would set you apart
from the rest of the crowd became a much-needed skill in itself.
Pushy but not desperate. A touch of humour,
but not so much that they would think that you weren't serious about
your career. A master of the art was Derek Nimmo,
who would later achieve fame in a series of ecclesiastical
roles in situation comedies.
But in 1956, he was a 26-year-old actor whose experience included...
"West End and touring plays, musical comedy, pantomime and variety,
"and I've spent four years in repertory.
"At present I am walking around with sandwich boards,
"but am desirous of a change."
"Dear Mr Nimmo, I don't really think that there would be much point
"in arranging an interview at the moment.
"Mr Clayton is now in charge
"of the Television Training Department of the BBC
"and does not expect to do another production
"until well into next year.
"I am sorry about this.
"Your sandwich boards sound most uncomfortable, but there it is."
Nimmo was undaunted and the letters continued.
"Dear Miss Plummer, you must be the most heavily guarded person
"in the BBC. I have tried phoning, writing, knocking on doors,
"but I can never manage to pierce your protective screen.
"At every attempt your sentries greet me the utmost courtesy
"but always assure me that you never see people or give interviews.
"I'm afraid this letter is frighteningly rude,
"but I've tried everything else.
"Yours obsequiously, Derek Nimmo."
I've already earthed one of these things, haven't I?
Yes, when we get back... You were earthing the second.
-All right, I'll do the other one, I presume, on here.
Without family connections or much previous experience
it was hard to get even an audition. Especially so after the war,
when the show-business world was suddenly flooded
with talented young men who had learned their craft
in one of the many forces entertainment troupes.
I say, I like your new yachting blazer!
Kenneth Williams wrote many letters to the BBC asking for auditions,
over the course of seven years.
They show how soul destroying the whole process could become.
"The echoes of so many begging letters are in my ears
"that I hardly know what phrase to fashion next.
"And it's tortuous writing an unprovoked letter anyway,
"for me it is. I can't embarrass you with an account of my work etc
"and parts - it will have to suffice that I have had some little
"experience in radio acting, and at the moment I am desperately
"in need of some work.
"While I know I have no right to burden you with the worries
"of a fairly personal nature, you must believe that I am a young man
"of unusual talent.
"But really, I assure you,
"I shall not be wasting your time if you see me.
"And you'll hurt me terribly if you don't.
"Hopefully, Kenneth Williams."
I paid a visit the Air Ministry roof to meet some of the meteorologists,
or as they're sometimes called, liars.
Thank you, you'll be nice.
You could be selling out variety halls, have a part in a film,
or be appearing in a West End play,
in those days, it meant little to the BBC.
It didn't matter how good anyone else thought you were -
if you didn't audition well for the BBC Talent Selection group,
you might as well set your dreams to one side.
"Dear Miss Forbes, you may remember writing to me
"regarding a television audition to be held on September 14th.
"As you know, my partner and I were working at the Windmill Theatre
"at the time, and unfortunately were unable to leave the theatre
"to post the confirmation letter to you, so it was given to someone else,
"who promptly forgot to post it.
"I've only just discovered this, so I'm writing to confirm
"the audition now, in the hope that I'm not too late.
"Apologies if any inconvenience has been caused.
"Yours sincerely, Tony Hancock."
Happily for the future of British television comedy,
he wasn't too late. And despite being physically sick beforehand,
his audition went well.
Here's how the young Benny Hill went down with the team.
# Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh... #
"The only trouble with him was that he didn't make me laugh at all.
"And for a comedian, that's not very good."
"I find him without personality, and very dully unfunny."
Ten years after that first audition,
Ronnie "He didn't make me laugh at all" Waldman
had landed the job of Light Entertainment head,
and had a complete change of heart.
"Dear Benny, I just wanted to repeat on paper what I said to you
"personally last Saturday afternoon. I have been really delighted
"by the quality and success of your series.
"I firmly believe it to have been the best TV series of its kind
"ever seen in this country.
"And you know, I hope, how grateful I am to you for this."
One of the most interesting things we learned from the files,
is how the BBC's relationship with its stars changed over the years.
To begin with, the BBC had the upper hand - they were the nation's
only broadcaster, the sole arbiters of would should and should not
educate, inform and entertain the British public.
Performers were there to serve the BBC and no matter how popular
they became, no-one was bigger than the Corporation.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, here's Frankie Howerd.
"Before I went on leave, I wrote to Frankie Howerd, as you suggested.
"I received no reply, so I made arrangements for Frankie Howerd
"to contact you in my absence. I gather that he has failed to do so,
"and in my opinion, the situation has become farcical,
"if not insulting, both to you, myself and the Corporation.
"He must either be a very bad businessman,
"mentally unstable or just not interested.
"I wouldn't like to commit myself as to which is the case
"and I feel that the hopes of a successful series are very slender
"if this is the way we are to begin.
"May I suggest that we cancel it
"before it gets any worse? John Simmonds."
FRANKIE HOWERD: Do come in, won't you?
He said, "Now, tell me, which one are you?"
I felt like one of The Beverly Sisters.
I said, "Look, I'm not one of anybody." I said, "I'm on me own.
"Howerd F, comedian - BBC for the use of."
"And not very much lately, I might add."
However, they soon learned
that if they wanted to keep their stars happy,
they needed to learn the art of diplomacy.
The person often at the sharp end was Variety Booking manager
Pat Newman, who worked for the BBC from 1946 to 1973.
"Dear Pat Newman, regarding your statement that I'm awkward,
"I've just heard of the latest BBC-ism which will naturally be
"blamed on me. Having spent all week practising on my cornet,
"throwing my arrangements out of gear and making numerous phone calls
"to the North, I am now told that the proposed session is off,
"because of some difficulty with repeats and the Musicians' Union.
"I must apologise for me being so difficult,
"and you will still be able to spread the word that Milligan
"is STILL very difficult about accepting
"disorganisation on a high scale."
"PS - Like to bend over backwards for me now?
"Dictated by Spike Milligan and signed in his absence."
"Dear Spike, forgive the familiarity. Oh, dear,
"that's the problem about having a chat with you.
"Many thanks for the wine, by the way. I mean to say that one is
"immediately made to feel that one has done something awful,
"or been unreasonable, and a letter invariably follows.
"Still, to write to me makes a change from writing to the
"I must say I think it's pretty irritating from your point of view
"to have wasted time on practising and on coping with arrangements,
"and I don't blame you for being a bit 'tetchy'.
"Anyhow, we people to be 'a bit difficult' - it's more fun!
"I'm sorry about it all. I like your notepaper.
"Come and have a drink any time you're passing
"Dictated by Pat Newman and signed in the Canteen."
Eventually, a sense a weariness creeps into the correspondence -
much like that of a parent
trying to deal with a bunch of wayward children.
"From Tom Sloan, head of Light Entertainment to HCD Tel
"and Dennis Main Wilson. I had an enquiry passed on to me
"from a Mr Percy Richer of Richer & Company, Regent Street.
"Mr Richer claims that he did a deal with Anthony Booth's press agent
"whereby in return for a sum of money -
"£80 paid to Booth,
"that Booth would wear three jackets supplied by Mr Richer.
"Richer's complaint is that Booth wore only one of three jackets
"on one occasion, and he feels he therefore has been swindled.
"I left Mr Richer in no doubt that he had been taken for a mug,
"and that no artist would enter into such an agreement,
"since all matters of wardrobe were the final decision
"of the producer and wardrobe supervisor.
SIGHING: "..Richer says he is going to sue Booth.
"I only hope that this sort of thing is by no means widespread.
But always, the high standards of the BBC must be preserved,
and no-one was above a slap on the wrists.
VOICEOVER: The Beatles - in one meteoric year they've led the way
from the cellars of Liverpool to the national limelight.
George Harrison - lead guitar.
John Lennon - rhythm guitar.
Paul McCartney - bass guitar.
Ringo Starr - drums.
A group run by Liverpool businessman Brian Epstein.
"Dear Brian, I am sorry I was unable to get along
"to the studio yesterday to see you and the boys,
"but unfortunately I was very tied up here.
"I would, however, like to say I was a little perturbed when we heard
"that the boys all arrived late for the session,
"and in a particularly weary state. Whilst I appreciate
"that the night before was their premiere,
"it would seem a pity that we were asked to present
"The Beatles under these handicaps.
"Obviously we are delighted to have the boys on BBC television
"and I hope next time maybe we will be able to organise it
"so that we get more time to do them justice.
"Look forward to seeing you soon,
"Yours sincerely, Bill Cotton Jnr,
"Assistant Head, Light Entertainment Group Television."
Those high standards didn't only apply to performers,
but to anyone appearing on the BBC.
Lord Reith's statement that, "He who prides himself
"on giving what he thinks the public wants,
"is often creating a fictitious demand for low standards,
"which he will then satisfy," was taken very seriously
by his staff.
"It is debatable
"whether it is fair to keep her out of the sort of programme
"you suggest if there is a demand from the audience to get into closer
"touch with this well-known personality.
"In my view - if the invitation is simply to meet her and she be
"asked to give her views on horror comics or hats or
"anything under the sun except her own methods and aims,
"no harm could be done. But if she is allowed to lay down the law
"on methods of writing for children unchallenged,
"the BBC becomes just another victim of the amazing advertising campaign
"which has raised this competent and tenacious second-rater
"to such astronomical heights of success.
"No writer of real merit could possibly go believing that
"this mediocre material is of the highest quality
"and turn it out in such incredible quantities.
"Her capacity to do so, amounts to genius,
"and it is here that she has beaten everyone to a standstill -
"anyone else would have died of boredom long ago.
"I think people in positions like ours have every right to exercise
"our judgment in deciding who shall utter unchallenged
"on certain subjects. Jean Sutcliffe, Schools Broadcasting Department."
The person under discussion was none other than Enid Blyton,
who in 2008 was voted Britain's favourite ever author.
But who was effectively banned from the BBC for nearly 30 years.
VOICEOVER: Down at Beaconsfield,
live two small girls that other children may well envy.
Gillian and Imogen don't have to
wait for the next Enid Blyton book to appear in the shops,
they can read it as it comes off the typewriter,
for their mother, Mrs Darrell Waters, is Enid Blyton.
"I think a talk that would probably be of interest to listeners
"would be one on the subject of 'Writing Books for Children.'
"I have written, probably, more books for children than
"any other writer, from story-books to plays,
"and can claim to know more about interesting children than most.
"Yours with best wishes, Enid Blyton."
"My impression of her stories is that they might
"do for children's hour,
"but certainly not for schools department.
"They haven't much literary value, but are competently written
"without sentimentality, on the whole.
"They are well-designed for children to read themselves.
"(This is their primary object, I imagine.)
"There is rather a lot of the Pinky-winky, Dweedle-dweedle,
"Dum-dumm type of name and lots of pixies."
VOICEOVER: Every day when she's working on a book,
she rattles out about 6,000 words.
In addition, there are always proofs to be read,
and letters from young fans to be attended to.
It's a full-time job being as successful as she is,
what with stories, articles and books.
Undeterred, Blyton continued to try and get her work on the BBC,
but eventually became aware of the "esteem"
with which she was held.
"Dear Mr Gamlin, thank you for your nice letter. It all sounds
"very interesting. But I ought to warn you of something you obviously
"don't know but which has been well-known in the literary
"and publishing world for some time -
"I and my stories are completely banned by the BBC,
"as far as children are concerned.
"Yours with best wishes, Enid Blyton."
"Dear Miss Blyton,
"Thank you very much for your letter of the 24th of May.
"I am very sorry that you feel unable
"to appear in my 'Autograph Album' feature,
"but I quite appreciate your reasons, and must content myself
"with saying thank you for replying so promptly."
"I think, if you don't mind, I must just put it on record
"that I did not refuse to appear in your Autograph Album series,
"but, on the contrary, would have been delighted to do so.
"All I did was to warn you of something that obviously
"you did not know. But as sooner or later an enquiry will be made
"into the matter, I felt I really ought to put it on record
"that I did not refuse your request."
Shortly after this, a memo from head of Children's Hour
Derek McCulloch came across Gamlin's desk, headed
Enid Blyton Stories and marked "Strictly confidential and urgent."
"I will be grateful if you would first discuss with me
"should you be considering the inclusion of material
"by the above author.
"I am most anxious that no conflicts in policy shall get loose,
"not only to our embarrassment, but to yours also."
The Corporation eventually decided her material was fit for broadcast,
and Enid Blyton appeared on Woman's Hour in 1963,
five years before her death
and 27 years after she had made her first efforts to appear on the BBC.
Now, one thing I didn't mention earlier
was that my first BBC audition didn't go particularly well.
"A good voice - deep, mature.
"Pleasant, but no life or colour about her at all.
"No sense of comedy, and very little of character.
However, it seems I was in good company.
"Unattractive young man with indistinct speaking voice
"and extremely unfortunate appearance."
Now, before I begin talking...
I'd like to say a few words.
"The piano player tries very hard to do the rolling piano
"Erroll Garner-style, but no good. Face - appalling."
"Songs, dance, piano, accordion, drums, impressions -
"third-rate musical hall act, not for us."
# There's a star man waiting in the sky... #
"Amateur-sounding vocalist, who sings wrong notes and out of tune."
# Daniel, my brother... #
"Pretentious material, self-written. Sung in an extremely dull fashion,
"without any feeling, and precious little musical ability."
# Get it on, bang a gong
# Get it on... #
"This, unless you understand exactly what they are trying to do, is crap,
"and pretentious crap at that.
"I suppose, for certain programmes, that care for
"pretentious, understanding people, they might be acceptable -
"but not for me."
Any recording artists hoping to achieve national fame
needed to get on the radio. And until 1973,
the BBC had a complete monopoly over the airwaves.
Just like everyone else, though,
they had to pass the rigorous audition process.
Each band had 20 minutes to set up, do their three numbers,
then get out.
Notes were scrupulously taken by the assessors,
and then it was down to a majority decision as to
whether or not their music would be allowed on radio.
Just another lot of hitchhikers -
that's what they look like to motorists speeding towards Hull.
Little do they know they're having their legs pulled,
because these apparent hitchhikers, so blandly ignored,
are five of the most famous young men in show business -
the Rolling Stones.
"Dear Sir, I am writing on behalf of the 'Rolling Stones'
"Rhythm and Blues band.
"We have noticed recently in the musical press that
"you are seeking fresh talent for 'Jazz Club'.
"We already have a large following in the London area, and in view
"of the vast increase of interest in Rhythm and Blues in Britain,
"an exceptionally good future has predicted for us by many people.
"Our music policy is simply to produce an authentic
"Rhythm and Blues sound using material of such R&B greats
"as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed
"and many others.
"We wonder if you could possibly arrange for us an audition.
"We look forward eagerly to hearing from you.
"Yours faithfully, Brian Jones."
"Dear Mr Jones, the recording has now been played to our production
"panel with a view to general broadcasting,
"but we regret to inform you that the performance was not
"considered suitable for our purposes."
# I said the joint was a-rocking
# Goin' round and round
# Yeah, reeling and a-rocking
# What a crazy sound... #
However, only two months after their audition,
and with a manager and new single under their belts,
the BBC were already playing catch-up.
"We're pleased to tell you that your performance received
"favourable reports and your name has now been added
"to the list of artists available for broadcasting generally,
"but this does not mean, of course, but offers of engagement will
"automatically follow, but simply that you may be
"considered for whatever opportunity to broadcast might occur.
"Yours sincerely, David Dawe,
"Assistant to Light Entertainment booking manager."
By the mid-1960s, bands were forming at an unprecedented rate.
The talent selection group had their hands full,
but not much slipped past them.
# I'm not gonna rest
# Woman, you don't know me
# Yeah, you don't know me, no
# Know me, no... #
"Our application form for the above group has recently been
"returned to us.
"However, they are clearly precisely the same group as 'The Detours',
"for whom you have accepted an audition for Thursday, 9th April.
"We would ask you to bear in mind our stipulation that artists may not
"apply for auditions or broadcast for the BBC
"under more than one name or title without our knowledge and approval."
# But I'm a-gonna know you.. #
"Would you be good enough to ask 'The Detours' to decide by 9th April
"and let us know on that day which name
"they wish to continue to be known by?"
Most of the familiar faces of British broadcasting
have their own file.
Many just hold contracts, but others are treasure troves,
tracing the journey of a performer over their entire BBC career.
Peter Sellers' first communication with the BBC
set the tone for his future relationship.
It was assured, some might even say arrogant,
on notepaper headed -
Peter Sellers "Bang On."
"Dear Sir, I shall be in town for the next three weeks prior to
"variety at the Hippodrome Aldershot.
"Shall be glad if you can arrange an audition during my stay in town.
"Yours Very Truly, Peter Sellers."
# I've got an idea soon she'll be
# Cooking my breakfast Wait and see
# I haven't told her
# She hasn't told me
# But we know it just the same
# Saturday night on her settee
# Oh, what a time there's going to be... #
"Singing not bad,
"Though no great asset. Very good at dialects. Impressions good.
"Likeable personality. With better material, he could be a real find."
Three years later, and now a rising radio star,
Sellers was feeling quite at home at the BBC.
"I notice you have printed on your notepapers -
"BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, W.1.
"I think it right to point out to you that we do not like artists to give
"the BBC as their address.
"I should be glad to know whether you asked any permission for
"or indeed sought any advice about this
"before having the notepaper printed.
"Please do not think you are the only offender in this respect -
"I am afraid we are often making a similar request to other artists,
"so perhaps you would be good enough to co-operate
"and fall into line with our wishes."
As a symbol of his new standing, Sellers was keen to become
one of the privileged few to have a telephone installed in his home.
He wasn't averse to pulling any strings he had at his disposal.
"Herewith the telephone manager's name and address.
"If you could drop him a line I would be most grateful, as I'm
"sure it would help considerably in getting the phone installed.
"With many thanks, Peter Sellers."
"Dear Sir, I understand Mr Peter Sellers has applied to you
"for the installation of a telephone.
"If it will either strengthen his application or
"soften your heart, or both,
"I can say that Mr Sellers does a very substantial amount
"of broadcasting work for us, amounting, I dare say,
"to the best part of 100 appearances before the microphone each year,
"and it can unquestionably be said that to have him available by
"telephone in his home can facilitate things
"from our point of view.
"Yours faithfully, Michael Standing, head of Variety."
May I welcome you to the Goon Show and introduce you to...the Goons!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
"Dear Mr Standing,
"I assure you we are very conscious of the important part
"which a telephone plays in the lives of people
"in the entertainment world.
"My heart does not require softening on their behalf.
"But I have to do the same for dollar exporters, illness,
"diplomatic and similar applications!
"Deciding the exact measure of priority
"to give in any particular case is far from easy but we do our best
"to ensure that everyone gets what we feel is a fair deal."
-Look, this is the gun that killed Louie.
But that's a water pistol.
I know! He was drowned.
Now well established at the BBC,
his temperament started to get the better of him.
"As I have not had a holiday for the past three years
"I feel badly in need of one
"and would like to go to the south of France for 14 days
"commencing the 4th May.
"This would entail my being released from 'Ray's a Laugh'
"for that period.
"Right now my nerves are tuned up like an XK.120 and I feel that
"if I do not get a holiday soon I shall have a nervous breakdown.
"I should be much obliged if you could arrange this for me."
"I understand that since the request to us to release him
"so that he could have a holiday in May, he withdrew that request
"because he had anyhow cancelled his holiday for a Palladium commitment.
"Incidentally, we cannot help but note
"that his urgent need of a holiday, so urgent that he seeks release
"from his BBC contract, seems to become less pronounced
"when there is a question of appearing at the Palladium.
"Yours sincerely, Patrick Newman."
"Dear Pat, I have received a phone call from my Agent, Dennis Selinger,
"regarding the little bother I had at the 'Goon Show' last night.
"For my part, the main cause of the upset was
"the result of extreme mental stress throughout the previous week,
"which is purely personal and has nothing to do with the show.
"I do admit that I was wrong in taking the attitude I did,
"but what one says and does in times of stress
"is obviously not calculated.
"As you know, we have had troubles before
"and I have been the first to make that..."
"Latest stop press on the above -
"the agent of Master Peter Sellers informs me that this artist
"now doesn't wish to be associated with the Goon Show ever again.
"This, I presume, we take with a pinch of salt,
"for it stems from an upheaval between Sellers and Spike Milligan,
"something which I believe happens at fairly regular intervals."
Newman was right not to take that particular threat too seriously,
but as Sellers' star rose,
so did his ambivalence towards the show that had made him famous,
and contractual negotiations became a burden for all concerned.
"I write you not the least bit confident that
"I shall get any sort of satisfactory answer - after all,
"phoning you is quite pointless.
"I had thought for one moment of writing direct to Peter Sellers,
"but that I imagine will be equally useless.
"Or could it be that behind the facade
"of Peter Sellers Productions Ltd some cooperative fellow exists,
"someone who would be simple and ordinary and normal to deal with?
"Just think about this and let me know
"what you think is reasonable...
"Something reasonable... that's all we want."
By 1959, it had become clear to everyone that Sellers
had outgrown the BBC.
"Sellers has returned from France almost as soon as he got there.
"It seems this was due to the fact that he did not
"like the people he was with,
"though his agent feels his return was accelerated by a desire to see
"his new £8,500 Bentley, which had suddenly been delivered!
"Perhaps he would give us one of his old Rolls,
"in return for the trouble he causes."
Guy Burgess is best known as one of the Cambridge Spies,
the most notorious British espionage ring of the 20th century.
A group of young men at the heart of the establishment
betrayed its secrets to Russia.
Not so well known is the fact that Burgess worked as a Talks producer
for BBC Radio.
His file offers a tantalising glimpse into the working life
of one of this country's most intriguing figures.
Keen to sign up the best of the best
for their prestigious Talks Department,
the BBC often looked to the top universities
as a source of potential production talent.
Guy Burgess came highly recommended by one of his Cambridge dons.
"I believe a young friend of mine, Guy Burgess,
"late a scholar of Trinity, is applying for a post in the BBC.
"He was in the running for the Fellowship in History,
"but decided (correctly I think) that his bent was for the great world -
"politics, journalism...and not academic.
"He is a first-rate man, and I advise you if you can to try him.
"He has passed through the Communist measles that
"so many of our clever young men go through and is well out of it.
"There is nothing second-rate about him,
"and I think he will prove a great addition to your staff.
Burgess landed the job of Talks assistant, but it soon became clear
that his free spirit didn't respond well to BBC bureaucracy.
"You asked, when you joined in October last, to produce
"a photograph for record purposes.
"I understand from the Photograph Section that they have
"already given you four reminders.
"As the photograph is now nine months overdue
"I shall be glad if you will take immediate steps to have one taken."
"Sorry - I have already supplied two which have been rejected.
"Will this one do?
"It is not easily recognisable.
"It reminds me of him, anyway. DH Clarke."
"I only had one, showing him
"sitting on the sands at Margate or some similarly unsuitable picture.
"Thank you for producing this one."
It's impossible not to look beyond the surface
while reading the Burgess collection.
This letter, to a guest on one of his programmes,
is interesting in itself,
showing as it does a somewhat cavalier attitude to timings,
but it gains a whole new dimension when we see who it's written to.
"Dear Anthony, I think the talk in its existing form gives you
"plenty of time for any summing up you like to do.
"Between you and me, the talk was definitely on the short side
"at rehearsal, but this doesn't matter.
"I think you should sit facing the clock
"so that you can keep an eye on it and gag a bit at the end
"if you think the talk is too short or cut if you have taken too long.
"Paris is going to be all right, I think.
"See you Tuesday. Yours, GB."
Perhaps the funniest episode is captured in a series of memos
featuring witness accounts of an instant that occurred
one evening in 1941.
It involved a locked room in the Langham Hotel,
which the BBC used as offices during the war, a lost master key
and an inebriated Burgess.
'Well, that's the end of broadcasting for today in the BBC Light Programme,
'with the exception of the shipping forecast on 1,500 metres...'
"Tonight I was in charge of BH reception
"when a gentleman enquired for the key of room 316 Langham Hilton.
"I gave him as much attention as possible
"in finding the key required, but in vain.
"He became most abusive, and raved like a madman and threatened
"to break his room door in if I failed to produce the key shortly.
"Finally, I referred him to the house superintendent."
"I was called to the reception desk to interview a gentleman who was
"complaining in a high-pitched voice of being unable to enter his room.
"I pointed out we were doing our best to obtain the master key
"of that room, to which he replied in a very loud voice,
"'And a very bad best, too.'
"He then continued to find fault with everything.
"Fortunately, at that moment, a defence patrol officer
"came along, and told me he was endeavouring to obtain a master key.
"Mr Burgess then turned to the patrol officer and said,
"'Well, go and get on with it.'"
"I asked how dare he speak to me in such a manner -
"I was not a dog.
"He then calmed down a little and I took him across
"to the Langham Hotel. However, he would not wait for the keys
"and started to break his door down with a fire extinguisher.
"Myself and the two patrolmen are of the firm opinion that
"Mr Burgess had had too much to drink
"and his behaviour was objectionable in the extreme."
After an internal investigation,
Burgess, somewhat grudgingly, apologised,
and the BBC contented themselves with giving him a stern telling off,
"I think it would be advisable in future
"if Burgess had to take a speaker to the duty room that he should
"confine himself to soft drinks."
BIG BEN CHIMES
By 1944, Burgess was producing The Week In Westminster,
a radio programme which is still going on today.
His work gave him direct access to the heart of government.
However, it was his cavalier attitude to his expenses
that proved a concern for the BBC.
"Mr Burgess has access to a private dining club,
"which meets once a fortnight on Thursday, made up of members of the
"Allied Governments, Foreign Office people, and diplomats generally.
"Mr Burgess is willing to take along any producer who wishes to go,
"but points out that cost per head is likely to be in the region
"of £2 - that is 10 shillings for food and 30 for drink."
"There would be no objection to a payment of 10 shillings
"for food for food plus a small payment for drink.
"The idea that drink should cost 30 shillings per person
"can only mean that wine is taken which is surely unnecessary,
"and I can hardly believe that members of the Allied Governments
"and the Foreign Office are willing to spend
"so much on drink at each of these dinners."
Despite being described in internal reports as slipshod
and lazy, Burgess was highly regarded in the BBC.
He had a knack for persuading major public figures to take part
in broadcasts, and a talent for getting the best from them -
although not everyone was convinced by his methods.
"I must say that I'm becoming somewhat worried about Burgess'
"activities in general.
"In some rather subtle way, he seems to manage to induce a relationship
"between the Corporation and the Speakers in the series
"he looks after which can only be described as a mutual aid society.
"I do not know whether it is my business to say this,
"but I feel sure someone will be asking before long whether
"it would not be better to have a rather older producer
"in charge of this series.
By 1944, the Fates had stepped in.
The Foreign Office asked that Burgess be
released from his contract with the BBC.
The Corporation were reluctant but realistic.
"Mr Burgess is a very good producer and, although he has failings,
"will be a serious loss to the Talks Department.
"That, however, I'm afraid, cannot be helped.
"Sir Richard Maconachie."
That wasn't the last link the BBC would have with Guy Burgess.
In September 1951, four months after he had disappeared
with Donald Maclean, books that he'd taken out
years previously from the BBC library were mysteriously returned.
"The books had been issued by our library to Mr Guy Burgess
"several years ago, and had been written off.
"They were returned to the library on Saturday afternoon,
"September 15th, having been handed by the Commissionaire
"to the Reception desk about four o'clock.
"You may wish to pursue this,
"as I understand that the Foreign Office are anxious to ascertain
"the whereabouts of Mr Burgess, and it might be helpful to them."
Sadly, there's no record of what the books were
and whether they did indeed help the Foreign Office in their search
for the missing diplomats.
It would take another five years before Russia officially
acknowledged their defection.
Another mercurial soul collided with the BBC colossus
for the first time in 1964, when he was plain Maurice Cole.
"Maurice is 19, lives in Liverpool with his parents
"and spends all his time playing with tape recorders.
"I feel that he has quite exceptional ability
"and may well prove of use to you.
However, it wasn't
until he'd already made a name for himself on pirate radio
that the BBC really took notice, offering him a plum job on Radio 1.
# Turn on the radio every day
# How simply wonderful - hurray
# 247 is where you'll see
# Music and laughter, BBC
# So when you're down Feeling awfully low... #
In March 1968, Everett gave an interview
for the Londoner magazine, heavily criticising the BBC.
It didn't go down well at work.
You can only talk about it in atmospheres,
and their stations are... 20% bubblier than ours is.
I don't know what we can do about it.
"Everett is a brilliant disc jockey who was fired by Radio London
"and by Radio Luxembourg
"but who was I quite determined to persevere with
"because he is far ahead of his fellow disc jockeys.
"He was given the peak Sunday morning Radio 1 programme
"in the full knowledge that he was a tricky character
"to deal with, and this is not the first time
"he's had to be called to order.
"His drug stories, largely apocryphal,
"and his stated views, are most embarrassing and highly inaccurate.
"His ingenuousness is only matched by his apparent stupidity.
"I've given him one last chance to mend his manners.
That "last chance" included signing what amounted to a gagging order.
"Dear Kenny, this is to record that at our meeting this afternoon,
"you agreed that during the period of one year from the date
"of this letter, you would:
"A, not right for publication or speak in public
"(including the giving of interviews to the press)
"about the BBC or its affairs
"or about Radio or Television without first obtaining the BBC's permission.
"B, not include in any performance for the BBC remarks or
"interjections of a type which the BBC had told you to avoid.
"That if you were in breach of the agreements in A and B,
"the BBC would have the right to cancel your contract
"which the BBC might then have with you.
"Yours sincerely, Frankie Gillard, director of radio."
PLAYING Because by The Beatles
This acquiescence didn't last long, and in December
the following year, he was at it again, this time in the Sun.
He described Radio 1 as dull and criticised his fellow DJs.
Once again, the memos flew, and in a masterclass of vacillation,
Kenny was given a last last chance.
"I think we have to be careful here and decide now
"whether we mean this to be final or not
"and also what action we take if he transgresses again.
"If we really mean to terminate his services, then we should say so
"without any ambiguity and be prepared to act on it.
"At least this is how it seems to me.
"I cannot quite recall whether we have done this before, but
"I rather think we have given such a final warning in the past.
"If so, it is all the more important to my mind to make it quite clear
"that we mean business this time - if we do.
"Could I be told what kind of warning he was in fact given
"before as a matter of interest?
"JH Arkell, director of administration."
The final straw for the BBC came on 18th July 1970,
when Everett suggested on air that the wife of the transport minister
had cheated in her driving test.
On the same day, Melody Maker published an interview
in which he described Radio 1 as "awful, really revolting".
He was sacked, and banned from the BBC.
What about Radio 1, Kenny?
Yeah, what about Radio 1?
Isn't it strange that I'm being filmed by one end of the BBC
about being sacked by the other?
Bizarrely, in radio, popular music came under the banner
of the Variety Department, so Variety booking manager
Pat Newman, who we met previously in the company of Peter Sellers
and who had cut his teeth in the 1940s
booking George Formby and Ted Ray,
was now having to content with a whole new breed of performer.
HE SCREAMS TO THE MUSIC
That sight, those sounds, were made by the Pink Floyd,
a pop group who took over Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday night
for the entertainment they called Games for May.
Of them, more hereafter.
"With reference to the engagement of the above group
"for Saturday Club, the producer gives me to understand
"that one member of the group left our Studio without
"explanation during the recording of the first number.
"Despite attempts by the remainder of the group to find him,
"he did not return for the rest of the session, and it became
"impossible for the producer to continue with the recording.
"I have given instructions for this particular contract to be
"cancelled but wonder (perhaps with an eye to the future)
"whether you'd be good enough to let me know
"which gentleman 'freaked out'
"(this strange expression was being banded about the Studio)
"together with any explanatory comments which may come
"to your mind. Patrick Newman."
"Group officially 'resting' due to 'nervous breakdown' of lead singer."
This week in Rehearsal Room, we present the Animals!
# Baby, can I take you home?
# Baby, let me take you home
# I'll love you all my life
# You can bet I'll treat you right
# If you just let me take you home... #
Newman's nadir came in 1961, when dealing with the Animals,
who had failed to turn up for a radio programme he'd booked them on.
This time, it seemed the Fates conspired against him at every turn.
# There is house in New Orleans
# They call the Rising Sun
# And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
# And God, I know I'm one... #
"Whilst realising there might be certain weak links in our chain,
"eg, no actual signature to the contract
"and maybe our not being able to remember the precise date
"of the telephone office and acceptances, I should like to think
"this is a case where we shall take some positive action.
"Not to do so would in my opinion show the Corporation in a poor light
"and make a nonsense of our procedure.
"(On the other hand, if we do act, it may well prove a salutary
"lesson to other artists and agents of a similar way of thinking.)
"Presumably consideration will be given to invoking Clause 22
"and other possible action might be banning of these artists...
"together with any artists on the books of this gimcrack agency.
"Popular music departments are exceedingly put out by
"the situation and would like very much to make an announcement which
"would go beyond the standard
"'We regret the Animals cannot be with us today,'
"and continue with some such comment as
"'unmindful of their agreement to appear in this programme,
"'have without apology - let alone seeking release
"'from their obligation - absented themselves in America.'"
'Here they are - the Animals, Britain's hottest new
'rock and roll export. Their New York arrival runs into
'a ban on any tumultuous airport reception but the five lads,
'all in their early 20s, still find the warmth of a teenage greeting
'as they prepare to ride into Manhattan.
'Their recording of The House Of The Rising Sun
'swept to the number-one spot on both the US and British pop charts.'
# ...of the Rising Sun. #
However, not only was the suggested announcement deemed inadvisable,
but the legal department suddenly realised that the contract
they'd been using to book artists with for the past 25 years
was far from watertight.
"We could not proceed against this group or its agents under Clause 22
"because we were recently advised by Counsel
"that the clause is unenforceable at law.
"Counsel has provided a new clause which will go into future agreements
"but the Solicitor apparently has doubts whether the new clause
"is enforceable either."
Newman had to content himself with a stern letter to their agent
and a threat not to bill any of their clients in the Radio Times.
However, even this threat proved to be empty.
"I note to my distress that the current issue of the Radio Times,
"pages four and five, expends two pages on vastly publicising
"this group and indeed offers glossy photographs of them
"as a service to our readers.
"They must indeed be laughing at us,
"if not up their sleeves, behind their somewhat unruly hair.
What these vast rows of files and folders resound with
is the serendipitous nature of success.
They echo with the swell of a BBC full of its own self-importance
yet frequently proving to be wrong -
a vast corporate liner with processes and acronyms
and quaint, outmoded formalities,
which often found itself at odds with the times.
Above all, they are a testament to the lost art
of written communication.
These words, straight from the hands that wrote them,
onto the paper they once held, give us small insights into people
who were to become threads in the fabric of our lives.