An evening of (not) Radio 4

The altar area of a small church. On either side, there is a speaker on a stand; there's a microphone on a stand by the lecturn and a good deal of audio equipment to the left hand side. In front of us is the screen on which is being projected the Radio 4 logo. There are no people in the picture - something's about to happen!

A few weeks ago I put on an evening’s entertainment that I’ve had in mind for many years but for which opportunity has never previously arisen. The opportunity finally arose through an event series in my village called Chattitude which is run by one of the wardens as a way of increasing the use of the church. The biggest annual event there is the carol concert but the Chattitude series is quite separate and has covered topics ranging from mindfulness to hostage negotiation.

I’m a life-long Radio 4 listener, having been brought up literally listening with mother. I remember Daphne Oxenford asking if I was sitting comfortably, trying to answer questions on Top of the Form, being suspicious of how easily the panel asked their twenty questions and being infuriated that Dr Finlay was such a minor character in his eponymous Case Book compared with Doctor Cameron and Janet.

So – how to turn that into an evening’s entertainment?

I mentioned the idea to a few people and got some blank looks. But when I said “it’s a chance for you to play Just A Minute and Mornington Crescent,” some, at least, were enthusiastic. OK, so, focus on the panel shows and remember that not everyone remembers listening to the Clitheroe Kid (which I never particularly enjoyed but distinctly remember hearing).

I thought about including some of the factual programmes. Could we include a mini Any Questions? How about Woman’s Hour, All in the Mind, In Our Time etc. The difficulty with any of those is that you’d need to devote the whole evening just to that – they don’t lend themselves to a 10 minute slot sandwiched between the Unbelievable Truth and Word for Word. Plus, you need experts who are also extrovert enough to do their thing in front of an audience.

Once you take all those factors into account, the actual number of things you can possibly include in a varied evening is actually quite small. And you need help. I didn’t want it to be a one man show – that wouldn’t work – so who else in the village might be willing and able to do something? There were substantial contributions from friends who wrote and performed their Unbelievable Truth scripts, who provided local sports news, a couple of Michelin-star chefs who have retired to the village who answered questions from the Kitchen Cabinet, the vicar who did Thought For the Day and a local musician who stood in for Colin Sell when he and my wife sang One Song to the Tune of Another.

Practicalities

Sound

One thing that was absolutely essential was a good sound system and, even more important, a skilled sound engineer on whom I could rely absolutely. I’ve known Nick Coady since we started working together at Radio Orwell in November 1985. It was his expertise that meant that the sound clips all came in exactly at the right time and that I could walk around the audience without fear of howlround. We needed multiple radio mics and a means of playing audio clips which meant hiring a pretty comprehensive sound system (from the AV Unit). It was over-engineered for the venue but anything less wouldn’t have worked as cleanly throughout.

Vision

I had a projector and screen set up so that I could put relevant images up at various points in the evening. Yes, it’s an evening based on radio programmes but a picture or two doesn’t hurt.

Theme tunes

I used several theme tunes to introduce different sections – thank you YouTube! These were recorded as MP3s (using Audacity) and that’s what Nick played in as required.

Licences

A radio is in the background.In the foreground are a series of speech bubbles saying things like: hesitation, repetition, deviation; racing tips; Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger; Ambridge gossip

I don’t work for the BBC and I certainly don’t have the rights to any of their shows. So I’m aware that I was on thin ice legally speaking. In my defence, this was a small village event raising money for church funds, not a commercial event making a fast buck on the backs of other people’s creativity. The poster for the event didn't mention any programmes by name so as to lessen the copyright breach. The church does have a licence for hosting performances but not for selling alcohol so all refreshements offered were non-alcoholic including a very tasty Glühwein made with alcohol-free wine.

Buzzers

A set of silver party blowers

If you're going to play quiz shows, people need a means of buzzing in. Rather than set up a complicated system of buzzers and lights, I simply bought a job lot of cheap party blowers - they did the trick nicely.

Running order

Here’s the running order I used on the night. Some of it is specific to the event and so won’t translate easily to other locations but it might provide a framework, should you wish to do something similar.

The UK Theme

Before we started, we played this as an invitation for people to take their seats. Written by Fritz Spiegl, the station opened with this from 23 November 1978 to 23 April 2006.

The Archers

I had to get the Archers out of the way - it's all in the name; moreover, I grew up in the part of Chester called Handbridge, so I'm kind of used to jokes about all that (for which my usual comeback is a question about the very latest story line, which usually flummoxes people).

Starting this way meant I could begin by basically mocking myself and then get into some quiz-type questions for which people would have to use their party blowers. In that way, this was the ice-breaker.

Audio: The best available recording of Barwick Green that I know of is from this BBC concert

I used some of these questions but not all of them

  1. Who lives in the farmhouse at Brookfield Farm? (David, Ruth, Jill, Josh and Ben)
  2. With a little help from Lexi, Adam and Ian have a new baby son – what’s his name? (Xander)
  3. Who is Shula’s twin? (Kenton)
  4. Jakob Hakansson is who’s new boss? (Alastair Lloyd)
  5. What’s Joy Horville’s daughter’s name? (Rochelle)
  6. What major event happened in Ambridge in March 2015, in which Jill, Neil Carter, Alan and Usha, Freda Fry, Hilary Noakes, Carol Tregorran, Richard and (that) Sabrina Thwaite were stranded at St Stephen’s? (the flood)
  7. First broadcast in the West Midlands, when was The Archers first broadcast on national radio? (1 January 1951)
  8. Who suggested that Barwick Green should replace God Save The Queen as the UK national anthem? (Billy Connolly)
  9. Which of these is the actor who plays Pip Archer: Daisy Badger, Primrose Fox, Tulip Hare? (Daisy Badger)
  10. June Spencer has been playing Peggy Woolley since those first BBC Midlands broadcasts. Last month Peggy Woolley celebrated her 95th birthday, but which birthday did June Spencer celebrate in June this year? (100th)

I used a few PowerPoint slides to illustrate this round.

Word for Word

With the ice broken we could turn to the first panel show round and the first of several from I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. Remember that the event took place in a church so everyone's on pews, not sitting round tables in a pub, so Word for Word works well. You get people on one side of the aisle to pass the mic along the pew and each person says a word that must be unrelated to the previous one. If someone on the other side of the aisle spots a connection, they blow their blower, explain the connection and then take over.

We used several rounds from Clue but only played the music to introduce this first one.

Thought For The Day

We were in a church and the local vicar is nothing if not a showman - with his help, this was easy!

Sports News

The neighbouring village of Hintlesham, with which Chattisham is fully integrated for things like committeess and social events, has a Multi Use Games Area (MUGA). Sticking with Today, the chap who runs the MUGA kindly provided a roundup of local sports news to which I added the racing tips by randomly selecting a couple of horses from the next day's racecards. To my amazement, on the morning of the show, one of the horses I'd picked at random was one of the selections. There's probably a message there.

The Unbelievable Truth

I was very grateful to two local friends who took on the task of writing and delivering their lectures that were entirely false but that included a few truths buried among the lies. Audience members blew their blowers if they spotted a truth.

Audio: the theme music for the Unbelievable Truth is a track called My Patch by Jim Noir.

The Kitchen Cabinet

We're lucky to have a couple of retired Michelin-starred chefs in the village and they were willing to take questions on food and drink. It wasn't quite in the style of The Kitchen Cabinet in that we didn't have a food historian telling us about revolting-sounding dishes of yore and people talking with their mouths full, but we did have a free-flowing series of questions from the audience. There were a couple of plants - that is, at least two people in the audience had questions ready to go.

The Shipping Forecast

All that talk of food and drink led into the break during which we enjoyed delicious food and drink provided by wonderful people.

A map of the British Isles with sea areas marked. They go all the way from the coast of Norway to S E iceland and down to the southern end of the bay of Biscay.

Over the break, I showed a map of the shipping forecast sea areas on a PowerPoint slide but with the names blanked out so people could try and work out what was where.

We signalled the end of the break by giving a station ID (on 198 Long Wave, on BBC Sounds, and on 92-94 FM, this is BBC Radio 4) followed by the pips and Nick as voice over reading out the sea areas while I revealed each one in turn.

Beginnings Quiz

There was a short quiz after that, all based on the theme of 'beginnings'. The questions were:

  1. From what programme, first broadcast in March 2009, is this the theme tune? (Mark Steel’s In Town)

  2. You'll recognise this easily enough – By The Sleepy Lagoon by Eric Coates, used as the theme tune to Desert island Discs. It was first broadcast on BBC Forces Radio, but in which year? (1942).

  3. Original host Roy Plomley would go on to host the show until 1985 when… who took over? (Michael Parkinson)
  4. On 7th October 1946, Alan Ivimey presented the first edition of what long running programme that’s still on air today? (Woman’s Hour)
  5. Radio 4 – like Radios 1, 2 and 3, began broadcasting under that name on 30th September 1967, taking over from the BBC Home Service. It began at 06:35 that day with… what programme? (Farming Today)

I used a few slides to illustrate this section of the evening.

My Word!

One of my most vivid memories of listenting to Radio 4 as a child was My Word!. It was also shown on TV but I never saw that (I think I once saw Just a Minute on TV and wondered why on earth anyone thought that was better than the radio version). At the beginning of the show, Frank Muir and Denis Norden were given a quotation or saying that they would then use as a punchline to a story they would weave, apparently spontaneously. My maternal grandfather loved to play this at family occasions and I well remember on such an occasion shortly after my eldest nephew had been born telling a story about how this made me feel very hot and sickly as on uncle's day you can see fever (on a clear day you can see forever). I asked around the village but no one else was willing to give this a go so, well, I guess I'd better do something myself so I took it on.

I admit my story was not original. I used a pun originally devised by Jon Holmes and then repeated with affection by Marcus Brigstocke on The Now Show. Jon Holmes told a story about the thrones that David and Victoria Beckham had made for their wedding in 1999 and how they'd not been looked after in their house crammed full of tat. I told the same story but worked in a few extra bits here and there and ended up with the punchline of people who live in crass houses shouldn't stow thrones.

I couldn't find the theme tune as a separate item and so just took it from the beginning of this TV episode.

Mornington Crescent

The London Underground sign for Mornington Crescent

Mornington Crescent is hard. That is, it's hard to make it funny. If you're not careful, you just have people randomly saying names of London underground stations as if there aren't any rules at all so you need people who do know the rules to constantly challenge any mistakes. Thus I had a couple of plants in the audience who were ready to jump in with challenges as people moved from Parson's Green to Cockfosters or wherever. Naturally, we played Suffolk Rules which caught a few people out but we got there in the end.

One Song to the Tune of Another

Go on, I dare you - try and find two neighbours willing to do this! I was lucky in that both the vicar and my wife were willing to give it a go. I couldn't find a pianist but it so hapens that we have an excellent saxophonist in the village and he was willing to take on the role of Colin Sell. It was close to Christmas so my wife sang Run Rabbit Run to the tune of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and the vicar sang Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah to the tune of Jingle Bells. Again, Nick's skill with audio engineering made sure that the saxophone didn't drown out the singers. Tip: rehearse this beforehand!

Just A Minute

This event was part of a series under the umbrella of Chattitude so it was important to promote upcoming events. I did that before the final round so we could end on a high - and that had to be Just A Minute. By this time, more or less everyone was willing to blow their blower and join in. We did 6 rounds, with the subjects displayed on the screen. Again, it's worth having a couple of plants for this so you know who you can call on to start each round.

There are lots of versions of the Minute Waltz online but I used this one:

Sailing By

What else can you play out with…

I had a lot of people to thank - this was not a solo effort by any means - so I was able to put up a picture of a yacht sailing into the sunset with their names displayed.

Conclusion

The evening went well and I had a lot of very good feedback. I don't think I could do a straight repeat but the basics are there:

On the downside, Radio 4 is seen as elitist (sadly) and, as we knew would happen, anyone who isn't a Radio 4 listener didn't think it was for them. We also held it on a Friday evening in December so a lot of people were already booked to do something else that night. So a future version of the evening might include TV quizzes, for example. Still, enough people came to make it a success, we raised £100, and I finally got it off my chest.