Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Here's Baked Jam Roll In Kenneth Robinson's Eye

And so the downward trend continues. Like some blog post-based microcosmic re-enactment of the viewing figures chart for Heroes, the inexplicable record-breaking Torchwood: Children Of Earth-rivalling stitch-that-Hannah-so-called-Minx audience interest of but a fortnight ago has given way to a slump into single figures. Clearly there are a lot of people out there who are only interested in seeing Mr Swallow The Wharfinger and Baked Jam Roll In Your Eye by Timebox alluded to in the same sentence. It's tempting to speculate on whether this decline is index-linked to the warmer weather, or as former Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner once bizarrely speculated to people not being able to use their ovens properly, but there's no time for that as - even though, in a neat bit of postmodern meta-textual irony, the viewing stats are starting to climb dramatically even as this is being typed - this is a more than fitting moment to mention the similarly dwindling interest in children's radio in the early to mid seventies, and how as a result, BBC Radio 4 were able to get away with something called If It's Wednesday, It Must Be....

A magazine show for children broadcast in the school holidays throughout 1972 and 1973, If It's Wednesday, It Must Be... was just one of many Radio 4 magazine shows for children broadcast in the school holidays. The most widely celebrated of these, and the one that will hopefully cause a healthy amount of visitors to alight on this page, was mid-eighties effort Pirate Radio 4, home to addresses to the nation by one Adrian Albert Mole (performed by Sue Townsend's preferred incumbent of the role, Nicholas Barnes), and brand new audio-only adventures for the 'Cancellation Crisis'-stricken Doctor Who, for the benefit of fans who could use their ovens properly. If It's Wednesday, It Must Be..., however, was marked out from all of its historical and latterday counterparts by its curious roll call of contributors, most of whom were primarly known for work for an older audience, and some of whom had caused widespread consternation even there.

For starters, it was presented by Kenneth Robinson, a radio anchor for whom the term 'loose cannon' could have been invented, and even then would be barely adequate. Regularly lambasted in the press for various outbursts, physically attacked mid-broadcast by Pamela Stephenson, and actually refusing to sign off live on air when he was eventually quietly 'retired', he was exactly the sort of figure that certain parties would use as a convenient stick to beat the BBC with in this day and age, and as such not exactly the sort of figure that you'd expect to find presenting a show for children. Nor, indeed, would you expect to find him introducing such contributors as electronic music pioneer and Pink Floyd collaborator Ron Geesin; visiting American 'shock-comedy' troupe The Credibility Gap (featuring a pre-Spinal Tap Harry Shearer); Progressive Rock's only known resident poet Lady June; late night Radio 1 DJ Annie Nightingale; old-skool bandleader Benny Green; close-harmonising Franglais-parlezing satirist Miles Kington; surrealist poet Ivor Cutler; highbrow columnist and legendary drinker Jeffrey Bernard; and, especially, its two most prominent contributors - Kenny Everett and Vivian Stanshall - of whom more hereafter.

Had you been scanning the Radio Times back in the 'day', you'd have been forgiven for thinking this was some kind of late night experimental hoedown that had somehow broken free of its scheduling moorings. But it wasn't. It was concieved, produced and broadcast as entertainment for children, and what's more all concerned seem to have relished the challenge of refining their work to suit a younger audience. Kenny Everett, for example, was at that point trapped in a weird career no-man's-land, between being fired by Radio 1 (for making a joke about the Minister for Transport's wife passing her driving test because she "crammed a fiver in the examiner's hand") and the arrival of commercial radio, and was only too happy to have an opportunity to get back to tape fiddling-festooned audio lunacy. Similarly, Vivian Stanshall had still not quite found his artistic feet following the break-up of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and used the show to experiment with a series of frantically languid comic monologues about aristocratic misfits, which later evolved into Sir Henry At Rawlinson End. In short, this was everything that esoterica-favouring aesthetes now hold dear about radio condensed into one show aimed at children. You can keep your Chris Moyles, thanks.

Even by 1972, children's radio was about as popular as Here Is A Box has been over the past couple of weeks, but If It's Wednesday, It Must Be... was so unusual that it became something of a cult favourite. Inevitably it didn't last, due more to the contributors' commitments elsewhere than anything else, and nor - you may be surprised to read - did it find its way onto Music From BBC Children's Programmes. To find out why, then, we've spent an entire post banging on about a seemingly irrelevant programme, you'll have to stay 'tuned' for the story of what happened next...

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