Sunday, 10 May 2020

Lockdown Listening

A few weeks ago, near the start of the lockdown, I decided to upload most of the documentaries and a few other feature programmes I've made down the years onto Dropbox, to make them available for anyone who was looking for something of that sort to listen to.

It's not, I hope, that I'm so big-headed as to think that anyone was crying out for a "Paul Hayes Greatest Hits" collection. But as I just had them all there doing nothing, I wanted to do something

I messed up one or two of the links when I shared them on Twitter, so to put them out again - and just so I have the list somewhere all in one place for my own greater convenience! - here are all the links again. Most are to Dropbox, but a couple are to podcast versions of programmes still available on the BBC website. Either way, they're all freely available as MP3s for you to download and - hopefully! - enjoy.

It's a collection I am rather proud of, and also reminds me how very lucky I have been to have had the opportunity to make some programmes for the BBC about some of my greatest interests. Hopefully they will please anyone who shares any of those interests, too. Although I am also proud of the ones where I did a very good job as a producer with subjects I had no special interest in or connection to, even if I do say so myself!

The links are in the titles, so first of all back we go to the end of 2010...

I made this with Keith Skues in 2011, and it was originally broadcast on BBC Radio Norfolk on Boxing Day that year, although a few of the other BBC East stations also took it, and he later repeated it in his own show across the region. The story of some of the British rock and roll stars who emerged in the wake of Elvis's popularity in the late 1950s, Keith provided his own original interviews with Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and Vince Eager. I edited them together into a narrative, wrote the script, put it all together and recorded the narration from Keith to create my second ever documentary. Quite a good one too, I think!

Pirates on Parade - Part One and Part Two
My old boss David Clayton had and has an enormous passion for the pirate radio of the 1960s, and was forever trying to put on as many programmes as possible related to it. In 2011 he recorded three of our local pirate presenters from those days in conversation - Keith Skues, Andy Archer and Tom Edwards. He then didn't know what to do with it, so I cut it all up, wove it into a narrative of some sort and edited it together with relevant music from the 1964 to 1967 period, which we and Radio Lincolnshire broadcast over Easter 2012. One of those tracks would be unusable now, but fortunately I later edited part two for a possible repeat version on Radio Lincolnshire in 2014. That never in the event happened, but it does mean I have a version I can now share here.

The first part of which I rather tongue-in-cheekily like to refer to as my "BBC East Trilogy", telling the story of the old regional radio services from All Saints Green in Norwich in the years before BBC Radio Norfolk arrived in 1980. I've long had a great passion for broadcasting history - Doctor Who fandom often tends to act as a "gateway drug" into it for many people - and especially the little bits that fall through the cracks and aren't really chronicled elsewhere. I knew there'd been a programme called Roundabout East Anglia which had been broadcast from Norwich in the 1970s, and this is its story. Finding the relevant people to speak to and especially any archive was a fun challenge, and I think it came together really well. Originally broadcast on the August Bank Holiday in 2012, and one where I had several nice comments afterwards from people who work or have worked in the industry, which was nice. Here's the original blog entry I wrote about this one at the time.

Norfolk's Diamond Summer - Part One and Part Two
A mammoth two-parter I put together for Christmas 2012, looking back at Norfolk across some of the events of that memorable summer - the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic torch relay, the Games themselves, and the Tour of Britain cycle race coming to the county. Narrated by Nicky Price and Chris Goreham, but all written and produced by me.

In October 2012, it was decreed that all BBC Local Radio stations should put together a strand called "My Beatles Story", to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the group's first single release. I was put in charge of the Radio Norfolk effort, recording various interviews with local people who had seen, met or worked with The Beatles and had a story to tell about it. There was also one archive interview, which David Clayton had recorded with Tony Sheridan back in 1997. The resulting pieces were then broadcast across a special day of programmes on Friday the 5th of October 2012. This compilation is one I put together for that Christmas, narrated by my colleague Matthew Gudgin.

Another one from 2012! I was a busy boy that year, although I think I can reveal from the safety of eight years' distance that David did give me a very generous bonus from a special pot of money which existed back then put probably doesn't know. (Not a literal pot, you understand. He didn't hand me a bunch of fifties!) This was another recording David had made which he didn't know quite what to do with - talking with Helen McDermott, Katie Glass and Tom Edwards about their regional TV continuity days. Once again I chopped it up, put it together and I think made a nice little programme for anyone with an interest in the history of television presentation and the days of in-vision announcers.

Undoubtedly one of the best things I have ever made, and one of the programmes of which I remain the most proud. My first really "authored" documentary, going out and about recording links and interviews at relevant locations. Telling the story of the connections between the county of Norfolk and the character of Sherlock Holmes, with some great readings by Look East's Kim Riley of excerpts from the original stories - Kim being someone I would go on to use more than once when I wanted a dignified voice with a bit of gravitas! Here's my blog entry on Far From the Fogs from back in 2013.

Something else of which I am very proud, although more of the individual elements than this after-the-fact compilation. For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, we were encouraged to do something similar to the "My Beatles Story" project of the previous year, this time with "My Doctor Who story" - tales of Norfolk people who had either some special love of or a particular connection to the show. There were features every day in breakfast leading up to the anniversary, and several through the day on the Friday. I was very proud of how I was able to combine my passion for and knowledge of the show and its history with my abilities as a producer to create a series of features which were - I think - open, accessible, enjoyable and accurate. I was very proud to be able to consider myself a tiny part of the BBC's own anniversary celebrations for the show, too. This compilation was originally put out on the Sunday of the anniversary weekend, and then repeated at Christmas. Here's another blog entry from the time, covering this and my other anniversary thoughts.

Another project initiated by David Clayton - although my colleague Edd Smith had also gone to him with the idea. David asked me to tell the story of the racing driver Ayrton Senna's early days in Norfolk, for a programme to mark the 20th anniversary of his 1994 death. I hugely enjoyed researching this and putting it together, and particularly going down to Broadcasting House to record the narration with ex-Radio Norfolk man Rob Bonnet. It was also a hugely exciting project personally, as it is - to date - the only one of my programmes to have been broadcast on a national network, with BBC Radio 5 Live taking a 25-minute edit which I made for them. Here's my original blog entry from 2014 about this one.

This was an interesting one, as it was a subject I didn't really know anything about or have any link to - the story of a late 1960s Norwich band called Eyes of Blond. Another David Clayton idea given to me to make, I enjoyed recording it and putting it all together and trying to give some flavour of not just one group but the Norwich music scene of the time. I think, or hope at least, that I managed to create something suitably evocative. "Craft" wise, as it were, I was pleased with myself for making what I thought was a coherent radio documentary without any narration - it's just the four of them talking, Beatles Anthology-style.

I'd seen the odd reference here and there down the years to Norfolk having been briefly considered as the launch base for the British space programme back in the 1960s, and I decided it was a subject worth having a go at. I can't pretend I was in any way the first to tell the story - Dean Arnett had done so for TV a few years before, for a start - but I do think I did it well. Trips to the Science Museum and the Isle of Wight were very enjoyable, and will always stay with me for having been on the day of the Brexit referendum result in 2016. I even ended up, because of travelling to make this, passing Downing Street at the moment David Cameron was making his resignation speech that morning - as covered here in my blog entry from back then.

When Sir John Hurt died in January 2017, I realised that we had done various interviews with him down the years while he was living near Cromer. I managed to put a few of them together, along with interviews with some of those connected to the various causes, events and institutions about which he'd been speaking to us. That included my own interview with him, a very enjoyable experience where he'd gently taken me to task over the idea that he always played characters with miserable or unhappy lives! I was also pleased to be able to clear the rights of him reading some poetry at an event at the Theatre Royal - getting involved in such rights clearances made me feel very grown-up! His widow, Lady Anwen, later asked for a copy to be sent to her on CD, which was quite an honour.

Not a documentary, but a feature interview I recorded for a May Bank Holiday show in 2017. Justin is the lead singer, songwriter and bassist with one of my favourites bands, Del Amitri, and he agreed to go into the BBC in Glasgow to record a down-the-line interview with me, ostensibly to promote his forthcoming solo gigs, a couple of which were to be in East Anglia. We did a wide-ranging interview about all sorts of aspects of his career, which I then broadcast in the first hour of my Bank Holiday show. On the basis that as it was a Bank Holiday I could do pretty much whatever I wanted, and it was nicer for the audience to hear an interesting, thoughtful interview with a man they could soon go and see in concert locally than just me chatting and playing records.

Part two of my "BBC East Trilogy", taking the story further back - to the establishment of the very first East Anglian radio service from Norwich in the 1950s. It also told the story of the BBC Local Radio pilots of the early 1960s, and was another huge challenge to find relevant archive and interviewees for. I adored doing it, however - the challenge of the research, dealing with finding and obtaining the archive, and having a reason to visit the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham, near Reading. The BBC still had the country house there as well then, where I went for lunch on one of the days I was there - a splendid bit of "old BBC" now gone. The programme itself is another one of which I am very proud, and a cut-down version concentrating just on the local radio pilots was almost broadcast by 5 Live - it was billed in the Radio Times and everything, but alas! Knocked off for live sport, as it happened. Here's a blog entry about some of what was going on with me that summer, including making this.

On election night in 2017 I presented the first part of our coverage, when I hadn't expected there to be a great deal to talk about. To help fill the space, I prepared some long archive packages on elections past in Norfolk, from the 1920s to the 2010s. In the event, after the dramatic exit poll there was a great deal to say, so most of them never got used. Not wanting to waste them, I came up with the idea of putting them together in their own programme, married with some new interviews I recorded about the experience of general election nights with three of our then local MPs - Chloe Smith, Norman Lamb and Henry Bellingham. The result is a bit cut-and-shut, but as a filler programme for the Christmas period that year I think it was perfectly acceptable and not too bad at all.

Marking ten years of the Treasure Quest show on Sunday mornings - I loved the chance to make the sort of programme I enjoy about a programme I myself had been involved in. The very first radio documentary I ever made had been about Treasure Quest, made as a test and an editing exercise really back in 2010. The challenge here was to try and make something sufficiently different, updating the story but still telling all of it, in an accessible fashion. With perfect access to interviewees and archive, it had no excuse to not be good, and I was pleased with the result - I had some very nice comments about it, too. Here are some further thoughts from 2018 about the tenth anniversary of Treasure Quest.

Another one for any fellow Del Amitri fans! I'd spent a great week-and-a-half following the band around the country on their tour in the summer of 2018, and when I got talking to someone in the queue for one of the gigs in Glasgow it turned out he knew that Ash, the drummer, also lived in Norfolk. I later emailed Ash for his website and asked if he'd like to be one of our Tuesday Guests, which he said yes to. As it turned out, I ended up standing in as producer that night, too - rather messing up my timings as I had so much to chat to Ash about, but this edited version for the Sunday "Gudgin's Guest" repeat ("Hayes Hosts" that week, obviously!) is tidied-up a bit! Ash also very kindly gave me a pair of drumsticks he'd used on the tour when he came in.

Up there with Far From the Fogs for the title of my favourite documentary I have made, I think. I knew we'd be marking the 60th anniversary of Norwich City's 1959 FA Cup run somehow, and I knew I wanted to use the extensive archive of the East Anglian broadcasts from the time which existed, and which the Norfolk Sound Archive had kindly transferred for me for The Network That Never Was back in 2017. I also knew it had to be sufficiently different to Gudge's 40th anniversary documentary from 1999, so I decided to make the broadcasting aspect the main thread - still telling the full story of the cup run, but hanging it on the framework of how the BBC covered it at the time. As with any good documentary it's the archive and the interviewees which really make it, all I did was bring together all the fantastic material that gave me. More than one person told me it made them cry - which must be a good thing! Also counts as the third and final part of my "BBC East Trilogy", and here's a blog entry from last year with more on how and why this one was made.

I hadn't expected to make another Norwich City-related documentary, especially not in the same year as Canaries in the Air. But by chance I became fascinated by the story of Arthur James "Jimmy" Jewell - a man who'd been an FA Cup final referee, Norwich City manager, the BBC's first ever regular TV football commentator and also, perhaps, the England manager too. Another one that it was great fun to go hither and thither across the country recording interviews and researching for, although I was chasing so much so close to the line that editing it became a real challenge. Two days before broadcast, it was about 50 minutes too long. I'm still disappointed about how much I had to cut, but it's one of those things where if you didn't know the material is missing, you don't notice. I even managed to do an even shorter version, which 5 Live took as a stand-by programme - you never know, maybe it will go out there someday! Here's my blog entry from last summer with more detail about the programme.

When Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis came to the east coast to make their Beatles-related film Yesterday in the summer of 2018, I did my best to try and get some behind-the-scenes access to make a "making of" documentary which could go out when it was released the following year. I had absolutely no joy with this, but fortunately our Great Yarmouth district reporter Andrew Turner - a much more forceful character! - managed to do a lot of behind-the-scenes reporting on the film. I decided to take all of his material, with a few other bits and pieces, and make it into a documentary which we broadcast when the film came out. Narrated by Andrew, who came over to Norwich to reach the voiceover script I'd written for him.

And that's it... for now! I do have another project currently in the works, however, which by good fortunate turns out to be one of the few documentaries it would have been practical for me to make this year in the end. You will hopefully hear it in September - when BBC Radio Norfolk turns 40.

As for what else I have been doing aside from my shifts at work - I have written a nine-and-a-half-thousand word short story, and have resurrected a non-fiction project I originally started work on five years ago, which may now actually end up in a publishable state - fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Christmas Carolling

As I write, Christmas Day is drifting to a close.

It has been rather a nice Christmas. I have been deep into one of my favourite stories - if not my very favourite story - A Christmas Carol. I have another blog comparing and reviewing different adaptations of it for from film and television down the years, and this year I decided to revive it and have a proper go at it.

I wanted to try and have a new review up every single day from the start of December until today, and I actually managed it - by the skin of my teeth at times, but I did manage it. I'll have another go next year, if I can find enough other versions to do it with!

But I've also written my own adaptation of the Carol this year. Just a fun, jokey one for the radio station where I work. The script could have done with one more draft, but for what it is it was just about good enough, and seems to have amused a few people. It was another collaboration between myself and my colleague Emma, eight years on from when we made The BBC Radio Norfolk Nativity together.

Just a fun little thing for Christmas. But these fun little things will always be the bits you remember above the day-to-day work.

Anyway, you can hear the whole thing here if you're interested. The Eastern Daily Press also published another feature of mine to promote it, which was kind of them.

I even came up with an idea for a sort-of sequel to the Carol this month, too. But obviously only a complete lunatic would ever contemplate such a thing, so that's probably best left alone.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Writing and radio

I have been writing again.

Really, properly - since the 21st of February, I have done at least 100 words a day, and on one occasion as many as 7000 in a day, on a new novel project. Except for Saturday, when annoyingly I just plain forgot, and didn't write anything at all.

There is a reason for that, however. I was buried deep in the finishing-off of a new documentary, which went out today. In fact, I have made two documentaries since I started this new novel, which partially explains why the process has been slowed down a bit, when it really ought to have been finished by now.

The other reason the novel isn't yet finished is that it is, far, far too long. It's definitely unsalable and almost certainly unreadable. I still have a little way to go and it's already over twice the length it should be. I suppose part of the problem is making it like homework, making yourself do at least a certain number of words per day. Yes it gets it done, but on the other hand it makes it too easy to make the writing flabby, to write for writing's sake rather than because the words need to be there to tell the story.

But at least I've been writing.

The new documentaries have also bred writing - or rather, today's one has. The one last month was a fairly cheap-and-cheerful, but nonetheless quite effective I think, tie-in with a film that had been shot locally last year. The new one broadcast today - Jimmy Jewell: The Lost Voice of Footballwas much more of a researched and authored piece, the story of former top-level football referee, manager and TV commentator Arthur James "Jimmy" Jewell.

I hadn't intended at all to make another football documentary after Canaries in the Air, but I happened across a brief summary of Jewell's life on the England Football Online website and got bitten by the bug. Especially as it was doing something nobody else had ever done - his story had never really been fully told before.

I'm proud of it in the sense that I really dug this one out of the ground. There were virtually no easy sources of detailed information about him, no children or living close relatives of any kind, so I really had to hunt out information and interviewees. I was reasonably successful in that, even though I didn't manage to find anybody who'd met him. But this did mean I was still chasing sources and interviewees until very late in the day, resulting in a much more telescoped editing period than I would have liked. So I'm not sure it's quite as well put together as soon of my other efforts - but it's still not at all bad, and I think the licence fee payer more than got their money's worth.

The Eastern Daily Press once again kindly printed a piece by me in their Weekend supplement, and as there's a Sussex link the Argus also ran a piece. This was quite pleasing considering I used to deliver the Argus for a while in my teens. My colleagues at BBC News Online also put a piece up and generously gave me the byline, although really my colleague Zoe Applegate put it together from a kit of parts I gave them.

Even the BBC's live text commentary of Norwich v Chelsea joined in with the promotion on Saturday, after I cheekily emailed in to ask if the link could be punted out. I also felt quite proud of cutting six different preview package - one each for our Saturday Sport, Sunday Breakfast and Bank Holiday Breakfast shows (although Saturday Sport weren't able to use theirs due to the delayed King's Lynn kick-off), and on-spec pieces I punted out to London, Lancashire and Sussex due to their links to the story, pointing to the doc on BBC Sounds. I've no idea if they'll get used but London have said they might. Oh, and I also did news clips for us.

Rampant self-publicity! It feels strange for it all to be done now after how intensely I have been working on finishing it over the past week. Rather relaxing.

But oh yes, there is that novel to try and finish...

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Canaries in the Air - the story of a radio documentary

One night last summer, in all the excitement of the build-up to England’s first World Cup semi-final for 28 years, I was listening to one of the BBC’s Football Daily podcasts. This particular one was looking back at England’s previous semi-final appearance in the competition, at Italia 90. Tears, penalties, Pavarotti and all of that.

One of the guests on the podcast was Jurgen Klinsmann, and I thought how strange it must seem to him that we celebrate and look back with a wistful fondness on a team which lost a semi-final. We understand it – it was a special time, it meant something, it was an agonising disappointment but not seen as a failure. They were fallen heroes. But to the outside world, particularly to someone from Germany where they have won the thing four times, a semi-final defeat would be forgotten; one of those things. Shrugged off. You move on.

Not everyone has the option of course, because not everyone can be that successful. Your team has done what it has done, and all greatest successes are relative. Not every team can have won everything. Should teams not mark what achievements they have? Not celebrate nor commemorate their history as it stands?

I was thinking back on that again this week, as we came closer to the broadcast of my documentary Canaries in the Air, the story of Norwich City’s run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 1959 and how it was covered by the BBC back then. To those outside of Norwich or Norfolk, it may perhaps have been mostly forgotten, and seem an odd thing to mark. A semi-final defeat. But, like those losses at Italia 90 or Euro 96 do for England as a whole, here it really means something. The hope, the heartbreak… It seared them into the consciousness of a generation.

To fans of some rival clubs, you could no more explain it than an English person could explain to a German or a Brazilian why the achievements of Bobby Robson and his men meant so much in 1990. But there it is.

I can’t tell you for certain when I first heard of Norwich City’s 1959 Cup Run, but oddly it would have been – in a roundabout way – from my mother. Mum isn’t a football fan and doesn’t follow it to any real degree, but when I was first looking at possible places to go to university in around 2001-02, and had chosen Norwich as a favourite, she told me about how much she had liked Norwich City as a girl. I don’t think she remembered the details all those years later, but she certainly had a fondness for them.

A few years later, in 2007, I went to see the England Under-21s play against Slovakia at Carrow Road, and sitting just next to the players’ tunnel I saw the old locomotive nameplate with its commemorative plaque which celebrates the efforts of that 1958-59 team. I remember looking across and reading it, and thinking, “Ah, that must have been when they caught mum’s attention.”

Watching the England Under-21s at Carrow Road in 2007.

Mum would have turned 13 during the ’59 Cup Run. She was living on the south coast and has absolutely no connection to Norwich other than the fact that I now happen to live here. But they captured her imagination back then, in the same way they did with so many other people across the country. I compare it to how Leicester won the public’s hearts in 2016, with so many neutrals and even people who didn’t really follow football willing them to do well because it was so exciting and unexpected; so swashbuckling and romantic.

And it stayed with mum, too. In 2015, after Norwich had won the play-off final, I was on the phone to her a couple of days later, and she asked me if I knew anybody at the club.

“Um, not really,” I replied. “I see some of the former players, sometimes, if they come in on our programmes. Why?”

“I just wondered if you could pass on my best wishes to them,” she told me. It was rather sweet. All those years later, the spirit of ’59 still generating goodwill for the club.

Norwich have, of course, been in two further semi-finals since then, in 1989 and 1992. But both of those came at a time when they were in their own First Division pomp, and perhaps the FA Cup had already lost a little of its lustre. In 1959, it held more prestige than the league title did – that was certainly not the case 30 years later. In 1989 their defeat to Everton was rightly overshadowed by events elsewhere, and perhaps a feeling that it was somehow right and proper that it should be the two Merseyside clubs which faced one another in the final that year. The 1992 quarter-final win was described with great misty-eyed fondness by my colleagues Chris Goreham and Rob Butler on this week’s episode of The Scrimmage. But perhaps that run is soured by the fact it was Norwich themselves who were the giants felled that year, losing to Second Division Sunderland, missing out on a first ever final.

Speaking of Sunderland, Norwich’s League Cup wins are remembered fondly, of course, but it’s not quite the FA Cup. And oddly, despite leading the league and fighting for the title in 1992-93, Norwich somehow didn’t quite capture the public imagination in a way they had a generation earlier, and indeed even struggled to fill Carrow Road for some of the home games that season. I’m not sure even all of the UEFA Cup home games were sell-outs the following season, either.

So it all comes back to 1959, and somehow just that right combination of elements which means it still shines so brightly in the club’s history.

This weekend's Eastern Daily Press Weekend supplement front cover, promoting my feature piece inside.

Having worked at BBC Radio Norfolk for so many years now, of course I’d become much more aware of the history of the club. You can’t not have it become a part of you in some way when you work for a local radio station in a county where the only professional football team is so important, and when you have the broadcast rights to the games. I don’t work on the sports desk, but I do sometimes work on the coverage, and Norwich City transcends that anyway. If you work here for any amount of time, it becomes a part of your working life, to a greater or lesser degree.

That said, I still felt a little nervous when I first talked to my colleagues on sport about doing this programme. Still felt that I was something of an interloper. I’ve lived in Norwich for a long time now, and I always want Norwich to do well. I follow their progress and even in my free time will often, say, watch them on the TV if they’re on. But I’m not born to it. It’s not a part of me in that way. The only football team which grabs me by the guts and make me feel sick with nerves or sends me running around the room is England during a major tournament. (Yeah, I’m one of those people…)

But I knew there was a programme I could make about the ’59 Cup Run, and I knew that I could do it well. As anyone who’s read much of this blog in the past, or heard many of the previous programmes I’ve made, will know, I have a great passion for the history of broadcasting in general and the BBC in particular. I love being able to poke around in my little corner of it and perhaps tell some stories which might not otherwise have been told.

One of the reasons I’ve been able to make Canaries in the Air is because of a Norwich City fan called Frank Heyhoe. He had recorded about two-thirds of one of the games and almost all of another off-air onto reel-to-reel tape back in 1959. There are lots of nice bits and pieces in the official BBC archives which I’ve been able to put into the documentary, but Frank’s recordings are an absolute treasure trove, not just of the commentaries themselves but of pre-match build up, all sorts of material which would not otherwise have survived, and is almost without equivalent for any other matches of any type from that era in the official holdings.

One of Frank Heyhoe's off-air recordings from 1959, now held at the Norfolk Sound Archive.

It’s not clear how or why, but somehow in the 1990s Frank’s reels ended up in the old radio studio at Carrow Road. My colleague Matthew Gudgin was able to use them when he made his documentary about the run, The 59ers, for the 40th anniversary back in 1999. Subsequently, Matthew arranged for the reels to be donated to the Norfolk Sound Archive at the County Record Office, but he had mentioned them to me once, talking about how there was actual regional coverage broadcast on the nascent BBC East Anglian service from Norwich.

Remembering this and being absolutely fascinated by it, when I was making my documentary about the birth of the BBC in Norfolk in the 1950s in 2017, The Network That Never Was, Jonathan Draper at the Sound Archive kindly arranged to do a new dub of the reels and send me over digital copies – the only extant live output from the BBC in Norwich in the 1950s, as far as I know (there are a few pre-recorded programmes). Of course, I was only able to use a small amount of them in The Network That Never Was, but the seed, the idea had been planted, and I was already toying with the notion of a documentary linked-in with the cup run’s 60th anniversary.

Initially I had the thought that you could do something telling the story from the fans’ perspectives. Appeal for old letters and diary entries, that sort of thing. Voice them up and intertwine it with the archive.

I eventually realised we’d never get enough response to make that work, and after making a package for The Scrimmage in November last year when they marked sixty years since the run started, I decided to have a crack at making a full documentary out of how the run was covered – particularly as I realised it was the first time there’d ever been full commentaries of Norwich games live on the radio. Still telling the story more generally, of course, but using the coverage as the spine. That would also help to make it sufficiently different to Gudge’s The 59ers back in 1999, a fine piece of work that does a great job of telling the story when there were still more of the team left alive to speak to.

I’m luckier in some respects, however, in that it’s so much easier for someone working in the BBC now to access so much more of the archive that we hold. I’ve been able to use some TV material which in 1999 probably hadn’t even been transferred from film, and was simply sitting at Windmill Road not having come off its reel since it was originally broadcast. Now, I could call it up with a few clicks on the BBC’s intranet, and copy it across without any cost to the radio station.

I’m also very lucky in that the interest Norwich generated means there was more material around about them, and so more survives to use now. Looking at the closest equivalent achievements – in terms of a Cup run, York City from the same level making the same stage in 1955, or in terms of geography Ipswich winning the league in 1962 – then I don’t think I could have made a similar programme about either of them. Not from what the BBC hold, at least – by 1962 you have Anglia in play for Ipswich, who may have more.  But in purely BBC terms, we may not have anything like a complete record of the coverage of Norwich’s 1959 Cup Run, but compared to most other teams of the era, we have a great deal. Even odd little off-hand mentions and fragments and bits and pieces, which I have enjoyed being able to weave in and use where I can.

The challenge, as always, was to try ad make it engaging to a general audience, not just people who are interested in broadcasting history. That said, I have been able to use all sorts of little touches which might only please me – using some of the same music which was used on the original programmes in 1959, for example, or recreating one of the Light Programme’s announcements linking into their partial coverage. All of that, and quoting from some of the original memos from the time, is thanks to the sterling support and infinite patience of Matthew Chipping at the BBC Written Archives Centre. He’s changed role now; hopefully not because of my constant emails asking him to scan and send over just one more PasB document…

One of the BBC memos relating to the cup run coverage which is quoted in the documentary. The support and assistance of the BBC Written Archive Centre during the making of this programme has been hugely generous, as always.

I’m also indebted, of course, to all of the people who kindly spoke to me to share their memories or expertise. Rather stupidly, originally I wasn’t certain whether or not to approach Terry Allcock, the last of the team still living in Norwich, because I wondered whether, being about the coverage, the programme ought to be an entirely ‘outside’ perspective. However, I came to my senses and Terry kindly agreed to speak to me. I was hugely privileged to spend an hour in his front room talking to him last month, and his interview really makes the programme.

There was one point, when he was recounting the homecoming after their eventual defeat, which was one of those great moments you get occasionally when you’re recording an interview with someone on location when you know this is it, the golden material, and you realise you just have to shut up and keep your arm still as it holds the mic and not say a word and hope like hell that the recorder doesn’t for some reason choose to die at that moment.

(I am pleased to say my trusty little Zoom did not let me down!)

Originally, I had thought the programme might make half an hour that sport could perhaps put out on a Saturday when Norwich weren’t playing. It’s become a full-length programme in its own right, trailed and promoted on other shows and very generously given a Weekend supplement cover and three pages by the Eastern Daily Press for an article I wrote them.

My feature piece promoting the programme, which appeared in the Weekend supplement in the Eastern Daily Press and Evening News.

I’m pleased with and proud of it, and I just hope it goes down well with those who listen. Both the Norwich fans now, and those who want a nostalgic reminder of being there back then. I feel confident I have made a very good programme, but am more nervous about its reception than perhaps any other documentary I have made. I make programmes in, of and about Norfolk every day, and I never have cause to worry about the fact I am not from here. But this… This is important local cultural history. This matters to people. There is a real sense of responsibility in making something like this.

For me personally, it feels as if it completes a trilogy of sorts along with Radio in a Roundabout Way and The Network That Never Was – the story of BBC radio in Norwich before Radio Norfolk started in 1980, back to when the regional radio headquarters opened in 1956. A  history not particularly well-chronicled elsewhere, perhaps, but I like to think one I’ve been able to pay some small tribute to. Admittedly not covering the 1960s too much, but unlike the 1950s or Roundabout in the 1970s, there isn’t really much of a hook for that, nor indeed much surviving material.

Anyway, there we have it. By the time I put this up, the programme will have gone out on-air. I can only hope it went down well. If you’ve found this blog via me promoting it and the programme on Twitter – and you’ve made it this far in reading it, for which a big thank you! – do please leave a comment letting me know what you thought!

Monday, 31 December 2018

Goodbye to all that

Farewell to 2018 then, a year when I achieved very little and did almost no writing - but, I did manage to sneak something in under the wire.

I mean, I write all the time of course, and you could even call it professional writing. In my day-to-day job I am constantly writing cues and scripts for broadcast on the BBC, as well as associated online tie-ins. The most substantial bit of tie-in writing I did this year was once again doing the programmes for our Treasure Quest Live stage shows at the Norwich Playhouse in November.

Thanks mostly I think to the very talented Andrew-Mark Thompson doing those spoof annual covers for us we raised over £1500 in donations for the programmes alone, towards £5807 in total from the shows for Children in Need, which was rather nice. As usual I curated and designed the interiors, wrote most of the content and chivied along the contributions from the others!

Fiction-wise, however, I had an almost completely blank year... Until it came to Christmas Day.

I went out for a walk early that afternoon, around near my parents' house in Clapham in West Sussex, where I grew up. Instead of walking around Clapham, though, this time I wandered around the neighbouring village of Patching, and when I was passing Patching Pond I noticed how the sky was reflecting onto the water, so took a few photos:

When I posted these on social media, I mentioned that "The Sky in the Water" would be a good title for a story. One of my followers on Twitter, Lesley Harper, suggested it could be an Alice Flack story, so I decided to give it a go. I decided to write a short one that very afternoon, and not only that I randomly decided to record myself doing a reading of it, too:

It's probably not great, but neither is it awful. Certainly not bad for something started at 5pm, and all written, recorded and put online just after 9pm that same evening.

It made me want to go back and do some more Alice next year, anyway. I do have several stories in mind for her, but I find it so difficult to get down to writing anything these days. I need more discipline! I also have an idea for a novel I'd like to write in 2019, one that's been brewing for a while, but we shall see...

Happy New Year to you all, anyway!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Treasure Quest Top Ten

I wrote earlier this year about the tenth anniversary of Treasure Quest, the Sunday morning show I produce on BBC Radio Norfolk, and its importance in my life and career. This weekend, the programme marks what is I suppose the second part of that anniversary – at Easter we were celebrating ten years since the pilot, whereas now it’s ten years since the start of the regular run, which began on the 25th of May 2008 and has continued ever since!

Although I had studio-produced the second pilot on the early May Bank Holiday of 2008, I hadn’t set that one up, whereas for the regular run I did do that. So this weekend not only marks the anniversary of the show’s weekly run, it also marks ten years since I became its full-blown producer.

So while I’m not entirely sure whether or not anyone might be interested in reading this, to mark the occasion I thought I’d sit down and compile a list of ten of my favourite Treasure Quests from the past ten years. I’ve ordered them chronologically so as to avoid having a ‘winner’ and thus causing any offence to anyone who’s been a part of the team down the years. It’s been very difficult to narrow it down to just these ten – but not only is that the appropriate number for the anniversary, I also thought it was probably pretty much the maximum limit of what anyone would want to wade through!

Anyway, here we go, for those of you who are interested… And to start with, we’re going way back, almost to the very start of the regular run…

1 – Sunday 8th June 2008
Clue hunter: Lucy Clark                 Studio presenter: Graham Barnard
Only the third show of the regular run, and with an unusual all-stand-in team – even the radio car driver, Keith Greentree on this occasion, was a substitute. Lucy was a journalist on the news desk at the time and our regular stand-in for Becky Betts in the early days, and Graham has been a deputy at the studio end of things (and latterly sometimes as radio car driver) throughout the entire run. He eventually got his just reward for being called in, sometimes at the very last minute, to stand in for others when he got the chance to helm the Easter two-parter in 2017, an excellent special which came within a gnat’s whisker of earning a place on this list.

Despite its unusual nature, however, this episode earns a place on the list because it was the first one where I really felt as if I knew what I was doing. Although I was still working very much in consultation with our then assistant editor Martyn Weston, who had brought the show to the station, it had become clear now that the onus was on me to plan the route each week, set up the locations, find the clue-holders and write the clues.

The first episode of the run had gone okay, probably because I had the most time to set it up. The second had seen a bit of a disaster when some of the clues hadn’t arrived in time, after which I put in place my rule that I always get everything set up and ready by the Thursday before the show at the very latest. (Except for when I don’t – but these days, having so much experience of putting the show together and knowing there are so many fans I can thankfully call upon to help us out, having the odd last-minute hole in the show that needs plugging on a Friday or even a Saturday isn’t the catastrophe it would have seemed to me back then!)

This one was all set-up and sorted and ready to go before the weekend, and like all the best episodes it had the odd task or challenge along the way, rather than the clue envelopes all just sitting around waiting to be found – some of them had to be earned. This led to perhaps the first really great Treasure Quest moment, with poor old Lucy expressing her displeasure at having to fish one out from a box of maggots at a bait shop! I also remember how pleased I was when she said, with meaning, “I’m not happy with you Paul Hayes!”, as I hadn’t been at the station for all that long at this stage, but being singled out by name by Lucy like that made me feel like a part of the team.

The distances between locations weren’t too long so the show didn’t start to lag, but they were also far enough apart for a decent spacing and a close finish – and Becky Betts even popped up with the treasure envelope at the event she was running in Eaton Park. I really remember thinking after this that I’d done a good job, and I think Graham was very complimentary about it too. Producing Treasure Quest is a fairly limited skillset that doesn’t really qualify you to do anything else, particularly – but this was at least the point at which I realised I might be quite good at it.

Clue hunter: Becky Betts              Studio presenter: David Clayton
One from the classic David and Becky line-up which dominated the first five years of the show, and really made the programme what it is. The reason I have picked this episode in particular is because of what it meant at the time – perhaps the first point at which we realised just what an impact the programme was having, and what it meant to people.

The preceding week, a listener called Cathy Pye had emailed in to suggest that as it was Children in Need time, people could send in cheques of donations to the charity in the name of Treasure Quest, and we could make the total figure raised by the programme the treasure at the end of the next week’s show.

This us as being a good idea, although Becky expressed concern on-air about whether we would raise enough for it not to seem embarrassing. She needn’t have worried. Before the programme had even ended, a man had actually come to the station in person to hand in the first cheque, and they came flooding in through the week.

But it wasn’t just the donations. Many of them came with letters or card, saying how much they enjoyed the programme and how much they loved listening to Becky and to David. It felt quite special, and really rather moving. I did my best to make the show live up to the build-up, and it did have some nice stuff in it – most notably Becky having to go karting to earn a clue – and there’s no doubting that the big moment was when Becky opened the envelope and found out how much we’d raised at the end.

It was £3985, in just a single week, from the listeners of one programme on one local radio station. Of course, as soon as we read that out, we had calls from people wanting to pledge the extra £15 to make it up to a nice round four thousand pounds. Becky, of course, burst into tears, so moved was she by everyone’s generosity – but this would only be the beginning of our Children in Need efforts on the show down the years.

Clue hunter: Becky Betts              Studio presenter: David Clayton
There is no denying the fact that Treasure Quest owes a debt to Channel 4’s Treasure Hunt TV programme of the 1980s. We may be live, on the radio and using a car rather than recorded, on the TV and using a helicopter, but it’s hard to deny that if that show hadn’t happened, neither would ours. We even used to use their theme tune, for goodness sake.

So there was always a sort of kinship that we felt between that show and ours. In September 2009, we’d even managed to get one of its co-presenters, Wincey Willis, to stand-in as the clue-hunter for us one week, to everyone’s great excitement. I can’t recall, at this distance, whether we’d already been wondering, but certainly after that we increasingly began asking ourselves and each other whether we could perhaps get the ‘Sky Runner’ herself, Anneka Rice, to make an appearance.

It was Martyn who knew that she sometimes spent time with friends on the North Norfolk coast, so it might not be entirely unrealistic to get her. But we never really did anything about it until I decided to take the bull by the horns, found out who her agents were and emailed them explaining about the show and asking whether she might like to make an appearance.

The answer came back – yes, she might.

At this point I panicked a bit and handed the negotiation over to a grown-up, Martyn. We heard nothing for a little while, but suddenly in early February, Martyn excitedly came up to me one day and said that Anneka was going to be in the county this coming weekend, and would be happy to take part.

We arranged for a taxi to take her into Norwich for the final hour of the show, although we had a bit of a panic about whether or not it had been properly booked on the morning, so sent Graham Barnard – who was weekend editor at the time – to go and fetch her, as he had been designated as our Anneka-minder.

We had her waiting with the final clue at Norwich Castle, and it was a programme where timing was everything. I couldn’t let them head to the castle too early, as I didn’t want Becky getting there before she did, so it meant I had to hold back some calls at the clue four location until I was sure everything was okay.

I can still remember turning to AJ, who was my assistant on the show at the time, and telling her to start putting the callers with the right answer though as if I were bloody Russell Crowe commanding his men to “unleash hell” in Gladiator. I remember the song David was playing before Becky got to the castle, George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby, a song I shall forever associate with the moment David faded it away, just as Becky reached he castle… and started screaming!

The “Anneka flippin’ Rice” moment instantly became one of our most famous. Anneka was good fun, seemed to enjoy herself, and even though it ended up being a failure as they didn’t get to the treasure in time, it didn’t matter. It felt like a big moment, following on from the previous week where we’d sprung a surprise and swapped David and Becky for the first time – leaving me thinking, well, what more can we do with this show now? Surely we’ve had all the big moments we can possibly have…?

Clue hunter: Becky Betts              Studio presenter: David Clayton
This was not the first two-parter that we did – we’d begun that tradition at Easter 2009. Right from the start I’d known that the two-parters really had to justify their size. They couldn’t just be run-of-the-mill programmes, they had to have extra big and special moments in them – so, for example, in that first one we’d had such things as a clue being hidden in the Monday’s edition of the Eastern Daily Press, and Becky being abandoned by the radio car and having to catch a train back into Norwich.

For 2010, Martyn and I had something much more than a mere train journey in mind. The previous year, we’d been contacted by a local firm called Sterling Helicopters. They’d offered to take Becky up in a helicopter one Sunday, and we eventually managed to arrange the little jaunt for a show in October 2009. Despite Becky’s much-expressed fear of flying, she ended up rather enjoying that flight, which was just a quick trip up from Norwich Airport, a little circle around and then back down again.

Martyn and I reasoned that as Becky had enjoyed that one, how about for the special we send her on an actual journey?

Sterling wouldn’t let us have another trip for free, reasonably enough, so we actually had to pay them for this one, but Martyn felt it would be worth it. All was arranged – for the finale of the two-parter, Becky would have to fly from the airport to Dunston Hall, where Martyn would be waiting with a special cake to celebrate the fact that this two-parter was, by a pleasing coincidence, the 100th quest. Engineer Steve Parks was tasked with making sure we could broadcast from the helicopter, from which we ended up getting a better signal than we do on some radio car journeys.

There were a lot of good things in this two-parter. The overnight clue wasn’t up to much, admittedly, but we had all sorts of nice bits and pieces – including Becky being locked in a cell by the army, having to try her hand at rugby, being on the cover of a custom-made Radio Times mocked up for us by the magazine themselves, and having to get on a bus and meet a comedy Norfolk character we’d planted there.

It’s fair to say, however, that the bit everyone would remember was the end, when Becky was confronted with the helicopter flight. Looking back, I have mixed feelings about it. Although we did make it clear to her and the listeners on-air that she absolutely didn’t have to do it if she didn’t want to, I think we did put her in an incredibly unfair position, as I know she would have felt awful to have said she didn’t want to do it.

It became evident very rapidly, however, that she really wasn’t enjoying it – but on the other hand, her histrionics were making for hugely entertaining radio. We had emails afterwards from some listeners criticising us for putting her in that position, and others saying she was a professional and ought to have pulled herself together. It divided our colleagues, too – Martyn later tod me that our news editor at the time was very unhappy with him for us putting Becky in that position.

It made an impact, though. Radio Norfolk old boy Greg James even played a clip of it on his Radio 1 show, bringing it to national attention. I’d like to say I’d be more responsible about putting a presenter in that position these days, but I think having spoken to Becky about it since she’s glad she did it and holds no grudges over it. Not that she’d particularly fancy it again, I suspect!

Clue hunter: Becky Betts              Studio presenter: David Clayton
I said in my piece about Treasure Quest back in March that one of the things I feel I’ve brought to the show is helping to foster that family or team feel that it has on-air. I like to think that one of the ways in which I’ve done this is by ensuring that we make a proper fuss of people when they leave.

Of course, when Becky was leaving after five years of clue-hunting, any fool producing the programme would have known that it had to be marked. I put a lot of effort into setting up interesting or sentimental locations and various challenges for Becky, only to then find myself on the Saturday night before the show arguing that she shouldn’t be doing it. She really wasn’t very well, and David Clayton and I were discussing what we could do. It ended up being one of the very few arguments we ever had about the programme. Being a slightly older and wiser producer by this stage, I argued we had a duty of care not to let her do it. He spoke to her and to her family, and I eventually agreed with him it would be all right as long as we let her opt-out of any tasks of challenges she didn’t feel up to, and let the radio car driver do them for her.

In the end, she was much better by the Sunday morning and was able to do almost everything across the whole two-parter – even having a go at driving a steam locomotive!

There were moments on the Monday which didn’t work well – David rather ruining my April Fool’s trick of trying to convince Becky she had to go up in a plane, and not having good signal at a flashmob moment I’d arranged in Cromer. But the ending was perfect. I’d intercepted most of the listener cards which had been sent in for Becky – hundreds of them – and arranged for them to be hidden as buried treasure in Overstrand. After all this time, finally having a buried treasure with an ‘X’ marking the spot!

It was a nice close finish, but Becky got there within the time limit, and there were tears as she bid goodbye. It was the end of an era for the programme, but I am glad we were able to mark it properly and give Becky the send-off that she deserved.

Clue hunter: Sophie Little             Studio presenter: David Clayton
After taking a year off in 2014 and returning on the May Bank Holiday in 2015, the two-parter went back to its traditional Easter slot in 2016. By this time, Sophie Little had become the regular clue-hunter, and I was able to put her through her paces with cycling, archery, an assault course and artificial caving… but the real reason this one makes the list is because of the overnight clue, which I think remains the best one I’ve done yet.

We’d had a clue printed in the Eastern Daily Press back in 2009, and for 2016 I had the idea that we could step this up a little. During the 2017 two-parter Graham Barnard made the extremely flattering comparison that I felt about the Easter specials in the same way that Morecambe and Wise felt about their Christmas shows – worried that they might not live up to the public’s expectations, and always wanting to make them as special as possible.

It’s utterly ludicrous to even mention me in the same sentence as them, of course, but he was right in that I do always try to make them different and special and have some stand-out moments. Particularly when it comes to the overnight clues. I really want to challenge people, to make them think and most of all to try and do something clever.

I like to think that I achieved all of those things with the 2016 overnight clue. Rather than just one newspaper, I managed to get four different editors to kindly agree to print a line each, from the four corners of the county – the North Norfolk News, the Yarmouth Mecury, the Lynn News and the Diss Express. As it was very unlikely any one listener would be able to get their hands on copies of all four of these papers, solving the clue would rely more than ever on listener teamwork, and would genuinely require listeners from all across the county to work together.

It worked brilliantly – a difficult clue that the listeners were nonetheless able to work through and solve without being given any extra help. In the end they didn’t finally crack all of it until early on the Monday morning, after a huge amount of discussion, debate and analysis on the show’s Facebook page. David and Sophie seemed suitably impressed when the solution was explained to them, and this was probably the two-parter after which I received the most kind comments from the listeners. The only problem has been trying to better that in the years since!

Clue hunter: Sophie Little / David Clayton            Studio presenter: David Clayton / Sophie Little
Three years on from Becky’s departure, now it was time to wave farewell to another member of the team.

When it comes to special quests such as two-parters and departure episodes, in recent years I don’t think I’ve been as good at doing them as I might have done. I think I’ve become over-confident – thinking I can squeeze more into the shows than is really possible, and not allowing enough room for error. This was why the tenth anniversary two-parter at Easter this year was such a disaster, and why I was so annoyed with myself for it. I knew, rationally, from all my years of experience doing the show that it wouldn’t all fit in, but I convinced myself we could get away with it. It was as if I’d learned nothing in all those ten years.

Or perhaps I’d just been influenced by how lucky we’d been before – particularly with this episode. Ten clues in a standard three-hour show, all at places which meant something to David’s life and career; a presenter swap-over in the middle as Sophie took over in the studio and David went out in the car, and a gathering of all the regular clue-hunters from down the years to present David with the treasure at the end.

And it worked. Not only did it work, but it ended up being timed pretty much to perfection, as David reached the classic car full of clue-hunters with seconds to spare. Indeed, the only thing which really went wrong was me forgetting to give Sophie the treasure to take outside with her when she joined the others – I had to send phone answerer Anna Morton running down with it, and thanks to her fleet-footedness it didn’t come across on-air, and you only really notice when you see the video.

I think we did David proud. I hadn’t realised how tense I was about the whole thing until I collapsed into my chair afterwards during Extra Time, which itself became a bit of a party atmosphere, a gathering of friends, family and colleagues paying tribute to David.

Clue hunter: Anna Morton          Studio presenter: David Whiteley
One of the nice things we’ve always been able to do on Treasure Quest down the years is not just make the phone answerers part of the on-air team and part of the family of the show, but bring them through to hopefully help develop their careers, or just give them something fun to do, by standing in either for me or the clue-hunter or maybe even the studio presenter.

It’s always great when one of them gets the chance to go out there and hunt the clues for the first time, and in December 2016, after she’d been with us on the show for about 18 months, Anna Morton finally got the chance to go out clue-hunting.

She was a natural, and very funny, and as it was the last quest before Christmas I made sure it had a nice festive end with us all together back at the studio! I had been keen to have a show on the Christmas Day, and had started to come up with vague, distant ideas of how we could do it, but nobody else was keen so this became our final live quest of the year.

I have always tried to give the last quest before Christmas a suitably seasonal feel, but the end of this one was probably the furthest I had ever gone with that to this point, with some Christmassy tasks and presents for the team. This I suppose leads to the only sour note about this particular show, as it went so well that it encouraged me to go all-out the following year, when Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday. I fell once again into the trap of trying to stuff too much into it, and although I had set up a lot of nice things I didn’t studio produce the programme particularly well, and in the end got so angry about it collapsing around my ears that at one point when I was giving the cupboard under the printer a good kicking, Anna Perrott who was assisting me that day had to very sternly tell me to calm down and get a hold of myself.

Clue hunter: Sophie Little             Studio presenter: David Whiteley
The Sunday prior to that Christmas Eve disaster in 2017 saw us mark our 500th quest, a show which went rather better, although sadly it didn’t end quite how I had hoped as they didn’t make it to the treasure in time.

This show too had almost fallen into disaster when it turned out that despite my having sent everything out early to try and avoid any complications with the Christmas post, the treasure and one of the clues hadn’t arrived in time. Mercifully the treasure was with Anna’s husband Will, who kindly came to pick up a replacement from me on the Sunday morning, but the other one which had gone awry was a complicated clue involving an audio recording hidden in a Proclaimers CD case.

I discovered these things while I was on a train back to Norwich on the Saturday morning, travelling back up from seeing my parents down in Sussex and taking them their Christmas presents. Which was why, rather than taking the Circle Line straight round from Victoria to Liverpool Street to get back up to Norwich, I found myself taking a detour to Oxford Street to head to HMV on what must surely have been one of the busiest shopping days of the year to try and find a replacement Proclaimer CD. “The things I do for this bloody programme…” was a thought I expressed to myself more than once as I squeezed my way through the crowds.

Nonetheless, I got it all done, got back up to Norwich, went to the BBC instead of home, prepared a replacement audio clue and then got a taxi to courier it up to the clue-holders. It was a pain in the pocket as much as anything else, but it was more than worth doing as that moment ended up working brilliantly the following day.

But it wasn’t just that. It was a nice show overall, with interesting places and some fans holding the clues and a few surprises along the way. Yes, a win would have made it perfect, but this probably ended up being a better anniversary special than the actual tenth anniversary special a few months later did.

Clue hunter: Anna Perrott            Studio presenter: David Whiteley
There’s an old theatrical saying that you’re only as good as your last show. If that applies to radio as well, then as I write this I’d be very happy to be judged by last Sunday’s Treasure Quest.

I have to confess that I hadn’t been having a particularly enjoyable time producing the programme of late. At the heart of it all were technical troubles with the radio car, which had made many of our recent programmes incredibly difficult. Added to the disaster of the Easter special two-parter, which in addition to all the radio car problems I’d simply abandoned my instincts and tried to stuff too much into, and the whole experience of the show had become rather joyless for me. I was still doing a decent job of work, I think, and getting the programmes made, but I wasn’t having fun anymore. It was getting to the point where having previously always looked forward to 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning I was now almost dreading it, and I was going home feeling pretty miserable afterwards.

It was partly the feeling that I was spending all the same time and effort setting up locations and writing clues for shows which just weren’t coming across well, because of the aforementioned technical troubles. I had even seriously begun to wonder about whether I actually wanted to work on the programme any more – perhaps I was simply burned-out with it, and it would be better for someone fresher with new ideas to take over.

Last Sunday, however, the clouds cleared – both figuratively and literally, through the course of the morning. The radio car, for the first time in a long time, behaved perfectly. It was a bright, happy show with interesting locations, decent clues, good people to talk to at each place, and the odd task or challenge for the clue-hunter to undertake along the way. It was even a close, exciting finish, too – it would have been better had it been a win, of course, especially as they rather snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but I have often said in the past that it doesn’t matter if it’s a minute’s win or a minute’s loss, as long as it’s close, as this was.

David and Anna were great, and the whole thing zipped along happily. For the first time in ages, it was a show I was proud of. So yes, I think I’d be happy for us to be judged by the standards of this most recent programme, as I write this – I only hope I haven’t put a jinx on things for this weekend’s two-parter!