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!

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Ten years of Treasure Quest


The Weekend supplements of the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich’s Evening News have kindly published another feature piece of mine today, and it’s on a subject very close to my heart – the Sunday morning Treasure Quest programme which I have been producing on BBC Radio Norfolk for (nearly) ten years now, which seems scarcely believable.

Treasure Quest and my career at the BBC very much go hand-in-hand. I was still ten days away from becoming a full-time employee of the organisation when the show’s pilot was broadcast on Good Friday in 2008. I knew I was going to be joining full-time, and had done since early in the month when I’d been offered the job, but at that point I was still in the dying days of working for the county council for a living, while going in to the BBC when I could at weekends and to cover other shifts, and as an action desk volunteer.

I didn’t work on the Treasure Quest pilot, but I was there on that day. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of us doing the idea, but I do remember how I heard of it. I have a very clear memory of checking the Radio Norfolk rotas – it must have been sometime earlier that month – and seeing the name of the programme, and that it was Becky and David doing it, on there for Good Friday. It’s some demonstration of the strength of it I suppose that I remember even just seeing the name there knowing pretty much what the format would be, and I did think it sounded interesting.

On that first Good Friday show, I was working on two of the programmes later in the day, a Bank Holiday special with local concert promoter Chris Bailey and the drive time programme with Jack Dearlove. At the time I arrived, sometime between 1 and 2pm, Treasure Quest ought to have finished and they were due to be running a national documentary about ‘quiet gardens’, but they’d overrun and decided to drop the pre-recorded programme. One of the things you can do when you’re both presenter and editor, as David was, I suppose!

The BBC Radio Norfolk Good Friday schedule in 2008, from that week's internal station email newslettter
My main memory is of getting there and registering just how bowled over Amy Barratt and Sophie Price, who were running the show in the ops room, seemed to be by the number of calls they were getting. It felt a little like a bomb had hit the place. There used to be a very kind local baker who would bring huge polythene bags of hot cross buns to the station on Good Friday, and I remember one of those sitting ignored on one of the chairs in the ops room, still full of buns, discarded in the frantic activity of the show. I remember being both jealous that I hadn’t been involved in what had clearly been such a success, and also rather glad that I’d been spared having to deal with that avalanche of phone calls!

The first Treasure Quest I worked on was the second one-off we did, on the early May Bank Holiday. I didn’t set it up – that was done by Nanette Aldous – but I did studio produce it on the day. That episode is now one of only two which is lost to history. I’m the only person on the show’s regular team whose first episode doesn’t exist, which is a bit of a shame but there we go!

I don’t know when I found out, and my diary from the time does not record, exactly when I discovered that Treasure Quest would be running as a regular show on Sunday mornings in place of The Norfolk Years. I do remember being disappointed about it, however. I’d been working on The Norfolk Years since November, and after only a few weeks David had handed over to me the job of doing all the research for it – finding quirky stories in old editions of the Evening News and sorting out the chart music for the weeks in history we were looking at.

The Norfolk Years was the first show I ever really felt I was properly ‘producing’, not just answering the phones, making the tea and seeing any guests up and down to and from the studio. I remember feeling annoyed that I’d be losing all of that. How little I knew of what was coming!

It was never really intended, I think, that I would end up fully producing Treasure Quest. As I was working on the slot anyway I’d be the studio producer, but our assistant editor Martyn Weston – the man who’d bought the show to the station – had very much given the impression we’d do the set-up together, and he’d assured me that “I don’t expect you to write the clues.” He had a chap called Mike Boswell in mind to do that, but that never happened.

Pretty much from the get-go, I ended up doing it all – setting up the shows, writing the clues and producing the whole thing. We started the regular run at the end of May for what was meant to be a 12-week run over the summer and then The Norfolk Years would return in the autumn. But ten years on and 500-plus episodes later, we’re still going.

An excerpt from the internal email newsletter from the week Treasure Quest became a regular part of the BBC Radio Norfolk schedule, at the end of May 2008
I love Treasure Quest, for many reasons. It’s been very good for me and my career – made me into a proper producer, and all those years working closely with the station’s editor got me the opportunity to do so many things. I’d never have started making documentaries if it hadn’t been for TQ – indeed, my first ever documentary was about the show, so there’s a nice sense of completeness that I’ve now made another for the 10th anniversary. I’ve written a book, overseen various other tie-ins in aid of Children in Need, produced stage shows; so many things all because of this programme.

It’s also a show that has, in its own tiny way, allowed me to experience and be a part of so many of those things that have always fascinated me about broadcasting history. It’s a show that people actually notice and pay attention to, you never feel you’re broadcasting to nobody for no reason, there’s always a reaction. We’ve had spin-offs and merchandise and articles and reviews written about us… Little bits and pieces, few and far between, but a taste of being a ‘proper’ programme. It’s been a hugely important pillar of both my professional and personal lives, and I have been very fortunate indeed to have been involved in it.

But what have I personally brought to it? How is it in any way different to how it might be if somebody else were producing it?

In many ways, it isn’t. The format is so strong that I think it’s pretty much ‘producer proof’, if the producer has any nous to them at all. I didn’t invent the show. I didn’t bring it to BBC Radio Norfolk. I didn’t put myself forward to work on it, I simply inherited the job because I was the person already working on the slot. With one notable exception I’ve never really had any say over the ‘casting’ of the regulars. So what have I done?

If I’ve had any influence at all on the show, I like to think it’s in giving it a sense of itself and its history. In the 10th anniversary documentary going out on Good Friday, many of those involved talk about the sense of family there is about the programme, both listeners and those who work on it, and I like to think I have contributed to that. Making the phone answerers part of the whole thing rather than anonymous and behind-the-scenes. Making a fuss of people when they leave. Making sure we mark anniversaries and special events.

Some of the Treasure Quest merchandise from down the years!
I read a piece of guidance once which said that you shouldn’t refer to the people on the other side of the glass when working on a radio show, as nobody at home is interested. I thought that was wrong then and I still do. I can only go by my own instincts, of course, but I know I always used to love the feeling that the people working on a programme were all one big family. Getting little insights into them and their lives and how they interact.

As a good Doctor Who fan I have been brought up on production history and anniversaries and episode counts. So of course if I had a sniff of actually being involved in something myself where I could chart that history, I was going to grab it. But it’s something more comparable shows like Blue Peter and even something like Pointless have done down the years, too –  giving a sense of their own history, celebrating it when appropriate without being hung-up on it. You can dip into these things casually or enjoy them as one-off episodes, but they also offer that warmth of knowing and demonstrating that they’re not simply isolated chunks, they are part of something bigger and they don’t ignore that past.

Whether that’s made any difference to Treasure Quest I can’t say. But I like to think it all helps to make it a warmer and even a bigger-feeling show. Who knows, though – I have no doubt that if I weren’t here, if I had never come to Norfolk and never ended up working for the BBC, someone else would be doing the job and may well be doing it better.

I don’t know when Treasure Quest will one day come to an end, or when I will stop working on it. It’s useless for me to make predictions as I was expecting its demise years ago! It’s one of the reasons why I’ve made the documentaries and the book and so forth… So there are reminders, little traces of its existence, what we did and the impact that we had.

I remember once reading a piece by Russell T Davies, the man who brought Doctor Who back, where he wrote about he and the first producer of the revived version, Phil Collinson, knowing how much they were enjoying working on the show and despairing of how they might one day have to go back to making ‘normal’ dramas about ‘two people talking in a kitchen.’ It’s something I think about, sometimes – one day this will all be over and there will only be ‘normal’ radio left to produce, or of course no such good fortune to have such an interesting job at all. So I do my best enjoy it while it’s here, and try to make the most of it, which I think on the whole I have done.

It can have its frustrations. I can try to be too much of a perfectionist with it at times, and I can get incredibly stressed and annoyed if a moment I have worked hard on doesn’t go as planned. In many ways, it’s a ludicrously ill-matched format to my temperament – I like to try and work and work at things to get them right, like the documentaries, and this is all the chaos and unpredictability of live broadcasting instead. I like to go away and work on things on my own, whereas this is all about the team.

But yes, this has been a positive thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Treasure Quest has made me a better person, but it’s certainly made me a better producer. So thank you, to anyone who may be reading this who has worked on the show down the years, or contributed to it, or simply listened to it. I know I will always look back on these Sunday mornings incredibly fondly, and I hope there are a fair few of them to go yet.

The Treasure Quest team at the end of our annual Children in Need stage show at the Norwich Playhouse last year

Monday, 28 August 2017

August publications

But whether or not they're august ones isn't for me to say, of course...


It's been a while, I know, but this month has seen a little flurry of activity on the writing front. Last month I received an e-mail from Marcus Hearn at Doctor Who Magazine asking if I would write a piece for another of their special editions. This one, titled "Referencing the Doctor", was to tell the story of some of the many reference works that have been published down the years about the production history of what is surely one of, if not the, most chronicled television series in history.

I was very pleased and flattered that Marcus wanted me to write a piece about one of DWM's own series, the Archives by Andrew Pixley, which ran from 1991 until 2003. Andrew is one of the most well-liked and highly-respected researchers and writers working in the field of British television history, and it was a great honour and a privilege to be asked to write a piece about his work. He's also personally been very helpful to me on various projects down the years. The magazine came out earlier this month, and will still be on the shelves of WH Smith's and all good newsagents - I think I did a good job! Andrew was pleased, anyway, which was very gratifying.


Then today saw the culmination of a project I've been working on for some time. In January, I was pondering what I might do next for another documentary project at work when it occurred to me that this year would mark BBC Local Radio's 50th anniversary. It's not a Radio Norfolk anniversary, as we didn't come along until 1980, so I was trying to think what I could come up with tied-in with that when I remembered that one of the unbroadcast local radio pilots had taken place in Norwich in the early 1960s.

Originally, I thought it would be mostly about the pilot, with a little bit of background on the existing East Anglian VHF service from Norwich which had started in the 1950s. In the end, it turned out to be pretty much the other way around, and indeed functions as something of a "part one" to the "part two" of Radio in a Roundabout Way, the documentary I made back in 2012 telling the story of the 1970s VHF opts from Norwich.

The finished documentary, The Network That Never Was, was transmitted today, and even if I do say so myself I think I did a pretty good job on it. It's nice to have been able to tell the full story of the East Anglian radio services now, up to the point where Radio Norfolk started. Nearly two hours, across two programmes, on the history of BBC radio from Norwich, and it only goes up to the point when Radio Norfolk began! It feels a bit like that gag George Harrison made after seeing an early cut of The Beatles Anthology  - "it's two hours long and Pete Best hasn't joined the band yet..."

The Network That Never Was was terrific fun and hugely interesting to put together, involving all sorts of interviews and another trip to the wonderful BBC Written Archives Centre. I'm extremely pleased with how it turned out, and this is relevant to writing because on Saturday the Eastern Daily Press once again kindly printed a feature article I'd written to preview the programme, in their weekend supplement.


Then yesterday my colleagues at BBC News Online put up a piece I'd written, kindly licked into shape by Phil Shepka from their team. This is the fourth time I've had a sole or shared byline on News Online, all tied-in with programmes or features I've made for the radio, and the first time I've really felt I actually deserved it. That's not meant as a criticism - News Online have a definite set style their pieces have to fit into, so it's understandable they often need to change copy I provde them with, but it's nice to know I must be getting better at it, as Phil didn't have to change too much this time around!


I should also mention that the radio history expert Andy Walmsley very kindly wrote his own excellent piece on the background to The Network That Never Was, as a preview to the documentary.

So, a fairly productive month. I've also had half an idea sparked off for a piece of fiction... Five years ago, a local author read my blog on Radio in a Roundabout Way and suggested I write a story set in that radio world, as I had done the research and was clearly inspired by it. I didn't think it was a particularly good idea, but this time... I don't know, I have half an idea of a narrative set around the East Anglian VHF service's coverage of Norwich City's 1959 FA Cup run... But it's just an idea. The time to do it would be now, while the research is fresh in my mind, but does it work...?

Maybe I'll have a play with it and see. The 60th anniversary of that run is coming up in 2019, when everyone and their brother will be doing things connected to it...

I'll let you know! As for when I do that... No idea!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Reaction Stations

This year got off to a good start for me in January, when during an e-mail conversation with the editor of the Doctor Who Magazine special editions, Marcus Hearn, he casually mentioned that perhaps I could write something for one of the specials at some point.

This resulted in me doing quite a few bits and pieces for Marcus for various of the special editions across the year, and now in December there's another one out.


The end-of-year "yearbook" specials usually focus on the making of the series. But as there wasn't a full series of Doctor Who this year, this year's edition covers all manner of spin-off media and fan activities.

I am particularly pleased with the article I've contributed, about reaction videos - videos people post online of themselves reacting to watching episodes of Doctor Who. It sounds an odd idea if you've never watched one before, but they can be very interesting, and many of them are quite charming. I'd watched quite a few on and off since around the time of the 50th anniversary in 2013, and was pleased to be able to speak to several of those whose videos I've enjoyed for the piece. I was very fortunate that so many of these bright young things from across the world were happy to talk to a random stranger who messaged them online about wanting to write an article about what they do!

I'm pleased with the article both because I think it's a good piece, and also because it's very much about the newer part of fandom. I am a crusty old Doctor Who fan and not one of the modern tumblr generation, but I was pleased I was able to write - hopefully well, or at least informatively - about one of the newer aspects of appreciating the show.


Oh, and I was also pleased with it because I came up with the title, and I think it's always a good sign when the editor likes a title you've suggested so much that they keep it!

The Doctor Who Magazine 2017 Yearbook should be available at your local WH Smith's and all other good newsagents for the next couple of months or so.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Under review


The big exclusive for the New Statesman magazine this week was their interview revealing the supposed "return" of Tony Blair - whatever the hell that may or may not end up meaning.

But it turns out that buried deep inside was a piece rather more surprising - and flattering - to me.

On Friday afternoon, on a whim I did one of the searches I do on Twitter from time-to-time for "Radio Norfolk", just to see what people are saying about us and our programmes. It rarely produces anything much of interest, but this time I came across a link to the online version of a piece in this week's edition of New Statesmen - "A Luchtime in the Life of Radio Norfolk".

On the contents page, the sub editor makes it sound a lot worse than it is!
New Statesman is a magazine that I'd certainly heard of, and know has a good and serious reputation, but had never actually had cause to ever pick up a copy of myself, nor seen anybody else ever reading. Nonetheless, their imposing nature made it seem unlikely they'd reviewed one of our programmes. However, not only had they, but it turned out that rather bizarrely their radio reviewer Antonia Quirke had written a piece all about my own little weekly programme - Treasure Quest: Extra Time. Specifically, the edition from last Sunday, the 20th of November.

It seems an odd choice to review, being a spin-off from a much better-known and more listened-to programme. It's also rather embarrassing for the station, as you'd hope if a major national magazine were going to cast its eye over one of our shows, it'd be one of the really good ones. Certainly if I could have chosen, I'd rather she'd have done one of our "big" editions of Treasure Quest itself, or one of my documentaries.

I had to initially look at the things through the cracks in my fingers, but actually I did all right. Her description of me as "usually equable" suggests she's a regular listener, so I think she went fairly easy on me. The review seems to be laughing with rather than at the programme, anyway, and refreshingly despite being a review of a Radio Norfolk show, there is not a single mention of Alan Partridge! (And I wasn't once described as "moribund...")


Overall it's a flattering piece, and certainly enjoyed her description of me / the show as "...part-smiling, part-peevish." Slightly odd to see myself referred to as "Hayes", like some sort of Billy Bunter-ish schoolboy, but they say that all publicity is good publicity, and it could have been a lot worse!

Actually, this isn't the first time my radio work has been reviewed in a national publication, nor is it the unlikeliest one in which such a review has appeared. The journalist Louis Barfe used to live in our broadcast area, and writes a radio review column for The Lady magazine. In 2012 he reviewed both an edition of Treasure Quest (mentioning that the clues "...would have been rejected as too cryptic by the producers of 3-2-1") and my documentary Radio in a Roundabout Way (kindly calling it "a fascinating programme made with care, as I'd expect from BBC Radio Norfolk"). He's also, I discover when looking back for these pieces, been kind enough to mention Treasure Quest a few times since even though he's moved away!

Closer to home, the Eastern Daily Press's radio reviewer Stuart Lake did a nice piece about Treasure Quest in 2009, calling it "a wonderful example of a local radio programme." He also did a preview of the 5 Live version of my Ayrton Senna documemtary in 2014, a programme which was also previewed, and made a "today's choice", by the Radio Times's radio editor Jane Anderson, which I found particularly thrilling having been a reader of the magazine for as long as I can remember. You feel like a proper producer when something you've made has had a write-up in the Radio Times!

Jane Anderson's Radio Times write-up of the 5 Live version of my Senna documentary, from 2014
In terms of my writing, I've had a few nice comments on the Alice Flack stories on Amazon, and back around the turn of the century I there was a glowing review by Julie Rogers for a short story I'd written in one of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's "Cosmic Masque" collections. However, as said review appeared in the society's own publication Celestial Toyroom, it probably wasn't the most independent piece in the world!

Julie Rogers' review from Celestial Toyroom of a short story of mine in Cosmic Masque 26
Overall, I've had very kind verdicts on things I've made down the years, this week's included. So I can't complain at all - I've been very fortunate! I just hope I continue to be as lucky as and when I eventually get a novel out there... But I'd be happy if it gets noticed by anybody at all, in any respect, if and when that happens!

Oh, and I did go out and buy a copy of New Statesman for the first time after learning I had been reviewed in it, of course! Thanks Antonia... I did play Forever Autumn in the end, though!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Programme Pieces

A couple of new bits of my writing have made it out into the world this month.

Last weekend we held our eighth annual Treasure Quest Live stage shows in aid of the BBC Children in Need Appeal, wherein the cast and crew of the Sunday morning show I produce on BBC Radio Norfolk take part in various games and features on stage at the Norwich Playhouse, all in aid of the charity. I produced the two performances, which raised over £4500. Of this total, £785 came from donations for a printed souvenir progamme I put together.


It wasn't the most spectacular souvenir in the world, but it did turn out much better than it could have done given that as well as writing the bulk of it, I also did the design myself and put it together in Microsoft Publisher. I'm no designer, so it didn't look amazing, but it was functional enough! Our boss, Peter, came up with the clever idea of not putting a set price on it, just letting people make whatever donation they wanted to the charity in return for a copy, and it worked really well, raising much more than I had ever hoped or expected.

Also out this month is the latest Doctor Who Magazine "bookazine" special, Invasions of Earth.

Just one piece from me in this particular one, the episode guide entry for The Christmas Invasion, a story I love a great deal so it was a pleasure to be asked to do the piece on it. Next month, DWM's end-of-year "yearbook" special is out, and fingers crossed I should have a lengthier feature piece in that, with which I am rather pleased... More on that as and when it appears!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Space Station Norfolk

A year or two ago, I was looking through the Sunday morning papers at work, ready to go on and do the paper review on Sunday Breakfast with Anthony Isaacs, when I noticed an article in one of the broadsheets which piqued my interest.

It was about the government’s plans to build a space base in the UK for commercial space flights, and part of the article mentioned that in the 1960s consideration had been given for building a rocket base in Norfolk. I was vaguely aware that Britain had once launched its own satellite into space, from Australia, but I had no idea that they’d considered launching from Britain, much less from in the county where I live and work.

I did a quick search online, and found an article written by ex-BBC East TV man Dean Arnett to tie-in with a television feature he made back in 2006, telling the story. I immediately thought this could be a good subject for a radio documentary, especially given that in radio we’d have more time and space (excuse the pun…) to explore the story than had perhaps been available to Dean. I discussed it with Anthony, who as assistant editor is also one of my bosses at the station, and he seemed keen, but it lay fallow for a while as I worked on other things.

Earlier this year I ended up talking about the idea with Anthony again, and he was still enthusiastic, giving me the go-ahead to start working on it properly. I began work in June – speaking to the writer Nicholas Hill, who Dean interviewed back in 2006, but also recording interviews at the Science Museum in London, and on the Isle of Wight where most of the British space programme of the 1960s was based. I also of course went to Brancaster, where the Norfolk rocket base might well have been built had history taken a different path.


As a little aside, there was an interesting moment when I was travelling to do some of the recordings on Friday the 24th of June – the day after the EU referendum. I was heading down to London early as I was recording my interview with Douglas Millard from the Science Museum at 9am, then making the journey down to the Isle of Wight to speak to the chief designer of Britain’s Black Arrow rockets, Ray Wheeler, that afternoon, then staying in Newport overnight before recording at the rocket’s engine testing base at High Down on the island the next morning.

The previous day the trains from Norwich to London had been seriously disrupted by flooding caused by heaving rain, so rather than risk missing my interview at the Science Museum I decided to cancel my plans to take the train and head down to London by coach instead, which meant I found myself in the salubrious environment of a MegaBus from Norwich Bus Station just before 5am.

For most of the way down I was listening to Today on Radio 4. At a quarter past eight, David Cameron stepped out of Downing Street to make his speech in reaction to the outcome of the referendum – telling the country that, as a result, he would be resigning as Prime Minister. As I listened to him speak, I could hear crowds cheering or jeering at the end of Downing Street, and as I looked out of the window of the coach I noticed a cheering and jeering crowd at the end of a street the coach was now crawling past.

My knowledge of London geography is minimal, but I was suddenly aware that we were in fact going past Downing Street just as Cameron was making his speech – so I can say, in a manner of speaking, that I was there at this particular moment of history. The coach was creeping forward so slowly in the traffic that I was even able to take a picture to mark the occasion.

If I were a better writer than I am, I'd like to pen a "state of the nation" novel telling the story of the man with the carrier bag; who he was, where he was going, and what he was up to...

Anyway, the recordings were all duly done, and I finished putting the programme together last week. I called the documentary Space Station Norfolk – not the best of titles perhaps, but I thought it riffed nicely on Ice Station Zebra! – and it will be broadcast this evening at six o’clock, available of course for 30 days afterwards via the BBC iPlayer, here.

It’s also results in another bit of writing for me. Twice before, for my Sherlock Holmes and Ayrton Senna documentaries for the station, I’d written tie-in features for the Weekend supplement of Norfolk’s main local paper, the Eastern Daily Press, to help promote them. A few weeks ago I decided to drop the editor of Weekend, Trevor Heaton, a line to see if he would be interested in having a piece about Space Station Norfolk as well, and he kindly agreed to take it.

I was pretty sure I’d done a decent job on a good story with the article, but I didn’t know until I saw the paper on Saturday that Trevor had once again made it the Weekend cover feature. This was particularly pleasing not simply because it got the piece more attention and saw it promoted on the front paper of the paper proper, but also because it meant I completed a hat-trick of EDP Weekend cover features, with the Holmes and Senna pieces also having made the cover. (Fortunately, only one of them required me to dress up in costume!)

My hat-trick of EDP Weekend magazine cover features from recent years!
The piece also appeared in Saturday's Evening News, the EDP's sister paper for Norwich, and there is a version you can read online on the EDP's website, here.

So there we are. I hope people like the documentary if they get the chance to hear it this evening. If you’re interested, there’s a preview clip available here, and a photo gallery you can browse here.