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The 50th Anniversary of BBC Radio Leicester is on 8th November 2017.

This unofficial blog aims to tell the story of Britain's first UK mainland local radio station, and to celebrate its achievements with the help of former staff, their families and our listeners.

Please register below if you would like to receive occasional email alerts and RSS news feeds. You will also be able to contribute posts and images.

Me and My Movie Part 2

Open Centre MemoriesPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, November 06, 2016 14:50:17
When all ten movies had been completed, we invited the children with their families to join us for a red-carpet premier screening. And we provided a real red carpet and a pink stretched limo!


The film-makers rose to the occasion magnificently with dress suits and party frocks.


It was their reward for many weeks of concentrated and focussed hard work, and an immense amount of creative energy.


..and they all loved the celebrity status, if only for one night (well, in fact an afternoon!).


Athough the BBC Open Centres were costly to operate and sometimes had difficulties in connecting with the general output of the radio stations, it is yet to be seen how much they contributed to the public's awareness of the BBC, and how many young people were reached and encouraged to further their talents and skills.



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When they were young(er)

PeoplePosted by Stephen Butt Sun, November 06, 2016 14:36:28
Many former Radio Leicester staff have moved on through the BBC to other roles for which they are now more generally recognised by the listening and viewing public.


Here are Charlotte Smith (now BBC1 Countryfile and Radio 4's Farming Programme) with Julian Worriker (Any Answers, You and Yours and BBC News presenter) in the BBC Radio Leicester newsroom in the 1980s.

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Me and My Movie

Open Centre MemoriesPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, November 06, 2016 14:23:07
In 2007, BBC Radio Leicester worked with CBBC, encouraging local yougsters to come into the BBC Leicester Open Centre to create films from scratch. Over the summer, more than one hundred children took part, all playing hands-on roles.


Here is my Creative Producer at that time, Keran Poonia, explaining how DV cameras worked. Keran took the lead role in this project, producing ten complete short films in ten weeks.


After the confines of Epic House, it was great to be able to welcome people to a really amazing building.


The children who took part, each spending a full day with us, were amazingly creative and great fun to work with. I once found a young boy lying on the floor covered in what looked like blood and bandages. It was, however, merely make-up for a horrror film, having raided our cafe for tomato sauce and our first aid box for bandages!


Some of the young directors explored beyond the studios for appropriate sets, using the surrounding buildings. This is the garden of Wygston's House, opposite 9 St Nicholas Place.



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The Founding Four

EphemeraPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, November 06, 2016 07:45:02
This early promotional leaflet from the first few months of the station's history, emphasised the 'founding four' - the four main voices and personalities who listeners would become familiar with - Ken Warburton, Michael Murray, Dave Challis and Roger Matthews.




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Leicester skyline at dawn

GalleryPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, November 06, 2016 07:32:24
This is the ever-changing view of Leicester's skyline looking south-east from Floor 9 of Epic House. A view that greeted everyone who ever worked on an early shift in the 37 years in which BBC Radio Leicester was located here.





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Roger Eames

PeoplePosted by Stephen Butt Sun, November 06, 2016 07:23:12
In fond memory of our former well-respected Programme Organiser and friend Roger Eames, who passed away in September 2016.


Below is a photograph of the Radio Leicester Big Band performing for Radio 2 at the Hippodrome, Golders Green in 1980, with Roger on bass in the front row.



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When the DG came to town

PeoplePosted by Stephen Butt Wed, November 02, 2016 15:01:04

9 St Nicholas Place is a very colourful and flexible space for broadcasting. Here, on 23rd March 2007, is former BBC Director-General Mark Thompson live on the air and discussing community radio with students from De Montfort University and volunteers from community radio stations in Leicestershire.

It was the first -and last - time I held a microphone in front of a DG!

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Frank Gillard

PeoplePosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 18:04:12
Frank Gillard, pictured below on BBC Radio Leicester's opening day, was the father of BBC Local Radio, but Radio Leicester and the other seven centres which were in the first wave of stations, came at the end of a long and distinguished career.

In 1936, only ten years after the BBC had been created as a Corporation, Frank Gillard became a part-time broadcaster and in 1941 joined the BBC full-time. He became a war correspondent attached to Southern Command and witnessed the Dieppe Raid. In 1942 he went to North Africa to report on the campaign of the Eighth Army under Montgomery. He then reported on the Sicilian and Italian campaigns before returning to the UK ready for the D-day landings. He made many memorable reports, often under fire, throughout this period, including eyewitness accounts of the Battle for Caen.

From 1945 to 1963 Gillard worked in the BBC's western region, becoming its director in 1955. In 1964 he was made Director of Radio with a seat on the BBC's Board of Management. He saw the need to fill the gap left by the demise of pirate radio for 'pop' music. To do this he reorganised the BBC's radio into four stations, Radios 1, 2, 3 & 4. In 1967 he also created the first local radio stations.

He was awarded an OBE in 1946 and a CBE in 1961. Frank retired in 1969 when the Local Radio Experiment had been deemed a success.



A PERSONAL NOTE

In the autumn of 1997, Frank visited Radio Leicester to celebrate the station's thirtieth anniversary. At the time I was Acting News Editor, and feeling very ill-prepared and unqualified for the role. Frank had taken part in the Breakfast Show and came upstairs to the Newsroom just after 9.00am. I was at the News Editor's desk, sorting out the paperwork for the day. At that moment, the phone rang to say that a school bus had crashed on the M1.

Frank, who had been in 'retirement' for nearly thirty years, overheard my conversation and came over to talk. 'So your early morning team has gone to breakfast ... and your day shift isn't due in until later ... but you have a duty to tell worried parents that their children are alright ... You need to get your radio car out... but who's qualified to drive it?'

Frank knew and understood about news priorities, duties and management. He was right there and on the case.

Thankfully, the bus crash was just a bump and no-one was injured, but it reminded me in a very real way that in news and journalism there is no downtime.

The style of BBC Local Radio today is perhaps not quite how Frank Gillard envisaged it. He saw the service more as local extensions to Radio 4; but he understood that his staff in local radio were short on resources and had a strong sense of their role to impart accurate and objective news, and their 'closeness' to their audiences.

Stephen Butt



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Birthday Celebrations

PeoplePosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 17:23:03
Following the launch, the next big milestone (apart from the challenges of covering the floods in Leicester in 1968) was to be the decision from London as to whether the two year 'Local Radio Experiment' had been deemed a success.


The reaction of the staff to the news in 1969 that BBC Local Radio was here to stay was one of celebration, as this photograph, taken in the corridor of Floor 8 of Epic House clearly shows! They knew how to party!

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Free Radio Protesters

BackgroundPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 17:09:39
The opening of BBC Radio Leicester was noticed by many folk in Leicester thanks to the publiciity campaign which the BBC had been running over the previous three months. One group who paid much attention to the event was the Free Radio Campaign.

As the staff calmed their nerves and checked that all was ready for the opening programme, and as the special civic, political and BBC guests arrived, the campaigners staged a protest in Lower Lee Street, outside the entrnce to Epic House.


The protest was prompted by the Marine Offences Bill which became law on 14th August 1967, less than three month's before the launch of Radio Leicester. The Bill saw the end of most of the pirate radio stations.

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When the Daleks came to town

Open Centre MemoriesPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 17:02:01
The Radio Leicester Open Centre was a great but shortlived idea which became a victim of the BBC's financial cutbacks in 2007. However, in the two brief years of its life, the project brought much enjoyment, life and colour to the station, as this 'visit' by some of Dr Who's most familiar foes most certainly demonstrated.

Over 600 visitors came through the doors of 9 St Nicholas Place in just three days, many wanting to have their photograph taken next to a Dalek or Cyberman. The exhibition also featured on East Midlands Today.





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Long-lasting Herdle!

PeoplePosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 16:51:45
Jamaica-born Herdle White came to Leicester over forty years ago. He has since established himself as one of the city’s most respected broadcasters – presenting and producing programmes for BBC Radio Leicester and BBC West Midlands. The charismatic host has interviewed everyone from Bob Marley to Courtney Pine and has also spent time coordinating Leicester’s mighty Caribbean Carnival. He is the longest-serving presenter on BBC Radio Leicester.

The presenter’s passion for music stems from his childhood in Jamaica, where he was brought up alongside the rhythm of reggae. Herdle arrived in Leicester as a young man, in the late 60s, and began working for an engineering firm. After being introduced to BBC Radio Leicester through his wife, Herdle’s trademark cheer caught the attention of studio bosses. What started as something he crammed into his lunch-break began to grow considerably in length and profile. When Bob Marley and the Wailers were booked to play Leicester Polytechnic, in the early 70s, Herdle managed to secure an interview. Although for perplexing reasons their conversation never aired, it set the tone for a career of high-calibre interviewees.


Herdle’s connection with the local music and festival scene picked up speed in the late eighties, during his stint as coordinator for Leicester’s Caribbean Carnival. One of his favourite acts to feature was Tobago-born singer-songwriter Calypso Rose.

Herdle’s professional encounters with artists have often triggered friendships. His conversation with Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate, just after the singer went solo in the mid-eighties, was one such moment. He has since interviewed other major artists, including ska singer Jimmy Cliff, American songstress Candi Staton and reggae stars John Holt and Maxi Priest. One of Herdle’s aspirations is to interview Fats Domino and while holidaying in New Orleans, the presenter stopped off at his house, to try and clinch it. Unfortunately, his hero wasn’t home.

Herdle’s Friday evening slot on BBC Radio Leicester, The Sound of the Caribbean, covers a range of music including reggae, soca and soul. He also produces Sunday show Caribbean Connections, which focuses more on news and culture. Herdle’s once lunch break hobby has gradually developed into a high profile career of cultural significance.


(Text Acknowledgement - Spectrum, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund)





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Before 9 St Nicholas Place

BackgroundPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 13:49:03
In 1998, five years before the BBC took over the site of their planned new studios in St Nicholas Place, Malcolm Elliott of the Victorian Society (Leicester) recorded a short film for Leicester Cable Television.

Malcolm points out the mosaic tiles which were a notable feature of the frontage of the old building. These tiles were rescued and are preserved within the the BBC studios.





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An Epic Place

BackgroundPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 08:23:14

Epic House is a typical, if architecturally unimaginative, concrete and steel construction of the mid-1960s, standing at the northern end of Charles Street near to the centre of Leicester. It is a familiar landmark recognised by most Leicester inhabitants. The ten floor tower block stands about 120 feet above a two-storey retail store. It was built in 1965 and the local celebrity and national radio personality, the late Lady Isabel Barnett of the White House in Cossington, performed the opening ceremony. A plaque in the reception foyer above the lift entrances, now covered over by a later refurbishment, records that event.

The ground floor was originally occupied by a Safeway supermarket. Later the premises were used by a discount furniture retailer. The Wilkinson Stores group took over the shop premises in the 1990s and constructed a large extension on the former car park behind the tower on land bordering Clarence Street and Lower Lee Street.



The area where Epic House stands, between Belgrave Gate and Clarence Street, has been an ever-changing townscape since early Victorian times. Epic House was built on the site of the former Leicester (or Leicestershire) horse repository which was near to the old route into Leicester from Newark and Lincoln, Loughborough and Nottingham. Charles Street was constructed in 1932 as a bypass to remove traffic from the clock tower area of the city. Originally, traffic to and from the north would have passed this location en route to the Haymarket and the East Gate of the town near to where the Victorian clock tower now stands.

The original Repository - a building in the Victorian Gothic style - stood on a nearby site in Belgrave Gate close to the present junction of Charles Street, Belgrave Gate, Charles Street and Bedford Street. At one time, the junction where Belgrave Gate and Bedford Street meet, just a short distance from Lee Street and Hill Street, was the gateway into the Wharf Street area of the town. This was a network of small streets and courts where, in the Victorian era, thousands of people lived in poor conditions, in back-to-backs and in even more squalid tenements which could be reached only through dark alleys.

As a business, the history of the repository dates back to 1875. For twenty years before that, a paddock adjoining the ancient Bell Hotel on Humberstone Gate had been used for the same purpose, the buying, selling and stabling of horses. The building in Charles Street replaced this earlier repository when the new route avoiding the clock tower and Gallowtree Gate was created. It was completed in 1930 and opened formally on the first day of the famous Leicester Pageant. The newer repository was designed by the Leicester architect Clement Copeland Ogden, whose practice was located in Friar Lane. Its purpose may have broadened over the years, and one can imagine that at some time, the incoming stage and mail coaches would have changed their horses here. In a similar way to a modern services area, various ancillary businesses would have clustered around the repository including a public house which also offered overnight accommodation. This hostelry was originally called The Horse Breaker's Arms but later become The Repository Hotel.

In earlier times, Joseph Merrick, the 'Elephant Man' worked here as a boy of about twelve, hand-rolling cigars for a tobacconist in Hill Street, until his affliction meant he could no longer undertake the task with the required degree of accuracy and neatness. Merrick was born in the next street, Lee Street. The tobacconist's shop faced Hill Street which is now the pedestrianised Lower Hill Street and was located approximately where the reception entrance for Epic House now stands. Although the repository at that date was in Belgrave Gate, no doubt the tobacconist drew much of his trade from the men who stabled their horses there. The final owners and operators of the repository were Warner, Shepherd and Wade who were well-known auctioneers in Leicester until recent times, the original site having been purchased by George Tempest Wade in 1875. The later repository was finally demolished in March 1962.

In the summer and autumn of 2001 before the extension to the ground floor retail store was built, a detailed archaeological survey of the car park next to Clarence Street and behind the tower was carried out. The site lies to the east of the Roman town defences in an area previously identified with Roman cemeteries. The excavations revealed the most easterly remains of a Roman cemetery. Sixty two inhumations were discovered. A number of earlier Roman features were also excavated which included some substantial domestic and industrial pits. A later monitoring and recording exercise revealed a further 33 Roman inhumations and one earlier pit. All the burials were on a west-east orientation and the bodies had been laid in their resting place on their backs. They were lacking grave goods and a number were in nailed timber coffins.

Since BBC Radio Leicester's move to 9 St Nicholas Place in June 2005, most floors of Epic House have been unoccupied. Planning permission was granted for the conversion of part of the building to apartments, but the work has been somewhat sporadic.



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9 St Nicholas Place

BackgroundPosted by Stephen Butt Sun, October 02, 2016 07:33:25
After thirty-three years at Epic House in Charles Street, BBC Radio Leicester and the BBC Asian Network moved to purpose-built studios at 9 St Nicholas Place near to the historic heart of the old town, close to the Cathedral, Guildhall and the site of the medieval High Cross.



The road junction of Guildhall Lane and St Nicholas Place is very close to the track of the Roman Fosse Way on its route through Leicester. No doubt, it was here that the latest news from the south would be heard from merchants and military travellers. In later times, the Town Crier accompanied by the town's leaders would gather on this corner to proclaim important news such as the death of a monarch, rumours of wars and new taxes. So this is a very appropriate location for a BBC local radio station.



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Did it all begin here?

GalleryPosted by Stephen Sat, October 01, 2016 14:20:33

This is the former City Morgue in Leicester. Very few pictures of this building remain. As can be seen from the background, it was located on Freeman's Common. The clocktower marks the settling rooms for the cattle awaiting the auctions in Leicester's cattle market, and the livestock pens can be seen on the left. On the horizon are the chimneys and cooling towers of the Leicester Power Station. The King Power Stadium now stands on that site.


Before Radio Leicester opened, the BBC used the Morgue as a studio connected to its regional headquarters in Birmingham, and it is from here that final-score match reports for Leicester City and Leicester Tigers were filed. When Radio Leicester went on air, the building became its Education Studio. However, in the months leading up to the station's opening, local elections led to a change of political power in Leicester. The new council did not adopt its predecessor's support for BBC local radio including partial funding from local rates. It is said that Roland Orton, owner of the Leicester News Service and a frequent user of the Morgue (as a reporter! organised an evening 'summit meeting' in the building and managed to persuade the new leadership to change its mind.

The Morgue was linked to the main studios at Epic House by a GPO line. To economise on cost, the line could be switched away from the Morgue to the Welford Road rugby ground commentary box, using phantom power. This was commonly referred to as the 'morgue phantom'. The studio mixing desk was a rebuilt 'mobile' desk which could operate in stereo and used low level mixing (so each time you adjusted one fader, you needed to compensate by adjusting all the others at the same time!) After the BBC finally left the morgue, the desk was passed to the University of Lincoln for use in radio training courses.

The morgue was surrounded by a grass verge which was kept trimmed by a local couple using one of Radio Leicester's more unusual assets, a motorised BBC lawnmower. The morgue was demolished in the late 1980s to make way for access roads to the newly-constructed Freeman's Common shopping area.

One of the rare live programmes from the Morgue (if that is not an oxymoron) was with the late Sir Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister, in March 1981. For 'reasons of security' he chose not to visit Epic House.





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