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
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.