Friday, January 06, 2012

Bob before Blockbusters

It's not surprising that social media chatter about the death of TV and radio veteran Bob Holness has focused on the popularity of children's quiz show Blockbusters. But as the much-loved host positions himself on the hotspot for perhaps the ultimate in gold runs, it's worth remembering that he had a career before he started playing alphabetti spaghetti.

For me, Bob is forever associated with my childhood growing up in London. As a precocious ten or eleven-year-old, I was addicted to the major commercial radio stations, Capital and LBC. My sex education came from Anna Raeburn and the Capital Doctor on 194 metres medium wave and was supplemented by Philip Hodson on LBC, who hosted a show on 'sexual, marital and emotional problems'. Politics was debated on air during endless phone-in shows, the most famous of which was hosted by the irascible Australian Brian Hayes. The guy was a legend back in the late 70s and took absolutely no prisoners. Unlike current shock jocks who like to wind people up and enter into ding-dong shouting matches, Hayes would just cut callers dead in mid sentence and move to the next line. You called 01 353 8111 at your peril.

Bob Holness started out as an eye-in-the-sky traffic reporter, but soon ended up hosting the AM show with Douglas Cameron, a veteran of BBC Radio 4. They were a great double act and created the kind of show that you just struggle to find anywhere now. Something which gave you serious news, but with a real sense of pace and a complete lack of pretention. There is actually a halfway house between Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live.

Perhaps more than anything, I remember the jingles and commercials.

'On 261 metres medium wave and 97.3 VHF in stereo, this is LBC. Where news comes first.' News, in fact, didn't come first. Because before the news at the top of the hour, there was always the 'early morning call' from Harrods. Other memorable advertisers included the futuristic sounding double-glazing company, Interseal 2000, and Goldrange, who sold clothes from 'the big red building in Petticoat Lane'.

God knows how many radio commercials I heard during my childhood, but I remember getting a job in an ad agency in 1994 and being told in my first week that I had to go to a studio and help produce a radio ad for the retailer Debenhams. I'd never written or produced a radio ad at that point, but I knew EXACTLY what one should sound like. All those years tuned in under the covers had finally paid off.

On Twitter today, a local journalist was making an appeal for anyone in his area who'd been on Blockbusters to get in touch. 'Local man recalls gold run rush,' I joked. 'That's exactly the story I want,' the newshound replied.

Well, there's a story that goes back a little bit further. So if you're interested, here's Bob's partner, Douglas Cameron, recalling their years together on LBC.

I'll have an R and an I and a P please, Bob.

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