Obligatory Xmas Charity Single

Waaaaay back in the mid-90s I worked for B97, a commercial radio station in Bedford.  We were asked to support the local Anglia TV Kid’s Xmas charity, and so we did, with lots of on-air activity and THIS wee song, written and performed by Paul Garner (now a famous comedy writer) and me with some help from a lot of other lovely people.  We made cash for the kids, so it was a good thing.  Whether the single is a good thing or not I’ll leave up to you!

Written by Paul Garner & Neil Gardner

Performed by Paul Garner, Neil Gardner, Neil Bentley, Tim Page, B97 Crew, Yamaha Crew

Recorded at The Bunkers, Bedford

Thanks to B97/Chiltern Radio & all who helped make it possible.

Advertisements

Non-Stop Audiobooks

So…it has been a mad month. Why? Because, after pitching for work, I got my wish and ended up with an insane amount.

Audiobooks, audiobooks everywhere, and no time to edit to be seen!

It is one of those rare, but pleasing bits of nightmare when you get more work than you can healthily undertake.  You don’t want to complain, because you don’t know when it will happen again, but then you also need to sleep and take a break and when this much work comes along you tend to sleep very little!

Let me explain…I don’t have a 9-5 job, 5 days a week.  I own the two businesses I run, and like all small business-owners, tend to take on as much of the work as possible in order to save money and maximise profit. And, as a bit of a perfectionist who has built his reputation on his own quality of work, I find it hard to hand over jobs (especially audiobooks) to other people to do.

Over the past 4-6 weeks we’ve had the following audiobooks (and radio productions) happening:

  • 3x Doctor Who audios (5 and 6 CDs long each)
  • 3x Unabridged novels (8 and 10 and 12 CDs)
  • 1x five part BBC Radio 4 Extra series
  • 2x autobiography audios (both 8 CDs)
  • 1x 2 part World Service series
  • Oh…and the continuing adventures of the 4th Doctor in the Serpent Crest series!

So how did I manage to produce, edit, master and deliver all of these?  Partly it is due to working 7 days a week, from 7am to 10pm.  But it got to the point where things overlapped, producing was required when editing needed doing, and, worryingly, I ended up getting depressed and close to breakdown because with no downtime, the work became too much.

BUT HUZZAH! To the rescue came four wondrous people:

Paul Kent – Paul is just about the most proficient and experienced audiobook producer I have ever met and has taken on two of the titles for me when I needed to be elsewhere.  His first book is out now…a whole blog about that soon!

Richard Bannerman – Richard is my partner in crime in the radio biz and has taken over producing some BBC work for me…I wish I could do it, but time is against me!

Seb Juviler – Seb co-owns SNK Media/Studios in central London and is my co-conspirator on audiobooks.  He has made the studio side of things incredibly easy and stress-free.

Tanja Glittenberg – my beloved fiance who has [a] put up with my moods and stress and [b] learned the art of audio editing very fast and with incredible finesse and precision. She is an excellent first-pass editor and means we can take on this level of work without killing me or losing quality.  It also helps her build a new career, get paid and (ahem) help with the household bills 😉

So…it took me a while to ask for help, but when I did, I got it and in spades!  What a wonderful experience.  Now I just hope [a] you enjoy the audios and radio shows and [b] we keep getting the work

I’ll be back to tell you what the titles were as soon as I am allowed to share such secrets 🙂

You’re Only As Good As…

It’s been a crappy week so far.  First the death of the gorgeous Lis Sladen, and then yesterday I learned that my radio production company (the oldest in the UK) had been denied the right to pitch/produce a certain style of documentaries for BBC Radio 4 for the next 2 years.  We’ve been succesfully making these sorts of docs since 1992…they are the core of what we do…but now, like afternoon plays 2 years ago, we’re off the list!

Why?

Well, it seems you are only as good as your last…erm…well, it can’t be success.  Our docs have garnered critical praise and listener admiration.  Some have even won awards.  We are told that, in a couple of instances, our previous docs weren’t “admired”…but they were admired by the press, the audience and our fellow producers.  So it was only the network chiefs who didn’t like them?  I wonder who we are REALLY trying to make programmes for? The commissioners or the stakeholders who pay the bill every year (you and me!)

So, suddenly, I am looking at a £30,000 per year loss in work.  I have 6 producers and 10 presenters no longer earning.  My company loses some credibility.  I wonder if I can pay the mortgage.  It’s not like there’s anyone else out there paying money to have these docs produced – if only the UK government would allow some kind of competition in the speech radio market, but alas, they may look like they hate the BBC, but I promise you, they are all cronies together.

So I am angry, and upset, and frustrated.  “You are rewarded for loyalty and success” makes me laugh, almost as much as every time talent asks me “So surely they’ll pay us more for this considering the success of the last thing?”  Ha ha ha, really? Go ask them.  It is ever diminishing budgets, ever increasing rights packages and ever insulting BBC-independent producer relationships.

Are we still producing kick-ass, award winning, top-class, critically acclaimed radio programmes and series?  Damn right we are.  Just check out “Russia: The Wild East” on R4 right now.  Ridiculous praise and press.  But will that translate in to more commissions for 2012-13.  I have a sinking sensation.

The BBC already hates having to deal with radio indies.  They are now pushing aggressively for the smaller and medium sized indies to shut down, so they only have to deal with 5 or 10 super-indies.  And then BBC Radio will be where BBC TV is…with the occassional superb production, in amongst the cookie-cutter production line nonsense.

We’ll persevere, but we’ll push even harder through our Spokenworld Audio sister company to producer, publish, sell and even commission new audio that goes straight to market.  It is high time the BBC were removed from their place of privilege and reminded that other people know what they are talking about, too.  So, here’s to the BBC, may it remain a bastion of UK creative arts.  But now comes the time of the independent commissioner and publisher…we may not have the free access to cash from the licence fee, but we’ll get the best and the brightest to work with us because OUR CREATIVITY IS STRONG!

A Very Ladbroke Holiday

So, the Xmas/New Year holiday season is almost here, and my production company, Ladbroke Productions, has a whole host of radio goodies for you to tune in to:

TUESDAY 28th DECEMBER – 8pm – BBC RADIO 4 – “AMNESTY AT 50”

Amnesty International has recently attracted criticism, sometimes from those who have been its most committed activists.  JOHN TUSA asks id it has lost its way and what will be its future role.

Presenter: JOHN TUSA

Producer: MERILYN HARRIS

WEDNESDAY 29th DECEMBER – 11am – BBC RADIO 4 – “WHERE ENGLAND MEETS WALES” pt 1

HARDEEP SINGH KOHLI encounters live issues of identity, language, and a turbulent past, as he journeys down the wiggly border between Wales and England.

Presenter: HARDEEP SINGH KOHLI

Producer: RICHARD BANNERMAN

TUESDAY 4th JANUARY 2011 – 1130am – BBC RADIO 4 – “A FAMILY BUSINESS – THE CHAPLIN LEGACY”

TIM BROOKE-TAYLOR sees how the creative legacy of Charlie Chaplin lives on through his grandson James Thieree, whose new one-man show mixes acrobatics, mime, music and illusion.

Presenter: TIM BROOKE-TAYLOR

Producer: TONY STAVEACRE

WEDNESDAY 5th JANUARY 2011 – 11am – BBC RADIO 4 – “WHERE ENGLAND MEETS WALES” pt 2

HARDEEP SINGH KOHLI concludes his journey down the wiggly border between Wales and England.

Presenter: HARDEEP SINGH KOHLI

Producer: RICHARD BANNERMAN

SUNDAY 16th JANUARY 2011 – 2.45pm – BBC RADIO 4 – “HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN”

Continuing his look at the history of obesity, DR HILARY JONES examines the different ways that exercise have been used for weight loss.

Presenter: DR HILARY JONES

Producer: SUSAN KENYON

I hope you get a chance to tune in, and fingers crossed you enjoy them too 🙂

Calm Down…Calm Down!

One of the hardest parts of being a creative person is the time when you hand your work over to the public for their enjoyment (or otherwise!).  However, at this point you inevitably gear yourself up for a mixed bag of reactions, understanding that you can’t please everybody all the time, but also all too aware that you will NEVER please some people EVER!  There are far too many ‘fans’ who relish in attacking, deconstructing and destroying.  Many have blamed this on the internet, for opening up the world to the ability to comment and criticise.  But it has gone on for a long time, in magazines and newspapers, letters columns and the angry ‘green ink’ letter from Tunbridge Wells!

What is a particular problem at the moment is that genre fans don’t seem to know that they’ve never had it so good.  We are in a time of genre dominance, in movies, TV and books (not so much radio!). Take Doctor Who for instance…it’s not so many years gone that DW was dead and buried on TV, that the only DW lights burning were Big Finish and DWM. DW fans would relish and be grateful for any new DW release.  But now…since DW’s rebirth, and the BBC’s realisation that they have a massive hit that they can get big audiences from and make a profit on to help repay the cost of production, fans have been getting more and more DW than ever before.  And what is the reaction?  Well, of late it seems to be getting more and more negative, nit-picking and aggressive.  One of my audio releases recently (on which I only produced the narration, not the final audio) has been referred to by many as a pointless release, with lazy decisions and only of use to young kids.  Well, I’m very sorry you don’t like it, but if we would have turned out such a product 7 or 8 years ago, looking at, say, the 8th Doctor’s reign, you would have been swinging from the rafters with joy.  Don’t get me wrong, any and all constructive criticism is joyfully received and listened to.  But more and more ‘fan’ reaction is simply negative…”It’s not good enough”, “It’s not what I would do”, “I don’t like the writer so I’m going to write a negative review regardless of the content” (we all know who THAT one is!).

Fans today, especially DW fans, are swimming in a sea of new and exciting content.  That doesn’t mean we should drop our standards as producers or creatives, but fans DO need to realise that this won’t last forever.  AT some point the audios and magazines and toys WILL stop.  The BBC, or other broadcasters will move on to new series and other priorities.

It is good to critique, it is good to request more and better content.  But remember that every product was made by people who genuinely care about what they are making, who lavish time and energy and creative soul on it, who aim to entertain you.  When you respond as a fan, or as a paid reviewer (with no experience of making said productions/books/etc… yourself) bear in mind that [a] no-one has forced you to buy/illegally download this item [b] there are several people who worked damn hard to make it for you [c] you have the right to constructively critique, you do not have the right to deconstructively destroy!  Enjoy the goodies that are here now, for one day they will be a thing of the past.  Not everything will be to your liking, but not everything in life ever is.  Just because something related to your favourite show/character/book has ‘let you down’, don’t go on a rampage of hate, rather look for something else…or, shock horror, have a try at creating something yourself.  For until YOU have experienced the difficulties of creativity, the nightmare of budgetary constraints, the reality of long hours and hard work…only then will you have the right to dole out the soul-destroying and depression-inducing vitriol of hatred and bile that some ‘fans’ and reviewers spew forth far too often.

And do you know what?  Those of us that DO make these things, rarely if ever offer up such heartless and immature feedback to our peers, because we know the level of work and passion that has gone in to the piece.  So we discuss and debate, we CONSTRUCTIVELY CRITIQUE, we offer support and suggestions.  And then, we congratulate and thank each other for the work done.  Because, in genre production, those behind the scenes are even more passionate about the series/characters/stories than many of the ‘fans’…it’s true!

Please continue to be fans, continue to push us for more, continue to feedback and offer criticism (that can be good as well as bad, you know?).  Just think long and hard about what it would feel like if we were to come to your work and do the same to you.  Or if we were to comment harshly and without compassion at something you have created (your child, your garden, your private collection of never before seen art or poetry).  There are humans behind your favourite shows, and nobody is perfect.  But you’ve never had it so good, so please take a deep breath and remember that this is people’s art and craft and soul and passion you are commenting on, NOT just a piece of your favourite genre series.

N.B. These are MY opinions and DO NOT necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd, the BBC, AudioGo, or any other business, company or individual.

Neil Gardner is the owner/MD of Ladbroke Productions, the UK’s oldest independent radio production company.  He has written and produced many genre/SF radio dramas, readings and series.  He is also a producer of Doctor Who audiobooks, and the co-creator of The Brightonmicon Audio Series.  He regularly discusses SF and genre on the podcasts Sci-Five and The Big Pair.  In 2010 he published his first book, The Bumper Book of FICTS, with cult author Robert Rankin.

We Am Da Champions – Huzzah!

Science Fiction on the radio…well on mainstream UK radio anyway…has all but disappeared over the past 20 years.  Whether it is due to uninspired commissioning, a lack of SF proposals, too many Hitch-hiker’s Guide knock offs, or something else entirely, the simple fact is SF radio is a rare beast.

Well, BBC Radio 4 changed that (for a mere week, but let’s not complain) last year with a Sci Fi season.  For this week of SF plays and progs, I directed and produced two Afternoon plays, “Cry Babies” by Kim Newman and “Mayflies” by Mike Maddox.  Both starred internationally renowned actors of some repute (Sir Derek Jacobi, anyone?!) and both garnered critical praise as well as being immensely popular with the listeners.

Sadly, since then, the BBC radio boffins seem to have gone off scifi and other than the top types at BBC Radio 7, there is little new radio scifi.

BUT WAIT!  What’s this?  On Friday evening in New York city, the Oscars(tm) of international radio took place in a plush hotel.  The New York Festival Awards are the very tippy-toppest of awards for our industry and pit your work against the work of luminaries and worthy types from across the globe.  Just to be nominated is an honour.  But guess what?  “Mayflies” was awarded the New York Bronze Award for Best Drama Special.  That makes our wee little scifi play the third bestest radio play in the world.  Whooeee!

(We also won the New York Bronze Award for Religious Programming for our documentary “Twin Sisters Two Faiths” – heartiest congrats to Anna and Adam for another gong for this superb bit of programming!)

And, as an important aside, “Cry Babies” by Kim Newman is nominated for the Tinniswood Award…so keep those fingers crossed!

So…scifi radio isn’t just popular with listeners and critics, but with those who know what they know and give out the awards.  I, for one, am extremely chuffed!  Congrats to Mike Maddox for writing such a superb play, kudos to Jeremy Paul Carroll for writing some stunning music, big hand claps to Simon Willey for recording and editing it together with me, and many thanks to the god who is Dirk Maggs for exec producing it and being my guiding light.  Here’s the cast:

  • Sir Derek Jacobi (everything…really!  Also, Doctor Who!)
  • Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, West Wing, Event Horizon)
  • Catherine McCormack (Braveheart, 28 Weeks Later)
  • Danny Webb (Doctor Who, Valkyrie)
  • Sarah Douglas (Superman I & II, Conan The Destroyer)
  • Steven Cree (Cabaret, Dream Team, John Carter of Mars)

Sandford St Martin Award

I’ve owned and run Ladbroke Productions now for almost 2 years, and in that time I have hoped we would win an award or two for our programmes, after all, we work with some of the best radio talent in the business and most (if not all!) of our programmes are tip top corkers!

Lambeth Palace

Well, after much waiting and gnashing of teeth, last night, in the beautiful and serene setting of Lambeth Palace (home of the Archbishop of Canterbury) our BBC Radio 4 documentary “Twin Sisters, Two Faiths” was given the Premier Radio Award by the Sandford St Martin Trust Awards…an extremely prestigious award and the top ones for religious broadcasting.

The programme tells the emotional and moving story of twin sisters who have followed different faiths, and their agnostic mother who is dying.  The presenter/producer Anna Scott-Brown followed their story for a year, capturing some intensely personal and private moments.  Sadly, as we hear in the programme, the mother dies of her illness, struggling with her daughters’ religious convictions and her own sudden discovery of God.

It is a truly heart-rending programme, and Anna and co-producer Adam Fowler are to be heartily congratulated on it.  The Sandford St Martin Award is justly deserved for these outstanding programme makers.  And we at Ladbroke Productions would like to also accept the award in memory of  the family and Annie, who made it so special and so moving.

(l-r) Bishop of Croydon, Anna Scott-Brown, Adam Fowler, Richard Bannerman

If you would like to hear the full documentary, it is now available for listen again at the BBC’s superb iPlayer:

CLICK HERE

And here is the moment when we heard the good news:

The Award Itself!

“Twin Sisters, Two Faiths” was presented by Anna Scott-Brown, produced by Anna Scott-Brown & Adam Fowler, executive produced by Richard Bannerman, and was a Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd production for BBC Radio 4 (and later repeated in a shorter version on BBC World Service).

And there is a nice blog from the head of Radio 4, Mark Damazer, all about the awards and the wins for both us, other indies and some in-house teams:

CLICK HERE

Congrats to everyone who was nominated and to all the winners.

Scrap The Poor Quality Before You Scrap The Radio Set

So, the BBC and Commercial Radio have launched an ‘old-radio’ scrappage scheme in advance of the eventual analogue switch-off which may or (more likely) may never happen in the near-future.  Here’s the link to the full BBC News story:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8693613.stm

I’m all for this, especially since most UK households have 5 or more analogue radio sets, and therefore the cost of replacing them like-for-like with DAB sets is cost-prohibitive.  I have an image in my mind of someone turning up at John Lewis with 10 analogue sets and demanding a free DAB set in return – how wonderful!

DAB radio sets are great, they do what they say on the tin.  You tune by name not frequency, you have more choice of stations and, if your DAB set allows it, you can do clever stuff like rewind and record.  Tech-tastic!

BUT…I’ve been a DAB listener since the very first sets came out, and while over those years, the technology built in to the sets has improved, and come down in price, what hasn’t changed is the general poor quality of the broadcasts.  DAB is advertised and sold to punters as the height of high-quality sound…CD-quality, etc…  I hate to be the one to tell you, but many radio stations do not even broadcast in stereo via DAB, and many of those that do don’t broadcast at 128kBps (CD-quality).  This is because of the amount of bandwidth that is allocated by the DAB network providers to each station.  Consider the BBC national networks…The main stations are well provided for with bandwidth as you would expect, but the ‘all-new’ services, those that are used to sell the concept of DAB e.g. Radio 7 is broadcast in mono.  Many commercial radio stations are not allocated a full 128kBps stereo bandwidth.  And be careful, because not all DAB radio sets have stereo speakers!

And then there is the issue of what stations you can receive on DAB.  Of course, all your favourite local and national stations are on there.  And then there are some new ones you’ve possibly never heard of.  These includes 80’s and rock and indie and classical and international stations.  Nearly all the music channels are mere ‘jukebox’ stations, a computer pumping out track after track with some pre-recorded DJ links thrown in.  However, some are truly excellent (may I direct you to Absolute 80s and Absolute Classic Rock?)  But beware of DAB’s promises…what if the BBC closes 6 Music and Asian Network?  We have already lost the finest example of original and popular programming when One Word Radio was unceremoniously shut down by Channel 4 Radio (which then failed to launch – why did Ofcom not require the relaunch of One Word, eh?).  DAB promises much, but the reality of running radio stations is that, eventually, you just get the same old stations you got on FM/AM.  Radio stations cost money to run, and there aren’t advertisers out there spending money on radio!

Now, don’t get me wrong…DAB is an inevitability (possibly!).  If any MPs grow the balls to pull the plug, we may actually switch over to full digital radio sometime in the next 10 years.  If we do, DAB coverage has to improve considerably, and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t buy a portable DAB player if you value your hearing – the DAB signal does not travel well, especially in large towns and cities.  DAB may not have all the static of FM/AM but it does have digital noise, which in extreme cases could cause hearing damage!

One aside…even though the UK developed and pushed DAB technology, we are now lagging behind the rest of the world.  The Govt. and UK radio have put so much into DAB v1 that they are reluctant to make the move to the much improved DAB v2, which offers better bandwidth useage and sound quality.  The rest of the world is looking to move to DAB v2, and manufacturers are moving in that direction.  But will the UK?  Oh no, because that would mean punters who have already bought sets would have to…wait for it…scrap them and replace with new sets!

So..DAB has certainly brought benefits, but it hasn’t brought a revolution.  It’s ANOTHER way to consume the UK’s generally great radio output…yet many people are now listening to radio via their Digital TV services.  The biggest hurdle for DAB, apart from the problems with living up to expectations and delivering on promises, is getting the sets in to cars.  DAB needs Ford and Toyota and others to put DAB car radios in their vehicles as the default.  But to do that the UK and Europe and Asia and the US need to be using the same DAB system, that way the cost of installing such sets drops significantly.

I doubt whether any MP will have the balls to switch off analogue radio, so this is possibly a moot argument.  But then, who knows?  I would never suggest you don’t buy DAB, some of the sets are superb with great additional technology and fantastic sound.  All I would say is think first before investing…and don’t believe the hype!

The Queen Is Dead…All Hail The Queen!

Another case of ridiculous knee-jerk reaction by BBC bosses has reared its ugly head…and once again it is because of a harmless joke about the Queen (bow, scrape head along floor, hand over all personal freedoms and await the mighty one’s permission to breathe!).  Here’s the story from the BBC website today:

BBC ‘sorry’ for WM presenter Queen death joke

The BBC has apologised after a radio presenter said the Queen had died.

(c) BBC

(c) BBC

Danny Kelly who works for BBC WM in the West Midlands, played the national anthem as he made the joke during his Birmingham-based afternoon show.

A BBC spokesman said it had been a reference to an item on one of his internet pages.

Mr Kelly will not present his show for the remainder of the week and a formal apology was made at the start of Tuesday’s show at 1400 BST.

A BBC spokesman said presenter Mollie Green would take over the afternoon show until next Tuesday.

The apology on BBC WM at the start of the programme said: “Yesterday afternoon Danny Kelly made an inappropriate remark about the Queen during his radio show here on BBC WM.

“The BBC apologises unreservedly for it.

“BBC WM takes these comments very seriously and due action has been taken.”

Earlier, a spokesman said the comment had been made during a “light-hearted piece about social media friends” and that it had been corrected on-air immediately after it was made.

Danny is a superb broadcaster, contributes across the BBC’s local and national networks, and has spent many years learning his art and perfecting his craft.  Why oh why does a simple joke about the Queen being dead, which was in context, and even (outrageously) apologised for on-air at the time, in any way requiring the removal of this talented individual from his post for a week?

We live in a Parliamentary Democracy, not a Monarchial Dictatorship. Why does the BBC insist on these disgusting punishments for gags about our Queen?  Where does it say in law, or even in broadcasting regulations (or the increasingly pointless BBC Royal Charter) that her Maj is sacrosanct? I understand issues of good taste, of potentially upsetting weak-willed and lilly-livered punters, even of the fear of the Daily Fail reaction.  So yes, require the presenter to apologise where necessary, but to remove them from air?!  Such punitive action smacks of institutionalised grovelling and pandering.

So come on BBC…grow a pair and start standing up for your talent.  The Queen is fair target for comedy.  And if you don’t want to risk such humour, then stop hiring talented, comedic presenters.  Then you can be like the iPods you so fear are taking away your audience!

Sick And Tired Of It All (Mini-Blogging)

So, lots of things have been bugging me of late, but instead of writing full-blown blog entries for each one, I’ve decided to emulate Oh! My Goddess and create Mini-Blogs (like Mini Goddesses – sorry non-anime fans, but it makes sense to anime freaks!).  Short, sharp, sweet comments on those things that have irked me.  You may agree or disagree, comment or ignore some, all or none of them…but here they come:

PETROL PRICES

So, we are now at £1.16.9p per litre for unleaded petrol.  WHAT THE F**K IS GOING ON?!?!  Much like the energy companies who hike gas & electricity prices but rarely cut them back again, the petrol companies claim that the prices go up because of fluctuations in oil prices.  These prices are from approx. 6 months ago.  But hang on…oil prices have been consistently dropping for over 6 months now.  Put that to them and they claim it is the tax increases, the VAT, the fuel surcharge, etc…  Yeah, fine, I get that because bankers screwed up, and we all went on a massive spending spree for a decade, that we now need more tax to pay off the debts…BUT…the baseline cost for oil has DECREASED, so the per litre cost SHOULD ALSO DECREASE.  But does it?  NO!  I am resigned to spending £50 at Sainsbury just to get their poxy 5p per litre off voucher!  Listen up petrol firms….STOP PROFITEERING YOU AMORAL THIEVING SCUM!  We are almost at £1.20 per litre…a revolution will soon follow and personally, alongside MPs, BBC management and chuggers, I think the petrol bosses will be first against the wall!

BBC CUTS THE FRIDAY PLAY ON R4

So…after many years of budget cut after budget cut after spending freeze after cost squeeze after budget cut, Radio 4 now announce that they are ‘decommissioning’ the Friday Play slot.  WHAT THE F**K IS GOING ON?!?!  I realise people love to attack the BBC as being over-large, lacking in quality and spending too much on fripperies…but please, the FRIDAY PLAY?  This is a bastion of hard-edged, socially and culturally important drama.  These plays fit no-where else on the BBC radio networks.  To cut the entire slot because yet again the network is being told to cut budgets?  I am sorry but I pay my licence fee for the BBC to MAKE PROGRAMMES AND BROADCAST THEM!  The massive cost of the rebuilding of BBC Broadcasting House in London (£1.56bn!) has proven that the BBC has no idea what its purpose is.  It is NOT there to invest in buildings and rebuildings and rerebuildings…damn it, BBC BH had only just been rebuilt before they ripped it down and started again!  And it is running way over time and over budget, meaning yet more is being spent on rent at Bush House and other locations for those departments that were supposed to move in to the new BH!!  And then they waste another £5m or so commissioning artwork for the new space when they could have BORROWED art from other public institutions and become a gallery space.  That £5m could have paid for many many radio dramas and features.  The cancellation of the Friday play is CULTURAL VANDALISM by people who should be protecting the BBC’s role of INVESTING IN UK PRODUCERS, WRITERS and ACTORS.  I am sickened and disgusted by this move, and the constant budget cutting from programme making.  BBC News could easily save millions by streamlining its outside broadcasting and reporting processes.  BBC TV could save millions by holding a moratorium on dramas/series based on cops/doctors/murders for one month.  Millions more could be saved by cutting back on the spend on flashy but pointless opening credit sequences (e.g. the F1 opening – 30-60secs of meaningless faff…we know we are watching F1, and there is no competition for coverage so why the OTT animated flashy opening?!), etc…  Maybe it is time for some resignations at the BBC…possibly at Radio 4, but certainly at upper management level.  They are failing in their core purpose!

PARENTS DRIVING KIDS TO/FROM SCHOOL

Ok…just what is it about parents and their kids in cars going to and from school?!  I am not a parent, but even if I were, I WOULD NOT drive them to and from school.  A caveat – this is about people living in towns/villages/cities – I understand countryside life can require different means due to the lack of public transport or distances involved. I just had to break my rule of not being on the road at 3pm as I had to do some business across town.  Driving back through the 3pm school-run (3pm!  When did schools close so damn early?) I almost had 5 crashes because of moronic parents collecting their dear little tykes.  2 near-misses were outside a school where the idiotic parents couldn’t park or pull out properly, or using indicators, or being patient!  The other 3 were in traffic, at roundabouts and at a junction…all three involved parents not paying attention to the road, looking everywhere but where they are driving, and generally adopting the attitude that they are their darling mini-me’s were the most important and valuable people on the road.  Well…SOD YOU ALL!!  I am sick of it.  The roads are so much nicer at half-term and holidays…why…BECAUSE YOU C***S AREN’T ON THE ROAD!  If I were in charge for a day I would make it ILLEGAL for parents to drive kids to/from school within towns.  Let them walk, ride a bike or take the bus.  In return I would invest in decent school bus services and street patrols.  Enough is enough…your kids need the exercise, it is good for them to mix and mingle while walking or taking the bus, they learn good life skills, you get another hour a day away from them to be doing something more useful to society such as working or inventing or writing or, well, anything but adding yet more pollution and congestion to the world.

SINGLE LIFE

OK, so I am no longer single, but I was for more than 7 years, and as we head in to yet another farce of an election, WHY ARE SINGLE PEOPLE NOT BEING TARGETED?! According to the ONS there is approx 7 million single people (12% of the population!) but in every political speech, paper, debate and news item all we hear about are HARD WORKING FAMILIES, blah blah blah.  Child tax credits, marriage tax allowance, this tax break, that tax break…we want YOU to be married!  The world MUST BE MADE BETTER for married people and those with children!  Well…I agree, I think the world should be made better for everyone who puts in a day’s work and pays their way.  BUT why does no-one think about single people?  They have ONE INCOME, and yet are taxed more than any other group!  The ONLY tax break for singletons is the Council Tax Single Person Allowance…this gives you a 25% discount on your CTax.  Sounds good, eh?  But think about it…if you are in a couple, with two incomes, sharing all your costs, then each person is only paying 50% of the CTax.  Therefore, a single person is paying 75% where one half of a couple is paying just 50%…the singleton pays 50% more than one half of a couple!!!  And single working people use less local and national social resources, yet pay the same in tax.  No party or politician stands up during the recession and says WE MUST LOOK AFTER THE HARD WORKING SINGLE PERSON.  Why the f**k not?!  Single people pay more for holidays, more for travel and more for general services as they cannot apply for any of the FAMILY DISCOUNTS!  Well, I am sick and tired of it…come on you 7 million singletons, make your voices heard!  Either that or 3.5 million move in with the other 3.5 million and claim a few benefits!

ZYNGA

Oh Zynga, I love your games on Facebook, and I for one know that I don’t have to click on the adverts that fund the games…therefore I have no problem about your business model.  I thank you for the fun.  I disagree totally with the accusations that you produce parasitic-gaming, because I am intelligent enough NOT TO CLICK ON THE F*****G ADVERTS!  Jeez..all these morons harping on about Zynga and their ‘evil’ intentions, their ‘snooping’ practices, the ‘intrusive’ advertising which leads you astray…JUST DON’T CLICK ON THE DAMN ADVERTS YOU OUTRAGEOUSLY STUPID BASTARDS!  The games are free to use so Zynga has to make money from elsewhere…like facebook, they take the chance to target you via advertising…but they AREN’T FORCING YOU TO BUY ANYTHING.  If you click on an advert then it is your responsibility not Zynga’s. Please please please stop bitching about this…either play the games or don’t play the games…it is your choice! HOWEVER, I will take Zynga to task over one thing…why don’t you reply to the perfectly reasonable error complaints of you many millions of users?  We love Farmville and Cafeworld, but there are flaws and bugs, and we take the time to report them to you, and discuss them on the Zynga forums…BUT YOU NEVER REPLY!  This is dragging your name through the mud and is doing you no favours.  please just pay someone to be the official voice of your organisation on the boards.

SPECIAL DELIVERY

So…the website for the UK post office says its Special Delivery service stops at 5pm each evening…but the branches say it is 4pm, or 4.30pm or 5.30pm.  WHAT TIME IS IT?!?!  I rely on SD to get my audiobook masters to the BBC, but I can never tell what time the cutoff for pickup is!  So for safety I stick with 4pm, but it really can’t be that hard can it?  And if a branch has to have a time different to the website advertised time, PLEASE PUT UP A F*****G SIGN!

UPDATE – Oh, and Special Delivery is meant to GUARANTEE delivery next day…so why has my delivery that went out yesterday NOT arrived today?  Oh…I have to call you and ask?  Oh, it was delayed in transit and will be dleivered tomorrow? Oh, the business is shut tomorrow so it will be Monday? Oh, so you can’t call me and tell me these things and leave it for me to be told by the recipient that it hasn’t arrived? Oh, so the service you provide has failed EPICALLY and yet now my client won’t receive the parcel in time for their deadline?  Hmmmm…thanks a f*****g lot…FAIL!

The Death of Common Sense

As you know, I have worked in UK radio for almost 20 years, in pretty much every capacity, from technician to presenter to producer to programmer.  Over those years I have been responsible for, and witnessed, some quite monumental cock-ups on-air (and off-air!).  Live radio has an inherent risk of cock-up.  it is what makes being on-air so exciting.  It is what is missing from 99% of TV, that elusive, electrifying near-fear of the cock-up.  When it almost happens you get shivers, you thank everyone and anyone that it was averted, you sit in the studio for hours afterwards in a state of nervous ecstasy.  When it DOES happen, then you have to get out of it.  Your brain either fries or goes in to overdrive.  9 times out of 10 you manage to get past the mistake and move on.  The listeners get a laugh but then move on with you.  and 9 times out of 10 no-one else at the radio station notices.  If the boss does hear it, or you come clean, the intelligent, experienced and clever programme controller works through the cock-up with you, you learn from the mistake and, possibly with a reprimand, you move on.  Rarely do you lose your job over it…because, and let us make this point in big capital letters…IT IS ONLY RADIO!!!  Sometimes, if the cock-up is sufficiently large, you might lose a shift, or be moved on to a less prominent programme.  And of course, if you break one of the cardinal rules of radio (swearing, blasphemy, losing advertisers’ money) you may well be fired.  But a sacking is a rare and, usually, well-considered move.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL NEWS STORY

By now, if you follow the radio or entertainment news, you will have heard about the BRMB (Birmingham commercial radio station) presenter who was sacked because he cut short the Queen’s speech on Xmas day.  According to reports he had cocked-up his timing and the speech was going to over-run and he decided to cut it short.  He then, as a stand-up comedian as well as a radio presenter, made a poorly tought-through gag…he referred to the Queen’s speech as ‘boring’.  This resulted in the radio station receiving a small number of complaints from ‘offended’ listeners.  The presenter was then sacked.

Right – let us look at this in some uninformed detail:

[1]  BRMB as a commercial broadcaster decides to transmit the Queen’s Speech (presumably supplied via feed from IRN).  This is a little unusual for a commercial station, but fair enough.  The programme controller and head of music will then, you will hope, have programmed the hour so that the speech, always around 5 mins long, fitted in with room to spare…possibly including a spare music track the presenter could easily drop if things got a little tight?

[2] There were actually people tuned in to BRMB to hear the Queen’s speech rather than viewing it on the BBC, or listening via national networks.  Odd, but maybe they were travelling or were such die-hard BRMB fans that the thought of going elsewhere for a whole 5 minutes freaked them out to the point of apoplexy! We shall return to these people later…

[3] On the day, the presenter was aware that he was (a) doing the shitty shift at some ridiculously low rate of pay (no doubt) and that (b) traditionally very few people are tuned in.  That said, as a professional, and I presume, wanting to please the boss and maybe get better shifts in 2010, gave the show his all.  Bear in mind that this man is also a stand-up comedian and was no doubt hired because of his comedy talent and notoriety.  Having done many a Xmas day shift I know you get one of two things from the bosses – (a) a good heads-up about all they want and expect, the special items they have programmed in and the flexibility you have to throw in things like callers, jokes, Xmas jingles, change music tracks, etc… or (b) no communication at all and you are left to turn up and figure it out for yourself.  I don’t know what the case was here.  The experience of the station boss leads me to think it would have been the former, but who knows.  For something as seemingly important as the Queen’s speech I would have to assume that the presenter was at least told how and when to take the live feed.

[4] The hour of the Queen’s speech would have been programmed with music, jingles, adverts and news.  Since the speech is approx. 5 mins long, there would have been one less song that hour.  The presenter says he messed up his timings and had to cut the speech short, in order to stay on time.  THIS is where the cock-up happens.  There is nothing in an hour schedule that HAS to be on time except the news and if you are linking in to a network.  Now, in this case, the programme was being networked across several other radio stations (another cost-cutting lazy piece of modern radio programming) which would have put some pressure on the presenter IF he was having to back-time the end of this hour to hand over to another presenter from another station.  These hand-overs need to be done to the second or networks go somewhat awry.  If this was the case then I sympathise with the presenter…network timings are sacrosanct and it is drummed in to us that we HAVE to be spot on or the computers all go out of sync and the network collapses (one of those amusing little white lies engineers use to try to ensure they don’t get called on days off by panicking presenters!)  However, I believe the Queen’s speech was AFTER the start of an hour, not up to the end of one…so I do not think that this can be the explanation.  If the presenter thought he was going to miss an ad break or not have room for all the music then he was very much in error.  Ad breaks can be played late, music tracks can be dropped or cut short.  Even in network mode these are fairly simple ways to fix an over-running hour.  I am perplexed by just what he thought was so important that he choose to cut short the speech…very odd.  But no matter what, this was a cock-up, simple and that is that!

[5] EXCEPT…after cutting the speech short he quipped that it was ‘boring’.  Let me repeat that so terribly offensive word…BORING!  Oh dear, oh deary deary dear.  Ooops.  Can you hear the edges of our society starting to crumble? Listen, you can hear the screaming of children from middle-England.  There is a wailing and a gnashing of whitened teeth from the good burghers of the West Midlands!!  It seems from the reports that the presenter’s gag at the Monarch’s expense upset/annoyed/offended a handful of listeners who had nothing better to do with their Xmas holidays than to write in and complain.  I have to say at this point that I am a card-carrying Republican (not the US sort) and believe the Royal family are a leech on our country and have no place other than as a tourist attraction that should be sold off to Disney.  However, that said, I also believe that there is no reason to ever be offensive towards anyone.  But BORING?  Is boring an insult?  Maybe if you are a poet or a lecturer or a public speaker.  But calling the Queen, in fact the Queen’s speech, boring?  That is not, cannot be, nor ever will be an insult.  I am certain Her Majesty has taken worse blows to her ego over the years – she is married to Philip after all!  So he wasn’t sacked for being offensive to the Queen then, not really.  No sane or realistic boss would consider that a sacking offense (get it?!)  So why was he sacked?  Let’s go back to those listeners:

[6] A handful of BRMB listeners are tuned in on Xmas day and hear the Queen’s Speech (which is, let’s be fair here, overwhelmingly dull and of little relevance to about 90% of the population).  The speech is cut short and the presenter refers to it as being boring and then dives in to “10 Xmas hits, back to back, with no ads – that’s a BRMB guarantee!” or some such commercial radio nonsense.  These few people are so offended by this they put pen to paper, or font to email, or chisel to stone tablet possibly, and complain to the BRMB bosses.  WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!?!  What is there to complain about?  I would understand if they complained solely about the cutting short of the speech.  Admittedly I am still confused why they have gone to BRMB to hear it, or why they can’t just use the BBC’s iPlayer, or the internet to watch the damn thing again later in the day.  But to purposefully complain about being offended by the word ‘boring’?!  I would hate to meet these people for fear of any word I use in passing offending their genteel easily damaged constitutions!  Are they all extras from Emma?!  For some reason they believe that THEIR offense is shared by the Queen but that Her Maj can’t stand up for herself, so they have to vent their upset and ire on her behalf.  Do these people use the Daily Mail to build papier-mache shrines to the Royal family and burn copies of David Icke books?  This is something of an over-reaction.  Let’s hope they never accidentally tune in to James Whale when he is calling for the abolition of the Monarchy…he’d be sacked (again) in a heartbeat!!  Now, if you think I may be over-reacting, understand this…the presenter has had death-threats because of this situation.  DEATH THREATS?  For one word?  Do we live in a free-speech democracy or should we all just give up and bow down before the vocal minority who espouse such hatred and violence?

[7] So, these ‘upstanding’ citizens complain to the BRMB bosses who, once they have removed their backbones, take immediate action and sack the presenter.  Here’s what they said:

David Lloyd, group programme and marketing director, said: “On Christmas Day, one of our presenters, Tom Binns, made some inappropriate comments surrounding the Queen’s speech. We do not condone what he said in any way; whether said in jest or not. We are making contact with the small number of listeners who were offended by Tom’s comments and have complained to us to convey our apologies, and have also apologised on air.”

OK, some questions:

  • WHAT is so inappropriate about the word ‘boring’?
  • Surely you do not need to condone his joke, but you can defend his right to make such a joke.
  • You say a SMALL number of listeners…why such an over-reaction then?
  • You have apologised on-air…Tom could have been asked to do the same and that could have been the end of it, why sack him?
  • WHO are you running scared from, it can’t be the Queen, is it the local press?

For me, this is another example of the way that broadcast media, especially radio, has been running scared and pandering to the vocal minority and the trash print media for the past 2-3 years.  Everything from Ross/Brand to guests swearing on-air…if just one person complains, or might complain, then the bosses go in to knee-jerk reaction mode.  Radio is an art form, an entertainment, a place of fun and education and information.  It is a place for comedians and broadcasters and poets and writers and performers and artists to learn, develop and master their craft.  As my first boss in radio kept telling us, RADIO IS ENTERTAINMENT.  Why will the bosses not grow a backbone and defend their talent?  If they don’t want the risk of live radio why not just programme it all into computers (as much of the overnight and weekend programming on your so-called local radio station is already)? What is the point of running a radio station if you always pander to the minority?

So…if I had been the boss, what would I have done?  First of all I would have ensured in advance that the hour in which the speech was being broadcast in was well-programmed and that I had gone through this with the presenter in fine detail, making sure he understood the importance of the speech and how to deal with it technically. (Of course, if I had been in charge we wouldn’t have been wasting the airtime on a pre-recorded speech by an anachronistic leech on society in the first place!) After the fact, had it happened, I would have required the presenter to apologise on-air AND to reply in person to each of the complainants. To his replies I would have added a note from the station apologising for the fact that the individuals had felt offended but defending the right of my talent to make jokes and be entertaining, explaining that a joke to many can sometimes be less than funny to some.  As the employer it is my responsibility to defend and protect my employees as far as possible.  And in this case, short of a demand from the Palace for his “‘ead to be chopped orf” I would defend my talent.  There was simply nothing inappropriate about the gag other than its timing and because the presenter chose to cut short the speech.  If he had built the gag into a link later in the show it would have been fine and I believe no complaints would have been made.

But he has been sacked, and once again the vocal minority win the day.  It is about time some of the old laws of the land were re-evaluated.  Blasphemy and ‘speaking out against the Queen’ have no place in a modern society.  If your monarch or religion are so fragile they can’t take a few jokes or counter-arguments then maybe you should consider the foundations on which these institutions are built.

And on a simpler note, let us try to define what is actually OFFENSIVE and what simply ANNOYS you and is counter to your point of view.  If you want to put the Royal Family up on a pedestal and bow before them, give away your freedom, your individuality and your right to be an equal, then go ahead.  But many others do not wish this.  Many are happy to have the Queen there, but do not see her as superior to themselves.  Others, like me, see the Royal family as a waste of money and resources, an elite who put themselves above the rest of us and expect us to see them as superior humans.  They are not, they are there due to history, war, politics, suspicious in-breeding and wealth (accumulated through OUR hard work, not theirs!)  Much like many politicians believe themselves to be worthy of superior status because of the  job they do, the Royals sit in a position of power only because we allow them to.  I am certain that they will continue to do so for the rest of my life…but it doesn’t mean that I have to show them any deference, protect them from any slings and arrows, and certainly not to pander to the ‘offence by proxy’ feelings of others who see them as some kind of rare and protected species.

Tom…if I were still running a radio station I would happily hire you.  As it is, if you have any ideas for radio docs, features, etc…gimme a call and let’s see what we can develop together.  Talent shouldn’t be punished for a cock-up.  But then again, it happened to James Whale, it happened to Nick Abbot, it happened to many others and they are all back on air, at other stations…stations with bosses who have backbones.  Maybe Tom should give Absolute Radio a call…

NG in the Radio Magazine – Nov 2009

So, every now and then I get asked to do an interview for various industry magazines, and this month it was the rather splendid Radio Magzine, which manages to prove every week of the year that the radio industry is chock full of interesting and relevant news items, something magazines like Broadcast fail to achieve. So huzzah for the Radio Magazine, and for those of you interested, here’s my 15 mins of printed fame.  To read the article just click on the images:

Who’s Missing?

hornets_nest_stuff_125

1 - The Stuff of Nightmares

It’s just before midnight on Monday October 26th 2009, and after over 6 months work, I have finally completed the 5 episode that go to make up the DOCTOR WHO HORNETS’ NEST audio series, starring Tom Baker.  All the prep, recording sessions, rough editing, construction, SFX & atmos, fine editing, drafting, final editing and mastering…it is all done!  As I type this the final two master files, for episodes 4 and 5, are burning on to a DVD-Rom ready to be picked up by courier tomorrow lunchtime (we can’t trust the post in the UK right now!).  That courier will travel all the way from my home in Croydon (South East of London) to Bath (West Country near Bristol) and deliver the masters to the team at BBC Audiobooks who will then send them off to the duplication plant and thence on to distribution.  The third episode is out in a week or so and the final two CDs are released on the 14th December, just in time for Xmas!

DW Dead Shoes

2 - The Dead Shoes

So that’s it…no more WHO for me for the time being.  For the next few days I think I will be quite pleased about that fact.  Pleased that the deadlines have been hit, that the BBC bosses are happy with the series, that I’ve been a fairly important part of a pretty important new addition to the ongoing Whoniverse.  I’ll also be glad the work is done, I can send in the bill and I don’t have to spend every hour I have (including late nights and weekends) editing Dr Who audio.

But after a few days I fear the withdrawal symptoms will start.  No more WHO?!  What am I going to do?  I have loved being a part of this mad and crazy adventure.  Working with Tom, and Richard Franklin, and Rula Lenska…chatting with Paul the writer, talking SFX with Michael the commissioning editor, and most of all playing around with audio with the gorgeous Kate the producer/director.  I want more, more, more!  As you can imagine, I’ll be pushing the BBC Audiobook teams to let me produce and edit more of the DW audio adventures as soon as possible.  And you never know, at some point the “Doctor Who And The Dalek Invasion Of Earth” audiobook I produced earlier this year will finally be released!

drwho_hn_circus_doom_300

3 - The Circus of Doom

So I am going to miss being a daily part of the Whoniverse, yes indeed.  But I want to say a few words about another loss I feel at this time, related to all this Who-tastic stuff I’ve had the honour to work on.

On November 5th this year (just a week away), it will be the sixth anniversary of the death of my best friend, Pete Barnes.  He died, aged 30, of a massive stroke…there were no signs or warnings, it came on suddenly one Sunday afternoon while we were playing a computer game in the flat we shared.  By the following morning he was gone.  No reasons…no rationalisations…a perfectly fit and healthy young man taken away and nothing for any of us to pin the blame on. Pete was just gone.

Pete and I had been best friends for 16 years, had worked at Tesco’s together collecting trolleys aged 15, started at Hospital Radio Bedford together, moved on to Supergold and Chiltern Radio together, then gone in separate directions work-wise for a few years but forever being the best of buds and supporting each other while doing all the stupid things guys do together.  We went on wild and wacky holidays together, saw far too many films and concerts, drove the length and breadth of the UK together, watched even more films, and sung a lot of songs BADLY while driving around.  Yes, we were a very real ODD COUPLE, we were brothers and we had a blast.  I suppose I was thinking we would even grow to become GRUMPY OLD MEN!! Eventually, in 1999 when I bought my flat in Croydon, Pete moved in as my lodger and we were able to enjoy living out all our earlier dreams of drinking cider on the couch while playing computer games, talking about Star Wars and then watching far far too many DVDs!

4 - A Sting In The Tale

4 - A Sting In The Tale

So as you can imagine, having him suddenly die on Sunday in late 2003 came as a bit of a shock to me.  It isn’t too much to say that I am still suffering from the loss.  I threw myself in to my work as a means of escape, and Pete must have been smiling on me, coz work worked out!  Since 2003 I have been able to achieve just about all my professional goals in life, helped many talented people get on to UK radio, assisted charities and trade unions, fought the good fight and come out the other side with all my bits intact.  And here I sit, typing this blog, the owner of my own successful independent production company, relatively well-known and I hope somewhat respected for my producing and directing, and generally in a pretty good place.

But coming to the end of this WHO adventure has hit me with a reality shock…Pete would have LOVED this.  He was the true Who fan.  He had the VHS tapes and the DVDs, the books, the t-shirts, the toys, the signed this thats and the others.  he dragged me to conventions and signings so he could meet Colin and Peter and Sylvester.  He died before New WHO debuted, so he never got to see his beloved hero return to the small screen.  But he would have loved what the BBC has done over the past few years.  I’ve enjoyed the New WHO, but he would have been bouncing off the walls, reading every snippet of information, checking out every fan site and web site…he would have been insufferable, but in an endearing way (just as he was with Star Wars!)

DW HN ep 5 cover

5 - Hive Of Horror

So to have been so involved in the comeback of Tom Baker, well, that would have blown his mind.  I like to think that he is getting a buzz out of the fact that my home editing office is in his old bedroom, so in some small way he has had a part in bringing Tom back as well.  But I am sad, because I so want to play him the audio,  I so want to get his reaction, to see his smile and hear his thoughts.  I wanna have him bug me for a chance to meet Tom, to get an autograph or to come to one of the sessions.  Just as he would have fizzed at every moment of The Brightonomicon audio series, Pete would have been my biggest supporter, and most annoying critic (!) throughout the Hornets’ Nest series.

I miss him so very much, and I wish he was still here.  I forgive him the OTT anoraking of incessant Star Wars and Dr Who fandom…if I am honest, I loved it every bit as much as he did!  So I would like to, UNOFFICIALLY, dedicate DOCTOR WHO HORNETS’ NEST to him, to his memory, to his love of the Doctor, and to his friendship.  Without him I wouldn’t have gotten to where I got in life, and I wouldn’t have gotten to make a Tom Baker WHO adventure like this!

And please, if you have lost someone close to you, I would also like to dedicate the series to them…especially if they were a WHO fan, but even if they weren’t.  Doctor Who reminds us  that friendship and family are all-important…as are having fun, a sense of adventure and a child-like fascination with the world.  Our companions may no longer be with us in person, but they remain with us in spirit (and re-runs!) forever.

Love, Neil 🙂 x

******************************************************************************

logo_tsaIf you would like to help find a cure for stroke, and fund help for those suffering from stroke, please consider donating what you can to THE STROKE ASSOCIATION:

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

******************************************************************************

Having got all that off my chest…do please consider buying the CD’s or downloads…ep 3 is released at the start of November and eps 4 & 5 come out on 14th Dec.  You can buy them from the BBC Shop, Amazon, Audible, Play, iTunes and all good audio retailers.

I Wanna Be Xmas #1!

Me!

Me!

So, way back when, in the year 1995, I worked at a radio station called B97, which was a rebrand of its original name Chiltern Radio 96.9…this is in a town called Bedford in East Anglia in the UK.  The station had partnered with the local commercial TV network (Anglia!) to raise money and toys for the annual Anglia TV Kids Toy Appeal.  As well as promoting it on air, and running trails for it and encouraging the listeners to send in toys, the programme controller, Derek, decided it would be a fun idea for us to record and release our own Xmas single. So, being the only musician at the radio station, he came to me and asked me to write it, record it and sort the whole thing out.  To do this I had to include the breakfast show team (as it was to be ‘their’ Xmas song) and the whole station was to help promote it and sell it.

So what was I to do?  Yes I was a musician, a bad one!  I play bass guitar, but I am no Paul McCartney!  So I got in touch with an old chum from the radio station, Paul garner (now very well-known for his comedy writing for the likes of Ali G, Bo Selecta, etc…).  he was a much more accomplished musician, played guitar,piano, drums…he could even sing!  We spent a few evenings thrashing out the concept, and then arrived at the final song.

The old Chiltern Radio

The old Chiltern Radio

Meanwhile, the breakfast show team had done a deal with a local recording studio, The Bunkers, to allow us time and studio space to record and master the song.  So, over a couple of long evenings, Paul and I, and the Bunkers team, set about recording our silly, comedic Xmas single.  As a sound engineer I loved the sessions…not just getting to play my bass and sing, but to watch paul do his thing, and help out with all the technical stuff!  We decided we wanted a big chorus type affair for the, well, choruses, and for the big ending, so we arranged for all the radio station staff, friends and family plus some mad volunteers from Yamaha who were based up the road in Milton Keynes, to come down to the Bunkers one afternoon and sing a few lines like a bunch of nutters.  Anglia TV even filmed it and we got our ugly mugs on the telly that evening.

Finally the song was finished.  Colleagues at the radio station had done a deal with a local duplicating house to get the track manufactured, and all the WH Smith stores in the region agreed to sell it for us.  We debuted the single on the breakfast show with Neil & Tim, then set about promoting the heck out of it.

Did it sell?  Yes it did actually!  We made a decent amount of money from it, and I believe it charted somewhere in the high hundreds (terrible, really!).  It was a lot of fun to do, helped a great cause, and allows me to say that I have released an Xmas single in my life!!

And now I reckon it’s time for its revival.  Xmas 2009 is rushing towards us and I think we need a serious threat to the X-Factor dominance of the Xmas #1 spot.  So have a listen to our wonderful song, and let me know if you’d support us releasing it for Xmas.  Money would go to the Stroke Association if we were to do this.

So here it is…”Floppy Gifts For Christmas”…slightly crappy quality as I grabbed this version from a cassette copy – just clicky the PLAY button below…….

Written by Paul Garner & Neil Gardner

Performed by Paul Garner, Neil Gardner, Neil Bentley, Tim Page, B97 Crew, Yamaha Crew

Recorded at The Bunkers, Bedford

Thanks to B97/Chiltern Radio & all who helped make it possible.

Home Grown – on BBC Radio 4

YasmeenIn case you missed it, this morning at 11am BBC Radio 4 had a documentary called “Home Grown”, which was presented by Yasmeen Khan and produced by Yasmeen and myself.

Since I am shameless, here’s a link to the BBC’s iPlayer where you can listen to the programme for the next 7 days:

CLICKY HERE

And here’s some info on the prog…hope you enjoy the listen:

Yasmeen Khan investigates the growing trend amongst British Asian men to marry women from their native countries…forget arranged/forced marriages, this is something completely different!

Despite being raised in the UK, many second generation British… Asian men are choosing to marry women from ‘back home’, i.e. from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. These are young professionals, working alongside British Asian women in places such as investment banks, law companies and accounting practices. So why are they choosing to marry women from their parental country of origin? Some cite that their female British Asian counterparts are ‘too modern’; others feel they can’t live up to a British Asian girl’s expectations.

This cultural phenomenon is unique to the second generation of British Asians; while it could be expected that those born in Britain would seek partners from a similar background or even increasingly ‘marry out’ of the culture to a White partner, few would have predicted that a generation would end up struggling with a culture and identity that left them choosing a partner from their parents’ country of origin.

Broadcaster Yasmeen Khan, who has written on Asian dating both from a personal and journalistic perspective uncovers why many young British Asian want a ‘home grown’ girl; many of whom are just as educated and professional as their British Asian peers. She travels around the UK and asks young British Asian men and women what their expectations of a partner are, whether they find it hard to juggle their own desires with that of their parents and community, and of the men who brought over a wife from ‘back home’, did the match live up to expectations? And Yasmeen seeks to discover if there is a fundamental problem between British Asian men and women when British Asian clerics have to run marriage seminars telling young men not to be intimidated by their female peers?

Presenter: Yasmeen Khan
Producer: Neil Gardner & Yasmeen Khan

A Ladbroke Radio production for BBC Radio 4

A Short Visit

Well, hullo there!  I’ve been lax in my recent postings.  Why?  I’ve been up to my neck in radio programme making and Dr Who audio adventure editing!

My company, Ladbroke Productions, has had a busy month, with our ground-breaking investigative series “Inside The Bermuda Triangle” airing in mid-Sept, our archive hour prog about Peter Scott “Scott of Slimbridge” airing in late Sept and World Service repeating our religious doc “Twin Sisters, Two Faiths” a week ago.  While all that was happening we made a medical doc (no pun intended!) with Dr Phil Hammond called “Metaphor For Healing” which airs on Radio 4 on 27th Oct; a classical music history programme called “Hidden Composers” which airs on BBC Radio 3 on 31st Oct; and I’ve produced a doc about British Asian marriage problems called “Home Grown” which airs on BBC Radio 4 this Wednesday 14th Oct at 11am.

Alongside all that good stuff, I’ve been continuing to edit together the final 2 episodes of the brand new Tom Baker Doctor Who audio Adventure “Hornets’ Nest”.  We finish the final editing this week, and then they head off for duplicating and shipping.  You can get hold of ep 3 “The Circus of Doom” on Nov 5th, and eps 4 & 5 “A Sting In The Tale” & “Hive of Horror” on Dec 5th.  It’s been great fun these past 6 months bringing Tom back as the Doctor.

So what next?  I am producing a new religious doc called “Protected By Faith” presented by John Waite and airing on Radio 4 in mid-Dec.  It is about the Vatican art conservationists.  My colleague Neil Rosser is making a Radio 2 doc called “Development Hell” with Adam & Joe all about films that never got made, as well as a 6 part series about Elvis also for Radio 2.

We are also pitching for BBC radio 2, 4, 7 and World Service work for next year, so it’s brains in gear and lots and lots of raw proposals.

So busy busy.  But I’ll be back soon with more from the KINGDOM OF SNURF, more Doctor Who shenanigans, more FICTS, more toot talking and more THE BIG PAIR PODCAST.

Stay hoopy 🙂

http://www.ladbrokeradio.com

Happy Birthday Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd

1st  Birthday Flyer 500

Believe it or not, it is exactly 1 year since I bought Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd and reformed the company with my friends and colleagues Neil Rosser, Richard Bannerman and Nick Lawrence.  A whole year has passed…and what a year!  While the world around us crashed, we managed by someone’s good grace, to keep winning commissions to make radio series for the national BBC radio networks (over 25 in fact!), as well as pick up some truly enthralling work with BBC Audiobooks (Dr Who and Tom Baker!).

It’s been a heck of a year for me, learning how to run a business, how to do accounts, how to market and sell…and do all this while still developing, pitching and producing radio and audio productions.  I couldn’t have done any of it without Neil, Richard and Nick, and all our friends at the BBC radio networks who supported the change of ownership, the gang at BBC Audiobooks for being our first commercial client and being so lovely with it, the lovely Sharon who helps with the more complicated accounting issues, and Andrew and the gang back at the previoud owners, Electric Airwaves who have made the transition wonderfully pain-free and remained close friends and even become clients over the year.

So here’s to year one…year two is already shaping up to be a good one with some exciting new commissions already signed up, and a lot we are currently pitching for.  And keep an eye out in January 2010 for our new company, SpokenWorld Audio…audiobook and radio programming goodies to download and enjoy!

Keep listening and keep following us on Twitter and Facebook and through the blogs…thanks to you all for your support and friendship.

Neil 🙂

Radio Production Awards Are Launched

RIG Logo - SMALL BWIt is a very gratifying day…after almost 5 years of pushing, cajoling, encouraging, developing and shouting about, there are finally nationally recognised awards for those who work in the production side of UK radio and audio!  The RADIO PRODUCTION AWARDS have just been launched, a joint effort by the Radio Independents Group (the trade body that represents UK independent radio production companies) and the Radio Academy.  Sponsored by HILL DICKINSON LLP, the awards aim to bring some much needed recognition to the hard working, underpaid and over-stressed producers, researchers, engineers and others who make UK radio happen 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

RA logoIt is a strange thing, but radio is the only entertainment media that to date has failed to award its production staff.  TV does it at the BAFTAs, film does it at the OSCARs, the music industry does it time and again.  Which is odd, because radio is the one medium that is run on small teams (often just one person being the writer, producer, editor, etc…) and ridiculously low budgets.  Yet for years now the industry, through the SONY and NEW YORK and PRIX ITALIA awards have recognised the on-air talent, the programmes, the stations and even the programmers…but not the writers, producers, engineers, etc…  And radio is, just like TV and film and music, an art that generally requires some technical help to bring the talent to the public.  I could name countless celebrity radio presenters who only sound so slick and professional on-air because they have someone ‘running the desk’ for them, and aproducer prepping the show in advance.  And in production radio…documentaries, dramas, music specials…not a single ‘expert presenter’ or broadcaster would be heard reporting on the latest cultural trend, or great actor heard in an afternoon play, or fantastic band heard in an ‘as live’ set if it weren’t for the producer and engineer making the programme.

So it has always bewildered me why our industry…one which has for years made a big thing of its small production teams, one-person-bands,fast-turnaround production ability, low budgets…has failed…yes, FAILED…to reward the tireless and poorly paid efforts of the real talent behind the airwaves.  The on-air talent makes the money, gets the gigs, receives the press and the plaudits, while the production teams get the aggravation, the insults, the long hours, the stress and the low wages.  The very least the industry can do, since it can’t guarantee jobs, offer training, or seemingly fight for its own continued existence, is to give a few award statues to some production personnel!

And that is what is happening…at last.  And it has happened because of the independent radio production sector.  Radio indies produce approximately 10% of the national BBC radio output (not much compared to TV indies getting to make well over 25%!), have been around for several decades, develop new talent, find UK-wide programming ideas and do all this against a backdrop of political apathy for the sector and resentment from the BBC for having to work with us.  So we’ve felt for some time that we wanted to improve the lot of those we represent, and those we employ.  For indies the on-air talent is a bolt-on, but the production teams are our bread-and-butter…they keep us going, they win us work, they make the programmes that earn us money.  We love and appreciate our production teams – hell, most of us ARE our production teams!

I recently stepped down as Chair of RIG, after spending 5 years helping to establish the trade body and make it truly representative of the indie community.  There are many things I am proud of achieving, but the Radio Production Awards is one of the proudest achievements.  It has taken a good few years of voluntary work by a group of 5 or so indie colleagues to make it a reality.  We have had financial support from a wonderful legal firm called HILL DICKINSON LLP, and now the Radio Academy has partnered with us to jointly organise and produce the annual event – adding weight and legitimacy to the awards (the academy also run the Sony Awards!)

Hill Dickinson Type 296

The aim is to make it as cheap to enter and to attend as possible, since those entering are individuals and don’t have access to marketing budgets!  The awards night will be part party/part networking event. The whole thing is to be far less bloated and over-long than other media awards events.  We are talking small but beautiful!

AND it is open to everybody on the production side of UK radio, whether you work for an indie, the BBC national networks, BBC in-house production teams, local BBC radio, national commercial radio, local and regional commercial radio, AND those podcasters who aspire to produce output of radio-quality.

So…fancy taking your go at entering?  Why not?  And this is just year 1.  I hope to watch these awards grow in stature as the years pass.  Here’s the flyer, and a link to the relevant website for entries.  Good luck, spread the word…and join me in a hearty hooray for the production teams…we simply wouldn’t have any radio without them (an since 90% of the UK listen to radio every week, it would be a shock to the system!)

RPAs flyer

http://www.radioindies.org

http://www.radioacademy.org

BBC News helps spread word of our new Radio 4 series

The following text and images come from the BBC News website, and talk about new findings revealed by the radio series “Inside The Bermuda Triangle” which was produced by my company, Ladbroke Productions for BBC Radio 4.  Amazingly this story has been read over 300,000 times and has been in the top 5 most read news stories in the world for the last day…exciting!  The link to the BBC news page is – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8248334.stm

You can hear the series every weekday from today (mon 14th Sept) until fri 25th Sept at 3.45pm on BBC Radio 4, or via the iPlayer.

Please check out the Ladbroke Productions website as well 🙂

Bermuda Triangle plane mystery ‘solved’

Map

Two of the so-called Bermuda Triangle’s most mysterious disappearances in the late 1940s may have been solved.

Scores of ships and planes are said to have vanished without trace over the decades in a vast triangular area of ocean with imaginary points in Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico.

But journalist Tom Mangold’s new examination for the BBC provides plausible explanations for the disappearance of two British commercial planes in the area, with the loss of 51 passengers and crew.

One plane probably suffered from catastrophic technical failure as a result of poor design, while the other is likely to have run out of fuel.

Sixty years ago, commercial flights from London to Bermuda were new and perilous. It would require a refuelling stop on the Azores before the 2,000-mile flight to Bermuda, which at that time was the longest non-stop commercial overseas flight in the world.

The planes would have been operating at the limit of their range. Today planes arriving at the tiny Atlantic island have sufficient reserve fuel to divert to the US East Coast 700 miles away, in case of emergency.

And the planes of the post-war era were far less reliable than today’s airliners.

British South American Airways (BSAA), which operated the route, had a grim safety record. In three years it had had 11 serious accidents and lost five planes with 73 passengers and 22 crew members killed.

Unsolved mystery

On 30 January 1948, a BSAA Avro Tudor IV plane disappeared without trace. Twenty-five passengers and a crew of six were on board The Star Tiger. No bodies or wreckage were found.

The official investigation into the disappearance concluded: “It may truly be said that no more baffling problem has ever been presented.

“What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery.”

At 2,000 feet you’d be leaving very little altitude for manoeuvre – in any serious in-flight emergency the plane could have lost its height in seconds and gone into the sea
Eric Newton
Air accident investigator

But there are a number of clues in the official accident report that reveal the Star Tiger had encountered problems before it reached the Azores.

The aircraft’s heater was notoriously unreliable and had failed en route, and one of the compasses was found to be faulty.

Probably to keep the plane warmer, the pilot had decided to fly the whole transatlantic route very low, at 2,000 feet, burning fuel at a faster rate.

On approaching Bermuda, Star Tiger was a little off course and had been flying an hour later than planned.

In addition, the official Ministry of Civil Aviation report considered that the headwinds faced by Star Tiger may have been much stronger than those forecast. This would have caused the fuel to burn more quickly.

“Flying at 2,000 feet they would have used up much more fuel,” said Eric Newton, one of the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s most senior air accident investigators, who reviewed the scenario for the BBC.

“At 2,000 feet you’d be leaving very little altitude for manoeuvre. In any serious in-flight emergency they could have lost their height in seconds and gone into the sea.”

Whatever happened to the plane, it was sudden and catastrophic – there was no time to send an emergency signal.

American Navy Avenger planes - similar to the ones that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle

Five US Navy planes disappeared in the triangle area in 1945

The Avro Tudor IV was a converted warplane that was eventually taken out of passenger service because of its poor safety record. Only BSAA continued to fly the aircraft.

Gordon Store was chief pilot and manager of operations at BSAA. In an interview with his local newspaper last November, he said he had no confidence in the Tudor’s engines.

“Its systems were hopeless… all the hydraulics, the air-conditioning equipment and the recycling fans were crammed together underneath the floor without any thought. There were fuel-burning heaters that would never work,” he said.

Second accident

Almost a year to the day after the disappearance of the Star Tiger, another Avro Tudor IV belonging to BSAA vanished between Bermuda and Jamaica.

Exactly one hour after departure from Bermuda on 17 January 1949, the pilot of the Star Ariel sent a routine communication of his position. But then the plane vanished without trace at 18,000 feet.

According to experts, this would have required a sudden catastrophe.

Again, no wreckage, debris or bodies were ever found.

Fuel starvation at that height was not plausible, the weather report had been good, and pilot error was ruled out.

The plane’s poor design may well have been to blame, according to Don Mackintosh, a former BSAA Tudor IV pilot. The cabin heater mounted underneath the floor where the co-pilot sat is his prime suspect.

My theory is that hydraulic vapour escaped from a leak, which got on to a hot heater and caused an explosion
Captain Peter Duffey

At the time, aircraft heater technology was still in its infancy.

“The heater bled aviation fuel on to a hot tube – and was also fairly close to the hydraulic pipes,” he says.

A pressure switch should have allowed the heater to operate when it was in the air but it was unreliable and was often deliberately short-circuited by staff, allowing the pilot manual control.

The switch prevented inflammable fuel from flowing, but if the heater was switched on manually, gas that may have collected could have ignited.

Captain Peter Duffey, a former BSAA pilot who went on to become a captain of British Airways Concorde, also believes that the proximity of the heater and the hydraulic pipes was significant.

“My theory is that hydraulic vapour escaped from a leak, which got on to a hot heater and caused an explosion,” he says.

Mr Newton’s report came to a similar conclusion: “If the heater had caught fire down below the floorboards then it could have developed to a catastrophic state before the crew knew anything about it.

“There was no automatic fire extinguisher to put it out like there is nowadays. There was no alarm where the heater was stored… so no-one would know, possibly until it was too late.”

The official accident investigation discovered that because of a communications error, search and rescue teams were not despatched until seven and a half hours later.

By then what was left of the plane and the bodies would have sunk.

The report on the disappearance of the first plane, the Star Tiger, said something which, because it could be easily misinterpreted, helped the accident achieve notoriety.

In a moment of philosophical conjecture, the investigators mused that maybe “some external cause may (have) overwhelm(ed) both man and machine”.

Those comments from sober-suited British civil servants opened the floodgates for conspiracy theorists, hack journalists and mischief makers, adding to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.

Inside The Bermuda Triangle – The Mysteries Solved is broadcast in 10 episodes on BBC Radio 4, starting on Monday 14 September at 1545 BST.

Stuff Wot I Made You Can Buy!

It’s quite extraordinary but some of the radio and audio productions I have produced are available to purchase from the luminaries at the BBC.  So, in the spirit of wanting to make some cash to pay for the cats’ food, I thought I might introduce you to some of these rather wonderful audio products, and offer you links to where you can buy them…please buy them, many many of them, and then buy some more for your friends and families…all the oney goes to a good cause (well, the BBC and then a little to me, sort of!)

The Brightonomicon 7 CD box-set

The Brightonomicon 7 CD box-set

THE BRIGHTONOMICON by Robert Rankin

13 half hour episodes / full-cast audio drama / award winning production / as heard of BBC Radio 7

starring David Warner, Andy Serkis, Rupert Degas, Sarah Douglas, Martin Jarvis, Jason Isaacs & many more

written by Elliott Stein & Neil Gardner / music by Jeremy Paul Carroll / edited, produced & directed by Neil Gardner

a Ladbroke Productions / Hokus Bloke co-production for BBC Audio

“A stellar cast including David Warner, Rupert Degas, Andy Serkis, Mark Wing-Davey, Michael Fenton-Stevens & Martin Jarvis bring Robert Rankin’s extraordinary fantasty tale to life! This is the tale of two incredible people – one who knows he is incredible and the other who learns to be incredible. Set in 1960 in Brighton, self-styled guru and magus Hugo Rune rescues a young man from drowning and persuades him to become his assistant and partner in solving 12 mysteries. Rizla (for such is the young man’s assumed name) agrees to help as he has lost his memory and has nowhere else to go. There then follows 12 of the most baffling, surreal, exciting, head-scratching and downright far-fetched mysteries ever written…all based in and around the suburbs of Brighton. Across the mysteries Rizla and the audience learn about the Brighton zodiac, the chronovision, time travel, centaurs, a dastardly plot where the NHS kidnap vagrants for body parts, space pirates, the real history of Victorian Britain, Brighton pirates and the fate that awaits mankind should Hugo Rune fail in his task. And of course, there’s a very bad man involved indeed – Hugo Rune’s arch-nemesis of the ages, Count Otto Black – who wants to rule the world (what else!) You will never hear anything else quite like this in your lifetime. Yet another slice of far-fetched fiction in the Rankin tradition.”

CLICK HERE TO BUY FROM THE BBC SHOP

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes The Brightonomicon (Unabridged)

________________________________________________________________________

The Stuff of Nightmares

The Stuff of Nightmares

DOCTOR WHO: HORNETS’ NEST (1): THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES by Paul Magrs

1hr 12mins enhanced reading

starring Tom Baker & Richard Franklin

recorded & edited by Neil Gardner / produced & directed by Kate Thomas

a BBC Audio production

“Tom Baker reprises the role of the Fourth Doctor in the first of five thrilling brand new audio adventures, with Richard Franklin as Mike Yates. ‘Wanted: retired army Captain for light household duties and fireside companionship. Must tolerate mild eccentricity and strong scientific advice. Knowledge of Giant Maggots, Super Intelligent Spiders and Prehistoric Monsters a positive boon.’

Responding to an advert apparently worded for him alone, Captain Mike Yates (retired) is reunited with a ghost from the past. But why has the Doctor, that mysterious traveller in Time and Space, sent for his former UNIT acquaintance? Trapped by a horde of vicious creatures in an apparently innocuous English country cottage, the two old friends are on the brink of an enormous adventure. As the Doctor relates his recent escapades, it becomes clear to Mike that they – and the Earth at large – are facing an enemy of unimaginable power and horrific intent.

The nightmare is only just beginning… With Tom Baker as the Doctor, Richard Franklin as Mike Yates, Susan Jameson as Mrs Wibbsey and Daniel Hill as Percy Noggins, The Stuff of Nightmares is the first of five linked stories written by the acclaimed Paul Magrs.”

CLICK HERE TO BUY FROM THE BBC SHOP

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes  Doctor Who: Hornets' Nest 1 - the Stuff of Nightmares (Unabridged)

________________________________________________________________________

The Dead Shoes

The Dead Shoes

DOCTOR WHO: HORNETS’ NEST (2): THE DEAD SHOES by Paul Magrs

1hr 05 mins enhanced reading

starring Tom Baker & Richard Franklin

recorded & edited by Neil Gardner / produced & directed by Kate Thomas

a BBC Audio production

“Tom Baker reprises the role of the Fourth Doctor in the first of five thrilling brand new audio adventures, with Richard Franklin as Mike Yates. What is so special about a pair of ballet shoes on display in Cromer’s Palace of Curios? When the Doctor meets Ernestina Scott there in 1932, they discover the horrific truth together. The second of five linked stories written by the acclaimed Paul Magrs, The Dead Shoes also features Susan Jameson, Clare Corbett and Christian Rodska.”

CLICK HERE TO BUY FROM THE BBC SHOP

________________________________________________________________________

The Year of the Flood 14 CD box-set

The Year of the Flood 14 CD box-set

THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD by Margaret Atwood

14hrs 30 mins unabridged reading

read by Lorelei King

recorded, edited & produced by Neil Gardner

a BBC Audio production

“Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners – a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, the preservation of all species and the tending of the Earth – has long predicted the Waterless Flood. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have avoided it: the young trapeze-dancer, Ren, locked into the high-end sex club; and former SecretBurgers meat-slinger turned Gardener, Toby, barricaded into a luxurious spa. Have others survived? And what are the odds for the human race? By turns dark, tender, violent, thoughtful and uneasily hilarious, The Year of the Flood is Atwood at her most effective.”

CLICK HERE TO BUY FROM THE BBC SHOP

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes  The Year of the Flood (Unabridged)

________________________________________________________________________

6000 Postcards radio feature

6000 Postcards radio feature

6000 POSTCARDS

27mins 30secs radio documentary / as heard on BBC Radio 4

presented by Chris McManus

produced by Richard Bannerman / executive produced by Neil Gardner

a Ladbroke Radio production for BBC Radio 4

“Chris McManus uncovers the secrets of a collection of 6000 dusty old postcards that turned up in a forgotten cupboard in the Psychology Department of University College London. It started with two medium-sized cardboard boxes. When Richard Rawles of the Department opened them, he found the cards, with postmarks dating from August 1953. They were addressed to the BBC Television Service, and the search was on to find out how they came to be there and what information they contained.”

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes  6000 Postcards

________________________________________________________________________

Bridging The Gap radio feature

Bridging The Gap radio feature

BRIDGING THE GAP

27mins 30secs radio documentary / featured on “Pick of the Year” / as heard on BBC Radio 4

presented by Simon Fanshawe

produced by Tamsyn Challenger / executive produced by Neil Gardner

a Ladbroke Radio production for BBC Radio 4

“Simon Fanshawe visits an ambitious community project in Bridging the Gap at 1100 on Monday 7th August. The gap in question is the cavernous void between young and old that breeds mistrust and anxiety. Pat Stewart and Rob Burley run the On the Streets project in Gorton, Manchester. Their aim is to develop in young teenagers a sense of their community and show them there is more to life than spiralling from ASBO to serious crime.In the programme, the 15- and 16 year-olds talk frankly about a life they feel has little to offer them – with few or no facilities, threats from gangs, and nothing to occupy their time.The programme attends an events day run by Pat and Rob at the Angel Community Centre, where one highlight is the hand massage session that not only gives the over-60s a chance to relax and enjoy a bit of pampering, but more importantly, a chance for young and old to talk and exchange stories from their very different lives.The campaign itself has won awards for breaking down barriers and helping to develop communication and common interest across generations, and Pat and Rob are determined to “take young people out of the thug mode and elderly people out of the victim mode”. As one of the documentary’s producers, Tamsyn Challenger, says, “To hear a 14-year-old talking about 80-year-old Lou on his estate is heartening when there is little positive coverage of 14-year-old Manchester lads living in depressed areas.” Simon Fanshawe discusses the project both with the scheme’s leaders and also with the police, and guides us through the On the Streets story.”

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes  Bridging the Gap (Unabridged)

________________________________________________________________________

Giants On Our Hands radio feature

Giants On Our Hands radio feature

GIANTS ON OUR HANDS

27mins 30secs radio documentary / featured on “Pick of the Week” / as heard on BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service

presented by Adam Fowler

produced by Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown / executive produced by Neil Gardner

a Ladbroke Radio production for BBC Radio 4/WS

“For 5,000 years and more, elephants have served humanity, as a living tractor, pile driver, fork-lift, tank, and 4WD. But the working elephant is now at the end of its economic usefulness. Adam Fowler explores the plight of thousands of captive elephants in Asia and their historic and changing relationship with man.”

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes  Giants On Our Hands: The Unemployed Elephants of Asia (Unabridged)

________________________________________________________________________

Rembrandt 400 radio feature

Rembrandt 400 radio feature

REMBRANDT 400

43mins 30secs radio documentary / as heard on BBC Radio 3

presented by Neil MacGregor

produced by Richard Bannerman / executive produced by Neil Gardner

a Ladbroke Radio production for BBC Radio 3

“Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, marks the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth. He visits Amsterdam, where Rembrandt made his home for the major part of his creative life, and where he painted the masterpieces that hang in galleries around the world. Rembrandt’s birthday is on July 15, and Amsterdam has marked the year with all kinds of events, from a new musical on Rembrandt’s life to exhibitions looking at every aspect of the artist’s work, from the epic painting of The Night Watch to small-scale etchings and drawings. Neil MacGregor, a longtime enthusiast for Rembrandt’s work, begins the programme in the house where Rembrandt lived in Amsterdam from 1639 to 1658, when bankruptcy in his later years forced him to move. Here, from the basement to the attic, are the everyday objects that Rembrandt would have known, from his box-bed to the huge collection of antiques and curios from all corners of the Dutch-traded world, which Rembrandt made use of to bring the excitement of the exotic into his work. Nearby in the Rijksmuseum, an exhibition puts Rembrandt’s major paintings against those of his slightly earlier Italian counterpart Caravaggio, showing the play of light and dark which gave both artists’ work that gleaming, arresting quality, and which lent a powerful drama to the Biblical or classical scenes they often depicted. In Rembrandt’s case, he turned away from images of beauty or flattery to depict people in all their human frailty – their tenderness, uncertainty, pain, and mortality. It is these qualities, as Neil MacGregor says, that make his paintings reach out so directly to us today, as well as impressing the spectator with their mastery of skill and often dazzling richness.”

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes  Rembrandt 400 (Unabridged)

________________________________________________________________________

The Forever Trap 2 CD exclusive

The Forever Trap 2 CD exclusive

DOCTOR WHO: THE FOREVER TRAP by Dan Abnett

2hrs 20mins reading / exclusive adventure from the BBC

read by Catherine Tate

recorded & edited by Neil Gardner / produced & directed by Kate Thomas

a BBC Audio production

“Catherine Tate reads this exclusive thrilling story, in which the Doctor and Donna are imprisoned on the Edifice – and become neighbours to a terrifying assortment of aliens.  When the TARDIS is invaded by a holographic marketing scam, the Doctor and Donna find themselves trapped on the Edifice, a purpose-built complex of luxury apartments in space. Their new environs leave much to be desired: millions of beings from across the Universe have been gathered to live side by side in similar apartments. Instead of creating neighbourly affection, it’s led to terrible battles being waged in the corridors and on the stairwells.   The Doctor and Donna must cross the paths of deadly alien mobs as they search for the Edifice’s ultimate authority. Who – or what – lies at the heart of the incredible complex? What destructive scourge is eating away at the Edifice itself? And are the Doctor and Donna trapped forever in this living hell?   The Forever Trap features the Doctor and Donna, as played by David Tennant and Catherine Tate in the hit BBC Television series Doctor Who. Written specially for audio by Dan Abnett, it is read by Catherine Tate.”

CLICK HERE TO BUY FROM THE BBC SHOP

CLICK THE ICON TO BUY & DOWNLOAD FROM iTunes  Doctor Who: The Forever Trap (Unabridged) (Unabridged  Fiction)

“So…just WHAT is it you do?”

That's me, in my natural environment...a radio studio...between Tom and Richard!

That's me, in my natural environment...a radio studio...between Tom and Richard!

Isn’t social networking strange?  Since the early days of message boards, then forums, then yahoo groups, the move to MySpace, then the big jump to Facebook, and on to the paradigm shifting experience that is Twitter…I have found myself in the rather wonderful position of having a goodly number of people I now consider good friends, but whom I have never met, and who don’t come via my working life.  They know me as Neil, or as HokusBloke, or as the fellow who does the silly poetry, or the FICTS chap, or the man behind the Robert Rankin audio/radio series…or a hundred other ways.  And on average, about once a week I get asked “So…just WHAT is it you do?”.  In order to try and be helpful, I thought I would give you a very brief description of what I do for a living, and then give you some examples.

So…I am a radio blokey.  What’s that? In my case I am the owner and MD of an independent radio production company based in the South East of the UK.  Independent radio production…does that mean adverts?  No.  You’ve no doubt noticed that large numbers of TV programmes are made by independent production companies, like Endemol, Zeppotron, RDF, etc…  Well, the BBC has an obligation to have 25% of its TV output made by such non-BBC companies.  In radio, there is no such requirement, but the BBC still offers up around 10% of its radio output for independent radio production companies to bid for.  Throughout the year companies like mine, Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd, develop ideas and talent and take them to the various national and regional BBC radio networks in the hope we will be hired to make the programmes we propose.

Ladbroke Productions is the oldest such company in the UK, launched in June 1975.  It was also the first company to be hired by the BBC to independently produce a radio series (BBC World Service back in 1990).  I worked at the company from 1999, starting as an engineer and audio producer, gradually working my way up to being the Creative Director and Executive Producer by 2008.  Then, in Sept 2008 I was given the chance to buy the company and take it away from the parent firm.  Of course, I took the opportunity, even though it was a massive risk.  There is no guaranteed work for radio indies, and the budgets are miniscule!  But I had dreamed of owning and running my own radio/audio production company and here was the chance.

So, it is a year on, and even though the year has been a tough one, I am earning a salary, paying the partners and freelancers and we may even make a small profit!  But most importantly we are making more radio and audio programming than ever before.

So what do I do? Apart from the business side of running a small business of course, I come up with ideas for radio programmes, I work with others to develop ideas, seek out and work with new talent (presenters, broadcasters, writers, journalists, composers, etc…), I work with my 2 partners to then write up and pitch these proposals to the BBC, I handle all the budgeting and contractual stuff, handle all the copyrights and so on…but I also produce my fair share of the programmes.  Producing and directing radio is very different from TV and film…for a start most radio programmes are made by a producer, a presenter and, well, that’s it!  The radio producer is also the researcher, the writer, the runner, the sound engineer, etc…  This is why most of us do it, because the end product is very much our own!  So I produce documentaries and features, I also direct dramas and readings (and write them!), I adapt other people work for radio and audio release, and then I also do a job called Executive Producing.  This is like keeping an eye over another producer’s shoulder.  I don’t tell them what to do or how to do it, but keep an eye out for technical or legal issues, check that the programme is made to the mammoth BBC guidelines and isn’t going to fall foul of the increasingly paranoid compliance procedures.  I do this for Ladbroke programmes, as well as for several other companies.  And finally, because I started out as a sound engineer, I also mix and master pretty much all the programmes we make, and offer this service to other clients.  When you see me tweet about editing, this is usually what I mean…I am tidying up and putting together someone else’s raw audio, to make a beautifully crafted radio programme out of the parts!

So, I do all this for my own company, Ladbroke Productions…as well as for other independent radio producers.  Between us we work on programmes for BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Live, 6 Music, 7, 1 Xtra, Asian Network, BBC Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.

But a man cannot live on one client alone.  So this first year has seen me working to build up some commercial clients.  The first, and biggest has been BBC Audiobooks.  Yes, the BBC again, but they are commercial and not a part of the licence-fee funded BBC.  BBCA are the people behind the Doctor Who audiobooks we all know and love.  It has been a massive joy for me this year to be taken on board as a producer of Doctor Who universe productions…a childhood dream!  I also produce non-scifi audiobooks for them, such as Margaret Atwood and PD James.

So that’s me in a short sweet nutshell.  I love radio, I love audio…these are the two most important mediums we have and I am unashamed of backing them to the hilt.  You’ll be hearing a lot more about new audio projects as the year progresses…there are some exciting new things just about to happen, which I hope you will support me with.

In the meantime, here’s a list of the BBC radio programmes Ladbroke Productions have produced since Oct 2008 and up to the end of 2009, I hope you’ll see that we do a massive range of things, bring value and quality to the BBC audience, and most importantly, you keep listening (or start!) to the radio.  Oh, and if you would like to hear any of the programmes, we do sell them at very reasonable rates 🙂

BBC RADIO 2

  • The Judy Garland Trail – 6×30 mins – Presented by Michael Freedland – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Nat King Cole: From Jazz To Rock’n’Roll – 4×30 mins – Presented by Clarke Peters – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Race With The Devil: Gene Vincent Story – 1×60 mins – Presented by Roger Daltrey – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • The King of Motown: Berry Gordy Story – 1×60 mins – Presented by Marshall Chess – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Feelin’ Love: Donna Summer Story – 1×60 mins – Presented by Paul Gambaccini – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Blonde On Blonde: Marilyn Monroe – 1×60 mins – Presented by Mariella Frostrup (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Hollywood Charmers – 4×30 mins – Presented by Michael York – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • I’ll Still Love You Tomorrow-Carole King Story – 3×30 mins – Presented by Pete Waterman – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • The Elvis Trail – 6x30mins – Presented by Michael Freedland – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Development Hell – 1×60 mins – Presented by Adam & Joe – Produced by Neil Rosser & Neil Gardner (Exec – Richard Bannerman)
  • My Word Is My Bond – 6×15 mins – Read by Sir Roger Moore – Produced & Directed by Neil Gardner (Exec – Neil Rosser)

BBC RADIO 3

  • The Essay-Henry:King of Kings – 5×15 mins – Written & Presented by Various – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • The Hidden Composers – 1×44 mins – Presented by Lowri Blake – Produced by Richard Bannerman (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Theatre & Conflict – 1×44 mins – Presented by  TBC – Produced by Richard Bannerman (Exec – Neil Gardner)

BBC RADIO 4

  • That’s No Job For An Asian! – 1×30 mins – Presented by Yasmeen Khan – Produced by Yasmeen Khan & Neil Gardner (Exec – Richard Bannerman)
  • Afternoon Play-On Ego – 1×44 mins – Written & Directed by Mick Gordon (Exec – Neil Gardner & Richard Bannerman)
  • The Deighton File – 1×30 mins – Presented by Patrick Humphries – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Twin Sisters, Two Faiths – 1×38 mins – Presented by Anna Scott-Brown – Produced by Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Who’s My Half-Brother? Where’s My Half-Sister? – 1×30 mins – Presented by Kati Whitaker – Produced by Kati Whitaker & Richard Bannerman (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Three Rivers – 3×30 mins – Presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli – Produced by Richard Bannerman (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Inside the Bermuda Triangle-The Mysteries Solved – 10×15 mins + 2×60 mins – Presented by Tom Mangold – Produced by Adam Fowler (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Blondin of Niagara Falls & Ealing – 1×30 mins – Presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli – Produced by Richard Bannerman (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Protected By Faith – 1×30 mins – Presented by John Waite – Produced by Neil Gardner (Exec – Richard Bannerman)
  • Tea & Biscuits – 5×15 mins – Presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli – Produced by Richard Bannerman & Tamsyn Challenger (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Scott of Slimbridge – 1×60 mins + 1×42 mins – Presented by Frank Gardner – Produced by Merilyn Harris (Exec – Richard Bannerman)
  • Coast 2100 – 2×30 mins – Presented by TBC
  • Friday Play-Deep Cut – Directed by Mick Gordon (Exec – Melanie Harris)
  • Home Grown – 1×30 mins – Presented by Yasmeen Khan – Produced by Yasmeen Khan & Neil Gardner (Exec – Richard Bannerman)
  • In Search of A Shtetl – 1×30 mins – Presented by Michael Freedland and Jonathan Freedland – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Mataphor For Healing – 1×30 mins – Presented by Dr Phil Hammond – Produced by Jane Feinmann & Richard Bannerman (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Football Fights Back – 1×30 mins – Presented by Hardeep Singh Kohli – Produced by Adam Fowler (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Afternoon Play-Grace – 1×44 mins – Written & Directed by Mick Gordon (Exec – Neil Gardner & Richard Bannerman)
  • Afternoon Play-Mayflies – 1×44 mins – Directed by Neil Gardner (Exec – Dirk Maggs)
  • Afternoon Play-Cry Babies – 1×44 mins – Directed by Neil Gardner (Exec – Dirk Maggs)
  • A Failure To Provide? – 1×30 mins – Presented by Yasmeen Khan – Produced by Yasmeen Khan & Neil Gardner (Exec – Richard Bannerman)
  • Afternoon Play-Cancer Tales – Directed by Merilyn Harris (Exec – Richard Bannerman)

BBC RADIO 7

  • The Brightonomicon – 13×30 mins – Written & Directed by Neil Gardner (based on the novel by Robert Rankin)

BBC WORLD SERVICE

  • The Mind’s Tibet – 1×26 mins – Presented by TBC – Produced by Neil Rosser (Exec – Neil Gardner)
  • Twin Sisters, Two Faiths – 1×26 mins – Presented by Anna Scott-Brown – Produced by Adam Fowler & Anna Scott-Brown (Exec – Neil Gardner)

BBC AUDIOBOOKS

  • Doctor Who & The Dalek Invasion of Earth – 4xCDs – Read by William Russell – Produced by Neil Gardner
  • Doctor Who: Hornets’ Nest – 5xCDs – Starring Tom Baker – Edited & Sound Design by Neil Gardner
  • Sarah Jane Adventures: The White Wolf – Starring Elizabeth Sladen – Produced by Neil Gardner
  • Sarah Jane Adventures: The Shadow People – Starring Elizabeth Sladen – Produced by Neil Gardner
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – Read by Lorelei King – Produced by Neil Gardner
  • Talking About Detective Fiction by PD James – Read by Diana Bishop – Produced by Neil Gardner

If you’d like to hear excerpts or learn more about Ladbroke Production please check out our website – http://www.ladbrokeradio.com and if you are on Facebook, do seek us out and become a fan 🙂

Spending Time With The Doctor

Kate, Tom, me and Richard

Kate, Tom, me and Richard

Calling all Doctor Who fans…so, it’s not exactly hot off the presses news any more, but Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor) is back as our favourite Time Lord, in a new 5 CD audio drama being released by BBC Audiobooks between Sept and Dec 2009, called “Doctor Who – Hornet’s Nest”.  This is no mere audiobook, nor is it a traditional radio play…it’s a chimera, a beast of many parts…with narration, conversation, action scenes, dramatic vignettes, and of course, music and SFX…this is a whole new way of bringing the Doctor to life.

Tom does some 'acting'!

Tom does some 'acting'!

So why am I blogging about it?  Because I am not just a fan (Tom is very much MY Doctor, in the same way Roger Moore was MY James Bond – I’m a 70’s/80’s boy!), but I have been responsible for the recording of all the audio, and the editing together of the adventures.  Although (unusually for me nowadays) I am not the named producer/director (that is the gorgeous and uber-talented Kate Thomas), I am bringing my producer/director experience to the editing and mastering of the series, helping to mix the usual BBC audiobooks format with a more radio/audio play style.

Tom, me and Richard making faces...well, why not?

Tom, me and Richard making faces...well, why not?

Imagine my squeel of fanboy joy when I was asked to get involved in this project.  Months ago, when we first talked about it, the whole thing was super hush-hush and I couldn’t tell anyone what I was doing.  But now, the news is out, the interviews are being done, the articles are being released, and the first CD is due out in shops in a month and a half!

Over the past 2 months we’ve spent around 10 days in a radio drama studio in Swiss Cottage, London, and a radio voice-over studio in Central London, recording Tom and the wonderful Richard Franklin (he was Captain Yates back in the day, alongside the Brigadier!), as well as the likes of Rula Lenska, Daniel Hill and Susan Jameson.

In the drama studio

In the drama studio

That first recording session, we all got a thrill down our spines as Tom launched in to the full-on Doctor lines, bringing the character back to life as though the last 25 years had never happened.  He was back!  Doctor Who sounded (and looked) like he should again.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked Peter’s Doctor, and Colin was OK, Sylvestor had the added bonus of Ace, Chris Ecclestone was a breath of freshness, and David, well, what can we say about the superb Mr Tennent?!  But for me, a wee young thing of a lad in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Doctor Who always wears a long scarf, eats jelly babies, is very tall, has piercing eyes and an ever-so sharp and slightly naughty wit…in short (or tall in this case!), Tom Baker!

It’s a been a real pleasure of a job recording and editing this series.  It’s also been, and continues to be, a lot of hard work, long hours and faffing around finding SFX and music and making things balance.  But a boyhood dream has come true…I’ve met Doctor Who, and it was MY Doctor Who, and I haven’t just met him, I’ve worked with him, produced and directed him, and helped create a whole new chapter in the Doctor Who chronicles.

The infamous jelly babies!

The infamous jelly babies!

Boy oh boy I am in geeky fanboy nerd heaven.  I really hope you enjoy the series when it is released.  As I understand it there should be ample opportunities to meet Tom and the cast and get the CDs signed…and you never know, you may just meet me there too!

Hope you like the pictures as well…come on, I HAD to get a few, didn’t I?!? 🙂

A Couple Of Fascinating Radio Programmes For A Sunday

Made In Manchester Logo

The following two radio docs were made by my friend Ashley Byrne’s radio indie Made In Manchester, and both are on-air on the BBC today.  If you have the chance, check them out!

WALKING WITH WHITMAN

Stuart Maconie meets devotees of Walt Whitman in Bolton and explores the history of the town’s unlikely yet enduring relationship with the American poet.

A group of devoted fans established the Whitman Fellowship from 1885 onwards, and, although he never visited the town, Whitman developed strong ties through his correspondence with members of the group. Today, Whitman devotees gather for the annual Whitman Walk, to recite his works and share from Whitman’s Loving Cup, a gift presented to his followers in Bolton in 1894.

Stuart joins this happy band of walkers and Whitmanites to discover why the poet is still celebrated there, nearly 120 years after his death.

  • 1630-1700 (BST)
  • Sunday, July 5th 2009 (Repeated at 23.30-0000 BST on Saturday 11th July 2009)
  • BBC Radio 4
  • 92.4-94.6 FM LW 198 on line, Dab digital radio, Freeview, Sky or the BBC i-player for 7 days after broadcast.
  • Presented by Stuart Maconie
  • Produced by Russell Crewe and Andrew Edwards
  • Executive Producer: Neil Gardner

·         A Made in Manchester Production for BBC Radio 4

GAY LIFE AFTER SADDAM

Aasmah Mir investigates how life for gay or LGBT people in Iraq has got much worse since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The programme contains harrowing testimonies from gay, bi and trans Iraqis and shocking descriptions of murder and torture which some listeners may find disturbing.

  • 1900-2000 (BST)
  • Sunday, July 5th 2009
  • BBC Radio 5Live
  • 909/693 MW, on line, Dab digital radio, Freeview, Sky or the BBC i-player for 7 days after broadcast.
  • Presented by Aasmah Mir
  • Produced by Ashley Byrne and Gail Champion
  • Executive Producer: Russell Crewe
  • Actors: Ashley Byrne, Samuel Barnett (History Boys, Beautiful People, Mrs Henderson Presents, Desperate Romantics) and Paul Kendrick (Consenting Adults)

·         A Made in Manchester Production for BBC Radio 5Live

Happy Independents Day!

Click to visit the RIG website

Click to visit the RIG website

July 4th, and in the US of A everyone is going barmy mad loppy stylee for the anniversary of their country’s independence from British rule, from the yoke of oppression, freedom from outdated ways of thinking and ridiculous rules…ah yes, 4th july, hoorah and huzzah!

Here in the UK, I am proclaiming it Independents Day, the day when the hard-working, much maligned, often under-rated and woefully disregarded independent radio producers are supported by the general public, those in authority, and indeed, everyone else.  “Supported, Neil?” Yes, supported.  “But supported in what?” Well, let me tell you…

In the UK, the BBC is funded by the License Fee, a pay-it-or-we’ll-put-you-in-jail stealth tax that allows the Corporation to live alomst, but not entirely, outside of the usual rules of a competitive market.  This money, paid by the UK public, is expected to pay for the BBC to discover, develop, produce and broadcast/distribute the best TV, radio and new media programming possible, while servicing niche and minority audiences, supporting the UK’s creative industries and NOT baltantly chasing ratings in an eefort to ‘out-do’ its commercial rivals.

In order to deliver on this, BBC TV has split the production of its programming between its in-house staff production teams, and the large and vibrant independent production sector, made up of companies such as Rag Doll, Zeppotron, Endemol, RDF, etc…  Here’s the way the ‘quota’ of production is split:

  • BBC TV In-House – 50% of all output
  • TV Indies – 25% of all output
  • In-House & Indies – compete for remaining 25% of all output

Seems like a fair and equitable way of doing things, eh?  It has certainly pushed the in-house BBC teams to be more creative and forward-thinking, and has allowed TV indies to grow and flourish, build successful businesses and employ a host of talented individuals across the UK.

“So it’s the same with BBC Radio then, Neil?” Ah, well, sadly not.  BBC TV is required BY LAW, under the Communications Act and the BBC’s Royal Charter to share out it’s TV commissioning as set out above. But BBC Radio (or Audio & Music as they prefer to be called) have no such requirement on them.  Politicians have been to scared, or shy, or pathetic, or useless, or ‘bought-off’ or apathetic to engage in any such move.

The BBC has been using radio indies for around 15 years now, and have made available a VOLUNTARY ‘quota’ of 10% of ‘eligible’ hours to the sector.  This figure has not changed in all that time…it remains voluntary, it remains inviolable.  The BBC claim it is a floor, not a ceiling, but rarely does the % go higher.  And in fact, statistics show that in real terms, and real % of spend, the BBC are actually only allowing radio indies a mere 4-7% of output.

“Hang on, Neil, that doesn’t make sense…surely that’s not fair?” Well, the radio indie sector certainly doesn’t think it is fair.  But please don’t ask us why the BBC, the Government and those in power refuse to improve the situation, because we have yet to hear a coherent and intelligible argument.  Here’s some of the BBC’s claims:

  • Radio indies don’t have the capacity to produce more – actually, we are struggling with what we have as it is too little, with minute and ever-falling budgets.  As commercial businesses, the more work we get the bigger we grow.  Unlike in-house units who have an upper limit on capacity, we will increase staffing and resources once we have the work.
  • Radio indies only sell to the BBC – actually we sell to commercial radio networks, foreign radio stations, international public service broadcasters, publicly funded content users, corporate clients and many others.  We may only sell 1 hour Archive Hour documentaries to Radio 4, but our skills, services, talents and staff are much desired across the audio production sector.
  • The BBC needs to protect its in-house production base – from what exactly?  We are not coming to rape and pilage.  The unions and management all agree that in-house producers are over-worked and stressed, many doing the job of 3 or 4 producers. Increase the indies’ quota from 10% to 25% and reduce the stress on the in-house producers.  There need be no redundancies or sackings…that will only happen because the BBC management would use any such change as an opportunity to cut costs yet again!  And where would those in-house producers go for work…to the indie sector!
  • Indies cost more than in-house – actually, we cost less, and the head of BBC Audio & Music said so in a public statement.  In-house units have staff producers, editors, BA’s, assistants, and many others on salary, all supposedly being paid from the programme budgets.  But with programme budgets dropping year on year, but staff salaries being increased in line with inflation, just how are these units able to afford the costs on the budgets? Radio indies use less staff, more freelancers, spread the costs more effectively and make better and wider use of talent from across the UK.  And we also find in-house units hiring freelance producers and directors…hang about, that means you don’t have the ability in-house to deliver your quota with your staff?!  Surely then there is a rationale for offering more to the indies, who would hire the same freelancers anyway?
  • The BBC is a meritocracy – really? So when radio indies get rejection notes that say “We are sorry but while we would have loved to commission this idea, the round was extremely over-subscribed and so there were no slots left in which to place it.  Please re-submit next round” we should believe that merit is a resounding ethos at the Corporation?  When we hear that in-house teams get a 2nd chance to pitch ideas because they failed in the main round to fill their quota, we should feel that it is a fair and level playing field?

Well, as you see, this is an issue that should be fairly simple to fix.  The BBC just need to put radio indies on a equitable footing as TV indies.  No biggie.  But the BBC won’t budge, they refuse to move and they are putting the continued growth and prosperity of the sector, with our 2000 or so employees and access to UK talent at risk.

So please, if you think it is time that radio indies in the UK got a fair deal from the BBC, write to the following people are express your disappointment and anger at the way we have been treated.  It is YOUR money after all, and all we want is a fair chance to bring our award-winning, innovative, creative and unique programme ideas to the airwaves.  We want a level playing field..we aren’t asking for a free-ride, but a fair crack at winning a little more work.  Here’s who to write to:

  • TIM DAVIE – Director, BBC AUDIO & MUSIC, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London, W1A 1AA
  • Or drop a line to your MP and ask them to raise a question in the House, or speak directly to the Secretary of State, or the DCMS.

Thanks for your support, and I hope you keep on enjoying the BBC, its radio programmes (in house or indie produced) and radio in general…radio is a fantastic medium and those of us who make it love it and want to see it flourish.

N.B. I am the Chair of the Radio Independents Group, the trade body that represents the independent radio & audio producers of the UK, and we have been lobbying for almost 5 years now for changes to be made to indie commissioning at the BBC.  Currently we are also calling on the Government to put in place a mandatory 25% quota on ALL publicly funded media creation to be produced by indies.  Please check out the Radio Independents Group website for more about us and our sector.

Twiddling Thumbs

Being a radio indie has its moments of madness, generally twice a year when all the BBC radio networks run their commissioning rounds at the same time (I know, madness!).  But once those months are over, we hit these times of thumb twiddling.  Don’t get me wrong, as a company Ladbroke Productions is churning out the hits, several progs for Radio 2, a series and a one off for R4, and we are in a commissioning round for Radio 3.  But in terms of waiting on results of the other comm rounds, we just have to sit and wait…it is agony, as the results point towards what kind of year ahead we are going to have, whether we will stay in business or not, and whether we will make a profit or a loss!

It is one of the difficulties working with the BBC who, no matter how hard they try (and some of them do try very hard) they just don’t understand what being a commercial business is all about.  So on the one hand they push our industry for ideas with mammoth amounts of unpaid for development up front, with very little time before the deadlines…and then they take months to make their decisions, not really getting just how vital the results are to the businesses and lives of those in the indie world.

However, the BBC are to be praised for their continuing use of radio indies, since they are not required to use us at all.  Even though there are times when we all think no-one at the BBC wants us around, the reality is that they come to our sector and seek out the best new ideas and talent, and pay us to make the programmes…it’s a fairly simple deal, but one no-one else in the publicly funded content and broadcast world offers.

So the twiddling thumbs thing is a nightmare…but thank you BBC for at least giving us the chance to twiddle our thumbs…it is very much appreciated 🙂

%d bloggers like this: