In an age when we have all become accustomed to a plethora of radio and television stations broadcasting 24/7, it was refreshing to sit back and listen to fellow Friend and excellent raconteur, Peter Harwood, reminisce about his thirty-five year career with the BBC.   How different things were in those early days with BBC radio – only three programmes: the Home Service, the Light Programme and the Third Programme!  It was not until the mid-sixties that these were going to morph into Radios 4, 2 and 3 and be joined later by many other stations vying for airwaves.

Peter with balloons in his old school coloursTo many of the ninety-four Friends gathered in the Gold Room at the Wintergarden – bedecked with balloons in Peter’s old school colours of blue and gold (although truth be told we can take no credit for this as they had been left by the revellers of the previous night!), what they were going to hear would bring back many memories of a bygone era when families would indeed gather to listen to the radio.

Although born in Ruislip in north-west London, Peter spent his formative years in South Africa where his family had moved following the war.  They lived in Cape Town where his father, who worked for Courtaulds, had been sent to set up an underwear factory under the Gossard brand name.  He spoke Afrikaans well, and after attending junior school (where he met his future wife, Vicky), he won a scholarship to Rondebosch Boys’ School in Cape Town.  This is a school which boasts many illustrious alumni (besides Peter) including playwright and former Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Wright and the late Peter Rutherford, the actor who died prematurely aged 58 in West Sussex twenty years ago.

Always interested in ‘sound’, Peter began his career in broadcasting with the South African Broadcasting Corporation but he and Vicky did not want to bring up their family under Apartheid so decided to return to London.   Keen to continue working in broadcasting, Peter successfully applied to the BBC and hence began the career which was to span more than thirty years.  Initially he was sent on a six-week Studio Managers’ Training Course and spent three months at Bush House with the Overseas Services.

The first music that Peter asked his audience to identify was the five-minute long Radio 4 theme tune compiled by Fritz Spiegl.  Unbelievably, this was played at the start of every morning between 1978 and 2006!

Peter in full flight

It was truly a trip down memory lane for many as the audience racked their brains to come up with the programme associated with a series of clips played by Peter. Who remembers Housewife’s Choice (“In Party Mood” by Jack Strachey), Music While You Work, Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Children’s Favourites, Sing Something Simple and Semprini Serenade – which pianist Alberto Semprini always introduced with the words, “Old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones”.

Peter shared many amusing anecdotes from his interesting and varied career.  For instance, the BBC’s love of acronyms or abbreviations; how they always strive to be accurate with sound effects – trains and birds pose particular problems as there is always some ‘expert’ out there to point out errors; and how bagpipes apparently cause all sorts of sound balance issues!

Everyone was truly grateful to Peter for giving up his Sunday afternoon to entertain the assembled Friends and jog so many memories!

Peter sharing a joke with Chairman, Lesley Raven,and Social Chairman,  Jackie Knights

After an enjoyable tea the afternoon’s raffle was drawn which raised  £136.45.