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A nightmare that never seemed to end
In 1979 Paul and Simon attempt to set a record for the longest continuous broadcast while at BBC Radio Derby.
There was no doubt that something dramatic would need to be done. My colleague Simon and myself were station assistants at BBC Radio Derby. It was an interesting job from “driving” programmes (operating the equipment for the presenter or producer of the programme) to fully rigging outside broadcasts. In this way, it was varied and interesting. It wasn’t, however, the holy grail of jobs at the BBC, that was being a BBC Radio Producer. This was not an easy promotion to get, particularly if you hadn’t been to university. Simon and myself had no such advantage. Something had to be done and it needed to demonstrate initiative and creativity.
More than forty years on I’m pretty sure it was Simon who came up with the idea. We would make an attempt to beat the world record for the longest radio programme. Think of it, we two humble station assistants would be famous!
We quickly found out that the longest continuous BBC national broadcast was the Queen’s Coronation 2nd June 1953 at 7 hours 15 minutes. That seemed to our minds beatable. However, we also found out that some lunatic in America had broadcast continuously for more than 300 hours. “That’s over 12 days,” said Simon. I saw the world record disappearing fast.
”What about just going for the Great Britain Record?” Simon said “if we do more than 40 hours its ours for the taking.” That was it, easy, we’ll go for 45 hours just to make sure.
So, without a thought in our heads and a care in our young hearts (nor the slightest idea of what we would actually broadcast) we quickly tracked down our manager to overwhelm him with our idea.
“Let me get this straight” he said.” You want me to turn over the whole of Radio Derby’s output from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon while you two broadcast continuously, never leaving the studio except for the toilet?” “Yes” we said. He agreed. Looking back now I can’t decide whether we were completely deluded or the manager was, but it was happening nevertheless. From today’s perspective broadcasters must wonder what planet we lived on. Perhaps I had been lucky with my superiors. If you had an idea and the enthusiasm to sell it, often you got the green light to try it. You obviously didn’t get any money but we were used to that.
We were also lucky that other staff members were just as enthusiastic. Every contributor was pulled in, the outside broadcast van prowled the streets, music was listed and prepared, guests on the phone and in studio and we two intrepid broadcasters began the marathon at 7pm on Friday 30th March 1979.
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Our first record, a hit of the time haunts me to this day. Gloria Gaynor and I will survive. 43 years on, if it’s played to celebrate 70’s music, I feel slightly sick.
So, on we broadcast. The radio car roamed, we interviewed, we played records and studio guests came and went. Food was brought in and our faithful colleagues took turns in keeping us company. On and on it went through the night and into the Saturday we kept going.
I think, for me, the novelty wore off the afternoon of Saturday but that night was the worst. As I remember we took no special precautions, ate no special food and the craze for carrying massive water bottles around hadn’t been invented so we never thought of hydration. Coffee and sandwiches were all I can remember.
Then we started hallucinating. No, really. I think it was Simon who saw things crawling up the wall first. I was worried, not because I didn’t believe him, but I was seeing things coming out of the studio desk. I never told Simon that I saw things as well because I had boasted that, for an army reserve, this was a doddle. How wrong I was, it was a nightmare that never seemed to end. It went on and on and on.
It did end though. Me, Simon and Gloria pushed through to a new British record of 45 hours. Looking back at that photo, we seemed all in. I will always be grateful to the manager who had the nerve to let us do it.
I haven’t seen Simon since I left Radio Derby, I haven’t forgotten him. I feel we went through a war together. Many years later I saw his name come up as the Editor of the Antiques Road Show so, in the end, it worked. We became producers and that, to us, in those far off days was all that mattered.