Colin H on Michael Standing
I do like a good pun. And cultural history. And speculation. All three combine in this delightful aside from my book ‘The Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers’ (2015).
The speculative aspect is this: could I have stumbled upon the ultimate source of the current TV news obsession of cutting to reporters standing outside somewhere where something happened hours ago but where absolutely nothing, bar darkness and bad weather, is happening now?
Legendary Irish piper Leo Rowsome corresponded vexatiously with various BBC producers between 1926-52, eventually securing several radio and TV broadcasts. It’s a fascinating tale in itself, possible to reconstruct from BBC Written Records and other sources (which I did, in a chapter of the book). One of the shows he was keen to appear on was ‘In Town Tonight’, a radio magazine/chat show that ran from 1933 to 1960, with a TV version simulcast from 1954 to 1956. Opening to the sound (and later vision) of Piccadilly Circus, the presenter would begin: “Once more we stop the mighty roar of London’s traffic and, from the great crowds, we bring you some of the interesting people who have come by land, sea and air to be ‘In Town Tonight’.”
Among regular outside broadcast spots in the show during the 1940s was ‘Standing On The Corner’, presented by a man named Michael Standing. Genius. Michael Standing was the BBC’s Head of Sound Broadcasting in the early 40s and then Director of Variety 1945-53. I’m tickled that, it seems to me, the *entire* reason for having him shoving a microphone under the noses of passers-by on a street corner outside the studio – presumably far from technically straightforward in a live broadcast situation in the 1940s – was his name.
These days, the news programmes that relentlessly cut away to someone shivering in a desolate location long after anything has happened don’t even have the justification of a reporter called ‘Michael Freezingoutsideparliamentatmidnight’ to justify it.
Leo did eventually get to appear on the radio version of ‘In Town Tonight’ – three times, indeed. One whole episode and a fragment from the TV version of the show is available on BBC iPlayer Collections – it’s terrific stuff, including a remarkably formal and yet banal interview with Hitler’s valet and a delightfully subversive (for the time) section where the great Alastair Sim, in the guise of a cranky Scottish character from his current film ‘Geordie’, attempts to interview his co-star in the film. It’s a semi-improvised comedy sketch, really – and having read a terrific biography of Sim a few years back, by Mark Simpson (no, not the TV news one), where it was clear that Sim detested interviews and almost never gave them, I can imagine that he probably came up with this unusual format as a way of ‘doing publicity’ while not actually revealing anything of himself.
The pic shows Standing doing his thing in a bomb shelter during WWII.