A new series for Radio 2 - Sounds of the 20th Century

Wednesday 6 April 2011, 18:42

Heather Davies Heather Davies

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The Royal Festival Hall

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As a producer for Trevor Dann's Company, a radio production company founded by the UK radio veteran of that name, I have the opportunity to work across an array of audio projects; however, I'm most excited about our new series, Sounds of the 20th Century. It's essentially an audio journey through five decades of music and events on BBC Radio 2 - every Thursday at 2200 for the next year.

One of the most challenging and unique things about the show is that - apart from Jeremy Vine giving a short intro at the start - there's no presenter. This means that each programme - dedicated to one year from 1951 to 2000 - doesn't feature anything that wasn't heard, seen or read at the time. It's just the music, the news, the radio, the TV and the movies as they were first experienced.

Our first task was to work out what happened each year. I trawled the internet, spent ages in my local library, and made use of the BBC's own mini research library (it's really small!) and other event diaries, to come up with the definitive list of what happened when... getting myself covered in lots of yellow highlighter in the process!

A massive spreadsheet of music and events followed, which I used to guide my search through the BBC TV and Radio Archive, the Newspaper Archive at the British Library, and the British Pathe and Movietone newsreel archives. Luckily for me, much of this is now available online, so I was able to search their collections without having to physically go to their preservation sites.

From all this research, we then selected the key stories that were really relevant in that year, balancing news and cultural events with clips from entertainment programmes and films. And at the heart of it all is the wonderful music of the time, sourced from the BBC's own music archive.

All these items were called in (electronically where possible) and then we sat listening very carefully. With no presenter, the clips really had to sell themselves in order to be considered for the final cut. They needed to explain what they were and deliver the great atmosphere we want to create for each programme. Much ended up on the cutting room floor.

Finally a running order was created, taking the listener on a journey that would contain the highs and lows, the clips that looked back and others that strove forwards. We took this into the studio and laid the tracks out, tweaked, considered, and tweaked some more. We're really proud of the final product.

We'll stay true to the music and plan to make a full and detailed running order available after each show (so you can work out what that clip was!).

Heather Davies is a Producer on Sounds of the 20th Century

  • Listen to part one of the Sounds of the 20th Century - 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain, the first hit single with multi-tracking (Les Paul's How High The Moon) and the first real rock 'n' roll record (Jackie Brentson's Rocket 88) - on BBC Radio 2 this Thursday at 2200.

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    Comment number 1.

    Looking forward to this - but wasn't there something similar (on Radio 4) a year or two ago - perhaps with more news than music?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Looking forward to it. Sounds like an opportunity to do very interesting things with signposting and shifting moods with sonic. Bravo!

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    Comment number 3.

    I'm listening to this live - and I know my mum and dad would love it. They married in 1951 (Diamond Wedding later this year) and this would bring tears to their eyes:| But.....they go to bed well before 10pm, and don't have a computer to listen later.
    I've looked but can't see if it's going to be repeated during the daytime???
    I'd love to hear that it is!

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    Comment number 4.

    Just finished listening to programme 1 - excellent radio. I was 6 years old at the start of 1951 and remember just about everything featured as I was glued to the radio and a regular cinema goer. I appreciate the lack of a presenter, so that the clips can speak for themselves. But to hear many of the records regularly you had to listen to Radio Luxembourg in the evenings as many of the singers, especially the Americans, were frowned upon by the BBC "Gramophone" Department. I eagerly look forward to the whole series.

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    Comment number 5.

    I loved the programme and am looking forward to the following years in the series.
    I remember most of the news clips - how dated they sound now! - and all the music played but I was continually amazed to realise that this was all from one year...but even more amazing is that I was only 7 years old in 1951. Children take in more than you think!
    The sound compilation was excellent - radio at its best.


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