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Radio 4 Extra Strong: Count Arthur speaks

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Martin Dempsey Martin Dempsey 10:18, Monday, 13 June 2011

The train left Euston at 11.40am on an unusually clear blue spring day back in March. Aboard it were myself and broadcast assistant Kevin Gordon, both of us bound for Manchester. A normal enough start.

Of course, 'normality' is a relative term. My day to day duties at 4 Extra probably appear quite bizarre to visitors. My job is listening to all archive programmes before they get a proper airing on the network. Ordinarily, this means a lot of time with headphones on, poring over editions of Dad's Army, Paul Temple, Ballylenon and the like. It's by no means a solitary job - in fact there's whole team of us, like a strange branch of MI5 keeping fictional characters under surveillance.

We do get the chance to flex our creative muscles as well as our analytical ones. Namely, the dedicated three hour specials you may have heard on Saturdays. This particular opportunity I'd seized with both hands. The chance to work with radio legends Count Arthur Strong and Mark Radcliffe? Yes please, especially as the good Count (his Grace? I never did settle on a form of address) was mid-tour, providing an opportunity to record in Manchester's Oxford Road studios. A piece of broadcasting history, I was thrilled to record there before it all relocates to Salford.

Count Arthur

Count Arthur's impending presence seemed to add a gloss of cheery surrealness to everything almost as soon as we got there.

The receptionist, startled by our early arrival, said she'd check with the people booked into Studio 5 next - and promptly dialled my number while I was stood two feet away. The cab company, too, had somehow got my number conflated with Count Arthur's and kept telling me my lift was waiting. They were so insistent, I began to wonder if I was Count Arthur after all. To raise it all to a giddy height, Studio 5 was mysteriously festooned with bunting and paper chains.

The Count and Mark Radcliffe

Of course, when Mark and the Count (His Worship?) arrived it served as a splendidly demented backdrop to an uproariously silly session as the pair took off in intricate flights of fancy. Mark Radcliffe and Count Arthur were quite simply a delight, and a joyous hour of recording yielding far more than I'd expected.

In fact all of the staff at Manchester, studio managers, receptionists, our own Kevin Gordon, deserve a huge thanks for their help in making it happen. I hope it makes you smile as much as I did as I stepped out onto Oxford Road afterwards, when further surrealness erupted in the form of French football fans chanting 'Manchestaaaaaair!'.

It's the Count's world, we just live in it - 'normal' really is a relative term.

Martin Dempsey is producer, Radio 4 Extra


  • Comment number 1.

    What a great job you've got!

    What are the reasons for listening to all the programmes pre-broadcast? Is it to make sure the quality is OK, or that they don't contain old fashioned racism etc?

  • Comment number 2.

    Count Arthur Strong. What utter rubbish

  • Comment number 3.

    #1 Hi dogshank,

    I asked Martin for a bit more detail about the pre-broadcast process. This is what he said, I hope it helps:

    "Actually, our primary reasons for listening to programmes prior to broadcast are pretty prosaic.

    Firstly most of our archive has to be digitised from the original tapes. So whilst checking the final sound quality before broadcast – we also need to capture information about the programmes.

    Some shows haven't been heard for decades – so information is needed for DAB radio, digital TV and the iPlayer – as well as the press, Radio Times billings, previews etc. Paperwork from the distant past is often spectacularly unhelpful or simply missing.

    We also document real life references (e.g. people, events, etc) Just because a programme was made 10 or 30 years ago doesn’t mean it can no longer cause offence today if inappropriately scheduled. From Robin Cook to Michael Jackson - many famous folk have been lampooned over the years – but in the event of their deaths, we have to be sensitive about broadcasting shows poking fun at them in the immediate months after their passing.

    The same goes for terrorist attacks, natural calamities, plane crashes, rail disasters, maritime accidents, elections, poignant anniversaries – you'd be amazed how old programmes can jar with topical events. Yes, occasionally the older entries in the archive yield up moments reflecting different attitudes of a different time - sexism / racism / homophobia - but in that instance we advise our presenters to include an original transmission date to provide context in the programme's introduction."

  • Comment number 4.

    Count Arthur Strong is wonderful. If you don't like him, then don't listen!

  • Comment number 5.

    See Count Arther Strong Live - I defy anyone not to come out of the theatre with their faces aching from laughing!


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