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You are in: Suffolk > BBC Radio Suffolk > Features > Ivan Howlett dies

Ivan Howlett at BBC Radio Suffolk, 2008

Ivan Howlett dies

BBC Radio Suffolk has been saddened to learn of the death of Ivan Howlett. Ivan was the station's Managing Editor when it went on the air in 1990. He'd had a long battle with cancer and he passed away at his home in Swilland. He was 66.

He was married to Lindsey and they had four children - Adam, Oliver, Nancy and Tom.

BBC Suffolk's current Managing Editor Peter Cook said: "Ivan was always full of energy and passionate about radio.  He was a very talented broadcaster who commanded enormous respect.

"He was a Suffolk boy through and through - born and bred in Lavenham and he delighted in any opportunity to celebrate the county he loved."

On leaving BBC Radio Suffolk in 1998 Ivan went back to hands-on programme making. He won a Spoken Word Gold Award for the Radio 4 series The Century Speaks and presented The Shanghai Sailors.

He also worked on BBC Radio 4's Making History and Home Planet shows as well as being a theatre critic for the East Anglian Daily Times.

BBC Look East reporter Kevin Burch was Ivan's first News Editor at BBC Radio Suffolk: "I think he liked the fact that he was a west Suffolk boy and I was an east Suffolk boy [from Ipswich] so it was a bit like Butch Cassidy and Sundance!

"It was a very successful team and he was very politically astute at persuading people that Suffolk needed a local BBC radio station. He was so full of passion."

From the archive

Ivan wrote the following feature in April 2008 to celebrate BBC Radio Suffolk's 18th birthday:

As the first Managing Editor, I was there [wrote Ivan] when the station began broadcasting on 12 April 1990, and I remember it very clearly.

Broadcasting House, BBC Radio Suffolk

Had we gone on air the next day it would have been Friday 13th - that would have been tempting fate a step too far, and I wasn't having that. So BBC Radio Suffolk went on air on Thursday, April 12th with the voice of Chris Opperman.

It was a pretty edgy business that we had a station at all.  By the time BBC Radio Suffolk became a dim gleam in the Beeb's eye, BBC Local Radio had already changed out of sight from its beginnings.

Origins in the Midlands

It was all very different when the first BBC Local Radio station  - BBC Radio Leicester – went on air in 1967.  The pirate stations had been growing in popularity and the BBC was preparing the Radio 1 counter-offensive.

Meanwhile, Frank Gillard, the much-respected war correspondent and at that time Managing Director of BBC Radio who created Radios 1,2, 3 and 4, was going about his other commitment. This was to set up a BBC Local Radio service.

He'd seen it at work in the United States and vowed that, though he wanted to bring it here, it "would not be, as in the States, an amplified jukebox.” Rather, it would reflect the interests, concerns, cares and issues of the places where it was centred, giving the station managers a free editorial and programme-making hand.

John Major and Rachel Sloane

Rachel Sloane interviews John Major, '92

After due government consultation and approval an experiment as was set up in eight places. Local radio had just two years to prove itself, and would only exist where there was local authority co-funding.  This was an idea, because of the political implications, which was soon dropped.

The further difficulty was that local radio was to broadcast on VHF only on very low power transmitters. This was at a time when few people had  VHF (FM) radios and many had no idea what it was.

At first, Gillard got little support even from the BBC hierarchy, but the experiment was deemed overall to have worked.  The only one of the eight stations dropped was Radio Durham, ironically where Kate Adie had got a job. 

However, local radio was added to the licence fee costs, and was run as a network by a controller. The plan was to set up 40 radio stations to cover England.  Coverage areas were extended; some becoming county stations, and Medium Wave was  acquired.

Money was always a problem and the next batches of stations  - the ‘B’ stations and then the ‘C’ stations were smaller and had much smaller budgets. As time went on it seemed unlikely that the 40-station plan would be completed and East Anglia was the slowest region to be filled in. BBC Radio Norfolk was the first in 1980. Cambridgeshire and Northampton were added 1982, Beds, Herts and Bucks in 1985 (aka BBC Three Counties) and BBC Essex in 1986. 

Late developer

Suffolk was hemmed in on three sides by stations all of which understandably, cast dark eyes over their borders. Radio waves don't obey administrative borders and new near neighbours aren't necessarily welcome.

The rules changed too.  Not only was there less money available than ever, new stations could only broadcast on FM.  There were pressures to give heavily populated metropolitan boroughs radio stations before Suffolk.

Suffolk's difficulty was that its main centres of population, except for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, were on or near the coast and the county borders. When stating our case we swept our hands across the county map and hide the parts of High Suffolk where the population was at its most sparse, and held our breath.

Of course, the case was accepted and we prepared to go on-air in 1990.

Team building

However, when we went on air we still had a case to prove, an audience to capture. I wasn't going to take any chances. Of the initial team, I'd worked with several of them in the BBC around the country and knew them to be out of the top draw, as planners, editors, producers and engineers. 

As for a radio station's broadcasters, they always emerge - from other stations, from the community, from perceptive managerial chasing and selecting, or from individual persistence. Natural talent will always out, which explains BBC Radio Suffolk's continued success to this day.

In 1990 we had a state-of-the-art, though not expensive studio. Within months, ironically, the technology changed.   It's almost unthinkable now that when we went on air we were using reel-to-reel tape and razor blades. 

Getting and keeping an audience

Survival was a near thing though.  BBC Radio CWR in Warwickshire was a good station which went on air just months before Suffolk.  However, it didn't make the required audience figures, and was closed down, fortunately to re-open successfully at a later date.

BBC Radio Suffolk lifted itself above the bar the first time around and has always continued successfully to do so, becoming a member of the BBC Regional Broadcasting family of which I am very proud.

We had our early battles and all were won. We got an extra transmitter for Lowestoft to add to the ones serving Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds, though it was no more powerful than a light bulb.  We were able to broadcast all the day because at first we had to share afternoons with BBC Radio Norfolk.

Chris Opperman

Chris Opperman

We also managed to persuade Ipswich Town Football Club that commentary on home matches did not keep the crowds away, and the happy relationship that now exists was set up.

One blip, which I have never quite understood, happened on the very first morning. We'd been broadcasting for less than an hour. Suddenly, for a minute, which felt like an age, we went off-air.

Had somebody leant on something? Who knows? But soon, to everyone's immense relief we were off again.

The main body of staff arrived for training in the January of the year we went on air.  I remember telling people to enjoy the quiet.  When we went on air, there'd be no relief, just non-stop action. Things would roll on for evermore, getting busier and faster, more exciting, more important and more entertaining.

And that's exactly what's happened. I thank and congratulate those that started us off and continue the tradition 18 years on.  Heartfelt birthday greetings.  

(Ivan Howlett was the managing editor at BBC Radio Suffolk 1990-1998).

last updated: 05/01/2009 at 11:13
created: 09/04/2008

Have Your Say

Add your tributes to Ivan Howlett

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Richard Davis
I was sadened to hear of the loss of Ivan. The foresight and skill needed to bring a new radio station into beeing especially in the face of commercial radio cannot be under estimated and Ivan's tenacity enabled Radio Suffolk to gain a prominent position on local broadcasting.I was invited on to the local advisory pannel where I saw at first hand Ivan's ability to deal with the problems of running the station. His later contract work for the BBC showed his continuing ability as a broadcaster and producer.His passing is a sad loss to all.Richard Davis

Brian Keith (previously Morpeth) ABC Coast FM, Aus
So sorry to hear that Suffolk has lost one of it's true sons. I was very fortunate to have worked with & for Ivan from the very first day of BBC Radio Suffolk's planning & inception & he was, indeed, a masterful Broadcaster & a marvellous to man to have learnt from & worked alongside over those terrific years. My condolences to Lyndsay & the family - thoughts are with you at this time.

jonathan mendenhall
I worked for Ivan when he was news editor at BBC Sussex in Brighton. He got me on air as a reporter in the 1980's and kept me continually employed in the newsroom. He encouraged me and supported me through thick and thin and gave me confidence by believing in me. I went on to become a reporter in ITV's regional television A delightful, charming, good natured professional man who adored radio. I feel very sad indeed and thoughts of course with Lindsey

david dawson
I was at University with Ivan 45 years ago and remember him as a great organiser and motivator .I have followed his career since he returned to Suffolkand know that he will be a great loss---------from bury st edmunds

Mark White
Ivan was a fountain of knowlege! Any time Oly and I were needed to know anything, Ivan would often recieve a phone call from us asking him obscure questions - to which he always knew the answer! (i.e the plural form of canvus not being canvi as the word is not of Latin oragin!) Big hugs to all of Howlett family x

Jo Lawrence
An awe inspiring radio producer who gave his all to every story. I was lucky to enjoy many long conversations with him about Education today and in past years. A wonderful father who ALWAYS puts his family first. My thoughts are with Lindsey, Adam, Oliver, Nancy and Tom. Love to you all. xXx

Emma Howlett
We all miss Uncle Ivan very much and I am very sad for Auntie Lindsey, Adam, Oliver, Nancy and Tom. My mum and I are running in the Race For Life at Blackheath in London tomorrow in memory of Ivan and to try and help raise money for Cancer Research.

Nick Martin
Ivan Howlett was one of the brightest, most inquisitive and stimulating men I ever had the privilege to meet and work with! He was immensely knowledgeable, and steeped in humour (much of it of East Anglian provenance!); in fact, he was the sort of bloke you would be happy to share a desert island with for years on end! The same cannot be said of nearly every other person I've met in my life! And he was kind and sympathetic - steering me between Scylla and Charybdis, when he took the risk of allowing me to chair the 'Sports Round Table' in his absence. How we laughed - him, me, Bob Shelley, James Easter (the fat boys!), Alan Brazil, and Ray East. Those were halcyon days - and Ivan was the root of all that fun! He is gone but he leaves behind a wonderful legacy of fun, energy, irreverence, great intellect, and irrepressible 'joie de vivre' - all of which I shall take with me to my grave! A fabulous man!

Tony Mallion Radio Norfolk
Ivan was the programme organiser for a time when I first joined Radio Norfolk 21 years ago. He was brave - or daft - enough to agree to us broadcasting through the night to celebrate the switch on of the first Great Yarmouth illuminations, coverage I produced and part presented. It was great fun and ended with pieces into the breakfast show the next morning (I was young then !)I used to meet Ivan each year at the opening night of Jill Freud's Summer Theatre at Southwold. It was on arrival there last night that Jill told me the sad news. She put me in the seat normally occupied by Ivan and asked that I enjoy the show ("Salad Days") for him. I did.

David Arscott
How many of us believed that Ivan was one of our special friends? He had that warmth which broke down all barriers.His impracticality was legendary. In Brighton, where I first knew him, he once parked his car near the radio station empty of fuel. After work he walked a mile to a petrol station where he filled up a can and then spent an age remembering where he'd parked the damn thing. At last, to his great relief, he recognised the vehicle and filled it up – only to find that he couldn't unlock the door. Yes, he'd given a free gallon of petrol to someone else!Ivan, of course, didn't mind telling that kind of story against himself – any good story was worth the telling after all.And then the varied interests of the man – theatre, literature, football, politics and much, much more. He knew what it was to be alive, and shared that with us.Farewell, dear friend . . .

Sam Salter
A very good and compassionate neighbour who will be sorely missed. I will always remember that walk we had from Swilland to Ashbocking Church about 6 miles..after major surgery.and also February 13th 2008 when we sat on the church wall and had coffee and biscuits in our shirt sleeves.Our Magic moments.and finally when he and Ant came around for a cup of tea last Friday afternoon, with books about seaplanes.He jokingly said I would enjoy the book as it had plenty of pictures..and if there were any long words Ant would be able to explain them !! I think he was joking.....He has enriched my life. Thank you Ivan will miss you.

Nancy Howlett
The best dad in the world x

Mike Day
Passionately proud of Suffolk and the station he set up, Ivan was a real radio man who welded the original team together with boundless energy, enthusiasm and humour. I feel proud and privileged to have known him.

Alan Bramwell
Please pass on my condolences to Ivan’s family and friends and this sad time. He had the vision to encourage CSV to the station in 1994 years before a national network was formed. He would often offer support, ideas and encouragement in the early days which I will always be thankful. It was obvious that Ivan took a great deal of pride in watching BBC Radio Suffolk grow and flourish in the way it has. One memory that has remained with me was when Ivan made all the staff go into the car park to provide the sound effects of a Victorian crowd scene for a documentary he was making about Ipswich Museum. He was a true radio man who painted pictures in sound.

Peter Laverock
Very sorry to hear this news. Ivan was a great radio man. When I heard his historical documentaries on Radio 4 the penny dropped and I knew where his heart was - making great programmes. I came to Radio Suffolk in 93 and he very bravely let me loose in Lowestoft to make a documentary about the fishing. Pure joy. 'tis true that the 'suits' don't understand why this is good management.

Jim Ensom
A passionate radio producer has passed away. I first worked with Ivan at BBC Radio Brighton in the early eighties in the mad days of medium wave, when we took the Archers over lunchtimes. He was a funny, very funny colleague and I have fond memories of my early days with him. I was lucky to be offered the role of deputy to Ivan when we launched BBC Radio Suffolk and it was a rollercoaster experience getting a new station on air, in a very short time, with a pitiful budget. But it worked - and it only worked because of Ivan's true love of people, the medium and Suffolk. My condolences to Lyndsey and the children.

Clare Phillips
My thoughts are with Ivan's family at this sad time. He was always so brave about his illness. He was also an incredibly kind and caring person to work for and professionally he made a huge contribution to broadcasting. He'll be very much missed.

Mark Ward
have very fond memories of Ivan - spent a lot of time with him around the opening of BBC radio Suffolk and also with his involvement with the Suffolk churches bike ride and he was always a pleasure to be with. I remember him showing me a photo of him and des lynham when were training together in their youth at the BBC ! He also gave me some invaluable advise of how to deal with different types of people which I have found very useful ! A sad loss

lesley dolphin
I'm really sorry to hear this news and my condolences go to Lyndsey and his boys. What a great legacy though that Ivan has left his beloved home county - he truly set BBC Radio Suffolk on the road to success. Ivan taught me a lot about radio and all about Suffolk.....and I will remember his great sense of humour - Ivan had a lovely chuckle and a wicked sense of humour!

Mark Murphy
Thankyou Ivan for giving me the chance to live my dream and work at BBC Radio Suffolk.If it wasn't for you the radio station would not be here today and so many of us have you to thank for starting our broadcasting careers. Suffolk should be proud of what one its sons has achieved.

Iain Langdon
What can one say that doesn’t sound trite or trivial? What is important is to just say what is in your heart. Ivan was a true mate, he would always do anything for you without any strings or baggage. I loved his non-PC attitude, just saying it as it was. He was a great radio man (“the pictures are better on radio”, which he proved time and again), a creative and honest theatrical critic, a gifted writer, a true family man and a hopeless DIY-er! He was a perfectionist, where and when it mattered (to him), but a great pragmatist when and where it didn’t. His attitude on car maintenance was typical of this. ‘There’s no point in maintaining a car, just fix it when it breaks!”. His loyalty and friendship had no limits. I last spoke to him four days ago when Lindsey drove him to Grundisburgh as he wanted to give me an article he had discovered whilst making one of his numerous many past programmes that he knew I, and my ancient parents, would appreciate reading. I spoke to him later that day on the telephone, for the last time, when he wanted to clarify a few views on his past life that we had discussed. He didn’t want anything to be misunderstood or misconstrued. A true, caring, wonderful, professional person to the end. I miss him terribly.

diane and john waters
So sad. Such a wonderful guy - such a privilege to have known him. Our fondest love to Lyndsey, Adam, Olly, Nancy and Tom. xxxxx

JAMES EASTER
Ivan was an inspiration to those locals such as myself, who had the good fortune to feature on many programmes since the birth of Radio Suffolk.He had amazing and infectious enthusiasm,a true sense of right and wrong,never bullied and always got the best out of everyone.His broadcasting knowledge was immense, his lovely voice like melted chocolate, and a determination to highlight his beloved SuffolkHe was always superb company with a fund of hilarious stories,but above all he was just a marvellous human being. His like will not pass our way again.

Dave Muller
Ivan made a major contribution to the longterm benefit of those living in Suffolk through campaigning and securing a University for the County. At the same time he was passionate about further education which was never the poor relation .Testimony to his vision and drive was the establishment of UCS last August and the new builds for both the University and Suffolk New College.Thank you Ivan.Your memory will live on through our students.

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