Twenty-Four Hours 

29 September 2016

From the Radio Times published 10 February 1966

24hrs 7Writer David Griffiths and cameraman Charles Walls recently spent a breath-taking evening with the programme and its makers.

The first impression likely to strike a visitor to the Lime Grove headquarters of Twenty-Four Hours in West London is atmosphere of good-humoured calm that manages to prevail despite the need to respond with speed and flexibility to world events until after ten o’clock at night.

This calm is not the result of complacency or indifference; it is caused by a belief that the most topical, intelligent and intelligible programmes can best be produced without the frantic feuding and tantrums that are a painfully familiar spectacle from time to time in broadcasting organisations. The men and women of Twenty-Four Hours evidently enjoy their work and do it, apparently, without undue harassment.

The high morale of Twenty-Four Hours seems to be part of a general upsurge of confidence among those who work in BBC-tv. Cliff Michelmore,[1] veteran from the earliest days of Tonight,[2] said: ‘I’ve been around here for nine years and there has never before been quite such a feeling of excitement and purpose. Right here, in the BBC, is where you’ll find the most enterprising TV spirit. The change from Tonight has done us good.’

Kenneth Allsop[3] (five years with Tonight) commented: ‘I confess I had considerable doubts about whether Tonight should have been strangled. But in the first week of Twenty-Four Hours there was a new kind of urgency and impact that made for a more exciting show. The shift of emphasis jacked me up Tonight had a larger proportion of levity, but we have, I hope, not lost the sardonic approach, the touch of acidity where desirable. We’re trying to employ it better than on interviews with movie stars.’ Both Michelmore and Allsop used almost identical words to express the worst part about working on Twenty-Four Hours. No longer is the job over by the evening. Now, at a time when most people are winding down and looking forward to bed, Cliff and Ken and anyone else appearing ‘live’ have to concentrate and look alert.

By transmission time the job is over, until the next day, for Editor Derrick Amoore,[4] his deputy Anthony Whitby[5] and the rest of the planning, writing, and research team. From ten o’clock every weekday morning they wait and watch at the centre of a world wide communications web. They comb the papers and magazines, sift the despatches coming in on the news agency teleprinters, listen to the Tannoy system over which the BBC’s central newsroom instantly acquaints them with major events, look at film reports from their regular globe-trotters, and evaluate films—humorous or documentary—compiled from library stock. They select four or five of the most newsworthy items and do their best to ensure that the presentation of each one is truthful, any attitude (implied or proclaimed) a sensible one.

Amoore, a wiry, youthful thirty-year-old with a wry sense of humour and a disciplined relish for the absurd, somehow conveys the impression that he and the team have plenty of time to deal with whatever comes up (even the total reorganisation of a schedule an hour before transmission, as happened recently when Prime Minister Shastri died). He makes decisions without hesitation, whether they involve the scrapping of a carefully prepared but inadequate film or some detail of script.

Whatever the pressures (and they can be fierce on a programme for which the guest interviewees are not expected to arrive until a mere three-quarters of an hour before they are on the air) Amoore’s nerves do not trouble him except for a rare fit of rage against malfunctioning machinery, usually the telephone. When told that a new secretary had lost eight pounds weight in one week’s work on Twenty-Four Hours he replied: ‘Oh, she’ll soon get used to things.’


  1. Arthur Clifford Michelmore CBE (11 December 1919 – 17 March 2016).
  2. Tonight was a news magazine programme with both light elements (for instance, a nightly topical calypso sung by Cy Grant) and heavy news. It was invented by the BBC in February 1957 to fill the gap created when the 6pm-7pm closedown of television mandated by the government, known as “the toddlers’ truce”, was abolished. 24 Hours was the direct replacement for Tonight, broadcast after 10pm each night. Tonight’s old slot was filled by regional news and a thirty-minute entertainment programme.
  3. Kenneth Allsop (29 January 1920 – 23 May 1973).
  4. Derrick Amoore (7 March 1935 – 2 September 1992), later head of BBC News.
  5. Tony Whitby (1930 – 1975), later Controller of BBC Radio 4.

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1 response to this article

anne-veronica brinsden 4 May 2020 at 1:18 am

i worked on the programme 24 Hours in the late 1960’s. I was Paul Fox’s junior secretary while at Lime Grove. I worked on 24 hours as an extra secretary dogsbody for overtime at least twice a week. I remember working with Esther Rantzen (before she married Desmond Wilcox). She was several years older than me. It went out live and she had to write the ‘payoffs’, witty end remarks at the end of the programme and I typed them out in huge print as Autocue or Teleprompt finished at 10.30pm.
I remember Mike Barratt, Bernard Levin and Leonard Parkin all contributed to this programme coming in late to write their pieces. I remember vivdly working on it on the night of the Aberfan disaster with Cliff Michelmore who wept throughout his piece.

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