What makes LONDONERS tick? 

19 April 2021 tbs.pm/72733


Assignment: To cover eight million people and 620 square miles. This is the job done by the magazine programme Londoners on Wednesdays. Here a TV Times writer talks to some of the team which takes the pulse of a mighty city


TVTimes cover

From the TVTimes (London) for 24 February – 1 March 1968

HE is he man who went up to several freezing, mini-skirted girls in the street and asked: “What sort of underwear have you got on to keep out the cold?” And on television, too!

HE found the story about the man who got a horse-drawn hearse for a birthday present.

HE covered the story about the doctor who blew bubbles in the street because he thought it would brighten up the place.

HE knows a man who draws the interest out of his bank once a year and burns it — as his contribution to Backing Britain.

HE is Monty Modlyn, a 40-year-old Cockney whose reports on the strange people he meets are one of the highlights of Londoners.

“People think that I am nosey or cheeky,” he said. “But I’m not. I’m just interested in people — and bringing the people to the people.

“Take that mini-skirts programme. I had the girls talking to me freely. There was no embarrassment.”

There is certainly a strong basis of contact between Monty and the people he interviews.

When the news broke that the Government were going to axe 3,000 charladies as an economy measure, Monty was on the steps of the Foreign Office early in the morning, to ask the Mrs. Mopps for their views.

“Ullo, my loves,” said Monty as the charladies streamed down the steps. “Ullo, darlin’,” they said — and crowded round him to giggle as they recounted their hard-luck tales.

“I’m a Londoner — from Lambeth,” said Monty. “These are my people. This is my town.

“I’m a very emotional sort of chap. People think I am one of the toughest or hardest interviewers there is. But I’m not. I just want to know about people, their worries, and their jobs.

“I ask them straightforward questions. I hate pompous, affected people. Those who put on airs and graces. Pseudo-intellectuals who look down on the ordinary man.

“When I saw those charladies coming out of work I could see how tired they were. They were all worn-looking, with lines on their faces. I’ve a great feeling for people like this.”


A large man points a microphone towards the camera

Monty Modlyn, 40-year-old Cockney reporter. He says: “I’m a Londoner from Lambeth. These are my people. This is my town.”


London is a village to Monty. “I’ve met every sort of person in London,” he said. “From thieves and villains to Royalty.

“As a teenager in 1939 I wrote to Her Majesty Queen Mary, asking if she could interrupt her journey from County Hall to come along to Lambeth’s Lower Marsh Market to meet the traders.

“My parents had a little shop there. I wrote and told Her Majesty that the traders in The Cut would be thrilled if she could spare some time to come and see them.”

Monty was rewarded. She agreed to do it. When she got there she sought him out and said: “How very nice of you to invite me.”

A woman with long dark hair smiles at the camera

The girl behind the research for the programmes is Wendy Jones, a specialist in human interest stories.

If asking cheeky questions needs courage, then so does going off alone to get background information for an item on the drugs racket, or to find out how to present a feature on where 13 and 14-year-olds get to when they stay out all night.

This is the department in Londoners handled by ex-journalist Wendy Jones, 25, petite, dark-haired, wide-eyed, and a specialist in human interest stories.

She said: “All through my life in journalism I seem to have been trudging through slums and depressed areas. The great thing about Londoners is that I have eight or nine men with me now — at least when we are filming it.”

Wendy exposed the plight of thousands of old people in danger of dying of cold, because they could not afford to heat their freezing homes.

She eloquently pointed up the tragedy of the lonely lives eked out in hundreds of London bed-sitters.

And she found one old woman so poor that she made a little joint of meat last a fortnight by cutting only one slice off it each day.

Next week Wendy was interviewing women at their hairdressers, where they spent £7 or £8 a week on beauty treatment. She found one woman who flew to Paris whenever she wanted a hair-do.

“London isn’t like any other British city — it’s an international city,” said Wendy.

“It would be no use putting on the usual regional magazine programme here. It can’t just be about commuter trains or be a series of discussions between councillors sitting woodenly in a studio.”

Londoners is never likely to be that sort of programme, says its editor John Lloyd who, like Monty and Wendy, has a newspaper background.

“I try to run Londoners just like a newspaper,” said John, who was producer of the last series of On the Braden Beat.

Londoners has to have a hard, front-page story, like the residents’ protest against welfare workers helping meths drinkers in Stepney.

“Then we aim for a colourful, back-page story, like Monty and the mini-skirts. We try also to get a magazine-type feature, like Eva Bartok, Susannah York and Leslie Caron, each sitting in the studio talking to viewers.

“Our difficulty is that there is no such thing as a typical Londoner. From Stepney to Hampstead and over the whole of the commuter belt… in half an hour you must produce something to interest them all.”

Both director Terry Yarwood and John Lloyd believe that a return to the old television technique of putting many bright, punchy items into a programme is long overdue.

They feel that the practice of magazine programmes taking only one subject throughout its length and examining it in detail and depth is boring to the viewer.

This is why Londoners usually contains seven or eight items and nobody in the production team is sure quite what their form will take until a few minutes before transmission.


Ludovic Kennedy behind a small, round desk. Pictures of typical Londoners on the wall behind him

Ludovic Kennedy enjoys being on the programme… he travels 300 miles every week


Londoners has also performed another useful service to its viewers. It has brought back Ludovic Kennedy, the man who was seldom off the screens in the early days of Independent Television.

Although he has been appearing on regional television recently, Ludovic Kennedy has found that his writing has kept him off the London channel.

He commutes the 300 miles from his Roxburgh home every Tuesday, returning the next night. But the attraction of being part of the Londoners makes the journey worth while.


Courtesy of Cheeseknee Hawkes ‘Mr. Pastry’, with thanks to Sean C


The following section is commentary from Transdiffusion's expert writers

Russ J Graham writes: London was long thought of as not being a “region” in the sense that the North, the Midlands or the West of England were. The BBC’s regionalised Home Service radio network was not actually regionalised in London – there was no “London region”, it was simply the network that the other regions opted out of.

The same was true for ITV. Whilst the Independent Television Authority pushed for ever greater regional coverage from its contractors around the UK – creating the surreal sight of ABC Weekend doing a regional news bulletin for the Midlands and the North combined – it always seemed to be less bothered about the two London contractors. Rediffusion did do items of interest just for its own region, but these programmes were more likely to look at an item that affected the entire country than one that had caused trouble in Chelsea.

The spot around 6pm on weekdays that most ITV regions used for regional news and, usually, a regional magazine show (it’s a later idea to combine the two) was in London occupied by Three After Six, a discussion programme between three people talking about items in the national news – the problem for London broadcasters being that most national news happened in London, and most London news was of national importance, so ITN had got it covered.

The 1967 contract round had seen the ITA move from gently nudging the companies to provide more local interest news and programmes to forcing it upon them. ATV London’s replacement, London Weekend Television, won its contract partially because Lord Hill was dazzled by the number of big-name stars on the consortium’s rota, and partially because it promised local programmes for and about London, something ATV hadn’t done to any extent since the 1950s.

One of the conditions of the ‘shotgun marriage’ between Rediffusion and ABC, creating Thames Television from July 1968, was that it would be a regional company for London as well as being the backbone of the ITV network. This was to be wrung forth from the two companies with least experience in local broadcasting.

Londoners would seem to be a pilot for what would become Thames Today later in 1968: not really hard news as we know it, but a good mix of local features and events, presented by a national figure (Eamonn Andrews taking Ludovic Kennedy’s role), but still often drifting back into discussing national issues because there seems to be no way of avoiding that in London.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Paul Mason 19 April 2021 at 3:27 pm

The late Monty Modlyn forms one of my earliest memories of BBC Radio. He was a feature of the Jack de Manio Today programme in the mid to late 1960s which I would listen to before primary school. Monty Modlyn performed a similar role on Today which was not the heavy news prog.it has been in the last 30 years or so
I remember MM on Parkinson in the 1970s talking about his terror of interviewing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. He feared losing vital organs if Amin didnt like a question!

Paul Mason 19 April 2021 at 3:32 pm

P.S Montague Modlyn’s lifespan was 1921-1994, he died short of his 73rd birthday.

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