‘2 ZY Manchester Calling’! 

24 January 2022 tbs.pm/74521

Celebrating 100 years of our BBC


Cover of 'Ariel' for March 1938

From ‘Ariel’, the house magazine of the British Broadcasting Corporation, for March 1938

The North Regional O.B. Assistant introduces his reminiscences with some significant correspondence.

December 14, 1922
Dear Sir,
With reference to your letter of the 10th inst.; I shall be pleased to see you at the above address at 3.00 p.m. on Tuesday next….

Yours faithfully,
K. A. Wright
Station Director.

That’s how the trouble started.

* * *

February 8, 1923
Dear Mr. Smythe,
I quite appreciate what you say regarding your recent appearances on the air. You will however appreciate the enormous publicity value an artist receives through the radio. …I will, however, see what can be done to increase your payments for future engagements.

Yours sincerely,
K. A. Wright.

* * *

‘Much water has passed beneath….’

‘We have progressed beyond….’

‘Conditions are not the same as….

Oh Yeah!!!

* * *

Extract from letter, 1938

‘Admittedly the actual fee is small by comparison but apart from the enormous publicity which the artist receives from these broadcasts, the theatre derives….’

Yours faithfully,
Victor Smythe.

It is pleasant to recall those happy pioneer days in the little room at Metropolitan-Vickers Works, Old Trafford, with K. A. Wright, Ian Oliphant (departed the Company in 1923), Pat Ryan (now Music Librarian at N.R.O.), Jessie McCormack (our official accompanist in those days), and the merry band of inventive geniuses (Met-Vick Research Dept.)

No larger than a council-house living room, the first 2ZY Studio was divided into two departments by means of a thin screen of cotton fabric. The mislaying of the Pianola key, overwinding the gramophone, searching for an important memo, constituting an hour or more of silence, were gaily announced as ‘technical adjustments’.


Painting of the inside of the MetroVic Works

Metropolitan-Vickers Works, Trafford Park, 1945, by Charles Ernest Cundall (1890–1971), from Manchester Art Gallery. © Estate of C E Cundall, managed by Bridgeman Images. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery


With many a chuckle I recall our pioneer engineers, B. Vernon and A. Birch, reading fairy stories in the Children’s Corner, as it was called, on the occasion when I persuaded the entire personnel to have an afternoon at Manchester Races and we couldn’t get a taxi to take us back to Trafford Park — we needed credit — and I have always held that the progeny of Manchester taxi men invariably become bank managers.

The infrequent visitations of Mr. A. E. Burrows, ‘Uncle Arthur’, caused me considerable embarrassment. From January-June, 1923, I arrived at the studio about 9.30 a.m. and seldom left before midnight — I was office clerk, messenger, and stunt merchant, and in addition appeared as an entertainer under the guise of ‘Mr. X’ four or five times a week.

My remuneration varied (by cheque) between 7s. 6d. [37½p in decimal, about £22 now allowing for inflation] and 17s. 6d. [87½p, £50] per week. In March Mr. Burrows ‘thought there might be a vacancy in a week or two’. About the middle of May I approached K.A.W. and with due reverence made enquiry regarding Mr. Burrows’s funeral. I believe ‘Uncle Arthur’ heard of this because I was actually appointed on August 1, 1923.



The morning after we opened our first Manchester Studios and Transmitter we were kept busy answering telephone complaints from residents living within a quarter of a mile of the Trafford Park aerial. These were backed up by several hundred letters. How bitter those listeners were; accusing us of making their sets obselete [sic] by moving to Manchester!

Actually the new Transmitter failed before the opening-night programme and for two days the entire studio output went by land-line to Trafford Park and was put out on the original aerial.

The departure of Mr. K. A. Wright to London came soon after our move. His successor was the late Dan Godfrey, Junr., who combined the duties of S.D. and Mus. Dir. His studio operas were one of the big features of our early programmes. How I used to enjoy being squeezed into a corner while the studio was packed with augmented orchestra, principals, chorus, and audience! My duties, apart from announcing the acts, consisted of wringing out a sponge and handing towels to Dan Godfrey as and when opportunity allowed. He was six feet and some inches and topped the 19 stone mark! [1.8m, 120kg]

With the coming of Mr. V. H. Goldsmith, and (in April, 1924) Mr. B. E. Nicolls as Station Director, we began to settle down to more sedate routine. The arrival of Lionel Harvey (now S.E.S.) and his ventriloquist doll saw the beginning of a feud which existed throughout our ten years’ association in the North. Much to the embarrassment of many of our more sober-minded colleagues, we never allowed the ‘grey, grim industrial North’ to dampen our sense of humour.


Hours of operation, call sign, power and wavelength and frequency of each BBC station in 1928


Then there was Eric Fogg (now Empire Music Director), who joined us in December 1923. Apart from his serious musical activities he found time to co-operate with me in developing the light-entertainment activities. We often appeared as a ‘double vocal act’.

One of our biggest ventures was the production of the first radio revue to be played and relayed from a theatre in this country. This was in 1926, at the Grand Theatre, Bolton. Unfortunately Eric Fogg fell ill the day before the production and it was a great disappointment that he was absent from the conductor’s chair.

Our second move from the top of a cotton warehouse was into the depths of Orme Buildings. All the offices, except my own looked out on to the River Irwell about six feet below the windows. Mine was thirty feet from the nearest window — a sort of dug-out in the bowels of the earth. It took six months to obtain a fan and four daylight lamps — since when I have spent 95 per cent. of my time in the wide open spaces!


Modern Street View image of the former BBC building in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester


No sooner had we found the best eating and drinking spots and no sooner had the visiting artists discarded their ‘Plan and Guide to B.B.C. Studios’ than off we moved again, to our present offices in Piccadilly.

Recently some of us moved once more — into the next street. We share a floor with a horde of people who sell toys, mantles, gowns, electric fittings, etc. The moral effect is good: at least we feel we are living among business people.


You Say

1 response to this article

Ronnie MacLennan Baird 27 January 2022 at 1:54 pm

Comforting in a way to know that “exposure” was an alternative to remuneration even then ;-)

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