Radio Newsreel 

12 December 2022


Cover of Ariel

From Ariel, the house magazine of the BBC, for March 1957

THIS year sees the tenth anniversary of Radio Newsreel’s first appearance as a regular feature of the Light Programme. This is, of course, only one of seven daily editions, four of the others being given in the General Overseas Service and two in the North American Service.

Each edition presents special problems. But because its greater length allows it to deal with a greater number of subjects, because it goes on the air at a time when the news flows fastest, because too, its audience entails coverage of a broader field of home events, it is the Light Reel which has in effect become a sort of daily ‘master edition’, which is produced under the greatest pressure, and to which the work of the News Talks Department has largely to be geared.

No Typical Day

It is difficult to think of any day in the life of a news programme as typical. By its very nature news is so often made up of the unexpected. But, in whatever disorder the raw material may arrive, there must be order in its handling. So, in News Talks, we begin with a morning meeting, chaired by the Head of the Department. The Reporting Organizer runs briefly through the Diary of coverage already arranged for the day. If there’s been a big news break just before the meeting, plans have to be made too to cover this. Always there’s the insistent demand for actuality, to heighten the impact or evoke the atmosphere of a situation, and to get this at short notice may mean re-assigning reporters, or recording cars, or sending someone out quickly with a midget tape recorder. After the Home Reporters’ diary has been provisionally settled, we are told of stories which the Regional News Editors have already arranged to cover during the day, or of forthcoming events in their areas. The Talks Assistants, who have been combing the morning papers, put forward ideas for follow-up stories, or suggestions from their own personal contacts, and again there’s discussion about the choice of outside speakers, or the aspects of the story to be covered—for with its emphasis on conciseness, the Newsreel talk must concentrate on essentials, making its points clearly and quickly. Finally, after a member of Foreign News has reported on what can be expected on the day’s circuits from the BBC’s foreign correspondents, the meeting breaks up: Reporting Organizer to carry out any reshuffling of reporters’ arrangements that have been made necessary, Foreign News representative to arrange coverage of suggestions arising from the meeting, Talks Assistants to pursue their quarry, and another Assistant to look into any additional complications of laying on lines and recording channels for regional contributions.

Meanwhile, the Assistant Head of News Talks, who with the two Senior Programme Assistants carries out the detailed supervision of the Department’s output, has been preparing with the Compilation Clerk planning drafts showing the material available or expected for each of the day’s various programmes. Copies of these go to the Services Section, whose job it is to see that the right discs and scripts are in the right place at the right time. The scriptwriter and producer looking after the afternoon’s Overseas reels come into the editorial office for briefing, and the day’s first reel is under way.


Page from the Radio Times

An example of a Radio Times listing for 2 October 1957, with Radio Newsreel highlighted


From Tape to Disc

The inflow of material starts early in the afternoon. At first a trickle, the flow quickens as the day wears on. By 4 p.m. perhaps, the rough outline of what the Light Reel will look like is becoming visible. By five o’clock a draft running order is ready. Even now many items are no more than expectations. Circuits from overseas correspondents still to come may produce important news; what looked like a good home story may fold up completely. And all the time now there’s material coming in—circuits from overseas, recordings from reporters, scripts from speakers. A mass of words to be listened to, assessed, cut and re-cut. Dubbing time has to be found to put tape on to disc. Scriptwriter, producer and editorial office are working closely together. There’s rarely time for rehearsal on the Light Reel— the only deadline, the end of the programme. The running order will almost certainly be changed between six and half-past, and perhaps again as we go on the air. The best story of the day may come in at five minutes to seven—and to get it in means cutting down perhaps six or seven other stories, twenty seconds out of this, thirty out of that, even ten seconds can be a help. Flexibility is the keynote of the Newsreel — if it’s worth it, a story arriving after we’re on the air will still be got in — by what sometimes seem superhuman efforts by the editorial office, scriptwriter, producer and studio staff. It’s this flexibility which makes Radio Newsreel often an exciting programme to work for — and often, we hope, to listen to. The sort of flexibility which could throw out the whole of a regular Sunday round-up to give a complete and dramatic actuality report of the East Coast floods from half a dozen different points — or more recently, to make way for a series of last-minute dispatches during the height of the Hungarian and Suez crises. It’s a flexibility which can come only through the wholehearted co-operation not only of the members of News Talks Department, and of the home reporters and foreign correspondents, but of our good friends in the regional news rooms, on the recording channels and lines, and in the control room, and of the studio staff too.



And if sometimes we appear over-demanding in our requests for last-minute rearrangement of lines, urgent appeals for extra recording time, changes in the narrator’s lines almost as he’s reading them — well, our hope is that in the long run every one of the many people on whom the programme depends shares at bottom that urge to push the news through and ‘get it on the air’. And because this is so much a programme of teamwork, no names have been mentioned in this piece, and the author himself remains anonymous.


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