The British Broadcasting Corporation (aka The Beeb or “Auntie”) is one of the most loved, and one of the most loathed, institutions in British popular music. It is, irrevocably part of the state, even if an arms-length and independent part. Tales are legion of hilarious clashes between BBC establishment figures and rock producers and musicians.
The BBC started in 1922 and was jointly owned by wireless manufacturers. By 1923 it was working with the GPO (General Post Office) and in 1925 it became a national service, funded by a licence fee for owning and operating a wireless. The BBC as we know it came into existence in 1927 as a government-funded, but independent service. The first Director-General, Sir John (later Lord) Reith established the strong moral concept of public service broadcasting together with education and improvement. It is still funded in the same way, and in 2021 a TV license costs £159 per year. You can’t argue that you don’t watch it. For years the British public were warned that TV Detector vans could detect the tubes of an unlicensed TV an hour after it was switched off. That won’t work with flat screens.
The BBC had a monopoly of radio and TV until 1955, when ITV (Independent Television) started with regional commercial companies. People had to buy a new TV set because the first ones had a single channel. That meant just one ITV station per region, a duopoly that persisted until BBC2 was introduced in 1964. Then it was the three stations only until 1982, when Channel 4 was introduced as a second independent channel.
Radio grew very slowly from a single station. The BBC went into foreign broadcasting, first as The Empire Service from 1932 to 1938, when it became The Overseas Service, finally becoming The World Service in 1965. The World Service still reaches over 210,000,000 listeners per week making it the largest international broadcasting service of any kind.
The oldest domestic station was the Home Service, which was named in 1939 rather than simply being ‘the BBC.’ The popular Light Programme arrived in 1945, followed by the Third Programme (classical and drama) in 1946. It stayed that way until 1967, when the threat of pirate radio broadcast from ships in The North Sea and Irish Sea forced the government to open a dedicated “pop” station, Radio One. They were all re-named:
Radio Two was the old Light Programme
Radio Three was The Third Programme
Radio Four was The Home Service.
This was radical because Radio One and Radio Two had no ‘needle time’ restriction which had hampered the Light Programme for years. The time devoted to recordings was strictly limited, meaning that until 1967 much of our listening was dance bands with vocalists playing cover versions live in the studio.
The BBC was producing vast amounts of material on a daily basis. Some was recorded, much was simply played live, or if recorded, tapes were soon re-used.
In classical music for The Third Programme, the BBC had its own orchestra, but with its own needle time restrictions, they had live broadcast recording control rooms in several major concert halls. I worked at Bournemouth Winter Gardens in the summer, which had a full BBC Control Room below the stage for recording and broadcasting The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
The wealth of material was a problem. The BBC as a publicly-funded institution was not on a level playing field with commercial record labels. It was held that until 1967, they should not issue any music directly.
A very early BBC release was The Sounds of Time 1934-1939, a spoken voice and sound effect recording featuring Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and King Edward VIII among others. One wonders if listeners to The Giant Airship Hindenburg Bursts Into Flames At Lakehurst, New Jersey, May 6th, 1937 took their 78 rpm shellac record back to the shop, complaining of crackling sounds. Then there’s Nightingale In A Surrey Wood Matches Its Voice Against The Drone Of A Thousand Bombers Striking At Germany which may have caused listeners to worry about rumbling from their turntables. Then Singing Tommies Cross Belgium Frontier To Meet Wehrmacht in 1940 ended badly.
I am always reminded of my dad, a driver for the BBC Radio unit from D-Day on who said that if we heard historic broadcasts with distant tommy gun fire, it was him in the next field.
It was first issued via Oriole Records in 1949 as a leather bound 5 x Shellac 12” 78 rpm record set. It was later a vinyl LP which everyone lists as 1949, and it has the same cover design. It is years later with its sleeve laminated on both sides. Discogs places the vinyl version as 1958.
BBC Scrapbook 1914 / BBC Scrapbook 1940: Fontana LPs 1963
They mined similar back catalogue from on air with The BBC Scrapbook programmes, with prime examples like 1914 and 1940 being released on Fontana LPs in 1963. These included recorded spoken voice with musical selections from the year which would be licensed in.
The first BBC vinyl records were sound effects, and were used internally, but also sold to theatres, studios and other professional users. These were 33 rpm, and came in a transparent plastic sleeve. There were many of them. Antiques Roadshow had someone who had found four hundred of them.
They later came on LPs, but for amateur theatricals, playing them live perhaps, 7” was more convenient, although anyone with any sense copied them onto tape in the order required for the production. A lot were sold to Super 8 amateur film enthusiasts. World War II Air Raids used authentic recordings from September 1940, with titles like “Stick of bombs falling.
The 1970s albums are the iconic ones. We had them all in our ELT recording studio. The series started in 1969, drawing from the back library of 6,000 sound effects. The designer was Roy Curtis Bramwell. The early ones used two to four colours, but they got cheaper, moving to a single colour. They introduced stereo for #7 in 1972, and #9 was stereo, though #8, “War Sounds” was mono – presumably because of the vintage recordings.
Nestling in there is a track you have heard many, many times. The BBC’s clap of thunder, on BBC Sounds Effects No. 1 (Band 1, part c), has appeared in countless plays, radio programmes, films, pop records and other audio programmes. It is instantly recognizable. There’s a better clap of thunder on the Disney sound effects record, Chilling Thrilling Sounds of The Haunted House, but the BBC is the one everyone uses. Volume 8 brings you details such as Messerschmitt 110 flying overhead with engines de-synchronised.
Gallery- click to enlarge
The visual aspect of records is basic to this site. Someone else was listening to the Sound Effects LPs. The Jam pastiched the cover design on their Sound Affects album and the ensuing singles in 1980.
The iconic covers were changed, not necessarily improved.
They were eventually replaced by CDs with popular selections, but behind them was a BBC Archive set of sixty CDs.
The first aim of BBC Records was to provide educational records for schools.
Educational material linked to adult radio and TV programmes were the first releases with BBC on the centre label.
Know Your Car was an example of a BBC “publication on record” rather than “recording”. It was sold mainly via bookshops and was a 33 1/3 seven inch record. It’s subtitled “Motor car noises – mostly bad!” and contains audio stuff that tells you how to detect that your car is knackered. ‘Carburettor spit-back’ predates punk by thirteen years, while ‘Worn gudgeon pin’ is a personal favourite. The theme music from the TV series was a Joe Meek production: The Tornados doing Monte Carlo. That was not on BBC Records, but on Decca.
Chinese Pronunciation is an early EP, dating from 1966. This guide to Mandarin sounds appeared right in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, when “intellectuals” were having their spectacles broken, then being handed a shovel and made to dig until they dropped. The BBC decided that an authentic text on the trade of rickshaw puller would be the best way of demonstrating pronunciation.
Incidentally, from my point of view as an ELT author, the quality of most BBC Language Teaching for foreign languages was extremely low … they started way too fast and crammed too much in too quickly. If you look at the distinguished academics on their French course, I can say that these are exactly the people to avoid for a beginner course. They assume language learning is easy and interesting. It isn’t. The in initial French course was usable by people who’d passed GCE O Level a few years earlier and wanted to brush up, especially on pronunciation and listening. Beginners? Absurdly misguided.
The BBC moved into English Language Teaching (ELT) with books, sets of cassettes, 16 mm films and then video. In the late 1970s, just starting out as an author, I was at a seminar on ELT Writing. The panel were asked for the best advice one could give to new authors, and one said, “Never write for the BBC.” And the others sagely nodded. I never did.
BBC Study Records
Communication in Animals is a BBC Study Record, designed to support the BBC Schools Broadcasts Nature, so sold directly to schools. This one is 1970, but I remember them way earlier.
Songs For Assembly is self explanatory. A year earlier The Crown Folk released Folk For Worship on BBC Records . This album was reissued in 1974 with a new title More Folk in Worship so as to tie in with their other release.
BBC Wildlife Series 1969-72
In 1972, A Year’s Journey was BBC Schools, and No 13 in the Wildlife Series. It was for the BBC Environmental Studies series and had fourteen tracks consisting of fourteen different birds’ songs. Thank goodness we never did this at school. Can you imagine the test? Listen to these three recordings. Which is the Ring Ousel? A B C. Which is the Ringed Plover? ABC Which is The Little Ringed Plover A B C?
These are genuine track titles. There were fourteen at least in the series.
Gallery (click to enlarge)
For years the BBC could only issue via license deals with labels from other companies. Henry Hall with the BBC Dance Orchestra (Teddy Bears’ Picnic and Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf) went to EMI’s Columbia for release in 1932, and stayed in print for years. Copies were held by BBC Engineers as a test record for years because it had such a wide range of frequencies.
For pre-school kids, the BBC had Listen with Mother at 1.45, designed to lull the kiddies into an afternoon nap, so mother might be freed to iron hubbie’s shirts. BBC Children’s Hour was the only programme slightly older children had, starting as they got home from school. Many of the productions ended up elsewhere.
Then they based much around the avuncular tones of Derek McCulloch, or “Uncle Mac.”
The Nursery Rhymes series was already going in 1939 on shellac, eventually ending up in the vinyl era on EPs (at least five of them) released via HMV.
So, HMV took Uncle Mac’s Nursery Rhyme series, as well as Toytown (Derek McCulloch, aka Uncle Mac, voiced Larry The Lamb) and Noddy.
These were all closely associated with the BBC, but at the time the BBC had no medium for releasing the tracks themselves.
An enduring (and superb) series of CDs is Hello Children Everywhere. The first three releases are double-CD sets, then Volume 4 is a single set, as is the Christmas set. These CDs were compiled from children’s requests to BBC programmes, but they are not songs the BBC had copyright on, just ones they played on air. The compilations, which draw from all labels, are all EMI.
This pre-school collection from 1973 is labelled ‘Roundabout No 17″ on the rear. How many of them were there? The price of 95p is really cheap for 1973.
Sharing the BBC’s favours
The BBC could not be seen to release music itself. They relied on the record labels to let them play music after all. They also could not direct everything at just one commercial label.
Parlophone was used in the early years for licensed LPs and EPs from TV pop music shows like Six Five Special (LINKED TO ARTICLE HERE) and Drumbeat. (LINKED).
The tiny Collector label released Football Crazy by Robin Hall & Jimmy McGregor in 1959:
The duo performed nightly on the Tonight TV programme. As the song became popular, it was switched to Decca in 1960, who could handle the sales and added “as performed on BBC-TVs Tonight programme.”
In 1962-1963, releases were via EMI’s Parlophone and Columbia, Decca, Pye, Fontana (Philips’ other label) … so all of the “Big Four” were used. This may have been an attempt to deal fairly all round.
George Martin was involved in turning an interval signal into ‘music’ for an early Radiophonic single on Parlophone called ‘Timebeat’ by Ray Cathode in 1962.
in 1963, Decca released Giants of Steam by Ron Grainer. The casual observer might have thought it sound effects, but Grainer composed a musical score for the TV series, using the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to supply ‘rhythmical motifs’ to underlie his classical style pieces, thus inventing the computer driven beat track years before disco or rap. Then the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Doctor Who theme, written by Ron Grainer, realized by Delia Derbyshire, first appeared on Decca in 1964. The original Doctor Who was reissued on BBC Records in 1973 “in stereo”, and again several times after that.
Pye Golden Guinea released Top TV Themes in 1963, using themes from BBC programmes mixed with ITV themes. Pye was also the label of choice for Jonathan Routh’s Candid Mike, Tony Hancock’s The Blood Donor, Steptoe and Son and Till Death Us Do Part spoken voice EPs and LPs.
So Pye got its fair share of comedy tie-ins from the BBC, issued as EPs. In 1963 they released The Wages Of Sin from Steptoe and Son, and in 1967 Intolerance from Til Death Us Do Part. Both contained extracts from BBC TV comedy sitcoms.
Gallery: click to enlarge
BBC2 was launched in 1964, on 625 lines PAL instead of the prevailing 405 line system. The launch theme, by the Bob Miller Orchestra, was released via Polydor, an odd choice as it was (a) foreign-owned (b) a minor label at the time. Auntie was sharing out her favours.
1967 saw a series of five “The Tales of Beatrix Potter” Peter Rabbit EPs released by BBC Radio Enterprises on the CBS label. They were told by David Davis, who also released material on the back of his BBC Children’s Hour recitations on the Delyse label.
BBC on vinyl
Decca’s Argo label was the choice for spoken voice productions of Shakespeare and classics. Many of the Argo Shakespeare were originated by The Royal Shakespeare Company, then broadcast on the BBC. Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas was voiced by Richard Burton in 1954. It was an A level set book for me, and the school had the sturdy box set. I’ve seen a few around, nearly always with library or school stickers, fulfilling the education role.
As late as 1967, spoken voice material was being released on Argo. Argo was an odd label, trading heavily in LPs and EPs of train noises.
The Brains Trust was a programme on radio that seemed to run forever.
BBC Radio Enterprises took over with its own label.
This recording of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself by Orson Welles is early (REGL 3M … M for mono). It says BBC Radio Enterprises, and the series is Gold Label Edition … even Discogs doesn’t have it, though it has a US Westminster released licensed from this one:
Voices From Women’s Hour encapsulates BBC Radio for many. It was issued in 1969, and the logo is now just BBC, with BBC Radio Enterprises in smaller type.
The BBC had compulsory religion on Sundays from 6 pm to 7pm, and this album may result from it. It profits from Dave Pegg helping out on bass and production.
It sounds like the school assembly of the seventies. You can see the bearded teacher strumming an acoustic guitar for Kum Ba Yah. Look at the track listing with annotated themes. I hope Turn You Round is not in the ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ category.
There was more than one of them:
Dungeon Folk was a 1969 compilation album from the series Country Meets Folk on which The Crown Folk had three tracks:
In 1974 (see above) their Songs For Assembly was retitled, though that missed the mini-skirted Dana Scott.
Is this what you’d expect BBC Records to be? Read on …
The BBC officially launched itself into the world of black vinyl in 1967 as BBC Radio Enterprises, switched to BBC Records from 1970 to 1972, then BBC Records and Tapes from 1972 to 1989, before becoming BBC Enterprises then BBC Worldwide in 1995.
The first main label releases with the BBC logo were LPs and were eclectic. Early titles range from Chinese Classical Music, Stay Young With Eileen Fowler, The Importance of Being Hoffnung, Highlights from 21 Years of BBC Sports Reports, Voices From Women’s Hour, The End of Steam, BBC Sound Effects Volumes 1-9, Back Garden Birds, Welsh for Beginnersand Bonjour françois. Not a lot of music there, but the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were a sought-after early release.
The 1967 reorganisation of the radio stations allowed the BBC to take a fresh look, and it was decided that theme music from TV (the majority) and radio was a legitimate area for direct exploitation under their own logo. They commissioned it. They paid to record it.
They had to rely on other companies to press and distribute … for a crucial period, records used Pye’s distribution network. They didn’t seem to mind that Pye was owned by ATV, a rival ITV company. On this 1974 comedy LP, the Pye sticker obscures an original ‘Distributed by Polydor’ on the sleeve, though the inner label says ‘Distributed by Pye.’
The Dr Who theme thrilled (and continued to thrill) generations of young British musicians. With all due respect to John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, it’s no exaggeration to say that Delia (Delia Derbyshire)’s handiwork was the most famous and influential piece of electronic music ever made.
(Stuart Maconie, The People’s Songs: The Story of Modrn Britain in 50 Records, 2013)
The first single release (technically an EP) on the BBC label was in 1970 with David Munrow and The Early Music Consort performing the soundtrack (Henry VIII Suite) to the TV series, Six Wives of Henry VIII. Catalogue number RESL 1. It was necessarily a six part series, starring Keith Michell as the plump king.
This looks so perfectly BBC – it’s a 1973 instrumental compilation of background music.
Girl On The Test Card: Pete Winslow & The King Size Brass. BBC LP 1973
1970s EPs and singles
There were as many in picture sleeves as company sleeves. The first company sleeve is here:
That sleeve didn’t last long, nor did the silver centre. I’ve seen versions where it’s orange print on white.
The centre design changed, and certainly the first release with the new design, Whatever Happened To You came in a plain white sleeve. It was composed by Mike Hugg of Manfred Mann.
Shortly afterwards they stayed Tudor with the music from Elizabeth R. Themes and soundtracks of programmes followed. There is a tendency to the more formal programming, so Vangelis’s Heaven & Hell had been used for the TV series Cosmos. Wings was a documentary series on the RAF. Telford’s Change. Blakes 7 was a more popular theme.
The 1970s Gallery click to enlarge
Elizabeth R: David Munrow, 1971 RESL 4
Chlochemerle RESL 8
Wings: The Alexander Faris Orchestra, 1977 RESL 37
Sailing: Ships Company & Band of HMS Ark Royal, from Sailor 1977 RESL 38
The Duchess of Duke Street: The Alexander Faris Orchestra 1977 RESL 45
Blakes 7: Dudley Simpson Orchestra, 1978 RESL 58
Telford’s Change: Johnny Dankworth, 1978 RESL 63
Heaven and Hell was an RCA co-production and carries the catalogue number BBC1. Unlike the rest of the catalogue at that time, it was RCA distributed with a BBC centre label. The B-side, Alpha was not from the TV series.
The Silver Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II in 1977 is described as “a commemorative record of BBC actuality recordings” and includes addresses by The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor speaking at a Guildhall Luncheon in Honour of The Queen.(their caps). It’s dull fare, but what you’d expect them to be issuing.
The centre label is a lesson on how sleeves were pre-printed in colour, with information added. They had to black out 45 rpm STEREO and 1976, because it was 33 rpm, mono and 1977. In spite of the A there is no sign that it was a demo either.
I suspect picture sleeves were produced for many releases but in short runs. Both Chi Mai and Who Pays The Ferryman? were hit records, and while both have picture sleeves, copies in company sleeves are the ones you find.
Who Pays The Ferryman? Yannis Markapoulos, RESL 51, produced 1976, released 1977
Nearly all copies are in the company sleeve, not the picture sleeve
Chi Mai: Ennio Morricone, from The Life and Times of Lloyd George, 1978
See CASE STUDY: CHI MAI (linked) for the tale of why this seems to be the most frequently found secondhand record of all.
Often BBC recordings are one-offs by artists. Few were actually signed to the BBC. Many releases are “Courtesy of …” the original label a record was on before it became a TV theme, and released by BBC Records. So Smuggler’s Blues by Glenn Frey comes from his MCA LP, and Chi Mai comes from Morricone’s EMI LP.
Far more TV than radio material made it to singles, but there are exceptions such as The Barrow Poets on The Pheasant Plucker’s Song from a 1980 Radio Four broadcast. Surely the uncredited sleeve illustration is by Paul Sample (famous for his Tom Sharpe covers and cartoons, and he illustrated some of my text books). It expands the tongue twister as far as you can take it. (I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son, and I’ll sit here plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucking’s done).
They could dig deep into the archives, and did so. This nostalgic 1974 release featured BBC Transcription Service recordings of ancient radio shows, Take It From Here (1948 to 1959) and The Glums which started in 1953. They’d been found in the vaults and used for a 1974 Radio 4 Celebration of The Glums.
I like their art department. Between 1974 and 1985, hey reissued their stack of Goon Show recordings, and each LP in the series used a different current cartoonist, most of them Private Eye contributors. I was immune to the charms of the Goon show, but love the sleeves. (There is a section in The Art of the LP on the Cartoonists series – linked). The Case of The Missing CD Plates. 1980 … CD plates on a car … Corps Diplomatique . This is by the cartoonist Honeysett.
BBC shows that spawned successful albums and singles include Not The Nine O’Clock News with Hedgehog Sandwich. They were fast in with the programme, having lost the successful Monty Python albums to the Charisma label. The Ayatollah Song from Not The 9 o’clock News is such a common second-hand single, that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t a hit.
The BBC continued to issue singles throughout, with Pye being the main distribution channel, switching to PRT when Pye changed its name in 1978.
BBC Records stayed in print a long time, as they were often reissued with TV repeats or new series, and the same records show up with different centres and company sleeves or picture sleeves. TheDr Who Theme got a new sleeve every time they changed doctors. Picture sleeves are often glossy “EP quality” card, rather than paper so tend to be in good condition.
The 1980s singles
They’re generally TV programme themes, usually orchestral. Dallas from 1980 was more than two years int o the series broadcasts, so much so that spin off Knots Landing was on the B-side. Both by the Frank Barber Orchestra, but who cared? As soon as it started you could feel the wind whipping across the South Fork veranda and ruffling Sue Ellen’s hair at breakfast time. Frank Barber was British, so the BBC were putting out a cover of the theme.
The Holiday Rock theme from Hi-De-Hi in 1981 was on BBC Records, but there was a parallel release on EMI. The difference is that the BBC can use a shot of Paul Shane on the sleeve and the Hi-De-Hi series logo, whereas the EMI version is a drawing which has nothing to do with the series (which is not set on a beach anyway). It may have something to do with pre-existing contracts with Paul Shane.
The title of the TV show is usually the focus … the orchestra is in tiny letters, or doesn’t appear at all. The actors who appear are the important thing. Ennio Morricone, following on from Chi Mai is one exception, another is Chas & Dave’s theme to In Sickness and In Health, the less popular sequel series to Til Death Us Do Apart.
Gallery- click to enlarge
An oddity is Tara’s Theme from Gone With The Wind in 1981 (RESL 108) in stereo. It was by The Rose of Romance Orchestra, conducted by Jack Dorsey, and they did albums of film themes. So why are the BBC releasing a cover of a theme from a 1939 movie? I have a memory of a much trumpeted TV broadcast of the remastered film because I recorded it on two Betamax tapes. This must have been an attempt to exploit the publicity.
Eastenders has been the BBC’s most popular programme over many decades and the theme has been reissued, as well as the stars getting records out. Simon May wrote it, first release 1985, as the show started. The soap went from twice a week, to three times to four times.
The Christmas Special is something to avoid for me and always brings in the highest drama of the year, usually violent. It’s sometimes the way of dumping an actor from the cast. A few years ago there was a Christmas Eve comedy drama about a family going to Lapland to see Santa Claus and getting stranded there. One says gloomily, ‘It won’t be Christmas without seeing someone getting raped on Eastenders.”
They responded to sporting events … as other labels had. The BBC had the advantage of hosting World Cup Grandstand with a theme, which was separate from the ditties sung by or in honour of the team.
BBC World Cup Grandstand … 1982 and 1986
There were a few EPs such as BBC Snooker Themes in 1984, an unprepossessing title (and a perplexing programme for those with black and white TVs) that ranged from Winifred Atwell to Vangelis.
While the tracks on Side A were BBC productions, the B-side was licensed in … Atwell from Decca and Vangelis from RCA. Winifred Atwell’s Black & White Rag from 1951 was re-named Pot Black. Vangelis found To The unknown Man had become Frame of The Day.
Material which was drawn from radio was less frequent. Ivan rebroff’s single of Hava Nagila was drawn from an album, and proclaims BBC Radio 2 on the sleeve.
Obsibisa’s 1975 single on Bronze Records was re-released in 1989, then again in a 1990 Remix on BBC Records (RESL 246). Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime received the same remix and reissue in 1990. They were done with Prestige Records Ltd.
Company sleeve designs
I believe virtually everything they released had a short run in company sleeves then reverted to company sleeves, especially as the company sleeves turn up on more popular themes which would have gone to a second pressing.
War & Peace RESL 1 / Waggonner’s Walk RESL5
Who Pays The Ferryman? RESL 51 open centre, lighter
Ghandara- Godiego RESL 66, closed centre, darker
By The Sword Divided / Arnescote: Consort 1983 RESL 137
Yellow sleeve, blue centre
The Box of Delights: The Pro Arte Orchestra, RESL 162 – a 1966 EMI recording licensed by the BBC
Always There: Marti Webb RESL 190, 1986
Every Loser Wins: Nick Berry RESL 204, black embossed copy /
Sing For Ever: St Philip’s Choir RESL 222 187, Polydor plastic centre pressing
The dark blue sleeves / centres last until 1982 at least. The yellow company sleeve arrives in 1978. The light blue centres in yellow sleeves are in use by 1984.
Henry VIII Suite: RESL 1 1970 / Clochemerle: RESL 8 1972
Whatever Happened To You? RESL 10, 1973 / Dr Who: RESL 11, 1973
Wings: RESL 37 1977 / Telford’s Change RESL 63 1987
Hi-Fi demo disc HI-FI 001 1977 / Dallas RESL 87 1980
Threshold: RESL 143 1984 / Just Say No: RESL 183 1986
Every Loser Wins: RESL 204 1986 / Perestroika: RESL 247 1990
1987’s The Longer The Road (from Truckers) was released as a Ten / BBC co-production and manufactured and distributed by Virgin (Ten was a subsidiary).
Highway: T2 Top Sounds licensed from the BBC, 2010
Beeb and Super Beeb were sub-labels. The first release in 1974 was Gene Vincent on three tracks from the Johnny Walker Show, live on the BBC in 1971 (BEEB 001). That was an interesting direction given the massive catalogue they had, but it would take a few years before permissions negotiation reached a level of co-operation that made it viable.
THhn child star Lena Zavaroni did Some Of These Days (BEEB 013)
Take Me For What I Got: Sunshine 1978 Pye distributed Beeb 025. A demo / DJ disc.
I’m A Fool To Care: Geraint Watkins 1981 Beeb 028, Pye blacked-out due to their name change to PRT
Later they were directed more at poppier and children’s material, though rocker Geraint Watkins was on the label in 1981.
These were vinyl LPs designed for internal distribution to BBC Radio stations, and were produced between 1974 and 1998. They were not for sale. The BBC produced hundreds, possibly thousands of titles.
gallery- click to enlarge
The LPs featured a standard silver sleeve with information glued on the back at first. Later there was a standard design with inset artist picture and title. With popular artists they’re “greatest hits albums” – see The Jackson Five and Blondie below.
The CDs had individual sleeves. Some are highly collectible when they feature a single major artist like Elton John, Blondie, Diana Ross or Prince. Others are historic recordings. The pressing run was only a hundred or two, and pressing was commissioned from specialist hifi labels like Nimbus, so quality is very high.
Record Store Day
Record Store Day brings out some odd stuff. 2019 saw a BBC / Fly Records Record Store Day release on white vinyl with two BBC Radio recordings from 1967 – Procul Harum and The Move both covering the same song, Morning Dew.
Along with that, European broadcast laws on copyright have resulted in several Record Store Day EPs of BBC radio sessions … though NOT any of them released by the BBC nor with the BBC’s permission or involvement. The Them EP sounds like someone had a Grundig 4 track tape recorder at the lowest speed with a little grey plastic microphone held against a transistor radio speaker (with a poor signal).
BBC in the charts
The existence of a BBC Record label for singles has always been controversial, especially during the early years when the BBC had a near monopoly of radio broadcasting and therefore promotion. After commercial radio was launched, the BBC still owned the two largest platforms for promotion, Radio One and Radio Two. A glance at their chart placings indicates that they did not influence sales of their own productions unduly. The major sales of Teletubbies and Bob the Builder in recent years are down to TV, not radio.
|David Munrow / The Early Music Consort||The Six Wives of Henry VIII||1970||49|
|David Munrow||Elizabeth R (EP)||1971||–|
|Highly Likely||Whatever Happened To You (Likely Lads)||1973||35|
|BBC Radiophonic Workshop||Dr Who||1973||–|
|Gene Vincent||Roll Over Beethoven (live)||1974||–|
|Yannis Markopoulos||Who Pays The Ferryman?||1977||11|
|Godiego||The Water Margin||1977||37|
|Not The 9 o’clock News||The Ayatollah Song||1980||–|
|Ennio Morricone||Chi Mai (Life & Times of Lloyd George)||1981||2|
|Fox||Electro People (Kenny Everett Show)||1981||–|
|Brown Sauce||I Wanna Be A Winner||1981||15|
|Vangelis||Heaven & Hell 3rd Movement (Cosmos)||1981||48|
|Rose of Romance Orchestra||Tara’s Theme (Gone with The Wind)||1982||71|
|Keith Harris & Orville||Orville’s Song||1982||4|
|Ken Freeman||The Tripods||1984||–|
|Simon May Orchestra||Howards’ Way||1985||21|
|Glenn Frey||Smuggler’s Blues (Miami Vice)||1985||22|
|Anita Dobson||Anyone Can Fall in Love||1986||4|
|Grange Hill Cast||Just Say No||1986||5|
|Marti Webb / Simon May||Always There||1986||13|
|Claire & Friends||It’s ‘Orrible Being In Love (when You’re 8 ½)||1986||13|
|Heads||Aztec Lightning (World Cup Grandstand)||1986||45|
|Nick Berry||Every Loser Wins||1986||1|
|Lelitia Dean & Paul Medford||Something Outa Nothing||1986||12|
|Cast From Bread||Home||1986||–|
|Teletubbies||Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh! (BBC Worldwide)||1997||1|
|The Tweenies||Number 1||2000||5|
|Bob The Builder||Can We Fix It||2000||1|
|Tweenies||Best Friends Forever||2001||12|
|Bob The Builder||Mambo No 5||2001||1|
|Tweenies||I Believe in Christmas||2001||9|
|Bob The Builder||Big Fish Little Fish||2008||1|
This is where the money was in recent years. The Mr Men series with Arthur Lowe was an earlier staple.
The Mr Men Sings: BBC LP from 1970. The series also led to several EPs.
Teletubbies, Bob The Builder, and Tweenies take us via CD into the online streaming era. Children’s material is a goldmine. Every few years there’s a new generation of kids to sell it to.
The BBC Music magazine with a cover-mount CD disc in a proper jewel case is a monthly classical music release through newsagents NOT available in record stores. There is a vast back catalogue to release as well as recent material. The series started in 1992, and currently sells 38,000 copies a month … a very large pressing for a classical CD. It was issued originally bty BBC Worldwide with Warner Music. Since 2012, it has been published by Immediate Music Company. That’s 29 years of 12 CDs a year. Quite a collection.
I have no idea what happens with the Interactive CD-ROM mentioned on the 2001 disc. It plays normally on a Mac,
BBC Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo
This series was drawn from Radio Two. Robert Parker was an Australian sound engineer who owned 20,000 78 rpm records. At the start of the digital area, he devoted himself to reprocessing 78s, getting rid of crackle and surface noise, and correcting speed. But Parker went further. He found ways of separating the instruments and mixing them in digital stereo. He broadcast them as Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo in Australia. BBC Radio Two re-broadcast the programmes then issued a series of Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo CDs. The sound is astonishingly good.
The BBC had live radio, for Saturday Club, Top Gear, The Peel Sessions and many one-off concerts. Most of this they didn’t own copyright on, and it only emerged with more innovative rights negotiations in the 1990s.
The BBC Radio series on Saturday mornings resulted in large quantities of live in the studio tracks by 60s groups in the archives. Album compilations such as the BBC Sessions series, or The Beatles At The BBC began to appear in the late eighties. Usually these were licensed from the BBC, so The Beatles At The BBC is on Apple, with a note that the copyright belongs to the BBC and was licensed to EMI Records for release on Apple. It has 69 tracks.
Similarly, Heyday: BBC Radio Sessions 1968-69 by Fairport Convention is on the Hannibal label, with the note:
Released by Arrangement with BBC Enterprises
℗ 1968/69 British Broadcasting Corp.
© 1987 Hannibal Records
Some of it was creaky due to radio and TV technical limitations. There were concerts in the 1970s broadcast on BBC2 TV (no stereo) and Radio Three (stereo) where listeners were advised to put their hi fi speakers either side of the TV, turn off the TV sound, turn up the FM receiver and listen to the radio broadcast while watching the simultaneous TV one. That included the rarity of broadcasting rock on Radio 3. And I did it. I heaved speakers and fiddled with wires.
The Peel Sessions
John Peel was the prog DJ then punk DJ then the anything as long as it’s new and different DJ. I suspect he had cloth ears for music but quivering antennae for the new. He would wax incredibly enthusiastic about a new band doing a session, then two or three years down the road, if they had become very successful, he decided he no longer liked them. I went right off him, and his fake Liverpool accent coming from a public school boy.
Many bands cut one of more sets for the John Peel Show between 1967 and 2004, and some (a tiny percentage of what is there) have emerged as The Peel Sessions. They’re mainly (but not all) on the Strange Fruit label, ‘By arrangement with BBC Records and Tapes.’
Two thousand bands and singers recorded over a total of four thousand sessions. They vary from the sublime to the woefully inept. The best known was Joy Division on EP then CD. This was a 1979 session released in 1986. The sleeve design was to incorporate as many names as possible. Strange Fruit’s label looks similar to the dark blue and white early BBC Records label.
New Order’s Peel Sessions had the same sleeve design. Other artists were very much of the time … The Buzzcocks, The Undertones, The Slits, Billy Bragg.
Later, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays … by which time the cassette and CD single dominated.
The spoken-word archive (mainly originally on cassette tape) ranges from vintage radio recordings like Journey Into Space (Series 1 to 3), comedy radio like The Goon Show, Martin Jarvis reading the Just William stories and Radio Four plays by Alan Bennett, and dramatisations like the thirteen part Lord of The Rings and the radio versions of Red Dwarf and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
The BBC must be one of the few record labels where the initial and only releases of many key titles were cassette only, and is the largest UK producer of audiobooks. Few audiobook titles made it to seven inch singles, but Arthur Lowe (Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring) read Mr Men stories on five 45 rpm singles in 1977.
Sales are online or bookshops rather than record shops. Many bookshops have a BBC Audio spinner display.
BBC Audio is such a massive catalogue that it needs its own entry.
The archive is immense. BBC-TV had Six-Five Special, Juke Box Jury, Top of the Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test and many variety shows hosted by singers (usually female ones). Most of the early material was wiped after broadcast.
The Top of The Pops TV broadcasts in the sixties were a farce. Because of Musician Union rules, bands had to perform live. As this was usually impossible, a compromise was reached. They had to record a new backing track the day before, which they could then sing live to. An MU official would check the recording session. Nearly all bands “swopped the tape” and used either the original backing track, or one prepared especially for the purpose at the time of the original recording. This led to messing about on stage during the broadcast, of which The Faces were masters.
Solo singers fared worse. If the backing musicians weren’t on a royalty share, solo singers had to perform with Johnny Pearson and the TOTP Orchestra, a bunch of hardened and ageing session guys, unfresh from three hours in the pub, and who just read the notes. Their attempts to play reggae or rock were appalling. Simon & Garfunkel and Elton John were the foremost among the many stars who stormed out of the studio and refused to perform with them. Top of the Pops budget LPs of cover versions have nothing to do with the BBC. The BBC were just too creaky to think of registering the title.
Go onto spoken voice, and they had years of radio comedy, drama, childrens’ programmes and disc
2 thoughts on “BBC Records”
Wow! There’s a few weeks’ worth of reading for me here. Delia Derbyshire, who arranged the Doctor Who theme, features in a recent film about female electronic music pioneers called Sisters With Transistors. Her Wikipedia entry has some interesting information about her and Ron Grainer’s respective contributions.
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Goodness me. A year’s worth of posts in one! Thank you for sharing this incredible treasure trove of BBC history. Many were familiar, but many more were new to me!