This has been a week of saying goodbye to people and places. Two weeks ago, I lost a dear friend. As anyone who knew him will tell you Chris Needs was unique, as a musician, as a broadcaster and as a person. For the past 2 weeks I have had the responsibility of looking after his ‘Friendly Garden’ between 10pm and 1am, weeknights on BBC Radio Wales. Over that time, we have laughed and cried as we have remembered his funny stories and many acts of kindness.
Yesterday we said our final goodbyes. In normal times the organisers of the funeral would have struggled to find a venue big enough to accommodate everyone who would have wanted to be there. But people are creative and even in these strange days of Covid the ‘Garden’ was able to show their love and respect. Gabe, Chris’ husband, had arranged that the funeral cortege would wend its way from Cwmafan to Margam Crematorium giving plenty of opportunities for people to pay their respects as the funeral party passed by. Gabe had also arranged for the service to be streamed live to the internet.
Getting ready for a Eurovision Special on BBC Radio Wales
As I watched the service from home, again I laughed at music Gabe had chosen to start the service. A beautiful piece of Welsh Hymn singing that Chris would often play on his show which half way through had the sound of someone breaking a glass vase, with the congregation barely missing a beat. Then there was the eulogy by Gabe himself, funny, touching and poignant whilst in the background, well maybe it was my imagination, but I’m sure I could hear Chris’ dog Buster Llyr breathing heavily.
Cysga’n Dawel Chris Needs.
Broadcasting has had to adapt to the Epidemic in many different ways. Around the country presenters and reporters have had to improvise studios in the most unlikely places. Airing cupboards and sheds had been covered in blankets and duvets as engineers try their best to help soundproof make shift studios.
Here in Wales the BBC has been trying to keep the show on the road whilst also moving from its long term home at Broadcasting House in Llandaff to a new state of the art facility in Central Square Cardiff. It was midweek when I had my final news bulletin from Llandaff and from next Monday I’ll be broadcasting from my shed directly into the new Broadcasting House.
In my memory BH Llandaff will forever be September. My relationship with the BBC started in 1974 with an interview for Good Morning Wales. That interview was recorded at the BBC Studios in Alexandra Road, so it wasn’t until late summer 1978 that I first went to the BBC in Cardiff and Horse Chestnuts trees around the building were already dropping hundreds of conkers. I had just recorded a session for BBC Radio One in Maida Vale and out of the blue I got an invitation to record another session for AM Programme on BBC Radio Wales.
The recording seemed to go quite well and as I was leaving I mentioned to the producer Megan Emery, that I quite liked the idea of working in radio. At the time I was on a long summer break from university so with time on my hands I jumped at the invitation to get some work experience. After a day or so watching how everything worked I was given my first assignment.
The presenter of the AM programme Chris Stuart had about 6-8 interviews every day. That meant he didn’t have time to research every item or read every book, that’s where I came in. I was handed a rather large Emlyn Williams autobiography and told to come up with a dozen questions for Chris to ask the author the following day.
I loved it. Emlyn Williams had written plays like ‘Night Must Fall’ and the ‘Corn is Green’, he had been friends with Richard Burton, and he had lived life to the full. The interview went well, I shook Emlyn Williams by the hand and got him to sign the book. After that I returned to the AM programme at every opportunity during my university holidays.
Radio Wales AM Christmas Party with Peter Walker and Mark Owen
Over the next few years, I would go from radio researcher to producer. I also had a stint in television researching the ‘Chris Stuart Cha Cha Chat Show’. As the researcher my job was to help book the acts and then look after them on the day of filming. I remember haggling with Barry Hearn about how much we should pay Terry Williams to come on the show and clear the colours on a newly installed snooker table. I remember looking after the bouquet of flowers Dorothy Squires brought with her so that we could present them to her half way through her interview with Chris. In the green room I introduced her to John Toshack who towered over her. ‘You’re an actor aren’t you’ said Dorothy Squires. ‘Sometimes’ was Toshack’s reply. I even helped get Basil Brush back into his box.
It was on that show I met the legendary Record Producer Larry Page. Larry was managing a Welsh Artist, Jade from Tonyrefail. We exchanged numbers, I sent him some tapes and he offered me a record deal. Over the next few years, even though I was recording and performing I would still do the occasional radio production shift on AM.
Eventually I moved from one side of the glass to the other as I became a presenter in 1987. I took over a morning slot after it was decided not to renew the previous presenters contract. Rob Jones was incredibly talented; he was funny, he could do impersonations and he could write. For some reason his face didn’t fit. After I got given his show he moved to London changed his name to Rob Brydon and the rest is history.
Over the past few years my visits to Llandaff have been few and far between. Most of my programmes have come from the BBC Studios in Swansea. In normal times I would have gone to pay my respects to the old building but sadly now it’s too late. I would love to have walked those corridors one last time. To remember the giants who once occupied those studios. Vincent Kane and Patrick Hannan and Carwyn James in his immaculate 3 piece suits and shiny brogues. The consummate professional broadcaster Chris Stuart who so inspired me and that new kid on the block Roy Noble. Oh and of course Chris Needs.
One of my most treasured memories of Broadcasting House Llandaff is leaving the building late one night after finally getting the next mornings’ programme sorted. I stood waiting for my lift home when out through reception walked Olympic Gold medallist Lynn Davies chatting with Barry John. Both were regular guests on the AM show so I knew them but both were my heroes. I explained I was waiting for my lift and they decided they would keep me company until it came. My face is beaming just remembering that moment.
So goodbye old friends and thank you both for such wonderful memories.