Although the BBC has made extensive use of transcription records over the years, their use has been significantly more widespread than just the BBC. Initially used as a sound source for the 'talkies' in the cinema, their use expanded and they were frequently used as a medium for recording auditions and interviews for radio stations and as a means of programme distribution between radio networks.
The BBC Transcription Services started life in the mid 1930's as The London Transcription Service following the advent of The Empire Service. This was renamed The General Overseas Service in 1942 and eventually The World Service in 1988. BBC Transcription Services were formed to licence BBC Radio programmes to overseas broadcasters who were authorised to broadcast the programmes for a set period, usually 2 or 3 years. The programmes sold to overseas broadcasters in this way covered every part of the BBC's output, including all types of music, drama, religious and children's programmes and, of course, comedy.
Whilst the BBC wiped many broadcasts from its archive, BBC Transcription Services retained a copy and many of the surviving radio programmes from the 1940's onwards owe their survival to the fact that a Transcription Services copy was made.
The library was originally housed in a old convent (St Hilda's) at the back of the Maida Vale studios. Later, it relocated to Kensington House on the South side of Shepherd's Bush Green in the early 1960's and is now housed in the South West wing of Bush House.
The original releases were in the form of 12-inch 78rpm (revolutions per minute) discs. Each of these discs contained no more than 3 or 4 minutes per side and so a radio operator would have needed to cue the start of many discs as the previous one finished for a half hour programme. Illustrated is a 1930's disc for Jack Payne and His Band. This disc contains parts 2 and 4 of programme 3, meaning that consecutive parts of a programme are on different discs. This enabled the radio operator to cue the start of the next part of the programme from a different disc from the one being played. This means that part 1 of the programme was on side 1 of disc 1, part 2 on side 1 of disc 2, part 3 on side 2 of disc 1, part 4 on side 2 of disc 2 and so on. A lot of skill in undertaking this cueing and cross fading was clearly required if the broadcast was to go smoothly with no gaps!
By around 1947, the 78rpm discs were replaced with 16-inch discs running at 33 1/3rpm. These course groove discs each contained approximately 10 minutes per side, so the requirement to cross fade throughout an episode was still required, just not so frequently. The fact that the Variety Bandbox episode with Tony Hancock survives was as a result of BBC Transcription Services recoding the episode on one of the 16-inch discs..
The original Hancock's Half Hour transcription services discs were 16-inch discs. Numbered 1 - 23, these discs featured episodes from the first 3 series of Hancock's Half Hour (details at the end of the article). Typically BBC Transcription Services pressed 100 copies of each disc only with instructions to the overseas radio network to destroy the disc at the end of the licence period. Clearly many of the radio stations did not follow these instructions as evidenced by the number of discs that circulate in collectors' markets
The second batch of Hancock releases were numbered 24 - 73 and featured episodes from the 4th to the 6th series, typically edited to approximately 28 minutes. These releases were on 10-inch 33 1/3 rpm discs with 15 minutes per side. Again, each episode was contained on 2 separate discs to enable the radio operator to cue in the second half of the episode from a second disc. An example of one of these discs is illustrated (red and yellow label) along with an example of a cue sheet. The cue sheet provided the radio operator with details of the dialogue from the beginning and end of each side of the disc. This ensured that the operator knew when to cue in the second disc when playing the second half of the programme. The cue sheet contains precise timings to assist with achieving a smooth cross fade. The images below are for episode 40, 'The Junk Man', the 16th episode of Series 5 and the disc shows an expiry date of 28th February 1962 so was probably issued in 1959 / 1960. A PDF of the cue sheet for episode 40 can be seen here and for episode 45 can be seen here. Interestingly, the opening announcement was amended on the BBC Transcription Services discs to 'The BBC Presents..' from the original 'We Present" announcement on the original releases so that the origin of the show (i.e. the BBC) was clear to overseas audiences (see below for an example)
This second batch of discs included the 4 episodes specifically re-recorded for BBC Transcription Services in 1959 to remove topical references or to provide overseas radio networks with more flexibility in using the episodes. The 13th Of The Series became The 13th Of The Month to enable the episode to be placed anywhere in a series. The original The New Secretary was sequentially the first to feature Hattie Jacques and her arrival fitted into the flow of the preceding and subsequent episodes. For the BBC Transcription Services version, Hattie's arrival was provided in flashback so that it could be placed anywhere in a series. The Election Candidate had Hancock standing for The East Cheam Liberals in the original version and this was amended to The Independent Party for the new version. The Bolshoi Ballet became The Ballet Visit and removed all reference to The Bolshoi Ballet, which was visiting the UK at the time the original episode was broadcast in 1956. All 4 of these episodes were broadcast in the UK in January 1959.
This second batch of discs was reissued later as 12-inch 33 1/3rpm discs, each of which contained a full episode per side. Although cue sheets were provided, there was no need for a cross fade half way through the episode!
The third batch of Hancock Transcription Services discs were numbered 1 - 28 and comprised 28 episodes from the 4th to the 6th series, all of which had been released in the 2nd batch. These releases were on 12-inch discs containing a full episode per side and were edited further to approximately 26 ¬Ω minutes to allow space for advertising etc on the overseas radio stations.
The final batch of Hancock releases were numbered 1 -13 and were re-issues of the earlier 16-inch discs from the 1st to the 3rd series, this time edited to approximately 27 minutes. These episodes all featured the opening bars of the later signature tune (other than No 5 The Rail Strike) dubbed at the beginning of the episode as far as the opening announcement.
Occasionally a single sided disc was issued where there were an odd number of programmes in a series. Illustrated is the 'non playable' side from a 'Beyond Our Ken' issue.
Transcription Services discs continued to evolve. During the 1970's and into the 1980's, radio comedy continued to be released on Transcription Services discs. For example, The Steptoe and Son TV Series was adapted for radio, with the same cast as the TV Series and broadcast on the Light Programme, later to be Radio 2, between 1966 and 1976. BBC Transcription Services issued 43 of these shows. Illustrated is the label used in releases from the early 1970's (turquoise and yellow label). This LP contains the episodes 'Is That Your Horse Outside' and 'The Lodger'. This LP has an expiry date of 30th August 1975. The other Steptoe release illustrated is 'Men Of Letters' and 'Men of Property' - the last two episodes of the 5th series broadcast in June 1974 and this release features the later label used from the late 1970's. The disc has an expiry date of 30.9.81so was probably issued in 1979. This release featured a plan brown sleeve with a simple Transcription services logo as illustrated.
An interesting development was the use of coloured vinyl and illustrated is a pink vinyl copy of a Pink Floyd concert originally braodcast on Radio 1.
The transcription services label was dropped during the mid 1980's and LPs were branded 'Radio Play'. Here is an example of a programme called Keep The Faith from 1986. More recently still, the BBC Transcription label has been resurrected and as recently as the late 1990's, BBC Transcription Services were releasing CDs to overseas radio stations. Illustrated is a disc from the mid 1990's containing live performances from heavy metal band AC/DC from1976 and 1979.
A quick look at the collectors market shows how many of the LP discs survive; this is particularly true of music performances of the 70's and 80's. What is much rarer are the Transcription Services discs of earlier years; how lucky we are that the BBC retained this library of discs despite wiping the original tapes of many of the original episodes. As a result, a new generation of listeners are now able to enjoy the greats of Hancock, The Goons, Beyond Our Ken and so many more. To finish, here is the listing of Hancock Transcription Services releases as published in 'Tony Hancock - Artiste' by Roger Wilmut.
As mentioned above, the opening announcement on the BBC Transcription Services issues differered from the original shows. The original shows started with the announcement 'We present....' whereas most BBC Transcription Service releases started with the announcement 'The BBC Presents...' On occasions, even this approach was varied with the Transcription Service keeping the 'We present...' announcement but adding an additional introduction in front of the music: 'The BBC In London Presents...' All three examples can be heard here:
Original Issues - 16" course groove discs: approximately 10 minutes per side
|1||1/1||The First Night Party||13||2/6||The Chef That Died of Shame|
||The Rail Strike
||The Boxing Champion
||The Television Set
||The New Car
||The Marrow Contest
||A Trip To France
||The Jewel Robbery
||The Monte Carlo Rally
||A House On The Cliff
||The Student Prince
||The Greyhound TRack
||The End Of The Series
||The Pet Dog
||The Test Match
||The Holiday Camp
Original Issues - First Run 10" discs: Approximately 15 minutes per side
Second Run 12" discs: Full episode per side
Episodes cut to between 29' and 29' 50" (Numbers 24 - 50)
Episodes cut to 29' 05" (Numbers 51 - 64)
Episodes cut to maximum of 28' 06" (Numbers 65 - 73)
|24||5/1||The New Radio Series||49||5/20||The Sleepless Night|
|25||4/10||The Espresso Bar||50||SP||Bill and Father Christmas|
|26||4/12||The Diary||51||6/1||The Smugglers|
|27||4/14||Almost A Gentleman||52||6/2||The Childhood Sweetheart|
|28||4/16||The Wild Man Of The Woods||53||6/3||The Last Bus Home|
|29||4/17||'Agricultural 'Ancock||54||6/4||The Picnic|
|30||4/20||The Last Of The McHancock's||55||6/5||The Gourmet|
|31||5/3||The Male Suffragettes||56||6/6||The Elopement|
|32||5/4||The Insurance Policy||57||6/7||Fred's Pie Stall|
|33||5/5||The Publicity Photograph||58||6/8||The Waxwork|
|34||5/6||The Unexploded Bomb||59||6/9||Sid's Mystery Tours|
|35||5/7||Hancock's School||60||6/10||The Fete|
|36||5/9||The American's Hit Town||61||6/11||The Poetry Society|
|37||5/11||Hancock's Car||62||6/12||Hancock In Hospital|
|38||5/12||The East Cheam Drama Festival||63||6/14||The Impersonator|
|39||5/15||The Grappling Game||64||6/13||The Christmas Club|
|40||5/16||The Junk Man||65||4/1||Back From Holiday|
|41||5/17||Hancock's War||66||4/4||The Income Tax Demand|
|42||5/14||A Sunday Afternoon At Home||67||4/6||Michelangelo 'Ancock|
|43||5/18||The Prize Money||68||4/8||Cyrano de Hancock|
|44||TS1||The 13th Of The Month||69||4/15||The Old School Reunion|
|45||TS2||The New Secretary||70||4/18||Hancock In The Police|
|46||TS4||The Election Candidate||71||5/2||The Scandal Magazine|
|47||TS3||The Ballet Visit||72||5/13||The Foreign Legion|
|48||5/19||The Threatening Letters||73||4/11||Hancock's Happy Christmas|
Re-Issues - 12" LPs all edited to 26' 20"
|1||4/14||Almost A Gentleman||15||5/11||Hancock's Car|
|2||4/17||Agricultural 'Ancock||16||5/15||The Grappling Game|
|3||4/1||Back From Holiday||17||5/17||Hancock's War|
|4||4/4||The Income Tax Demand||18||TS2||The New Secretary|
|5||4/6||Michelangelo 'Ancock||19||6/1||The Smugglers|
|6||4/8||Cyrano de Hancock||20||6/2||The Childhood Sweetheart|
|7||4/15||The Old School Reunion||21||6/5||The Gourmet|
|8||4/18||Hancock In The Police||22||6/6||The Elopement|
|9||4/20||The Last Of The McHancock's||23||6/9||Sid's Mystery Tours|
|10||5/2||The Scandal Magazine||24||6/11||The Poetry Society|
|11||5/4||The Insurance Policy||25||6/12||Hancock In Hospital|
|12||5/6||The Unexploded Bomb||26||6/14||The Impersonator|
|13||5/7||Hancock's School||27||4/11||Hancock's Happy Christmas|
|14||5/9||The American's Hit Town||28||6/13||The Christmas Club|
Re-Issues - Early Hancock
12" LPs all taken from the 16" discs and edited to 27' 00" (approx) with no playout. All except 5 have the opening bars of the signature tune dubbed on from the later version of the signature tune so that the original programme doesn't begin until the opening announcement.
|1||1/3||The Idol||8||3/3||The Bequest|
|2||1/6||The New Car||9||3/2||The Jewel Robbery|
|3||1/11||A Trip To France||10||3/13||Hancock's Hair|
|4||1/13||A House On The Cliff||11||3/14||The Student Prince|
|5||2/8||The Rail Strike||12||3/18||The Greyhound Track|
|6||2/9||The Television Set||13||3/19||The Conjuror|
|7||2/11||The Marrow Contest|
The BBC issued this 12‚Äù LP to overseas radio stations as an introduction to the BBC programmes available from the BBC Transcription Service. The sleeve notes state: 'An invitation‚Ä¶Over 200 radio organisations throughout the world subscribe to the BBC Transcription Service. It is easy to become a subscriber and the programmes are offered on moderate terms. If you want to know more about the programmes and how to get them write to The Head of The BBC Transcription Service, Shirland Road Maida Vale, London W9 England or locally you can get in touch with..' The sleeve lists 3 addresses in Ottawa, Canada, Ontario, Canada and New York, USA. The sleeve note finishes by stating: 'This demonstration record may not be broadcast: It should be destroyed after use'. It is believed to date to the late 1950's given the Maida Vale address on the sleeve. The record is introduced by Canadian Actor Robert Beattie and the record includes extracts on side 1 from Take It From Here, Life With The Lyons, Hancock's Half Hour (2 minute extract from the moment Hancock arrives downstairs to meet Bill & Sid from the episode ' The New Radio Series' - the first episode of Series 5 from 1958), The Goon Show, Journey Into Space and The Hungry Spider. The second side focuses on musical extracts from Ted Heath and his Music, the BBC Jazz Club, Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra, opening and closing music from BBC Bandstand and many others.