Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Radio One More Time: Walters' Week

Travelling through space and time with the mingle-mangle music

John Walters is, of course, remembered as John Peel's producer, the man who had to "ring up Mrs. X and ask if her Overlord wanted to come on the programme." He also was a member of the Alan Price Set, scoring a top ten hit in his own right. But he also had another role - that of Radio One's arts correspondent.

Sort of arts correspondent. Presumably on the basis that he turned up at the studios carrying a paper you had to fold to read on the tube, John Walters was assigned the job of going to galleries and other events, and reporting back for the audience. Originally, he did this in a stand-alone programme, Walter's Weekly, in a slot which created a no-man's land between Night-time and Daytime programming. When this timeslot disappeared as part of a schedule shake-up, he became a roving reporter for Janice Long's show, delivering a Tuesday night Walter's Week slot, and a Thursday pop papers review. At the next schedule shake-up, when management created a buffer between night-time and daytime, Walters Weekly was revived for a short while. The final programme promised there was going to be another series, but it never happened before Walters retired.

Sort of arts correspondent. There were reports from openings - often enlivened by the presence of Quentin and Dave, respectively the Critic's critic and the People's critic, who sat on his shoulders whispering into his ears, in much the same way small angels and devils would attempt to influence the behaviour of characters in comics. Walters' great strength as an art critic was that he could understand the multiple complex levels being unravelled by Quentin, while retaining sympathy for Dave's view that a kid of three could do better.

But, generally, Walters used his time for discoursing on things he found interesting. There was much about the Archers - including his journey on an Archers themed tour where the coach visited places that, obviously, weren't in the made-up Borsetshire:

They'd say 'there's the cathedral where David and Sophie are going to get married in a few weeks - and you'd think, no, no it's not, that's Salisbury... a milkfloat overtook the coach at one point and the woman behind me said 'that'll be Mike Tucker' - and you just think, no, no, don't do their job for them...

once even composing a poem calling for more Grundy action in Ambridge, bemoaning how it's

It's Archers, Archers, all through the week
(Looks like Kenton will be up before the beak)

Then there were the "is it me" pieces, about breaking wind in apparently empty breakfast rooms only to catch the eye of a waitress who had been hiding round the corner, or being offered a slice of hot buttered something, or trains being full of screeching infants:

People stay at home trying for babies, then as soon as they're successful, they start to come out again, taking their babies to places where I am...

It's hard to disagree with a man who sees a sign outside a pub reading "Families Welcome" as a warning rather than an advertisement.

Then there were the frequent not-really-covert plugs for his arts series on BBC2's opt-out North-Eastern service, Northern Lights (or "ahem-hem-hem Northern Lights") and the obsession with the lack of people visible from the train when it went through Riddlesdown. Riddlesdown - City of the Dead spawned a feature in its own right, where Walters would take up the challenge of other towns to be similarly depopulated.

Much as we loved both iterations of Walter's Weekly, and the second's multi-tracked human brass band theme tune, it was the time he spent on the Janice Long's show which worked the best. Even the most natural raconteur works best with an audience, and Long's willingness to corpse on air made for a great partnership.

John Walters had the knack of turning the small print of daily life into wonderful stories; it's a pity his retirement proved so cruelly short at a time when he was available to other broadcasters to turn in work which walked the dangerous tightrope between whimsy and student-revue standard observational comedy.

We never did find out what happened to Alan, the furry soap cat, though.

[Radio One More Time]


Anonymous said...

Whenever I talk about Walters' Week on Janice Long, my friends are convinced that I made it up..........so thanks for the proof.
Anyway, I also remember that when he changed subject he would ring a bell and anounce what the next subject was. "Ding-a-ling....FISH!" was a favorite of mine.

Anonymous said...

I have good memories of Walters Week (and Walters weekly) at a time when the arts could be discussed on Radio 1. Much missed and fondly remembered.

Alex B said...

Seems the good folk of Riddlesdown have at least discovered smoking, cars, tracksuits, caps, mobile phones, and a variety of screen wipes.


Simon Hayes Budgen said...

Richard: you'll also be familiar, of course, with "Do you know what time of year it is, Janice... POLLL TIIIIME!"

Emalyse: Nowadays, of course, arts can get a mention on Radio One, providing it's been sanctioned by Damon Albarn, who has the official post of The Keeper Of Jo Whiley's paintings

Alex B: This explains why the place was so quiet fifteen years ago... they were spawning...

Anonymous said...

he went to Long Eaton Grammar School (I think it was still a Grammar when he was there) - our art teacher dug out a copy of his report for us...I can't remember anything about it. Apparently he used to work at a record shop just round the corner from where I type. I think that's half a story or maybe a third...

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