A rather wet evening in March at Media City in Salford Quays was the location for the inaugural event of a new collaboration between the BBC Alumni Network, BBC Pensioners Association (BBCPA) and the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP). The Evolution of the BBC in Manchester and the North-West was charted by Colin Sykes of the BBCPA committee in ‘From Trafford Park to Salford Quays’. Mike Dick, Chair of the BEHP talked about the BBC comedy and entertainment pioneer John Ammonds. Almost sixty people attended and the event was live streamed.

Natasha Maclean of the BBC Alumni Network welcomed everyone. Colin Sykes joined BBC Radio Manchester in 1982 as a reporter and stayed with the BBC for more than 30 years. The last 15 years saw Colin producing the local regional TV programme North West Tonight, and then became its Environment Correspondent. He now lectures in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Colin’s talk was illustrated by some wonderful archive footage and stills together with Colin’s local knowledge and anecdotes. Tracing the BBC’s roots from its small beginnings in Trafford Park it then expanded to Piccadilly producing radio and regional TV news. The early days of Network TV in Manchester, including the first Top of the Pops, came from a former church in Dickenson Road. In 1975 a new building in Oxford Road opened its doors and became the BBC’s headquarters for the next 36 years until 2011 when they moved to Media City, Salford.

Mike Dick, Chairman of the BEHP, had a long career with the BBC including working in the Community Programme Unit.  After leaving the BBC he started his own production company and made many programmes in Manchester.  The wealth of talent produced by the North West was spotted by Jon Ammonds and he showcased them in early entertainment TV programmes.  Mike’s talk was also illustrated with wonderful archive stills but also included exclusive audio clips of Jon talking about his life at the BBC. When Jon moved to London, he eventually became Morecambe and Wise’s Producer and Mike’s talk ended with the famous sketch ‘Mr. Preview’ featuring Andre Previn.   As you can imagine, there was a lot of laughter and it was such a pleasure to watch the genius of this legendary double act.  There were some in the audience who recalled working with Jon in Manchester in the early days.

Sue Malden of the BEHP and a BBCPA Committee Member brought the evening to a close.  She remarked about the many wonderful programmes produced in Manchester by the BBC, including their OB Unit, which sadly we did not have time to cover at this event.   The event produced much chatter and talk afterwards with some of the audience not realising some of the programmes mentioned were made in Manchester.   There was reminiscing, sparked by the presentations and the opportunity to see many faces from the past as well as some noting that they saw ‘ex colleagues in the clips, sadly no longer with us, who did so much to keep the reputation of the BBC’s technical excellence alive’.

The evening was a huge success and the BBCPA, BBC Alumni Network and BEHP hope there will be more  to follow.

Hope to see you at the next one.

Published On: April 21st, 2023 / 2.9 min read / Views: 589 /

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