Frank Gillard on King's death and Queen's Wedding

Oct 05, 2011, 08:45 PM

When some people have an idea, they give up at the first hurdle. Thankfully for BBC Local Radio, and for its many ardent listeners, Frank didn't.

As you can hear here from his measured tones, yet delivering such a vivid picture, Frank first made his name as an accomplished correspondent. He painted pictures of some of the last Century's most newsworthy dates: Royal weddings and deaths; and he was there to witness the D-Day landings.

Just after the War ended, and after collecting his OBE, he joined the BBC's Western Region; rising to become its Director by 1955. The 1951 Beveridge report was likely in his dusty office bookcase, recommending local radio experiments on the new VHF (FM) frequencies. He'd become sufficiently interested to pack his suitcase and journey round the World in 1954 and 1958 to educate his insight. It's true that others at the BBC were more suspicious. Hampered by BBC caution, a powerful Post Office, and a lack of necessary funds, it seemed little would change. Eventually, having secured funds for a number of short closed-circuit experiments in 1961 and 62, he was able to bring his vision to life by playing recordings to the Pilkington Committee of what the stations would sound like. I gather few copies of those recordings exist: if you have any, do upload them for me. Please. I fully understand any competitions will have ended, and I mustn't phone in.

As the appetite for local services grew, and as he became Director of Sound Broadcasting in 1963, Frank was sufficiently wise to consider all options. Could council funding be entertained? Could staffing levels and costs be low? Could news come from local press? A nine-station experiment was eventually agreed; and it was impressively but a year after the relevant White Paper that the first were launched.

BBC Manchester was destined to be the first BBC Local station after its enthisiastic local authority had volunteered a council-funded model in the early 60s. Gillard himself, however, was reluctant at that stage, owing to the risks to impartiality. Nevertheless, for the early stations, an element of council-funding was to be the eventual model. This was also the reason for Manchester's eventual launch tardiness: a change of council control meant that the funding fell into doubt.

In March 1967, the locations for the first stations were announced in Parliament. Leicester was to be first, not least because its council had originally volunteered not only to fund the running costs, but also the capital investment.

By July 1968, with the first eight stations on air, Frank resigned from his post, by then Director of Radio. To this day, on the best stations, you can readily hear some of his radio legacy. Frank Gillard CBE died in October 1998.