Martha Kearney: celebrating 50 years of World At One

October 3, 2015 - accent chair

In a universe of 24 hour news, a Radio 4 presenter explains given a 50 year-old
programme still sets a agenda

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8:00PM BST 03 Oct 2015


The initial book of The World during One, accurately 50 years ago on Sunday, didn’t have a many portentous of starts.

In Studio B of Broadcasting House, initial time presenter William Hardcastle struggled to overcome a vital problem: he had damaged his fake teeth.

William Hardcastle and Andrew Boyle

Urban parable also has it that he introduced it as ‘The World during Sixes and Sevens’, a nickname we have some magnetism with, given a insane rush behind a scenes to get a programme on air. It is now famous by roughly all as WATO.

Designed to be hard-hitting with an importance on violation stories and covering news – an apparent proceed now – WATO erupted onto a airwaves of a BBC Home Service, a ardent visitor that remade stream affairs forever.

It was a brainchild of BBC Home Service controller, Gerard Mansell who stranded his neck approach out relocating a determined – The Archers and Desert Island Discs – to make approach for a “crowd of buccaneers”.

William Hardcastle was an alien from Fleet Street, with decades of journal experience, while editor Andrew Boyle was a insurgent from within a Corporation’s ranks. Both tangible and combined WATO with a insubordinate fervour whose ripples are still felt today.

1965 was a time of change, that a BBC indispensable to reflect. “Many regarded it as ardent and dangerously outspoken,” wrote Mansell.

“William Hardcastle pennyless all a supposed manners of broadcasting. He breathed heavily during a microphone, he stumbled over his book and addressed himself to a many absolute in a land with inexperienced directness and no spirit of deference.”

William Hardcastle

Jim Naughtie likes to tell how William’s red jersey was left on his chair after he died, and successive editors would wear it like a yellow jersey in a Tour de France.

The programme quickly found appreciation among listeners and gained a vast audience. Early coverage enclosed Mr Ian Smith nearing in London for talks on Rhodesian independence. The Pope addressing a United Nations.

And apparently a Prime Minister Harold Wilson rebuked a BBC over “some pretender immature radio publisher called Day”. Sir Robin Day, of course, went on to benefaction The World during One from 1979 to 1987.

When he arrived for a morning meetings a initial thing he did when he sat down was set a parcel of cigarettes on one side and cigars on a other and from that impulse he smoked and chewed on both until he sealed off.

Nick Clarke


Though my predecessors done it seem effortless, presenting can be a terrifying experience. we was a outrageous fan of Nick Clarke whose polite, nonetheless incisive, probing of politicians should be a indication for all interviewers.

Though we was cheered to learn even he mislaid his cold during one Outside Broadcast from a celebration discussion when his object was drowned out by a circuitously Beatles reverence rope – as Nick got some-more and some-more incensed, a rope began to play All You Need is Love.

From a outset, a programme had a challenging choice of reporters, yet it was a editors who done a celebrity of a programme.

Andrew Boyle was a “maverick genius” who unprotected Anthony Blunt as a Russian spy. we rest on my stream editor Nick Sutton’s ease and satirical comprehension – a bedrock as a morning pandemonium reigns around.


That clarity of disharmony exists given there is so small time to get a programme on air. Whoever is modifying gets in around 6am; given we started, in 2007, we have cycled in for 7.30am to ready for a 8.30am morning meeting, described by Jim Naughtie as “a common reading of a papers and grunt[s] during any other over coffee.”

That sets us chasing 8 or 9 stories, that slight to 5 or 6 depending on how they rise and that guest a producers get. Interviews are edited digitally now, not with a razor blades and fasten used when we initial started my radio career, on LBC, in 1980.

Breaking news is always welcome, yet a closer it comes to going on air, a hairier it can be. we recall, during around 10 mins to one, spotting on a newswires that Baroness Thatcher had died: all ruin pennyless lax as we rushed to endorse a news before broadcast.

Nothing was in place as we done my approach into a studio, cold drops of persperate using down my spine. Somehow a producers found a necrology fasten and tracked down a wise operation of guests. There was no time for scripts so instructions were constantly shouted by my headphones as we ad-libbed on air.

In my early days we usually couldn’t trust how chaotic it all was – even after my years on Newsnight. The misfortune impulse was when we was still during my table and listened a one o’clock pips sounding: a vigilance for me to start vocalization in a studio.

My heart scarcely stopped… until we speckled PM’s Eddie Mair grinning away. His unsentimental fun became a unchanging occurrence until we schooled not to jump up, panic-stricken, from my chair.

As a contributor for a programme in a early Eighties, Kirsty Wark’s initial editor was Jenny Abramsky and Tony Hall, a Director General now, was her deputy. “Back afterwards we schooled so many not usually about a qualification of production, yet a cunning decoction too,” she recalls.

“There was a coffee appurtenance and mini fridge in a dilemma – and a bottle of blockade kept out of perspective for a few seasoned members of a group (neither Jenny nor Tony we dive to add) to prop their morning coffee.”


In 50 years a programme has evolved. You’re some-more expected to find a collection of homemade cakes or biscuits than a bottle of Scotch now.

The best creation has been a prolongation to 45 minutes, that has means we can cover a many wider operation of stories for a constant audience. The one thing that hasn’t, and will never change, is a joining to giving that assembly accurate and just news.

News by and vast covers a some-more joyless aspects of life, from healthy disasters and war, to political arguments and mercantile problems. Former Cabinet apportion Peter Walker once called us “The World during Glum”.

So for a golden anniversary series, we motionless to do something uplifting, and applaud a best of Britain: from cancer investigate to mechanism games, a Premier League to fashion. All achievements this nation can be unapproachable of.

We have had nominations from David Cameron (universities and science) Ed Miliband (the NHS) and Nigel Farage (the law). Alan Bennett notoriously picked hypocrisy as what a English unequivocally surpass at.

My favourites came from a listeners, who sent me cycling around a Manchester velodrome and to a inlet haven for a mark of biological recording where we was greeted with a words: “There are 48 varieties of slug, that is 47 some-more than many people realise.”

We adore a assembly and they can be really kind – we was sent lots of cards after we suggested my allergy to bees – yet make a grammatical mistake and we will be ripped to shreds.

Thankfully we haven’t suffered a predestine of Jim Naughtie who, when he initial arrived, was sensitive by some listeners – unfortunate with his Scottish accent – that he didn’t know how to pronounce his possess name.

In a universe of 24 hour news and bewildering amicable media storms, how has a fifty year aged programme remained so popular? (Our assembly is incomparable than ever, with 1.5 million listeners each day.)

we trust it is a eccentric streak: a running light of a early years, that has stubbornly persisted and been a procedure for a best of BBC journalism.

Some programmes might preview and others might simulate on a day’s news, yet whichever approach we look, The World during One is during a heart of what’s happening.

Listen to a World during One on BBC Radio 4, weekdays from 1pm.

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