Bernie Andrews: Radio producer who worked on Saturday Club, Top Gear and with Annie Nightingale

Pierre Perrone
Monday 30 August 2010 00:00

In the late 1980s, after record companies had reissued many of their best-sellers on compact disc, they began contemplating the release of the BBC sessions recorded by major acts such as the Beatles, the Who, David Bowie, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin.

The only snag was that, in the 1960s and early 1970s, it had been BBC policy to wipe and reuse the expensive tapes.

Thankfully, the radio producer Bernie Andrews had had the foresight to squirrel away or make copies of many of the original recordings he had himself overseen when producing shows like Saturday Club and Top Gear for the Light Programme, and the evening output of Radio One after the launch of the station in 1967. He also amassed a huge record collection, purported to have included every single issued in the UK between 1964 and 1975, which was later purchased by Elton John. Something of a maverick, Andrews didn't always see eye to eye with BBC management but he was fiercely loyal to the presenters he worked with, most notably John Peel and Annie Nightingale.

Born in 1933, Andrews was brought up in Eltham, south-east London. He did his national service in the RAF and worked as a telephone engineer for the Post Office before joining the BBC as a 24-year old. His arrival coincided with the corporation's reluctant decision to occasionally cater for teenagers with the introduction of Saturday Skiffle Club, soon renamed Saturday Club. Andrews progressed from tape operator to producer and established an instant rapport with the new breed of pop acts, the Beatles especially.

In December 1980, when John Lennon was interviewd by Andy Peebles in New York a couple of days before he was murdered, he had fond recollections: "I remember sessions with Bernie Andrews, he was a good producer on Saturday Club, we did some good sessions with him. We did a lot of tracks that were never issued on record, stuff from the days in the Cavern and Hamburg, "Three Cool Cats" was one we did. I heard some of the tracks recently, somebody must have pirated them in America you know Bernie."

Andrews understood how much pressure musicians were under when recording a session for BBC radio and made the necessary allowances. If the groups needed a bit more time to deliver, so be it, even if it meant the occasional overspend. In April 1963, the Rolling Stones failed their first BBC radio audition but Andrews arranged for drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman to back Bo Diddley on a subsequent session for Saturday Club. By September the Stones were appearing in their own right, and taped four more sessions the following year. They also guested on Top Gear, which started on the Light Programme in July 1964. Bizarrely, Top Gear was discontinued for a while but revived at Radio One with Peel presenting, first with Pete Drummond, then with Tommy Vance or Mike Ahern, and eventually flying solo from February 1968, a personal victory for Andrews, the programme's producer, who had championed Peel, a former DJ on the pirate Radio London, from the outset, despite misgivings by BBC management.

At the time, the Musicians' Union only allowed American singers to do sessions if they were backed by British players but Andrews succeeded in recording Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band by pretending they were a troupe of magicians, and therefore a variety act. Andrews and Peel also featured the then underground Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Tyrannosaurus Rex, who all went to become multi-million sellers. "We use groups that aren't all that acceptable or easy to listen to. By and large, our material is not suitable for any other programmes because it needs listening to," Andrews said at the time.

However, in April 1969, Douglas Muggeridge, the controller of Radios 1 and 2, broke up what he felt was too cosy a partnership, pairing Peel with John Walters, though after initial suspicion these two got on just as famously. Andrews bided his time producing Radio 2's Music While You Work until he was assigned Nightingale, whose arrival at the all-male Radio 1 in January 1970 represented a radical departure. Andrews nurtured Nightingale's transition from journalism to broadcasting and helped her develop into an engaging presenter. They also survived a few run-ins with management.

In August 1973, Nightingale previewed the Rolling Stones album Goats Head Soup and featured the last track "Star Star". As she recalled in Chase The Fade, her book about the 1970s, when she told Mick Jagger at a party at Blenheim Palace the following evening, he did a double take. "'You played WHA-AT?' Mick immediately rounded up other Stones and said: 'Hey, she played "Star Star". We'll give you a special prize.' I didn't know what the fuss was all about, the fact that 'Star Star' had Mick singing 'Starfucker' all the way through the song. Once you knew, you could hear the words as clear as day. But I was blissfully ignorant, as was Bernie, who had also listened to the track."

Muggeridge gave Andrews a carpeting but the producer took Nightingale's side and argued that it had been an honest mistake. He even solicited the opinion of strangers by dragging them in off the streets to listen to the track. No one heard the offending word. Both Andrews and Nightingale were on thin ice as they had also previously featured "A Souvenir Of London", a Procol Harum track that turned out to about VD, but were let off as BBC TV News had also used "Star Star".

Andrews felt he could take on the BBC "suits" because of his dedication to the job and the time and effort he put into his programmes. When producing Annie Nightingale's Request Show in the late 1970s he developed an uncanny ability for spotting the "phoney" cards scribbled by record company employees rather than the genuine requests, and occasionally set his and his presenter's mind at rest by checking listeners' addresses in the phone directory.

A colourful character, Andrews kept an aquarium in his office, and once wore flippers to complain to management about the damp in a BBC building. He took early retirement in 1984 but spent countless hours listening to the radio. He lived in Spain and in Dorset, where he enjoyed gardening.

Bernard Oliver Andrews, radio producer: born London 17 August 1933; died 11 June 2010.

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