Here are a couple of photos of the presentation studio at Pebble Mill from the 1980s.
This is a 1974 BBC1 screen-grab of one of the original Midlands Today journalists Geoffrey Green – reporting on how transplant surgeons removed a Birmingham man’s kidney not realising he was still alive. Green, who was from Coventry, did his first BBC broadcast on radio in 1950. He died in 2003. Thanks to Andrew Hewkin for sharing this.
The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:
Colin Pierpoint: ‘I remember Geoffrey, we occasionally had a chat in the corridor, and I am sure I worked with him editing his radio 4, and earlier Midland Home Service reports at Pebble Mill and Broad Street. A nice man. Never self important, but a friendly colleague with a laugh and a smile. I remember him laughing at the funny notice in the PM lift about one of our managers. I also came across him on the end of the line with a COOBE doing football reports. Always cooperative. In Broad Street Control Room we used to ring down the line to see if anyone had arrived, and every time Geoffery Green had just put the headphones on, we heard “You rotten bastards!” come down the music line. But always in a light hearted way, and we would all have a laugh about it.’
Pete Smith (former Midlands Today cameraman): ‘Worked with him many times.. a proper gent, lovely man.’
Wendy Edwards: ‘Gronker! Legend of the Newsroom.’
David Lowe: ‘“Hello Flower” was always the greeting I got from him.’
Conal O’Donnell: ‘Geoffrey “Gronker” Green was a great character and a thoroughly professional journalist. He earned his nickname “Gronker” doing live two ways into both radio and tv programmes when he’d ask the producer “how long do you want me to gronk on about this” If it was 45secs that is what you got -neither more nor less. During the 60s & 70s Geoffrey used to vie for airtime with Peter Colbourne over the polonged death throes of BMC/British Leyland/ BL/Rover in all its various guises.I do not recall the kidney story but Geoff turned out high quality accurate material for decade after decade. His live commentary of the RAF helicopter delicately putting in place the metal spire atop Coventry Cathedral was to me especially memorable.Geoffrey was a portly chap who never took himself too seriously. During one hilarious medieval battle re-enactment piece for Midlands Today he could be seen huffing and puffing across “the field of battle” every inch a modern re-incarnation of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Geoff joined a Coventry news agency as soon as he left school, acting as a runner during the infamous blitz of 1940. I met Geoff occasionally for a drink at the Durham Ox, Shrewly, after his retirement.
(Roger Shannon wrote this profile piece about Chris Phipps several years ago, but the article sums up the man very well)
Roger Shannon talks to Chris Phipps about Birmingham’s rich rock heritage.
Birmingham’s rich music heritage is at long last receiving serious attention, its profile further boosted by the screening of a legendary rock film – and an appearance by one of the city’s cultural torch-bearers.
International music industry consultant Chris Phipps is returning to his home city on Saturday to introduce and discuss a special showing of the Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains The Same at the Flatpack Film Festival.
It follows hot on the heels of Phipps’ visit to the city’s Home of Metal event last month when he discussed the indigenous origins of heavy metal while also introducing a screening of the 1992 documentary, Motor City Music Years.
Phipps has ramped up a 35-year career in the music industry. Based in the United Kingdom, he has worked in the United States, Japan, Africa, Israel, Holland and throughout Europe.
His passion and enthusiasm for music remains as ebullient as it was in the mid-1970’s when, as a college disc jockey, he began promoting local bands.
He has worked with the best, from Bob Marley to Sting, the Pet Shop Boys and Dire Straits and as a television producer and interviewer, he has put many more bands and musicians on the world’s screens, including Joan Armatrading, Ozzy Osbourne, UB40, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Steel Pulse and the Fine Young Cannibals.
Born in Northfield, he attended King Edwards School, Camp Hill, and studied teacher training at West Midlands College of Education. Phipps was already steeped in vinyl and music, booking local bands such as Carl Wayne and the Vikings (later The Move), The Idle Race with Jeff Lynne, who was later to form the Electric Light Orchestra and Jon Lord (later to form Deep Purple).
Phipps recalls: “Sixth form was great – Steve Winwood was playing in local jazz bands before the dawn of the Spencer Davis Group, Robert Plant was getting up to sing with Alexis Korner at the Midland Arts Centre, Gene Vincent was at St Francis Hall, Bournville, the Four Tops played the Odeon.
“At college, I booked Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, got sacked from the Ents Committee for booking Cream for £360 and then reinstated myself by getting The Scaffold to perform in the Common Room; I booked Paul Simon for £6 for the Christian Club, Black Sabbath, the original Fleetwood Mac, Joe Cocker, Jethro Tull …”
The recent Home of Metal weekend summed up many good things about Birmingham’s popular musical heritage. An event organised by music industry entrepreneurs Capsule took the form of a unique walking tour visiting talismanic venues from the 1960s and ’70s, where heavy metal music was born, bred and bottle-fed. Leading the tour was Phipps, back in his home city, and oozing with enthusiasm.
The Metal Heritage Tour took in Hill Street, where the Golden Eagle pub stood and hosted a blues venue; the Whisky a Go Go, now gone, where Cream once performed; the Crown on Station Street, where Henry’s Blues House was resident; Hurst Street and the legendary El Sombrero, where the young Ozzy Osbourne dreamed up the name Black Sabbath; and close by, the Diskery, a place of vinyl heaven. Phipps wrote the tour guide and advised on its contents and cartography.
Phipps says: “I hope the Walk draws attention to the fact that heavy metal is as valid to the Midlands as Matthew Boulton and the Jewellery Quarter. It’s living cultural history, as valid as the Mystery Plays and Shakespeare.
“It’s industrial folk music and draws on the locality, as UB40 drew on their multi-cultural roots in the next decade. The founding dynasty of metal – Ozzy, Sabbs, Priest – are still touring and unerringly loyal to their fans.”
Phipps holds a unique place in the city’s popular music heritage. When I moved to the city in the late-1970s, people would point out this whippet of a young man, all hair and quips.
At Pebble Mill, he produced reggae and rock shows for BBC Radio Birmingham, now Radio WM, and for a time was their roving interviewer, chewing the fat with major singers and bands visiting the region – Joe Cocker, Rush, Whitesnake, Uriah Heap, Sting (for the BBC drama Artemis 81), Iggy Pop, Captain Beefheart (who threw Chris off his tour bus), the Sex Pistols and a trio of reggae giants in Gregory Isaacs, John Holt and Bob Marley and The Wailers.
He also scooped the occasional exclusive, as when he interviewed Dexys Midnight Runners frontman Kevin Rowlands for television at a time when the frequently verbose singer had refused to speak to the press.
From presenting and interviewing on radio, it was a small step to doing the same on television and the opportunity arose when BBC producer Roger Casstles assembled a team to front the BBC Midlands pop show Look! Hear!, produced at BBC Pebble Mill.
The pairing of Phipps with Toyah Willcox is self-effacingly described by Chris: “We were played off against each other as a punk versus a Keith Chegwin.” Toyah, the Birmingham-born actress and singer, was hot-foot from her infamous appearance in the Derek Jarman movie, Jubilee (1978).
Look! Hear! showcased the region’s post-punk and 2-Tone scene – Duran Duran, The Specials, Selector, Dexys Midnight Runners – making the Pebble Mill a key location in the promotion of the city’s burgeoning musical pedigree.
Phipps was recruited to join Channel Four’s flagship pop programme The Tube as assistant producer, working alongside anarchic presenters Paula Yates and Jools Holland. He says: “The Tube gave you carte blanche to fight your corner and work with every idiom of music. I found myself all over the world – with Culture Club in Japan; Dire Straits in Israel; Malcolm McLaren in Los Angeles; Sly and Robbie in Jamaica.”
His proudest moments were closer to home, involving two Birmingham bands. Chris booked the Fine Young Cannibals and Hollywood Beyond for their first television appearances, shooting on two freezing days in Birmingham at Zella Studios and at the Grand Hotel.
His later career included many hours of television for ITV, via Tyne Tees, and for independent film and television companies, taking in African music, Bob Marley and Chris Rea amongst others.
The programme Motor City Music Years, made in 1992 for Channel 4 and Central TV, was a three-part series documenting popular music in Birmingham from the 1960s to the 1990s.
I worked with Phipps on the series and it benefited enormously from his contacts, enabling us to film previously inaccessible interviewees such as Joan Armatrading, Ozzy Osbourne, UB40 and Duran Duran.
One project involved the boss of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, plus the legendary Bill Graham, owner of the Fillmore in San Francisco. Phipps recalls: “When Bill died, Chris authorised me to search the Fillmore archives. Every band he promoted, he filmed – The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix Experience. Yet because of rights, almost of all of this classic material remains unseen.”
Phipps is looking forward to introducing The Song Remains The Same, at South Birmingham College, Digbeth.
“I saw Robert Plant play to 14 people in 1967 in the Black Horse, Northfield. The band remain an enigma even now.
“I look at the chemistry when two session musicians hired two loose cannons and the power they unleashed. You may leave with more questions than answers, but that’s Zeppelin.”
* Roger Shannon is professor of film at Liverpool’s Edge Hill University and film producer at Swish For more, go to www.flatpackfestival.org, www.homeofmetal.com or http://birminghammusic archive.co.uk
Chris Phipps died suddenly on Friday 23rd August, 2019. Chris was a reporter on BBC Birmingham/ Radio WM and co-presented on Look!Hear! with Toyah Willcox in the 1980s, before becoming a presenter on The Tube.
The following comments were posted on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:
Conal O’Donnell: ‘Chris was a wonderful erudite popular culture man who could literally turn his hand to anything.I have very fond memories of him at Pebble Mill in the late 70s.The kind of colleague who made one proud to work for the Beeb.’
Kate Boston Williams: ‘Chris was my first colleague when I made the move to Newcastle in 1998. He remained a loyal friend. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things musical and his anecdotes were legendary. I’ll miss our meetings at the Tyneside cinema, his wit and kindness.’
Michael Fisher: ‘Chris was a great colleague at Pebble Mill who gave me an interest in the Black Country and encouraged my occasional forays into the world of music.’
Janice Rider: ‘It was only a short while ago in Sept 2017 , that I met up with Chris again after many years , when he gave a talk at Birmingham City Uni about his career & books he had written.’
Mick Murphy: ‘Thank you for tickets to see The Heavy Metal Kids at the Odeon New Street, in the 70s. My ears are still ringing, but it was a musical turning point for me. So sorry you’ve left the stage.’
Janice Rider: ‘A wonderful memory Mick . I have one too when Chris took me for a surprise lunch and it turned out to be with David Essex ! I was so overwhelmed I just sat transfixed & hardly ate a thing !!’
Pete Simpkin: ‘Worked a lot with Chris at BBC Birmingham and Radio WM and eventually took over his post at Wolverhampton in the late 80s.’