Chris Phipps

Chris Phipps trails Look! Hear!










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.’

Photo from Janice Rider, no reproduction without permission














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.’

Chris Phipps on Radio WM

Hear  Chris Phipps  reminiscing about BBC Pebble Mill  in his new book on the Paul Franks Show on BBC WM. Friday  January  25, 2019  4-40 available on catch-up! Here is the link:

Chris also appeared on Nigel Williams Show on Jazz FM January 12, 2019.

The following comment was left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Michael Fisher:
“Chris was my introduction to the Black Country around Dudley and Walsall. Interesting to hear him reminisce about Pebble Mill, the biggest BBC broadcasting centre outside London, capturing the Zeitgeist in music of the 70s and interviewing Black Sabbath 50 years on in Dublin after they first appeared at The Crown in Birmingham.”

The day the Pebble Mill studio opened

This link is to a clip from Nationwide on 15th June 1971. Midlands Today presenter, Tom Coyne gives a guided tour of the brand new Pebble Mill studios. Included in the tour are Studio B, the home of Midlands Today; Studio A, where many dramas were produced; and the Radio studios, home to The Archers, we also see Radio WM in action. There is no mention of Pebble Mill at One, because the programme had not yet been planned.

Thanks to Malcolm Hickman for sharing the link.

Still from Tom Coyne’s piece on Nationwide. Copyright BBC.











The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Keith Warrender:’The EMI cameras were still going in 1983 when they were replaced with Link 125s. Link are long gone but the old factory is still standing unused in Andover.’

Sue Astle: ‘Such an amazing exciting time for us then, we were privileged to have worked there. Susie Bancroft. Ex make up’

Sarah Tongue: ‘My mom ran the Library!’

Helen Smith: ‘Loved watching that, my Dad was the cameraman at the beginning of the clip.’

Michael Fisher: ‘Radio Birmingham as it was at the start!’

Andy Marriott: ‘What was the little mini cart system they were using for spot effects, called?’

Malcolm Hickman: ‘It was a device called a P.E.G. Programme effects generator. They used a spool of tape in a case with a metal loop fitted at one end. When you inserted the cartridge, the machine grabbed the tab and cued the effect. It had loads of slots so a sequence of effects could be built up. A BBC designs department product, IIRC.’

Sue Welch: ‘Actually remember Tom Coyne from Tyne Tees Television. A very long time ago.’

Malcolm Adcock: ‘Happy memories, joined Top Gear in 1988 and our production office was later in the old Pebble Mill at One studio area.’




Remembrance Day – The Longest Silence

The season of Remembrance brings back a terrifying experience I had when attempting to relay live the Remembrance Day Service at Queen’s Square Wolverhampton in November 1985.

We had on Radio Birmingham/WM for several years taken on the mantle of broadcasting local services as an alternative to simply re-broadcasting Radio 4 from the cenotaph in London and the Wolverhampton event had special relevance that year as the town was celebrating its Millennium.

With due attention to detail I had carried out all the essential ‘recces’ including the parking of our vehicle, the site of a suitable commentary position for  myself as commentator/producer and all the relevant permissions and local arrangements with the Council and the Police. An early harbinger of challenges to come was the fact that I was issued with a parking ticket whilst actually attending a Council/Police joint planning meeting!

However come the day and I was first on parade at 0730 and thought it advisable to make early use of the Public Convenience situated under Queen’s Square. There I encountered a council cleaner and mentioned in passing if he was giving the place an extra clean ahead of the special event to be held above. His answer bothered me slightly and is registered as harbinger number two ”What special event?” he offered “ I’ve not been informed”

Next to arrive was the OB vehicle, in this case the Radio Car towing a converted caravan which had been kitted out as a fully equipped Radio Mobile control room.

Slowly over the following hours somberly dressed council officials and ladies and gentlemen of military and religious bearing made their presence known as they took up their allotted positions. I climbed the scaffolding platform where stood the Rector who would be conducting the service and confirmed my on air starting cue to him, the raising of a freshly pressed white handkerchief from my position in the crowd.

Finally Transmission time. At precisely 1045 my colleague at Pebble Mill handed over ‘Live to Pete Simpkin at Queen’s Square Wolverhampton.’ By this time as I began for me this historic broadcast harbinger number three was already rearing its ugly head. You see by now the parade of Soldiers, Veterans and local dignitaries and accompanying Brass Band was still not drawn up in front of the Rector and Civic dignitaries on their scaffolding platform. They were about 100 yards down the hill still approaching the event. I immediately launched into my Dimbleby- inspired routine using up almost all my fact cards describing the event, the location, the Regimental details of the soldiers and the veterans and by nine minutes to eleven was almost reduced to describing the shop fronts when the parade swept into the square and formed up ready for the service leading to the Two minute’s silence at 11 o’clock. At this point, as I introduced the Rector and discretely waved my cue-ing handkerchief just two of of us in that square were under pressure. How, I wondered, would the Rector condense a fifteen minute service into what by now was  eight minutes and how would I respond on air…or even should I …to the shortened order?

Magnificently the Rector managed to lead what amounted to ‘a story, a hymn and a prayer’ and finish a few seconds before the 11 o’clock maroons.

And so began the Silence, what turned out to be the longest two minutes of my life. A few seconds into this a re-assuring engineer’s voice whispered quietly into my headphones “Don’t panic Pete’. By now we were beyond harbingers of doom, we were here! “ Don’t panic Pete, the Radio car is on fire!” Looking back from this distance in time I can still feel the panic which this guidance was designed to allay was palpable. With all the smoothness I could muster I very slowly turned my head without disturbing the population of Wolverhampton surrounding me to see a gentle wisp of white smoke surrounding the Radio Car. As this minor incendiary event took hold the signal level of the ‘silence’ arriving at Pebble Mill decreased to such a point that the presenter on duty in the studio felt obliged to slowly up the gain control so that at least the atmosphere of the ‘silence’  was still audible on air. Events now took a frightenly rapid turn for the worse as one of the engineers found he could by-pass the smoking component and return the signal level at base to normal. This resulted in a sudden increase in signal in my headphones so great that I feared a bomb had gone off.  I winced and frantically closed my eyes fearing the worst. I knew I would have to open them again and work out how to describe the expected carnage when I realised that all the sound was in my head and around me the good burgers of Wolverhampton were still observing their silence unaware of the chaos assaulting my head. Within seconds the closing Maroons were sounding, the buglers were playing the last post and, completely on auto pilot, I was summing up and handing back to the studio.

I cannot remember getting back to The Mill and trying to describe what had happened because of course apart from a sudden lurch in sound levels during the Observation of the Silence no-one else was aware of the events that had truly been just in my ears.

Oh, as a final reward the parking ticket was personally withdrawn by the Chief Constable.

Peter Simpkin














As a post script I recall that Radio Cars were often getting into trouble. This one caught fire again somewhere near Telford and Phil Horner who was driving it had to retreat a long way to the nearest motorway phone point to summon the AA. When asked the registration number he couldn’t remember it and when the AA asked how they could identify it he cooly said,” it’s big and white, signwritten BBC Radio and it’s on fire!”

The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook group:

Michael Fisher: ‘Might add a tale about the news version of the Radio Car, the Ford estate ‘Yellow Peril’ with (new technology!) bulky mobile phone fitted (not portable!!). I used it to travel to report on a soccer match in Carlisle (v Walsall) and on my return down the M6, smoke started appearing from under the bonnet! Turned out it had not been topped up with oil. Chief engineer Stuart not impressed with my driving skills…..’

Peter Poole:’Thanks Pete, an amazing story and you kept the show on air. Service beyond the call of duty!’

Lynn Cullimore: ‘Forever the professional Pete. A lovely story…I don’t think people ever realise just how good and professional presenters and production people are!’

Pete Simpkin: ‘Thanks Lynn, actually it only works for most because we have had such great teams behind us but on this occasion there was terrible loneliness for those two very long minutes!!’

Denis MacShane at Pebble Mill

Labour MP Denis MacShane stepped down as MP for Rotherham last week after an investigation into expenses irregularities.  Before he went into politics he worked as a journalist in radio, and was at BBC Pebble Mill for a while.

The following comments were contributed via the Pebble Mill Facebook Group:

Pete Simpkin: ‘He was one of the original News reporting team at Radio Birmingham. Sad to hear of his demise when so many Radio Birmingham people went on to great jobs in Network Radio and TV……….and politics.’

Keith Brook: ‘he also, surprisingly, did stuff for Midlands Today because I remember trying to teach him the etiquette of walking in front of a camera.’

Michael Fisher: ‘On the Saturday Night show RTE1 tonight one of the guests will be Edwina Currie a former Tory politician turned broadcaster who got plenty of radio experience on the breakfast show Heart of the Nation at Pebble Mill when she was a Birmingham councillor.’

Norma Scott: ‘I remember Denis when he worked for the Sunday Mercury!’

Conal O’Donnell: ‘Denis was born Denis Matyjaszek apparently changing his name at the behest of the BBC because it was too hard to pronounce (!) A legend amongst phone-in producers Denis enlivened one of his flagging shows by posing as a caller himself -unethical you might think but hey what do u do when the lines are dead?Trouble is he went on to compound the deception by calling Tory politician Reginald “reggie” Maudling a crook on air .Well he was of course but taking full advantage of our rapacious libel laws Maudling sued the Beeb for muchos sponduliks.One can’t help but smile!’