Singing Together (radio)

Singing Together was a BBC Radio schools series which ran from 25 September 1939 to 29 March 2001, with repeats until 25 June 2004.[1] Its origins were in Community Singing which was considered necessary at the outbreak of the Second World War following the mass evacuation of children.[2]

The programme was originally presented by Herbert Wiseman, Director of Music to the Edinburgh Corporation Education Committee.[3] From the beginning, it featured an array of popular, mainly traditional, mostly British songs;[4] more songs from elsewhere in the world would be added later.[5]

The programme was briefly presented by Ernest Bullock,[6] by Cyril Winn "and a male voice quartet"[7] and by the unrelated Ronald Biggs[8] before its most famous presenter, William Appleby, arrived in summer term 1948.[9] Appleby, who had been a teacher in Doncaster from 1939, remained as presenter for the next 22 years, during which time the programme moved from the BBC Home Service to BBC Radio 4 in 1967. In 1968 Douglas Coombes arrived as producer, a role he would maintain until he left the BBC twenty years later.[10]

Appleby left the series in 1970, the same year he retired as Music Organiser for Doncaster, and died three years later;[11] there is now a Music Centre in that town named in his memory.[12] He was initially replaced by John Huw Davies[13] and then by Fergus O'Kelly,[14] Cliff Morgan[15] and Eugene Fraser.[16] It was also presented alternately during the 1970s and early 1980s by Ian Humphris,[17] John Camburn,[18] John Amis,[19] Johnny Morris,[20] Blain Fairman[21] and Stephen Varcoe.[22] In the summer term of 1980, Douglas Coombes presented the show himself[23] and he returned in the spring term of 1982.[24] In the autumn term of 1981, the series moved from its traditional Monday morning slot to the same time, 11.00 am, on Wednesdays.[25] In the autumn of 1983, Brian Kay presented the series[26] and in autumn term 1984 it was fronted by Andrew Shore.[27] In autumn 1985 - hosted again by Fergus O'Kelly - it moved to Fridays[28] but was back on Wednesdays a year later[29] although it was replaced in summer 1987 by Singing Along.[30]

For the 1988-89 school year repeated programmes were transmitted.[31] Market-led changes in British broadcasting, the decline in airtime given to schools radio and increasing pressures on school time brought about by the National Curriculum were to put pressure on the series and would eventually lead to its demise. In the autumn of 1989, a modernised version of the series made its debut, now produced by Janet Wheeler and presented by John Asquith and Verity Ann Meldrum;[32] this featured a more contemporary slant in the songs and styles featured, male and female co-presenters to provide a broader range of voices and a "more informal" atmosphere to the programmes.[33] In the autumn of 1990, the series moved to the original BBC Radio 5,[34] although with a repeat in the early hours in FM stereo on BBC Radio 3. Spring Term 1991 saw the presenters change once more, ex- BBC 'That's Life' reporter Grant Baynham and ex-Doctor Who assistant Sophie Aldred (Ace) took over the reigns and each term the songs focussed more on a 'theme' with practically no traditional folk songs present. Production of new programmes in the series ceased in 1992, but programmes originally broadcast from 1989-92 were repeated in a further three-year cycle from 1992–95; after the old Radio 5 was replaced by BBC Radio 5 Live in March 1994 this was initially, and controversially, in the afternoons on Radio 3[35] but then moved to overnight transmission.[36] From 1995-97 the programmes originally broadcast from 1989-91 were repeated for a third time, finishing in the summer of 1997.[37]

Finally, in a very different Britain from the one in which the programme had begun at the outbreak of war six decades earlier, the programme was revived as Singing Together: Celebrate!, featuring celebratory songs from multiple cultures and traditions. New programmes aired in the small hours on Radio 3 in spring term 2000[38] and spring term 2001.[39] There were repeat transmissions in summer 2002[40] and finally - by then in the small hours on the digital version of Radio 4 only - in the summer of 2004.

The most widely-heard and recalled years of Singing Together are not well represented in the BBC's archives; only three programmes are believed to exist officially from its first 40 years on the air,[41] although some recordings were made by members of the public and CDs containing some 1970s episodes have been sold on eBay. In November 2014, Jarvis Cocker traced the programme's history and influence on multiple generations for an Archive on 4 programme;[42] at the same time, the BBC's website ran a magazine article recounting the programme's history[43] and The Spectator ran its own tribute.[44]


  1. Broadcast for Schools website
  2. Broadcast for Schools website - Autumn Term 1939
  3. Radio Times listing - 2nd October 1939
  4. See for example Radio Times listing for 23rd October 1939
  5. Archive on 4, BBC Radio 4, 29th November 2014
  6. starting from 13th January 1947
  7. from 5th May 1947
  8. from 5th January 1948
  9. Radio Times listings for 3rd May 1948
  10. Radio Times listing for 23rd September 1968
  11. The Times obituary, page 20, 31st October 1973
  12. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council website
  13. Radio Times listing for 21st September 1970
  14. Radio Times listing for 20th September 1971
  15. Radio Times listing for 10th January 1972
  16. Radio Times listing for 24th April 1972
  17. Radio Times listing for 21st April 1975
  18. Radio Times listing for 22nd September 1975
  19. Radio Times listing for 12th January 1976
  20. Radio Times listing for 26th April 1976
  21. Radio Times listing for 17th April 1978
  22. Radio Times listing for 17th September 1979
  23. Radio Times listing for 21st April 1980
  24. Radio Times listing for 13th January 1982
  25. Radio Times listing for 23rd September 1981
  26. Radio Times listing for 21st September 1983
  27. Radio Times listing for 19th September 1984
  28. Radio Times listing for 27th September 1985
  29. Radio Times listing for 24th September 1986
  30. Radio Times listing for 29th April 1987
  31. Radio Times listing for 21st September 1988
  32. Radio Times listing for 17th January 1990
  33. Autumn 1989 Singing Together teachers' notes, reprinted 1995
  34. Radio Times listing for 6th November 1990
  35. Radio Times listing for 21st April 1994
  36. Radio Times listing for 20th September 1994
  37. Radio Times listing for 10th June 1997
  38. Radio Times listing for 20th January 2000
  39. Radio Times listing for 29th March 2001
  40. Radio Times listing for 18th April 2002
  41. Broadcast for Schools website
  42. Archive on 4, BBC Radio 4, 29th November 2014
  43. Singing Together: The radio show that got schoolchildren singing - BBC website, 28th November 2014
  44. The Spectator, 12th December 2014
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