Colin Maitland

Colin Maitland

‘Colin Maitland? Oh yes, I’ve heard you on Radio Hallam. You’re American aren’t you?’

No.

‘Sorry, I meant Canadian.’

No.

(A touch of irritation) ‘Well where are you from then?’

Birmingham.

‘Alabama?’

No.

‘Michigan?’

No. Warwickshire. And the reason I have an accent is because I spent 14 years in North America.

‘Oh.’ (end of conversation)

That particular exchange happens about three times a week and I can only hope that in due course enough people will come to know the truth that I won’t have to go through it every time.

Of course having grown up ‘over there’ isn’t always a drawback. For instance, I happened to be in Halifax N.S. at the right time (age 7) and was offered a part in ‘The Lilians’ a sort of Canadian ‘Archers’. The part was ultimately written in permanently and I grew up with the family. Later on I was able to do more radio work in such cosmopolitan(?) areas as Winnipeg, Vancouver, Windsor and Detroit.

I returned to Britain with a Hamtramick accent and a burning desire to set the acting world on its ear. The former I modified rapidly … if only because nobody could understand a word I was saying … but the latter took several years to eradicate.

Finally, in 1965 after a bad accident gave me a three-month reservation on a prime site in hospital I decided I’d had enough of “The Germans are coming, Sir” and might, just might be better off in journalism.

I’d been writing part-time for several years so opting for full-time hackery seemed logical. In the event it was, because I found sufficient markets to keep me in the style I’d become accustomed to (starvation) and even managed to fit in some more radio work.

Having been a script editor, sports reporter, theatre press officer, technical writer and motoring journalist (not necessarily in that order) I joined Capital Radio in January of 1974, as a reporter. At that time Capital was still the cause célèbre of the IBA fleet and a career in such illustrious surroundings seemed singularly attractive.

Alas, it was not to be. For reasons far too numerous and sordid to go into, Capital found itself short on money and long on staff, so I along with the rest of the newsroom, found myself on’t dole. That was in November and just when all seemed wreathed in gloom, who should come along but Radio Hallam.

“Djawanna be a Features Editor?” they said.

Certainly. Could I commute from Balham?

“No.”

Oh well, what’s Balham got that Sheffield hasn’t got ? As it happens, Sheffield has a great deal to offer, not least a plentiful supply of feature material. Since I joined in January 1975, I’ve done programmes on mountain climbing, mines rescue, money, the police, the fire brigade, cars, buses and trams, drugs, alcohol, gipsies, The Case of the Missing Corpse, films, Buddy Holly, A Dream That Shook the World and a multitude of other subjects.

Through our ‘access’ programme, groups as diverse as Che, Anti-Vivisectionists, Naturists, Friends of the Earth and Field Sports have been able to ‘display their wares’ to the public. We’ve heard from the Pro-Marketeers, the Anti-Marketeers, pro Radio Hallam and even anti-Radio Hallam … all able to speak their mind.

In our weekly motoring programme ‘Driveline’ the virtues and/or the drawbacks of everything from two wheels to eight have been examined. We’ve invited the police, the driving instructors, insurers, racing and rally drivers to the studio to give their side of motoring things.

‘Features’ of course is a sufficiently vague term to cover almost anything and everything. A 4-minute insert into a music programme on the perils of agoraphobia is a feature (I hate the term ‘featurette’) while an hour-long look at the history of trams also falls within the same category. I think it’s a mistake when moving to a new area to go frantically hunting the unusual or abnormal in the belief that only those subjects will interest the listener.

‘Tain’t so! Offer the listener a choice between a stolid half-hour with a steeplejack and an in-depth look at police work and he (or she) will probably choose the latter. Why? Simply because the average person is unlikely to have all that much contact with a steeplejack … well not at work anyway … while we see policemen every day without being all that certain what they do when they’re out of our sight.

There’s nothing startlingly new in that theory of course. It’s based on the old radio (and television) cliche that ‘a well-done programme on a mini will beat a dull one on a Rolls’ … or words to that effect.

Nevertheless, the fact that I’m here at all is a clear indication of Radio Hallam’s determination to pursue a varied programme policy. We never have been a station where music is All and features have an important part to play in varying our output and keeping the listener happy. When they stop doing that they cease to have any function … and so do I.

Colin Maitland
1975 ● THIS IS TRANSDIFFUSION