Meticulous At Being Ridiculous – Recording Jingles for BBC Radio
Upon occasion, and over a period of fifteen years, a small team including myself have written, performed and produced jingles for specific broadcast on BBC Radio’s “Steve Wright In The Afternoon” (as heard on BBC Radio Two and, before that, on BBC Radio One).
Some of the amusing pieces we’ve done have involved the re-use of certain characters and voices.
No, we didn’t do Mr Angry or Sid the Manager. Those are the creations of another bunch at the BBC.
Nevertheless, someone out there might remember a song with the hook:
Taramasalata, fried tomat-ah
An’ that’s before me tea.
That was mine.
So what has this got to do with anything and why am I writing this article? Well, first of all, I’ve been politely asked to do it (here’s the article you asked me to do, Alan!).
Secondly, seeing as it would be pertinent to this site’s ethos of offering crucial tips and guidance to aspiring musicians and songwriters (or perhaps even radio jingle writers), I’m going to discuss why I think a fair few of our jingles were successful (I’ll spare myself the task of dissecting any that weren’t!) even though, as you can imagine, we didn’t sit about discussing such things at the time.
Thirdly, I’ll attempt to answer a question I get asked now and again down the pub, that is, “How did you get to do jingles for Steve Wright?” Or, in other words, how do you get your foot in the door? An answer to that one would be useful, wouldn’t it?
Well, dealing with that last question first, I have to say that I had nothing to do with the initial paperwork that went on (apart from filling in the PRS forms!), so I can’t throw light upon that side of the business.
However, I remember clearly what happened at the start. I remember, for instance, how it could have been any one of us from the outset who would’ve been putting their stuff down on the first day of recording.
Personally I managed to get my oar in early as, although my ideas were ridiculous (and therefore potentially ear-catching for radio listeners), I’d been carefully honing them overnight with much care and attention to detail before going in the studio the following morning to perform them in front of the others. That meticulous and ridiculous working ethic has enabled us, I think, to maintain a steady line of jingles being used on the programme over the years.
So then, what is it about these jingles of ours that the Beeb have liked? Well, they’ve been carefully made and…
Ok, then – they’ve made people laugh!
CHILD’S VOICE (steeped in reverb, no musical backing):
I think that… Steve Wright is like a fluffy bunny rabbit with pointy ears and… the reason why he’s so poplee-urrr is cos he’s on the radio.
As soon as my friend Arthur (a grown man who, in this case, was impersonating a child – “Amusing Element No.1”) delivered this on the mic in the studio, we were convinced it would be used on the show. We didn’t ask ourselves why at the time but, with the benefit of hindsight, here are some points that I think were significant during the process.
Well, there was the context of the thing to consider.
As well as it is silly for a man to be talking like a little girl on the radio, we could already imagine how the coolest pop record of the day would be followed on the show by something which, in its entirety, sounded peculiar (a continuation of “Amusing Element No.1”).
Then there’s Arthur’s delivery itself, which included a pause between “that” and “Steve” then later between “and” and the silly climax of the sentence. These pauses were just enough to induce suspenseful silence over the airwaves while not being enough to slow things up completely.
Then there’s Verbal stumbles within a slickly delivered show, Amusing Element No.2.
As a subsidiary to our previous point about delivery, we have the fact that the speaker has a broad South West England accent (somewhat of a novelty on BBC Radio in 1989-1992 when it was broadcast) which is further exaggerated by the mispronunciation of “popular” as “poplee-urrr” (Amusing Element No.3).
The popularity of “poplee-urr” enabled us to repeat the joke in further sequels to the jingle with words like “Dracli-urrr” and “binoclee-urrrrs.”
Then, of course, while the prominent namecheck of “Steve Wright” is important, it’s the comparison of the man with a fluffy bunny rabbit (Amusing Element No.4) which no doubt surprises the listener. Also, the clarification of the image is further reinforced by the rabbit itself having “pointy ears” (all together, “uh?”). So, halfway into the jingle, a listener is no doubt rather curious about where this odd intrusion to the programme is going next.
Finally, for its punchline, the whole jingle (whose point is to serve as a namecheck for the DJ) proves to be a rather poor addition to anyone’s library of knowledge, ie, the person speaking seems to think it’s worth telling us that Steve Wright is popular because he’s on the radio. Pointlessness on such a high profile stage is amusing (Amusing Element No.5).
So, the point is –
There are at least five elements that seemed to make this jingle work and helped to persuade Steve Wright and the BBC to use it on their programme.
Context, delivery, accent, surprise and pointlessness.
Of course, it would be most inappropriate to embark upon being creative while armed with a clipboard and a checklist of qualities to attain. But, certainly after making one of these things, there is a part of the brain that, at the speed of light (or however fast a thought can travel), mentally ticks off such necessary qualities before hereby declaring it “a wrap,” something like:
Is it going to work in context?
Is the delivery right?
Is the accent ok?
Is there enough there to surprise and invite further curiosity?
Is there no point whatsoever?
If the answer is a yes to those questions then I know we’re on to something.