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Tuesday 14 June 2022

I was one of the First Female Football Broadcasters


The Radio Devon radio car in the 1980s with reporter Gail Tyler

Here's a little known fact about me. In the six happy years I worked in BBC local radio, I became probably the first female in the UK to broadcast about football. 

I was in the original team at BBC Radio Devon when it was launched on 17 January 1983 - the same day as BBC Breakfast on TV. My name then was Gail Tyler.  Here are a few anecdotes, as I give up the world of work to become a lady of leisure. 

Below: the launch pamphlet for BBC Radio Devon 

Pamphlet promoting the launch of BBC Radio Devon in January 1983

Did I Really Say That?

I was reading the 6pm news bulletin when my colleagues David Willis and Allan Urry burst into the tiny news studio. They were terrible pranksters so when one of them handed me "News Just In," I had sore misgivings about the copy. 

I was editing it as I read, and unfortunately the sentence came out as "The dead man is not thought to be seriously hurt."  I paused for a moment as I reflected: did I really say that? But it was the last bulletin of the day, so I thought I might have got away with it.

I emerged sheepishly into the newroom. No-one said anything:  Allan and Willis were listening to one of the competitors, Devonair, which we always did in case they had stories we had missed.  

I picked up the newsroom phone which was ringing.  "Can I speak to your newsreader?"  I immediately put on what I hoped was a posh voice and said "I'm afraid she isn't available." The unknown listener chuckled and said "Well, tell her she made my day."

Not Posh Enough for National Radio 

I was very conscious of my "Janner" (Plymouth) accent and deliberately edited copy to avoid words which had round R's in them. I  was relieved when I married in 1987 and was able to swap Tyler for Hall as my surname.

The R business was a particular challenge when the unemployment figures were announced each month. 

The copy always started with "The number of people out of work and claiming benefits....."   I subtly amended this to "the number of people without a job and claiming benefits....."   

Meanwhile I transformed the word "horse", on the advice of colleague Helen Hughes, by spelling it in my head "hawse."

My worst humiliation came when I had to read "a voicer" down the line.  I was supplying a story for Radio 1's Newsbeat, which was normally a big thrill.  After I'd read the voicer - essentially a 30 second verbal report - there was a pause, and then a voice asked me if I could do it again, but "in a more serious voice."  Eh?  That was my normal voice.  I did it again, and this time I actually heard some stifled laughter. Then an imperious voice came on.  "This is the news organizer"  (the big cheese!).  "We need you to sound less parochial for this one."

I was furious. I was an experienced newsreader! They were making me feel like I was on work experience. Of course in those days the BBC was more about "RP" - Received Pronunciation, particularly for national bulletins.  I think the cheeky sods took my copy and recorded the voicer themselves. 

One of the First Female Soccer Reporters

I started covering football in 1983. The late Martyn Dean, Radio Devon's sports producer, had his hands full with Exeter City and Torquay United. I was based in Plymouth so he suggested I could start dropping in at Plymouth Argyle to get the team news.

This meant going over to Home Park on Thursdays to get updates about the squad for upcoming games. After I'd done it a few times without any howlers, I was allowed to actually cover a match.  

You could have heard a pin drop when I arrived in the press box.  The seasoned sports writers, among them Harley Lawer from the weekly paper Sunday Independent, were aghast.  A bird in the box! 

That first match was a 0-0 draw, and I was mortified when they all went quiet, listening to me as I spoke into the microphone. 

A few weeks went by and they realised I wasn't so bad, and started sharing the broken biscuits at half time. 

One week I managed to get a scoop during the Thursday team news, when Bobby Moncur told me he was leaving as manager.  I rushed back to the studio and it led the news bulletin.  I bet Plymouth Sound were furious.

I was manning the Exeter newsroom on my own one Sunday when I was summoned to Plainmoor to interview the new Torquay United manager, Dave Webb. He eventually bounced in, late, and said "Do you know anything about soccer, love?"  Mindful of Torquay's position near the bottom of division four, I replied "Yes, do you?" 

Back at Home Park the unthinkable had happened, and 3rd Division minnows Plymouth Argyle, now managed by John Hore, were in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.  

I'd been to all the matches as they had progressed through the tournament in 1984. I was sent to St Mellion, the golf club, where the squad was preparing for the big game. Their star players, including striker Tommy Tynan, were demanding cash for press interviews. I told them indignantly that local radio covered them through thick and thin, plus the BBC had no money. I got my interview.  

When it came to covering the actual semi-final, I was unfortunately relegated to the supporters' train.  After interviewing tearful fans on the journey back from Villa Park, where Plymouth lost 1-0  to Watford (a George Reilly goal),  I bowed out of sports reporting. I was before my time, but can say with pride that I was one of the first women to broadcast about football.  

Below:  with Martyn Dean 

Is This Mutton blogger Gail Hanlon in one of her first jobs as a reporter at BBC Radio Devon

An Encounter with Prince (now King) Charles

Covering royal visits was a regular part of a reporter's life.  I earned a death stare from Princess Anne when she nearly tripped over me at the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. I was crouched down re-spooling a tape with a pencil. 

But it was Prince Charles who nearly gave me my big scoop.

We got word he was on a private visit to Duchy cottages on Dartmoor, so I was dispatched in the news car, a white Ford Escort which looked like a normal car from the front, but had the logo on the back and sides.

As I approached Princetown, the police waved me through, thinking I was a local. They probably winced when they saw the logo on the back of the car. I got right down to the lane and saw Prince Charles emerging from a cottage.  I rushed over and blurted out "Er Prince Charles, could you possibly say a few words for Radio Devon?"

He smiled kindly and said "Well I don't see why not."  But when one of his flunkies murmured "I don't think so Sir, all the other reporters are at the bottom of the lane."  (And that's their tough luck, I was thinking).  But he regretfully declined. 

I wasn't quite empty handed when I got back to the studio. I did the usual interviews with the lucky tenants about what Prince Charles had talked to them about.

News with Hoovering

Our cleaner at Radio Devon HQ in Exeter was the doughty Evelyn, a mature lady who had taken a dislike to one of the station's leading female news producers. She would always start vacuuming outside the news studio whenever this person was reading the news.

Fortunately Evelyn quite liked me  (probably the Janner accent), and even came to my drinks before my first wedding, where she astonished us with her capacity for brandy and Babychams.

(Below:  the visit of then-Director General Alasdair Milne, far right (about to go round on the turntable!). Left to right: producer Mary Saunders, me, David Bassett, senior producer Reg Henderson-Brookes, and Alasdair Milne)

Former Director-General of the BBC Alasdair Milne on a visit to Radio Devon in Plymouth. He met Mary Saunders, David Bassett, Reg Henderson-Brookes and Gail Tyler (seated). Gail is now the blogger behind Is This Mutton.

Some Memorable Interviews

I met a remarkable man called Edwin Beer, who Roy remembers was the first to use the Radio Devon wheelchair lift. Mr Beer was best known as a geologist, but he also invented the fabric viscose rayon. He died in September 1986 aged 107. 

Dr David Owen was the founder member of the SDP Party, and MP for Plymouth Devonport. I was dispatched to Plymouth airport to "door step" him from a plane on a Friday evening. He said fine, he would give me an interview, provided I give him a lift to his MP's surgery. My heart sank. 

As a Plymouthian and reporter, you would expect me to know my way around. But in the days before sat nav, my sense of direction was pretty hopeless

We piled into the radio car - a Ford Cortina estate with a HUGE aerial - see top picture, with me and said Cortina at the Devon County Show - and I mentally anguished over how to get to his destination.  We ended up going quite a circuitous, albeit scenic, route.  Fortunately he didn't seem to notice:  he could, as my grandmother would say, "talk the hind legs off a donkey." 

Hinge and Bracket were two entertainers who dressed as posh elderly women.  I was a big fan of their whimsical BBC show "Dear Ladies," and was thrilled to be sent to interview them at Plymouth Theatre Royal. It was disconcerting to find Hinge (below left, whom Mum and I always referred to as "the pretty one") in drag, and Bracket in normal men's clothes. 

UK comedy duo Hinge and Bracket

I was often sent to Devonport Dockyard to cover military occasions: the de-commissionings of ships and so on. I went to cover the ceremonial farewell to a ship's commander. The captain leaves the ship for the last time in a dinghy, while the crew stand to attention on the main vessel.

I got my recording and raced back to prepare it for the 1pm news.  I was horrified to find that somehow nothing had been recorded. The news editor told me angrily to go back and do it again. 

By the time I got back, the commander had been relaxing in the pub and was "three sheets to the wind." But he gamely agreed to return to the ship, reconvene his crew, and go through the whole thing again. I think we just about got away with it.

I hope you enjoyed my highlights from local radio. 

Sharing this post with:  #SharetheKindness/Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge, Rena at Fine Whatever, Talent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer, Link Up Pot Pourri at My Bijou LifeTraffic Jam Weekend at Marsha in the Middle


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