Page last updated at 07:40 GMT, Monday, 24 September 2007 08:40 UK

Why Radio 1's DJs hated Newsbeat

When radio and TV presenter Richard Skinner was 19, he was offered a job as a reporter at Newsbeat.

He joined immediately before Radio 1 launched the 15-minute news bulletin, which was a response to the creation of commercial radio in 1973 and is still in the station's schedule now.

He remembers the way the show shook up the traditional image of radio news, the time when censors controlled its output, and how he told Paul McCartney that fellow Beatle John Lennon had been murdered.

Richard Skinner, circa 1980
Skinner went on to host Radio 1's Top 40 and The Stereo Sequence
I was working at Radio Solent in Southampton and they went round all the local stations and offered people jobs.

I was there first of all as a reporter, became a presenter after about a year, and then became a producer too. I was there until the Falklands, when I was also DJing.

Newsbeat started in October 1973 and the original presenter was Ed Stewart.

It was on at 12.30 and 5.30, 15 minutes long, and people like Johnnie Walker, who had the lunchtime show, absolutely hated it.

He'd get on the air at 12, do half an hour and then have to stop. Then we'd come on, bleating about the news and ruining his atmosphere, and then he'd come back on again.

'Jeans and T-shirt'

In fact, Newsbeat was generally totally disliked by the Radio 1 'establishment'. It was forced upon them by the hierarchy, and it was something to do with commercial radio opening - the first stations opened at the same time, and they didn't want Radio 1 not to have a proper news service.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1967
When John Lennon was shot, I happened to have Paul McCartney's home telephone number. I phoned and he didn't know
Richard Skinner

Previously Radio 1 had only one-minute bulletins, read by the Radio 2 announcers. They thrust us on, and very soon we realised we were doing 'real' news, but just in a much more direct manner.

I became the showbiz editor so I did all the pop interviews.

I went over to America and appeared with Telly Savalas in Kojak, went out with Charlie's Angels, and did a month's tour in America with David Essex, reporting back when he was a big star in the mid-'70s.

I remember being told to go out and interview Prime Minister Harold Wilson in jeans and a T-shirt. All the other reporters were in suits.

The prime minister said, 'Oh I can see you're not from the BBC...' Then he added: 'Oh, you are from the BBC!' He thought I was a commercial radio man.

When John Lennon was shot, I happened to have Paul McCartney's home telephone number.

I phoned and he didn't know. I spoke to his butler or somebody like that and he passed on the news.

About three hours later, about eight o'clock in the morning, Paul McCartney phoned me in the Newsbeat office.

He said, 'Thank you for telling me - I can't talk about this.' So we never got an interview, but being the person to pass on that news was a bit of a weird one.

'Falklands censorship'

Another time I was kidnapped by the IRA in Belfast. I spent all day riding a round in a taxi with a gun in my back. They took all of my money and delivered me back to my hotel at the end.

I was in the studio, producing, at the time of the Falklands War.

The worst thing about that was the censorship - every programme had government censors sitting in the control room.

We were getting raw sound feeds of the footage from the Falklands and it was pretty ghastly stuff. There was massive loss of life.

The guys would put red pencil through the scripts - they'd tell us to cut things out. At one point we actually threw a tape at one of the censors and said, 'You've left us nothing here, there is no news left.'

That's the only time we had to sign the Official Secrets Act, and the only time I've ever worked in that sort of situation with censorship in the studio. It's not a pleasant experience, to be honest.

Richard Skinner was talking to Kevin Young


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