Pete Atkin Chronology

Pete Atkin: Biographical Notes
(Though more a chronology or even a c.v. than a biography. In Pete's own words)

22 August - born, Cambridge (UK)

Romsey County Primary School, Cambridge

Started school violin lessons - continued lessons with local teacher until 1961 - Grade VII

Perse School for Boys, Cambridge.
My first encounters with the piano were picking out tunes (like the theme music to "The Grove Family") at my grandmother's where there was also an interesting selection of thirties song copies and albums (my mum had played as a teenager). Having learned to read music for the violin, I began laboriously to work out piano parts, and then, having discovered the principle of chords from friends with guitars, worked out the short cut of vamping chords in the left hand against the tune in the right hand.

Formed a church youth club 'beat group' - The Chevrons (name of no significance whatever other than that it sounded like a group name) with two friends who played guitar (one of whom was in the year below me at school, in the same class as Dave Gilmour, and ended up as a A&R man at Polydor for a while), plus another friend who made a bass, and a drummer recruited from a friend's school, playing mostly instrumentals - Ventures, Shadows, Hunters - plus a few Everly Brothers vocals (speciality the Allisons' Eurovision near-triumph Are You Sure?) - with me thrashing away mostly vainly trying to be heard via a 'piano pickup' which looked like a wooden pencil box jammed down the back of the piano and plugged into the single amp everything else was plugged into.

2 Bs and a D in 'A' levels in Latin, Greek and Ancient History - stayed on an extra term to do some actual work and take Camb. Univ. Exam at Christmas.

Summer term - "taught" English and Latin at Stancliffe Hall Prep School, Darley Dale, Derbyshire.

St John's College, Cambridge - first two years studying Classics, second two years English.

Bought a cheap Czechoslovakian classical guitar (Tatra?) mainly because there was no regular access to a piano and because having played the violin, having busked the piano, knowing the elements at least in theory from playing in the group, and being able to read music, it wasn't too difficult to pick up.

Joined Footlights revue club along with fellow members of college revue group, incl. Julie Covington (recruited from Homerton teachers' training college - pre-coed days) - solo audition piece at the smoking concert was Ballad of an Upstairs Window. Footlights then famously had permanent and exclusive use of a long, thin, seedy room over a fishmonger's in the centre of town, with a tiny stage with a beat-up piano at one end and a tiny bar at the other, where the club smokers took place twice a term and where we hung out more or less all the rest of the time. Clive, as a post-graduate student and therefore 6 or 7 years older than the rest of us, knew more than we did and was more certain about what he knew than we were and because it was immediately obvious that he was cleverer than the rest of us in lots of ways (the few ways in which he was perhaps not as clever as us mostly didn't occur to us until much later) he naturally assumed a kind of guru role. He collaborated not just with me at first, most notably with Daryl Runswick, who was studying music and was a hundred and seventy three times the musician I was. There was never any formal beginning to our partnership. It simply gained momentum what we found we had in common - ideas about what songs could be and do. It's easy to forget now that this was in the very early days of LPs being more than collections of singles, and of (mainly) Dylan and the Beatles' liberation of pop song subject matter - and also length. The Mamas and the Papas' "Once Was A Time I Thought" in its very shortness was another kind of revelation. Linking that idea with the jewel-like Rodgers and Hart songs like "Wait Till You See Her" was probably the inspiration for the little songs like All I Ever Did and Tongue-tied written about then. This is getting into something else, though. Back to chronology.

Footlights revues, fairly well documented - Cambridge, Edinburgh, Bristol, Newark, Oxford and elsewhere plus numerous one-off cabarets at balls and functions, often in London, usually a sort of mini-revue with a team of four, one of whom had to have a car (great rarity - the university allowed only about a dozen undergraduates total to have cars in Cambridge). I remember doing at least one of these with a team that included Germaine Greer. The one I remember best was not because of our performance (I think it was me, Julie C., Clive, Rob Buckman, and Jonathan James-Moore) but because of the rest of the bill. It was Goldsmith's College summer ball, it must have been 1968 - a £3 double ticket got you the Norrie Paramor big band, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (Mick Fleetwood/John McVie incarnation), Cream (the biggest loudspeakers I had ever seen up to that point), a group of Indian musicians, and the Art Themen quintet plus three cabarets: we were the third; the main one was the Bonzo Dogs, and the second was John Cleese doing a stand-up, mostly of bits from I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again.

Discovered it was possible to get LPs pressed privately. Put together an album of amateur recordings While The Music Lasts, had 160 copies made and sold them to unsuspecting chums.

Practical man took Julie and me to EMI where we recorded what had been the hit number of the 1967 Footlights show, a sort of extended musical pun called Duet (a hugely primitive live recording of it appeared on the first private LP). It told the story of a love affair through a sort of medley of styles and rhythms and ideas, and it ran nearly six minutes, which everyone knew was hopeless for a single (which is what we were supposed to be making) at that time, but it really couldn't be cut, and nothing happened to it. It was an amazing arrangement, though (by John Cameron, who MDed). The band was a grade one roster of British jazzers and session men - 2 trumpets (Eddie Blair and Duncan Campbell), Nat Peck on trombone, 4 saxes (incl. Duncan Lamont), Johnny Scott on flute and piccolo, Ike Isaacs on acoustic gtr, Vic Flick on electric, Frank Clarke on bass, Harry Stoneham on piano, and Kenny Clare on drums. The session was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. I played the tape copy to death, hoping in spite of everything that something might happen to it. Nothing did.

First six-week tour of USA of the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company - a professionally-directed (Richard Cottrell) production of A Midsummer Night's Dream plus a late-night revue, east coast campuses including two weeks at Columbia, NYC over Christmas. The original plan was to finance it with a film of a joint Oxford and Cambridge revue, including me, Rob B., Russell (then Dai) Davies, Jonath J-M and Julie from Footlights, plus Diana Quick, Nigel Williams and Michael Rosen (the same, the same, and the same) from that year's Oxford. It was a shambolic and incoherent show but it was filmed by Jack Cardiff (the same) in the Arts Theatre, Cambridge during the course of a week's performances. The financing of the filming was itself mightily precarious and none of the footage has ever been seen - or even developed, as far as I know. Somewhere along the line I gave the directors the tape of "Duet" supposedly to help things somewhere, and I have never seen it since. Some time in the early 70s (I guess when Julie was recording for EMI - they were probably thinking of including it on her album) someone did come up with a copy of a nonsensical 2'45" edit but I abandoned that in despair. One of the lost ones.

The odd telly gig and one London cabaret had put us in contact with one of the models for Practical Man who organised the demo session which we turned into the second privately pressed LP The Party's Moving On. There were only 99 of these pressed (you had to pay purchase tax on 100 or more) and I still have a record of the original purchasers.

Most of 1969 was a pretty strange limbo time (in which we put probably too much trust in our PM's ability), trying to get something happening with the songs (still not thinking of becoming a performer myself), no income to speak of, living at home in Cambridge, bumming a floor to sleep on in London when possible without the prospect of enough income to change things. Clive and Dai (Russell) Davies were pursuing TV connections at London Weekend and eventually I made the move to a shared flat in Swiss Cottage on the strength of a bunch of us doing a late night revue for three weeks around Christmas at the Hampstead Theatre Club.

Meanwhile EMI had picked up Julie and she was recording The Magic Wasn't There for a single.

At this point (sob) I had no waterproof shoes. With the songs we finally got some interest at Essex Music where David Platz advanced me £50 and they agreed to fund an albumsworth of demos. 14 songs recorded, overdubbed and mixed in three days for the total of £462 (incl. musicians and studio). Don Paul, the producer, was a chum of Kenny Everett and he was taken with Master Of The Revels and there you go. That led to Philips agreeing to release the album as an album, and I began to think seriously for the first time about going out and performing as myself. I was then tied by a bum deal to Essex Music for three albums. But then, like so many others, getting the record out mattered more than anything else.

The LWT connection started to bear fruit and Julie, Dai and I made a series of twelve 15-min progs featuring the songs (Clive was credited as editor, I think) called The Party's Moving On broadcast late at night (for those days) in London only. We performed I think 3 songs per show in ghastly "trendy" clothes on a standard TV rostrum set with stuff hanging from the ceiling, backed by a classy piano trio consisting of Laurie Holloway plus Jeff Clyne on bass and Johnny Spooner on drums. This was before BOTBS came out.

Clive and Dai meanwhile did an interesting series of little (15-min) arts feature magazines called "Think Twice". I remember writing and performing a setting of an Ernest Dowson poem for one edition.

Also meanwhile, Julie was recording the rest of her Columbia album at Abbey Road. It ended up being mostly our songs, though that hadn't necessarily been the plan.

These then led to the larger-scale revue format series "What Are You Doing After The Show?" (Title inspired by comments on a Paul Tortelier master class prog on BBC-2 - he was a great charmer and always gave the impression he was interested in more than his (usually female) students' musical abilities).

Recording and gigging, basically.

RCA deal ran out and following predictable and all-too-usual arguments and unhappinesses about marketing, I decided I didn't want to stay with them (they would have carried on on the same sort of basis), but with the onset of the punk revolution we couldn't interest any other company in what we were doing. I carried on gigging, but without the back-up of new LPs that began to tail off a bit and I started to suffer from my own inability to hustle on my own behalf. Meanwhile I'd bought a house and I was spending most (too much) of my time learning woodwork and doing it up. I ended up building furniture for other people and following up on a few odd opportunities. I offered my services to Richard Boston's VOLE magazine as DIY correspondent. He took me on, but since they had no money at all, that wasn't going to change my life.

Following gigs and conversations up there, the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (Chris Parr) commissioned me to write a musical play of some kind for their Festival season. That was A & R.

"A & R" (substantially re-written in the event) was picked up for a new production by the RSC at the Donmar Warehouse where it ran for six months in rep (as I remember with plays by Peter Flannery, Peter Prince, David Rudkin).

Still gigging a bit, building furniture, kitchens, etc., writing the odd review/article. Commissioned with Russell Davies to write a series of occasional themes anthology progs ("Moonshine") for Radio 4 with Judi Dench and Joss Ackland, including obscure and jolly ancient pop songs on the theme performed by Dai and me and a jazz band he used to play with (out of the same bag as the WAYDATS vocal group numbers).

Saw ad in Punch for Radio Light Ent. Producer for which I seemed to fulfil most of the requirements (it turned out to be the job vacated by Griff Rhys-Jones). Applied not even very sure whether I wanted a regular job or whether I could cope with the idea of one (even though the idea of predictable income had a certain allure) or whether I'd be considered seriously at 35. Anyway, they took me on.

At first Producer, then (1983) Script Editor, then (1986) Chief Producer, Radio 4, in BBC Radio Light Ent. Produced the usual range of quizzes, etc., incl Just A Minute, "My Word!", "My Music", plus stints on "Week Ending", then two series of "Legal, Decent, Honest & Truthful" (written by Guy Jenkin and Jon Canter and starring Martin Jarvis et al.), piloted and then produced all of the (34) radio editions of "After Henry" (by Simon Brett - Prunella Scales, Joan Sanderson, Ben Whitrow, Gerry Cowper), piloted and produced the first series of "Second Thoughts" and of Christopher Lee's "The House", plus "Flying The Flag", Peter Tinniswood's Uncle Mort's North Country, "Jarvis's Frayn", "My Grandfather", Martin Jarvis reading Richmal Crompton's "William" stories, 2 series of radio versions of Yes, Minister, and more.

Moved to Bristol to be Head of BBC Network Radio there (i.e. all non-local radio production in Bristol - mostly for Radio 4, but at that time originally incl. Radio 3, Radio 2 and Radio Drama). Continued to produce occasionally - more Tinniswood and more William stories, plus the odd Book At Bedtime.

Spent six months organising the first round of independent production offers for Controller Radio 4 and then left the increasingly bureaucratic BBC for the increasingly wide range of freelance opportunities back in the outside world, working sometimes for independent producers, sometimes in-house.

produced series: "Foreign Postings" (with Robert Kee) for Brian Lapping Assocs; 2 movie remakes as Radio 4 Monday plays - "Darling" and "Saturday Night And Sunday Morning" for Mentorn; 2 Book At Bedtimes for Taylor Made; "Colvil And Soames" for BBC LE; plus several other things I can't immediately think of, but mainly, I suppose, This Sceptr'd Isle - 216-part specially commissioned history of Britain, written by Christopher Lee and read by Anna Massey, Paul Eddington, Peter Jeffrey, and others, recorded and broadcast over 14 months 1995-6. Re-edited for release on 10 BBC double cassettes. 1996 Talkie Award for best non-fiction, best design, and Talkie of the Year. Simultaneously acting as script editor for Hat Trick Productions, responding to new scripts and ideas and working as a member of their sitcom and drama development team.

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