BBC Radio Derby’s Bryan Harris has died

ANTON RIPPON pays tribute to an award-winning producer of local radio

Life is all about timing, all about being in the right place at the right moment.

Bryan Harris
Bryan Harris

I’ve not managed it too often but there is one occasion that stands out: the Monday morning in January 1983 when BBC Radio Derby’s new station manager, Bryan Harris, arrived for his first day in the role to find on his desk a pile of messages, taken down by the weekend’s duty receptionist, telling him that my programme The Day That Derby Won The Cup, that had aired that Saturday, had generated hundreds of congratulatory telephone calls from contented listeners.

Bryan sifted through the pile, recalling that day in 1946 when, as a 13-year-old schoolboy, he’d listened to Raymond Glendenning’s wireless commentary of the Rams’ extra-time Wembley victory over Charlton Athletic. Then he called me into his office to see what else I had to offer.

Derby County were to celebrate their centenary in 1984 so I suggested, more in hope than expectation, a 15-part series on the history of the club. He was immediately hooked and we did it.

Last week, Bryan Harris died in Derby, the city that he’d made his home for the past 32 years. He was 82.

He began his broadcasting career as a studio manager with the BBC’s World Service. After five years at Bush House he moved to Birmingham where he was appointed a current affairs producer in the BBC’s Midland Region. In due course he helped to pioneer the start of BBC Radio Birmingham.

He described his time in charge of local radio in Derby as his “happiest years in the BBC”. During his period at the helm – he retired in 1992 – the station won two Sony Awards, a national award for the best religious programme, an international silver medal for the newsroom’s coverage of the 1989 Kegworth air disaster when a British Midland Boeing 737 crashed on to the embankment of the M1, and he oversaw the station’s Money Mountain initiative that each year raised thousands of pounds for local charities.

Oh, and that 15-part series on Derby County’s history, devised and written by me, and narrated by ex-Radio Derby man Mike Ingham, who was already on his way to becoming something of a football broadcasting legend with the BBC, and of course SJA award winner.

The Rams series quadrupled the station’s listenership in the slot in which it was broadcast. An edited version was later made available on a double-cassette for sale (probably a bit late to ask about additional royalties).

None of this would have happened without the support of Bryan Harris, who was always quick to see the value of sports coverage. He saw to it that I was able to travel the length and breadth of England, interviewing former players while armed with a “UHER”, that heavy, clunky, just-about-portable tape recorder that was then the workhorse for radio reporters. We even hired actors from Derby Playhouse to work with the script I’d written to cover the club’s formative years.

Another fine broadcaster, Ashley Franklin, put it together, at one point skillfully using a razor blade to remove the squawking of an FA Cup winner’s family parrot.

When the series was launched at the Baseball Ground, the BBC director general, Alasdair-Milne, insisted on attending. He wanted to meet Raich Carter.

In retirement, Bryan Harris devoted his life to voluntary work helping local organisations, and writing a history of the village where he made his home. In 1995 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Derbyshire. He was a lovely man, a BBC manager of the “old school”, who supported his staff and let them run with good ideas.

He leaves a widow, a son and daughter, and four grandchildren. And, importantly for me, he was in the right place at the right time.

  • The funeral for Bryan Harris will be held on Friday, October 2, at 12 noon at St Paul’s Church, Quarndon, Derby D22 5JA