BBC Introducing Lancashire – Sean McGinty

sean mcginty in northern life magazine steven suttie

This first appeared in NORTHERN LIFE magazine


I have long been a lover of local radio. In fact, from being a very small boy in the 1980’s I’ve taken a massive interest in it. But as computer-run stations and nationally syndicated services have slowly and surely eroded the magic that local radio once created, I am becoming more and more bored by the same old thing, just like many hundreds of thousands of radio listeners who are deserting local radio and re-tuning to Radio 2 instead.

But then, just as I’m about to give up completely – I discover a radio show that completely recharges my enthusiasm and gets me fully, properly excited again. I’m talking about BBC Introducing, a national network of 40 local radio programmes that champion local music in their area. In particular, I’m talking about BBC Radio Lancashire’s “Introducing” show on Saturday evenings, which is on air between 8pm and 10pm. radio lancs

If you want to be completely bowled over by an eclectic showcase of the amazing musical talent that there is here in Lancashire – I can guarantee that you will be surprised by just how much emerging talent there is in the Red Rose county, and then, I suspect that you will feel ever so proud of the whole concept.

It’s always a great feeling to stumble across a genuinely inspirational, amusing and enjoyable radio show that isn’t all about the DJ, but about what the DJ can do for others. I went down to the BBC Lancashire studios to meet the programme’s creator and presenter Sean McGinty, a man so full of energy, enthusiasm and passion for his work that it is easy to see how it all translates so well into such a bloody good radio show.

As he ate a sandwich, eaves-dropped on a band recording a session next door, while trying to discover who blocked the radio-car in with a silver peugeot, I had a good old natter with Sean about his work.

BBC radio lancashire studios in Blackburn town centre

You can tell from listening to the BBC Lancashire Introducing show that you clearly love it. What has been your highlight of doing this show so far? It’s not really on air that I get the real highlight. That comes when I listen through the one hundred and fifty songs I receive a week and hear something that’s just amazing. For example, we play a lot of music from Aquilo. When I first heard their song I was like “wow!” It just hits you and it’s amazing. And now, eighteen months later, they are doing really well, one of their songs is going to be in a film, and being a BBC Introducing presenter, you get a great “wow-factor” when you hear someone with some real talent and a great song.

Another group who are doing great things are Bondax from Lancaster, who are regularly played on BBC Radio 1. They started out on your show. Yes, through us, Radio 1 have picked up on them. Don’t get me wrong, these guys work hard on their own, and they’ve got good people representing them and they’ve done very well without the BBC involvement. Having said that, it’s always good to say “We’ve been on BBC Introducing and we’ve done a Maida Vale session.” They’ve done all that stuff, and they were at Bestival this year, and now they’re travelling the world. It’s a great result for us, but it’s down to the artist. They do all the work, they put all the time in. Just because I play a track by Aquilo, or Bondax, or Rae Morris and say I love it, that isn’t necessarily the route to how they become successful.

The show is now ten years old in Lancashire. Is it getting harder to find exciting new bands and artists to showcase, or does it get easier? I think as technology and social media has developed we are seeing more music sent to us now. We can get any where between one hundred and two hundred tracks sent in each week via the BBC Introducing Uploader on the website, as well as links to songs on Soundcloud and Youtube as well as CD’s in the post. So it is a lot of music that’s coming in to us, and almost all of it is from Lancashire.

What advice do you have for local bands who have the talent, and want to get played, but can’t necessarily afford the studio time to get a professional sounding demo together? Well, Rae Morris is a great example of that. Rae is now signed to Atlantic Records, her new single is being played on Radio 1 and her album is out in January. There’s some really good stuff happening with her right now, but the music that she sent me at first just wasn’t recorded well enough to play on the radio. It was an absolutely beautiful song, and I loved it, but I couldn’t play it. But there are other things we can do, and we invited Rae in and let her do a live session. So assuming they can do that, there’s always different options.

The Extra Third Photography

You came to radio quite late in life after a career in banking and telecoms. What made you give up secure employment and a good salary for a career in a notoriously difficult to enter industry, that probably pays a lot less? I’ve just always loved radio, and I love the job I’m doing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a very different earning potential as you pointed out, but as I’m approaching my fiftieth birthday, I’m really enjoying this, and all the other projects that I’m involved with and that really matters to me.

You must have to spend a lot of time listening to the music that is sent in by hopeful bands, plus you do other slots on the BBC Radio Lancashire schedule. You are also embarking on the difficult task of launching Blackpool’s Radio Victoria as a full time community radio station. How do you get the time to fit all this in? I don’t do anything that’s remotely sociable anymore! That’s it really. I’m very much into social enterprise and not for profit businesses. I was working with the hospital trust in Blackpool and suggested that they go after a community radio license, and they said go for it. So now we have the license, and just need to find about twenty five grand for the mast and various bits and pieces. I really think community radio could be fantastic for the Fylde. So yes, I’m kept very busy but I love it, and you’re a long time dead aren’t you?

Your Introducing slot is on air at 8pm on Saturdays, but it’s available all week long on the iPlayer. Are you finding that this new “on demand” technology is helping you to build a bigger audience? I don’t really look at the numbers. We used to be on Thursday evenings and we had the most radio listeners in the county on that slot, beating Radio 1, Radio 2 and everybody else. When the senior BBC management decided that all of the Introducing shows across the national network were being moved to Saturdays, we lost a lot of listeners. Mainly because most of our listeners were out playing, or listening to bands on that night. It’s possibly the worst night to have a new music show on the radio to be honest. I do get e-mails during the week from people who are listening to the I-player, but I have no idea how many there are.

introducing logo on cassette

What advice would you have for anybody who would like to follow in your footsteps and get a job in radio?Well, don’t wait until you are 38 before you even think about doing it. Do it in your 20’s! What I did was I went to the University of Central Lancashire and started a broadcast journalism course, and then I camped on the doorstep here at BBC Radio Lancashire until they let me in. When they did let me in, I just worked really hard and really long and made sure that what I did was good and eventually I got some regular paid work here.

Your wife must be very supportive of you? Yes, we both changed careers at the same time. I went into this and she went into teaching. She was very supportive of me in the early years, and now I’m supportive of her in what she does. It’s a partnership.

What ambitions are left for the BBC Lancashire Introducing show? Loads! I mean we’ve started doing BBC Introducing Live gigs at the Ferret in Preston which is a fine local venue, and a great place to play. It’s a great night for people who want to support local music and it’s free. That’s on the second Saturday of every month, and I want to build on that and get more gigs in more towns. And of course to continue showcasing the very best of Lancashire’s new music on the BBC Introducing show.

BBC Introducing programmes are on air on your local BBC station on Saturday evenings from 8 until 10pm, and available anytime on BBC Radio I-player.

More about what Sean is doing.


Hartley Calling Juliet Bravo

Back in the early 80s, one of the most popular Saturday night TV shows on the BBC was Juliet Bravo. The programme regularly attracted 20 million viewers, as the nations families sat down on their brown three piece suites and allowed a very Northern drama to unfold in their front rooms.

The popular characters from Hartley police station dealt with many crimes of varying seriousness throughout the six series that were broadcast between 1980 to 1985. As a young boy, I connected with the show because it was the first TV series that I was allowed to stay up late to watch, and mainly because it looked like it was made down the bottom of our street.

Juliet Bravo was as Northern as a pie butty. Without fail, each episode celebrated the regions industrial landscape with many crimes taking place down by the canal, in a disused cotton mill or at the allotments. Many a petty criminal was chased along the cobbled streets before having their collar felt by Sergeant Beck. My wife bought me a DVD box set of Juliet Bravo, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic trip back to 1981 in the North of England. So have my kids. Looking back at the programmes today, the landscape of Hartley has moved on quite dramatically. In fact, Juliet Bravo was filmed during a time of huge regeneration in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Many of the endless streets of slum housing were in the process of being knocked down, gigantic Mills were being deleted from the horizon, old Victorian schools were making way for modern structures and Fred Dibnah was kept in steady work pulling the giant chimney stacks down. Whoever chose Juliet Bravo’s filming locations was obviously keen to include the run down scenery just before it was bulldozed away for good.

Hartley was of course a fictional town, and the programmes external shots were filmed all over Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Sharp eyed viewers from Bacup were quick to notice that Hartley police station was actually their very own local police station on Bank Street in the Town Centre, which is just about still in operation today.

Over the course of 88 episodes, many small industrial towns were used for filming the series. Burnley, Colne, Accrington, Nelson, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, and parts of the Ribble Valley featured regularly, painting a very picturesque, but tough image of Hartley. The town had a bustling shopping centre called “the Arndale,” rows upon rows of back to back terraces, breathtaking countryside, plenty of factories and a couple of rough council estates.

Its not hard to understand why Juliet Bravo was such a smash hit, dominating the winter Saturday night schedules on BBC TV. Of course this was a time when choice was limited. We only had 3 television channels in 1981, Channel 4 came on air the following year, greeted with huge expectation from an enthusiastic public.

The basic premise of Juliet Bravo was to follow the newly appointed top cop at Hartley police station, Inspector Jean Darbley (played by Stephanie Turner, above)) who happened to be female, and as a result struggled initially to gain acceptance and respect from her junior male colleagues. From series 3 – 6 Inspector Darblay was replaced by Inspector Kate Longton (played by Anna Carteret, below.)

Juliet Bravo was created to highlight the difficulties that female officers faced in a chauvinistic world dominated by the old boys of the Constabulary. Nowadays its common place to have female police Inspectors. Indeed female officers have risen to the very top job of Chief Constable within many police forces in the UK. The Juliet Bravo TV show can take a lot of credit for this, along with many other social changes that have happened since it went on air.

In 1981 a prime time TV show was capable of educating as well as entertaining its audience, changing social stigmas and challenging established opinions. Many social problems and taboos were dealt with by this programme, offering positive and reassuring advice and guidance to the viewers through the stories that were told.

Nowadays, we are all aware of the facts regarding depression and mental health problems. In 1981, with less understanding and acceptance, problems such as this were not for up for discussion. In one famous episode of Juliet Bravo, a desperate young mother who was suffering from post natal depression convinced the Hartley officers that she had harmed her baby. It was a desperate attempt by her to get help, and it worked. This was the first time that this sensitive subject had been covered in such an emotive and reassuring way. Without doubt, this episode opened the door to a new way of thinking about these types of problems that had previously caused shame and embarrassment for those suffering. The episode had such an impact in challenging stereotypes about depression, a similar story was covered a few series later. It told the viewers that this was normal, and was nothing to feel ashamed about.

Juliet Bravo highlighted and educated its viewers on many crimes and modern problems of the day. No other TV show could manage to tell 20 million viewers of the deadly dangers of glue sniffing, how to deal with rogue callers and show vulnerable women that domestic abuse was not acceptable. It was done with great Northern charm and style, and genuinely helped to change opinion.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom in Hartley. In fact, there wasn’t very much gloom at all. Juliet Bravo consistently provided a conveyer belt of loveable rogues, rotten scoundrels, feckless thieves and denim wearing punks. There were serious crimes such as child abuse, rape and murder, and some not so serious. One episode centred round a young lads bike being nicked. In another, the local chip shop owner was in trouble for keeping a bear in his shed. It was never dull, it was always thought provoking and delightfully gritty.

If you have fond memories of the programme, and you love 1980s nostalgia, the DVD sets are a real treat. Wander down the North’s cobbled streets to a time when community spirit was stronger, when a pot of tea and a chat could solve many of the country’s problems and the Austin Maestro was a dream car.

Let’s raise a northern toast to Juliet Bravo. Put your pie down and raise your brew to one of our finest TV programmes, and the wonderful town of Hartley.

This article first appeared in Northern Life Magazine, June 2011, written by Steve Suttie.

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s debut Novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister