WE ALWAYS remember with affection the small things that really cheered us when we were going through a bad time.
I remember Bob Holness with huge fondness for the welcome relief he brought me during a particularly grim patch.
It was 1984 and Bob was presenting a show called Anything Goes on the BBC World Service.
I was in a tiny village called El Hosh in the middle of the Sudanese savannah, teaching then freelancing.
The famine was sweeping in from Ethiopia. War. Malaria. Mud hut. No TV. Few books. All very grim.
My only luxury was a short wave radio. And Bob’s avuncular tones and his broad, catholic taste in music was something I looked forward to immensely.
Sometimes in euphoria or melancholia or when we fall in love, we find a piece of music, a melody or a song, which chimes exactly with the way we feel and we cling to it.
In this brief and mercifully unrepeated blue period, a long forgotten song, which is still one of my favourites, began spinning around my head.
It was ‘Goodnight Vienna’ by Jack Buchanan, recorded in 1932.
So for the first and only time in my life, I sent off a postcard with a request to a radio show. And Bob kindly obliged.
Letters took a long time to reach London in those days – four to six weeks – but one baking hot morning in January 1985, a postcard arrived for me at the village post office.
The photograph on the front announced it was from a beaming Bob Holness. The message on the back announced that Jack Buchanan’s ‘Goodnight Vienna’ would be spinning on Bob’s record deck in a few days time and to tune in to the show.
Over a cigarette, Buchanan’s lilting, crooning tones lifted my spirits.
Fast forward 20 years when the old trouper was appearing on an Ant and Dec show and I called him to find out how it was going.
At the end of the chat, I reminded him of my ‘Goodnight Vienna’ request and told him how his show had been a little oasis during a time which, looking back, had been quite depressing.
To my surprise, he remembered the request, telling me his father had owned the record and he had always been intrigued by Buchanan enigmatically changing key towards the end, which indeed he does.
But it was the genuine joy he felt at having made a difference to one person in a remote outpost which really made me warm to the man.
There was much more to Bob Holness than Blockbusters, although that gave him well deserved financial security. There was 50 years of consummate, broadcasting professionalism with a liberal dash of old style charisma.
Bob came from the same school of broadcasting as Brian Johnston, Hubert Gregg, Alan Dell, Malcolm Laycock, Alistair Cooke and Robert Robinson.
When you heard them and followed them you will always miss them when they’ve gone.
And here is ‘Goodnight Vienna’. Listen for the change of key which Bob remembered from his childhood a few bars from the end which seems to change the mood from melancholia to hope and optimism in a beat.