Wednesday 17 April 2019

Carry On Blogging Interview: Richard Latto

I'm absolutely delighted to bring you another interview exclusive. Richard Latto is a producer and presenter on BBC Radio, currently with Radio Solent. He's the host of Stereo Underground and is also passionate about classic comedy and archives. 

I've followed Richard on Twitter for some time but really came to appreciate his work last year when the lost Sid James interview was discovered. This was featured in the press and made quite a splash, showing just how popular Mr James still is. It was the centre point of Richard's documentary, Carry On Up The Archive, which was narrated by Carry On legend Jim Dale and broadcast over the Christmas period.

I caught up with Richard to find out more.

First of all, I’d love to know how you came to work in radio – how did you get started?

I used to adore listening to the radio as a child. There's something so special about communicating through what is an incredibly personal medium. It encouraged me to do hospital radio, then commercial and finally into the BBC, where I've worked at several sites across the UK on local, regional and national programmes. I currently do a weekly music show called Stereo Underground, which is broadcast on 5 stations across the south of England. Then the rest of my time is filled with working on projects for radio, television and online.

As a social historian, I’m fascinated by archives and I recently accessed Gerald Thomas’ archive at the BFI. I imagine a lot of your work involves that kind of research. What are the pros and cons for you of this kind of work?

It certainly does! You need a heck of a lot of tenacity as I'm sure you can appreciate Graeme. There's also a lot to be said for knowing the right people who are able to open doors and allow you to look properly. I've found some very exciting material in both obvious and hard-to-find places. The pros would be I've made some good contacts and friends when looking for material. There are some immediate go-to places where I can enquire because the people there are very kind and keen to help. The cons would be the frustrating number of archives that are poorly catalogued, but worst still have no interest in sharing their material or even attempting to provide basic information on what is held. I always advise anyone who is keen to deposit something with an archive that they should get a clear guarantee of access to their material established before parting with it! There are a lot of rabbit holes in the world of archives.

There was a lot of publicity before Christmas when the lost Sid James interview was discovered. What was it like to be a part of that discovery?

It was terrific to see how popular the story was around the world. We ran it locally on BBC South Today, but it was for a time the most-read story in England on the BBC website. Of course it's all down to the enduring popularity and fondness the public has for Sid. I originally made contact with former BBC radio presenter Jeff Link as I believed he may have a copy of the interview he did with Kenneth Williams. It was a delight to discover he had kept the reel of his Sid James interview. With a little research I was able to confirm this was the last surviving interview recorded with Sid before his tragic passing on stage.

You tracked down both of Sid’s daughters so they could hear their father’s last-known interview for the first time. What was that like?

This was the highlight of the whole project. Soon after establishing the rarity of the recording I managed to reach out to both of Sid's daughters Sue and Reina, and his son Steve. It was an absolute pleasure to reunite them with the precious recording of their late father. The friendliness and warmth they showed was very heartwarming and I thank them enormously for their time.

The Sid James interview formed a part of Carry On Up The Archive, which went out on BBC Radio over Christmas. It featured rare clips from many of our Carry On favourites. Apart from Sid’s material, what was your favourite discovery?

It would be a poor answer to say 'all of them'... but it honestly was the collection of all the many rare items that made piecing the whole show together so enjoyable. If I really had to pick one specific example it would have to be the interview that former Radio Victory presenter Matt Hopper did with Kenneth Williams. He didn't enjoy the experience and when he was labelled as an 'idiot' by Kenneth in his diaries he was genuinely shocked and disappointed! I like to think that playing the interview to him all these years later was perhaps a cathartic experience for him!

Why do you think it’s important that production material linked to classic comedy like the Carry Ons is preserved for future generations?

There is an incredibly important cultural value attached to the material consumed by the public as popular culture. Sadly this is something that still needs to be underlined today as some people continue to underestimate its importance. The love for the Carry On series is obvious and I'd like to think that surviving material from the films will be preserved for future generations. However, how great would it have been to have kept all the rushes and outtakes from the movies? More material is still turning up. Only the other month I stumbled across the original A & B camera negatives in an archive for Carry On Emmannuelle.

Your radio programme Carry On Up The Archive was presented by the brilliant Jim Dale. Was it easy to get Jim on board and what was he like to work with?

I always wanted Jim to front the show. After a short discussion with his agent I was delighted to learn he was keen to narrate the script for the special celebration. We had a chat beforehand and he was a pleasure to direct 'down the line' from a BBC studio in New York. At the end of the session he said "this is a show the fans will adore", which was very kind of him. I've got two small children and we've been watching Pete's Dragon and Digby: The Biggest Dog In The World... two films I also watched as a child. He's a legend and complete professional.

I love the radio and listen every day – as someone who works in radio can I ask  what you think makes it such a special medium?

Where I grew up as a child in the West Country the local radio stations had such a grip and reflection on what was happening in the area, much more so than any of the local newspapers as they were full of personality and you could hear fellow listeners taking part in a very down-to-earth manner. The local commercial station Plymouth Sound had a phone-in that everyone in the city listened to. You would literally hear it coming out of car windows and peoples houses as you walked down the street. You had a sense that what was being broadcast really mattered. Although the days of huge audiences are disappearing as more options appear both on the dial and online, the sense of a personal connection between the broadcaster and the listener has always remained. I often listen to community radio as there are some very clever and passionate broadcasters on there trying to find their voice and you can see so much potential. There are some excellent programmes and podcasts if you're prepared to look for them online. I get some lovely emails to Stereo Underground from listeners in random places all over the world. It's a privilege to broadcast.

There was a great reaction to Carry On Up The Archive which shows just how popular the Carry Ons and their stars remain. How would you explain their enduring appeal?

I think it's twofold. They remind people of a time when they saw them before and they were happy and carefree with life. They also picture a version of Britain that didn't actually exist, but we'd all love to feel did exist at some point. Both factors in my humble opinion make them almost the perfect nostalgia trip.

I ask everyone this question – What’s your favourite Carry On film and why?

It very much depends on my mood. My favourite is also usually the last one I've watched! However, I've always had a soft spot for Carry On Behind. Kenneth Williams really shines with buckets of energy in his performance as Professor Roland Crump, Elke Sommer is fantastically sparkly with her characterisation of Professor Anna Vooshka and Windsor Davies does a great job in the role that would have traditionally been for Sid. I'm 35 years old and I know a lot of people my age and younger who don't have the same interests as I do (one of my colleagues told me the other day she couldn't name any of the Beatles!) - usually I recommend Carry On Abroad to them, as it's another favourite and generally captures the whole Carry On feel really well.

Finally, can you tell me anything about future projects you might be working on?

Last year myself and two colleagues (author Stuart Manning and producer Paul Vanezis) found the original camera negatives for Worzel Gummidge. We'd like to see them transferred and released soon, as the current masters for the show are in an appalling condition. They would look stunning in high definition as the show was beautifully filmed. July this year also marks what would have been the 100th birthday for Jon Pertwee... I have some treats in store for a very special programme I'm currently piecing together. Most of my time is currently occupied with a confidential pilot I'm making for BBC TV, hopefully I shall have more news on that soon.

A big thank you to Richard for taking the time to answer my questions. You can read more about Carry On Up The Archive in my review of the programme, which can be found here.

And you can follow Richard on Twitter @RichardLatto

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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