Guest Blog: The Cheshire Voice
Volunteer Tony Deadman shares his memories of a group of talented disabled radio journalists at Le Court
In 1973, at the request of Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, Le Court residents Peter Courchée and Nigel Mackenzie took on the curation of the sound recordings archive known as the Cheshire Sound Library. Subsequently, they were to breathe new life into that Library and aid blind and visually impaired people by producing a taking equivalent of The Cheshire Smile magazine, named “The Cheshire Voice”.
Peter nursed the ambition to create and drive the magazine and was prepared to tackle controversial and challenging subjects related to all aspects of disability. He also started working at Treloar Hospital Radio and Portsmouth Group of Hospitals as part-time DJ, utilising his, Nigel’s and Tad Polkowski’s record collections.
Nigel Mackenzie contracted MS during early career as a cub journalist for a local Salisbury newspaper. His claim to fame, was that he interviewed Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch for the Salisbury News. Nigel, with his ‘smooth talking’ patter had the ideal radio voice. His fruity laugh was later made into a hospital radio jingle.
They were soon joined by Tad Polkowski, a born techy. Unable to finish his degree (he studied electrical engineering at the University of Bradford) his brilliant potential was cut short by his rapid growth. Throughout his life he never lost his passion for technical inquiry. He was the perfect candidate for studio engineer.
Curating the Sound Library and developing ‘The Voice’ gave the three young men – all under thirty and enthusiastic about the independent radio movement started by Radio Caroline – an excuse to indulge in their passion for the medium.
In 1974 the first ‘studio’ was confined to Tad’s bedroom. Despite his size Tad manipulated the basic equipment he had at his disposal and made more space by having a fold-back wall bed, specially extended to accommodate all 6’ 9” of him, folded back and covered by a blue curtain during the day – it towered like an obelisk against the side wall.
During early ‘Voice’ recordings, Peter would sit, unmasked microphone on his wheelchair table, Tad recording Pete’s voice on a tape machine. The mike would pick up Tad’s creaking wheelchair as he leaned to carry out some technical task, or the noises from some part Peter’s chair. Disturbance from the Main Wing corridor and disruptive visitations were also a constant frustration to the recording process.
However, with the support of Mary Hopcroft and the Leonard Cheshire Foundation, a purpose-built studio was created by early 1977, with the help of Radio Victory’s MD Guy Paine and Paul Robins plus other supporters, beneath the Cheshire Foundation’s Service Corps building at Le Court. It included two inches of soundproofing, and a Revox professional reel to real tape recorder separated from the recording booth by soundproofing and glass windows partition. The studio was opened Saturday 26 February 1977 by Radio Victory Head of Programming Eugene Fraser and Anton Darby.
The ‘Voice’ included articles and information pertaining to the world of disability and beyond, including the Southampton Boat Show and Grayshott Potteries. Among more noted interviewees featured were radio men Richard Baker and Andrew Timothy, Wendy Greengross (writer, broadcaster and activist), John Lambert (ex-707 pilot), John Evans (activist and founder of HCIL), Philip Mason, Ronald Travers (TV director & Leonard Cheshire Foundation), Nykola Lewis Jones (PHAB), Norman Croucher (mountaineer), William Douglas Home (playwright, politician); and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire.
The Cheshire Voice started its terminal decline in the early 1980s. ‘Project 81’ – a drive towards independent living started at Le Court – resulted in many younger Le Court residents who were Cheshire Voice members, seeking and achieving their goal of living in their own homes. From 1975 to 1984, 15 ‘Cheshire Voices’ were produced of which only a small number of clips and intact recordings are known to have survived; some can be listened to at the Leonard Cheshire Archive in South Derbyshire.