Radio announcer Sheila’s big band link

THERE was a very good reason for learning the trombone when Sheila Tracy, later the first woman newsreader on BBC Radio 4, went to the Royal Academy of Music.

“Down in the string section at the Royal Academy, it was all girls,” Sheila recalls. “Up in the brass were all the boys! I had never played a brass instrument before, but it all worked out. I have never been out of work.”

Sheila, who presents The Gordon Campbell Big Band’s tribute to the great big bands at The Hawth, Crawley, on Sunday, February 27 at 3pm, went on to work with the great Ivy Benson.

“It was the great girls band of the day. It was past her heyday. Her heyday was the war years. She was huge during the war.”

But for Sheila, it was an important experience: “She was very tough. She wouldn’t stand for any nonsense. I don’t think I caused her any trouble, though!

“But it was a learning process. I was a classically-trained musician. I came out of the Academy not knowing the first thing about dance music, as we called it then, and my trombone playing was not of a very high standard!”

Sheila went on to form her own sister act: “We had just been out to Calcutta for the Christmas period. We were away three months, and my partner was married. She had a husband.

“We had been back a few weeks when my agent said I have got a booking for you in Las Vegas. He said there was only one snag. We had to go for six months.

“My partner said she couldn’t possibly do it. We turned it down, and after that the work started to drop off. That’s when my mother said I should write to the BBC and get a job as an announcer.”

Further down the line, she became the first woman newsreader on BBC Radio 4 at much the same time as Angela Rippon broke new ground on TV.

“I always wanted to do what the men were doing! My picture was on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. There was a little piece saying ‘woman makes radio history’.

“Angela and I opened the floodgates. Now it has gone too far. I feel sorry for young men trying to make their way in TV today.

“You just get the older men with the blond bimbo sitting beside them!”

Presiding over the show in Crawley will be Gordon Campbell. Regarded as one of this country’s leading trombone players, he is lead trombone in the ever popular BBC Big Band, a post he has held since 1984.

His varied career has encompassed jazz, classical, musical theatre, film and pop and he has worked with many of the world’s leading performers including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles and Robbie Williams.

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