Rex Kingsley

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Robert Elliot Kingsley
1925-Rex-Kingsley.jpg
Born (1901-03-17)17 March 1901
79 Collins Street, Glasgow
Died 24 December 1974(1974-12-24) (aged 73)
22 Broomley Drive, Giffnock, East Renfrewshire
Education Hutcheson's Grammar School, Glasgow
Occupation
  • Announcer, 5SC, 1924
  • Assistant station director, 2DE, 1925
  • Announcer & sports broadcaster, 5SC, 1928
  • Sunday Mail, 1936
Children Two sons, Robin and Norman, and one daughter, Pat
Parent(s)
  • Robert Thomson Quaey
  • Rebecca Elliot

Rex Kingsley was an actor, announcer, and sports commentator. He was one of the BBC's first radio announcers in Scotland, and for many years was a top sports writer with the Sunday Mail. He was the best-known and most entertaining sports commentator of his time. He has the unenviable accolade of having been sacked from the BBC twice!

Early life

Born Robert Thomson Quaey, the same name as his father who worked as a postman. However, he changed his name to Robert Elliot Kingsley.

His family went without to afford the fees for an education at Hutcheson's Boys Grammar School, but he later admitted that he "hadn't a flair for anything that demanded scholastic attainments".

His first job was working as an apprentice in his uncle's chemist shop. He then went on to work as a junior sales assistant in the millinery department of a Co-op warehouse. He hated both jobs, but found his vocation in the evenings after taking classes at Percival Steeds' Drama School, which was based at the Athenaeum, a small theatre on Buchanan Street, and later at the workshop for students at the Royal Academy for Music and Drama. The drama classes helped him to secure roles in the evening variety concerts, leaving him in little doubt about his chosen career in showbusiness.

Announcer, 5SC Glasgow

A few months after the BBC opened its first station in Glasgow, 5SC, Quaey received a call from Percival Steeds asking if he would do a broadcast with him. Steeds had been invited to arrange some scenes from Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' and wanted Quaey and Esther Wilson to play the respective leads.[1]

When David Millar Craig became the BBC's first Scottish controller in February 1924, one of his first tasks was to hire a full-time announcer at the Glasgow station. He recalled Quaey's stagy, plummy voice, which was the articulation of the time, and asked him if he would announce a complete programme as a test — "A Swedish Composers' Night" full of challenging pronunciations. After hearing nothing for three months, he received a note informing him that he had been selected out of 50 candidates for the job, on an annual salary of £260. However, he was told to change his obscure family name, and so from that point on Robert Thomson Quaey became known as Robert Elliot Kingsley, or more commonly "R. E. Kingsley".

Kingsley was placed on a probationary period for six week, during which time he continued to work in the department store during the day. As he later wrote:

Can you imagine it — sweeping a department floor just before 5 p.m., then dashing off home to change, and hare up to the BBC in time to say, awfully posh, "Good evening, everyone, this is 5SC, the Glasgow station of the British Broadcasting Company!"

One of Kingsley's responsibilities at 5SC was to look after auditions. (See Early BBC auditions process.)

Kingsley worked hard to rid himself of any lingering traces of a Glasgow accent, in particular the Scottish habit of using a short 'a' rather than a long anglicised 'a'. However, he did not perfect in good enough time. While announcing a Bach programme one night, he was called to the London telephone in the control room. At the other end was the BBC's director general John Reith, who was most displeased:

"How do you pronounce that composer's name, Kingsley?" he asked. I tumbled quickly. That nightmare short 'a' again! "Why, Ba-a-ach," I replied, getting the 'a' almost from my stomach. "Yes, that's all right," came the voice. "It sounded in your announcement like the 'a' in 'back'!"[2]

When the pair were later introduced, Reith discovered the short 'a' still loitering in Kingsley's voice and mentioned it to him again. To make matters worse, during a broadcast by the Scottish Orchestra that night, to which many prominent people had been invited, Reith was furious to see Kingsley pass a note to his station director. Afterwards, he instructed Millar-Craig to sack Kingsley, explaining that he had no right to distract the guests' attention from the music.

A campaign started in the letters pages of more than one newspaper, righteously indignant at "this slight to Glasgow listeners who had at last got the announcer they had long waited for". Radio speakers and artistes of prominence wrote to Sir John Reith asking the reason for Kingley's disappearance from the airwaves and pleading his case. The result was that when he was nearing the end of his last week at the BBC, Millar-Craig asked him if he would like to move to the new Dundee station as assistant station director, with a £40 increase in salary (bringing him up to £300 per annum).[3]

Assistant station director, 2DE Dundee

Kingsley began working at the BBC's Dundee station, 2DE, on 5 January 1925 as assistant to station director Eric Heddle.[4] He would frequently appear as 'Uncle Bob' on the Children's Hour. As someone who had never been in Dundee before, he instantly fell for the city and wrote that he was completely happy in the three years he spent there.[5]

One of the biggest productions he arranged for the station was an operatic drama based on the Sir Walter Scott Novel, Rob Roy, on 4 December 1925. (See article on 2DE) By this time Kingsley's salary had risen to £325 per annum.[6]

On a visit to the studio, the BBC's freelance critic, Filson Young, described Kingsley as "an intelligent and clever actor who ought to be made more use of in that capacity":

Mr Kingsley's chief talent is the somewhat unusual one of being able to speak in a great many voices and dialects in swift succession. He read me a conversation between an American, a Scotchman, a widow, and a child, in which it would have been hard to believe that four people were not taking part.[7]

The Northern Area Director, David Cleghorn Thomson, was similarly complimentary:

I still think that Kingsley is a good announcer — better than Webster at Glasgow, and that his services in the sphere of arranging variety shows and concert parties could be more fully utilised at a main station. I know, however, that the Director General will not consider his return.[8]

Sports executive and announcer, BBC, Glasgow

However, in January 1928, when the Dundee station was in the process of being wound-down, Kingsley was moved back to Glasgow as sports executive and announcer, working under station director Henry Fitch.[9]

Towards the end of his time as a member of BBC staff, Kingsley was the acknowledged "Number 2 man" in sporting broadcasts. As he described it:

The fellow who got listeners goats by continually interpolating, "Square 4", "Throw-in in Square 6", etc. I found it irksome. Football was in my veins. I inwardly fumed at the hesitancy of some of the commentators I had to accompany. They knew the game. But they didn't know the mike. I felt I knew both. I had followed football since I was high enough to look over a boundary wall. I knew most of the players by name and sight. Yet most of the commentators hummed and hawed, stuttered and stammered, and left long blanks. I squirmed in my seat. Often I butted in with a running description to ease my feelings and to put something on the screen for listeners at home. But it wasn't until I left the BBC that I got the chance for which I prayed.[10]

It was not long until the BBC's policy of 'centralisation' was implemented in Glasgow with resultant staff cutbacks. Reith decreed that Kingsley's contact should not be renewed, remarking that he was "inferior in every way".[11] He left his staff job in August 1929.

Evening News sports writer

Kingsley left the BBC "with a pocketful of contracts for plays, revues, and sporting commentaries". "In the next three months," he wrote, "the BBC paid me in fees double the amount which would have been given me in wages for the same period!"

In light of the fact he had done so many football commentaries, Kingsley was encouraged by his friend, Sandy Adamson of the Evening News, to have a go at writing a football report. "Writing had always been an abomination to me," he recalled, but Adamson told him to write it in the form of one of his running commentaries. He tried it at Celtic v Dundee game at Parkhead that week.[12]

The idea was that I should write as if I were actually giving a radio description. Not so simple as it sounded, considering I spoke approximately 25,000 words in a commentary — and the News could allow me only 750 to 1000! If, for example, McGrory took a right-wing cross and whipped it into the net, the ordinary sports writer would say, "McGrory smashed home a great cross from Bertie Thomson". But I should have to trace the movement from its origin like this:

"Bobby Hogg clears with a great punt upfield — Alec Thomson fastens on — evades a tackle. Oh, very smart —Thomson feinted to pass to the left, but suddenly wheeled round and slipped the ball along the ground to his namesake, Bertie Thomson on the wing. The winger is tearing down the line. McGrory is yelling for the ball — he's clear. Thomson sends it over near the corner flag. McGrory races to meet it — he's there — takes it first-time. It's a G-O-A-L!"

His story made it to the front page of that evening's paper. "R. E. Kingsley, famous sports commentator, tells the story of the Parkhead game!" Hardly a line of Kingsley's original copy been left out and he was promptly fixed for another game the following Saturday.

Adamson's assistant on the Evening News, Clement B. Livingstone (who would later become Managing Director of Kemsley Newspapers in Scotland), gave Kingsley some valuable advice:

Mr Kingsley, you've hit on something that may revolutionise sports journalism. In that report you blended facts, comedy, punch, and reasoned comment. It was a report that was 'different', and the writing game is thirsty for that. The sporting public is the shrewdest I know. Therefore it wants authoritative writing. It is the wittiest. Therefore it wants real humour. It is the most argumentative. Therefore it wants facts. It is the most dynamic. Therefore it wants punch. If you did not know you were supplying all these things, then you're the luckiest man in the world, for you've got a gift that could take you right to the top of the tree in sports writing.[13]

Touring actor

Just as he had set his mind on being a sports writer, Kingsley received an offer he could not refuse. One night at the BBC he found himself playing in a cast which included an old friend, Morland Graham, by then a comparatively renowned film and stage actor. Graham asked Kingsley if he would like to team up with him in a theatrical tour of a Scottish comedy sketch he had written called ‘A Matter of Money’, which centred round a love affair on a farm. He jumped at the chance to pursue his childhood dream of being on the stage and told Clem. Livingstone at the ‘’Evening News’’: “I liked the idea of one day becoming a journalist, although nothing would ever make me like writing. But I'm crazy about the stage, and it makes me swoon to think they're gonna pay me for it.”

The comedy troupe started in October 1929 with a week at the Pavilion as part of a variety bill headed by Jack Buchanan. Having received good reviews they went on a tour of English theatres. His salary was to be £8 per week.[14]

Freelance BBC work and the Sunday Post

Kingsley soon tired of the theatre and returned home to Glasgow, where the BBC was ready with many contracts for revues, sketches, plays, and running commentaries. He fronted occasional variety programmes from the studio, such as Meet the Microphone!, and acted in a series of musical comedy revues by Jack House and Allan MacKinnon such as Good Evening, Glasgow!, Bees in the Bonnett and Gang Aft Agley.

But feeling he needed more to fill his time and his mind, he secured an interview with the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Post, who hired him for the sports staff largely on the strength of the football commentaries he had previously written for the ‘’Evening News’’. It was here that he was asked to write special articles under a pen-name. He chose the name 'Rex' as a nod to his happy time working at Rex House, the original home of the BBC's Glasgow station, 5SC. In fact, he had been called 'Rex' in the BBC for some time as every announcer had to affix his initials to his log every day and Kingsley's initials were R. E. K.

Sunday Mail, 1936

Rex waving farewell at Glasgow Central Station as he leaves for America to interview the stars for the Sunday Mail, 6 June 1939

When he joined the Sunday Mail in April 1936 he was introduced to readers as "The Writer You'll Wait For at the Weekends". He became renowned for his blunt, candid and, for the day, outspoken views on football, which endeared him to his readers. At the same time, however, he enraged administrators and, not long after he became a regular columnist, the managers of both Celtic and Rangers refused to speak to him, the latter even banning Rex from his ground.

He introduced comical lines to his football writing:

I felt the public were being stuffed with facts — facts which everyone in the crowd saw for himself. Facts can be dull. Surely there could be no greater bore than a dull writer. Nor a more obvious short-cut to failure.[15]

He also introduced a regular section for readers' letters called 'Your Space, Boys!', receiving at its peak 258 letters a week. He tried to answer each published letter in print.[16]

Within a year Kingsley was not only writing lively match reports but, at his request, had been given a full page of his own to indulge readers with comment and rumours. Billed as 'My Page' it became one of the mainstays of the paper.

During the close season he became one of the first international columnists, reporting on celebrities including Hollywood stars, Broadway performers, Madison Square Garden boxers, senators, mayors, Wall Street tycoons and even the President of the USA.

Second World War

Having being proclaimed medically unfit for the army, Kingsley contributed to the war effort by organising concert parties around barracks, ships, and airfields. He would often appear on the bill of theatre productions as "Rex Kingsley and his amazing Sunday Mail discoveries'. When he wasn't performing he was involved in fund raising and received an MBE in 1952 for his tireless work.

During the war Kingsley presented a 'sports page' for the Scottish Half-Hour programmes, which was subtitled the 'Tak Tent'.

Rex Blind Parties

Kingsley's greatest legacy is the charity he founded which provides live commentary for visually-impaired people at football matches in Scotland. Decades after his death, the organisation has continued to flourish with parties at most grounds in Scotland and, at the time of writing, there are currently more than 200 members listening to a Rex commentator every week.[17] Its current honorary president is David Tanner MBE (also chairman of the Rangers Blind Party), whose father Jimmy Tanner was one of the 12 blind men who took part in the original scheme, and whose son is a Sky Sports commentator. In an article, David Tanner explained how the style and content is very different from broadcast commentaries:

The thing about commentating for the blind is that you have to keep up with play. There's nothing more frustrating than when you hear Archie McPherson or one of the other commentators say 'Goal!' and you don't know whether it's in your goal or the other goal. The blind supporters like a fast-moving up-to-date commentary, and they also like a biased commentary. For example, the other week I said the referee had given Rangers a free kick just outside the penalty box, and added that I didn't think it was a free kick. One of the younger blind supporters answered: "It looked more like a penalty to me!"[18]

History

The genesis of the scheme came to Rex Kingsley on Christmas Eve 1937. Nearing the end of a late night shift at the Evening News, he remarked to his colleague, Albert Mackie, how he always felt rather remorseful at Christmas, thinking about all the unworthy things he had done. Mackie suggested the only solution was to try to do as many worthy things as possible "so that the memory of the unworthy becomes faint". It was only later, after they changed subject, that Kingsley hit upon his idea. Recalling an occasion at Dens Park, Dundee, when a man standing behind him on the terrace was describing the game to two blind companions, he told Mackie:

The commentary was poor. The commentator was doing his best, but leaving long gaps until one of his companions would press towards him eagerly and ask huskily what was happening now. I'd done dozens of radio commentaries by this time. On an impulse, I turned round, explained my identity to the speaker, and asked if I might take over from him for a little to give him a rest. He was obviously relieved and delighted. I finished that game for these two blind men — and waiked out of that ground feeling better than ever before in my life.

Realising there were many other blind people who could benefit, he discussed the idea of a scheme with the superintendent of the Royal Blind Asylum in Glasgow, who arranged a party of 12 blind men. Kingsley called Cathkin Park where Third Lanark were due to meet Hearts, and the board of Third Lanark generously reserved the necessary seats free of charge. Kingsley placed six of the party in front of him, while he sat in the middle behind them with another three on either side. However, he got a shock when he discovered that the noise of the crowd in the stand was so great that, unlike a BBC broadcast, he had to shout at the top of his voice to be heard. Nonetheless he kept at it, "remembering that every time I stopped talking I was pulling the curtain down over my party's eyes". After the game he had been particularly struck by the reaction:

Outside the ground, the blind fellows were still excitedly discussing the play, aye, and arguing about it. “So-and-so played a good game.” “Ah, but you mind yon time he missed an open goal. Did ye see the expression on his face?" I swallowed a lump that time. I looked at the other fans coming out. Not a smile on any face. They thought it a poor game. We get so little happiness from so much… the blind, so much from so little...

A football supporter gave Kingsley a ten-shilling note and the Rex Blind Fund was started. However, it was only in 1939, when Kingsley was asked to make the annual radio appeal in This Week's Good Cause on behalf of the Wireless for the Blind Fund, that he realised just how many blind persons there were in Scotland, and how his own meagre efforts to entertain 12 blind men were barely skimming the surface of the problem. With £250 in donations from various people, he proposed buying season-tickets for the stand at every First and Second Division ground, and arranging commentators and parties all over the country, so that there would be a blind party at every senior game every Saturday afternoon.

Plans were delayed by the Second World War — blind parties were considered inadvisable in the event of air-raids — but when they resumed in 1945 there was a considerable amount of goodwill for the scheme. Clubs refused to take any money for the tickets and nearly a hundred offers came in from people volunteering to be commentators, including school teachers, engineers, clerks, and even a wounded RAF pilot.[19]

Links

Rex Kingsley Footballer of the Year Award

Between 1951 and 1964, the 'Rex Kingsley Footballer of the Year' was an award given annually to the Scottish footballer who was adjudged to have been the best of that calandar year in Scottish football. The award was handed out by Rex himself. As there were no Football Writers' awards (until the SWFA awards in 1965) or Players' Association awards (until the PFA Scotland awards in 1978), the Rex Kingsley award was generally considered to be the most prestigious of its type at the time.

Rangers supporter

Rex Kingsley was a Rangers supporter.[20]

Quotes

He wrote fondly of his time at the BBC. He joined in his early twenties, but the BBC made him "do things I'd hoped to do at forty. For a BBC studio sees a travelling belt of humanity pass through."

l learned how to talk to rich and poor in their own language, how to humour the crank, disarm the aggressive, encourage the timid — all these things and more without a ruffling of the old school tie. For a BBC announcer would be permitted to lose his dignity only when he had lost the power of breathing. It took me some time to assimilate all this. I had been brought up in a tougher school, a school which declared if a man was a fool he should be treated as such. The BBC said if a man was a fool he should be treated as sensible so that he would be prevailed upon to take his foolishness eisewhere. I'm grateful to the BBC for that.

He also wrote that the BBC gave him "restraint, dignity, and good manners":

They used to declare that if a Speaker involuntarily hiccuped in front of the mike, the announcer listening on ear-phones would immediately mutter, "Excuse me."[21]

His match report on the Third Lanark–Rangers game (score 1–2) which appeared on 3 September 1939, the first day of the Second World War, offered a somewhat different take on the treatment of war:

Doesn't it get you down? Just when the youngsters in football are busy earning their spurs — and how they're earning them — this German clown [Hitler] upsets everything. Here was a game where youth looked old in football skill. The field was sprinkled with youngsters — Waddell, Sinclair, Thornton, McNee, Stephenson, etc., youngsters with talent bursting for release. The halt in their football career which seems imminent may spoil everything.

Death

Rex Kingsley died on Christmas Eve 1974 at the age of 73. He was survived by his wife Billie and three children, Robin, Pat, and Norman.

According to journalist Jack Webster, he achieved his three ambitions in life: to own a Rover car, a bungalow in Giffnock, and to earn a modest £1,000 a year.[22]

In 2001 fellow sportswriter and broadcaster Alex Cameron paid tribute to Kingsley:

He really was a man way ahead of his time. He really was the most entertaining of writers. And essentially that's what he was — an entertainer. He was a proper showbusiness character. Loved coming in that wee bit late at big sports occasions, like championship boxing tournaments, and to be seen being recognised by all his many friends and acquaintances as the well-known character which he was. And when you read some of his material now, it's as refreshing and contemporary as anything that's being written. He really was a one-off.[23]

References

  1. The broadcast, on 8 October 1923 at 7.30 pm, was a local version of a similar performance taking place simultaneously at the BBC's London station, 2LO.
  2. Rex Kingsley, I Saw Stars (Aberdeen: Aberdeen Journals, 1947), 18-19.
  3. Kingsley, 21.
  4. 'Dundee's Week-end Broadcast', Evening Telegraph, 5 January 1925, 3.
  5. Kingsley, 22.
  6. Kingsley, 29.
  7. Filson Young to Assistant Controller, Programmes, 'Report of visit to Northern Stations', 7 June 1927, BBC WAC R13/369/1.
  8. D. Cleghorn Thomson, 'Northern Area Director's Quaterly Report on Staff', 11 July 1927, BBC WAC R13/369/1.
  9. Kingsley, 32.
  10. Kingsley, 35.
  11. Director General to Controller, 26 February 1929, BBC WAC R49/571/2.
  12. This was either 21 September 1929 or 25 March 1931.
  13. Kingsley, 39-40.
  14. Kingsley, 40-41.
  15. Kingsley, 59.
  16. Kingsley, 62.
  17. Rex Blind Parties website
  18. Unidentified article by Neil Alexander, sourced on messageboards at FollowFollow.com.
  19. Kingsley, 157–60.
  20. Tony Smith, Gordon Smith (Black & White Publishing, 2011).
  21. Kingsley, 31.
  22. Jack Webster, 'Legendary Rex was no dinosaur', Scottish Daily Express, 2 April 2001.
  23. John Burrowes, Glasgow: Tales of the City (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2001), 207.