Ken Bruce recalls ‘stress’ of broadcasting Queen’s Christmas message

The BBC’s Radio One presenter Ken Bruce has revealed he was so stressed at the thought of hosting a live broadcast that he had to take his medication before going on air.

Ken Bruce and the Quenn's Christmas message

The Christmas greeting from the Queen is a long-standing tradition over the holiday season. (Photo courtesy of PA/)

Ken Bruce has disclosed that throughout the 1980s, the BBC employed three backup tapes and an auxiliary power generator as a precaution before broadcasting the Queen’s Christmas address.

Between 1986 and 1990, when conducting his daily mid-morning program on Radio 2, the veteran broadcaster, 70, was part in the festive transmission on many occasions.

Despite the fact that he merely had to touch a button on his desk to get the tape rolling, he claimed the duty caused him’special stress.’

‘I offered to come in live on the big day for a number of years,’ he wrote in the Radio Times.

‘With a concert from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., I could put the turkey in the oven at 7 a.m. on a low heat setting and come home in time to pull it out perfectly cooked for lunch.’ There was no traffic on the roadways, and I felt pleased with myself for assuming I was doing a public service.’

‘The specific tension came in the shape of the Queen’s Christmas address,’ he revealed, indicating it wasn’t all easy sailing.

Ken Bruce

For numerous years, Ken Bruce broadcasted live on Christmas Day (Picture: Pictures Archives)

Queen Elizabeth II sits in the library during the recording of her annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth in 1993

From 1993, the Queen’s Christmas message (Image courtesy of Picture Archives)

‘It was carried on the radio in the mornings back then, around 10 a.m. in our case on Radio 2.’ This was a grade one broadcast, which meant that nothing could go wrong.

‘The timing had to be perfect; the introduction lines had to be spoken precisely and with gravity, and I had to hit the button on my desk to start the tape rolling.’

‘I had to initiate a backup at the same time in case the first failed.’ Another studio next door was also running a copy to account for the risk of both failing.

‘You could assume that this is enough to keep you safe. However, this is not the case. In case of a power outage, the generators in the basement of Broadcasting House were turned on as a last resort.

A video grab taken from Queen Elizabeth II's video message, which was played during a welcoming reception at COP26 on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021

The Queen’s most recent speech from abroad was delivered in early November to international leaders at COP26 (Picture: AP)

‘On Christmas mornings, none of these fail-safe procedures were ever required, but their very presence added to my anxiety.’

See also: Christmas

The notion of the meticulous planning that had gone into ‘keeping a simple procedure from being screwed up by a half-witted presenter’ made Bruce question his ability to click the right button at the right time.

‘After that, forgetting the bread sauce or burning the roast potatoes was no longer an issue,’ he continued.

The whole article may be found in the current issue of Radio Times.

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