Wednesday, 14 January 2015
60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Heather & Peter Foster
HEATHER and Peter Foster’s voices will be known to thousands who have visited a local hospital over the years. For almost half a century they have been behind the microphone in Weymouth, Dorchester and even Bournemouth. Many will have seen Peter whispering into a microphone at most of the county town’s bigger events, bringing “the outside in” for patients. Others will know the couple for their involvement in the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust – the couple can often be found running the station at Harman’s Cross on the Swanage Steam Railway.
YOU were both brought up in Dorchester. Peter was a Thomas Hardye Pupil and Heather at St Genevieve’s. Where did your paths first cross?
Heather: We were working in the health service as clerical officers at the time, in the NHS Executive Council for Dorset, which was then in High West Street in the building now occupied by the Natiowide Building Society. Peter cornered me in the cloakroom and asked me out. We had a few trips out and about but it wasn’t long before he invited me along to hospital radio which then became a regular feature in our lives.
HOW did the interest in hospital radio start?
Peter: I have always loved radio, from Children’s Hour and the Toy Town Plays. I saw an advert for volunteers to join the new hospital radio at Dorchester County Hospital, when it was in Princes Street. I applied and a man came to see me at home with a large ferrograph tape recorder and asked me to read a request out, which didn’t go too well; then I read some news items which he quite liked and after that a formal letter was sent asking me to come along for some trial sessions and training. I’ve been doing it virtually every day since then.
AND has it always been at Dorchester?
Peter: Mostly, but we were at Weymouth Hospital from 1968 to 73; Bedside in Bournemouth from 1973 to 86 and for a short spell at Herrison.
Heather: It was usually Dorchester on Wednesdays and Thursdays after I became involved and Bournemouth at the weekends. We are both keen on classical music so we would also go along to various societies as well, and then he got me interested in railways as well through the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust! We’ve been involved with that formally since 1981 and have been running the Dorchester group since 1987. We started as volunteers with the Swanage Steam Railway in the mid-1980s when they were looking for more helpers. We always seemed to be busy.
WHAT skills do you both bring to the things you do?
Peter: Heather’s far more technically minded than I am and she’s taught me a lot about computing. She’s also vital for what we do as she drives and I don’t. It was just something I never got around to.
Heather: I like to dabble in things and try and keep up to date – although I’ve never seen the point of Twitter. It took us a while to get a mobile phone, but I got one before Peter… and he still can’t text!
WHAT have been the highlights of your times behind the microphone?
Peter: We always love going up to London for the Mayor’s Show. This year was one of the best ever, and the Royal events are always lovely. At the 50th anniversary of the Coronation I was stood commentating and Glenda Jackson was just behind me. I wondered if I should talk to her, but decided I would and she chatted for quite a while, which was amazing. Overall all sorts of people have been generally very cooperative over the years and the Dorchester area is such a good place for event.
Heather: More often than not we find ourselves with more to do than hands available to do them.
DO the pair of you ever get a day off. I hear you were working on Christmas Day?
Peter: Very rarely. Christmas Day is usually one of our longest days. This year we were in from 10am until 6pm, but we did have a pre-recorded programme in the middle of the day so we found time for lunch in the Damers Restaurant. We’d recorded the morning service at St Peter’s and Heather edited it for broadcast in the afternoon. The Mayor came in during the morning; we had a Weymouth lunchtime concert and ‘Carols by Train’ which we had pre-recorded at Swanage with other volunteers, the Wareham Town Band in the luggage van and carols from the platform.
HAS the station changed much over the years?
Heather: Technology has made our job easier when it’s working alright, but when it goes wrong life can get a little tricky… there’s no wind-up back up these days we can turn to if things go wrong, but overall there has been very few occasions when we have been forced off the air. Having said that our computers now need new hard-drives and the mixing desk is getting to the end of its life so we will need to find the money, from somewhere, for replacements.
Peter: And just at the moment we’ve got a very strong team of around 25 volunteers, including a few outstanding youngsters, one of which is about to start a BBC engineering apprenticeship, although it’s fair to say most of us are in the older age-bracket.
SO does that mean you will be planning your retirement?
Heather: Peter has been saying he’ll retire from this at 40 years, at 45 years and so on, so we’ll wait and see.
Peter: It will be the 50th anniversary of hospital radio in Dorchester in September 2016 and I have said that’s the time I will be out of the door.
AND would the pair of you find enough to do if you did stop?
Peter: We’ve got plenty to do. There’s always the railway, the recorded music society, an archive of cuttings and I’ve started writing a book about my 50 years in broadcasting although I’m not sure anyone much would want to read it.
Heather: I dabble in many things but I’ve been doing a family history for many years, which is fascinating, and I’ve often thought I could make a career out of it.