Listener's Guide

John Peel Remembered

There is that traditional memory test asking where you were on the day President Kennedy died.

Not a clue, but when we lost John Peel, I was near a radio, as ever.

John stumbled into radio, almost by accident, because of his enthusiasm for music. He was a blues-loving Englishman, working in the Dallas Cotton Exchange while trying to decide what he wanted to do with his life. He heard a blues programme on local station WRR. He had brought some blues LPs with him from home - some European releases that maybe the DJ had not heard. Could he come in and play them?

The success of the Beatles made it very fashionable to be an Englishman in America. John, like a number of other British broadcasters, suddenly found his talents were in demand. And the fact that he grew up near Liverpool was an added bonus. He could be the Fifth Beatle. Radio stations were eager to hire him.

In 1967 he came home to Britain. Offshore pirate Radio London knew that they would be closing down in a few months time and gave him a job purely on the basis of his experience in America. John soon found himself out in the North Sea playing the Fab 40 on the nation's most popular pirate. Born John Ravenscroft, he came to be known as John Ravencroft on the air in the States. A secretary in Big L's Curzon Street office suggested his new name. He became John Peel.

Happy to cover graveyard shifts, he took care of the late night show London After Midnight. Knowing nobody from HQ would be listening, he slipped in the odd personal choice on occasions. Odd was Velvet Underground to us, perfectly normal to him and a growing audience.

London After Midnight became The Perfumed Garden by stealth. It was 1967, the summer of love, and new bands were emerging everywhere. Late night radio listeners are frequently more enthusiastic than their daytime counterparts and, in John, they had found a presenter they could relate to. He was not a phoney. He was himself.

The Perfumed Garden was a unique and bizarre blend of Winnie the Pooh, San Francisco psychedelia, poetry, some of the more adventurous singles from the Big L playlist, John's thoughts on peace and love, the latest releases from obscure English hippies and the odd burst of the blues. We sat listening on an R107 which also acted as a bedside table.

John was only on Radio London for a few short months. He joined the station on 8th March 1967; it closed down in August. It is only to be expected that the obituaries and tributes published elsewhere concentrate on his long and illustrious career with the BBC. But those of us who heard him in 1967 will never forget his unique programmes. John was a great broadcaster who introduced millions of listeners to new and exciting music. And he was still doing it right up until his death.

John constantly moved forward as he discovered new music, stuff he couldn't wait to share with us. Our lives have been enriched as a result. He was one of a kind and will be hugely missed. I spent 35 happy years in the vain hope I'd like the next track he played.