Here at Young Academic HQ, we have been marking John Peel Day by listening to all of our favourite albums, many of which were championed by the man himself during an epic career. We’re sure that none of you need reminding who John Peel was or what he achieved, but we have decided to mark a truly important day with a quick little reminder.
John Robert Parker Ravenscroft (OBE) was born on 30th August 1939 in a small Wirral town by the name of Heswall, which is incidentally home to a range of high profile footballers and often frequented by such figures as Paul McCartney. He was born into an upper middle class family and attended Shrewsbury School as a boarder. It wasn’t long before Peel started to make an impression as an ‘eccentric’ and ‘perceptive’ writer and music fan. Peel completed his studies successfully and also finished national service as a radar operator before returning to the north-west of England.
Peel then made a foray into the cotton industry that his father had worked in all his life. This resulted in his travels to the States where Peel also managed to get a number of scoops for his local rag – the Liverpool Echo. Legend even has it that he managed to the arraignment of Lee Harvey Oswald. Further jobs in the rapidly evolving computing industry helped Peel to get his first job on the radio and the rest as they say is history.
John Peel’s emergence as one of the mildest mannered, respected and thoroughly endeared DJ’s then started to take shape back in the United Kingdom. He worked for offshore pirate radio stations in London on such shows as the ‘Perfumed Garden’ and adopted his stage name of John Peel. A Radio London Secretary had suggested this to help Peel to adopt a distinctive radio manner.
Radio London closed down in 1967 leaving John Peel with the arduous task of finding a radio job in the late sixties. Music was obviously booming in the United Kingdom and had become one of the most competitive markets in show business. It didn’t take long though and Peel started with aplomb, landing a role with the BBC’s new pop station – BBC Radio 1.
John Peel spent the rest of his life unearthing talent, interviewing the stars and broadcasting shows that kept people tuning in time after time. Programmes such as Night Ride, Top Gear found resounding success and Peel brought artists as significant as John Lennon, Marc Bolan and Mick Farren on to his shows. Indeed, these guys became his close friends.
John Peel died suddenly at the age of 65 whilst working in Peru on 25th October 2004. Peel had spoken very briefly about death saying; “I’ve always imagined I’d die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette and people would say, ‘He would have wanted to go that way.’ Well, I want them to know that I wouldn’t.” His funeral on 12th November 2004 in Bury St Edmunds was attended by more that a thousand people and readings were undertaken by his brother Alan Ravenscroft and DJ Paul Gambaccini. His favourite song ‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones was played as his coffin was carried out and the chorus is all that accompanies his name on his headstone.
We encourage you to delve further into an intriguing career of a man that truly shaped pop music for decades. For that reason, we will spoil it no more. Just find some of the aforementioned shows of even some Peel Sessions, Festive Fifty or Dandelion Records and Strange Fruit to discover just how important it is that we continue to mark John Peel Day. There was no DJ before the great man and the last decade has shown that the likelihood is that there never will be…