We live our lives in the blink of an eye. Without doing it consciously, we get old and our ageing is soundtracked by people or events. This ‘soundtracking’ is usually only something we can see with hindsight and retrospect. And it is with these that I speak of Tony Blackburn.
As a lonely 11 year old living just outside of Brighton, having moved from a farm in South Wales to live with my grandparents, I had no friends, and was yet to start my new school as it was the summer holidays.
Sounds sad now, but back in those days there was no social media or way for kids to make friends outside of school. My days were long and alone and boring.
It’s cliché, but my radio became my friend. I was a bit too young to fully understand but I listened to these friendly voices on the pirate radio stations.
It was here that I first discovered Tony Blackburn and got to know him and feel he was actually talking to me and cheering me up. I seem to recall he was on mid-mornings / afternoons on the pirate ship Radio London (Big L), but he was the one I always listened for, despite me also being tuned in to my other ‘radio friends’.
Later he was on Radio 1 at breakfast getting me up for school, and so on, soundtracking my journey into and through my teens.
Time passed and it wasn’t long until I was in my late 20s. Wow. Time moves so fast. By now I lived in London and had a nodding acquaintance with BBC Radio London. It had been a strange mixture of ‘straight’ (boring?) programming, and then one day Tony Blackburn popped up.
I believe this was whilst he was also doing Junior Choice at weekends on Radio 1.
BBC Radio London seemed to have virtually no ‘needletime’ (back in those days the Musicians Union required that a very limited number of actual records be played on the radio. Library music, live music, and music from shows or films was exempt from this restriction) and so Tony was on mid-afternoon with a fast moving show of … songs from the Sound of Music, etc.
He also had unintentionally weird features like “Arthur Hall” reporting from, I think, Network Rail with travel news. Arthur sounded like 150 years old and almost a parody of such an announcer. Over the weeks Tony developed more and more bizarre ways of introducing him – with cheers and fanfares. Does anybody remember this?
After a while, when needletime restrictions ended (these days radio stations can play as much as they want, as long as they pay of course), BBC Radio London was re-lauched as a soul and disco station. Personally, I think this was its finest hour as a radio station.
It was also, in my humble opinion, Tony Blackburn‘s finest hour. He took over the mid morning show and played the music he loved, plus took calls and messages to air. It was a very happy time, with him ‘flirting’ with the callers and raising a laugh with double entendre and innuendo (like ‘whipping out his 12 inchers’) and became compulsive listening.
I know that a lot of people would vote for Pick of the Pops as being his ‘finest hour’, and in many ways I agree, despite having a pathological hatred of oldies. But, I do have extremely fond memories of him on BBC Radio London back in the mid 1980s when both he and the radio station were sounding brilliant.
For many people of my age, Tony really did soundtrack our lives, making us smile and enjoy the journey of growing older we didn’t realise we were on at the time.
That’s why this whole episode with the BBC makes me so very angry, and why I feel we must do what we can to help stand with him against those who are using him as a scapegoat. It’s to say a thank-you for him being there for me. For us.