I recently started reading The Nation’s Favourite: True Adventures of Radio 1 by Simon Garfield which chronicles the changes at Radio 1 that began around 1993 with the appointment of Matthew Bannister as Controller of the station. Long-serving DJs such as DLT and Simon Bates disappeared, and more re-organisation happened backstage. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it that much, as it could have been a very dry piece of non-fiction. But this is the most gripping book I’ve read since Kitchen Confidential as it almost entirely consists of statements direct from the DJs and management of Radio 1. It’s a fascinating exercise to navigate between these colossal egos to divine the truth of what happened, and to whet your appetite I present a few of the best snippets so far…
Matthew Bannister: Simon Bates was hugely influential, and used to run a web of gossip and intrigue from his studio in the morning. He’d get the Golden Hour underway, and then he’d be on the phone most of the show plotting and doing deals and trying to undermine the management. Being summoned to Simon Bates’s studio was like being summoned to see the boss. Most of the DJs detested each other. Bates hated [Steve] Wright because Wright was a threat. Wright hated Bates because Bates was a threat. They both hated DLT.
John Peel: [At one Radio 1 Christmas Party] Kid Jensen, Paul Burnett and myself — not a carefully honed fighting team, but nevertheless filled with drink — we went down and waited in the underground carpark at the BBC for the opportunity to beat up Simon Bates. Fortunately he didn’t turn up, or we might have suffered an embarrassing reverse, as he’s probably stronger than us.
Matthew Bannister: [Talking about his revamp of the BBC’s London radio station, GLR, before he joined Radio 1] Shortly before the review [of the revamp] was due, I tried to influence the outcome by inviting members of the board of governors round to see the station. When Baroness James visited I had to tell Chris Evans not to skateboard down the corridor with only his underpants on, which was something that he liked to do.
John Peel: In earlier days there were times when senior management at Radio 1 seemed to be rather surprised that I walked upright and used knives and forks … at one time I was regarded within the corridors of the BBC as being the Baader Meinhof Gang of British broadcasting, and treated with a certain amount of terror.
It used to be that we had a controller, name of Muggeridge … When the BBC was looking for the man to do this job they quite naturally chose someone who until that time had been head of the Chinese section of the BBC World Service. Once he had got the job he interviewed various DJs one after another, and I was last in. I think he thought I would do something unpredictable and startling, like rub heroin into the roots of his hair. He was sitting at his enormous desk, a sort of Dr Strangelove position. At some point the conversation I mentioned public schools, and he brightened up a little at this idea, as if at some stage in my life I had actually met somebody who had been to a public school.
I said, “Actually, I went to one myself.”
He went, “Extraordinary! Which one?”
He was assuming it was some minor public school somewhere on the south coast. I said, “Shrewsbury.”
He said, “Good heavens!” At this stage he was getting quite elated. “What house were you in?”
I told him, and he said, “How’s old Brookie?”
It was clear that he thought, Whatever he looks like, and whatever sort of unspeakable music he plays on the radio, he is still one of us. I think for a long time it was this factor that sustained me at the BBC.
Nicky Campbell: My accent has never been exactly hard Gorbals — “See you Jimmy!” — just sort of light Edinburgh. Every time DLT saw me, and Mike Read was the same, they used to say, “Och aye the noo, it’s a braw, moonlich nich, the noo!” — extraordinary to have to deal with it.
John Walters: I went to see [former controller Paul] Chinnery [about proposals to fill a gap between daytime Radio 1 and John Peel’s show at 10pm] and said, “Peel and me have achieved a certain status over the years, and we know what it is we’re doing. I’m just pointing out that we’re not going to change just because you might be playing the New Seekers at 8.30.” Then I said, “Well, what sort of music are you going to put in there?” I knew pretty certainly that Derek didn’t know a crotchet from a hatchet. He knew famous names, more of a career BBC man. So he didn’t know any names, frankly, and he didn’t want me to laugh if he said the wrong ones. He said, “On Noel [Edmonds]’s breakfast show, for the kids going to school, on a scale of 1 to 10, he’s playing music that’s 1 and 2. With Bates it gets to 3 and 4. Throughout the afternoon we move on to 5 and 6. But John’s show, as you know, is perhaps a little too much 9 and 10.” Then I said, “But we’re back to the same question: What sort of music will you instruct producers and disck jockeys should be used in that in-between period?” He looked at me as if I’d gone mad and was a complete idiot and said, “Well it’s obvious — 7 and 8!”
Andy Kershaw: This Nelson Mandela memo from Johnny Beerling — isn’t that remarkable? [Reads:] “The official title of this event is Nelson Mandela — An International Tribute for a Free South Africa, but after discussions with John Wilson, Controller Editorial Policy, we have agreed that on air we will refer to it not by this title but under a variety of names, i.e. the international tribute to Nelson Mandela, the Nelson Mandela concert, a musical celebration for Nelson Mandela … I do not want any confusion between the rock’n’roll show business elements and the political nature of it.”
You’ve got a whole day’s broadcasting and you can’t once mention the fact or refer to the fact that he’s been incarcerated for twenty years, and you can’t make any reference to the fact that he’s now free and what this means for South Africa.
The thing about Radio 1 then was that it was end-of-the-pier show and people knew that it was end-of-the-pier show. Now they think they’re smart.
Matthew Bannister: Any schedule reshuffle at Radio 1 is a matter of playing three-dimensional chess in the dark with your hands tied behind your back, because you move one bit, and then everything falls over. One person comes out of my office and tells someone that they’ve got a new slot, but the person they’re telling is in that slot at the moment and doesn’t know if they’ve also got a new slot or are being fired. So you have to do the whole thing really fast, and you have to plan even the smallest schedule change in absolutely the right sequence, so that hermetically sealed pockets of it can be concluded without upsetting people. People who are being promoted come in first, then people who are being demoted come in afterwards. But even then you have to see the promoted ones in the right order, because they’re the ones who are most likely to spread rumours. Also, if someone says no to a move, it upsets everything.