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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
A man 'who always had a tale to tell'
By Steve Lamacq
BBC 6 Music presenter

John Peel
The legendary DJ died while on holiday in Peru a year ago

Almost a year after John Peel's death, DJ Steve Lamacq remembers his friend and colleague, and assesses whether Peel's autobiography gives a true insight into the man he knew.

Some years ago, as part of Radio 1's Sound City - a week-long event where we were shipped out of London to broadcast from a series of hot-ticket gigs - one of the promotions team had the bright idea of putting on an Audience With John Peel.

Peel would talk about his life, or his love of pop music, while yours truly was handed the job of sitting on stage with him acting as straight man.

"Basically," I remember telling him, "they want me to ask you a few questions, while you tell all those old stories the rest of us have heard a hundred times."

Eyes blinking, he looked up from a pile of records and said, in that gloriously dry modest voice of his: "But Steve, they are very good stories."

And they were.

Some of John Peel's anecdotes were becoming so well known, even by that point, that the packed crowd in a hall in Oxford started requesting them by name. "John, can you do the one about the Bay City Rollers?"

John Peel
In the book, Peel wrote about his unhappy time at Shrewsbury School

So he did. In fact, if John had been a band he would have done his Greatest Hits set, and several encores afterwards, as people thrust demos into his hands.

One of the dreadful results of his death last year is that we'll never again get to hear him - as we did in radio studios, record shops and wine bars - telling us about his run-ins with pop stars, members of the BBC hierarchy and of course, fond tales of his family.

His autobiography Margrave Of The Marshes, however, gathers together many of his fantastic tales.

Without giving too much away, you do get the Bay City Rollers at the Mallory Park fun day and the one about the woman who used to send him money through the post because she was convinced that John was her lover.

And although he wasn't there to finish it, John lives large on every page

But Margrave is much more than a light-hearted collection of after-gig stories.

As already reported, John's part of the book, written before he died last October, gives a detailed insight into his upbringing and a stoic account of the harsh realities of public school life.

But while John wrote about the boy, his wife Sheila - who completed the book - talks brilliantly about the man.

Using quotes from his diaries and little vignettes of life at Peel Acres you get to see John's life and radio career from a new angle.

John Peel
Peel broacast on Radio 1 from 1967 until his death last year

His insecurities, his occasional mood-swings and the real depth of his love for new music all come through as she plots his course from pirate radio to becoming the sometimes undervalued dynamo of Radio 1.

And although he wasn't there to finish it, John lives large on every page, not least in her retelling of his brief fling with Top Of The Pops.

After co-host Janice Long introduces David Cassidy by saying "Oooh David Cassidy, I used to have him on my bedroom wall", there is but a brief pause.

Then John adds: "That was very athletic of you Janice."

Now that's another very good story.

  • Steve Lamacq presents Lamacq Live, Mondays 9pm-1am on Radio 1 and on BBC 6 Music 4-7pm weekdays.

    BBC Radio 1 to host John Peel Day
    23 Aug 05 |  TV and Radio
    Family to finish John Peel book
    30 Nov 04 |  TV and Radio



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