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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
Selling the John Peel legend
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

A string of events and products are honouring John Peel on the first anniversary of his death on Tuesday. But is there a risk of going too far and turning the humble DJ into a showbusiness commodity?

John Peel
John Peel died on 25 October 2004 while on holiday in Peru
Among the old Peel Session LPs and vintage copies of the NME, a trawl for Peel-related items on eBay turns up such gems as the John Peel tulip and a John Peel cross-stitch kit ("to create your own portrait of the great man").

Since the venerated broadcaster died suddenly, his many admirers have been looking for ways to express their sadness and affection.

One year on, the tributes are coming thick and fast.

A double CD featuring 40 of Peel's favourite songs has just come out, while artists from Sir Elton John to The Futureheads have teamed up for a tribute single.

Peel's autobiography, Margrave of the Marshes, has just been published - after two unofficial biographies were rushed out following the DJ's death.

TV documentaries will be shown on BBC Four and Channel 4 and a website,, has been set up as a home for new music.

John Peel cross-stitch kit from eBay
The cross-stitch kit is made by a non-profit shop in Bristol
All this comes after Glastonbury renamed its new bands tent the John Peel Stage and BBC Radio 1 hosted John Peel Day featuring more than 500 tribute gigs around the globe.

"He would have welcomed the stage at Glastonbury because it really was his favourite venue," says former manager and friend Clive Selwood.

"And he would have welcomed the Radio 1 live gigs on John Peel Day.

"The rest of it, I think, he would have said 'oh come on', and he probably is saying that somewhere."

The flurry of tributes prompted The Sun showbusiness columnist Sean Hamilton to write that Peel should be allowed to "rest in peace".

On music industry messageboard Record of the Day, comments said "nothing sets them tills ringing like a good death" and "this post-Diana sanctioned public grief" was "not very Peel".

Shane O'Leary, editor of the Unpeeled fanzine, says sections of the music industry had exploited Peel's name and ethos.

John Peel's family
John Peel's family have approved the major tributes
On 13 October, dozens of bands and promoters "were just sticking the words 'John Peel Day' to their tickets and flyers and hoping to add bums on seats", he says.

"Not because the band had anything to with John Peel, but just because they thought quite rightly that it might make more money for them."

But all the major tributes have been approved - and, in some cases, organised - by Peel's widow Sheila Ravenscroft and their four children.

Mrs Ravenscroft recently said it was "enormously touching" that people staged so many gigs on John Peel Day and "still appreciate his effect on their lives".

She and the children completed Peel's autobiography, which he started before he died, and Peel's brother Francis Ravenscroft dismissed the unofficial books as "distasteful".

Three of the UK's four major record labels are also involved in sanctioned Peel projects.

Family 'in accord'

The compilation CD, released by Warner, was compiled by radio veteran Nick Stewart with help from Mrs Ravenscroft.

The family were consulted at every stage and the CD was changed when they made suggestions, he says.

"I wanted to make sure that Sheila and the family were in accord with what we were doing and I'm happy to say that they were," Mr Stewart says.

John Peel
Peel "would have eschewed all that deification", his ex-manager says
Three charities chosen by the family will receive money from the album, and the amount will depend on how many copies are sold. If the CD sells 300,000, the charities will share 100,000, or 33p per CD.

EMI is releasing the tribute single and says Peel's son Tom Ravenscroft has been "instrumental" in putting it together.

Part of the proceeds will go to Amnesty International, although a spokesman for the single declined to disclose how much the charity would get.

Its 21 November release has been timed to tie in with Peel's induction into Channel 4's UK Music Hall of Fame.

Tom Ravenscroft was a researcher on another Channel 4 show, John Peel's Record Box, and has also set up the website with Mr Selwood to showcase new bands.

The pair took the idea to record label Universal, which agreed to host the site. "They're paying for it all in the hope that they find the next generation of recording stars out of it," Mr Selwood says.

Universal 'proud'

A Universal spokesperson denied the company was hoping to profit from Peel by using the site to find successful new bands, saying that was "absolutely not our motivation" and they were "just really proud" to host it.

As for the other tributes, the tulip was dedicated by the Spalding Flower Parade in Lincolnshire with the support of Mrs Ravenscroft and proceeds going to young musicians in the event.

And the cross stitch kit was created by a non-profit shop and gallery in Bristol, The Here Shop.

Peel "would have eschewed all that deification that's currently going on", Mr Selwood believes.

"Death is very often referred to as a good career move," he says, referring to rock stars like Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.

"But that's not so with John. He was very much at the height of his popularity and his creativity. It's a tragedy."

Tulip named to honour John Peel
23 Aug 05 |  Suffolk
New books on Peel 'distasteful'
06 Dec 04 |  Suffolk


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