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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Obituary: John Peel
John Peel
John Peel: Witty, unaffected and avuncular
Broadcaster John Peel was the champion of British music for nearly 40 years on his late-night Radio 1 show. He led the way in promoting new acts, from David Bowie, through Joy Division to the White Stripes.

John Peel was, at first sight, the antithesis of many of the bands he loved. Balding, bearded, softly - if hilariously - spoken, he was more like a favourite uncle than a rock fan.

Yet Peel's uncompromising encouragement of new talent transformed the face of music all the way from hippy to house.

His Radio 1 show ran three nights a week and in 1998 he became the presenter of Radio 4's Home Truths, which won four Sony Radio awards in 1999.

He also presented a programme on the BBC World Service, taking his passion for new music to the wider world.

He was born John Robert Parker Ravenscroft in Heswall, near Liverpool, in 1939. The son of the owner of a cotton mill, his childhood was blighted by his distant parents and he was brought up mostly by a nanny.

He attended Shrewsbury public school, which he hated, an ordeal which was offset by the moment he first heard Elvis Presley singing Heartbreak Hotel.

David Bowie
David Bowie was one of his earliest proteges
"Everything changed when I heard Elvis," he later reflected. "Where there had been nothing there was suddenly something."

After National Service between 1957 and 1959 he went to America. With Beatlemania in full swing, John Peel and his Liverpudlian connections proved irresistible and he soon became a DJ for WRR radio in Dallas.

He once said: "They'd got this idea that if you lived in the UK there were probably only a couple of hundred people and they were all bound to know each other."

Returning to England in 1967, he joined the pirate station, Radio London, before transferring to the BBC's new national pop channel, Radio 1. He was to remain there for the rest of his life, the only survivor of Radio 1's first line-up.

Changing styles

Right from the outset, Peel changed the rules. He played every track without interruption, to the delight of those wishing to tape his show, while providing a witty and knowledgeable running commentary, seemingly a million miles away from the transatlantic platitudes of many of his colleagues.

In the early days Peel championed acts like Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Captain Beefheart, as he did throughout his career, by giving them studio-time to record legendary "Peel sessions".

The Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols: Peel championed punk rock
But, in the mid-1970s, John Peel moved away from the mainstream rock of Jimi Hendrix and The Who to a new and radical sound, punk.

Bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash paved the way for new Peel discoveries like Joy Division and the Undertones, whose Teenage Kicks was his all-time favourite single.

The 1980s brought further joy, most notably in the form of The Fall and The Smiths, both refreshing counterblasts to the increasingly bland fare of the charts.

More recently, Peel had branched-out, presenting Home Truths, an eclectic programme about family life, and provided typically droll interjections for BBC TV's Grumpy Old Men.

He received an OBE in 1998 and earned a place in the Radio Academy Hall of Fame.

Three years ago he was diagnosed with diabetes.

He continued to remain at the cutting-edge of popular taste, featuring 'world' music and rap alongside good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll.

A lifelong fan of the Archers and a dedicated follower of Liverpool football club, he lived in Suffolk with his wife Sheila, affectionately known as The Pig.


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