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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Piecing together John Peel's life
Sheila Ravenscroft
Mrs Ravenscroft found John Peel day 'enormously touching'

Sheila Ravenscroft, the widow of the late broadcaster John Peel, has spoken about how she and the couple's four children pieced together articles, recordings and diaries to complete his autobiography Margrave of the Marshes.

Peel died last year having written around 52,000 words of the book - which he considered the halfway point.

His death left gaps, however, between the point he had reached in writing and the time he had met Sheila, in 1968.

Peel's diaries from 1967 survive, but the time before that, when he lived in America, was "a problem," Mrs Ravenscroft told BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme.

"Obviously we couldn't fit it all in - we've obviously done our research, and found out articles he's written about it. We've filled in what we can."

Writing style

Peel did, in fact, keep diaries while he was in the US, but they have since disappeared.

Mrs Ravenscroft also revealed that she had not initially planned on completing Peel's book, until she read a newspaper headline which claimed the family would be doing it.

"Up until then I hadn't even considered it for one second," she said.

John Peel
He loved the idea that his programmes, and the music that was enormously dear to him, was being heard all over the world
Sheila Ravenscroft
"We hadn't even really talked about what we were going to do with the stuff that he'd written. It was more the children than myself who said, 'we really could do it' - I was quite reluctant, because I didn't feel enormously confident about it."

Mrs Ravenscroft and her four children then put together by giving each other "homework" - piles of books, diaries or recordings, on which they took notes.

They would then regroup every few weeks, and pieced it together afterwards.

"William says the reason that we did it was that we couldn't let John's bit of the book be published ending, as it did, with John giving somebody a lift to a brothel," she joked.

"He felt it was important that people didn't think that was how he met me."

Mrs Ravenscroft said they did not attempt to copy Peel's distinctive style in their writing, and that to do so would have been "appalling."

"John had a very special way of writing. It was like he was talking to you. I think it would have been wrong of us to try and copy that. And anyway, we couldn't have done it."

BBC man

Meanwhile, Mrs Ravenscroft also talked about Peel's trips with the World Service, and recalled in particular that they had enjoyed a visit to Zimbabwe to such an extent that "John seriously said at the end of it, 'I would just love to come and live here'.

"We adored the music, and had done before we set off - but actually going there and experiencing it, and the warmth of the people - there was nothing whatsoever that wasn't charming about the whole trip.

Sheila Ravenscroft and four children
The family put the book together through 'homework'
"It was the whole ambience of the place. We just loved it."

She added that working for the World Service meant "an enormous amount" to Peel.

"He loved the idea that his programmes, and the music that was enormously dear to him, was being heard all over the world," she said.

"He was a very BBC man, steeped in it. He felt very strongly about it."

Mrs Ravenscroft also explained how wherever they went, Peel would make a point of going on the markets and trying to buy cassettes. He would then go home with "an enormous quantity" of the music.

"He didn't see any point in going to all these places for the World Service, and then going back having bought covers of British stuff," she said.

"So he would come back with their music, and compile programmes - so he could show where he'd been and what music they ought to have a taste of."

And she added how she hoped Peel had left a legacy.

"All you've got do is think about 13 October [John Peel day] - it sends shivers through me," she said.

"It's more than we ever thought would happen - more than Radio 1 thought would happen too. They're completely bowled over by it.

"I think the fact that people want to do that, no matter how big or small, shows that people are still thinking about it, and still appreciate his effect on their lives. I think it's enormously touching."

The full interview with Sheila Ravenscroft can be heard on BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme on Thursday at 0932 BST (0832 GMT).

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