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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 17:02 GMT
Jimmy Young: Too old?
Jimmy Young: Still strong and on air
As MPs table a Commons motion calling on the BBC to keep Jimmy Young's Radio 2 programme on air instead of handing it to a presenter a little younger than the veteran JY, Chris Jones of the News Profiles Unit looks at the man who says he would be happy to die at the mike.

He may be small, elderly and relying on a replacement hip, but he is wiry, still in possession of his faculties and retains the fighting qualities he showed as a lad in the boxing ring in his home town of Cinderford in Gloucestershire, in the Forest of Dean.

Let's be honest - he was, in his own words, "hopeless". But there is a tenacity, an inner resolve, about the man born Leslie Ronald Young that has seen him through many a crisis in his improbable life.

When he became a founding DJ at Radio 1 in 1967, few would have envisaged him becoming an interviewer of prime ministers; every one of them since Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

Surprising then, that the one-time pop singer says: "Sitting alone in front of a microphone, or having a one-to-one with John Major or Tony Blair is the only thing I'm really cut out to do."

Jimmy Young singing
The crooner: He had three Number One hits
Unlike his previous career. In the 1950s, after a producer spotted him singing at a swimming club, Young had a string of hits, including three Number Ones: Too Young, Unchained Melody and The Man From Laramie.

But performing on stage in front of thousands was "hell on earth" for the former RAF PT instructor who, unlike his public image, is shy and introverted.

"I wasn't put on this world to 'strut my stuff' in front of hysterical, screaming women", he said. "Everything I was doing scared the pants off me."

Nevertheless, when his ballads were driven from the charts by the advent of rock'n'roll and his career faded fast, he turned to drink. "I told my doctor how depressed I was. He gave me sleeping pills, which I started collecting in case it all became too much."

But a two-week spot on radio's Housewives' Choice led to more BBC work, and eventually, in 1973, to Radio 2. It was his own idea to mix high-profile political interviews with consumer advice and records.

Jimmy Young and Lady Thatcher
JY meets MT: He interviewed her 14 times
But, according to Jimmy Young, BBC bosses expected the revolutionary format to have only a brief life.

No longer did Young sing live on air as he had in other shows; instead, there was "What's the recipe, today?", catchphrases like TTFN (Ta Ta for Now) and interviews with prime ministers that were initially derided, but gradually attracted grudging admiration as JY honed his skills.

Margaret Thatcher, who dropped in for a chat with Jimmy Young 14 times, described him as a formidable inquisitor and Labour's Roy Hattersley agrees. "His technique is courtesy with a cutting edge," he says.

"He rarely interrupts, is never rude and hardly ever raises his voice. He simply asks questions which are all the more difficult to answer because the listeners know that they are being posed by an eminently reasonable man."

"You catch more flies with honey than vinegar", says Young. "I hold conversations. I am a listener."

In Who's Who, Jimmy Young simply lists his birthdate as 21 September, and omits the year. But it seems he lied about his age to join the RAF as a 15-year-old and it has been suggested that he is now 80, and not 78 as he claims.

Jimmy Young in the studio
On BBC Radio 2 since 1973: Jimmy Young in the studio
But whatever his age, the more than five million listeners who tune in to the JY Prog each weekday detect no diminution in their host's enthusiasm and energy.

He says he has been changed a great deal by his third wife, Alicia, at least 28 years his junior, whom he married secretly in Florida in 1996.

"She has brought me peace, sanity and understanding," he says. Jimmy Young will no doubt be calling on those qualities as speculation mounts about his future and he waits to hear whether "orff we must jolly well go".

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30 Oct 01 | Entertainment
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