Tony Blackburn is a British radio broadcaster who was a colleague of John Peel at Radio One from 1967 to 1984. The pair, who were long seen as rivals, also worked together in 1967 at the pirate station Radio London.
Relationship with John Peel
The Peel-Blackburn rivalry first arose when the two DJs worked together on the MV Galaxy, the ship which housed the pirate station Radio London. Blackburn, who had transferred to Radio London after making his name on rival station Radio Caroline, was one of the station's stars, established as the breakfast DJ, with a clean-cut boy-next-door image and a smooth, cheerful presentation style. Peel only joined the station in March 1967, around two years after Blackburn had made his radio debut on Caroline. Although Peel's late night Radio London programmes, firstly London After Midnight, then The Perfumed Garden, soon gathered an enthusiastic listener response, they had to give way at weekends to a soul music programme introduced by Blackburn during his stints on the ship - much to Peel's irritation.
This situation ended when Blackburn left Radio London some weeks before the station closed down - like other leading Radio London DJs, among them Kenny Everett and Keith Skues, he had been offered work on the BBC Light Programme, with the Corporation already planning to introduce its own pop network later in the year. Peel, by contrast, remained on Radio London until the end, unsure whether he would obtain any DJing work at the BBC, as is apparent from the interview he gave to Oz magazine in September 1967.
Radio One - the "best DJs"
When Radio One eventually began broadcasting, it was Blackburn who was taken on in the role he had inhabited on the pirate stations - the bright and cheerful breakfast show DJ, in what was to be for many years the most prestigious spot in the station's schedules. Ironically, the first record he played on the station was The Move's "Flowers in the Rain", a pop single which took its theme from the hippy "flower-power" trend with which Peel had been associated. Blackburn's rise to national stardom was assured, but Peel, supported only by station controller Robin Scott, producer Bernie Andrews and his faithful Perfumed Garden listeners, was given a temporary contract as co-presenter of Top Gear, having a precarious status at the Corporation until he was given sole presentation of Top Gear in early 1968.
Later that year Peel won several "Best DJ" awards, surprising everyone, including an enraged Blackburn who had expected to win and at times mocked Peel's seriousness on-air. The rivalry between them became more intense, Peel identifying himself with the music (and attitudes) of hippies, students and other young people keen to bring about social change, and Blackburn happy with the status quo and content to remain within the world of light entertainment and show business, which Peel detested. What was worse from Peel's point of view was that the Radio One management were increasingly on the side of Tony Blackburn - he retained his breakfast show, while in 1969, despite Peel's successes in DJ popularity polls, his Night Ride was axed, while Top Gear lost its producer and its Sunday afternoon slot.
A clip of a 1960s TV interview showed a cutout cardboard head of Blackburn among Peel's record shelves at home:
- Peel:That’s there basically as a cautionary tale I think, because it seems to me with the best will in the world that Tony has become a victim of this star-building DJ thing and I think it is very sad.:
At the time John's flat was off the King's Road at the Fulham end. I sometimes sat with him on Tuesday evening, which was for some reason, singles night! He'd sort through the week's (mainstream) releases, playing the openings and then tossing them into a heap. If he really hated a record he'd frisbee it into the coal fire. I still remember a Tony Blackburn single getting that treatment.
Their rivalry lasted well into the 1970s, although Peel's dislike for television work meant that he became less fashionable (he even lost to Bob Harris in one 1971 DJ popularity poll) and therefore less of a threat to Blackburn and his supporters. Peel was happy to be out of the limelight but continued to express irritation not just with Tony Blackburn but also with most of his Radio One colleagues. Many of the DJs of the early Radio One era (and later) were extremely flamboyant and actively sought as much media coverage as they could get. Peel clearly had little respect for DJs who indulged in such behaviour, with Tony Blackburn perhaps his great nemesis in this respect and referred to dismissively for many years as "Timmy Bannockburn".
Eventually, however, his rivalry with Blackburn, despite being polar opposites in terms of musical taste, came to be of a fairly friendly nature. Blackburn described himself and Peel as the Yin and Yang of Radio One.
- Blackburn: Were we enemies? Erm, I don't know what we were, really... he thought I was the devil incarnate because I liked Barry Manilow. Anyway, he kept having a pop at me, so I had a go back. I still maintain that if you had asked people in the street, "Do you prefer John Peel or Tony Blackburn?", most of them would have said John Peel because they wanted to look cool. But how many actually listened to his show? People are very good at appearing to be cool. But not that many of us actually are.
In May, 2010, Blackburn discussed, among other things, his relationship with John Peel with Guardian journalist Paul Morley. On 18 May 2013, Tony Blackburn played the Fall for probably the first time, when one of the featured years on his Radio 2 show 'Pick of the Pops' was 1987, and the band had been enjoying one of their few Top 40 singles, a cover of R. Dean Taylor's "There's a Ghost in My House".
Amusingly, Blackburn collaborated in the reading of what is presumably the old rhyme 'D'ye ken John Peel' (which long predates and does not refer to his then Radio 1 colleague) on a 1977 Ronco album: The Encyclopaedia of Children's Stories and Nursery Rhymes.After Peel's death, one of the BBC Radio One producers discovered a tape, where Peel collaborated with Tony Blackburn covering a Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand song called You Don't Bring Me Flowers. The song was played on 28 October 2004 during Steve Lamacq and Mary Anne Hobbs tribute show to John Peel. The track may have been played sometime in the 80's as a promo, but was never released as a single.
Top Of The PopsTony Blackburn appeared as a co-host with Peel only in occasional, multi-DJ episodes of Top of the Pops during the 1980s. They never appeared as joint hosts, largely because Blackburn didn't feature in the TOTP rotation during Peel's most active years on the show.
Peel and Blackburn were interviewed together on the Wogan programme in 1987 in a joint BBC-1/Radio One simulcast to celebrate the radio station's 20th birthday, Blackburn as the man who hosted its first-ever programme and Peel as the only one of the original DJ lineup still working there.
- JP: I used to think that Tony here was the Anti-Christ. I really did, you know, because he represented everything that I found disagreeable about broadcasting when we first started. I mean, Kenny Everett and I used to get together to try and plot his downfall. Whereas now I like to think that Tony and I would probably work to cause Kenny Everett’s downfall if we got the chance. That’s how things have changed.
This Is Your Life
Tony Blackburn was among the guests when Peel was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1996.
- TB: I always looked upon you as the mystic Meg of the 60s.
- JP: I used to think of him as being like the Anti-Christ of British radio. I have to admit that after several conversations with him when we used to have those ludicrous Radio One football matches, I came around to thinking ... although in a sense we disagree about almost everything, we kind of ... met in a way, in the sense that we both cared - this sounds corny - but we both cared about music and we both cared about radio.
- TB: It's very annoying actually. In the end we actually liked one another.
- JP: We did, yes. Until this moment.
- 29 April 1980: JP: "Congratulations are due tonight to Blackburn - Rovers, not Tony - up to the Second Division."
- 15 April 1981: 'The White Cliffs Of Dover (album - Tony Blackburn Sings)' (MGM)
- 21 April 1981: There, I've Said It Again (from unknown album)
- 12 May 1981: 'I Can't Make Your Way (LP-Tony Blackburn Sings)' (MGM)
- 19 May 1981: 'We've Never Spoken (LP Tony Blackburn Sings)' (MGM)
- 28 May 1981: Peel had been playing some old Tony Blackburn records on his shows and the artist himself turned up for a late-night chat about them on JP's programme. Peel suggests an LP could be a good idea.
- 01 June 1981: Hey, You In The Crowd (LP? unknown)
- 30 September 1982 (recorded 1982-09-21): As Radio One's elder statesmen, Peel and Blackburn co-hosted a "Heroes And Villains" concert to celebrate the station's 15th birthday.
- Smashie And Nicey: The End Of An Era (1994) Blackburn and Peel both made cameo appearances in the final installment of the TV comedy, along with Alan Freeman and Kid Jensen.
- The Radio One Story: A TV documentary marking 30 years of Radio One in 1997 included interviews with Peel and Blackburn. Among other things, Peel recalls the celebrated Fun Day at Mallory Park with the Bay City Rollers in 1975, when Blackburn was also present.
- 28 October 2004: 'You Don't Bring Me Flowers (duo with John Peel) (The track was never released as a single, but was used as a promo).
- Wikipedia: Tony Blackburn
- I'm King Of The Swingers
- Guardian: Paul Morley celebrates Tony Blackburn's plummy, sunny, urgently relaxed DJing style
- Pirate Radio Hall Of Fame: Tony Blackburn