LONG RUNNERS / No 36: John Peel
Frequency: twice a week, and holding. Traditionally, the Peel slot was 10pm till midnight, Monday to Thursday. Shifted to mid-evenings in 1988 - a move seen by many as an attempt by authority to lose hiscore audience and then slip him out the back way while nobody was looking. Later cut to two slots a week (post-pub Friday and late afternoon Saturday) at his own request, so that he could spend more time with his family ('I know this sounds like the kind of excuse that people make when they get chucked out of the cabinet').
Ratings: around 400,000.
Who listens? Traditionally, students. But research has suggested that Peel appeals to a wider age-range than any other Radio 1 DJ - 'a non-sectarian audience', in Peel's own phrase.
Format: Peel plays a lot of records from what has frequently been described as 'the cutting edge of popular music' - he has given breaks to everybody from The Cure to Joan Armatrading. He plays his role down, though: 'It's a bit like a newspaper editor claiming credit for the news.' The content of the programme has changed over the years. He started out as the godfather of flower-power, moved on to become the godfather of progressive rock, and in 1977 reinvented himself as the godfather of punk. A few years ago he was into rap, but 'it's too difficult to find stuff that isn't either grotesquely sexist or absurdly violent'. These days it's 'a lot of kind of dancey stuff, the trance ambient stuff, because it sounds like the people I used to play millions of years ago, Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream. A lot of noisy guitar players, a lot of Zaire by way of Paris and a lot of Kenyan music, but only because I bought about 170 Kenyan records off somebody.'
So does he never play the same thing twice? On the contrary. His playlist reflects strong loyalties to, for instance, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, and Mark E Smith's The Fall ('I know it's babyish to have a favourite group, but if I do have one they're it'). His favourite single is 'Teenage Kicks' by the Undertones ('Probably the closest anybody's come to making the perfect record').
Does he play any chart stuff? No, partly because he feels that once a group has made it they don't need him any more, partly because 'I have mixed feelings if bands go on to be successful - it can be a destructive process'.
What does he do apart from play records? Commission 'sessions' - recordings done specially for the show. The Peel session is a revered institution, and has spawned its own record label (Strange Fruit). The record for the most sessions is held by the Scottish bizarrist poet and harmonium player Ivor Cutler, with 21 since 1968; second place goes, naturally, to The Fall. The other thing he does is talk, in a laid-back pseudo-Liverpudlian drawl (he's from Merseyside but went to public school, and acquired the accent as a career move in America at the height of Beatlemania). The flow of modest chatter and mild sarcasm, delivered in distinctive trailing cadences, is funny and appealing. Many people listen for Peel rather than the music.
What is his status? He has a reputation for playing The Music They Tried to Ban (though he points out that the BBC hardly ever bans anything). The public regards him with affectionate awe: he has been voted Melody Maker DJ of the Year every year bar two since 1968. By going out of his way to avoid being a personality DJ, he has created an unrivalled personality cult.
The bottom line: is it any good? The question's hardly relevant - even people who never listen will admit Peel's value as a promoter of new music, and many who haven't heard him for years still name him as their favourite DJ. But a straight answer is: very variable - the music is sometimes wonderful, frequently appalling (and the older you get, the more it falls into the second camp). But as a precious and irreplaceable natural resource, Peel is up there with North Sea oil.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 10 ways we damage our teeth – without realising
- 2 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 3 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
- 4 Photo of wedding guest proposing to girlfriend in front of bride and groom goes viral
- 5 Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: it's just gravity — not a Mexican demon being summoned
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
ASAP Rocky gives nauseating response to explicit Rita Ora rap: 'I'm not saying she's a terrible person'
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'