Anniversary of much-loved DJ's death sees legacy grow

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The Independent Culture

It is a recording of Bill Oddie, now the nation's favourite twitcher, singing the Yorkshire folk song, "On Ilkley Moor Bah 'Tat" in the raucous style of Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help From My Friends". Peel kept it in a battered box alongside more than 100 other favourites by artists as varied as Status Quo and the White Stripes.

The novelty album was released on Peel's own short-lived Dandelion record label in 1970 with Oddie backed by Cocker's legendary Grease Band. It was, say Peel's friends, simply typical of the man's eclectic tastes.

The disclosure of the contents of the box of Peel's favourite records - to be featured in a Channel 4 documentary - is one of a number of events, including concerts, records and broadcasts, over the next few weeks to mark the anniversary of the disc jockey's death and which cements his position as a national treasure. Peel died aged 65 from a heart attack while on holiday in Peru on 25 October last year.

The scale of the commemorations is unprecedented, particularly for someone renowned for being enormously self-effacing. "I think John would have been both very embarrassed and thrilled by all that is happening,'' his former manager and friend, Clive Selwood, told The Independent. "John always suppressed his own celebrity status; he would have been sitting there saying 'Oh, come on...'."

Many of Peel's friends and fans have also raised a cynical eyebrow at the way in which Radio 1, with whom the disc jockey often had a fractious relationship, is now devoting so much time to celebrating his life, declaring 13 October to be John Peel Day. The station is sponsoring a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the night before and dedicating six hours of programming to Peel on the day itself. Hundreds of live gigs are taking place. One friend said: "He often had a difficult relationship with them when his programme was moved all around the schedules and sometimes felt he was being ignored. They would only wake up and realise what they had when he won yet another award.''

Similarly, there is amusement that it is the right-wing Daily Telegraph that has bought the rights to serialise Margrave of the Marshes, the autobiography begun by Peel before his death and completed by his widow, Sheila Ravenscroft. The book is being published on 17 October.

Peel was said to have been "deeply embarrassed" about the £1.5m advance paid by publishers Transworld. He finished a large section of the book, but lost about 70,000 words when his computer crashed. The book details his early life, time at Shrewsbury School and his national service. It is being kept under wraps, but there has been speculation it will include details of his alleged sexual abuse at the school as well as his visit to Dallas on the day of the Kennedy assassination, when he was said to be one of the last people to speak to the President.

Transworld said: "You can hear the unique Peel voice in every sentence - rarely, if ever, before has a voice been so successfully transferred to paper." The publishers say the second section, written by his widow, is an "intimate portrait" of life with Peel.

Booksellers are banking on the autobiography, which is also being serialised on Radio 4, to boost sales before Christmas. Two unauthorised biographies released after his death last year both sold respectable amounts.

The title, said Selwood, is typical Peel: "He stuck to it despite resistance from the publishers. The word "Margrave" means "count" in medieval German and the marshes, of course, was where he lived in East Anglia." He added: "What can you expect from someone who once wanted to call his radio programme Stenhousemuir 2, Cowdenbeath 2, in honour of the lower reaches of the Scottish football league."

The Channel 4 documentary focuses on a mere fragment of his vast record collection, accumulated over more than four decades. No decision has yet been taken by the family about its future and it has not yet been fully catalogued or valued. The British Library, which had informal discussions with Peel several years ago about acquiring the archive, remains keen to open talks.

In celebration of a legend

* 12 OCTOBER John Peel memorial concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, featuring New Order, The Fall, Super Furry Animals, Laura Cantrell

* 13 OCTOBER John Peel Day. More than 300 gigs around the country and abroad, with artists such as KT Tunstall and Bloc Party taking part. BBC Radio 1 broadcasting six hours of Peel-related programming

* 17 OCTOBER Publication of Margrave of the Marshes, by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft. Warners releases a double CD of some of Peel's favourite tracks, approved by his family and including Lonnie Donegan, T Rex, Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart. Part of the profits will go to charities supported by Peel

* 22 OCTOBER A special edition of Radio 4's Home Truths, which Peel presented for several years, will be broadcast from Peel's family home in Suffolk

* 24-29 OCTOBER Margrave of the Marshes is Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4. Sheila Ravenscroft's parts will be read by the actor Carolyn Pickles, but the actor who will read Peel's sections has not yet been chosen

* 14 NOVEMBER Channel 4 broadcasts John Peel's Record Box, an examination of the box of his 140 favourite records. The show was researched by one of his sons, Tom.

* 21 NOVEMBER Release of a version of the Buzzcocks classic "Ever Fallen in Love" - one of the records in Peel's box - recorded by Roger Daltrey of The Who, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and others as a tribute. Profits will go to Amnesty International. Peel will be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame on the same day

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