In the summer of 1973, a convoy of red, white and blue caravans arrived in Newquay, Cornwall. A gaggle of technicians and hired hands duly checked into a seafront hotel, and awoke the following morning to erect a small stage that had the appearance of a glorified burger van.
By 10am, a crowd of several thousand had amassed, whooping and hollering in expectation of that morning's entertainment. When it arrived, it proved to be simple but undeniably effective: Alan "Fluff" Freeman playing records and regaling the crowd with his unmistakable repartee, while his assistants selected members of the crowd for ritual self-humiliation. Such was the basic recipe for the Radio 1 Roadshow, which changed little for the 26 summers that it endured.
Now, however, things have changed and this week it was announced that the Roadshow is dead - instead, the station will centre its summer itinerary around the altogether more vogueish idea of "one-day mini-festivals". The stop-off points say it all: though Plymouth and Bournemouth are included, the rest of the schedule is based on urban centres rather than the seaside. "The roadshows were great but we're moving on," said a spokeswoman. "We've done a similar coastal route for more than 20 years. This gives us an opportunity to visit bigger venues in towns and cities that we haven't been to before."
The Roadshows were an integral part of both the British holiday experience and Radio 1's public profile. The numbers they attracted said it all: each day, DJs would broadcast in front of crowds rivalling Premiership football matches.
"They were bizarre events," says Nicky Campbell, now a presenter on Radio 5 Live. "Walking out onstage at 10 in the morning in front of 30, 40, 50 thousand people - you'd start on a Monday, and by Wednesday you were as mad as a fish. You actually start to understand why rock stars start to think they're Jesus. The only conversations you were having were with this hysterical throng."
Some strange souls even planned their vacations around the Roadshow's schedule, seemingly addicted to the masochistic mixture of baking-hot concrete, melting ice cream and free promotional tat. "A lot of them were anoraks, in the truest sense of the term," says Campbell. "I did my Roadshows in the early Nineties, and you'd get people proudly turning up in early-Eighties Radio 1 jackets. I remember one guy handing me a cassette and saying 'I've made a tape of your best 50 DJ handovers with Bob Harris. Deeply strange people."
The Roadshow's undoing, it seems, was the chasm that eventually lay between the events' audiences and Radio 1's desired listenership. It now aims at a more sophisticated demographic than the working-class families who would turn up at Bognor or Ayr - and besides, its current roster of DJs would be decidedly uncomfortable with the buffoonery the Roadshow required. The Old Guard, by contrast, had no such problems. Mike Read's Roadshow gimmick involved him firing autographed tennis balls into the crowd; Noel Edmonds marked his arrival at one event by broadcasting live from the cockpit of a Red Arrows display plane.
The keeper of the Roadshow's flame was one "Smiley Miley", a Radio 1 employee named Tony Miles whose job it was to plan the yearly campaign. He was accorded a strangely high-profile role, hosting a segment of the show in which members of the audience were invited to guess how far the Roadshow convoy had travelled so far. It was also part of his self-accorded brief to play "zany" pranks on the DJs.
Campbell saw much of this on his first roadshow tour. "Mike Read was on stage, halfway through the show, when he caught sight of his car being lowered into a lake. He just said 'Oh, Smiley Miley's done it again'. Hilarious, I'm sure."
Such tomfoolery has the unmistakable smell of old-school, "Cheers mate" pop radio - the world so neatly sent up by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse in their roles as Smashie and Nicey. In fact, it's surprising that the Roadshow lasted as long as it did: Johnny Beerling, the controller who thought the Roadshow was Radio 1 in excelsis, was replaced by Matthew Bannister in 1993, and the likes of Dave Lee Travis and Simon Bates inevitably perished - but the annual seaside trek remained.
"It was the last vestige of a world that had long gone," says Campbell. "If you've got a station with Pete Tong, Tim Westwood and Judge Jules, you can't stick yourself at the end of the pier wearing a 'Kiss Me Quick' hat. It just doesn't work."
The anoraks who used to religiously turn up to each and every Roadshow must be inconsolable. Campbell, however, remains proudly unmoved by the event's demise. "Let's just say that I don't think the world is in mourning."Reuse content