'I don't like to talk about my charity work, mate.' What became of the Hairy Cornflake and chums?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They called it the Happy Sound and at the height of its popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s 17 million listeners tuned in.

They called it the Happy Sound and at the height of its popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s 17 million listeners tuned in.

The men at Radio 1 - and with the exception of Annie Nightingale and Janice Long they were all men - were as celebrated as pop stars. These were the crackly days of the medium wave band, before deregulation, when commercial radio was in its infancy and digital was something DJs wore on their wrists.

The spectacular failure of Mike Read's new musical venture, Oscar Wilde (it folded after just one performance and dire reviews), has rekindled memories of the days when Read, Wright, Powell, Travis and Bates stalked the land. It also came in the week when the station broke back through the psychologically crucial 10 million mark, while Chris Moyles scored the highest breakfast show figure for three years.

According to Simon Garfield, author of The Nation's Favourite: True Adventures of Radio One, the station will never recapture its lost glory. But behind the faux friendliness and the poptastic lifestyles, the "big beasts" to be found on the waveband at 275 and 285 were far from happy with each other.

Garfield says: "These were huge dinosaur egos clashing with a strong element of paranoia thrown in. They were big beasts who each ran their little empires. They were terribly protective about everything, from who was getting the best T-shirts to give away to who got the flashiest car to take them to the roadshow."

The stories are legion. According to Marc Goodier, the station split along two camps: the music buffs - such as John Peel, Andy Kershaw and David Jensen; and the entertainers - Steve Wright, Dave Lee Travis and Simon Bates. "When I arrived Bates was the Don," he recalls. But Bates was not universally admired among his colleagues. The station's mythology recalls how Peel and Jensen lay in drunken wait planning to beat up Bates in the BBC car park. The attack never materialised. Peel also recalls his irritation at how Read would complain about being recognised in the street - despite having ventured out wearing a tartan suit, strumming a guitar.

"These guys would get recognised in a lunatic asylum," says Garfield.

Rivalries and feuds had long hampered the station. The success of Radio 1 is critical to the wellbeing of the corporation and BBC bosses nurture it as an "on-ramp" for listeners. The theory is that 14-year-olds get the listening habit with Moyles before growing into The Archers. The creation of the pop channel was itself part of a rearguard action to combat the threat of the pirate DJs. "It is essential that young people don't see the BBC as an old and conservative institution that doesn't talk to them," says Garfield.

Fears that it was becoming irrelevant led to the infamous "night of the long knives" in 1993 when Matthew Bannister, a former Newsbeat presenter turned controller, purged the station of some of its longest-serving DJs, bringing in Chris Evans, who helped to reposition the station among younger listeners. The Fast Show's Smashy and Nicey - modelled on Read and Alan "Fluff" Freeman - later turned the old guard into figures of fun.

But Bannister set in motion the great Radio 1 diaspora. Wright went to Radio 2, as did Johnnie Walker, "Whispering" Bob Harris, and Alan Freeman.

Travis was sacked after in effect resigning on air, but stayed at the BBC presenting A Jolly Good Show on the World Service before joining Three Counties Radio. Gary Davies went to Virgin while Bates was shuffled out after calling for Bannister's resignation in the wake of free-falling listener figures. He went to Classic FM, where he was later joined by Goodier. A stage show of the travails at Radio 1, based on Garfield's book, was performed at the Edinburgh Festival.

The loosening of Radio 1's stranglehold and the emergence of new channels has been the salvation of DJs dumped by the station. Many have brought their fans with them, particularly at Radio 2, which, bolstered by the likes of Wright and Walker, now commands an audience of 13 million. Bates's new redoubt at Classic FM attracts six million listeners.

LIFE AFTER RADIO 1

Simon Bates
Style: The daddy of them all.
Early career: In New Zealand and Australia.
Radio 1: 1976 - 1993.
Claims to fame: Millions wept at his 'Our Tune' feature, read out over the score of Zeffirelli's 1968 film, 'Romeo and Juliet'.
Where is he now? Weekday Breakfast Show, Classic FM.

David 'Kid' Jensen
Style: He was the original kid with cred
Early career: Born in Canada; Radio Trent
Radio 1: 1975- 1985
Claim to fame: Descendant of Robert Louis Stevenson, the author, and mate of John Peel
Where is he now? Classical Gold, a digital and internet radio station playing 'golden oldies'.

Peter Powell Style: He was everybody's mate.
Early career: Mobile DJ.
Radio 1: 1977-88.
Claim to fame: Married (and divorced) Anthea Turner. Was chairman of website Worldpop, the first sponsor of Radio 1's official UK top 40 chart.
Where is he now? Showbiz agent to presenting duo Ant and Dec.

Mike Read
Style: Pop trivia king, famed for "hilarious" impersonations of R1 colleagues.
Early career: Club singer, cricket commentator, DJ at Radio 210, Reading.
Radio 1: 1978-1991.
Claim to fame: Pal of Cliff Richard; banned Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Relax' (it went to No 1).
Where is he now? Oscar Wilde musical closed after one night.

Dave Lee Travis
Style: Known as 'The Hairy Cornflake'...
Early career: Radio Caroline
Radio 1: 1968- 1993
Claim to fame: Resigned on air; invented "snooker on the radio" on his weekend show. Once caused a fuss by telling listeners to protest against seal clubbing
Where is he now? BBC Three Counties Radio

Ooooo ... Gary Davies
Style: Young, free, single and permanently tanned
Early career:
Radio 1: 1982-1993
Claim to fame: Invented Willy on the Plonker piano competition and was well know for his 'Bit in the Middle' radio
Where is he now? Doing internet radio and television voice-overs

Tony Blackburn
Style: Unremitting good cheer mixed with terrible jokes
Early career: Radio Caroline, minor pop stardom for a while
Radio 1: 1967-1984
Claim to fame: Won I'm A Celebrity ... 2002. Hosted first legal soul station
Where is he now? BBC Radio London

Comments