Peel wanted to leave collection to nation

The broadcaster John Peel held discussions with the British Library about leaving his extraordinary record collection to the nation prior to his death last week.

The Radio 1 DJ, one of the most influential figures in music over the past four decades, amassed an unrivalled array of vinyl, CDs and tapes from around the world. His exhaustive collection, made up of many of the bands he loved such as the Fall, the Undertones and obscure African acts as well as early demos from bands that went on to make it big, ran to hundreds of thousands, all carefully stored in alphabetical order.

It would be the biggest and most important batch of material ever deposited with the national Sound Archive, which is held by the British Library. It is not clear what will happen to Peel's collection because his will has not yet been made public, if indeed he made one.

Peel's widow, Sheila, and other members of the family are still in Peru, where he died of a heart attack on Monday while on a working holiday. They are arranging the return of his body and are expected back in the UK early this week.

The archive's curator for popular music, Andy Linehan, visited the DJ at his home in Suffolk to examine the stack of music which had to be housed in a purpose-built extension owing to its size. "It's a fantastic collection. The nature of the material that was sent to him was the kind of stuff that we couldn't possibly get hold of," he said.

The Sound Archive, largely housed at the library in St Pancras, London, runs to around 2.5 million important recordings. Unlike the library of print publications, there is no legal requirement to deposit material, so it relies on donations and acquisitions.

Peel had been a tireless champion of new music from the days of mid-1960s psychedelia when he first began broadcasting in the UK as a pirate DJ. His enthusiasm helped many of the world's biggest bands find an audience, including Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and the White Stripes, during his 37 years at Radio 1.

His death at 65 left the music world in mourning and prompted glowing eulogies from those who are indebted to his patronage such as Elvis Costello, Feargal Sharkey and Jarvis Cocker. His friend Roger McGough yesterday presented a special edition of Home Truths, the Radio 4 series Peel created looking at the quirks and strains of family life. It featured some of the most memorable moments from the show.

Peel's long-time manager, Clive Selwood, confirmed the discussions with the British Library. "The idea certainly had favour with him, but we'll just have to see what happens. We would have to act in the best interests of the family. It should stay in England, but I've got to try to look after the interests of the family. This was his great asset. He was never a great saver of money."

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