Alan Freeman

Presenter of 'Pick of the Pops' whose career as a DJ - 'Greetings, pop pickers!' - began in 1952


Alan Leslie Freeman, disc jockey: born Melbourne, Victoria 6 July 1927; MBE 1998; died Twickenham, Middlesex 27 November 2006.

Alan Freeman's consummate broadcasting skills enabled him to maintain his position as one of Britain's most popular disc jockeys during a remarkable five-decade career. His relaxed, radio-friendly voice won the trust and respect of generations of listeners. Familiar catchphrases like "Greetings, pop pickers" and "Not arf!" had just the right blend of enthusiasm and subtle self-parody to endear him even to the most cynical.

Despite the growth of more verbose, style-conscious DJs, "Fluff" Freeman's popular success had more to do with a smart delivery and basic elocution than any ultra-hip image. Working closely with his producers, Freeman always ensured the message got across, without holding up the music.

On his regular BBC Radio chart show, Pick of the Pops, he developed a formula that was both efficient and entertaining. He perfected an early use of the "soundbite"; rationing his chat, keeping the music flowing, yet enthusiastically feeding listeners the information they actually wanted, about the records and their chart positions. It was a policy that was appreciated as much by the artists and the music industry as the public, and resulted in Freeman's consistently winning popularity polls and business awards.

Although inevitably referred to as "a professional" and in later years as "a veteran", Freeman maintained a closeness to his audience and a relaxed informality that eluded slicker, more youthful presenters. His love of music, from rock to the classics, gave him a credibility that was closer to John Peel than Tony Blackburn.

Although never an "underground" or "pirate" DJ, Freeman assiduously worked his way out of the public's original perception of him as a showbiz smoothy. Even though he was an established radio star by the early Sixties, there was a period when he became better known for his television commercials than for a passion for pop. Peter Cook once slyly introduced the DJ at a Melody Maker Poll Awards party by saying: "And here comes Alan Freeman - wearing his Brentford Nylons!" - a dig at Freeman's relentless campaigning on behalf of a firm of bed-sheet makers. Freeman was himself a witty speaker at public functions, effortlessly commanding attention, yet knowing just when to stop and hand over.

Mercilessly sent up in the early Nineties by the comedians Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse in their "Nicey & Smashie" DJ spoofs (Freeman was the model for the bespectacled Bachman-Turner Overdrive fan "Dave Nice"), Freeman enjoyed the joke so much he appeared in the "Radio Fab" sketches himself. His armoury of catchphrases was now supplemented by the cry of "Pop-tastic, mate!"

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1927, the son of a waitress and a timber worker, Freeman studied classical music and hoped to be a professional singer. However, his baritone voice lacked the qualities needed for a career in opera, and he decided to utilise his love of music and a mellifluous speaking voice by working in radio.

In 1952 he joined the Melbourne station 3KZ, where he was presenter and DJ. He read out the commercials and even sang the occasional ballad. One of the first records he played on air was Kay Starr's 1952 hit "Wheel of Fortune".

When rock'n'roll burst on the scene, he visited England for a holiday in 1957. He was unimpressed by the BBC's musical output, but decided to stay on and took a job as a summer relief DJ for the more pop-conscious Radio Luxembourg. After two years he was courted by the BBC Light Programme. In 1960 he began presenting Housewives' Choice and in 1961 launched his own show, Records Around Five. It was the first time he used his stirring signature tune, "At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal". Some say his nickname "Fluff" came from his fellow presenters in reference to a woolly jumper he wore (though others put it down to his sometimes fluffing his intros on air).

In September 1961 he was asked to introduce Pick of the Pops, then a segment of the Saturday evening show Trad Tavern. It was then that Freeman began using his trademark phrase "Greetings, pop pickers". He recalled later:

Trad was happening and I loved the music. David Jacobs was presenting Pick of the Pops and they wanted to incorporate that into Trad Tavern, a live show with an audience. David didn't care for standing up in front of a jazz audience, so I was asked to do it. It was a three-hour programme and there were three segments of Pick of the Pops. It was a suit, collar and tie job for me and all the jazz freaks wondered who I was!

After three months, it was decided to move Pick of the Pops to Sunday afternoons and it became Freeman's regular show early in 1962. He would present the popular show until 1972. He also became an afternoon presenter on Radio 1, taking over from Terry Wogan. As well as his work for radio and television commercials, Freeman was encouraged to try his hand at acting. He had a small part in a Sixties horror movie, Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965), and made a brief appearance in Absolute Beginners (1982).

In 1973 he introduced the first Radio 1 Roadshow and also launched the long-running documentary series The Story of Pop. He produced a double LP, Alan Freeman's History of Pop, released in 1974, featuring 40 hits from the Fifties and Sixties. Included among the rock tracks was his old favourite "Wheel of Fortune".

Freeman left Radio 1 in 1979 and spent the next 10 years at the London station Capital Radio, although he regularly introduced BBC TV's Top of the Pops. In 1987 he was awarded the Radio Academy's Outstanding Contribution to UK Music Radio and in 1988 was dubbed Sony Awards' Radio Personality of the Year. Perhaps mindful of his continuing popularity and expertise, the BBC asked him back in 1989 to present a new version of Pick of the Pops.

As a champion of progressive rock and heavy metal, Freeman retained the respect of a young audience, who appreciated his efforts to keep the faith with unfashionable bands like Bachman-Turner Overdrive. In 1992 he introduced Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the Royal Albert Hall in London during their reunion tour.

At this time Freeman revealed he was beginning to suffer from arthritis, and over the next few years it began to spread from the base of his spine to his legs. By the age of 72, he was forced to use a walking frame. But, despite the onset of this crippling disease, Freeman continued working. He joined Radio 2 in 1997 to present Pick of the Pops and the Tuesday night show Their Greatest Bits. In 1998 he was appointed MBE.

Early in 2000, after two falls at his west London flat, Freeman was forced to move into a nursing home on doctor's orders. While resident at Brinsworth House in Twickenham, he gamely continued broadcasting, being chauffeur-driven to the BBC studios to pre-record his shows for Radio 2, including Their Greatest Bits. However, he finally handed over Pick of the Pops to the television presenter and broadcaster Dale Winton "because I didn't quite have the bite I used to, and if you're frightened of doing something then it's probably a good idea to pack it in". His last show was on 21 April 2000, when he played John Leyton's 1960 hit "Johnny Remember Me". It had been the first of many No 1 hit records he had championed during nearly 50 years of broadcasting.

The following month, Freeman was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sony Radio Awards in London. He received a standing ovation as Dale Winton described him as "a man who has served and is held in the highest affection by every sector of our industry".

Chris Welch

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