Hero or Villain? Dave Lee Travis


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The Independent Online

Across the dark years of the last decades, certain beacons shine. Mandela. Havel. Luther King. And to that pantheon we can add another name. Travis.

But don't take my word for it – rather, trust the judgement of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy champion. For, following 15 years of house arrest, Suu Kyi has embarked on a two-week tour of Europe, during which she will address both houses of Parliament, receive the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991, and meet the 67-year-old Magic AM Saturday-morning show presenter.

It was last year that the 66-year-old Suu Kyi revealed what an inspiration the self-styled Hairy Cornflake had been to her. While confined to her home in Rangoon, she regularly tuned in to his World Service radio show, enjoying its variety of music: "It made my world much more complete."

For his part, Travis revealed last week that he was "quite excited" about the proposed meeting, but added, with typical insouciance, that he "won't be at a loss for words. I'm just fascinated to hear more about her time [under house arrest] and what she liked about [my programme]". He went on, with the integrity that has long marked his broadcasting: "I tried very hard to get the pronunciation right for words in the countries I was talking about."

As his illustrious new friend will appreciate, Travis's career was born of oppression: in 1965, with the pirate radio station Radio Caroline, which broadcast in bold defiance of the BBC's radio monopoly. Travis bravely bowed to the inevitable, though, and joined Radio 1 in 1968, enjoying a sparkling career. (Who did not feel fire in their veins when "Quack quack oops!" rang out during his "snooker on the radio" quiz?) Then came the small-minded critics. First, in the early Nineties, the characters Smashie and Nicey created by comedians (so-called!) Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. Travis held his counsel before dealing with them, magisterially: "This Smashie and Nicey crap – is that funny? It doesn't raise a smile with me."

But the forces of oppression were circling once more: in August 1993, the new controller of Radio 1 began an infamous putsch of the station's titans. Travis did not go gently into that good night, resigning on air in October that year: "Changes are being made here which go against my principles and I just cannot agree with them..." Aung San Suu Kyi couldn't have put it better herself.