Records, books and TV tributes: The scramble is under way for a slice of Peel

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The Independent Online

When John Peel died last week, millions mourned the loss of a national treasure and one of the most influential people in popular music. But only now is the full extent of Peel's extraordinary legacy of music and words emerging. And there is widespread uncertainty about how to preserve it.

Three different books, by and about him, are being planned, while the British Library is waiting to hear whether he has left them his vast record collection - probably the biggest in private hands.

At the BBC, talks are expected to take place about releasing more collections from the sessions recorded by artists for his Radio 1 programme. And, as tributes from all over the world continue to flood into the BBC in memory of the DJ, who died from a heart attack in Peru, aged 65, a series of broadcasts and memorial events is also being planned to celebrate his contribution to popular music.

Tonight, BBC 2 is screening a 90-minute tribute, filmed in the past few days, featuring contributions from, among others, the DJ Jo Whiley, musicians Nick Cave and Johnny Marr and the football pundit Alan Hansen. Radio 1 is also preparing a retrospective programme on Peel, who was with the station from its inception in 1967.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend the DJ's funeral at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds on Friday. The cathedral has capacity for 900 and the service will be relayed outside should crowds of mourners be unable to get in. It is unclear whether a further memorial service will take place, but plans are being drawn up for at least one tribute concert featuring some major artists, although no names have been confirmed.

A spokesman for Radio 1 said: "The response has been incredible and worldwide. He left a huge gap in our hearts and minds.''

The fate of Peel's massive collection of vinyl, CDs and tapes from all over the world, containing everything from obscure thrash metal bands to African chants and the early work of many artists who went on to become household names, remains unclear.

Several years ago, Peel discussed the idea of leaving his collection to the British Library, making it potentially the biggest acquisition of the national sound archive. But it is believed he wanted some kind of financial recompense and the matter was never resolved. Until his will is made public, it is not known whether he has made the bequest nor if he attached any conditions.

If the collection is put up for sale, there would be considerable public pressure for it to be kept intact for the nation by the library; an American radio company is reported to have already bid $1m (£539,000) for it.

Clive Selwood, Peel's manager, said: "John spoke to a number of interested parties, including the British Library, but we will have to wait on the will and to see what Sheila [Peel's widow] wants to do. I think John saw it as possibly a pension for his family.''

Peel had been contracted to write his autobiography for Transworld for a reported £1.6m. But there are conflicting impressions of how much he had completed and whether it is publishable. Mr Selwood said: "He had done between a quarter and a third and he was ready to crack on with it.''

Andy Kershaw, Peel's friend and fellow DJ, is less confident. He said: "He did quite a bit and then lost it on the computer. He told me in the summer that he hadn't even got to the bit where he went to America. I don't think he had done much at all.''

A more realistic idea is a book of collected writings. Over four decades, Peel wrote for everything from the underground magazines of the Sixties, such as Oz, music newspapers including Disc and Sounds, magazines such as Punch, newspapers and, more recently, the Radio Times. Although a great deal was about music, he increasingly wrote about family life and other activities, including the Isle of Man TT races for a motorcycling magazine.

Kershaw said: "Peel was an absolutely brilliant writer on all sorts of subjects and had a wonderful turn of phrase. It would be a great book." One major publisher has already canvassed one of Peel's closest friends about editing such a book, while Transworld said: "Nothing has been decided. We might consider a book of part autobiography, part collected writings.''

One book which is certain to appear is a 60,000-word unauthorised biography - condemned as "tacky" by one Peel associate - being written by the rock writer Mick Wall, who knew Peel. It is due to be published by Orion later this month, in time for the Christmas market. But the Undertones, whose 1978 hit "Teenage Kicks" was the DJ's favourite record, have refused to re- release the song in time for the Christmas market, saying they do not wish to cash in on what would be a certain hit.

For the time being, both Home Truths, for Radio 4, and Peel's Radio 1 show, are being presented by stand-ins, and no decisions have been taken about their future. The Radio 1 spokesman said: "We want to take time to consider how his legacy, in particular that of introducing new music, can be preserved within Radio 1.''


The record collection: At least 40,000 albums on vinyl and CD, innumerable singles and tapes. British Library may be beneficiary, but family may want to sell.

The Peel sessions: Recorded by artists obscure and famous for his Radio 1 shows. A lot has been released by the BBC in the past, nothing recently. BBC is considering what to do.

The writings: Four decades of columns and articles could be a portrait of changing times. Considered by at least two publishers.

The autobiography: Peel is said to have written up to a third of a book commissioned by Transworld for a reported £1.6m. How much is usable is unclear.

The biographies: One unauthorised version due out by Christmas. No approach yet to the Peel family about an official one.

The 'Home Truths' archive: BBC are not ruling out an "audio-book" of the Radio 4 show, which won several awards and a whole new audience for Peel's self-deprecating style.