Andy 'Madman' West: Ah, yes, the John Peel I never knew

If I were to describe Peelie in a word, it would not be bald, it would be integrity

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I never met John Peel but somehow I felt I knew him. Growing up in Bromsgrove, there was not much to enjoy in the way of "new music", when I was growing up, apart from new band night every Sunday in the upstairs room of the Royal Oak, so John Peel's legendary radio show was something of a lifeline.

Among the bands who played the Oak, as we knew it, were The Mad Dogs of Tashkent and A Band Called Bernard, both of whom (or which?) sent their demo tapes into John Peel's now almost legendary late-night show on Radio 1 FM, neither of which (or whom) he played.

"Bet the bastard never even listens to half the tapes he gets sent," said Steve, lead singer with the Dogs. "Probably blanks them and records the latest Blondie album to listen to in his big fat car on his way to do another commercial."

But that was never my view. It was John Peel, or Peelie, as I shall always think of him, who inspired me to pursue a career in broadcasting.

I remember listening to him one night in my bedroom in Bromsgrove (that was me in the bedroom, not him, obviously. Ho, ho, I'm mad, me!) playing some dreadful noisy rubbish, probably at the wrong speed, not even bothering to talk up to the vocals, and it was as if the scales fell from beneath my eyes. Up till then, DLT had been my roll model, with his slick Lanco-American style of presentation, and the famous "quack-quack-oops" quiz that has passed into legend.

But it was Peelie who taught me that it was OK to be yourself on the radio, because sincerity will always shine through. So that was what I set to work on, changing my name and learning to speak in a laid-back way that sounded like I wasn't trying too hard, just like Peelie. It took me ages to master that.

There are so many other debts I owe to JP (as I sometimes called him) as well. It was he (him?) who taught me not to let hair loss stand in the way of a full and active social life. I remember seeing pictures of him from the pirate radio days in the 1960s, hair flowing long at the back in the hippy style, but the front telling a different story, of male pattern baldness.

Despite this, though, JP was considered a devilishly attractive man by quite young ladies - say no more, if you get my drift - and even slept with the famous Germaine Greer, before she went mad.

As someone who has been removing clumps of hair from the plug hole since the age of 18, I cannot tell you what an inspiration Peelie was to someone like me. Damn it, bald can be sexy. That's what JP taught me. Thank you, John.

If I were to conjure up one single word to describe Peelie, though, it would not be bald, it would be integrity.

Sure, he did commercials but, as he said on many occasions, he only ever advertised products that he himself used, whether it was toilet duck, breakfast cereals, chocolate-covered wafer biscuits, Central Office of Information warnings not to throw fireworks, or whatever; and I have followed this credo to the letter.

So far, I have only done a carpet commercial, but those very same carpets I advertise are throughout my house, having negotiated a rather handsome discount (stand by your tufted Wilton, fellers, it's free plug time!) from the Carpet King, Long Benton, just off the Ring Road.

So it's a big thank you to Peelie, not just from me but to the countless thousands of untold others whose lives he touched; and by that I mean the listeners to my popular afternoon show on Tyne FM, whose weekly reach has risen 4.2 per cent in the latest Rajar figures, and is now incidentally giving a fairly comprehensive kicking to Storm FM's so-called Afternoon Crew.

I like to think that Peelie is looking down from up above, possibly with John Lennon, Bob Dylan and the lead singer of Smokie by his side, a benevolent smile on his face as he receives the grateful thanks of approximately 35,000 listeners in the North-east on a weekly basis (source: Rajar). On all of their behalf (behalfs?), I say a simple thank you, JP.

Since writing this article, Andy "Madman" West has been sacked as the afternoon show presenter on 106.6 Tyne FM. He was talking to Martin Kelner.

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