Obituary: Pete Myers

Michael Popham
Saturday 20 February 1999 00:02
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THE DECISION of Pete Myers to leave the BBC while at the height of his popularity robbed listeners to the African Service and what is now the World Service of one of the most innovative and magnetic broadcasters to grace the international airwaves.

In the mid-1960s, as the first presenter of the African Service's controversially revamped breakfast programme, Good Morning Africa, Myers was an immediate hit with the huge new audience which had just been opened up by the mass- marketing of transistors and, particularly in West Africa, by the start of the BBC's Atlantic relay station on Ascension Island. Within months, he was being accorded pop-star treatment whenever he arrived on tours to meet his fans in person.

Pete Myers was born in 1939 in Bangalore of Anglo-Indian parents but as he grew older enjoyed shrouding his origins in mystery. Consequently, and much to his delight, few people knew whether he was a Latin American, or an exotic blend of English, German, Jewish, Lebanese and Chinese. His father had in fact worked on the Indian railways.

Myers's feel for Africa resulted from his arrival in Ghana in 1957, around the time of independence. His broadcasting career began unexpectedly in Accra when he was 17. He had got to know the presenter of a jazz programme who allowed him to listen in the studio while the show was being broadcast. Then came the day when the presenter remembered, just as he was about to go on air, that he had left his script at home. Dashing out of the building to retrieve it, he was knocked down and killed. The panic-stricken producer had no choice but to ask the teenage Myers to take over.

Myers did so with such natural assurance that after five years he became Ghana's top music DJ and radio personality, and a favourite of the country's president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

Away from the microphone, Myers pursued a parallel career as one of the founders of what subsequently became Ghana's National Theatre. During the Congo crisis, he and his companions risked their lives entertaining UN troops in Katanga. As Myers like to recount, the high spots of his thespian activity were taking the part of Elvis Presley in a musical called Pick Me a Paw-paw and playing Hamlet in Moscow at Nkrumah's behest.

Leaving Accra for London in the mid-1960s, he was snapped up to become the presenter of Good Morning Africa. In stark contrast to what had gone before, his resonant baritone and slick mid-Atlantic informality soon made him a household name throughout the continent.

A year or so later, while increasing his workload at Bush House, he became one of the founding presenters of Radio 1's Late Night Extra. But with a restricted playlist, and without the freedom to indulge his sometimes anarchic sense of humour, he failed to make the same impression on his domestic listeners. However, at the beginning of the 1970s, as a result of his spectacular success with African audiences, Myers was entrusted with transforming Good Morning Africa into a flagship breakfast show for the world.

He presented The Morning Show, with its mixture of pop, politics and personalities, four days a week, and at the weekends hosted PM, his own show-biz interview programme. His treatment of celebrities like Peggy Lee, Shirley Bassey and Ingrid Bergman - his favourite - heralded that of Michael Parkinson on BBC TV. Myers was thrown by Dame Edna Everage, for once impersonated across the microphone by a dapper Barry Humphries in suit, monocle and trilby.

Having broken the mould of broadcasting at Bush House, Myers felt he needed a change of scene and went to Lebanon to become the manager and resident impresario of a nightclub, the Crazy Horse Saloon. Unfortunately, he arrived just before the outbreak of the civil war.

Bombed out of Beirut, he returned to London to find that The Morning Show had been relaunched as Network Africa and a new presenter, Hilton Fyle from Sierra Leone, had taken his place. Through ex- colleagues, he found work at Radio Nederland, in Hilversum. There he produced and presented programmes in the Asian, African and English sections and eventually took over the helm of one of its most popular programmes, Happy Station.

Having once been married, he found happiness in his private life, setting up home in Utrecht with a male partner whose ex-wife and sons became a surrogate family.

Pete Myers last visited London in 1987 for the 30th anniversary recreation of the original Radio 1 group photograph on the steps of All Souls', Langham Place.

Pete Myers, broadcaster: born Bangalore, India 18 April 1939; died Utrecht, The Netherlands 15 December 1998.

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