Poptastic! My Life in Radio by Tony Blackburn
|Poptastic! My Life in Radio by Tony Blackburn
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
|Summary: Ghostwritten by music journalist Mark Paytress, Poptastic is an autobiography of the man who was once the country's most successful and at the same time probably most reviled radio DJ. True to form, the book is infuriating in places, but it's also soul-baringly honest in parts, and I for one found it difficult to put down.
|Date: September 2007
|Publisher: Cassell Illustrated
I approached this book with mixed feelings. During my formative years in the 60s and 70s, I went through phases of liking Tony Blackburn, finding him tiresome, forgetting about him and then belatedly discovering that he'd battled his way back and won a huge measure of respect from the media.
Ghostwritten by music journalist Mark Paytress, Poptastic is an autobiography of the man who was once the country's most successful and at the same time probably most reviled radio DJ. True to form, the book is infuriating in places, but it's also soul-baringly honest in parts, and I for one found it difficult to put down.
Born in Guildford in 1943, the son of a doctor, Blackburn was always a mass of contradictions. He was the clean-cut kid, born into a professional middle-class family but who became a lifelong vegetarian in childhood for unashamedly ethical reasons (the cruelty issue), a singer, guitarist and songwriter who was trying to be Perry Como, but ended up as a DJ on pirate radio. Just in time he was one of those who jumped ship in more ways than one and landed the historic job of presenting not only the breakfast show on Wonderful Radio 1 for the BBC from its inception in September 1967 but also literally opened up the station as the first broadcaster to be heard, spinning The Move's Flowers in the Rain.
For the first few years, he almost walked on water. He presented his own television show as well as being a regular on Top Of The Pops, he had a brief recording career which spawned a couple of minor hit singles, he made what was seen as one of the ultimate showbiz weddings with actress Tessa Wyatt, he appeared in pantomime - and he became the man the hippies loved to hate. Then, as things do, it all started to unravel. Being moved from the breakfast show to the mid-morning slot against his wishes, marital break-up, too much valium and cheap wine, being rapped on the knuckles for outspokenness on air, and leaving the BBC before he got fired to a plethora of stations including Capital Gold and BBC Radio London. Unlike several of his contemporaries, he never made it to Radio 2, but the overall impression is that he stuck doggedly with his career and seems to have been reasonably content, as well as happy to weather the storms in the belief that the determined guys always make it back one day. Of course, without his appearance on I'm a Celebrity... in 2002 it might have been so very different...
At times the text is a little too much like patting oneself on the back, but that is balanced out by the number of times he admits he screwed up big time. His arrogance in believing that the DJ is bigger than the records he plays is underlined by a spat he had with Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople at Top Of The Pops one night when Hunter asked him bluntly not to talk over the record next time he played it - and Blackburn saying 'all right, I just won't play it'. Likewise, his defence of musicals as good-time entertainment is fair enough, but when he uses his enthusiasm to pit them against what he calls 'boring serious theatre' strikes me as a tad intolerant. However, balance that against his tirade against punk rock, speedily followed by the revelation many years later that Johnny Rotten had become 'this rather sweet, slightly older gentleman' not unlike himself in certain respects.
And forty years after he opened up Radio 1, he's still in some ways much the same as he ever was. He still tells corny jokes and still has that horrifying semi-permanent cheesy grin. But it would be a hard-hearted reader not to close the book and wish him well for having pulled himself out of the abyss and come back. He never quite became the best of buddies with his polar opposite John Peel (who nevertheless praised him for his championship of black music) but buried the hatchet with Noel Edmonds, the cuckoo in the nest who took over 'his' breakfast show in 1973 and went on to find hopefully lasting happiness with his second wife and their daughter Victoria. Both of those, as well as his sister Jackie and son Simon, also get to write a few paragraphs of their own in the book.
No doubt there are better media memoirs than this. But it's an honest and entertaining read, and I suspect that even some radio listeners who found him not their cup of tea might find this book worth their while.
For an excellent media memoir, you might like to try Johnnie Walker: The Autobiography or Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age by Adrian Johns for another view on radio.
You can read more book reviews or buy Poptastic! My Life in Radio by Tony Blackburn at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Poptastic! My Life in Radio by Tony Blackburn at Amazon.com.
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