The Autobiography by Johnnie Walker

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The Autobiography by Johnnie Walker

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Category: Entertainment
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A compulsive read from the man who was told that he would never be a DJ as long as he lived. It's told with humour, a touch of pathos and plenty of self-deprecation. It's highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN: 978-0718148539

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When I was in my late teens and early twenties, the Radio 1 lunchtime show presented by the man formerly known as Peter Waters Dingley was essential listening. It wasn't non-stop chart music, neither was it too arty and Emperor's-new-clothesness for art's sake. It always seemed to be a healthy mix of much of the best Top 40 stuff around, plus a few interesting new names who weren't getting the exposure on other shows that they deserved - and it was all presented by someone who communicated his enthusiasm for the music instead of sounding like an aspiring games show host.

This book really was an eye-opener. Johnnie Walker relates his ups and downs with good humour, a touch of pathos and plenty of self-deprecation about his love affair with music and playing records, a brief apprenticeship in the motor trade, his first efforts to get into broadcasting (at an audition for Radio Luxembourg, he was told he would never be a DJ as long as he lived), and his early career in pirate radio. Surely the cheekiest thing he ever did on Radio Caroline was to hold the microphone next to a small transistor one day to transmit an episode of Mrs Dale's Diary, infuriating the BBC and producing a situation by which the actors had technically broken the law for broadcasting on an illegal radio station. Ironically, in 1969 he joined the establishment by going to Radio 1, where he championed records like Derek and the Dominoes' Layla and Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side long before anyone else, became the square peg in a round hole who refused to conform, lambasted the Bay City Rollers on air for their 'musical garbage', and was in effect fired for, quote, being 'too into the music, man'.

For Johnnie, his first wife Frances and two small children, a strange rollercoaster career in the US beckoned, before he eventually came back to England and joined various local radio stations. I particularly love the story about when he once said live on air on his GLR show that he could murder a pint of Guinness - and twenty minutes later a listener, burly biker, bought a pint across the road and delivered it personally. Eventually he came to Radio 2 - where he remains today. (And long may he do so).

And that leaves out the notorious News of the World sting which led to his suspension; his struggles with drink and drugs which culminated in rehab at Crossroads, Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton; and his second marriage, followed too quickly by the devastating news that he had cancer.

As a memoir of a man who's spent forty years behind the mic and delving into his record collection, it's a fascinating document, and you can't but admire his tenacity. But it's much more than that. The personal dimension, especially the rehab and cancer treatment chapters (the latter largely related by wife Tiggy) are astonishing. I was always a fan of his show, whether he was making the first Bad Company single his record of the week in 1974 or interviewing the likes of Bev Bevan and Pete Townshend on his Sunday show in 2007. I think I'm even more of a fan now.

Having opened the book with high expectations, I wasn't disappointed - far from it. Perhaps the only disappointment was that I finished it. But it's a compulsive 400 pages, and as he says on the last page, 'I feel sure there's so much more to do.'

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