Following the allegations against Jimmy Savile this week more names have been implicated – amongst them other pop culture icons of the time such as Gary Glitter (and we all know his predilictions have been proven) but also less likely candidates like the well-loved, much-missed John Peel.ÃÂ
With John Peel day just a couple of weeks away, and more names and incidents being reported almost daily Colin B Morton takes a closer look at the case being made against Peel.
You may have noticed the recent moral panic regarding Jimmy Savile and his alleged dastardly deeds with underage persons of the female persuasion in the Top of the Pops studios.
You may have been surprised, or thought âalways knew there was something funny about himâÂ. You perhaps raised pertinent questions of the irresponsibly of those denizens of the media who said âwe knew all alongâÂ and so forth.
Some there would be amongst you who have heard whispers of other such goings-on amongst the DJ fraternity. You may have read particular articles and Twitters and thought âOh no! Not John Peel!âÂ.
I bring glad tidings. Not John Peel. I’m not saying Peel was perfect. He liked football for a start. But looky here: âPeel, awarded the OBE in 1998, is perhaps best remembered for his Saturday morning programme Home Truths on Radio 4 in which he talked about family life to Middle England. â Thus spake the Daily Mail, in a recent article which sought to tarnish him with the same brush as Savile and Jonathan King. (What, Daily Mail, no mention of Captain Beefheart or The Fall? )
The Mail article seeks to implicate Peel thus: ââÂ¦no one epitomised this laissez-faire sexual morality, which, in one way or another, allowed Jimmy Savile’s vile activities to continue for so long, than the late, saintly John Peel.âÂ A hideous photograph of the errant DJ in a gymslip accompanies the trash talk. I’d suggest you avoid looking at it at all costs, were it not Essential to the Plot.
There is an accompanying catalogue of Peel’s misdemeanours which amount to marrying an underage American girl and bandying around a few pics/salacious remarks about schoolgirls in a Sounds column.
Peel, it appears, was deceived by both the underage bride and her parents. The jury would still be out, had there ever been one.
The Mail implies further activities with willing participants who may or not have been of age. He âdidn’t ask for IDâÂ(whence cometh that quote?). Unless we can retroactively ask for ID, we cannot infer one way or the other. This was, lest we forget, a young man from Liverpool who had been cloistered in an all-male English public school, done his National Service, and then been sent by his father to a USA in the throes of Beatlemania. This was not a cigar-chomping predatory rapist. Not the most sensible way for a young fellow to carry on, but did it epitomise the laissez-faire blahblahblah the Mail article speaks of?
There then follow a few inflammatory statements re: Peel’s unhealthy drooling over schoolgirls in his Sounds column. It is hard to defend this activity except to say that hindsight is always 20-20, it was âof its timeâÂ and so forth. But in terms of the Mail’s objective (to besmirch Peel alongside known and suspected sex offenders and thereby tarnish the BBC, which it hates) it amounts to nothing that wasn’t already part of the common culture – St. Trinians movies and such. Until you get to this part: âUnbelievably, Peel also ran a Schoolgirl of the Year competition on his Radio 1 show.âÂ
You know why it is so unbelievable? Because it didn’t exist! Since I was knee high to a knee, I listened to John Peel. I never heard the Schoolgirl of the Year competition of which the Daily Mail speaks. The idea of such a competition stems from a hatchet job by the fatuous Julie Burchill which the Guardian ran in (year of his OBE) 1998. Said column, one long gripe about Peel, also included the preposterous allegation that he never played black music.
âPeel was drooling on about “schoolgirls”, in print and on air, where his Schoolgirl Of The Year competition was quietly laid to rest during punk’s tenureâÂ she wrote. If anyone reading this has actually swallowed that myth: how, pray, would it work? Presumably, on an annual basis, Peel would put out a call to his schoolgirl listeners who according to Burchill (âit became male, hippy and smellyâÂ- she had a Smell Radio? Imagine the rush in her house to switch off The Archers!) did not hardly exist.
What would happen then? Maybe a half dozen photographs would come flooding in. He’d then invite them to Maida Vale to parade around to the strains of the Third Ear Band and Fotheringay (âgive us a twirl, Natasha – whoops wrong speed!âÂ). For how long did this go on before being âquietly laid to rest”, despite a) radio not being the most visual of media and b) Peel perennially grumping at the lack of airtime at his disposal? I think we’d all know about that, don’t you? It’d be one of those folkloric radio things, like jugglers and ventriloquists in the early days.
So either Julie made this notion up, and other people were so monumentally stupid as to believe it, or someone else made it up, and Burchill was so monumentally stupid as to believe it. Whatever, Peel’s âSchoolgirl of the Year contestâÂ is one of those notions, like astrology and the existence of a creator-god, that a moment’s thought should dismiss. But hey, some people read the Daily Mail and vote Conservative.
I believe two things have gotten conflated here . There was a âMiss Top GearâÂ competition. âTop GearâÂ was what Peel’s show was called before the title was hijacked by Clarkson and that guy who’s not really a hamster. The Miss Top Gear Contest, if memory serves, was a satirical device predicated on the fact that radio was not a visual media (see above). It happened, I think, twice.
Once, female listeners were invited to send in photographs. A man entered. The second time, taking this intervention to its logical conclusion, Peel threw open the contest to anybody and anything. âOne and a half rhinocerosesâÂ was the eventual winner. Even if you disapprove the notion of beauty pageants on the radio, there were but two Miss Top Gear Contests, one of which did not specifically target schoolgirls, and another which did not specifically target anyone or thing. Then it was quietly laid to rest.
Of course, when I was researching this piece, I googled âJohn PeelâÂ and âschoolgirl of the yearâÂ in the interests of completeness. The phrase only occurs in the Mail and Burchill hackjobs, references attendant thereto, andâÂ¦you remember the hideous photograph of Peel in gymslip I alluded to earlier? There is another shot, from what appears to be the same session. It is a Sounds calendar from 1974. Peel is in repose, clad in stockings, suspenders, etc. The caption? âSchoolgirl of the YearâÂ! So is that all you got, Daily Mail?
Precisely one dodgy jury-is-out marriage, some inferences and innuendoes that have no actual substance, and a made-up-competition based on Peel taking the piss out of himself. Not exactly supporting the Nazis in the 1930s is it?
All words by Colin B Morton. You can read more from Colin on LTW here.