It’s a long time since I’ve treated myself to a rant, one of my previous efforts being to show up Michael Henderson’s pathetic dissection of John. This time I turn to a much older article, one written by that fat, smug, self-satisfied cunt Julie Burchill for the Guardian in 1999, but one that I’ve been waiting to attack for a long time. Apparently, being something of a so-called iconoclast herself, she welcomes negative attention, so I hope she is reading this. Steph, one of my commenters, seemed to think that it was written just after John’s death in 2004: actually, unlike Henderson, she at least had the respect to do it while he was still alive, but that doesn’t make this one-sided tirade any easier to stomach.
There are two sorts of sacred cows, just like there’s a Whopper and a filet mignon. The first sort of cow is one that we know is sacred, but we’re – titter, snigger – covertly encouraged to attack it, both for pleasure and profit. That would be the Queen and Cliff Richard.The second would be the Queen Mother and John Peel. Show me a filet mignon and I become a mad cow. John Peel has become ‘our’ – and, by that, I mean people who consider themselves enlightened and unburdened by tradition – Queen Mother. He needs taking out; if only in a caring way, for his own good. He is in danger of reaching hands-off, Help The Aged status: 60 years old, and he’s still got all his own teeth, sorry, all his own Fall records!
I’ve always loathed John Peel. It started in the Sixties when I was a child, still staggering under the first blow of benediction by black music. All day long on Radio 1 – most of all, on Tony Blackburn’s show – you could hear great creamy earfuls of it: Motown by the mile, Philly by the furlong. But at night Radio 1 became a white desert. It became ‘intelligent’. That is, it became male, hippy and smelly – it became John Peel. I hated him in the Seventies, too, because he liked punk, long after punk – the whitest, malest, most asexual music ever – should have been left to die an unnatural death. I’d been a punk, and knew that the whole thing was, frankly, shit in safety pins. We came to bury the music industry; we ended up giving it one almighty shot in the arm.
In the Eighties, someone gave me as a kitsch gift a Sixties pop annual. I’ll never forget John Peel in it, talking about his father’s absence during his infancy: “He was off playing soldiers.” Reader, this man was fighting in the second world war. What did YOU do in the war, Daddy? Well, John Peel caught VD, and banged on about it. Until recently, Peel banged on a lot about sex. Like many an ugly Englishman, he went to America, where that nation’s young women found a Limey accent so beguiling that they barely looked at the face it came out of: “All they wanted me to do was abuse them, sexually, which, of course, I was only too happy to do,” Peel told the Guardian in 1975. “Girls,” he said to the Sunday Correspondent in 1989, “used to queue up outside oral sex they were particularly keen on, I remember one of my regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13, though she looked older.” This was the Sixties. Fleeing America after the authorities quite rightly objected to him having sex with young teenage girls, Peel was joined by his wife, Shirley, a Texan girl, who was 15 when he married her. Talking to the Correspondent about this young woman, now dead by her own hand, Peel seems strangely censorious: “She fell in with some extremely dodgy people she married three more times after me, and I was the only husband by whom she didn’t have a child. All the children were in care. She did some terrible things, you know. She didn’t deserve to die, though.” Somebody give that man a medal!
Scratch a hippie and find a sexist – well into the Seventies, Peel 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 tenure. I always thought the alleged Sexual Revolution of the Sixties was not a bid to advance women’s rights, but rather to block them, to turn back the clock and push the brave new young working woman back to being barefoot and pregnant. Even the appearance approved for hippie women – long skirts, long hair – spoke of an earlier era, before girls raised their skirts and bobbed their hair and went out to earn a living. Knowing of Peel’s rather sticky track record on matters sexual, it seems both wildly inappropriate and somehow totally fitting that his latest venture is the radio critic’s favourite Radio 4 programme, Saturday morning’s Home Truths, which, as its name implies, is a deeply reactionary idea masquerading as a droll, down-to-earth sideswipe.
Home Truths concerns itself with family matters, both bitter and sweet. These may be as unimportant as the reluctance of teenagers to tidy their rooms or as serious as the alleged False Memory Syndrome, but they are linked by one overriding belief: that after all politics, after all ideas, there is the Family. And that the Family, alone of all institutions, is as natural as breathing. This is, of course, untrue; the Family is a construct like any other, one that has been propped up by a million years of hellfire warnings (“Marry or burn” – so-called “Saint” Paul) and that, the moment the pulpit-bullying ceased, broke down with amazing swiftness. Everyone’s got a right to get old and fat – hell, it’s practically my raison d’être – but I find it filthily objectionable for someone who has grown rich and respected for preaching the Sixties mantra, “If it feels good, do it!”, suddenly to come over so cosy and domestic that it would have Oxo Katie reaching for an icepick.
Peel, being middle class, managed to survive the Sixties, and then thrive in the decades that followed. But for the young working class, the road of excess led to madness, alienation and incarceration; and for the girls who got hip to the Sixties slogans about sexual generosity, a joyless shag led to nothing but a council flat and the end of youth before they were entitled to vote. I don’t blame Peel for changing his mind. But I do blame him for rubbing the nation’s collective nose in the fact that the well-connected can walk on the wild side and return to the fold, whereas the working class need only stray once off the straight and narrow to be trapped in a cul-de-sac of sorrow. A public schoolboy who calls his children after footballers, a lover of World Music who happily took the Order of the British Empire, a landowner who does commercials for toilet paper and Playstations and yet calls himself a Bennite, a past ‘abuser’ of children who preaches Family Values in excelsis: it is not, as his fans like to say, a wonder that Radio 1 has not sacked him in 30 years. No, in all his patronising, phoney, hypocritical glory, he is Radio 1. Lord Reith would be proud.
Well, self-confessed cocaine addict and part-time lesbian (six weeks or six months? she never was quite sure. Maybe that’s because she’s brain dead with no memory beyond her last pay check), Christian (oh, sorry, Catholic…whoops, hold the front page, it’s now Judaism), this may be old news to you, but Peel inspired a devotion that has still not faded five years after he left us. I have yet to see acres of Internet space devoted to your somnolent musings, who scoffs at Peel for being middle-class (since when was that a crime?) and yet refers to a ‘Filet Mignon.’ Can’t say I’ve ever had one of those…well, I don’t get paid exorbitant amounts of money by credulous rags for writing total bollocks for a living. At least my rubbish comes free.
The key, the rationale for all of this shit, is the phrase “I’ve always loathed John Peel.” Right, Julie: that’s why you waited until the Guardian offered you enough cash to write a poisonous attack every week, until you performed your favourite trick of biting the hand that fed you and moving to the Times, where you lasted a few years before history repeated itself. You didn’t like him. That’s it. There is no more substance to this article than that. To correct one of the most obvious of your many mistakes: punk, ‘the whitest, malest, most asexual music ever’? (Er…how can it be male and asexual simultaneously?) So that’s why Lee Perry (a black man) produced the Clash’s Complete Control. And why punk and reggae existed side by side in Peel’s shows of the late seventies: in fact, there’s scarcely a show available when he didn’t play reggae or one of its derivatives. Just to point out one more thing: the first and last records ever played on Top Gear were by Martha and the Vandellas….Motown recording artists, weren’t they?
It’s news to me that he ‘banged on’ about catching VD: the only time I can recall him mentioning it on the radio was when he admitted having it on Night Ride…..once. Moreover, I think you overestimate his success with women: Sheila recalls that his attempts to snare women by offering free passes to gigs he did resulted in zero conquests. In any case, his marriage to Shirley was truly a very unhappy one, and if you want to talk about abuse, do a bit more research and find out exactly what she used to do to him. That would mean reading a few books, wouldn’t it? Or does that take second place to stuffing your face with chocolate on the sofa, and pretending you’ve seen or read things you haven’t, just as you used to make up reviews about films while getting your unfortunate partners to see them for you. No, it’s because Peel wasn’t one of your group, the Groucho set that seemed to be in competition to see how much they could snort, just like that other tosser Will Self. ‘Filths savour but themselves’…that is presumably why you leapt to Daniella Westbrook’s defence. Oh and by the way, he didn’t want the gong from the Queen: it’s well documented that one of his children had to talk him into accepting it.
I could go on about this, but I feel like it’s focusing more on you than on Peel, which is obviously what you want. So I’ll content myself by reminding you of the fact that the ‘desert’ you refer to, Top Gear, started out on weekend afternoons, and it wasn’t until 1975 that Peel got a regular night-time spot. Not always at night, then. And the family is a construct, yes, but one that you as a devotee of all things religious would surely have approved of (this fatuous statement coming from someone who thinks Big Brother is ‘reality TV’). But then, that wouldn’t have fitted in with the keynote of this archival claptrap…“I’ve always loathed John Peel.” Jealousy, the one-eyed god, has enslaved you, and even though this was written ten years ago, nothing in your life seems to contradict the sentiments expressed then. You get an F: don’t see me after class.
And I hated what you wrote about John Lennon too.