The vast majority of people who are well-known talented broadcasters are just that. They are good at broadcasting, presenting, interviewing without really having their own angle on anything. John Peel was exceptional because his genuine love of music was in the foreground; broadcasting skills took second place, resulting in endless rambling on during his radio shows, talking about his family and frequently putting records on at the wrong speed.
Annie Nightingale is obviously keen on music, but she is first and foremost a talented broadcaster and a female pioneer within the BBC. The claim is that it was Nightingale who opened up The Old Grey Whistle Test to punk and new wave, but that ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris got all the credit even though he was not a fan of the new genres.
In the 1960s, Annie Nightingale started as a journalist and had some early TV exposure, including Juke Box Jury in 1963. She became the only female DJ on the new BBC Radio 1 in 1970, hosting ‘What’s New’ before becoming the late night prog rock queen. But she wasn’t big friends with many of the other DJs – many of whom have gone on to become discredited:
“I was in it because I loved music. I was going to live events and gigs and hanging out with Keith Moon and the Who rather than with Radio 1 DJs. I went round the world with the Police and to Montserrat with Duran Duran.”
Reports of bad behaviour amongst the DJs are not confirmed by Nightingale – it was the routine 1970s sexism and exclusion that annoyed her:
“Once I was in, they pretty much ignored me – apart from Johnnie Walker, who was great….The other DJs wouldn’t hang around between shows. They were off to do personal appearances and gigs where the big money was – playing the records was a minor aspect of what they were doing.”
“In those days, Top Shop was opening all over the country, and I would go and do the openings, because I was the only female DJ. I’d do gigs, too; I’d turn up and they’d give me a mic and say, ‘Just talk into that, love.’ I’d say, ‘Hang on, I’m on Radio 1 and I’ve bought my records with me…’ But they’d say, ‘We’ll play the records.’ And there would be a Miss Wet T-shirt contest going on.”
But in 1978, Annie Nightingale took over The Old Grey Whistle Test from Bob Harris. Some of the videos that exist show that Nightingale ‘got’ the spirit of punk and the DIY ethos that ran up against the prevailing pomp of prog rock. Like John Peel, Annie Nightingale was thrilled by the search and discovery of new acts and songs. In 2002, she was awarded an MBE for services to music. We’d like to present Annie Nightingale with a PGD for services to punk rock – maybe she even converted some Genesis fans to the Au Pairs….
“My philosophy is, I want to hear what is developing in the underground and bring that through. When that becomes mainstream, you hand it over and that job is done. Then you go back to the underground and find what’s coming next. As long as I can play what I like, I’m happy.”Annie Nightingale