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John Peel
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John Peel

John Robert Parker Ravenscroft (born August 30, 1939), known professionally as John Peel, is a British disc jockey and radio presenter. He was one of the original DJs of BBC Radio 1 in 1967 and the only one still on Radio 1 today. Known for the extraordinary range of his taste in music and the not infrequent blunders (for example playing records at the wrong speed) which mark his shows, John Peel is one of the most popular and respected DJs in the United Kingdom.

He was born into a well-off family in Heswall near Liverpool, and educated as a boarder at Shrewsbury School. After finishing his National Service in 1962 he went to America and initially worked for WRR Radio in Dallas, Texas. He later worked for KOMA in Oklahoma City and KMEN in San Bernardino, California. He returned to England in 1967 to work for the offshore pirate radio station Radio London ("Big L") where he first adopted the name "John Peel"; his programme was known as The Perfumed Garden. Radio London closed in August 1967 when new legislation made the offshore broadcasters illegal, and Peel joined the BBC's new pop music station.

Right from the start at the BBC with his show Top Gear, produced by John Walters, John Peel displayed his eclectic and cutting-edge taste in music. He was largely responsible for introducing BBC listeners to punk rock, reggae and hip-hop. He was the first English DJ to play a record twice in a row - "Teenage Kicks" by The Undertones (which is famously his favourite record), and is an unapologetic champion of long running Manchester band The Fall. Naturally his style bought him into conflict with other DJs at the BBC such as Tony Blackburn and Simon Bates, but his popularity outlasted theirs and he is still a major force in independent music, both in the UK and across Europe. His radio show is now sometimes broadcast from his home, named Peel Acres, in Suffolk and has a somewhat homely feel with his wife, Sheila, whom he affectionately refers to as "The Pig" and his daughter, Flossie, often being involved or at least mentioned.

John Peel's show features the famous "John Peel sessions". Bands are invited to record exclusive tracks for the programme in a BBC studio, a relic of the days when agreements with the Musicians' Union restricted the amount of music the BBC could play from records. Sessions are usually four tracks recorded and mixed in a single day; as such they often have a "rough and ready", demo-like feel, somewhere between a live performance and a finished recording. Many classic Peel sessions have been released on record, particularly by the Strange Fruit label. In recent years the show also has regularly featured live performances, mostly from Maida Vale in London, but occasionally in the Peel Acres living room.

Peel has also played many older records on his show, specifically in two sections he introduced:

An annual tradition of the show is the "Festive Fifty" - a countdown of the best tracks of the year as voted for by the listeners. Despite Peel's eclectic playlist, the Festive Fifty tends to be composed largely of "white boys with guitars". This has frustrated Peel somewhat, and in 1991 he went so far as to cancel the rundown. Topped inevitably by Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", this "Phantom Fifty" was eventually broadcast at the rate of one track per programme, some years later. The 1997 chart was, unusually, a Festive Thirty-One.

In addition to his Radio One show, he also broadcasts as a disc jockey on the BBC World Service and on Radio Eins in Germany. His audience has also broadened to include listeners around the world listening to Internet audio broadcasts.

In more recent times he has appeared to mellow somewhat, hosting a magazine style, documentary show, Home Truths, on BBC Radio 4 about everyday life in British families. John Walters, who was an occasional stand-in for Peel on Home Truths, described it as being "about people who had fridges called Renfrewshire".

He has also been in demand as a voice-over artist for television documentaries and advertisements, though he reportedly refuses to work on adverts for products that he doesn't use himself.

Peel was eleven times Melody Maker's DJ of the year, Sony Broadcaster of the Year in 1993, "Godlike Genius Award" from the NME in 1994, Sony Gold Award winner in 2002 and is a member of the Radio Academy Hall of Fame. He has several honorary degrees including two doctorates and an honorary fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University. He was appointed an OBE in 1998.

John Peel is a fan of Liverpool Football Club.

In April 2003 the publishers Transworld agreed to a total package worth up to 1.6 million for his autobiography. The planned release date is in 2005.

External links

John Peel (1776?-1854) was a huntsman and is the subject of the 18th century song D'ye ken John Peel? He was a Cumberland farmer, who kept a pack of fox hounds.