John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE
(30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004),
Known professionally as John Peel, John was a disc jockey, radio presenter and journalist. He was the longest-serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004. He was known for his eclectic taste in music and his honest and warm broadcasting style. He was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio
A key convert to the Bolanic cause was hippy DJ John Peel. He booked Tyrannosaurus Rex for studio sessions and his own live dates at venues like the Middle Earth (those Tolkien references were everywhere in ’67). He lavished airplay upon Bolan’s debut Rex single Debora. And he would duly pop up on the first Tyrannosaurus Rex LP, reciting a slightly twee children’s story (“Kingsley Mole sat high on a windy knoll,” etc.). For a long time, Bolan and Peel were inseparable.
“For three or four years Marc Bolan and I were kind of best friends, along with his wife June and my wife Sheila. We used to go off and do hippie things at weekends – Stonehenge or Glastonbury Tor. And I used to get Rex loads of gigs. I’d get booked in somewhere as a DJ, and I’d ask, “Can I bring this band with me?” We spent a lot of time together.
When Marc saw the doors he’d been banging on for so long suddenly start to open, he did go a bit mad. It was one of those things where I phoned up to see what we’d be doing next weekend, and somebody answered the phone and said, “Look, Marc’s very busy. Can he call you back?” And then he never did. You feel mildly offended, but life’s too short.”
Peel found work with the offshore pirate radio station Radio London. He was offered the midnight-to-two shift, which gradually developed into a programme called The Perfumed Garden (some thought it was named after an erotic book famous at the time – which Peel claimed never to have read). It was on “Big L” that he first adopted the name John Peel (the name was suggested by a Radio London secretary) and established himself as a distinctive radio voice.
Peel’s show was an outlet for the music of the UK underground scene. He played classic blues, folk music and psychedelic rock, with an emphasis on the new music emerging from Los Angeles and San Francisco. As important as the musical content of the programme was the personal—sometimes confessional—tone of Peel’s presentation, and the listener participation it engendered. Underground events he had attended during his periods of shore leave, like the UFO Club and “The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream”, together with causes célèbres like the drug “busts” of the Rolling Stones and John “Hoppy” Hopkins, were discussed between records. All this was far removed from Radio London’s daytime format. Listeners sent Peel letters, poems, and records from their own collections, so that the programme became a vehicle for two-way communication; by the final week of Radio London he was receiving far more mail than any other DJ on the station.
After the closure of Radio London in 1967 Peel wrote a column under the title The Perfumed Garden for the underground newspaper the International Times (from autumn 1967 to mid-1969), in which he showed himself to be a committed, if critical, supporter of the ideals of the underground. A Perfumed Garden mailing list was set up by a group of keen listeners, which facilitated contacts and gave rise to numerous small-scale, local arts projects typical of the time, including the poetry magazine Sol.
Peel died suddenly at the age of 65 from a heart attack on 25 October 2004, on a working holiday in the Inca city of Cusco in Peru.