Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The memory of John Peel Vs the Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph, that bastion of the sort of thinking that is abhorrent and makes a mockery of free speech, three days ago published this editorial that can only serve as a reminder of why John Peel was important and why conservatives are a threat to a decent way of life. Mike at Teenage Kicks ran this this morning, and I am still so incredulous I am doing the same.

This is by someone called Michael Henderson:

" There is something embarrassing, to be frank, unmanning, about the inscription on the memorial to John Peel, the broadcaster, who passed away four years ago. Freshly carved in a Suffolk graveyard, the stone reads: "Teenage dreams so hard to beat".

Strictly speaking, there should be a comma after "dreams", those phantoms that are, apparently, "so hard to beat". But, whatever else he did in his 65 years, before his unfortunate death on holiday in Peru, Mr Peel did not speak strictly. On this occasion, therefore, and making further allowance for the fact that the line is borrowed from a pop song, it is permissible to overlook that solecism.

All the same, it is embarrassing. The man lived 65 years, and in that time he must have had the kind of experiences that bring a few drops of wisdom; at the very least, a smattering of self-knowledge. Yet he chose to be remembered by the words of a song that, like the adolescent dreams they are supposed to evoke, are thoroughly wet.

One doesn't necessarily expect a Wordsworthian invocation to see into "the life of things" from a man who spent his working life among the sharpies and ne'er-do-wells of the most venal industry in the world. A man who taught me was at Shrewsbury with Peel (or Ravenscroft, as he was known in those days), and remembered him as "the dimmest boy in school".

People have been known to improve with the years, so, once more, we shouldn't be too hard on the chap for his lack of sparkle in the classroom. He seems to have been a harmless man, loved by those close to him. Yet, like so many young people who found their voice in the 1960s, and were indulged thereafter, he never really grew up.

A man who tells a television audience, as Peel did, "I wish I had the courage to be a terrorist", to milk the applause of the credulous, forfeits the right to be taken seriously on any matter under the Sun. Worse, he presents himself to the world in the colours of a buffoon.

There is going to be a lot more buffoonery in the next few months, as the BBC pulls out all manner of expensive stops to mark the 40th anniversary of les événements. They will all be wheeled out again, the well-heeled Trots from Trottington Hall, to tell us how we got things so badly wrong back then, and how, if only we had got the revolution groove, baby, life would now be much sweeter.

Again, it is that refusal to grow up, the reluctance to let go of those comforting illusions that seek to make simple what is, of necessity, complex. We all have illusions, of course. Life without them would be intolerable, even if that longed-for century at Lord's remains vivid only in our morning reverie.

But no sentient being who has absorbed the lessons of life would ever submit to the sovereignty of "teenage dreams". Child-like visions, by all means. Had Peel chosen to inscribe Winnie the Pooh on his memorial, or summoned the spirit of Ratty and Toad, that would have been all right. Innocence always trumps self-deception.

And self-deception is exactly what is wrong with that memorial. Its banal sentiment is not child-like, merely childish. Pop music speaks to teenagers because, green in judgment, they lack the emotional resources to respond to anything deeper. With helpful instruction, and a bit of curiosity, that should come with age, though in this case it didn't.

In fact, it often doesn't. We have now reached a strange, indeed a unique, stage in history, when the ageing process has been reversed, with predictably grim consequences. We read about it again this week, only this time "teenage kicks" meant something else altogether; something literal and devastating.

People in their fifties and even sixties are seen on our streets every day behaving like teenagers. In their eating and drinking habits, clothing, language, and leisure pursuits, they can be hard to distinguish from people young enough to be their grandchildren. No wonder those youngsters fail to grow up.

Funeral directors across the land have spoken with sadness in recent years of the lack of respect shown to the dead. The passing of loved ones used to release feelings of love, loss and reflection. Now they are just excuses to have a bit of a larf. Death: just one more reason to roll out the barrel.

Peel was, in effect, 65 going on 17, with a teenager's fear of disapproval. He made his name as a disc jockey playing any amount of bilge because, as he said, "people send me their tapes, so I play them". Scared of being considered out of touch, he jumped on any bandwagon that happened to be passing.

It is also worth noting that he was a keen fan of football, a game (or industry) that tends to pickle its most fervent followers in a jelly of arrested development. Should you doubt that, feel free to attend any fixture today and study the behaviour of spectators in even the most expensive seats. If you have never been to a football match, you are in for the kind of surprise that greeted the good woodsfolk who stumbled across the Teddy Bears' Picnic.

"Teenage dreams so hard to beat". Feeble stuff. What it really means is: "I never grew up"."

Several holes I would like to pick in this travesty of journalism.

Firstly, to make a very thinly veiled link with the muder of Garry Newlove and the song Teenage Kicks beggars belief. This is utterly crass.

Secondly, the rampant generalisation about football fans. John was at Heysel in 1985 when 39 Juventus fans died, and was deeply affected by it. Yes, there are unpleasant people at football games, there are unpleasant people everywhere.

Thirdly, he jumped on every bandwagon passing - tosh. Peel played punk, hiphip and reggae, amongst others, when other DJs wouldn't cover these genres, taking abuse from racist idiots, particularly for reggae.

But mostly, what I find spectacularly offensive is the way he makes people seem idealistic and naive for wanting to have changed things. Yes, the comment about terrorists seems misguided, but take any comment out of context and you can cause anyone to look stupid and misinformed, or worse.

As a teacher, I'm privileged to teach young people, and learn a lot from them, something Mr. Henderson seems to find impossible. Yes, I may be idealistic, but if I wasn't, I would have ended up cynical and given up long ago. I don't kid myself that I make a difference, but if I can help people to think for themselves, then I must be doing something. Is hanging on to your dreams and aspirations really refusing to grow up? As well as his long-running Radio 1 show, he also presented Home Truths for
many years on Radio Four, something Mr. Henderson omits.

I know next to nothing about Mr. Henderson, so I'm not going to make childish insults about him, but this article is insulting to so many people.

Elvis Costello -Tramp The Dirt Down.' mp3


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry i had to stop reading it annoyed me so much - Mr Henderson gets my punch of the day

Jim said...

I'm generally not a violent man, but now and then I want to punch a journalist right in the face.

Ed said...

I'm not violent either, but I think he needs to research his rants.


Matthew said...

I feel soiled. For obvious reasons.

Matthew said...

Sorry, I feel soiled AND I feel a rant coming on. Christ on a bike who is this parasite?

So It Goes said...

Well done, Ed, for making some pungent observations...but I'm still called Steve..not Mike...;-))

Chris said...

i'm just glad that I'm not over in the UK for once such that I might find that twat and give him a right once over. had to stop reading as well... piss on the dead much?

Anonymous said...

hope he drowns in his own bile

Qaro said...

Wow. That was horrible. That shows why people shouldn't write about things they don't get. Thanks for introducing me to John Peel.

Ed said...

There has been a lot of outrage at this particularly poisonous piece of 'journalism.' Apologies to Steve for getting his name wrong yet again!


Huge Grunt said...

I think Henderson's piece tells us more about HIS childhood / adolescence than anything else. How far it must have been from the real world. All it does is show (again) his confrontational style of writing, he's well known for it. He has absolutely no credentials to be writing about the kind of music that John Peel championed or represented. The piece is not worth getting worked up about.

JC said...

Don't fall for the oldest trick in the journalistic book which is to write something provocative, sit back and relish the reaction.

Ignore him. You're only doing what he wants you to do.

Anonymous said...

I often read Mr. Henderson's columns. They can be entertaining. Can someone really be that pompous? Or is it simply an act to appear controversial? My guess? A bit of both.

Take care,



Ed said...

Interesting to read some calmer views on the piece. Is he being provocative? Yes, and you don't do that unless you want a debate.]

I hate to stereotype...but I am assuming the pompous individual went to Eton or somewhere like that? Can't see anyone lasting long in a normal school with views like that as a teenager.


FiL said...

I'm with JC, but I will also add this to my file of "Reasons I Never Read the Telegraph"

JC said...

'Is he being provocative? Yes, and you don't do that unless you want a debate.'

Sorry Ed, You're wrong.

He's being provocative simply because that's what he is paid to be.

It really isn't worth getting worked up about.

Ed said...

Interesting comments here, this has generated more feedback than any other post in all the time I've written this blog.

What riles me is not the comments he makes about John Peel's gravestone but far more grounds for concern that should not be ignored are the attitudes of people like this. Not to challenge harmful, reactionary viewpoints because you believe you cannot change anything is to be dangerously naive. As the saying goes, If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

As Fil says, add to reasons why never to read the Telegraph, (I never read the Daily Mail because it is perilously close to Julius Streicher type propaganda) though whatever publication this was in, the attitude would annoy me, and I'm not naive enough to believe that the Guardian or the Independent would never publish something like this, though I hope it would be less of a knee-jerk reaction type of writing.

With freedom of speech, like any freedom, comes responsibility. Yes, Michael Henderson is being provocative, yes he is being paid to be so, and that is very disturbing in itself. The article in itself is, as JC and others say, probably not worth getting worked up about. But to ignore these people and simply write them off as a lunatic fringe (God, if only) is the thin edge of a very, dangerous, frightening wedge.

Ed x

Anonymous said...

>I hate to stereotype...but I am assuming the pompous individual went to Eton or somewhere like that?

Not far off, Ed! He is always banging on about his school days. He went here:


After I read his articles I always feel like a well-rounded and, err, well just a nice person. It is pleasing to have one's ethics confirmed as good 'uns!



Dirk said...

Hmmmh ... as a German I don't know much about the Telegraph, nor do I know this Mr Henderson. But I'm willing to have a small bet that he - or someone he knew then - sent a tape to Peelie back in the 70's, which didn't get any airplay because it was utter crap. Just like the bugger himself.

And sorry if any commas are missing in the above!

Ed said...

JC sent me a link via email about something approaching nepotism at the Guardian which I really had to post the link to here. Cheers JC!


Ed said...

Oh, and Matthew at song, By Toad has written a good piece about this over here: