John Robert Parker RavenscroftOBE (30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004), known professionally as John Peel, was an English disc jockey, radio presenter, record producer and journalist. He was the longest-serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004.
Peel was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio. He is widely acknowledged for promoting artists working in a multitude of genres, including pop, dub reggae, punk rock and post-punk, electronic music and dance music, indie rock, extreme metal, and British hip hop. Fellow DJ Paul Gambaccini described Peel as “the most important man in music for about a dozen years”.
Peel’s Radio 1 shows were notable for the regular “Peel sessions“, which usually consisted of four songs recorded by an artist live in the BBC’s studios, and which often provided the first major national coverage to bands that would later achieve fame. Another feature was the annual Festive Fifty countdown of his listeners’ favourite records of the year.
Peel appeared on television occasionally as one of the presenters of Top of the Pops in the 1980s, and provided voice-over commentary for a number of BBC programmes. He became popular with the audience of BBC Radio 4 for his Home Truths programme, which ran from the 1990s, featuring unusual stories from listeners’ domestic lives.
John Peel was born in Heswall Nursing Home in Heswall on the Wirral Peninsula, near Liverpool, the eldest of three sons of Robert Leslie Ravenscroft, a successful cotton merchant, and his wife Joan Mary (née Swainson). He grew up in the nearby village of Burton. He was educated as a boarder at Shrewsbury School, where one of his contemporaries was future Monty Python member Michael Palin.
The solitary Peel was an avid radio listener and record collector from an early age, cutting his teeth on fare offered by the American Forces Network and Radio Luxembourg. He later recalled an early desire to host a radio programme of his own “so that I could play music that I heard and wanted others to hear”.
His housemaster, R. H. J. Brooke, whom Peel described as “extraordinarily eccentric” and “amazingly perceptive”, wrote on one of his school reports, “Perhaps it’s possible that John can form some kind of nightmarish career out of his enthusiasm for unlistenable records and his delight in writing long and facetious essays.”
In his posthumously published autobiography, Peel said that he had been raped by an older pupil while at Shrewsbury.
After finishing his National Service in 1959 in the Royal Artillery as a B2 radar operator, where he served alongside comedian Jethro he worked as a mill operative at Townhead Mill in Rochdale and travelled home each weekend to Heswall on a scooter borrowed from his sister. Whilst in Rochdale during the week he stayed in a bed-and-breakfast in the area of Milkstone Road and Drake Street, and would develop long-term associations with the town as the years progressed.