I very rarely tweet anything outside of blog updates and links to articles these days, but one morning back in January I felt compelled to post the following:
— James Masterton (@ChartUpdate) January 14, 2014
It seemed entirely appropriate to express support for a true gentleman and a broadcaster whom I’d always held in high esteem as he began the arduous task of defending himself against what proved eventually to be what we had always suspected – a raft of utterly ludicrous charges of sexual misconduct. Nonetheless it was a nervy time, although information from several friends who had made regular trips to the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court during the weeks the trial of Dave Lee Travis was ongoing indicated that the case against him was unravelling on a daily basis.
Despite the court being just around the corner from the office where I work, to my shame the opportunity to go and observe proceedings never quite presented itself, although during the days of jury deliberation I did get a chance to wander past and snap the waiting media as they lingered for the moment when he would emerge from the court in (muted) triumph.
I was actually too young to have ever listed to Dave Lee Travis in his prime, my Radio One listening coming long after he had been relegated to occasional weekend slots as the hardy veteran of the network. Nonetheless there are plenty of tapes of his early days in circulation. Take for example this extract of a show he presented on Christmas Eve 1971. Listening to it makes you appreciate just why he had such an extended career at the top of his profession, his style even back then a world away from the rather forced and unnatural sound of many of his Radio One contemporaries. In a sense he was almost ahead of his time, projecting the same natural warmth and effortless communication skills which he would still be demonstrating several decades later.
No, my fondest memories of DLT on the radio came at the very end of the late 1980s, and particularly the lunchtime shows he presented on Radio One at the weekend. Sundays in particular were DLT days and memories of the routine of listening to his show whilst engaging in the weekly ritual of cleaning and dusting my bedroom, all the while with the Sunday roast cooking downstairs remain to this day a genuine touchstone to a particular moment of my adolescence. As an eager student of musical history, his programme was never less than worthwhile. In essence these weekend shows gave him the freedom to be a genuine Rex Bob Lowenstein, mixing and matching classic rock and pop with the very best contemporary sounds. Through him I learned of Steely Dan, of Todd Rundgren of Edwin Starr (the willing participant in a memorable April Fools prank) of Fleetwood Mac and even Clifford T Ward. The commercial chart stuff I could get from the shows on during the week. Weekends were where you went to have your mind expanded.
Whilst it is a problem entirely of his own making, it is naturally a shame that Dave Lee Travis will forever be defined by that one hotheaded moment in the summer of 1993 when he made the famous “changes are taking place that go against my principles” speech in which he revealed that he would not be renewing his contract when it expired later that year in what was admittedly a rather undignified and overblown manner.
Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t directly fired for that outburst and would theoretically have continued on air until the end of the year, departing Radio One as part of the first wave of Bannisterisation under the regime of the new controller. But instead, as then controller Johnny Beerling explains in his autobiography Radio One: The Inside Scene:
Peace was restored for two whole days until Wednesday August 11, when Dave came to see me to tell me he had not felt able to keep his lip buttoned any longer and had given an exclusive interview to Piers Morgan for The Sun. In the interview Dave talked about his meetings with John Birt and Liz Forgan, his desire to be moved to a Network where he could appeal to a middle aged audience, and how he felt BBC morale to be at an all time low. Liz was even more furious than I. “Dirty little toad” was the description that she spat out and I too felt somewhat betrayed. I told Dave he had effectively fired himself and we would no longer have need of his services. He accepted the situation and understood full well that I had no alternative. I suspect he knew anyway that the way the BBC was changing would mean that there would be little future for him in the new Controller’s Radio 1. Because there was still no overall strategy regarding Radios 1 & 2’s music, BBC Radio as a whole lost out and eventually commercial radio gained another big name DJ. This was only a foretaste of what was to come.
Beerling, Johnny (2010-11-05). Radio 1 – The Inside Scene (Kindle Locations 8220-8232). Lambs Meadow Publications. Kindle Edition.
DLT spent the next few years shuttling around a variety of commercial stations, via a syndicated weekend programme hosted by short-lived satellite network Quality Europe FM and one which was taken by a handful of FM stations in this country. He did of course remain with the BBC in one respect, continuing to host the World Service request show A Jolly Good Show until 1999, one which ensured he remained a huge name in those parts of the world where the BBC’s overseas broadcasts still command a huge audience. The British media reacted with some bemusement when Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi spoke in glowing terms of the comfort his shows gave her when she spent years under house arrest in her native country, but it was nothing more than a reflection of the celebrity he still maintained despite his apparent domestic fall from grace.
Eventually DLT was hired to work a regular show by the then GWR-owned Classic Gold network and it was here that I ran into him for the first time. The radio station I was working for needed a new sustaining service for its AM licence and so signed a deal to take the Classic Gold network. My bosses at the time quickly identified that the presence of Dave Lee Travis on the schedules was a major selling point and should be the focus of their marketing efforts. To his obvious delight he was thus booked for a series of photo sessions which became the core of the “DLT’s Back!” marketing campaign with a series of postcards depicting – yes – DLT’s back as thanks to some studio wizardy he peered out from behind himself.
There was even a fully branded bus, one that I captured with a photograph the day an example was parked outside the studios, attracting the attention of some of Bradford council’s finest in the process.
In return Dave Lee Travis was more than happy to give up his time to do any promotional work needed, happy to lend his name and image, for example, to a stamp collecting appeal which raised money to train several guide dog puppies. On the days when he came into the office I’m ashamed to say I was actually far too starstruck to have the courage to talk to him properly and tell him how much of an inspiration he was growing up, a crying shame because knowing what I do of him he would have been very touched to learn it.
During the course of his trial, defence counsel produced a string of character witnesses who all refuted the allegations of offensive or boorish behaviour which had been levelled at him. It all proved what many of us knew already, that for all the buffoonish public image and rather sneering coverage of his post-BBC career. Whilst it isn’t really my story to tell, it would be remiss of me here not to mention the experience of one good friend of mine, these days one of the most highly respected radio broadcasters of his generation and a man who commands vast audiences across an entire region, but who was once a teenage hopeful wanting to learn all he could about radio. After spotting Dave Lee Travis on a BBC documentary in the early 90s bemoaning that few people ever approach him about wanting to learn from his experience, my friend wrote him a letter asking for advice. He was shocked to receive in return a multi-page handwritten letter containing a huge list of tips, tricks and encouragement. Having treasured the letter for decades, many years later my friend was able to approach him at a company awards ceremony, showed him the pages and thanked him for writing it. Travis apparently was so touched he openly wept at his table.
As I say, that’s not really my story to tell. But it stands as a shining example of his warm, generosity and humble spirit and gives you something of the measure of the man.
So it was with some joy that last week I was awakened from a post-overnight shift sleep by messages from friends that the verdict had come down and that as expected he had been cleared of virtually all charges levelled against him with the jury deadlocked on two more and with common sense suggesting that they too will end up being dropped. It is hard not to feel aggrieved at the personal cost to him of this ordeal, selling his house and being in danger of losing everything he had worked his whole life for because of baseless allegations. The only hope now is that he finds some way of restoring his reputation and his career and I cannot help but to watch gleefully the dilemma that Magic AM now find themselves in, facing questions from listeners who will want to know, given that Coronation Street stood by its two stars who were similarly acquitted of serious charges and welcomed them immediately back to work, why the Saturday lunchtime DLT show should not be reinstated to the schedules.
If it happens, I know I’ll be turning in with pleasure, whilst at the same time harbouring evil thoughts about campaigning to get this classic moment of pop music back into the charts: