Over the years there have been a small number of Australians that the British have taken into their hearts – Rolf, Dame Edna and Kylie spring to mind – but to that list we must surely add broadcasting great Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman who entertained us for four decades.
This month sees the 50th anniversary of Alan Freeman’s first Pick of the Pops. In this post, the second in the Radio Lives series, I’ll recall the key dates of the career of the man I like to call Sir Fluffington, illustrated with old Radio Times listings and audio clips.
Young Alan Leslie Freeman’s ambition was to be a singer like his musical idol, the American opera and concert singer, John Charles Thomas. Whilst Alan had a “pleasing baritone voice”, as he later admitted he “never had the vocal equipment” to make it professionally. It was, therefore, on Australian radio where he got to use that voice, first as an announcer then as a presenter at 7LA in Tasmania and then 3KZ in his home town of Melbourne.
Like many of his young fellow Australians Alan felt the urge to see the world and make his way to Europe. In 1957 he was also going to marry a model but when he told her of his plans she said “You either have your trip or we get married” to which he replied “I’ll write to you from London.”
So it was that Alan arrived in the UK during his 9-month round the world trip but in the event he never returned to Oz. Looking for radio work he auditioned at Radio Luxembourg, where he was judged as “adequate”. Nevertheless he was soon working as a summer relief announcer on 208 and then later as DJ providing recorded shows for the station from their Hertford Street studios.
In 1960 Alan did a turn on the Light Programme’s Housewives’ Choice and Twelve O'Clock Spin which eventually led to his first regular show on the BBC on 5 January 1961 hosting Records Around Five – “around five” because it started at 16:48 just after the racing results. This show was produced by Derek Chinnery, later to be a network controller for Radio 1, and together they chose Brian Fahey’s At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal as the signature tune. This theme was to stay with Fluff for the rest of his career.
By late 1961 Light Programme producers had decided to incorporate Pick of the Pops, at the time presented by David Jacobs, into a live Saturday night show called Trad Tavern. As David didn’t fancy the idea of doing the show in front of the live audience Alan was asked to take over, which he did from 23 September. Here’s David talking to Fluff on the previous week’s show.
And so Alan started his first stint as host of the weekly chart show which was to last until 1972. Throughout that run he worked with producer Denys Jones when the show moved to its traditional Sunday afternoon slot from 1962, thus establishing the time and day for chart shows that continues to this day. During this time Alan developed the style for which he became famous: the short staccato sentences, his listeners becoming “pop pickers”, the dramatic countdowns, the theme tune used to punctuate proceedings and the segueing of records whilst announcing the track over the intro. Again the Swinging Cymbal was used but this was changed in March 1966 to a Cliff Adams arrangement –he of Sing Something Simple fame – of Quite Beside the Point by the Harry Roberts Sound. By 1970 At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal was back, this time arranged by Barbara Moore and played by Cliff Adams’s Brass Incorporated. This version is the one used by Alan on this Rock Show and subsequent incarnations of POTP and subsequently by Dale Winton and Tony Blackburn.
Alan’s run on Pick of the Pops was not continuous: in late 1962 David Jacobs made a brief return and in late 1963 Don Moss was the host. During one of these enforced breaks Fluff was asked to present the late-night show Pop To Bed, taking over from Pete Murray. Advised by the Head of Gramophone Programmes, Anna Instone, that he must play soft ballads in the 20 minutes before midnight because that was when listeners went to bed he responded “Miss Instone, when Alan Freeman is on the air, nobody goes to bed.”
For any freelance DJs the amount of work on offer from the BBC in the early 60s was still very limited so many also worked for Radio Luxembourg as well, and Alan Freeman was no exception. Fluff continued to appear on 208 throughout the 60s and into the 70s on shows such as Spin with the Stars and Pops Till Midnight, an EMI sponsored show produced by Harry Walters (who would go onto produce Jimmy Young’s show on Radio 2).
In 1964 Alan was asked by producer Bryant Marriott to present a couple of Beatles Bank Holiday specials called From Us To You. These gave the Fab Four the opportunity to sing a few songs and enjoy a bit of banter with Uncle Fluff. Here are a few short clips from those shows.
By now Alan was also one of the regular hosts of BBC1’s Top of the Pops, alongside Jimmy Savile, Pete Murray and David Jacobs. In all he made 94 appearances on the programme but unfortunately all the 1960s shows he did were wiped with the exception of the Christmas 1967 edition.
This is a clip from the Top of the Pops 20th anniversary show with both John Peel and Alan Freeman:
From the same stable as TOTP came All Systems Freeman-the producer of both was Johnnie Stewart. Starting on 5 January 1968 this short-lived BBC1 TV series had Alan introducing the big hits of the day.
When Radio 1 started in 1967 Alan was still on Pick of the Pops but by 1970 had picked up some extra work on the station on the rota of presenters hosting What’s New – a daily review of new releases that rather helpfully didn’t count against the needletime allocation. (In 1967 he'd occasionally presented the Light Programme precursor to this show, Newly Pressed.)
Here’s a fascinating piece of audio of Alan “rehearsing” his chart rundowns. Be warned, there’s a spot of effing and jeffing. Naughty Fluff!
In September1972 Fluff presented his last POTP as a weekly new chart programme – when it returned it was as a retro show- and Tom Browne took over the charts with Solid Gold Sixty. Back in April of that year on Radio 1 Terry Wogan had left his 3-5 p.m. show to move across to Radio 2’s breakfast show and Alan Freeman moved into Terry’s old programme slot.
It was in the daily afternoon show that Alan finally broke away from just playing hit singles and got the chance to play the odd rock track with encouragement from his producer Tony Wilson, but much to the annoyance of management. On 1 January 1973 as the UK went into Europe the show came from Rome. Here’s a very short clip, the year is beeped out as it was used in a Radio 1 guess the year quiz; notice that his theme is now Soul Bossanova by Quincy Jones. Yeah baby!
1973 was the beginning of a busy 5-year period at the Beeb for Alan. Although his daily show ended he was given free rein to play all the heavy metal and prog rock he liked on a new Saturday afternoon show starting on 30 June, though he initially thought that demotion to a Saturday afternoon was him being pensioned off. However, as the show went out in stereo on VHF as well as 247 metres (opposite Sport on 2) it soon built up a loyal following.
In the summer of 1973 it was Alan who went out on the road in the first ever Radio 1 Roadshow. Developing the Youth Club Call feature from his old daily show he also picked up a Tuesday drivetime show that regularly came from youth clubs around the country. Initially this went out under the old Radio 1 Club title but the idea of the club was dropped in late ’73 and with it went the title. This show ran until 1975.
In September 1973 it was Alan that was chosen to narrate the 26-part series The Story of Pop. Written by Charlie Gillett and Tim Blackmore (who would go on to invite Alan to work for him at Capital Radio and later became his manager) the series was to prove very successful and was given a repeat in 1975 and sold to radio stations worldwide. For series editor Keith Skues it was the last BBC project he worked on before becoming programme director at Radio Hallam. The Story of Pop was revised and extended into a 52-part series in 1994 from which this short clips comes:The Story of Pop
1975 saw Alan in quizzical mode as he was the question master on Radio 1’s Quiz Kid, organised in co-operation with the National Association of Youth Clubs. Meanwhile that same year he was presenting another quiz over on Radio 2. Free Spin offered the chance for listeners to take part in a music quiz over the phone, an early version of Pop Master if you will, though the programme billing promised a musical range encompassing “grand opera to rock ‘n’ roll”. Alan continued to host the series until 1977; the following year comedian Duggie Brown took over – what a contrast!
In 1978 Alan left the BBC – for the first time. His last rock show went out on Saturday 26 August.
So unless you lived in London and the south east Fluff disappeared for a while apart from popping up on the odd TV advert.
Between 1980 and 1988 Alan was at Capital Radio where he initially revived the Rock Show and then later Pick of the Pops - as Pick of the Pops Take Two combining current hits and an old chart rundown. He still made occasional national radio appearances on ILR’s Network Chart Show, deputising for David Jensen.
The Sunday lunchtime ‘oldies’ slot on Radio 1 had became well established by 1987 with Jimmy Savile’s Old Record Club. However, network controller Johnny Beerling thought that Jimmy was now becoming “old hat” so he was replaced by the younger man- Mike Read. When audience figures dropped by over a million Johnny sounded out a replacement for Mike, that someone was Alan Freeman. In the early 60s it was Beerling, as assistant studio manager, that had played in the discs for Alan, no self-op studios in those days. To entice him back to “formidable 1FM” Fluff was offered a package of both Pick of the Pops and a Rock Show. At the age of 61 it was decided that there was no point in hiding it so press officer Jeff Simpson devised a photo call on a double decker bus with Fluff waving his bus pass.
Pick of the Pops returned to the Beeb on Sunday 15 January 1989 with the Rock Show starting the previous day. This is an extract from that first programme. Titled the Saturday Rock Show it was actually broadcast between midnight and 2 a.m. on the Sunday morning (the BBC day tends to run from 6 a.m.) which seems to cause some confusion for Fluff. The show opening more than amply demonstrates that he was still at the top of his game – this is how to start a show. Let’s rock!
By 1993 Beerling had decided to retire from the BBC and the incoming Controller was Matthew Bannister. Under his watch many of the old names were dropped in what proved to be a bloody period in Radio 1’s history. Out went DLT, Simon Bates, Bruno Brookes, Bob Harris and Alan Freeman.
In fact Fluff’s last Pick of the Pops for the station was on 27 December 1992, in the New Year The Man Ezeke started a similar (short-lived) show called Number One’s on 1. Here’s part of that final Radio 1 POTP programme:
Later that week Radio 1 paid tribute to Fluff, here’s part of that broadcast with Gambo, Johnny Beerling and the man himself:
The last Saturday Rock show went out on 23 October 1993. Producer Tony Wilson managed to get a few old rockers on the line to speak to Alan, you’ll hear Robert Plant (or “Bobbie” as Fluff calls him), Danny Bowes, Ian Gillan, Fish, Blaze Bayley, Joe Elliot and a message from Rick Wakeman.
Alan returned to the Capital group the following year where he presented Pick of the Pops Take Three on Capital Gold. His Rock Show re-appeared on Virgin 1215 and he did the odd show on Classic FM, his first love was of course opera.
April 1997 saw Uncle Fluff return to the BBC for a third and last time. Radio 2 Controller Jim Moir invited him back with the offer of two programmes: the old war horse Pick of the Pops on a Saturday afternoon and a Tuesday night series of classical music called Their Greatest Bits. A week before POTP returned Fluff spoke to Steve Wright on his Saturday morning show.
The style was the same as ever, that pared down delivery punctuated with, er, classical, pop and rock snippets, right. Writing in 2000 radio critic Roland White recalled Fluff playing I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll by Joan Jett and as it faded saying “You do too? Thought so.” And perhaps only he could get away with announcing “Methinks we may have heard a little bit of Santana”. No wonder he did so much to inspire ‘Smashie and Nicey’. Phil Swern remembers him playing the Ivy League’s Tossing and Turning and then asking his audience “Well loves, are you a tosser or are you a turner?”
Meanwhile over on Radio 4 a Kaleidoscope Feature called All Right? Stay Bright? saw Alan reminiscing with his old Radio 1 colleague Paul Gambaccini. This programme aired on Saturday 16 August 1997.
Radio 2 certainly had its share of “veteran” broadcasters back in 2000 – Alan Keith (91), Jimmy Young (78), Richard Baker (74), Desmond Carrington (73) and David Jacobs (73). So at 72 Alan Freeman was by no means the oldest. Under the production of Phil “The Collector” Swern most of the Radio 2 POTP programmes had in fact been voice-tracked but a combination of arthritis and failing hearing led Fluff to the decision to hang up his headphones. The last regular Saturday programme aired on 1 April 2000, after which Dale Winton took the helm, but was followed by a Good Friday special a fortnight later in which Alan played 40 years of number 1 hits. He continued with Their Greatest Bits and the eighth and last series concluded on 3 April 2001.
This is Fluff’s last ever chart rundown from that Good Friday broadcast:
Alan’s booming baritone voice was now much diminished with the onset of osteomyelitis in his jaw. By now, following a couple of falls, he was now being cared for at Brinsworth House, a retirement home run by the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund. It was there on 27 November 2006 that Alan passed away.
Here’s how BBC and ITV news reported his death:
And former colleague at Capital Radio David Jensen gave this appraisal to Sky News:
Alan Freeman 1927-2006. Ta-ra!
Information sources include:
Radio Radio:Alan Freeman – Radio 1 (020886), The Complete Fluff – Radio 2 (101206), Interview with Alan Freeman by Angela Levin – Mail on Sunday (300691), Radio 1:The Inside Scene – Johnny Beerling (Trafford Publishing 2008)
Extracts from What’s New and 1960s POTP courtesy of Azanorak
Extract from Radio Luxembourg courtesy of 208 It Was Great
Read more about Fluff: