Born 17th September 1928. Died 8th April 2017
For my generation Brian Matthew was a significant figure. Ian Dury described him as “the great Brian Matthew - a huge influence” and he was right. He wasn’t a trend setter or an icon of the times. He didn’t have any hit records and his picture rarely appeared on teenage bedroom walls. He didn’t set any fashionable trends or challenge the accepted order. He was just what he was - an ordinary man who presented radio shows that featured the music that we liked. He was a friend, a mate of my generation and a friend of our favourite stars - and because of this the stars became our friends too. That is why we will miss him.
“Never talk down to your audience. Treat them as friends. They probably know more about the subject than you do.”
Brian Matthew who died on the 8th April was born in Coventry on the 17th September 1928 and educated at Bablack, an independent co-education school. Like many of his radio contemporaries he started his career in 1948 in Germany while on National Service broadcasting for the British Forces Network. After he was demobbed (ask your granddad) he trained as an actor at RADA before joining the BBC in 1954 as an announcer and producer.
His first real job with the BBC came in 1957 presenting the popular music show ‘Saturday Skiffle Club’ on the Light Programme. (You’d better ask your granddad about that as well). In 1958 ‘Skiffle Club’ changed its name to ‘Saturday Club’ which ran continuously until the Light Programme mutated into Radio One in 1967. It was one of the most forward looking music formats of its time. Because the Musicians Union severely restricted ‘needle time’ much of the music was played live by the stars of the time, including the Beatles with whom he enjoyed a long and friendly relationship. One of the programme’s distinguishing features was the quiet presence of Brian, described by journalist Bob Woffinden as ” An authoritative and unruffled professionalism… surely one of the outstanding voices in post-war radio”.
During this period Brian Matthew also fronted ITV pop show ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’, a radio version of ‘Top of the Pops’ for the World Service and a Sunday morning music magazine ‘Easy Beat’ which ran from 1960 -1967. This was a rather dull affair with trad jazz bands, passed-it popsters like Bert Weedon and petticoated balladeers like Maureen Evans. With the arrival of Radio One in 1967 it changed its name to the ghastly ‘Happening Sunday’ presented by Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart and was then quietly dropped. Few tears were shed.
The arrival of Radio One also saw the sidelining of Brian to Radio 2 and into what might be described as his golden years. Unlike many of his peers he retained an interest in contemporary pop, presenting an album show for the BBC World Service and ‘The Beatles Story’ for Radio One. Reminding us what a skilled interviewer he was he also presented ‘My Top 12’, in which artists selected and introduced their favourite tracks - rather like ‘Desert Island Discs’ but without the island, the luxury item and the complete works of Shakespeare. In 1977 he hosted ‘Round Midnight’ a magazine programme which was adventurous for a Radio Two show, covering a range of topics from music, the arts and show business and featuring many studio guests. In 1990 he became the regular host of ‘Sounds of the Sixties’. This Saturday morning 8.00am-10.00am ‘golden oldies’ show became his crowning glory. It was wildly popular particularly with the ‘Avids’, its regular, devoted and undoubtedly ‘mature’ listeners who lapped up its a wide-ranging selection of Sixties music, including familiar hits, LP and EP tracks, B-sides and obscurities.
In February 2017, as Brian moved into his 88th year, he was told by the BBC that because of illness he would no longer host the programme- a decision which not only upset him but an army of disgruntled ‘Avids’. In a classic case of the BBC shooting itself in its foot the show, now presented by Tony Blackburn, has been moved to an earlier time - 6.00 - 8.00 on Saturday mornings - and its format changed so that the main emphasis is on radio hits, rather than the familiar odd and ends of 60’s music .
We - the Avids - never assumed that he liked the music as much as we did but it was clear that he appreciated our taste and was happy to promote it. He also had time for the people that made the music from the old traddies pumping out their diluted Dixieland in the 1950’s to the rising stars of the 60’s like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones who were chasing them out of the charts. We’re going to miss you Brian.
Trad Mad by Brian Matthew
In 1961 Brian Matthew wrote a book, ‘Trad Mad’, about some of the traditional jazz bands that were popular at the time like Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and the Temperance Seven. On the back of it he also released a record with the same name, featuring his impersonations of some of the grand trad daddies. Unlikely but true!
– from Martyn Day