Anthony Kenneth Blackburn
29 January 1943
(m. 1972; div. 1977)
Anthony Kenneth Blackburn (born 29 January 1943) is an English disc jockey, singer and TV presenter. He first achieved fame broadcasting on the pirate stations Radio Caroline and Radio London in the 1960s, before joining the BBC, on the BBC Light Programme. He was the first disc jockey to broadcast on BBC Radio 1 at its launch, on 30 September 1967, and has had several stints working for the corporation. He has also worked for Capital London and Classic Gold Digital, and currently BBC Radio 2, BBC Local Radio, and KMFM. He has also had a singing career.
In 2002 Blackburn was the first winner of the British reality TV series I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!
Blackburn was born in Guildford, Surrey, on 29 January 1943, but in 1946 his family moved to Bournemouth, then in Hampshire, where his youngest sister, Jacqueline, was born. His sister was born suffering from polio and was unable to walk since birth. Blackburn's father, Kenneth Fleming Blackburn, was a GP and his mother, Pauline Cubitt (née Stone), was a nurse. He was educated at Castle Court School in Parkstone, Poole, Dorset. He gained entry to Millfield in Somerset on a sports scholarship and captained the school's cricket team.
Early career as disc jockey
After beginning his career as a singer, Blackburn then worked as a DJ for the offshore pirate radio stations Radio Caroline and Radio London (1964–1967), before joining the BBC in 1967, initially broadcasting on the BBC Light Programme.
After a simulcast with BBC Radio 2 hosted by Paul Hollingdale, Blackburn was the first DJ to be heard on BBC Radio 1 when it officially launched at 7 am on 30 September 1967, with his first words on the new station being "And good morning everyone! Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio 1!" The Move's "Flowers in the Rain" was the first complete record he played. Blackburn recalled in 2014: "My job was to entertain and tell corny jokes, not have opinions or talk politics. If I wanted to wish the Queen a happy birthday, I had to get clearance from above." Throughout his Radio 1 career Blackburn often employed an audio clip of a barking dog, "Arnold", which he had previously used at Radio Caroline and Radio London.
At first he was associated mainly with mainstream pop, but he later championed soul music. It was largely due to him that "I'm Still Waiting" by Diana Ross, which was initially just an album track, was released as a single in the UK in 1971 and reached number one. He was a regular host of Top of the Pops for a decade until 1979 and he appeared with fellow DJ's Noel Edmonds and Kenny Everett on the 500th anniversary show where he performed the spoken part of "Won't Somebody Dance With Me" and then danced with singer Lynsey de Paul. In 1968, he fronted his own show, Time For Blackburn, produced by Southern Television for the ITV network. "The Radio 1 DJs were a massive attraction. We were mobbed everywhere we went", Blackburn told Simon Hattenstone, referring to personal appearances. "It was all a bit mad, but great fun", he told Judith Woods in 2014. We "were built up to be stars in our own right, and as a result we were as famous as the artists we played."
In 1973, when his pantomime performance was interrupted by a power cut, he said the miners should go back to work. He was admonished by management and taken off-air for two weeks. In an interview for The Radio Academy's Radio Talk podcast in 2013, Blackburn said that it is not advisable for a broadcaster to reveal their political allegiances. In this interview, he says that he's "not a great lover of the TUC or of unions ... but I keep it to myself now."
He was in a group called Tony Blackburn and the Rovers which at one point included Al Stewart; they performed in Bournemouth and the surrounding areas. His singing career failed to take off, although three studio albums and 14 singles were released, of which two, "So Much Love" and "It's Only Love", made the UK Top 40 in 1968 and 1969 respectively. "So much Love" suffered from a shortage of copies because "the pressing plant went on strike, so nobody could get the record", he once recalled. "I don't think the strike was anything to do with the record, though it might have been... quality control or something." As the years progressed he spent less time making his own music and concentrated on radio work, by the end of the 1970s he had stopped singing altogether.
In 1972 he released a self named album on the RCA label. Two of the tracks were released as singles: "Chop Chop", written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, and "House of Cards", written by Lynsey de Paul and Barry Green. His version of Doris Troy's "I'll Do Anything" was recorded in 1969 for his second album, Tony Blackburn, which was released on Polydor label. This version of the Gamble and Huff song was re-discovered by Northern soul fans when it was pressed up as a white label and became a hit on the scene's dancefloors. The single was re-released as a single under the pseudonym Lenny Gamble on Casino Classics in June 1978, with the pseudonym being a portmanteau of songwriters Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble. Blackburn was allegedly furious when Noel Edmonds revealed the alias on air. Nevertheless, Blackburn and Edmonds became close friends. All of the Blackburn's singles, including "I'll Do Anything" and "House of Cards" were finally released in 2012 on a CD compilation album The Singles Collection 1965–1980 on the Cherry Red label.
From 1973 to 1984
In June 1973, he took over Jimmy Young's mid-morning slot (when Young moved across to BBC Radio 2), where he introduced "The Golden Hour". The feature was to prove durable, being carried on by Simon Bates, Simon Mayo, and Chris Moyles when they subsequently took over that time slot.
Over several years of the 1970s, Blackburn was a co-presenter on the BBC's summer programme Seaside Special, alongside other well known names from BBC Radio such as Dave Lee Travis and David Hamilton. On 16 August 1975 he appeared singing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree", with a lion tamer, in a cage of lions.
In November 1977 he took over the weekday afternoon show and from September 1979 until December 1981 he presented the Sunday Top 40 show on Radio 1.
At the start of 1980 he took over from Ed Stewart as the presenter of Junior Choice broadcast on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8 am to 10 am, while continuing to present the Sunday chart show until the end of 1981. He was succeeded by Tommy Vance. During 1982, BBC Radio 1 dropped the name Junior Choice and the show became the Radio 1's Weekend Breakfast Show which Blackburn continued to host until his final show on 23 September 1984.
In addition to his BBC Radio 1 weekend show, he joined BBC Radio London in 1981, where he presented the weekday afternoon show. It was here that he showed his appreciation of soul music. "Soul music is sexy music, raunchy music. I didn't want it to be a niche thing, I wanted to bring it to a mass audience. I wanted cab drivers to listen to it because I think pop soul is fabulous, I do, really", he told Simon Hattenstone.
From the mid to late 1980s, Tony Blackburn presented the show "Soul Station" on BFBS radio. One of the unforgettable jingles was "Tony Blackburn - The Human Dynamo".
Blackburn had a difficult relationship with fellow DJ John Peel, whom he recalled saying: "'People don’t realise how much you’ve done for soul music', and I said: 'I bet you’d never say that publicly', and he said: 'Oh no!'"
Having left BBC Radio 1 after 17 years of broadcasting, he took over BBC Radio London's weekday mid-morning show in 1984. He joined Capital London in 1988, and was involved in beginning their Capital Gold London station, presenting programmes such as the Breakfast show, Weekends, Drivetime then the Weekday evening show playing his own choice of music, where he remained until 2002. He hosted similar shows on Jazz FM in Manchester and its successor Smooth, and the Real Radio Network.
In 1987, Blackburn made an extended appearance on the second ever edition of After Dark on Channel 4. In 1989 Blackburn co-presented the morning TV show Sky by Day on Sky One. The show aired weekdays at 11am and was broadcast live.
In 2004, Blackburn rejoined BBC Radio London, originally taking over a two-hour timeslot on Monday evening from 8-10pm. Here he would be given free rein on his choice of music. In addition to this he also took over Saturday Lunchtime from 12 midday to 2pm for the station.
Blackburn began presenting the Breakfast show for Classic Gold Digital, a station based in Bedfordshire, in late 2003. He was suspended in late June 2004 for featuring too many Cliff Richard records. The singer was not on the station's playlist. Noel Edmonds, whose company owned a majority shareholding, thought Blackburn would soon return to broadcasting for the station. The suspension was short lived. Blackburn won his dispute with management over the playlist a few days later, and Cliff Richard was added to it. "We should be playing him as much as The Beatles", said the station head. Whilst doing the Breakfast show, he quit his Monday evening slot from 8-10pm on BBC Radio London, but still continued with Saturday Lunchtime.
"I’m still a part of the disco generation," Blackburn told The Times in December 2004. "There is no pretence there and it never seems to date. I think disco did much more as a contribution to music than Bob Dylan or Neil Young. People get snobbish about music. Disco never takes itself too seriously."
In early 2008, Blackburn took over Weekend Breakfast on Smooth Radio, originally broadcasting to London audiences only, but a couple of months later the show was networked across the Smooth Radio network.
On 6 November 2010, Blackburn replaced Dale Winton as the regular host of BBC Radio 2's Pick of the Pops programme. One of his remaining ambitions was to present a programme on Radio 2. "I was 37 when I left Radio 1, and 2 seemed a natural progression. So it's only taken 30 years", Blackburn said in 2010. Blackburn presented the show every Saturday from 1 pm to 3 pm. He also presented shows on BBC Radio Berkshire from 10 pm to 1 am on Fridays & Sundays, BBC London 94.9 on Sundays from 12 midday to 3 pm.
Commencing 2 July 2016, Blackburn has presented a weekly four-hour soul music show, Soul and Motown Show, every Saturday from 6 pm to 10 pm, on London's DAB station Thames Radio on 2 July 2016 until June 2017.
Since 2007, he presents a weekly three-hour show, Tony's Blackburn's Playlist every Sunday from 4 pm to 7 pm on KMFM (radio network) Radio across the county of Kent. This included a retro chart feature for many years.
BBC dismissal and return
On 25 February 2016, Blackburn was dismissed by the BBC in an announcement from Lord Hall, the corporation's Director General, stating that the contents of documents from the early 1970s were in conflict with evidence Blackburn had given to Dame Janet Smith's inquiry into Jimmy Savile's sexual abuse at BBC premises. Blackburn said he repeatedly told Smith and the BBC that he had never been interviewed about an alleged incident in the 1970s and that Smith's report made no suggestion that he was guilty of any misconduct whatsoever. Smith found Blackburn's denial that he was interviewed by light entertainment head Bill Cotton and Sir Brian Neill QC unsatisfactory. Neill had been appointed by the BBC to look into unrelated matters concerning Top of the Pops. Cotton's colleague, Tony Preston, had written a memo at the time concerning the interviews. Neill, the only one of the three men still alive, initially declined to comment, but later said he had interviewed Blackburn and, in 1972, had cleared him of wrongdoing.
Blackburn complained that the BBC was dismissing him and damaging his career based on the discrepancy. He said that like Smith's report, a coroner's inquest and a police inquiry had made no suggestion that he was guilty of any misconduct, adding that the report was a "whitewash" and that he had been scapegoated for giving his best recollections of events 45 years before. He asked: "Given Dame Janet Smith's concerns of a culture of fear in coming forward at the BBC, what whistle-blower at the BBC would ever come forward when they see the way they have hung me out to dry?" He said he intended to take legal action against the BBC.
Nina Myskow commented on BBC Radio 2: "It should be a sad black day for the BBC because of the revelations about the whole Savile episode, but in fact that's been buried very cleverly by the BBC as usual by sacking Tony Blackburn."
Blackburn continued to present a show on Kent's local commercial radio station KMFM. A spokesman for the station said, "He is a great asset, a fantastic broadcaster and someone we are proud to work with."
In October 2016, it was reported that Blackburn would again be working for the BBC, presenting an hour-long programme on BBC Radio 2 on Friday evenings, and additionally returning to BBC Local Radio. He returned to BBC Radio 2 on 31 December 2016, and BBC Local Radio both on 1 January 2017, and 6 January 2017 opening with Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive".
Blackburn now presents Sounds of the 60s on BBC Radio 2, having taken over on 4 March 2017 from Brian Matthew, who hosted it for 27 years. The show is now broadcast live on Saturday mornings between, and he now also presents his Golden Hour music programme on Friday nights, taking over the slot from Desmond Carrington.
On 30 September 2017, Blackburn recreated his first breakfast show on BBC Radio 2, playing the songs from vinyl, and he later joined Nick Grimshaw, and guests Mike Read, Simon Mayo and Sara Cox for a special show to celebrate BBC Radio 1's and BBC Radio 2's 50th anniversary.
In 2020, Blackburn teamed up with Kaiser Chiefs frontman, Ricky Wilson to present a new series of podcasts entitled Ricky and Tony's Pop Detectives. The shows centre around Blackburn and Wilson trying to unravel long-held myths and rumours about pop stars' lives and their music. The first episode centred around whether Debbie Harry had really been in a car with serial killer Ted Bundy, as she had previously claimed. The series was released to positive reviews and a further series was released in the summer of 2020.
In 1972, Blackburn married actress Tessa Wyatt. The couple had a son, Simon, who was born in April 1973, but they divorced in November 1977 after separating the previous year. In June 1992 he married his second wife, Debbie, a theatrical agent, with whom he has a daughter, Victoria. He has two grandsons with son Simon and daughter-in law Natalie.
Blackburn has been a vegetarian since he was four years old.
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