Tony Blackburn

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Tony Blackburn
Tony Blackburn.jpg
Born Antony Kenneth Blackburn
(1943-01-29) 29 January 1943 (age 74)
Guildford, Surrey, England
Occupation Disc jockey
Years active 1964 - Present
Spouse(s) Tessa Wyatt (1972–1977; divorced)
Debra (1992–present)
Children Simon (b.1973)
Victoria (b.1997)

Antony Kenneth "Tony" Blackburn (born 29 January 1943) is an English disc jockey who broadcast on the "pirate" stations Radio Caroline and Radio London in the 1960s and was the first disc jockey to broadcast on BBC Radio 1 at its launch at the end of September 1967. In 2002 he was the winner and thus "King of the Jungle" of the ITV reality TV programme I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!. On 25 February 2016 Blackburn was sacked by the BBC, but in October 2016 it was announced he would rejoin the BBC in January 2017[1]

Early life[edit]

Blackburn was born in Guildford, Surrey, but in 1946 his family moved to Bournemouth, then in Hampshire, where his sister, Jacqueline, was born. His sister was born suffering from polio and has been unable to walk since birth.[2] Blackburn's mother, Pauline Cubitt (née Stone), was a nurse, and his father, Kenneth Fleming Blackburn, was a GP. He was educated at Castle Court School in Parkstone, Poole, Dorset. He gained entry to Millfield School in Somerset on a sports scholarship and captained the school's cricket team.[3]

He left before taking any examinations, but gained O-levels, following private tuition, and enrolled for an HND course in Business Studies at Bournemouth Technical College.[4]


Early career as disc jockey[edit]

After beginning his career as a singer, Blackburn then worked as a DJ for the offshore pirate radio stations Radio Caroline and Radio London (1964–67), before joining the BBC in 1967, initially broadcasting on the Light Programme.

Blackburn was the first DJ to broadcast on BBC Radio 1 when it was launched 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".[5][6] The Move's "Flowers in the Rain" was the first complete record he played.[7] 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."[2]

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 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,[3] 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."[2]

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.[3] 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."[8]

Singing career[edit]

He was in a group called Tony Blackburn and the Rovers which performed in the Bournemouth and surrounding areas. His singing career failed to take off, although 3 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."[9] 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.

His version of Doris Troy's "I'll Do Anything" was recorded in 1969 for his second album, Tony Blackburn for the Polydor label; it was re-released as a Northern soul single under the pseudonym Lenny Gamble on Casino Classics in June 1978. Blackburn was allegedly furious when Noel Edmonds revealed the alias on air. Nevertheless, Blackburn and Edmonds became close friends.[citation needed]

From 1973 to 1984[edit]

In June 1973, he took over the weekday mid-morning slot, where he introduced "The Golden Hour". The feature was to prove durable, being carried on by Simon Bates and Simon Mayo when they took over the slot later.

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.

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.

With Maggie Philbin at a Radio 1 Roadshow in the early 1980s

In early 1980 he took over from Ed Stewart as the presenter of Junior Choice broadcast on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8-10am, 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 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.

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!'"[3]

Having left BBC Radio 1 after 17 years he took over BBC Radio London's weekday mid-morning show in 1984. He joined Capital Radio in 1988, and was involved in beginning their Capital Gold station, presenting programmes of soul music, where he remained until 2002. He hosted similar shows on Jazz FM in Manchester and its successor Smooth, and the Real Radio Network.[10]

Later career[edit]

Blackburn began presenting the Breakfast show for Classic Gold Digital, a station based in Bedfordshire, in 2003.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

"I’m still a part of the disco generation", Blackburn told The Times in December 2004.[14] "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."[14]

On Saturday 6 November 2010, Blackburn replaced Dale Winton as the regular host of BBC Radio 2's Pick of the Pops programme.[15] 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.[16] Blackburn presented the show every Saturday from 1 pm to 3 pm. He also presented shows on BBC Three Counties Radio and BBC Radio Berkshire from 9-11am on Sundays, BBC London 94.9 on Sundays from 12–3pm. He also presents a weekly Sunday show on Viking 2, previously named Magic 1161.

He began presenting a weekly soul music show, every Saturday, on London DAB station Thames Radio on 2 July 2016.[17]

Blackburn has won two lifetime achievement awards from the Radio Academy, the second of which was to mark his fifty years of broadcasting.[3]

BBC sacking[edit]

On 25 February 2016, Blackburn was sacked by the BBC in an announcement from Lord Hall, the corporation's Director General. It mentioned that the contents of documents from the early 1970s were in conflict with the evidence Blackburn gave to Dame Janet Smith's inquiry into Jimmy Savile's sexual abuse at BBC premises.[18]

Earlier Blackburn had released a statement saying he had been sacked, in a decision taken personally by Lord Hall, and was no longer working for the BBC. Dame Janet's review criticised the BBC for failing to investigate properly allegations made by the mother of 15-year-old Claire McAlpine. Vera McAlpine complained in early 1971 that her daughter said in her diary that she had been seduced by Blackburn after attending a Top of the Pops recording as an audience member.[19] Claire McAlpine died from a deliberate overdose in March 1971.[20][21] Blackburn denied that he had sex with her and said that her daughter had withdrawn the allegation against him. He said he repeatedly told Dame Janet and the BBC that he had never been interviewed and that Dame Janet's report makes no suggestion that he was guilty of any misconduct whatsoever. He said he would take legal action against the BBC.[22] He complained that the BBC was sacking him and damaging his career based on the discrepancy.[23]

Smith wrote in her report that it is "hard to fathom" why some documents are missing, such as a press log, detailing how the BBC handled issues before May 1971. It is known that documents, such as the duty logs of the public's telephone calls to the corporation, which would also have assisted the Savile inquiry in looking at the Blackburn case, were not retained by the BBC until a decade later.[24]

Smith found unsatisfactory Blackburn's denial that he was interviewed, by light entertainment head Bill Cotton and Sir Brian Neill QC, about the McAlpine allegations after her mother had made a complaint.[18][25] Neill had been appointed by the BBC to look into unrelated matters concerning Top of the Pops.[26] Cotton's colleague, Tony Preston, had written a memo at the time concerning the interviews.[27] Neill, the only one of the three men still alive, initially declined to comment,[24] but later said he had interviewed Blackburn and, in 1972, had cleared him of a connection with McAlpine.[28]

Hall said in his statement: "Tony Blackburn fell short of the standards of evidence that such an inquiry demanded."[23] Blackburn said he had been "scapegoated".[25]

Blackburn continues 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."[29]

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 both BBC Radio London and Radio Berkshire. [30]

Blackburn also presents Sounds of the 60s on BBC Radio 2 taking over from Brian Matthew who hosted it for 27 years: it airs between 6-8am. Broadcast live, it features texts and emails in a similar format to Pick of the Pops, which he presented from 2010-2016.

Personal life[edit]

In 1972, Blackburn married actress Tessa Wyatt.[31] The couple had a son Simon, who was born in April 1973, but they divorced in November 1977 after separating the previous year.[32] In 1992 he married his second wife Debbie, a theatrical agent, with whom he has a daughter, Victoria.[2]

Blackburn has been a vegetarian since he was five years old.[33]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d Woods, Judith (28 April 2014). "Tony Blackburn: 'I was relaxed because I was on Valium'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Hattenstone, Simon (10 August 2014). "Tony Blackburn: 'John Peel looked upon me as the devil for some reason'". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  4. ^ Blackburn, Tony (2007). Poptastic My Life in Radio. Cassell Illustrated. ISBN 978-1-84403-600-4. 
  5. ^ "History of the BBC: Start of Radio 1 30 September 1967". BBC. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  6. ^ Reynolds, Gillian (27 September 2007). "The day we woke up to pop music on Radio 1". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  7. ^ "Flower power". BBC News. 24 August 2007. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  8. ^ Tim Davie (7 February 2013). "RadioTalk: Tony Blackburn at 70" (Podcast). Radio Academy. Event occurs at 23:30–24:30. Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Taylor, Paul (10 January 2013). "Tony Blackburn: My life's work has been about talking nonsense". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  10. ^ "Profile: Tony Blackburn". BBC News. 25 February 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  11. ^ MacDonald, Marianne (30 March 2003). "Blackburn is Back". Evening Standard. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  12. ^ Hamilton, Alan; Malvern, Jack (24 June 2004). "Overdoing Sir Cliff's hits lands Tony Blackburn a long summer holiday". The Times. Retrieved 25 February 2016.  (subscription required)
  13. ^ "Blackburn victory over Cliff ban". BBC News. 25 June 2004. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  14. ^ a b "'At the smoochy bit she broke off and did her own thing'". The Times. 28 December 2004. Retrieved 25 February 2016.  (subscription required)
  15. ^ Plunkett, John (24 September 2010). "Tony Blackburn to present Pick of the Pops". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 November 2010. 
  16. ^ Craig, Olga (3 October 2010). "Tony Blackburn interview: 'So what if people call me cheesy?'". The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  17. ^ "Tony Blackburn joins Thames Radio schedule". Retrieved 2016-06-27. 
  18. ^ a b Foster, Patrick; Ward, Victoria (25 February 2016). "Tony Blackburn sacked by BBC because his evidence to Savile review 'fell short'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  19. ^ Duell, Mark (19 October 2016). "Tony Blackburn, who claimed he was a 'scapegoat' after being taken off air in the wake of BBC sex abuse scandal, will be returning to Radio 2". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 19 October 2016. 
  20. ^ Moreton, Cole (27 February 2016). "Top of the Pops: How BBC show was a breeding ground for sexual abusers including Jimmy Savile". The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 28 February 2016. 
  21. ^ Lewis, Kayleigh (28 February 2016), "'World famous singer' abused 15-year-old girl after filming Top of the Pops for the BBC", The Independent on Sunday, retrieved 2 March 2016 
  22. ^ Johnston, Ian (25 February 2016). "Tony Blackburn: I've been 'sacked by BBC' ahead of Jimmy Savile report". The Independent. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  23. ^ a b Rawlinson, Kevin; Sweney, Mark (25 February 2016). "BBC 'parted company' with Tony Blackburn over Savile inquiry evidence". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  24. ^ a b Burgess, Kaya (27 February 2016). "Savile inquiry chief shocked that BBC logs went missing". The Times. Retrieved 27 February 2016.  (subscription required)
  25. ^ a b Burgess, Kaya (26 February 2016). "I'm just a scapegoat, says Tony Blackburn". The Times. Retrieved 27 February 2016.  (subscription required)
  26. ^ Burgess, Kaya (26 February 2016). "I'm just a scapegoat, says Tony Blackburn". The Times. Retrieved 26 February 2016. 
  27. ^ Ward, Victoria (26 February 2016). "BBC memos 'prove that Tony Blackburn was quizzed over 1971 sex claim'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 February 2016. 
  28. ^ Boyle, Danny (29 February 2016). "Tony Blackburn: I did interview DJ over claims he seduced girl of 15, retired judge insists". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  29. ^ "Tony Blackburn to continue with kmfm radio show". 
  30. ^ "Tony Blackburn to return to the BBC". 19 October 2016 – via 
  31. ^ "Tony Blackburn: BBC presenter's career spans six decades". The Guardian. Press Association. 25 February 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  32. ^ Blackburn, Tony (28 September 2007). "Hedonism, addiction and 300 one nights stands – the confessions of Tony Blackburn". Evening Standard. Retrieved 26 February 2016. 
  33. ^ "International Vegetarian Union – Tony Blackburn (1943– )". International Vegetarian Union. 2007. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
First presenter
BBC Radio 1
Breakfast Show presenter

Succeeded by
Noel Edmonds
Preceded by
Simon Bates
BBC Radio 1
chart show presenter

2 September 1979 – 3 January 1982
Succeeded by
Tommy Vance
Preceded by
Smooth Radio
weekend breakfast show presenter

Succeeded by
Graham Dene
Preceded by
Dale Winton
BBC Radio 2
Pick of the Pops presenter

Succeeded by
Paul Gambaccini
Preceded by
First Winner
I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Succeeded by
Phil Tufnell