Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Radiobit: Alan Freeman

Although he had been unwell for some time, it's still crushing to hear the news of the death of Alan Freeman, the man who set the standard for chart rundown programmes during his time hosting Pick of the Pops.

Born in Melbourne in 1927, Freeman's original career plan had been to become an opera singer. He even spent two years training for the job, but eventually accepted that his future lay somewhere else than the twilight of the gods. Opera's loss was radio's gain, as he relocated to Tasmania and embarked on a career filling the bits between records with his distinctive low-key wit and high-powered charm.

He took a while to find his feet - on one occasion, his mother rang the studio to ask why the music had disappeared from his programme, only to discover her son had fallen asleep on the job. Luckily, Mum seemed to be the only person who'd noticed.

He picked up the name Fluff from his pullovers - and it's fair to say that even while presenting rock shows, there was something of the sweater and slipper about Freeman; his chart rundowns and programmes never lacked excitement, but his style was the excitement of discovery rather than the sense of risk and danger some of his contemporaries, like Kenny Everett and John Peel, brought to the studio.

In 1957, Fluff took a brief holiday in London which somehow lasted for half a century. He found a role with the Great 208 of Radio Luxembourg, broadcasting pop music through a legal black hole between adverts for Bile Beans. His transfer to the BBC came before the launch of Radio One - indeed, he'd been doing Pick of the Pops on the Light Programme for years before Broadcasting House started to welcome ashore the former pirates who would create the Nation's Favourite - but it was at Radio One where he found his natural territory, adding a rock show and afternoon programme to his empire in 1972.

His original role at the BBC had been slightly less cutting-edge: he'd been hired to present Records Around Five and Housewives Choice. Records Around Five brought with it a key part of the Freeman persona: it was the first time he used At The Sound Of The Swinging Cymbal. Over time, the programme's theme tune would become his theme tune, and eventually synonymous with the very idea of chart rundowns.

Pick of the Pops had started as a slot on Trad Tavern, but became a show with its own slot and everything in 1962. His time presenting Pick of the Pops on the Light Programme hadn't been totally covered in glory - at a time when most radio was scripted, Freeman's deliberate pauses and unfinished sentences had created a friendlier style but confused management to the extent that he was taken off the programme for a few months in 1962. The slap was made open-handed when he was replaced by David Jacobs. They gave him another chance, panicked again, and it wasn't until 1964 that Freeman took over from Don Moss on a more permanent basis.

One of the most familiar voices of the time - and faces, as one of the launch presenters of Top of the Pops - Freeman wasn't afraid to do commercial work, taking theBrentford Nylons shilling to provide voiceovers for their TV ads.

In 1979, Freeman moved to Capital Radio, broadcasting a show combining that week's chart with one from the past - in an age more relaxed about media brands, he was able to call it Pick of the Pops Take Two.

When Jimmy Saville left Radio One at the end of the 1980s, Freeman returned to remake the old chart show slot on the model of Pick of the Pops and to take back the Saturday Rock Show. He didn't find favour with the Matthew Bannister regime, though, and left Radio One in 1993. During the period when the AM network tried to make up for in star power what it lacked in audio fidelity, Freeman put in some time at Virgin 1215, before making a third, and final, passing from the commercial sector to the BBC to revive Pick of the Pops for Radio 2. He continued with the job even after arthritis and asthma led him to relocate to a retirement home.

Never one to take himself too seriously, Freeman gleefully played up a cameo role of himself in Harry Enfield's Smashy and Nicey special. His career concluded with an evening series dedicated to opera and light classical music for Radio Two - returning him to the music he originally set out to make.

Freeman won virtually every radio award possible, including a Sony for Radio Personality of the Year and Lifetime Achievement, and membership of the Radio Academy Hall of Fame. He was made a MBE in 1998.

Alan Freeman was 79. And, to end the way he would have:

Stay Bright
Not 'arf.


Anonymous said...

"Crushing" is the word. In a generation of daytime radio dross provided by DLT, Bruno Brookes, Mike Read, Gary Davies, Steve Wright etc, Fluff was quirky and charming without being patronising regardless of what he was playing. Most of the "new" daytime Radio 2 presenters (not least Jonathan Ross) owe him the same debt most of today's comedians owe Spike Milligan. RIP Fluff.

Tim Footman said...

And don't forget he was in the most underrated film of the 80s, Absolute Beginners.

Anonymous said...

Just a personal memory, being 6 or 7 listening to his Saturday afternoon rock show, Fluff saying "... and here's a postcard from Mogdor in Hemel Hempstead, he wants to hear more Zep, more Tull, more Floyd, more Heep..." and me thinking, wow, I wonder who *they* are, and setting me on the road to musical discovery... bye-bye Fluff, "old school" in the best way possible...

Anonymous said...

His rock shows ARE legendary, and flowed, man they flowed..... If anyone has any recordings of Fluff's rock shows on Radio 1, Capital or Virgin, please get in touch via wwwDOTrockradioDOTeuDOTcom

See you on the dark side of the Moon Fluff.


Gary Bridger Photographer said...

Where can find Allen freemans 1974 saturday rock show. There was a track with a soft voice counting down and heavy music , that still to day I want to hear it a again.

selena gomez said...

Thank you, your article is very good

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