Sunday, September 09, 2007

Radio One More Time: You'll Never Be 16 Again

We're only going to be slightly misty-eyed about the lost art of the rockumentary on Radio One - for reasons we'll return to later in this series. But part of the space lost on the network over the last fifteen years has been that occupied by well-crafted, well-researched, longform music features. First they were shifted from the weekends to the midweeks, then they got sliced up to fit in small segments of Lamacq Live, and now, we think, they might have disappeared altogether.

Well - not quite, as a lot of the sort of programming which used to appear on Saturday lunchtimes on Radio One now crops up on Radio Four. Histories of the pop press, investigations in Northern Soul; features which place music into some sort of context beyond a chart position and which hip-hop producer has taken an executive role. Features which treat music as something that can do more than fill the gaps between Chris Moyles' pearls of wisdom. Indeed, it's the loss of this sort of programme which makes the network's Macca and Gallagher fronted birthday programmes look so out of place: how do you celebrate a network by making the sort of shows it no longer does?

Three documentary series we particularly cherish - as in literally, by having them on cassette somewhere up in the loft.

You'll Never Be 16 Again was a history of the teenager, from the 'invention' of something between childhood and adulthood up until whatever was then the present day. It's a path that's been well trodden since, but the perspective it took - amused detachment from archive predictions of Teddy Boy-brought doom from the Daily Express set against the music of the time and first-person testimony - means it's seldom been bettered.

Peeling Back The Years was sort-of-revived, briefly, by BBC7 during its celebrations of John Peel's life, only even they could only be bothered to play one half of one episode, even though it remains something of a definitive biography of the man. In conversation with John Walters, Peel told his life story through the music which had driven it. It was an extended Desert Island Discs, but one which managed to avoid most of the self-indulgence giving six hours of radio to one man's choices would generate. Yes, it did feature Teenage Kicks.

Peel also presented Protest Songs, a four-part history of - you might be ahead of us here - political music. These ranged from the expected leftist sentiments - Shipbuilding - to right-wing calls for low taxes by Tex Payer. A few of the songs haven't been heard on Radio One since, we'd suggest.

[Part of Radio One More Time]


Anonymous said...

I *think* documentaries are still just about alive on Radio 1. Around this time last year they became a weekly feature on Colin Murray's Wednesday night show, although they took a slightly different form (the actual documentary consisted of two shorter recorded segments, with the rest of the time taken up by live interviews with a couple of studio guests). Naturally, they had to be 'interactive' too, so listeners could text in their views (Was this always the way with BBC documentaries? Would David Attenborough spend an hour introducing us to the world of the meerkat, before turning to camera and saying "Then again, what the f*** do I know? Why don't you write in and tell me what you think of meerkats. Maybe you saw something that looked like one once, or maybe you think it's time the government got tough and started sending them all back")

Anyhow, these documentaries soon went from weekly to monthly features, and from Wednesday to Monday. Not sure whether this was due to resources (its replacement was an hour of themed songs) or a compromise between listener figures and the public service remit (presumably if it was an unpopular feature, they'd drop it altogether if they could). And so it now gets treated like the unwanted china donkey your mum bought you for Christmas, begrudgingly tucked away where it won't spoil the look of the room, but prominent enough that you can still point it out and say "See, we put it up in the living room, like we promised"

Nina Miller said...

This is such a bizarre coincidence... I listened to the "You'll Never Be 16 Again" series when it aired in 1985 or 86, when I was 16-ish. I thought it was the best, most interesting thing I'd ever heard. I recorded it on cassettes that I subsequently lost, and I've been searching for a replacement for, I don't know, at least a decade and a half.

But I hadn't thought to search for many months, until today, and I find your post also from today. Fantastic!

Do you have any suggestions for how I might be able to get a recording of the series? I would dearly love to hear it again. The segments from the early 20th century through the fifties were what I found the most striking. Do you know if the series is available for purchase, or is it online somewhere? I'm in the US, fyi, so physically looking in particular stores in the UK is out.

I believe there is a book out by the same name, but it was hearing the way the kids spoke, how they described themselves in their own words, and the music they listened to (most of which was unfamiliar and would have meant nothing to me on the printed page) that made it so special. It has taken on a mythic quality in my mind.

Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated.

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