At first there was just the
BBC (unless you tuned into Radio Luxembourg at night) and for popular music
the BBC was really awful. This was the golden era of wonderful radio comedy
shows such as Round The Horne and ISIRTA, but Auntie was still stuck in
a bygone era when it came to music, and patronising with it.
Then came the off-shore pirate stations: London and Caroline, which operated off proper ships, and all the funny little fly-by-night stations which transmitted out of the old forts off the Essex coast and were lucky if anyone beyond Basildon could hear them. Suddenly you could turn on the radio and expect to get reasonably up-to-date music coming out of it: chart singles, for instance, which were marginalised to a couple of programmes a week on the BBC. But still there was something missing.
And then came John Peel. In the Spring of 1967 he signed up with Radio London, and before long he had grabbed the after-midnight spot for himself and created The Perfumed Garden. Now at last there was something really worth listening to. He played all the things that nobody else would: Jefferson Airplane, Captain Beefheart, Marc Bolan, Lightnin' Hopkins ... all sorts of interesting stuff, woven together with his words, announcements of underground events, listeners' letters (he got a lot of those), into a magical, marvellous programme, truly a Perfumed Garden of the airwaves.
All over the south-east (and beyond, as Harry Bell on Tyneside assures me) we tuned in at midnight. Reception was patchy: I lived in London and had to contend with an indifferent signal and interference from foreign stations. Rosemary (who I married three years later but had never heard of in 1967) lived in Oxford, where Radio London came through loud and clear, although it was fifty miles further away. John Peel and his programme found their way into a lot of hearts. But then, too soon, it was all over. The Government brought in their law to ban the pirates, and Radio London closed down. The Perfumed Garden had lasted all of three months. I wish it had been longer, but that was not to be.
A month later the BBC bowed grudgingly to progress and started Radio 1. John was hired as one of its first DJs, and was given a certain amount of freedom to play what he wanted. In 1968 for a short time he hosted Night Ride, a Radio 1 late night programme which recreated the old magic of the Perfumed Garden (enhanced by access to the BBC archives) and I'm told it was very good. (I was living in the USA by then, so I didn't hear it for myself). Peel went on, of course, to a long and successful career, but to me he will always be associated with those few months in 1967 when there was magic in the air. A happy time.
ADDENDUM: Since writing the above, and as a direct result of posting it on the Web, I have been given the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with the Perfumed Garden, in the form of a tape of part of the final programme (14th August 1967). I found it hard to put myself into the frame of mind I must have had when listening to Sergeant Pepper was a fresh and new experience, not honed by decades of repetition; when Marc Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex had only just formed; when Janis Joplin was very much an unknown quantity on this side of the Atlantic; when a track by Jackson C.Frank seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. How long ago it all seems now! Thank you Jim for supplying the tape. And thanks to Monni for her foresight in recording it while the chance was there.
This paean first appeared in Issue #6 of BRAND X magazine. © Darroll Pardoe 1996, 2004
More information on Pirate Radio
Back to Pigs Can Fly