"Whispering" Bob Harris, English radio and TV presenter. Born 11th April 1946
"I'm a music anorak, a fan who got lucky...from the moment I bought my first record aged 10, I couldn't wait to share music with others."
Bob Harris, known to a generation as the quiet-voiced, bearded host of BBC TV's eclectic music show The Old Grey Whistle Test, is a man who is committed to popular music in all its forms, and has dedicated his life to sharing his great love with his audience.
Born in Northampton in 1946, he left school at the age of 17 (because the headmaster wanted to punish him for drinking shandy in the school holidays), and nearly became a policeman, joining a cadet course at the suggestion of his father (a CID inspector). He did not continue in the course, but moved to London at the age of 20, where he first heard John Peel's radio show, and realised that this was a way for him to share his enthusiasm for music with others. As a child, he became fascinated with 'pop' music, not just in listening to it, but getting behind it to the history, the connectivity and the development of the modern music scene.
Radio Days to The Old Grey Whistle Test
He has worked for a total of 31 years in radio, beginning as a stand-in for John, before being given his own show in 1970 on BBC Radio 1, presenting 'Sounds of the Seventies'. Fron thence he moved to Radio Luxembourg (from 1975-1976) and Radio 210 (1977-1981) as the head of Music and Presentation. He moved briefly into local radio with BBC Radio Oxford
(1981-84) and LBC (1986-89), before returning to Radio 1.
He currently presents a weekend show and the program 'Bob Harris Country' for Radio 2, and continues to present a wide range of music, picked from his encylopaedic personal collection. His style is laid-back and yet authoritative, his quiet voice nonetheless carrying an impressive weight, born of years of experience in his field.
It is not just his audience that recognises his talent and value; 1972 saw him win the Melody Maker and New Musical Express runner-up Radio DJ of the Year award. The winner? His erstwhile mentor, John Peel. He was also nominated for a Sony Music award in 1986, and has won three Bronze awards for Sony Music Broadcaster of the Year.
Although he is a well-known DJ, for many people, Bob Harris is best known for his presentation of the Old Grey Whistle Test, a challenge he took up in 1972, being chosen over John Peel to host the new series. He presented the show for seven years, and set a new standard for TV music broadcasting, with his quiet enthusiasm for the live bands, old and new, who appeared on the show. The BBC were delighted with him, and it helped to establish his credibility as a presenter.
This show has also led to many imitations though, best-known of which is The Fast Show character in the Jazz Club series of sketches. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, he should be flattered. He has made his mark on the British music scene.
Bob Harris, the man
Thrice married, twice divorced, he has (at the last count) eight children and three grandchildren, and now lives quietly in Oxfordshire with his wife Trudie and three of his kids; Miles, Dylan, and Florence. He has worn many hats, all in the music business, as producer, music consultant, pop historian and writer. He also founded and edited the magazine 'Time Out', and has authored two Rock history/reference books, and recently, an autobiography, 'The Whispering Years'.
His life has not all been beer and skittles, however. John Peel did not talk to him for twenty years. "I've never discovered why. Maybe he disapproved of my lifestyle...". He was also forced into bankruptcy by another colleague, Bruno Brooks. When he married Trudie in 1991, Bruno lent him £130,000 to help him to buy a flat in Hampstead, assuming that Bob would either be able to repay the money or sell the flat at a profit. Shortly afterward, he lost his job, and the property market collapsed. When Bob and Trudie could not sell the flat (it had lost £85,000 in value), Brookes served a repossession order. It was a difficult time, but Bob is understanding: "...if I won the lottery tomorrow, the first cheque I'd write would be to him".
He has been physically attacked (by The Sex Pistols, the cause of his refusal to continue to present TOGWT) and nearly died (from Legionnaire's disease). Despite it all, he is nonetheless now a settled and happy man. It is to be hoped he remains that way, as he has made millions of people happy.
bluebird_is_sad, for the birth date