Disc Jockey, broadcaster and International Ambassador of Rock, 1943 - 2005
"Tommy Vance is a total influence. I used to do Tommy Vance on (Virgin Radio's) The Big Red Mug Show. They'd go, Tommy, where are you this week? And I'd go, I'm in World Of Leather having another suit made to measure."
- John Thomson
Imagine, if you will, that it's possible to extract the very essence of hard rock and, in a Return Of The Killer Tomatoes-style experiment, we were able to create an army of soldiers from that one vial of jet-black liquid. The result would undoubtedly be Tommy Vance - a man who personifies an entire musical genre which he has been representing on the radio both in the United Kingdom and the United States since the beginning of the sixties.
Born as Richard Hope Weston in Oxford, UK, his radio days began at the Seattle station KOL when a show to be presented by the real Tommy Vance was due for broadcast with everything ready to go except the DJ himself. When he failed to show, Richard was told that the job was his as long as he changed his name to match that of the AWOL presenter and, thus, Tommy Vance v2 was born.
His radio career spanned right up until the early nineties, passing through Radio Caroline, Radio Luxembourg, Capital Radio and the British Forces Broadcasting Services (interviewing, over the space of ten years, around nine thousand people including Prince Charles, Christine Keeler and Lord George Brown) before arriving at BBC Radio 1 in the mid-seventies to present The Friday Rock Show.
"Rock isn't about fashion. It's a statement, a commitment. It's anti - anti whatever you've got, mate. Rock fans want to wear different clothes, different t-shirts with different motifs and listen to different music. These people don't want Westlife or Steps. In fact, they think they're shit."
Thanks largely to his distinctive, thunderous voice, Tommy has found a lucrative sideline in doing voice-overs for commercials and nature documentaries such as A Shark The Size Of A Whale ("Yes, a giant shark is quite rock. I did a documentary the other day called Ants At War. They were ripping each other's heads off, so I suppose that's quite rock too.").
More recently, he has also been a hot ticket for comedy programs, contributing his larynx to the likes of Vic Reeves, The 11 O’clock Show and even being duped into appearing on Brass Eye alongside Vanessa Feltz, supposedly presenting a video for first-time offenders going to prison. However, unlike the many celebrities outraged at being fooled, Tommy found no problem in finding the funny side:
"That was fucking hilarious! They sent this cleverly made-up headed paper, about this charity helping young prisoners At the time I was helping young offenders to set up a radio station. So along came this letter asking, Would I help? My immediate thought was, Bet your life! I was totally fair game. If you're up there representing something, you're ripe for a torpedo once in a while."
Nowadays, on top of the regular voice-over work he still gets, his raison d'etre
of rock has been relocated from radio to television, still presenting The Friday Rock Show
but this time on the cable music channel VH1
. The man who coined the phrase 'TV on the radio' is still going strong and, providing he can fight off deafness from a career of going right the way up to eleven
, he'll continue to so for more years to come. Rock isn't dead until the Vance-meister says so.
"I don't mind being deaf - I've had 35 years of fun."
Tommy died in hospital on 6th March 2005 aged 63, three days after suffering a stroke and, along with John Peel and Kenny Everett, radio lost another of its true stars.
research thanks blast:
q magazine, issue 176: may 2001