Celebrating Janice Long

Yesterday (13th January, 2022) was the funeral and celebration of the life of Janice Long. The news of her death on Christmas Day as 2021 came to a close, hit me like a kick in the gut. I was simply devastated, and my heart went out to her family – husband Paul, children Blue and Fred, and her father Colin – not to mention her many friends and colleagues who were touched and inspired in the same way as I was by her warmth, her passion, and her sense of fun.

Janice was one of those broadcasters who I had reserved a sense of awe and wonder for.  I worked at BBC Radio 1 between 1995 and 2001, so had not had the privilege of our paths crossing. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, BBC Radio 1 had not really ‘done it’ for me – I was a local radio boy. There were a small number of national DJs that did get me excited, like Janice Long, Annie Nightingale, and Peter Powell. When I later got to work at BBC Radio 1, the frisson of excitement getting to work for Annie Nightingale was palpable. The feeling was only in any way matched by getting to work for the likes of Kevin Greening, or Mark Radcliffe too, even if the total experience working at the mothership (and all who broadcast from her during those years, whether it was Sara Cox or Nicky Campbell; Lynn Parsons or Chris Moyles; Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq) was pretty awesome. But I had never had the opportunity to work for Janice Long.

As a listener however, my relationship with her deepened. By the early/mid 2000s, I had moved on from my role as head of PR at BBC Radio 1, and was beginning a move from freelance PR to becoming a university lecturer. I was listening to Janice every night on BBC Radio 2. She had become a trusted companion late at night, and into the wee small hours. I would ‘text’ or email into the show as ‘Paul from New Cross’, and I would take sheer delight when she would respond on air, or even reply to messages, usually involving my dog, Sparky.

Later, for eighteen months, she would accompany me on a late-night commute once a week (down one night, back another), while I was living on the North Norfolk coast. Sending her a message from a lay-by on the A11, and again having the thrill of hearing it being read out gave me great comfort at time when I was going through a bit of a ‘wobble’.

In 2007, I had the luck of being invited to a reception marking the 40th anniversary of BBC Radio 1. Finally, I had my chance, and I was not going to let it go when I saw Janice across the room. I went across and introduced myself, telling her that I wished we I had got the chance to work together at BBC Radio 1. It was then Controller Matthew Bannister who had inspired me to want to work at BBC Radio 1 in the mid-90s when it was under attack from the Tories at the time, and as part of his search for a public service purpose for the station, he had a mission to ‘bust open’ the male dominated (often referred to as ‘dinosaur’) culture at the station, the one which had also been responsible for Janice being ushered off the airwaves at the tail end of the 80s simply for being an unmarried Mum. The kind of shows that Janice pioneered had exactly the sense of purpose that Matthew Bannister was then looking to introduce at BBC Radio 1 back in his time, and I just wish those eras had coincided.

Back to that reception. All well and good to talk professional stuff, but then I thought, ‘what the heck’, and went for the personal approach, telling her that she probably knew me better as ‘Paul from New Cross’ on her BBC Radio 2 show. She knew exactly who I was, laughed, embraced me, and asked me how Sparky my dog was. I was on ‘cloud nine’.

By that time, I was running the Public Relations degree at London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts, London. I didn’t miss my opportunity, and asked her if she would be up for coming to speak to students on the degrees about the relationship between PR, promotion, and new bands getting noticed when it comes to getting their music played on the radio, not to mention her own experiences with publicity. She replied by saying that this was the first time she had been invited to give a university lecture – and that she would be thrilled.

The day she came to speak was a day I will never forget. Before she took to the stage in the lecture hall that evening, Janice asked if I would mind going for a mooch around the market at the Elephant and Castle, where the university is based. We had a complete ‘hoot’ as we wandered around the stalls shopping for hats and scarves, me with one of my broadcasting heroes. And later, she didn’t disappoint a packed hall with her lecture/talk.

I don’t pretend that Janice was a close friend, but over the last twenty years, as well as meeting her on those two special occasions, she was a central daily weeknight feature in my life, first until 2017 as a late-night companion on BBC Radio 2, and then since 2017, on her evening show on BBC Radio Wales – and I came to love her. This is the clip from when she read out my message on her final BBC Radio 2 show.

I’ve had to retire early in 2015 due to a neurological condition, and that evening show in particular has helped keep me in touch, introducing me to so much new music, for which her passion was legendary. I followed her as a listener from BBC Radio 2 to BBC Radio Wales out of personal loyalty, but stayed because I felt that, in that show, she had found greater freedom, and an even greater sense of the real Janice Long. Her spirit truly shone through. I still contacted her regularly, but by then, I was ‘Paul from Hampshire’, and it was she who now had a dog called Sparky.

The tributes have been overwhelming and heartfelt. I put together a playlist (see below) featuring music championed by her, or simply loved and played by her. Some of them featured in the week of tribute shows presented by her producer on BBC Radio Wales, Adam Walton. I found great solace in those shows.

I loved Janice Long – she was a beautiful soul, and had become a huge part of my life. The news of her death, and its impact on me has underlined the power of radio, and the relationship between presenter and listener. Rest in peace sweet Jan – and thank you!

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