Tony Blackburn is one of Britain’s most famous and beloved DJs. He made history in 1967, by being the first disc jockey to broadcast on the BBC’s iconic Radio 1 station.
Born in Guildford, Surrey, on January 29th, 1943, Tony Blackburn grew up in Bournemouth, Hampshire. He was educated at private schools in Dorset and Somerset. At the prestigious Millfield School, Tony Blackburn showed promise as a cricketer, and captained the school team.
Blackburn actually began his showbusiness career as a singer in Bournemouth with a group called Tony Blackburn and the Rovers (an obvious reference to English football team Blackburn Rovers). Though he failed to become a major singing star, two of his songs made the UK Top 40 – ‘So Much Love’ and ‘It’s Only Love’.
Radio 1’s First DJ
Using his love for music, and his cheerful personality, Tony Blackburn make his breakthrough as a DJ on the pirate radio stations, Radio Caroline and Radio London. Hated by the Establishment, but listened to avidly by the young, this meant that Blackburn was already a big name by the time he was given the his own breakfast show, and the honour of playing the first record on Radio 1, on September 30th, 1967. The first record Blackburn played was ‘Flowers in the Rain’ by British group, The Move.
Tony Blackburn left the breakfast show on Radio 1 in 1973, but presented ‘The Golden Hour’ in the middle of the morning on the same station. Later in the decade, Blackburn presented an afternoon show. Throughout the 1970s, Tony Blackburn presented TV shows ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘Seaside Special’, alongside fellow Radio 1 DJs. In 1977, Blackburn suffered obvious public anguish after his divorce with actress wife Tessa Wyatt. For a public used to Tony Blackburn’s perennial cheerfulness and silly jokes, his distress seemed more marked.
Leaves Radio 1
In the 1980s, Tony Blackburn’s career wasn’t quite so high profile. He began the decade in 1980 as a DJ on the popular ‘Junior Choice’ at the weekends. Blackburn also returned to Radio London to host a show there, but remained at Radio 1, presenting ‘Weekend Breakfast Show’ until 1984. His career at Radio 1 came to an end on September 23rd, and meant that he had been on the station one week short of 17 years.
On Radio London, Tony Blackburn’s show featured a phone-in as well as music. Here was a more assertive Blackburn, and he’d give short shrift to people who supported something he vehemently disliked, such as fox hunting. Blackburn has been a vegetarian since he was a small child. Ironically, Blackburn’s Radio 1 nemesis for a time, John Peel, also shared his passion for animals, though they bickered over each other’s musical tastes.
Another long-running radio show hosted by Tony Blackburn was on the London-based station, Capital Gold. Blackburn stayed on this station from 1988 until 2002, and then left to join Jazz FM.
Tony Blackburn returned for stints on Radio London and appeared on Classic Gold, famously defending Cliff Richard’s music on the latter. Blackburn won the reality TV series ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!’ in 2002, and earnt a lot of money for charity. The Paul Whitehouse comedy character, Nicey, was based on Tony’s smooth style.
A New Home on Radio 2
Tony Blackburn’s career has almost gone full circle, as he is back on national radio at the BBC, presenting ‘Pick of the Pops’ on Radio 2. He also has shows on BBC London (formerly Radio London) and Radio Plymouth. Tony is married to Debra, his second wife, and they have a daughter, Victoria. Tony Blackburn also has a son, Simon, from his first marriage.