Jimmy Young and Tony Blackburn. Two of the most popular DJs on swinging Radio 1 – between them they fill nineteen hours of mornings every week. But their styles – and public images – couldn’t be more different. Russell Twisk brought the together and asked them to talk about their work, themselves – and each other…
His black hair, perfect teeth, large dark eyes, and all-purpose smile would fit almost anybody’s identi-kit of a DJ.
His jokey voice is the first thing millions hear every morning; the jokes themselves may amuse you or drive you mad.
Tony arrived bang on cue for the interview looking extremely young even for his twenty-three years. He glanced at our cover picture and said: ‘We look like Elsie and Doris Waters don’t we?’
As yet Tony Blackburn hasn’t acquired the show-business smoothness that is often the hallmark of DJs. He still says what he thinks, and this has already cost him a few friends among pop people, who don’t expect that sort of thing.
He always reminds me of a lovable baby bird who has suddenly tumbled out of a warm nest into the harsh world outside. He is completely without guile or side.
A cynic might say that he was naïve; but uncomplicated would be a fairer word.
Jimmy Young arrived a few minutes later; he’d been detained at a BBC recording. Jimmy is forty-three, and ruefully admits that he has had his ups and downs in his show-business career.
You can’t imagine ‘Gentle Jimmy’ (as he’s known) being intentionally rude to anybody. He could, one feels, chat quite happily with anyone. And this is exactly what he does on the phone with scores of housewives every week during the show.
An opening gambit, find the chatty spot, and away he goes.
Jimmy has had two number ones in the hit parade — and any DJ who has enjoyed that sort of success might think he had a safe job for life.
But Jimmy went through a very lean time in the early 1960s when he had to dip heavily into his carefully-saved capital in order to live.
The coming of Radio 1 last year meant that Jimmy found his audience again. ‘There’s nothing worse than a man my age trying to act hip—and I don’t have to do that on my show,’ he says.
He is shorter than I expected, his handshake is firm, and a smile is always at the ready.
Thanks a million
‘I am very insecure. I’ve been criticised by everybody for practically everything. But I’m still here.’ He adds this last sentence triumphantly, his brown eyes dancing.
The millions of housewives who tune in to his show every weekday and bombard him with complimentary letters can’t all be wrong, says Jimmy. He has a very deep respect for success.
And success is not the only thing Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Young have in common. They are both singers, both have daily 4 live shows, and both listen closely to the other’s programmes.
‘I hear Tony’s show as I drive to work. We appeal to different audiences, but I think it’s great. Really. Look at the audience rating.’
Said Tony: ‘We’ve both got irritant value. Some people say my jokes are terrible, and people are always sending you and your show up, Jimmy. But people have got to listen to complain.’
‘You’re right, said Jimmy. ‘One of my fiercest critics in this building never misses a show. I had a nudist on the phone in the show the other day. And this fellow knew right away. He doesn’t leave his set.
When Tony is broadcasting he visualises one person — ‘Usually a dolly girl. Sometimes a mum who I’m being a bit cheeky to.’
For Jimmy it’s no-one in particular, just the audience at large.
Do they think marriage would be a disadvantage to their careers?
‘Yes,’ said Tony Blackburn. ‘It would be bad for me to be tied down at this point in my career. I couldn’t afford the time.’
Said Jimmy, who has been married: ‘Like Tony I’m working most of the time, but unlike him I don’t think my fans would worry. In fact they’d rather expect it I think.’
Tony has no fears about the future, he is bursting with confidence and enjoying every minute. ‘YI’m the world’s worst worrier after the show, but at the time I love it.’
As I looked across at the two DJs—one the eager newcomer, the other tried and trusted, I couldn’t help thinking of the millions of people who longed for their sort of fame.
What is different and special about Jimmy and Tony? What has brought them to the top of the pack?
Perhaps it’s that they are not different or special at all, but normal and ordinary. The sort of person every listener can identify with.
Tony tends to support this view. ‘I’m an ordinary chap and I think I appeal to ordinary people because I’m not a raver. I’m just like them.’
About critics Tony Blackburn says: ‘It annoys me when they attack my sense of humour. That’s pointless and silly because what is funny to one man doesn’t appeal to another. Besides I earn more than the critics…’
He paused and laughed: ‘That’s good isn’t it?’
Both claimed that they don’t have time to spend the little money the taxman leaves them.
‘I never see any of my earnings,’ said Tony. ‘They are looked after by my accountant.’
‘But don’t say we’re complaining,’ put in Jimmy. ‘I’m certainly not.’
Strangely enough, the two get steamed up about parties.
People at parties are forever telling Tony that they don’t like the show. ‘Even if they love it really, they expect me to react, to defend it. But I just point out that they have a volume knob They can switch it off.’
Party time for Jimmy Young is spoilt when people keep asking him to sing. ‘If you invite a plumber to a party you don’t expect him to mend the bath do you?’
For the future Jimmy and Tony would like the good times to continue to roll.
Only more so.
Article source: The Radio Times edition of 8 February 1968