When the course of my life changed so dramatically in July 1973 one thing I remember my father saying to me was, ‘keep a diary because as the years pass you will forget all of the important details’. Of course at the age of 13 I knew much better than him. I was convinced that I would remember it all. It took years for me to realise that as with so many things he tried to teach me, which I ignored, he was right. Sadly by then it was too late.
Of course the landmark moments are seared into my brain. I remember the moment my mother brought up a letter on a Saturday morning which came in a BBC envelope. I remember trying to mange my expectations so that I wouldn’t be massively disappointed with another rejection. I remember the overwhelming moment of joy when I realised that I was being invited to record a session for the John Peel late night Radio 1 show ’Sounds of the Seventies’. But I suppose it’s the little details that I miss by not having a journal.
That is why I am so grateful that my dad wrote a diary every night through all of those remarkable years.
I have been thinking about the 50th anniversary of my first radio broadcast for some time but it’s always been somewhere in the distance, somewhere over there. This May, the 50th anniversary of that letter inviting me to London, set the clock running. This week my Golden Jubilee started for real. On 10th July 1973, together with my brothers David and Gareth I headed for London to record for the BBC.
What I remember is still very vivid. With my big brother David acting ‘In Loco Parentis’ the first thing we did when we arrived in London was head for the nearest Wimpey. We hadn’t even started recording and already I had cost my parents a small fortune. 3 new suits for the boys, an extra ticket on the train because the BBC would only pay for 2 tickets and a slap up hamburger lunch. They never mentioned it and I never thought twice. In fact I never really thought about how they must have felt with all of their worries about the new world I had forced them to confront…and they never complained.
As this was going around my mind on Monday I decided to open my father’s dairy to 10th July 1973. My dad was rather weather obsessed and that’s where it starts.
‘A rather cloudy day. Some slight drizzle at times. Rose at 6.15 and took boys to catch train to London. Gareth looked after the bag; David carried the guitar case. Maldwyn walked behind to see that he didn’t bang it on anything’.’
After that my dad’s diary entry returns to normal. He talks about taking my grandmother and her friend Mrs George to catch a bus for the ‘Ladies Meeting’ trip to Dyffryn Gardens before cutting the lawn.
Meanwhile, up in the smoke the 3 Pope boys were living the dream. After our hamburgers we headed to the BBC where we were met by John Peel’s producer John Walters. John Walters was a big man with a beard who made me laugh. The Radio 1 offices were around the corner from the main BBC entrance so when John asked would we like to go to see Radio 1 in action we were ecstatic.
Highlights of the day – Jimmy Young and Johnnie Walker
As we made our way across from Egton House Langham Place I noticed a face I recognised coming out of the grand main doors. He might have been recently demoted to Radio 2, but Jimmy Young, ‘The Housewives Choice’ was still a massive star. I grabbed my autograph book and with John Walters help I added him to a book which up until then only boasted Swansea footballers like Ivor Allchurch.
With so many media outlets available for teenagers today its hard to really understand how big Radio 1 was back in the day and especially how important Tuesday lunchtime was. If I hadn’t been in London to record for Radio 1 that day I would have been at home listening to the Johnnie Walker Lunchtime Chart Show.
My autograph book went everywhere with me.
During the playing of one of the top 30 I was ushered in to meet Johnnie. I was overwhelmed by the broadcasting desk and the cart machines and of course by meeting Johnnie Walker. I said hello, stuck out my autograph book and left for my session.
When it comes to the session itself my memories are a little vague. I was recording songs that I had written and sung at school assemblies, Eisteddfods and late night Church youth groups so I was well rehearsed. There was no real pressure from anyone, and I had the confidence of a 13 year old. I sat down on a stool with my guitar, sang my songs and the engineer recorded them.
As far as I remember it went without any hiccups…well only one major hiccup. I had planned to record a song called ‘When You’re Away’ which I had written on the piano. This was the first time I had ever sat down at a Grand Piano and I expect it must have been a Steinway at that. Try as I might, I couldn’t quite make it all the way through without making a mistake.
Maldwyn Pope & John Peel London 19th July 1973
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was while I was at the piano that John Peel popped down to the studio to say hello and for a bit of a photoshoot. Eventually we decided to ditch the song and I chose another from my ‘vast’ repertoire that I could confidently play on my guitar.
John Peel and John Walters were slightly embarrassed that as a 13 year old musician I was classed as a minor so the most they could pay me was £5 plus travel expenses. £5? That was more than I would get for my birthday or Christmas. Anyway they wanted to make it right, so we headed back to their office where John Peel disappeared under his desk to gather a selection of the latest albums he had been given. I still have most of them including albums that I love from Neil Diamond and Jim Croce.
Before we left they asked if we wanted to call home. Back to my dad’s diary
‘Maldwyn called from the BBC London. He sounded quite excited. My job is to collect them from the station later’
We said our goodbyes to the 2 Johns and headed for Paddington. I think I slept on the train.
‘They arrived at about 10.45. Maldwyn was laden with records. They were all delighted and they listened to and recorded the programme (John Peel show). Mentioned their visit.’
Next Monday, 17th July 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of my first radio broadcast. Within a couple of months I would sign to Elton John’s Rocket Records and my dad and I would find ourselves in the back of Elton’s Phantom V Rolls Royce. Maybe you can understand why I’ve been a little emotional this week thinking back 50 years to the week when the course of my life changed dramatically forever.
‘The Mal Pope – BBC Radio 1 Sessions’ is now available to listen to online and download from all major sites including Spotify and Apple Music.