Bob Harris: I remember

Jack Watkins

Co-founder of Time Out magazine and long-time BBC radio host Bob Harris, 71, has filled the airwaves with his mellifluous voice since 1970

…Listening to the radio with my mother.

Bob and family

It was from her I got my love of music. My dad was Welsh and always singing around the house, so really I was enthused by the pair of them.


…Making a pact with my Dad when I dropped out of Sixth Form.

He was a policeman in Northampton, where we lived, and he wanted me to follow him into the Force. But I had ambitions for a music career in London, so we agreed I’d join the Cadets for 18 months and if, at the end of it, I was still set on music, he’d back me all the way. At the end, aged 19, I was still itching for London. So my dad said “I’m 100 per cent behind you,” and was for the rest of his life.


…Dad arrested my future wife.

Mum and David Jacobs

Sue was very active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. There was this sit-down protest that brought the centre of Northampton to a halt. My dad was the arresting officer and it so happened the person he picked up and put in the van was Sue. Neither of us made the connection, but the first time I took her home, they both stood looking at each other. A very awkward moment.


…Moving to London was a massive culture shock.

Sue and I moved there in 1967 and London was vibrant at that moment with bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who, the fashion of Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy, and the counter culture of book and record shops. I grew my hair long and embraced the whole hippy scene.


…Putting together the early issues of Time Out magazine in 1968.

I’d realised the way into music was through journalism and met Tony Elliott, editor of Unit, a contemporary arts magazine. He had the idea of what was supposed to be a one-off tourist guide to underground London. I remember helping to put together the first one with Sue on the kitchen table of our flat.


…Becoming friends with John Peel.

With good friend John Peel in 1993

Listening to him on the radio had convinced me I could be a DJ. One of my first Unit interviews was with him, and then he had me on his programme to talk about Time Out. He was the force behind bringing me to the attention of Radio 1 producers and doing a pilot show which led to me to taking over Sounds of the Seventies in August 1970.


…Getting a buzz when I walked into BBC Broadcasting House.

I still do. I’ve got a studio at the bottom of my garden but I still love the feeling of driving into London and crossing the threshold of Wogan House, as it’s now called. I do my radio shows live as much as possible. It brings a different edge. You’re totally exposed and, of course, these days there’s the immediacy of feedback on social media while the programme is on air.


…Being very nervous when I first presented the Old Grey Whistle Test (OGWT).

Bob onstage at C2C

Whereas I’ve always felt at ease on the radio, I’d never done any TV before, so I was learning the job in front of millions of people. I felt intimidated by the camera to begin with, making my presenting style very low-key. Not long after I’d started, Melody Maker described me as Whispering Bob. That’s stuck with me ever since.


...Being proud of the range of musicians we had on the show.

Interviewing Van Morrison on The Old Grey Whistle Test

Because we had no substantial budget, we were free to experiment. Many American bands who’d never been seen in the UK made their first showing on Whistle Test. People like Bonnie Raitt and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Probably best of the lot were Bob Marley and The Wailers, ridiculously good and creating such an atmosphere in the studio. They were totally stoned.


…Confirming Keith Richards’s mythical drinking prowess.

Keith arrived in the studio one day smoking and swigging a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whisky. It was half empty by the time the interview started, and by the end the entire bottle was empty, yet Keith seemed completely unaffected.


…Success went to my head and led to the break-up of my first marriage.

OGWT was the focus of everything that was rock in Britain, but by 1976 it was also the focus of everything that punk and new wave music hated, and I became the coconut on the shy. I was a magnet for aggression, which I could hardly believe was directed at me with such venom. Sue was at home with our two daughters and thought the music business was shallow, whereas I was getting carried away on the hot air of success. We broke up in 1976, but we’re still friends, and now we reminisce about those tumultuous times.


…Having an out-of-body experience.

I became very ill in 1978, a combination of a hectic lifestyle and contracting a form of Legionnaire’s Disease. I was rushed to hospital to undergo three lumbar punctures, an incredibly painful experience. In the middle of it I was aware of being up at some indeterminate height looking down on all these people below working on me. I remember seeing a tunnel of light and feeling that everything was going to be OK. I didn’t have any worries about dying after that, but I did have huge fears about the danger of getting ill again.


…The eighties, professionally speaking, were my wilderness years.

Melody Maker described me as Whispering Bob. That’s stuck with me ever since

My last national TV appearance was presenting Blondie on OGWT on New Years’ Eve 1979, and the first regular programme for the BBC after that was when I came back on Radio 1 in January 1990. So almost to the day that I disappeared in the 1980s.


…Meeting Trudie coincided with an upturn in my fortunes.

Bob poses with  his wife, Trudie

I met her through a friend of my second wife, Val Scott. Val’s a TV chef and writer. We’d married in the 1980s but our careers had gone in different directions and our marriage was already breaking up by the time Trudie and I started seeing each other. It coincided with Stuart Grundy inviting me back onto the BBC Radio network. Trudie and I have been married over 25 years now, and we run the Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company. Trudie produces the UK Americana Music Awards, and our son Miles puts together the Under The Apple Tree live music sessions which you can also see on our website.


…Being amazed when Radio 2 offered me the chance to present the Bob Harris Country Show.

 Radio DJ ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris poses with his wife Trudie Myerscough-Harris (R) and children Charlie Harris and Miles 

At the time I doubted I had the knowledge, but gradually I realised country music was what I’d been working towards all my life. When you trace it back the earliest records I bought—the likes of Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley—all came out of country.


…Presenting Country To Country for the first time.

It will be the sixth one in March. When I first went to Nashville it was quite insular, but the success of artists such as Taylor Swift started to draw in people who had never previously thought about country music. Then you began to get British artists like The Shires making their own credible version of country. So while C2C started with the idea of bringing Nashville to London, it’s grown bigger each year, with various pop-up stages at the O2 showcasing both American and British artists, and off-shoots in Glasgow, Dublin and in Europe. It’s a demonstration of the strength and energy of country music today.