Boundless enthusiasm, enduring passion, endless joy – a tribute to Janice Long
Having the privilege of telling people’s stories often means you find yourself telling the stories of those you hugely admire.
That was the situation I found myself in back in 2017 when I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Janice Long.
A staple of my youth on Radio 1, her evening session show served as a musical education – opening me up to a whole new world of music.
That she broadcast with such humour, humility, warmth and passion meant that you couldn’t help but be swept along by her infectious enthusiasm.
Her show opened my ears to so much new music from all four corners of the planet – from The Smiths and her favourites Echo and the Bunnymen, to REM and Green On Red, The Church and The Hoodoo Gurus, I devoured it all with the same sort of zeal that she championed these new bands.
It was as if you were listening to a friend imparting brilliant new music tips – not so much a broadcaster but a best mate.
Janice Long was a force of nature, a genuinely lovely woman, with a joyful personality, boundless enthusiasm and the utmost integrity.
From Radio 1 to Radio 2 and then Radio Wales she remained throughout a dedicated champion of new music who never lost her love of what she did so well for so long.
This is my interview with Janice for WalesOnline in 2017.
She didn’t disappoint. She was everything I hoped she would be and more…
Janice Long, by her own admission, is experiencing a new lease of life.
After taking time out following her controversial departure from Radio 2 earlier this year, the evergreen radio presenter found herself offered a new challenge, one she eagerly snapped up.
As far as judgement calls are concerned, this was most definitely the correct one.
Janice Long’s Summer Nights, launched on Radio Wales in May this year – and as its name suggested the show initially had a finite run until the end of August.
However, with station controller Colin Paterson announcing a new raft of shows earlier this month Janice Long’s Summer Nights was to become a radio show for all seasons – given a permanent Monday-Thursday evening, 7pm-10pm slot as part of a rejigged schedule.
The show has become an instant hit – as much attributable to Long’s everywoman appeal, her natural warmth and an encyclopaedic playlist from which she can summon forth more than four decades worth of frankly fantastic tunes, chiefly due to her many years spent at Radio 1 and Radio 2.
In short, she’s a brilliantly natural broadcaster who remains as bubbly a character today as she did when she graced Top of The Pops in the 1980s. While some of her colleagues from her Radio 1 heyday may have faded into local radio obscurity, Long has remained a fixture of the national airwaves.
However, when Radio 2, in a highly contentious move, announced it was to have no presenters overnight, it abruptly brought an end to Long’s 17-year affiliation with the station, chiefly in the midnight slot in which she gained a large and loyal following.
She said the axe came as ‘a huge shock’ and anybody who listened to her teary farewell, while she introduced her final tune – poignantly for the massive Echo and the Bunnymen fan – their fitting standard Nothing Lasts Forever will realise how much it meant to her.
“I loved it, I had so much fun broadcasting that show, I was heartbroken, the news did come as a huge shock,” she says, speaking to me down a phoneline from her home in Liverpool. “I was told on the last day of my holidays in August last year that it was going to happen in January. What made it worse is that I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my producer, for several months until the station announced it publicly just after Christmas. That was hard knowing I was leaving but not being able to tell the listeners.
She adds: “Radio 2 controller Rob Shennan didn’t want any live broadcasting after midnight, which I thought was a real shame because there is still a big audience out there – people working or on their own who like to hear a voice – they’ve still paid the licence fee. However, there was nothing I could do about his decision.”
Despite the pain of the break, she’s still on good terms with the bosses at Radio 2, so much so that she’s currently recording a series of documentaries with the station called A Long Walk With – a simple but clever concept where the DJ takes a long walk with a pop star around their old haunts and mines a rich seam of golden anecdotes.
When I suggest that the departure from a Radio 2 show that she clearly loved must have been hard, she is sanguine.
“Hugely, it was very difficult, but now I can honestly look back and say I’ve never been happier.”
It might sound like she’s talking a good game, but the runaway success of her Radio Wales show appears to have reinvograted her.
Lovely team vibe
After taking a well-deserved breather after Radio 2, Radio Wales contacted the presenter with the offer of a summer show and she was taken with it immediately.
“Colin Paterson and my agent Nigel Forsyth got talking and I loved the idea of the whole thing,” she recalls. “I met with Colin in Wrexham and I said ‘yeah, I’m really up for this’.
“He said I want you to do the sessions, I want you to do the interviews. I want you to do what you’ve always done – and he said depending on the success of the Janice Long Summer Nights programme it may be taken further. I said what will it be known as then – Janice Long’s Autumn Nights or Winter Nights and Spring Nights?” she laughs.
“But seriously when he asked me was I happy to carry on, I didn’t have a hesitation in saying yes. I’ve absolutely loved it. The freedom I’m given is great. Everybody there is so friendly and I know it sounds corny – but there is such a lovely team vibe.
“And the team at the studio love their biscuits, so I’m tasked with bringing in different biscuits each week. I don’t really eat biscuits, so it’s a new challenge for me.”
The new Radio Wales show has given her a fillip not only professionally but socially it would appear as she tells me she’s made plenty of friends on the hour’s commute from her home in Liverpool to the Wrexham studio where the show is broadcast.
“I train it over, it’s dead easy and I really love that part of it,” says the DJ, whose very first job was as a stewardess for Laker Airways, the short-lived airline that pioneered budget fares, before she got her break with an evening show on Radio Merseyside.
“The train journey doesn’t take long and I’ve got to know everyone in the cafe at Chester station (where she changes to get to the train to Wrexham) and they’re lovely. I’ve also got to know Veronica who gets on the train and does something for the government, but what I’m still not quite sure.
“I also use the journey so I can listen to music or I download my favourite dramas and I watch those.”
The 62-year-old broadcaster confesses she’s always had an affinity for Wales – it’s where she loves to go on holiday most for a start.
“I love Wales, my mum was evacuated to Wales during the war and as a family we always went on holiday to Wales and then over the years I’ve taken my family to Gower, St Davids, Solva and Whitesands Bay, so we’ve always had that association with Wales.
“My first pet was a budgie called Blodwyn Del Bach as well,” she says, accompanied again by that throaty laugh. “Wales is such a beautiful place, sometimes I don’t want to tell people how beautiful it is in case it’s massively invaded by people.”
While the presenter is evidently smitten with her adopted homeland what also remains undimmed is Long’s passion for new music. You only have to witness the regular sessions she’s had on her programme – a long-held trait of her broadcasting career – from some of the rising stars of the Welsh music scene for evidence of that.
She’s also an undoubted people person and loves to interact with her listeners on Twitter, as well as those who appear to be enjoying her regular appearances on re-runs of Top Of The Pops from the 1980s, which are currently being broadcast on BBC Four.
Eagle-eyed viewers may also have seen a very young Janice Long popping up on Challenge TV who are showing repeats of the much-loved quiz show from the 1970s and 1980s 3-2-1, the very first episode of which she appeared with her first husband.
“We won a sterling silver tea service, after rejecting the car,” she says. “But it wasn’t all bad as we sold the tea service for £2,000 and put a deposit down on a house.”
As for Top Of The Pops, because of the scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile and disgraced former presenter Dave Lee Travis, many of the episodes of Top Of The Pops on which they appeared have had to be pulled meaning Long’s appearances from 1984 have hoved into view quicker than might have been expected.
“I wasn’t meant to be on for quite some time but because of everything that’s gone on they’ve come up to my period very quickly,” she says. “But I used to look forward to those Top Of The Pops days like crazy because you’d get so excited to find out who was going on, especially if it was a band that you really, really loved.
“I also loved the clothes. Some of the music I thought was awful, but then you would get classic stuff like the Bunnymen, The Smiths, The Cure, The Banshees and it was so good.
“When I presented Top Of The Pops I used to think I was really fat, but watching the shows back I now know I wasnt fat,” she laughs. “But I’m loving seeing all the artists and what they were wearing. Some of them I’m still big mates with like Alannah (Currie) from The Thompson Twins. She’s one of my best friends.
“A big regret was that I didn’t do Top of The Pops with The Cult, who I loved and I pushed and pushed on my show. But I did get to do shows with The Smiths and The Bunnymen.”
Presenting the Janice Long Show on Radio 1 from 1984 until 1987 when she left to have her first child, the broadcaster pioneered the 7pm-10pm evening session format that has continued to this day. She also forged a brilliant alliance with broadcasting colossus, the much-missed John Peel who followed Long’s show at 10pm and was a scabrous critic of the music played in the daytime on the station that employed him.
“We had a great laugh together,” she recalls. “He was always taking the proverbial out of everyone. I remember him saying to me ‘I’d get rid of everybody here at Radio 1 apart from you, of course’, and I remember he added: ‘Bruno Brookes can go on reception because I like him’.”
These were halcyon days for the DJ who on moving to London in 1984 lived at legendary rock ‘n’ roll hotel The Columbia.
“It was home to all the bands at the time,” says Long, one of the presenters of the BBC’s coverage of Live Aid in 1985. “We had such a great time we wouldn’t go to bed until the croissants were delivered at the hotel.
“We’d all be sat in this huge circle drinking coffee, strangely. Matt Johnson of The The would walk in or China Crisis or whoever and say ‘oh we‘ve made this today and we‘d sit and listen to the music that they’d made in the studio. I remember there were bands there like U2, Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode. It was just brilliant.”
On joining Radio 1, she was also decidedly her own woman, determined to make her mark given her big opportunity, and she was going to do things her own way.
“Somebody from Radio 1 and I won’t say who, said to me ‘you’ll have to lose your friends and start dressing in a certain way’ and I said – ‘no, sorry, that’s not going to happen’.”
Sadly for Long, the spectre of Jimmy Savile casts a long shadow over the ‘80s period – previously seen as the golden age of Radio 1. The Savile question is one that the presenter has no doubt been asked about many times since the horrifying stories of sexual abuse, mostly against children, carried out by the DJ first emerged in 2012.
“I thought he was a weirdo,” she says. “That was my view before I actually did Top Of The Pops with him. I’d see him on telly and would think ‘urgh’, because I thought he was an odd person.
“Thankfully I didn’t have any dealings with him apart from standing next to him on Top Of The Pops or seeing him at the Radio One Christmas Lunch.”
This gathering of all the Radio 1 DJs from the daytime jocks to the evening crew of Peel, Long and Annie Nightingale, was broadcast every Christmas Day and was recorded in November. It was also an event that Long says she didn’t particularly look forward to.
“We all had to sit there and eat a Christmas dinner,” she recalls. “We were also given a piece of paper with the lyrics to Christmas songs that we all had to sing.”
It sounds horrendous, I proffer.
“It was. You can imagine what me, Annie Nightingale and John Peel thought of it. We really weren’t keen on singing Jingle Bells.”
Hopefully no such forced jollity lies in wait for her at Radio Wales – just another incredible chapter to be written in what has been a momentous life story.
It’s clear that after Radio 2 she’s determined to look forward – not back.
“You know what they say when you get dumped, that there’s plenty more fish in the sea, and that when one door closes another one opens, it’s absolutely true because I’m so happy now.”
RIP Janice. Thank you for the music.