Of all the terrible news to which I awoke this morning, the passing of Brian Matthew might appear quite down the list, certainly below the continuing fall out of the US military strike on Syria, the deployment of US warships off North Korea, the murder of 13 “Coptic Christians” in an Egyptian church and probably worst of all Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Chinese Grand Prix. In terms of popular music, Matthew was a giant.
He joined the BBC in 1954 and for the last twenty seven years hosted “Sounds of the Sixties”. Matthew’s knowledge of popular music was more than encyclopaedic. There was nothing he didn’t know and even into his eighties, he never lost his enthusiasm or ability to put together truly great radio shows.
The BBC represents, to me, the last bastion of radio excellence. I just about remember the excitement of the pirate stations of the 1960s, but mainly I have grown up with BBC radio. I started with Radio One, graduated to Radio Two and now spend much of my time listening to BBC Six Music. I am not trying to sound snobby but commercial radio holds no interest to me. Where the BBC encourages and develops talent, commercial stations represent formulaic, generic programming, with computer-driven playlists and presenters with no soul. Matthew came from the old school.
This is not me saying that things were better in the old days: they weren’t. Radio One in its Smashy and Nicey days of DLT, Mike Read and Simon Bates almost removed the relevance of BBC radio. They were so far away from the national psyche that few of the old guard made it even to Radio Two. Brian Matthew, with his enduring class and talent, effortless straddled generations and remained, until his death, relevant.
I shall miss Brian Matthew and everything he represented. There remain a good few “older” presenters who continue the tradition of BBC excellence across five decades, like Tony Blackburn and Johnnie Walker and age is utterly irrelevant, as it should be in any aspect of life. All that should matter is excellence. Brian Matthew was a living representation of excellence and in its passing we remember the immense gift he visited upon us.