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Alan Black

ALAN BLACK Radio DJ and cartoonist

Born: 15 January, 1943, in Rosyth. Died: 5 March, 2007, in London, aged 64.

ALAN Black was a disc jockey on Radio Scotland, the commercial radio station that flourished briefly in the mid Sixties having begun transmitting from the Firth of Forth on Hogmanay 1965 with optimistic enthusiasm.

Black, whose easily recognised and softly musical voice was ideal for radio, went on to host various major shows on Radio 1 in London, including What's New, In Concert and Sounds of the Seventies. He was a fan of jazz and rock, but supported many new bands and solo artists. He was also a cartoonist of note - contributing to one particularly famous icon of Sixties culture - and had started his graphic career with DC Thomson, in Dundee.

Alan Black was educated locally in Rosyth and then worked as a commercial artist while also taking casual jobs on liners. He offered some cartoons for publication at DC Thomson where his graphic skills and fertile imagination proved ideal for their comics and magazines.

By 1963, Black had moved to London where he became fascinated by the popular new off-shore radio stations. These "pirate" ships were anchored outside territorial waters and were able to play non-stop pop music. They were zany and untraditional with jingles, adverts and much mad chatter. The BBC was far more constrained and could not compete.

Black then got a job with Radio Scotland which the Glasgow entrepreneur Tommy Shields started on MV Comet (a former lightship). Transmitting on 242 metres, the ship was anchored off Dunbar in the Firth of Forth and quickly gathered a loyal band of listeners. Black's easy and relaxed manner proved an instant hit and he was soon one of the stars of the station.

The trouble was that it could only transmit to Edinburgh and the surrounding area. To try and increase coverage, Shields had the ship towed (outside territorial waters) round to Troon. Black and his colleagues continued to broadcast while contending with strong westerly gales. However, the Troon anchorage proved no better than the Forth and a return journey was begun. Radio Scotland completed its short history transmitting off the Isle of May in May 1967.

However, the station had all the usual commercial spin-offs. There was a magazine called 242 and even a 242 clan membership for the ardent fans. The headquarters were in Carnworth Street, Glasgow. Black, however, seldom saw those offices as he was at sea. Radio Scotland had found a broadcasting niche in Scotland and two million listeners signed a petition to try to save the station from extinction.

Radio Scotland had not enjoyed the good fortune of some other pirate stations, but Black was recognised as a broadcaster of real note and another pirate station (British Radio) offered him a slot. That too was short-lived and an act of parliament in 1967 closed down all the off-shore stations.

The BBC revamped its schedules and started Radio 1 - an all-day pop station. They needed a breath of fresh air to attract young presenters and in July 1968, Black was given the midday slot on Radio 1: Midday Spin.

Throughout, Black did not give up on his drawing and, in 1968, he was asked to contribute to the iconic Sixties cartoon film Yellow Submarine starring The Beatles. The drawings captured the surreal nature of the wildly fantastic film. It was a huge hit and the best known number - Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds - rapidly took on a cult status all of its own. The surreal cartoons were the product of many contributors, with Black sharing a considerable input to the visual excitement.

In August 1970, Black returned to the BBC and introduced a Friday night programme called Sounds of the Seventies. This gave Black a free range to explore many lesser-known bands from the United States and introduce soul and rock to Radio 1. Black did not ignore new UK contemporary music and was a keen supporter of David Bowie, Genesis, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

His popularity was acknowledged when he was offered What's New with Anne Nightingale. This late-night show discussed new singles and reviewed them at some length. He also hosted In Concert, which was an easy-listening programme on Radio 2.

By the late Seventies, Black, a darkly handsome man with sweptback hair, had become a familiar voice at the BBC. He also worked as a consultant for Polydor Records, discovering and encouraging new talent. He continued to draw and many of his cartoons were published in magazines such as the Radio Times.

In 2005, there was a Radio Scotland reunion on TS Queen Mary on the Thames. Black - the hair still sweptback in dramatic fashion, though by then a touch grey - arrived wearing a suitable reminder of times past: a skull and crossbones bandanna. He was joined by former Radio Scotland shipmates Ben Healy and Richard Park.

Black married Mariepierre while on holiday in France in 1969. She and their son survive him.

 
 
 

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