“I’ll carry on doing this until I drop”…
Of the many marvellous aphorisms ascribed to Oscar Wilde there’s one which rings particularly true. “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all”. As ever with this kind of thing Oscar nailed it and when I’m at a loose end it leads me to the bookcase to shake the dust off some volume hitherto untouched since, well, since the last century in some cases. Last month it was “Tomorrow is too late”, Ray Moore’s autobiography. I bought it and first read it back in April 1989, I know this because I’d scribbled the date inside the front cover.
Ray wasn’t a household name by any means even in his prime although his voice would have been known to many, appearing as it did narrating various TV documentaries and on voice over duty for some decidedly odd by today’s standards shows such as Miss World. His natural habitat was radio and it was here that he shone brightest. Brightest, that is, in the pitch dark for Ray spent the bulk of his career presenting BBC Radio 2’s early morning show, 5.30 to 8.30 daily from 1973 ’til 1988. His basic premise was that nobody in their right mind should be up at such an ungodly hour and if we all had to be then we should at least have some fun. So it was that the early morning show quickly became a bit of a conspiratorial hang-out for Ray and his listeners who, egged on by the uproariously funny stories and one-liners of the man himself, quickly joined in with letters to the show full of their own madcap stories. There was nothing else like it and I feel privileged and proud to have been a listener. Terry Wogan’s show followed his and the banter at the change-over each morning between two such quick witted and humorous men is fondly remembered by those who ever heard it. The early chapters of the book cover his life from childhood in Liverpool, sensible mother and slightly eccentric father who’s given to airy-fairy dreams and is perhaps a little bit too fond of the drink (These two things might not be unrelated). Ray tells it well and with lots of humour but the pace really picks up when he leaves school to take up positions in a variety of reasonably well paid jobs, each of which offer security which is something his dad attaches great importance to. However, Ray describes the sense of claustrophobia, the fear that if he allows himself to settle into this comfort zone he might miss out on what he felt was his true calling – Radio.
From a very young age Ray Moore’s ambition was to be on the BBC and he talks of listening to the station obsessively whilst all the while trying to take the rough edges off of his scouse accent. It would be many more years before regional accents became acceptable on the Beeb. His parents and friends humoured him in a whatever-you-say manner but he concedes that even then, in short pants and some way shy of his tenth birthday, he just knew. Perhaps this is part of what attracted me to Ray Moore, aside from the wit and smooth on-air style, and why I still hold him in such high esteem. He was a radio man to his very core. In his own words,
“Radio meant far more than just a job to me; it was my life. I used to have long battles with my accountant about pensions and annuities and nest eggs for when I gave up work but I told him ‘I don’t intend to “give up work”, I’ll carry on doing this until I drop’. Retirement was unimaginable, a life without broadcasting was unimaginable”.
To come back to me for a moment, I fell into radio almost by accident back in the late 1970s, the glorious pirate days. After five and a half years I gave it up in a fit of pique and then spent the bulk of twenty seven years regretting that before getting a most unexpected second chance here in TCRfm. There are many of my old mates from pirate radio who have no interest in resurrecting their careers – it was fun, it ended, it’s in the past. Do they miss it and would they like to do it again? The answer in most cases seems to be no, not really. No matter how I try I don’t understand this mindset. I can’t countenance a life without radio. At my humble level here in Queen street what I do and what I’m part of defines me. It’s what I am and who I am.
Sadly for Ray it all ended way too soon. Noticing a lump on his chin in the summer of 1987 he chose to ignore it for many weeks until his wife persuaded him to see his doctor. A tumour in the floor of his mouth was diagnosed. Terminal, they said.
Given the options of chemotherapy and highly invasive surgery involving the removal of his tongue and part of his jaw, something which might prolong his life for six months or so, Ray declined, deciding that quality in this case was indeed better than quantity.
He hid his illness from his listeners and his employers and continued on the morning show until he became aware that his speech had been affected whereupon he knew the game was up. The Head of Radio 2, Frances Line, was notified that he intended to step down in due course on a date to be decided. Later the same day Ray received a phone call from Ms. Line suggesting that he shouldn’t come in the following morning as he was in some state of distress. No he said, things wouldn’t get immediately worse and he was fit to continue for another week or two. She “gently and quite rightly refused”. The BBC would issue a press statement announcing his departure next day and so he was denied the opportunity to do one final show, something which left him “sobbing uncontrollably”.
He died twenty seven years ago, 11th of January 1989, aged just forty seven. On that date I shall raise a glass in memory of Ray Moore.
Broadcaster. Entertainer. Kindred Spirit.