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Annie Nightingale, Pathbreaking British D.J., Is Dead at 83

Annie Nightingale, Pathbreaking British D.J., Is Dead at 83

Annie Nightingale, who became the first female disc jockey on BBC Radio 1 in 1970 and remained a popular personality there until her final show, late last year, died on Jan. 11 at her home in London. She was 83.

Her family announced the death in a statement but did not cite a cause.

“This is the woman who changed the face and sound of British TV and radio broadcasting forever,” Annie Mac, a longtime BBC Radio D.J., wrote on Instagram after Ms. Nightingale’s death.

Ms. Nightingale became well known in music circles in the 1960s as a columnist in British newspapers. And she was a familiar face to stars like the Beatles, whom she interviewed at the Brighton Hippodrome in 1964.

“As Derek Taylor liked her, she was welcome at Apple,” the Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn said in an email, referring to the Beatles’ press officer and the company they founded in 1968.

In 1967, she applied to be a D.J. on BBC Radio 1, the pop music outlet that had just been started in reaction to the rise of popular offshore pirate stations.

But she found herself up against the station’s sexist hiring policy. She was told that its all-male D.J. lineup represented “husband substitutes” to the housewives who were listening, and that a woman’s voice would lack the authority of a man’s.

“It came as a huge shock,” Ms. Nightingale told The Independent in 2015. “I was almost amused. What do you mean, ‘No women’? Why not?”

But in October 1969, the BBC offered her an on-air trial. Before her first appearance, she told The Manchester Evening News, “I am sure that a lot of girls would make marvelous D.J.s if given the chance.”

She was hired the next year for a weekday record review program, “What’s New,” and two years later she became a host of an evening progressive-rock show, “Sounds of the 70s.” Later in the decade, she became the host of a Sunday afternoon request show and a music interview program. She hosted a variety of other shows through last year.

“From Day One, I chose the records I wanted to play and stuck to it ever since,” she said in her autobiography, “Hey Hi Hello: Five Decades of Pop Culture From Britain’s First Female DJ.” (2020). “I preferred the evenings, where I wouldn’t have to introduce playlist tunes I didn’t like. That would have been like lying to me.”

Anne Avril Nightingale was born on April 1, 1940, in the Osterley district of London. Her father, Basil, worked in the family’s wallpaper business. Her mother, Celia, was a foot doctor. As a girl, Anne listened to children’s programs on her father’s radio and came to love that it could tune in to distant cities.

“I still feel when you’re broadcasting, you don’t know where it’s going and it could be reaching outer space somewhere, and I am still in love with that, completely,” she said in an interview in 2018.

After graduating from the Lady Eleanor Holles School, she studied journalism at Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster) in London. She began her journalism career soon after, first as a reporter for The Brighton and Hove Gazette and then at The Argus, in Brighton, where she wrote a music column called Spin With Me. She later wrote a music column for a national tabloid, The Daily Sketch.

In 1964, she collaborated with the pop group the Hollies on a book, “How to Run a Beat Group.”

She found a measure of television fame on BBC’s “Juke Box Jury,” where she was part of a guest panel that reviewed new record releases, and as the host of “That’s For Me,” a record request program on ITV, and the Rediffusion network’s quiz show, “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” both in 1965.

But she was best known for her time at BBC Radio 1, which began with some rocky moments because of her inexperience — like the time there was eight seconds of dead airtime when she accidentally pressed an “off” switch while a record was playing.

“What I found difficult in those early days was being bad technically,” she told The Western Daily Press of Bristol in 1979. “Every time I made a mistake I thought they’d all say, ‘Oh yes, woman driver!’”

She remained the only female D.J. on BBC Radio 1 — the “token woman,” she said — for 12 years. In 2010, when she was more than halfway through her 41st year there, Guinness World Records cited her for having had the longest career ever for a female D.J. (That record has since been surpassed twice, by the Peruvian broadcaster Maruja Venegas Salinas and Mary McCoy, a D.J. in Texas.)

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“It was not until the 1990s and the ‘girlification’ of Radio 1 with the likes of Sara Cox, Jo Whiley and Zoe Ball that Nightingale’s exceptionality became her longevity and impact rather than her gender alone,” Lucy Robinson, a professor at the University of Sussex, and Dr. Jeannine Baker, who at the time was with Macquarie University, wrote on the BBC website.

Ms. Nightingale’s success went beyond radio. In 1978, she was named a host of BBC’s live music television show “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” where she focused on new wave music.

After John Lennon was killed on Dec. 8, 1980, Ms. Nightingale and members of the “Whistle Test” staff were trying to round up people to talk about him. During the program, a producer appeared in the studio and told Ms. Nightingale, “Paul’s on the phone and he wants to speak to you.”

“I had no idea who he meant,” she recalled on the podcast “I Am the Eggpod” in 2018. It was Paul McCartney.

“He wanted to say thank you on behalf of Linda and himself and Yoko and George and Ringo,” she said. “And that’s what really got me.” She added: “I got back in front of the camera and it’s live and I thought right, right, you’re the messenger. And he said, ‘You know how it was.’”

Ms. Nightingale’s survivors include a son, Alex, and a daughter, Lucy, whose name was inspired partly by the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Her marriages to Gordon Thomas, a writer, and Binky Baker, an actor, ended in divorce.

Throughout her career, Ms. Nightingale championed new music — from progressive rock to acid house to grime.

She described her visceral connection to new music when she was interviewed in 2020 on the popular BBC Radio 4 program “Desert Island Discs.”

“It’s a thrill, it’s absolutely so exciting,” she said. “I actually get a physical sensation. I get shivers up and down my legs when I hear something that becomes very successful.”




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