Harriet Ravenscroft (born Joan Mary Swainson) (27 April 1915 - July 1992) was Peel's mother: she once described him as her least favourite son. She married Robert Ravenscroft in 1938 and got divorced in the 50's: she subsequently changed her name from Joan to Harriet. She had a brief relationship with Sebastian Shaw, the Star Wars actor, in the 80's, and had an arrangement to see him on a four day rotating basis while he was going out with a classical music and opera agent named Joan Ingpen. (Interestingly, opera was one of Harriet's passions.) In Margrave Of The Marshes Peel wrote extensively about his relationship with his mother, and related that she would regularly beat him when he was a child. He described her as spending much of her money on clothes and describing some of the outfits she wore as a source of acute embarrassment when she visited him and his brother Francis whilst they were studying at Shrewsbury School.

She took JP took him to his first ever concert, which featured the Obernkirchen Children's Choir, in 1954 and would put up many musicians invited by Peel, including the Misunderstood, at her home in Notting Hill, London. He would also often spend the night there when he was working late on his BBC Radio One shows.

In the early years of Peel's BBC career she showed a curiosity about the hippy culture which Peel advocated, writing him a letter on the subject which he quoted in one of his 1968 Perfumed Garden columns for International Times, before revealing that "The writer of the second letter is in her mid-fifties. She's never had to work, comes from a good family in the North.....She likes gardening, Leonard Cohen, the Pink Floyd (she really does).......She's my mother". [1] Harriet Ravenscroft also wrote a letter to Oz magazine, praising the crowd behaviour at the 1969 Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park [ref]. Although she didn't follow up this interest in youth culture, she kept up a close relationship with John and Sheila and was often mentioned in Peel shows (see below).

Shows Mentioned

  • 28 April 1968: Peel mentions his mother's birthday on Saturday but is not sure what age she accumulated. He also mentions that his mother gave him a Christmas present of an inferior drawing of a pair of trousers and in return on her birthday, gave drawings of a high powered sports car and 2 weeks in the Dardanelles.
  • 28 December 1976: Misunderstood, 'I Can Take You To The Sun (7")' (Fontana) (JP: 'I was very chuffed to see that get in there...the only record the catalogue number of which I know off by heart 'cos of the number of times I've had to write and tell people what it is....I'd like to dedicate that one to my mother, because when the band came over here in 1966, they went and stayed with her for a few months. I don't think she's ever fully recovered from that.')
  • 29 May 1979: Peel says his mother has seen the Raincoats on TV on Sunday night and didn't like them.
  • 04 June 1979: (JP: "The other day, or the other night more accurately, when I was staying in my mother's house and having a look around amongst the things there which my brothers hadn't taken, to see if there was anything left worth having, I picked up a newspaper called 'Screw', assuming this to be an ironic criticism/celebration of carpentry, and it wasn't anything of the sort. So this is for my mother, if she's listening.")
  • It Makes Me Laugh: (JP: 'Several years ago, my mother, something of a hoarder, presented me in a small private ceremony with all of my school reports. I must confess that they made unpleasant and deeply disturbing reading. But I won't bore you with details. The only one which concerns us here is the first of them, written when I was four years old. I should explain that my real name is John Ravenscroft, rather than John Peel, but this didn't prevent the headmistress, a Miss Jones, from observing:)
  • Radio Radio: "Early in 1967 – I was married at the time to an American girl, and it was a fairly catastrophic marriage, so I decided to get out of the area to the extent of coming back to Britain. And went to live with my mother in Notting Hill." 
  • 23 July 1986: Peel mentions seeing members of Everything But The Girl going in a car whilst driving towards his mother's place in Notting Hill.
  • 30 September 1986: Peel mentions his mother doesn't have a record player at her home.
  • 07 April 1987: Peel mentions he is a bit tired as he was talking to his mother until 1.30am.
  • 27 April 1987: Peel mentions that it's his mother's birthday today.
  • 17 August 1987: (JP: 'Actually, my mother is a bit of a sucker for that sort of thing in that she loves ordering stuff through the mail, and they're always bizarre objects, things which have no genuine practical application at all. I mean, painted clothes brushes that bottle mulberries and tell you the time in Hong Kong simultaneously, and little boxes full of these things scattered all over the house.')
  • 26 August 1987: Peel mentions he took his mother many years ago to see Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall and were impressed that they didn't do an encore.
  • 10 February 1988: Peel stayed at his mother's place last night with his nephew Sasha, who left holiday brochures featuring train journeys from London to China, which Peel admitted that he would love to do on his 50th birthday next year. He goes on to explain that the journey would take him from London via Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul, Tblisi, Bukhara, Tashkent, Samarkand, Alma-Ata, through the Gobi Desert and end up at Xian, where the Terracotta Army are based. Peel reveals the journey would cost him £4330.
  • 21 June 1988: (JP: 'While that was going on, I rang up my mum to say, "Mum, don't wait up for me tonight," and she was asleep in bed. I dunno.')
  • 19 July 1988: Peel says he didn't have a good night sleep at his mother's house, because of the circle line tube train noise.
  • 07 February 1989: Peel mentions telephoning his brother Alan, whether he's got a room to stay in, after his mother told him that there is no room to stay tonight, because she's got someone staying overnight in her apartment.
  • 22 March 1989: Peel mentions he's tired whilst staying at his mother's house, because they're been drilling in the middle of the night at Notting Hill station, which wakes him up.
  • 06 June 1989 (Radio Bremen): Peel says he's been tired as he didn't get enough sleep at his mother's house, because of maintenance noise from the tube station near her home.
  • 16 January 1990: John likens trying to sleep at his mum's flat in Notting Hill to an Einsturzende Neubaten concert, due to ongoing work at the tube station.
  • 31 March 1990 (BFBS): (JP: 'Sort of a bit Neil Diamond really, in a way, isn't it? I mean, it's Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and all that sort of thing, but at the same time, I prefer them at their more anguished, it must be said...Last night when I got to bed instead of going to the NME party, I was reading the latest issue of Maximum Rock'N'Roll and saw a review of an EP which I'm about to feature. It's by Agathocles and Disgorge and it reads thus: "Crazy! Two Belgian grind outfits declare war on your turntable and win....plenty of distortion and growling...and a fine gift idea for Mum." So stand by, Mum.')
  • 07 April 1990 (BFBS): (JP: 'When I was a child, I used to think that my mum and dad were going to spontaneously combust because they drank a great deal and smoked heavily as well.')
  • 24 November 1991: Start of show: "Thank you very much, Andy. One thing that you won't get on Ceefax is the information that my mother was seven months pregnant with me when that last record was recorded."
  • 23 May 1992: 'JP: 'I was reading the Melody Maker actually in bed this morning at my mother's house, and musing on how the people who write for it seem to go to loads and loads and loads of parties, if even half of what they write is true, and I don't get invited to any of these parties at all, and I'm in showbiz as well. I often wonder why that is, and then later on, when I was downstairs and drinking some coffee that my mum had made, and trying to cut out an eight and a half out of a Dr. Scholls Air Pillows shoe insert, I thought to myself, here I am, well into my second half century, and I've never even met Miki and Emma out of Lush.
  • 20 June 1992: (JP: 'After the news, I shall be off to me mum's in Notting Hill Gate to take her to task for calling me John when she could have called me Wacky Eunice. What a great name that is.')
  • 05 July 1992 (BFBS): (JP: "Something happened to me during the week that has never happened to me before, I had my pockets picked... it was most impressive, I got out of a taxi... about a hundred yards away from where my mum lives in Notting Hill in London. I paid the taxi driver and I stuffed the rest of my money, I got 40 quid, I stuffed it to the bottom of my pocket... and I've got a cold, so I put a couple of wet tissues on top of it, cause I thought 'that will deter the blighters,' but by the time I got to my mum, it had gone. And the tissues had gone as well... as I'm the kind of bloke who wears trousers that would be unsuitable on a bloke half his age, I can barely get my own hand into my pocket... How he did it, I really don't know, it was most impressive. It was almost worth 40 quid to be able to brag about it.")
  • 17 January 1993 (BFBS): JP blames his mistake on a lack of sleep, due to finding an unexplained but friendly guest in his mum's old place in London where he was staying the night.
  • 15 May 1993: Peel describes yesterday as grim. He had the unpleasant task, along with his brother, of going through his mother’s things at her house in London to decide what to keep. She had died the previous year and they were having to sell her property. He did find a press cutting, that his mother had kept, of an article written by him when he was working in Dallas, about the Beatles. John reads some of it out.
  • 31 August 1996 (BFBS): Peel reveals that his mother was born Joan, but (for reasons best known to herself) changed her name to Harriet in the 1950s.
  • 11 January 1997: (JP: 'The last time I was in Chester was when my mother told me to buy some cavalry twill trousers. Obviously things have changed a bit since then.')
  • 10 April 1997 (BFBS): Muddy Waters: 'Long Distance Call (LP-Rolling Stone)' (Chess) (JP: 'Possibly the first blues LP I bought: certainly, I bought it when I was in the army meself and took it back home when I was on leave one weekend and played it to my mum. My mother, a woman of extraordinary judgement and taste, thought it was one of the best things she'd ever heard, and she was quite right.')
  • 08 June 1999: Peel on flutes: "The flute is an instrument which I really dislike, to be honest with you. My mother was perhaps frightened by a flute when she was carrying me or something, but I’ve never cared for it on a record, and it’s one of the many, many instruments that I can’t play." Peel appears to be forgetting his support for the early career of Jethro Tull.
  • 02 May 2001: (JP: 'I grew a beard when I was 27, 34 years ago. You can't imagine that it's possible, but I shaved it off about 15 years later, and I'm sure I've told this before. I was bored one evening waiting for the programme at Radio 1, when it was in the previous building that it was in, and shaved it off, and as I stared into the mirror, a kind of awful fusion between my mother and Mussolini emerged from behind the beard. It was a great shock to my system: I wasn't a great-looking bloke at 27, but kind of vaguely human, and as I shaved off the beard, this complete stranger emerged from behind it, and it was genuinely unsettling. When I got home, the Pig actually screamed, and urged me to grow it back as quickly as possible, which I did, and I've not shaved it off since. God alone knows what I look like underneath it now, but I'd prefer not to discover.')
  • 17 October 2001: Peel recalls that he saw the Four Aces at the Liverpool Empire with his mum.
  • 07 November 2002: JP: "I wonder what my mum would have made of that? She loved Noel Coward."
  • 05 February 2003: Peel mentions that his mum took him to see Frankie Laine at the Liverpool Empire, round about the time that the song played in the programme was a hit. This would place it sometime between October and December 1954.
  • 11 March 2003: Peel mentions that his mum lived for some time in Jameson Street in Notting Hill, London. According to John, John Cleese lived across the road for a while. His mother "used to sit in her library window, as she styled it, and look across the road into John Cleese's flat in the hope she'd catch him doing silly walks and so on." Apparently, all the neighbours kept their distance out of respect for his privacy, so he eventually moved out, complaining that he lived in a street where nobody spoke to him.
  • Peeling Back The Years: "Yeah, nothing on radio at all. I used to listen to Housewives Choice in the expectation that you might hear the occasional good record and to the Two-Way Family Favourites or whatever it was, you know, Forces Favourites, again in the hope that you would hear some exciting records on there. But the most that you could hope for really was the odd Frankie Laine track. Because Frankie Laine was my big hero, my first big hero. I mean, I saw him inbetween… You see, the very first gig I went to, my mother took me to see Obernkirchen Children's Choir. The Happy Wanderer."
  • Chain Reaction: David Gedge Interviews John Peel (Transcript): (JP: "But my own childhood was through no fault of my parents - my mum died this summer in July, something which I actually, I miss her terribly, and I’m glad that I do because at one time I wouldn’t have done, because my relationship with my parents was never terribly close. But in the last two or three years of her life, my mum and I got on a lot better than we ever had done previously. Because she was rather prone to saying things like – because she was a fairly avid drinker – and she was rather prone to saying things that parties, wait for a pause in the conversation and a bit of a silence, and she’d say… I have two brothers, Alan and Francis, and on one notable occasion she said, “Alan was always my favorite son, and then Francis.” And then she sort of fixed me with this steely gaze and said, “And then you!” But in her last years it wasn’t like that at all.")
  • Interview: On Liverpool FC, Heysel, Hillsborough: "I mean, people in Liverpool didn’t think of me as being a Liverpool person at all, but I thought of myself as being a Liverpool person because that’s where I like to be and that’s where I worked and that’s where my father worked, and my mother and father both came from there, and so on. So I thought of myself as a Liverpudlian."

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