Links To Peel
Peel was one of the last conscripts of compulsory national service in the UK. In a BBC1 documentary, Army Of Innocents, broadcast in 1997, to celebrate 50 years of National Service, Peel described his finest hour in national service came when a general, inspecting the toilets it was Peel's duty to clean, praised him for keeping the most spotless lavatory in any barracks on the Royal Artillery camp at Ty Croes, Anglesey, Wales. Gunner Ravenscroft (Peel's real name) did not let on that this had only been achieved by padlocking the door and refusing entry for months to even the most desperate of soldiers.
Perhaps surprisingly in the documentary, John Peel enjoyed a lot of his National Service, including the endless drill:
"There was a certain amount of satisfaction to be derived from being a cog in such a machine. It's the same sort of thrill you get from something like synchronised swimming or ballroom dancing. I occasionally reproduce some of my finer moves for my children. You never lose it; it's like riding a bicycle."
Peel went on to describe what he learnt during national service:
"The best aspect of it, the one thing that I think would be useful for people today, was that it did compel you actually to think about other people's needs. You all had to work together - even if it was just in things like petty theft and evasion, which were the two things I really learned during National Service."
Peel gave a short summary of the 1950s in the programme, suggesting that young people were so unused to having any choice in their lives that few questioned the need to do National Service:
"Life just seemed pre-destined. I put up with stuff both at school and in the Army which if I'd tried to inflict something similar on our children they'd tell me to get stuffed, and quite rightly so."
After Peel finished his national service, he then later on travelled to America, where he started his radio career. As he had served in the British Army, he was able to live in the US without being liable to be drafted into the US armed forces and sent to Vietnam - a threat which reportedly caused his future Radio 1 colleague Tommy Vance to abandon his American radio career and return to Britain. Peel also wrote the introduction to National Service in Trevor Royle's book, National Service: The Best Years of Their Lives, published in 2002.