(This article is about the late night pirate radio show hosted by Peel on Radio London in the summer of 1967. For the blog focused on Peel sessions, see Perfumed Garden (blog). See also Final Perfumed Garden Revisited.)
"John Peel’s Perfumed Garden has acquired a legendary aura out of all proportion to the brevity of its existence. The show which is rightly credited with having introduced the British radio audience to the underground had a life span of approximately three months. The earliest known use of The Perfumed Garden as a programme title was in mid-May 1967. It ran for possibly four, certainly no more than five, two-week shifts.
"Its colossal legacy therefore derives from little more than 100 hours of airtime, but it was the innovative way in which this airtime was utilized which made the programme such an influential force." (Robert Chapman, Selling The Sixties: The Pirates and Pop Music Radio", London 1992, pp. 121-22)
(from Radio Radio, 1986)
As junior member of the team, I had to do two programmes. I had to do a daytime programme, which was just the regular Radio London fare, you know ... But I also had to do a late night programme, from 12 until 2. And initially I used to just do this as I had done the other programme. I mean, run all the commercials and do the weather and the news and all of the things that I was supposed to do.
Gradually it dawned on me that no one was actually listening to this programme – I mean, no one in the Radio London office, and certainly none of the people on the ship. So I started to improvise a little bit and gradually stopped running the ads and so on, and playing more of this music that I had brought back from America with me. And also adding a British dimension with people like the Incredible String Band and Hendrix and Pink Floyd, I suppose, Tyrannosaurus Rex, all these sort of people. I called the programme the Perfumed Garden.
And by the time I got round to calling it the Perfumed Garden, I’d entirely dispensed with the format and I was reading people’s poetry – extraordinarily badly – and people were writing poetry and sending it in to me. And it was the Summer Of Love, you know, and it became compulsive listening to anyone who was into that. And this was all over northern Europe. In fact, I still encounter people in Holland when I go over there, who go, “Ah yeah, we remember very well, we remember the Perfumed Garden, a big one!” You know, which is quite nice that they still recall all of that.
And the first inkling I think that Alan Keane had that this was going on was when, or so legend has it, when Brian Epstein phoned him up to congratulate him on having had the foresight to have put such a programme out. And of course he listened to it and was horrified. But by this time Radio London only had a few months to run anyway, so they decided they may as well leave things as they were.
You also need, somewhere in your day or in your week, a programme where the people who are listening are not treated as though they are totally moronic. I don't know why I called the programme 'The Perfumed Garden'. I didn't know about the book at the time, it was just a nice idea, wandering at night through a perfumed garden. As far as I was concerned it was a state of mind.
I would like to think that it was more than just a pop record show because it did, I suppose, try to influence people into at least sitting up and thinking about the ideas that I think are important. It doesn't mean that I thought that everyone had to believe in them, it was more a question of 'here you are - do what you like with them'.
Remember listening to the show back in 1967? Share your memories.
- 1967 Including events, for historical and cultural background, and shows calendar (final Perfumed Garden on 14 August 1967)
- Beginning of British career From John Peel page (originally Wikipedia)
- Radio Radio Includes clips
- Radio London
- 14 August 1967 (Transcript) Peel's full on-air comments on the famous last night of the show
- Final Perfumed Garden Revisited: In 2002, Peel revisted tracks from the final PG show
- Wikipedia Perfumed Garden entry
- Pirate Radio Hall Of Fame: Peel entry, including streamed clips
- Radio London: Peel press clippings index, includes Perfumed Garden columns for International Times
- Radio London: Lists and newssheets of Perfumed Garden listeners' group, 1967-1970
- DJ History: 1999 Interview with Peel with emphasis on the early part of his career.
- Memories of a Perfumed Garden listener
- Sounds 1977 Peel interview on the Perfumed Garden
- Peel often stated that this was how the Perfumed Garden developed, but in a letter to a listener, dated 7 April 1967, not long after he had joined Radio London, he said he had "caught hell from the office" when he attempted to break with the station's Top 40 format and play what he liked. He told the listener that he would "show your letter to my boss and try and get permission to do such a show on a regular basis"
- The linked page, from a Time Out 30th anniversary special, dates the interview as coming from Time Out in 1970, but the musicians and records Peel refers to and the mention of the "Perfumed Garden" he's about to get from Radio One (Night Ride, which started in March 1968) strongly suggest an earlier date. The publication details from a reprint at the Sweet Floral Albion site appear correct. UNIT was a student magazine edited by Time Out founder Tony Elliot, then an undergraduate at Keele University. Bob Harris discusses the interview, which he dates as taking place in summer/autumn 1967, in his online tribute to Peel.