Peter Clayton was born in the Deep South of London well below the Fortnum-Mason Line. After a career as a porridge taster and local librarian, he wandered into an anonymous-looking building in Brixton and found himself working for a record company. After several years effort to get out, he managed to escape by a short wavelength and found he was working as a broadcaster.

By devious means, such as letting it all happen, he gradually took over several key programmes, sometimes heavily disguised, and joined the ranks of the BBC's immovables, gracing the air with his wit and wisdom until his death in 1991.

(From: Peter Clayton and Peter Gammond, The Bluffer's Guide to Jazz, Oval Books)

Links to Peel

In the outline autobiography written by Peel for his publisher in 1992 and included at the end of Margrave of the Marshes, he includes a short, select list of "really great broadcasters" (p. 406), among whom is Peter Clayton. Clayton, born in 1927, began his radio career in 1968 after working for Decca Records. He became one of the BBC's leading jazz presenters, hosting various programmes including Jazz on One, Jazz Notes, Sounds of Jazz and the long-running Radio 3 show, Jazz Record Requests, which he presented until his death in 1991.

In contrast to the BBC's other voice of jazz, the flamboyantly upper-middle-class Humphrey Lyttelton, Clayton had a slightly nasal voice which reflected his South London origins. His presentation style was modest and self-effacing, yet precise and thoroughly committed to the music he was playing. He was also a skilful interviewer, able to cope with those visiting American jazz musicians who were known to be difficult or unwilling interviewees.

As well as his jazz programmes, he kept an eye on the pop scene, reviewing pop records (including the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band[1] ) for the respected classical music magazine Gramophone. He also regularly reviewed the pop press for the Radio 1 magazine programme Scene and Heard. On one occasion he criticised the Melody Maker for running an article on the New York Dolls, because the group were attracting attention for their appearance rather than their music. He also commented on developments in pop music, describing the multi-layered studio productions of the 1970s, such as Norman Whitfield's work for The Temptations, as works of "civil engineering".

As the (probably partly self-written) biography from The Bluffer's Guide To Jazz shows, Clayton shared with Peel a liking for absurd humour; one of his programmes for the BBC World Service featured extracts from comedy records and, playing on the World Service's tradition of providing programmes for learners of English, was entitled "Anguish By Radio".

Peel admired the professional skills of some broadcasters whose musical tastes differed from his own; Peter Clayton certainly falls into that category, yet unlike the other "really great broadcasters" in Peel's list - Ray Moore, Humphrey Lyttelton and John Arlott - he seems to be largely forgotten today.

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