In 1979, the BBC launched a new political discussion show called Question Time – presented by Sir Robin Day. Somehow, a friend of mine got tickets to be in the audience and so, aged 16, we went along to the studio. Robin Day was elsewhere that day and the programme was hosted by the veteran Canadian broadcaster Bob McKenzie.
At that time, I’d started to get involved in left-wing politics and had developed a curious and unconvincing cockney accent – ditching the cut-glass posh voice my mother had instilled in me. I also still had the Irish Republican convictions that my Irish Republican grandmother had indoctrinated me with from an early age. I later became a lot more nuanced on that issue.
During the show, I stuck my hand up and got to make a point about the vote being taken away from Irish citizens living in the United Kingdom. This was a typical piece of Margaret Thatcher spite aimed at Irish people.
The British Nationality Act (passed in 1981) was being discussed in parliament and she was clearly keen on trimming the rights of Irish citizens in the United Kingdom. Subsequent analysis has suggested she thought they all voted Labour and so needed to be disenfranchised. Being half-Irish – I was not impressed.
Anyway, with my newly found cockney accent, I made my contribution and was roundly put down by Bob McKenzie. Should mention that the poor man died a year later. I hope the stress caused by my angry teenage words didn’t contribute to his demise!
What a terrible way to start a new decade. I was in the upper sixth at secondary school and was on my way home one day, standing at the bus stop, when somebody asked me if I’d heard about John Lennon being shot.
You have to remember that there were no smartphones, social media or 24 hour rolling news. Surprising how many news stories came to you by word of mouth. Even random people just turning round and sharing something. Seems beyond old-fashioned I know.
And it really hit me like a thunderbolt. I was a keen piano player and massive fan of the Beatles. I know this will sound a bit trite, but I was so upset that I missed my piano lesson that evening – something I went to like clockwork for years.
Instead, like most of the nation, I watched specially screened Beatles movies on the TV that night and updates on the 5.40pm and 9pm news on the BBC. Those were the regular times for the early and late evening news back then.
In the weeks that followed, the music press – NME, Melody Maker, Sounds – ran their obituaries on Lennon. Some journalists revived the stories about Lennon being under FBI surveillance and of course that led to an undercurrent of conspiracy theories about his death.
Lennon’s eulogy to Yoko Ono – Woman – went to number one in the music charts. As did Imagine. Echoing the outpouring of grief after the death of Elvis, there was a sense of a huge gap left behind and a great talent lost. And all because a talentless mediocrity, Mark Chapman, wanted his wretched 15 minutes of fame.
This is a publication – one of many – that came out at the time. And I’ve kept my copy down the years.