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Radio Legend: Janice Long, 1955 – 2021

Janice sadly passed away on Christmas Day 2021; a huge loss to her industry and the nation’s radio listeners. To celebrate her life and work, this is our  interview with her from 2019.

In 1983, Janice Long became the first woman to present the seminal British TV music show, Top of The Pops. Her arrival marked the end of a 19-year run of the show’s male presenters in a male-dominated industry. She was the only female presenter of TOTP for the ensuing 5 years.

Janice was also the first woman to have a daily show on BBC Radio One and the only female on the presentation team for the legendary musical benefit concert, Live Aid in 1985.

Bette Davis shaped the woman I am today

I absolutely adored her. I wanted to be like her. I still have all her boxsets. She was strong and humorous which totally inspired me. Other people have greatly influenced my life: May Bradbury my old drama teacher – a very strong woman; flamboyant, with huge tits and the confidence to match. And Reg Brooks, my mentor when I joined the BBC as a station assistant. He was the person who first encouraged me to go on air.

Don’t fear mistakes.

Remember, it’s only a job. I also stick with old friends that know me, keep me grounded and support me no matter what. I never forget that my job is an enormous privilege, but it is only showbiz. If I mess up, my husband says, ‘hey, you haven’t killed anybody,’ and he is right! If you are a surgeon, well, yes, you could easily torment yourself. But what I do doesn’t harm anyone. I met a 22-year old pilot when I flew to Italy recently – now that’s pressure!

If you’re nervous or excited, it’s ok to show it

I still get nervous, but I have always let it spur me on. If I was calm, I’m sure I would cock something up! Use the adrenaline! Back on Top of The Pops I was young, nervous, excited – of course I was, I was meeting all my idols –  The Smiths, the Bunnymen…but I still preferred the thrill and terror of the live broadcast and I let it fuel me.  I never hid what I was feeling – if I was excited to meet someone, I showed it. I think it’s appreciated if you show you love something. If you put on an act, you are under constant pressure to maintain that act. And remember that inevitably nerves wane – once, twice…by the third time you do something, the fear naturally fades.

Even if you do not celebrate personal success, remember what you have achieved

I went to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody recently. They had included a scene set at Live Aid and I got quite tearful about that because I thought, ‘oh gosh, that was amazing and I was there.’

I don’t celebrate my successes really, but my kids are round me and they say, ‘mum, you have lived a great life!’ So they help me reflect. Whatever you do, remember it – you may not realise what a big deal it is until you look back.

Challenges should give you clarity on what you really want

When I was at Radio 2 we got a new controller and he changed the show I was presenting. It was no longer what it was and that really didn’t feel good. I was simply told I ‘had to deal with it’. I stuck it out because I had a mortgage to pay, but after that it was easier to leave. I went where I was happy and where my support network were, back up to Merseyside.

I don’t set goals, I just follow what I want and go where it takes me

I knew I didn’t fancy university, so I applied for jobs and I got interviews at the Liverpool Echo and Radio Merseyside. The guy interviewing said, ‘you’re not worldly enough you need to do other things’. So, I became an air steward, then lived in a tent in Amsterdam, worked in a Wimpy, hitchhiked and picked grapes for a few years.  Eventually, a letter caught up with me from Radio Merseyside offering me a job and I was ready.

I adore radio – because it is so intimate – you feel as if you are talking to one person – but of course you are not – it allows people to use their imagination Some people have no-one in the world to talk to and you become their friend.

Never make sweeping statements – about gender. Or anything.

Thinking back, it was very sexist at Radio 1 in the ‘80s. I got into trouble for getting pregnant and getting married. Of course, it has changed there now – thank God –  but generally there is still a long way to go. You meet blokes who are fantastic…and of course there are those who are still stuck in that sexist world. And it can work the other way too – women that moan about how useless all men are. Of course it’s not all men. Its important to remember women can be as bad.

And if it’s done within earshot of me, I won’t let it slide. I don’t like it and will say so.

I wasn’t bought up in a sexist home either – dad did the housework, mum and dad both cooked and worked – it wasn’t about having a role, it was about being a team. I have never like inequality. In the 1980s at Radio Merseyside it was so equal! Liverpool is like that – it was very progressive and still is. Female engineers and editors…I was shocked when I first went to London; all the females were in the typing pool!

When I started at Radio 1, there was only Annie Nightingale before I arrived. But that was it!  So I asked why there were no women on daytime radio, and the man I asked replied ‘because they are at home, doing the ironing. Fantasising about [male radio presenters].’  Can you believe that!?

Pressure lessens if you know its ok to mess up

If things get really stressful, you can only do what you can. Take time to just stop, think and get it into perspective. Stay calm. And know you can leave it if you want to leave it. This is what I say to my kids. You have a responsibility as a parents to give your children space. And permission to screw up, too.

Pioneers: whatever happens, carry on. And stay kind.

And don’t stop enjoying it! It is a magnificent thing to break new ground, so be proud. Oh – and never be a nasty person! We’ve all known someone on our paths that is unnecessarily awful and you always remember them (for the wrong reasons). I believe you never have to be rude to get your point across. Ok, someone might deserve a ticking off, but there is no need to be vile about it. You *can* absolutely be nice –  there are even ways to have off days without being nasty!


Interview by Deborah Willimott

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