Alan Freeman, who died Nov. 27 at the age of 79, was one of the most genuinely and universally admired broadcasters in British radio history. Known among professionals and listeners as "Fluff," his vo
Alan Freeman, who died Nov. 27 at the age of 79, was one of the most genuinely and universally admired broadcasters in British radio history. Known among professionals and listeners as "Fluff," his voice was instantly recognizable to generations of listeners, in a career that spanned more than 40 years after he arrived from his native Australia in 1957.
Freeman's unique style included extensive use of classical music, which he used on air for jingles and musical "beds." He pioneered the presentation of chart countdowns on British radio, which he found staid on his arrival, in the days when "pop" music was somewhat dismissively and reluctantly broadcast by the BBC's Light Program.
"Fluff" was born in Australia on July 6, 1927, and harboured early ambitions to become an opera singer. In his early broadcasting career he worked in Tasmania and then for Melbourne's 3KZ station. He worked for Radio Luxembourg in the late 1950s before joining the BBC in 1960, and took over presentation of "Pick of the Pops" from David Jacobs, who continues to broadcast on another of the stations Freeman would later work for, BBC Radio 2.
Of the bold broadcasting style he brought to British radio, Freeman told this writer in 1987: "I was hearing presenters saying 'That was a terribly nice record' and I thought hang about, we've got to have a bit of action here, a bit of fire, because this was not the way I'd heard it in Australia, and most certainly not the way I'd heard it in America."
By the time the BBC launched its new pop music service Radio 1 in 1967, Freeman had built "Pick of the Pops" into one of the most popular shows on British radio, in a regular Sunday afternoon slot. He continued to present the show until 1972, and during the remainder of that decade, was the voice of another hugely important program for the network, the Saturday rock show. Here he would champion such bands as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and other much lesser-known talents, often playing tracks lasting 12 or 15 minutes.
He later worked at London commercial station Capital and its sister station Capital Gold, reviving the "Pick of the Pops" title in a twin-format "now and then" chart program, before returning to the BBC to work for Radio 2. There, the show was revived yet again, now in an all-oldies format, and Freeman was given the opportunity to bring his love of classical and operatic music to bear in his last regular series, "Their Greatest Bits," which he fronted until 2001.
Freeman was awarded the MBE for his services to music in 1998, and received a lifetime achievement accolade at the Sony Radio Awards in 2000. He had been in poor health for some years and died of unspecified causes at Brinsworth House in southwest London, a residence for retired members of the entertainment profession where he had lived since 2000.
Once asked if he would choose retirement in a country cottage or a heart attack over the turntable, Freeman said: "I thought for a minute and said 'Heart attack over the turntable. Preferably in the middle of Emerson, Lake & Palmer'."