One of the most enduring national treasures in the UK is the former BBC radio DJ John Peel. From the 1960s until a year before his death in 2004, Peel stood at the forefront of musical innovation.
He did this by utilizing his position as a seasoned radio host at Britain’s most illustrious station to highlight and promote some of the best talent in the nation. He promoted everyone from T. Rex to Blur, and as a result, he continues to be recognized as one of the most significant players in the UK music industry. So, in 2012, the BBC took efforts to dedicate a whole wing of Broadcasting House to Peel in order to honor his legacy.
But after claims were made against the Radio DJ that he had participated in sexual intercourse with a number of minor girls, “The John Peel Wing” swiftly came under fire. These kinds of accusations come to characterize 2012.
More than 200 women came forward with charges against Jimmy Saville, a fellow BBC presenter and prominent TV personality, in that same year, sparking the start of the Operation Yewtree investigations into historical child sex abuse. For the BBC, the probe was a turning point because it forced the organization to confront something that it had been ignoring for years: the scope of the sexual assault that had occurred behind closed doors.
But in the case of John Peel, it appeared that the BBC was still honoring individuals whose troubled pasts were widely acknowledged in the field. John Peel’s past with minors may be unknown to many of you, but he spoke about it in an interview he gave in 1989 when working for a local radio station in Texas.
Girls used to line up outside, claims Peel. Generally speaking, not for shagging. They were particularly fond of oral sex. Sometimes these ladies were older than the legal drinking age, around 21, but based on how Peel described the women he slept with, it seems that they were the exception rather than the rule.
They appeared to be “extraordinarily older” than his regular customer base. Being in this position of authority for Peel was like his “masturbation fantasies becoming reality.” But danger was also present. One of my regular costumers, if you will pardon the expression, turned out to be 13,” stated Peel.
Herein lies the difficulty of “turned out.” Peel makes many joyful and humorous remarks while reliving this time. He appears to be aware of his doubts, but he still chooses to pardon them and absolve himself of any guilt. “Turned out” implies that Peel only engaged in sexual activity with this girl because he believed she was of legal age, and that he was horrified to learn otherwise.
This account of the incident ignores the power dynamics typical of these kinds of sex encounters and places the onus of guilt on the girl. Peel has already invoked this justification to abdicate accountability. Early in his career, Peel also wed Shirley Anne Milburn, who was only 15 years old, and later claimed her parents had lied about her age.
Additionally, Peel mentioned how “it was not a joyful marriage to begin with” in that 1989 interview. And things grew worse. After the couple’s 1973 divorce, Milburn was ultimately found guilty of a number of drug and fraud offenses. She “fell in with some really questionable people,” according to Peel. She attempted suicide before passing away last year.
Then, in 2012, a lady by the name of Jane Nevin came forward to say she had an intimate relationship with Peel when she was 15 and he was 30 during a three-month period. Nevin claims that the relationship came to an end after a “traumatic” abortion. Nevin’s claim cast a troubling shadow over Peel, not the least of which was her claim that Peel “must have known that I was still at school.”
But I didn’t tell him, and he didn’t ask. In fact, Peel himself once remarked that when individuals wanted to sleep with him, he “didn’t ask for ID.” Once more, Peel’s propensity to take credit for his deeds when it suited him and to shirk all accountability when it doesn’t is on display.
The BBC would undoubtedly rethink its choice to name a portion of our new building The John Peel Wing if the claims of sexual assault were found to be true, a BBC spokesperson said at the time the charges were revealed.
Although it’s unsettlingly tough to find sources to back this up, it appears that nothing of the allegations ever materialized. But keep in mind that this occurred before the #MeToo movement.
Historically, males who have been found guilty of sexual assault or using their position of authority for their personal sexual enjoyment have been easily pardoned, or perhaps the claims have been ignored to avoid upsetting the status quo.
Regardless of the veracity of the accusations, it would seem that the BBC’s continued reverence of Peel is evidence of how little they have learnt from the Jimmy Saville case.
Additionally, it shows how quick the general public is to dismiss the idea that the characters they grew up with have a darker side. It’s difficult to predict how long this willful ignorance can be perpetuated, though, given how many renowned rockstars have since been accused of having affairs with minors.