Bear with me through a brief musical detour, leading ultimately to my first cry for help …
During 1973-74 (I am afraid because of the nature of my work I mainly deal in academic years – past, present and future) pop and rock music become more important. In the early seventies there are various musical niches a teenager might settle on. Many girls choose the bubblegum/pop end of the spectrum and then declare their true love for Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson, one of the improbably tartan Bay City Rollers or the even more improbable David Essex. Boys generally dismiss such performers as ephemaral fluff and have a tendency to align themselves with a movement – heavy metal (Black Sabbath and all that lot), the credible end of glam (Bolan/Bowie) rather than the pantomime end (Glitter/Stardust/Mud), singer-songwriter (Paul Simon, Cat Stevens) or for the would-be intellectual progressive rock (a multitude of perpetrators who will have time collectively served on them by the dawn of punk rock). Two records around that time effectively transcend prog so we must allow them as glorious exceptions – Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.
I am just about over my Dad’s pathological hatred of pop which was triggered by the Beatles’ hippy shenanigans (see earlier post) and start casting around for music I can call mine. Everybody likes Dark Side and TB so I persuade myself I love the former, having bought it from a friend for a quid (eventually I do love it, in fact) and fall heavily for the latter, which I still find mesmerising.
Beyond that my tastes are idiosyncratic and driven by endless curiosity into all kinds of musical directions. In due course this leads to the impeccable musical tastes I am now justly known for. Just ask me to program your iPod for a party – you won’t regret it! Meanwhile back in the seventies the band I am really captivated by are rather low on the British public’s radar. Around that time Radio 1 does a six-part history of The Beach Boys that offers a full introduction to the God-like genius of Brian Wilson on whom, friends will tell you, I can bore for England. Wilson’s musical journey in the sixties was easily as sophisticated as the Beatles before circumstances derailed it, and being introduced to that entire catalogue in six weeks is nothing less than a masterclass in pop. I am hooked, start buying up the back catalogue, see the Boys live in ’74 and never look back. My friend Michael is nearly as obsessed, while my friend Nigel goes on to become the premiere Mike Oldfield expert south (and now north) of the Wash.
Radio 1 at the time is, however, mostly dire, and pirate radio mostly extinct. Luckily for those with varied musical tastes in the London area, 1973 sees the launch of Capital Radio. For anyone listening to Capital today, it may be hard to imagine that in its heyday, it was rather adventurous both musically and in terms of its presenters (Kenny Everett, Roger Scott et al).
The launch of Capital coincides with the introduction by the Conservative Government of the Three Day Week. Shortages of coal (the result of a miners’ strike) combined with the 1973 Oil Crisis, collectively lead to television shutting down early, plus intermittent power cuts and other emergency measures. Petrol ration books are printed, but in the end never used. See, you get all this social history for no extra charge! This leads to much late-night listening to Capital, in particular Sarah, Marsh and Friends with Marsha Hunt and the rather dippy Sarah Ward, and the corny, sub-Man in Black Moment of Terror.
As Capital does a reasonable job in broadening my musical tastes (in due course assisted by John Peel, NME in its heyday and Zigzag magazine) I am pretty hooked on the station by the time that Anna and the Doc begins on, I think, Wednesday nights. Introduced by Adrian Love (who was the son of the bandleader Geoff Love AKA “Manuel and the Music of the Mountains” – OK, the trivia stops here!) and featuring Anna Raeburn who at the time was writing for the UK edition of Cosmopolitan, this is, I think, the UK’s first phone-in show focussing on “personal, emotional and sexual problems”, as they said each week. Anna, Love and their medical co-presenter fielded a succession of questions on all sorts of topic on what became one of Capital’s most popular shows.
Each week I listen, not just for the range of (often interesting) subjects which get covered, but also in the hope of someone trans phoning in and maybe adding to my self-understanding. By this time I know there are others, but I have only seen the two most famous UK women on television, April Ashley and Jan Morris. Unsurprisingly, trans people rarely phone in, because most of them are just as scared of sharing their secret as I am.
Of course, I never dare phone, and Anna makes a point of saying that she will not respond to written requests. But as my teens progress I get more and more desperate. I think about my problems of physical development, and although at the time I cannot connect them properly with my transness, I start to wish that someone will say to my parents, “he’s not developing properly as a boy, he’d be better off as a girl”. In fact, after my hospital disaster no-one checks up on my development anyway – neither my parents nor any doctors.
Desperate, I finally hit upon the idea of writing to Anna at Capital Radio. On my second-hand manual typewriter I type a letter, explaining some of my feelings and also the fact that I don’t really understand them. I end the letter with a female pseudonym (typed, not signed so I cannot be identified by my handwriting!) and send it off in hope.
A few weeks go by, and then at the start of the programme one week, Anna begins by saying “As you know, I don’t normally respond on air to letters, but I have received a letter from a teenage boy” … She goes on to give enough detail for me to be clear it is my letter, while not revealing what the subject matter is. She tells me to telephone her office at Cosmo, and if I give enough information to identify myself as the author of the letter, she’ll be happy to talk to me.
I am paralyzed by indecision. Anna Raeburn is offering to help me. She will know about this stuff, won’t she? She will be able to put me in touch with medical experts, won’t she? She will respect my anonymity, won’t she? And then the final, awful thought … the medical experts will want to talk to my parents, won’t they? In the end, the fear of the information getting back to my parents is too much. Anna’s offer of help floats within reach. All I need to do is phone Directory Enquiries and get the Cosmo number, and phone her. In the end, I am just too scared, but the pain of not taking up that offer of help is hard to bear for a while – I feel more and more lost. I thank her for trying … I ‘m just not ready. And I can’t imagine at that time how many years will need to pass before I am, finally, ready.